Born June 9, 1941, in Leicester, Jon Douglas Lord was a classically trained pianist who appeared to give up classical music entirely, much to the consternation of his father, when in 1960 he moved to London to study drama. It was there that Lord began listening to Jazz. Lord also plied his trade behind the scenes as a session musician. His biggest claim to fame before Deep Purple was his piano work on The Kinks' 1964 #1 U.K. hit, "You Really Got Me". Lord readily agreed to Curtis' proposal to form a more experimental group. And so it was that the embryonic Deep Purple first came together as Roundabout, with a loose line-up that included Blackmore (guitar), brothers Chris and Dave Curtis (vocals), Lord (keyboards), Nick Simper (bass), and Bobby Woodman (drums). Woodman was a veteran skinsman who, under the name Bobby Clarke, had played in '50s rocker Vince Taylor's backing band. At age 22, Simper was less experienced but had played in a number of short-lived '60s beat combos, most notable of which was Johnny Kidd & The New Pirates. But when Kidd died in a car crash in October, 1966, Simper found himself back doing session work. No sooner had Curtis talked everyone else into his "lovely, psychedelic sort of idea" than he himself got cold feet and dropped out of sight, taking his brother Dave with him. Blackmore was not impressed, and it wasn't until Lord and Simper had organized suitable replacements and set up a string of practice dates in Denmark that the errant guitarist agreed to "stay long enough to see what happened."
Richard Hugh Blackmore was ten when his father bought him his first guitar and paid for him to have classical lessons. A gifted student, Blackmore was still in school when he began playing electric guitar in local outfits and by the time he was 17, he was cutting records. By 1967, Blackmore was living in Hamburg, Germany. Like Lord, after years of playing other people's music, he was itching to try something different. When the invitation to join Roundabout arrived, he was ready. With Curtis gone and Woodman deemed too out of touch with the new psychedelic scene, vocalist Rod Evans and drummer Ian Paice completed the line-up. Evans and Paice had met and played together in The MI5, which later changed its name to The Maze and released a couple of flop singles in 1967. In fact, when Evans auditioned for Simper, Lord and Blackmore in March 1968, Paice tagged along, unaware that the band also needed a new drummer. Invited to sit in while Evans auditioned, Paice was surprised but delighted when the band then offered them both jobs. Evans' contribution to the early Purple sound has been unfairly overlooked. By the time he joined, the band had already auditioned a number of different singers, including Rod Stewart, who, according to Simper, "was pretty awful." They had also asked Mike Harrison of Spooky Tooth to take the mic, but, as Blackmore recalls, "He didn't want to know." Just 21 years old, Evans' only previous musical experience was with small-time outfits such as The Horizons, and The MI5/The Maze. But as Simper once observed, "Rod Evans was magic."
With the new line-up intact, the band launched a brief tour of Denmark. But the wave of changes wasn't yet behind them. A new name was in order as "Roundabout just wasn't doing the trick. Initially opting for Fire, they were informed that there was already a group by that name. No matter. Ritchie had come up with something better. The title of an old Nino Tempo / April Stevens Soul tune, "Deep Purple", didn't win over the entire group. Not everybody was convinced the name held the right connotations, but Deep Purple it stayed. It would not be the last time Ritchie would get his way. The group's first release as Deep Purple was the single "Hush". Written and originally recorded by American Country artist Joe South, the song was later covered by Billy Joe Royal as a short, snappy Pop / Soul number. Royal's was the only version the group knew, and they extended it into a lengthy Rock jam that included a 90-second Hammond organ solo, a touch which at the time was unheard-of. "It was my idea to do 'Hush'", Ritchie claimed. "I heard it in Hamburg. So I mentioned it to the band and we did it." Recorded at Highleigh Manor, a spooky tenth-century manor house in the quaint English village of Balcombe, "Hush" was completed in just two takes, during the non-stop 48-hour session that produced all the tracks on Purple's first album, "Shades Of Deep Purple." Released in the UK in June of '68 on Parlophone Records, "Hush" missed the UK Pop chart by miles. Much to the band's astonishment, however, the song became a Top 5 smash in the United States and won them a deal with the Tetragrammaton label.
