Music to My Ears

Deep Purple—In Rock

Ok.  This is how shit happens.

In 1967 Chris Curtis, former drummer for the Searchers, had an idea to start what would essentially be a supergroup where the members would rotate.  Curtis sold the idea to some London businessmen and they began recruiting.  The first gentleman they looked at was a classically trained Hammond B3 player named Jon Lord.  He’d been mucking about London playing with bands with names like The Flower Pot Men.  He needed a real job.  Through bandmates Lord heard of a guitar player who was in Hamburg doing session work and backing people like Screaming Lord Sutch.  If you haven’t heard that shit you go and check it out.  We’ll wait.

The guitar player’s name was Ritchie Blackmore.  The first Deep Purple started practicing with Rod Evans on vocals who’d brought in Ian Paice from Evans’ former band, and Nick Simper on bass from those wacky Flower Pot Men.   Evans grew restless and decided to move to Hollywood and become an actor.  Goodbye Mr. Evans.  The core group now of Blackmore, Lord and Paice really wanted the band to move in a more hard-edged direction.  A mutual friend who played in a band Episode Six with Ian Gillan on vocals and Roger Glover on bass introduced the purple dudes to them.  Goodbye Episode Six.  Gillan’s vocals were perfect but Lord and Blackmore weren’t certain about Glover.  Glover stayed on at Paice’s insistence.  Always ask the drummer about the bass player.  Always.  And if you love the drummer you take his advice.

The personnel of one of the greatest rock bands ever to be formed was set, and through a series of happenstances and chance meetings.  And by the way, that pesky Roger Glover became one of the influential bass players of his generation, and went on to produce many of their albums and stay through many band changes through the years.

But we will focus on the four greatest albums of the band’s career that were done exclusively with this line-up.  DP had released three albums with the other band and with this lineup turned to a classical approach with a Lord composition “Concerto for Group and Orchestra”.  Blackmore wasn’t happy with the release since it wasn’t really in the vein of what they were after, but at that time Lord was a de facto leader and the release had some success and got some publicity.  What followed would be the first of those four albums that would get a lot of attention and setup influences in metal and speed rock.  Starting with this album Deep Purple WAS Speed Rock.

In 1970 DP released In Rock”.  A friend in college made me sit and listen.  I was a Led Zeppelin man.  But Jack was the guy who turned me on to Life in general so I listened.  We all knew people like that growing up, and remember their names and faces.

Here’s an example from “In Rock”.  I distinctly remember the words “Holy Shit” coming to mind. Check the interplay between Lord and Blackmore with the always rock solid rhythm section of Paice and Glover holding up that bottom like marble and granite.  Watch out, the beginning could fry something.

 

Controlled chaos.  The whole album is like that.  But my personal favorite album came next.

“Fireball” was released in the summer of 1971.  Somehow that doesn’t have the ring of the Summer of Love (1967) or the Summer of 42.  But I had turned 17, I had a stereo of my own, and my first motorcycle.  Yeah Buddy.  A purplish pink Yamaha 250.  Not a Harley, but it was two wheels man, and I burned them up.  In 1971 you didn’t have headphones or radios on the bikes, so you played the music in your head.  I remember very well riding behind Skins on his Kaw 900 and I could tell by the rhythm of his shoulder he was listening to “Statesboro Blues” or “Thick as a Brick” down deep in his soul where the moondogs fly.

“Fireball” was and is a true gas.  We had a small circle of friends that would discover a band, or an album, and turn the others on.  Mine was “Fireball”.  A classic and progressive offering from DP but still rocked harder than anything else out at that time, and says a lot.  The album took what “In Rock’ had done, refined it and turned up the heat.  I’ve gone through two vinyl records I flat wore out and three CD’s.  My son got two and the third my brother Jim borrowed and still has.

 

Besides the magic of their individual skill and the syncopation of their arrangements there was something that started on “In Rock” and continued on “Fireball”.  My son coined it.  We were talking last night about this column and he said “Those guys invented galloping rock.”  That was so perfect.  As soon as he said it I knew he expressed something I loved about these guys but hadn’t said aloud.  You listen, and you’re hanging on to the back of a runaway horse turned towards the barn.