The band maintained the same formula for their second album, "The Book Of Taliesyn", released in the US in October 1968. Two tracks, a full-bodied rendition of Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman" (#38) and a somewhat over-ambitious attempt at "River Deep-Mountain High" were released as singles and were successful enough to push "The Book Of Taliesyn" into the Top 20 albums in the States. Their next album, simply titled "Deep Purple", and released in the States in June of '69, was their first to actually warrant the term Heavy. While "Hallelujah (I Am The Preacher)", another cover of an old hit not included on the album but released as a single, trod the well-worn commercial path, "Lalena" was indicative of their new style, with hefty riffs and pounding percussion pushed to the fore. Neither had much success on the Hot 100 chart. Live on stage however, was where the band's music first exploded. They were not just a Pop group anymore, and one night, when Deep Purple opened for Cream on their farewell U.S. tour, the headliners were booed off stage as the audience wanted only Purple.
With his penchant for holding the guitar close to the amp, creating what he calls "chance music" out of the screaming distortion that ensued, Blackmore quickly became the star of the show. No longer content with just churning out the hits, he wanted to take the group's new sound even further. The success of such British contemporaries as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath demonstrated the public's taste for such ideas. But to fulfill their full-bore potential, the band would need to make drastic changes. So out went Rod Evans and Nick Simper and in came vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. Gillan says he was elated at joining the band. "When I first heard them, I had never been moved musically so much in my life." At last the singer could write lyrics that meant something to him, while the band improvised around him. "We don't plan things," Gillan told Melody Maker in September 1971. "If Ritchie wants to play a 150-bar solo, he'll play it and no one will stop him." When Gillan went to audition for Purple, Glover accompanied him, much as Paice joined Evans on his audition the previous year. They ended up recording a studio jam with the band and Glover was unexpectedly offered a job. He initially turned it down, but changed his mind the very next day. "I felt very awkward at first," he said. "I was signing copies of the group's album which had Nick's face on it." Musically, Glover would provide the anchor the rest of the band needed, while Gillan's extravagant vocal style perfectly suited their new, adventurous musical approach.
The new, improved line-up of Deep Purple commenced with an album that barely hinted at what they were capable of: "Concerto For Group And Orchestra". Credited to "Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra", 'Concerto' was recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall on September 24, 1969, and released in the U.S. three months later. The quintessential Purple sound as we fondly remember it today, however, was first heard on "Deep Purple In Rock". Released in the US in September 1970, "Deep Purple In Rock" contains many of the classic cuts we now associate with the name Deep Purple. The album was a monster success on both sides of the Atlantic, staying in the UK Top 30 for more than a year. It's follow up, "Fireball" was released in the US in July of '71, and was another commercial success. But the biggest album Deep Purple ever recorded is "Machine Head". Released in March 1972, "Machine Head" was the critical and commercial apotheosis of the Purple. Not only is it jammed with classic cuts, but it also went to #1 in the UK and sold more than two million copies in the US, where it spawned the #4 hit, "Smoke On The Water".
The genesis of "Smoke On The Water" lay in the band's decision to record Machine Head 'live' at the Casino in Montreux, Switzerland. Taking with them The Rolling Stones' 16-track mobile studio, they tried to capture their dynamic on stage sound, which they felt they had heretofore failed to do in the relative sterility of the recording studio. However, the day before Purple was due to begin recording, Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention were playing the Casino. Halfway through the Mothers' set, fire broke out. Someone who escaped in the confusion had fired a flare gun into the ceiling. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, but the old Casino was burned to the ground. Forced to look for a last-minute alternative, Purple settled on the Grand Hotel. As it turned out, the Grand Hotel had its own hazards. Not two hours into their first recording session, the group received a dubious welcome by local police. It seems several neighbors had called the cops, complaining about the noise. But the band was cooking on a track for which Blackmore had already come up with the riff, and for which Gillan was hurriedly writing new, lyrics. Hence the opening line: "We all went down to Montreux..." Reluctant to interrupt the flow of their session, Purple left the Swiss police to bang on the locked studio doors while they frantically tried to finish the track. "The police, who had a fleet of cars outside, kept hammering at the door," Blackmore recalled. "We didn't want to open up until we knew we had gotten the right take."
It would surely be impossible to come up with a follow-up that could beat "Machine Head", and so it proved. Released in the US in December 1972, "Who Do We Think We Are" would be the last studio album for nearly twelve years, thus bringing to an end the golden age of Deep Purple. Recorded partly at a villa outside Rome, where they again drew complaints about the noise (the locals kept asking, "Who do they think they are?"), and written at a time when personal tensions within the group were reaching the boiling point, "Who Do We Think We Are" was seen as something of a disappointment after the massive success of its three illustrious predecessors. Its restless tone was a reflection of the band's deepening inner turmoil.
Fittingly, their last performances together, on tour first in Japan and then Germany at the tail end of 1972, were some of the most powerful they had ever given. The band fortunately taped some of those final shows in Japan. The resultant 'live' double album, "Made In Japan", released in the US in December 1972, was an enormous tribute to a great band operating at the very peak of its powers. "The original conception of the live album was to get as close to a natural sound from all the instruments as possible, the presence of an audience bringing out something in the band that could never be replicated in a cold studio," Blackmore explained. Well, it certainly did that, and "Made In Japan" is now regarded, alongside The Who's "Live At Leeds" and The Stones' "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!", as one of the greatest live albums of all time.
Ian Gillian and Roger Glover both announced their retirement from Deep Purple at the same time. Exasperated with Ritchie's moods and the punishing tour schedule, Gillan vanished from the music scene completely, turning his attention to a motorcycle manufacturing company, a recording studio in London, and an English country club / hotel, only to return three years later with his own Ian Gillan Band. Glover merely wished to step out of the limelight for a while and concentrate on the production work he was being offered. In June 1973, the three remaining members of Deep Purple decided to find replacements and soldier on. Enter vocalist David Coverdale and bassist / vocalist Glenn Hughes. Coverdale began his musical journey playing the guitar, but switched to singing after receiving encouragement from friends. Though he had been a member of several short-lived local bands, he was actually working in a fashion boutique when he answered the ad that Purple had placed in Melody Maker. Glenn Hughes' major claim to fame before joining Purple was his work in Trapeze, which had released a clutch of fine albums in the early '70s, most notably their 1972 classic, "You Are The Music... We're Just The Band". But their popularity in the US was not sufficient to keep the line-up from fragmenting, and when, in June of '73, Hughes was offered the job of replacing Roger Glover in Deep Purple, he leaped at it.
The first album from this version of Deep Purple, titled simply "Burn", was released in February of '74. It was a marvelous comeback. Coverdale's deep, rich vocals and Hughes' higher-pitched, soulful backup reintroduced a more bluesy feel to the band's sound while adding extra layers of power. Tracks such as the frenetic "Burn" and the surprisingly funky first single, "Might Just Take Your Life", proved a superb showcase for the twin-vocal line-up, hinting at new depths to the band's music. When the smoke cleared, "Burn" was recognized as the band's finest hour since "Machine Head".