In December 1971 DP headed to Montreux Switzerland to record the next album at the Montreux Casino’s theater.  The night before they were to record, Frank Zappa and the Mothers played the last concert of the season.  The casino would shut down the next day for annual renovations and that would have allowed DP to use the empty casino to record.  But during the Zappa concert a fan fired a flare gun into the ceiling and the whole place went up like roman candle.  It’s a miracle no one was killed, a fact due to an alert Montreux fire department and the Montreux Festival manager, Claude Nobs, getting kids out of the building.  Roger Glover related it was the biggest fire he’d ever seen, and staring at the fire from across the lake they came up with a song title.

Those of you who know the song “Smoke on the Water” well had those lyrics in your head during that entire paragraph.

Deep Purple had already arrived and had leased a very expensive mobile Rolling Stones recording truck, so they had to come up with something.  As the song relates, they had to use the old Montreux Grand Hotel, stuff hallways with mattresses and make it work.

The result was their most commercially successful album, “Machine Head”.  The album certainly was helped by the huge success of “Smoke on the Water” that became an anthem for guitar players everywhere.  But the reality is “Smoke” is far from the best song on the album.  With “Lazy”, “Space Truckin” and “Highway Star” some real magic happened and continued to be staples on tour for the remainder of their career.

One of my favorite stories in rock history is how “Highway Star” was written.  This has been corroborated in a few places so the story probably has no chance of being true.  Anyway, the band was being interviewed on their tour bus heading to a gig, and the interviewer asked a classic dumb question “So how do you write a song?”  They responded by writing the “Highway Star”on the spot and played it at the gig that night.  Ok, the “Smoke on the Water” story was better but dig that.  Those two stories, same band.

The fourth album of which we spoke was recorded live in August 1972 on their first tour of Japan.  Released in 1973, I am going to free the hounds and place “Made In Japan” among the greatest live rock albums recorded, right up there with “Allman Bros Live at Fillmore East” and Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus”.  This album caught one of most influential bands ever at their absolute zenith.

I didn’t add any audio from “Machine Head” because some of the songs from that album were on “Made In Japan”, and despite the fact the studio recordings were wonderful in their sparsity and control, these live renditions are so flippin good, showing off each band members’ talent and power as well as the way the band was playing together in 1972.

Here is “Lazy”, originally recorded on “Machine Head” in the Montreux Grand Hotel.  Please youtube that recording, it is remarkable.  But this live version shows off a band that knows they are good, plays around with it, roars around the block, stops to grin in a window, then roars off again.

 

My son Dean will not forgive me, nor would I forgive myself, if I didn’t devote some words to the tone of Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar.  Honestly I could easily do a column on just that.  Certainly this article is already overly long so I probably should.  Screw it.  Let’s go.

Ritchie’s tone is unmistakable.  Guitar players study video of him to try and figure out what he’s doing.  It is unique and as far as I know hasn’t really been captured completely by anyone.  Guys have come close, , but Blackmore couldn’t be copied.  It was a mystery, and spawned urban myths.  My favorite was he used banjo strings (not true).  Ritchie was interviewed many times and he would explain everything in detail, down to how he setup the amps (Marshalls which he helped develop with his friend Jim Marshall), his use of a tape recorder as his only effect which he used to get control of feedback and a miniscule amount of delay.

Basically Blackmore played a Fender Stratocaster (after he dumped his 335) through two 200W Marshall amps both with an extra output stage with a tube set to boost the heads to 300W.  In an interview for Woody Tone he said the tone controls on the Strat are turned all the way up, never adjusted.  Both amps are flat out on all controls, and his only volume control is on the guitar which he keeps full up, except turning down for quieter solos.

Blackmore also used a souped up reel-to-reel recorder to control distortion and modified to provide echo.  He runs his guitar into the recorder, set on record, then out directly to the amp.  The recorder also acts as a preamp, so he can get fuzz effects by turning up the output to the Marshalls.   He has no bass on the amps at all.

Lastly he scallops the fretboard between the frets.  He’d bought an old acoustic that had bad wear on the fretboard and he loved the sound.  When he gets a new guitar the first thing he does is scrape the fretboard out until he can almost get his fingers underneath.  I suspect you have to do all these things to get that tone, and oh yeah actually be Ritchie Blackmore.

Here’s a chance to check out that tone, and the true power of Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, and Roger Glover.  Originally released on “In Rock”, this is “Child InTime” from “Made In Japan”.

 

Shiver me timbers.