"Stormbringer" followed in November 1974, but aside from the epic title track, the album was a disappointment after the rekindled promise of "Burn". Blackmore was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the band's move toward a funkier, White Soul sound, and he now admits that he had begun keeping his best songs for his planned solo album. The result: Blackmore's decision to leave the band in April 1975 and form the first incarnation of his solo vehicle, Rainbow. It would prove to be a terrific blow, but the rest of the band refused to go down without a fight, and to the surprise of many long-time observers, actually announced a replacement for the previously considered irreplaceable Man In Black. His name was Tommy Bolin, and the arrival of the young American opened up a new and exciting chapter in the band's story. It was Coverdale who had suggested auditioning Bolin. "He walked in, thin as a rake, his hair colored green, yellow, and blue with feathers in it. Slinking along beside him was this stunning Hawaiian girl in a crochet dress with nothing on underneath. He plugged into four Marshall 100-watt stacks and..." The job was his. Bolin had been a member of many now-forgotten mid-'60s bands; Denny & The Triumphs, American Standard, and Zephyr, which released three albums from '69-72. But before Purple, Bolin's best-known recordings were made as a gun-for-hire on Billy Cobham's 1973 Jazz Fusion album "Spectrum", and on The James Gang's "Bang" (1973) and "Miami" (1974). He had also jammed with such luminaries as Dr. John, Albert King, and Alphonse Mouzon and was busy working on his first solo album, "Teaser", when he accepted an invitation to make history as a member of the new Deep Purple.
The resulting album, "Come Taste The Band", was released in the US in November 1975. Despite mixed reviews, the collection revitalized the band, bringing a new, extreme Funk edge to their Hard-Rock sound. Bolin's influence was crucial, and with encouragement from Hughes and Coverdale, the guitarist came up with much of the material. "Gettin' Tighter", a Bolin tune with words by Hughes, who also sang lead, was an album highlight that would become an on stage favorite, typifying the band's new direction. But not all the members of the band were convinced about the new, soulful direction, and when Bolin's own personal problems began to manifest themselves in canceled shows and missed cues, the writing was on the wall. The end came on tour in Britain in March 1976, before Blackmore's immense following, when the pressure to show what he could do proved too much for the increasingly addled guitarist. At the final show in Liverpool, during his solo spot, Bolin's nerve failed him, and he completely dried up. Coverdale walked off in tears. It was all over. "It was a tragedy," Coverdale says. "Tommy was a brilliant guitarist, but he just couldn't help himself." Undeterred, Bolin had just finished recording his second solo album, "Private Eyes", when, on December 4, 1976, the real tragedy struck. In Miami, during a tour supporting Jeff Beck, Bolin was found seemingly unconscious by his girlfriend. Unable to wake him, she hurriedly called paramedics, but it was too late. The official cause of death: multiple-drug intoxication. He was 25 years old. That night Ritchie Blackmore, touring Japan with Rainbow, dedicated a song to his memory. Bolin was buried back in Sioux City, wearing a ring his girlfriend had given him. It had been on Jimi Hendrix's hand the day he died.
By the dawn of the '80s and the onset of such post-Purple rockers as Van Halen, Motley Crue, and Iron Maiden, the name Deep Purple had been consigned to history. So when it was announced in April 1984 that the line-up of Blackmore, Gillan, Lord, Paice, and Glover were back together again, the news was greeted with surprise. None of the members of Purple had been idle in their years apart. Gillan had formed his own, eponymously named band and enjoyed a string of hits everywhere except the States, where his only solo success had been his performance on the soundtrack to the million-selling early-'70s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. His stateside fortunes improved with his one-off album, 1983's "Born Again", and subsequent tour with Black Sabbath, where bizarrely, he replaced former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Even more bizarrely, Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi originally offered the job to David Coverdale, who turned it down. Nevertheless, encouraged by the renewed boom in Heavy Metal, the reincarnated Deep Purple came back stronger than ever with "Perfect Strangers", the album which launched Deep Purple back onto the US charts. Their first get-together was in a conference room in Greenwich, Connecticut, overlooking the harbor. Lord, who was "nervous as a kitten," hadn't seen Ritchie in ten years. "And when he walked into that room, and suddenly these five people were together for the first time in ten years, everyone just started smiling. And I think it was Ritchie who said, right then, 'Well, let's do it.'"
Certainly the energy always crackled when these five were in the same room. The question was, how long could they channel that energy into positive results before their egos drove them apart again? Predictably, the answer was not long. There was a follow-up re-formation album, 1987's "The House Of Blue Light", but it was becoming increasingly clear that things were not working out again. And by the time they released the live "Nobody's Perfect" album in the summer of '88, Gillan had announced that he was leaving again. Many fans thought the group would splinter again, but they confounded all expectations by continuing with the surprise recruitment of former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, recording one good-but-not-great album together, "Slaves And Masters", released in October 1990. Turner began his career in the mid-'70s fronting a Purple covers band called Ezra. Before replacing Graham Bonnet in Rainbow, he had recorded three albums with New York rockers Fandango. When Blackmore iced Rainbow to return to Purple, Turner released a solo album, 1985's "Rescue You", paying the bills with session work (that's Joe singing backup on Cher's 1987 hit "We All Sleep Alone"). Being invited to replace Gillan in Deep Purple was, he said, "a lifelong dream come true."
The '90s saw another splintering of the Deep Purple line-up, this time when Ritchie left yet again and the band replacing him with former Dixie Dregs / Kansas guitarist Steve Morse. Their album, 1998's "Abandon", is a decent enough offering, if lacking a certain crucial element. But then, as Gillan said, "You can only be Ritchie Blackmore's backing group for so long." In 2001, Don Airey replaced Jon Lord on keyboards to form what devoted fans referred to as Deep Purple Mk VIII. In 2003, Deep Purple released "Bananas", their first studio album in five years and began touring in support of the LP. Sales did not live up to expectations however, and EMI opted not to resign the band. In October, 2005, Deep Purple released their next album, "Rapture of the Deep" on the Edel label in the UK and Eagle Records in America. That effort peaked on Billboard's Top Independent Albums chart at #43 and made the Top 20 in several European markets.
In February 2007, Ian Gillan pleaded with fans not to buy "Come Hell or High Water", a live album released by Sony BMG. It was a recording of their 1993 appearance at the NEC in Birmingham. Gillan told the press, "It was one of the lowest points of my life, all of our lives, actually". Although rumors circulated about another album in 2010, concerns over potential sales kept that from happening. In early 2011, David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes told TV's VH1 that they would be interested in reuniting with Deep Purple for the right opportunity, such as a benefit concert. By 2015, Hughes was touring the world with a band called Kings Of Chess, that included Robin Zander from Cheap Trick and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
Fans were saddened on July 16th, 2012 when keyboardist Jon Lord passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71. In June, 2013, Deep Purple issued their first studio album in eight years, "Now What?". When asked about releasing new material so late in their career, Ian Gillan responded, "Classic Rock is never a label that we've given ourselves, it's one of the many labels that's been imposed on us." 2015 saw the band doing a Summer tour of the US and Canada before starting a string of shows in Europe. In October of that year, Guitarist Steve Morse revealed that Deep Purple had been recording a new album which they expected to be released in early January, 2016. This latest effort would be the band's 20th studio LP. In December, 2015, officials in Cleveland announced that Deep Purple would be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame at their 2016 ceremony. The Hall Of Fame induction took place at Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Barclays Center on April 8th, 2016.
During the summer of 2016, Ian Paice reportedly suffered a mini-stroke and Deep Purple were forced to pull out of a string of shows while he recuperated. The following December the band announced a series of shows for 2017 and 2018 called the Long Goodbye Tour, which seemingly indicated that this tour may be their last. The band was back in the news in January, 2017 when they filed suit against their longtime accountant Dipak Shanker Rao for siphoning off $4.9 million in royalties. Rao had already admitted to "borrowing" or "lending" at least $2.8 million, according to The Times of London. On the brighter side, a new album called "inFinite" was released in April of that year and a three-disc box set titled "The Voice of Deep Purple: The Gillan Years", was slated for a November 17 release.
Time and time again Deep Purple are cited as the band that crafted Heavy Rock to a fine art. Along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, they remain the genre's undisputed leaders.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with
Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes