DEEP PURPLE (1968–PRESENT). Classic lineup: Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums).
One of the first wave of classic heavy rock bands (along with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin) to find massive commercial success with heavy music, Deep Purple were unique in their prominent use of keyboards, and related to this, in their incorporation of classical elements in their songwriting, which would later prove to be influential in progressive rock.
In a career spanning forty years, the band has experienced a variety of personnel changes and a handful of “versions” of the band. First forming in 1968 in Hertfordshire, England, the band initially featured guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, vocalist Rod Evans, bassist Nick Simper, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice. This first version of the band (Deep Purple I to their fans) was the most poporiented, and their first album, Shades of Deep Purple, released in 1968, yielded a hit single in a remake of Joe South’s “Hush.” Their second album, 1969’s The Book of Taliesyn, similarly produced a hit of a cover, this time “Kentucky Woman,” written by Neil Diamond.
As the band sought to develop their own musical personality, they began to experiment more with classical elements, bringing Jon Lord’s keyboards (particularly organ) to the fore on the band’s eponymous third album, Deep Purple, released in 1969. Further seeking to reinvigorate the band, Evans and Simper were fired and replaced by vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. Gillan was a skilled rock vocalist and gave the band a much more aggressive vocal style. The band’s first outing with the newest version of the group (Deep Purple II if you’re keeping score), was the Lord-penned Concerto for Group and Orchestra of 1970, which found the band playing the original work along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. While not commercially successful, it represented the group’s sincere desire to fuse rock and classical sensibilities.
Seeking a more aggressive sound, guitarist Blackmore began to dominate the group, evolving a heavier, guitar-based sound, that combined a highly original guitar sound with Lord’s classical organ themes. Around this time, Blackmore began playing Fender Stratocaster guitars instead of the smoother-sounding Gibsons he had favored previously. The sound of the Fender played through cranked Marshall amplifiers gave Blackmore—and Purple—a distinct rock guitar sound, one that was powerful yet retained a level of definition that was unusual in heavy rock, and that would be highly influential to Yngwie Malmsteen and others who would follow.
The fruits of Blackmore’s influence were first heard on 1970’s In Rock, which was the first Deep Purple album to deliver what would come to be the classic Deep Purple sound: high energy, classically influenced melodic compositions, delivered with virtuosic instrumental precision and soulful, aggressive vocals. Featuring the tracks “Speed King” and “Child in Time,” the album was a solid hit, selling over a million copies, and signaled the beginning of the band’s most creative and commercially rewarding era. The follow-up Fireball continued both the band’s formula and its success.
For the band’s next album they had planned to record at the Casino in Montreaux, Switzerland, using the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit. As it happens, the venue burned down just before their arrival, an event chronicled in the band’s classic “Smoke on the Water.” Finding another venue, the band proceeded to record perhaps their best-known album, Machine Head, in Montreaux. The album was a multi-platinum smash featuring not only “Smoke” but also other classic tracks such as “Space Truckin’” and the burning rocker “Highway Star.” With Machine Head, the band entered the top ranks of rock stardom. The 1973 follow-up, Who Do We Think We Are?, featured the hit “Woman From Tokyo” and consolidated the band’s success.
Long-simmering tensions in the group came to a head, however, and vocalist Gillan and bassist Glover were forced out, as Blackmore sought to reinvigorate the band. Bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes was the first to be brought on board. Formerly of the band Trapeze, Hughes was not only an excellent bass player, but was a distinctive vocalist with unique funk influences. After a long search, the band settled on lead vocalist David Coverdale. Coverdale, an art student and part-time vocalist wore glasses and was somewhat overweight—at least for a rock star—and the band set about rectifying the situation by getting him contacts and diet pills.
With the new lineup settled, the band turned to recording the first album with the newest lineup (Deep Purple III). The resulting album, Burn, released in 1974 was much more blues-influenced than its predecessors, which fitted Coverdale’s style. In particular, the track “Mistreated” was a slow, heavy blues that burned with intensity. Another factor in the band’s new sound related to the fact that the band now had two outstanding vocalists, and tracks like “Burn,” “Lay Down, Stay Down,” and “You Fool No One” took full advantage of the fact, and featured Coverdale and Hughes trading vocals in a dynamic and unique way. Burn was another enormous hit for the band and they followed it up with major tours of Europe and the U.S.
After Stormbringer released later that same year, Blackmore, ever restless, left Purple to form Rainbow with vocalist Ronnie James Dio. The band brought in former James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin to take his place. Bolin had come to the attention of the band via his appearance on drummer Billy Cobham’s classic fusion album Spectrum. The first and only album by this version of the band (Deep Purple IV, anyone?) was 1975’s Come Taste the Band. The constant personnel changes and the lack of a true leader for the band were damaging, though, and the band had broken up by 1976, with Coverdale eventually forming Whitesnake, and Bolin going on to a promising solo career that was cut short by his death of a heroin overdose a year later (Young).
After Blackmore’s Rainbow finished its run, the band’s classic Machine Head lineup reunited for 1984’s Perfect Strangers album, which was a solid hit for the band, and featured the successful single “Knocking at Your Back Door.” 1987 saw the release of The House of Blue Light, but relations between band members soured again, and Gillan left, to be replaced by Joe Lynn Turner (formerly of Rainbow) on Slaves and Masters in 1990. Gillan was back for 1992’s The Battle Rages On, but Blackmore himself quit the band while on tour for the album and had to be temporarily replaced by guitarist Joe Satriani.
1994 marked the beginning of a relatively stable and tranquil period as former Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse joined the band. A unique and virtuosic player and innovative composer, Morse brought an influx of new energy into the group, and the success of Purpendicular in 1996 (Deep Purple version V) marked the acceptance of a Purple without Blackmore. The group has continued to release studio albums at regular intervals, along with a variety of archival releases and box sets, fitting the band’s legacy. John Lord officially retired in 2002 (replaced by veteran keyboardist Don Airey), leaving drummer Ian Paice as the sole founding member still on board.
Discography: Shades of Deep Purple (Tetragrammaton, 1968); Concerto for Group and Orchestra (Warner Bros., 1969); Deep Purple (Tetragrammaton, 1969); The Book of Taliesyn (Spitfire, 1969); Deep Purple in Rock (Warner Bros., 1970); Fireball (Warner Bros., 1971); Made in Japan [live] (PSP, 1972); Machine Head (Warner Bros., 1972); Who Do We Think We Are (Warner Bros., 1973); Burn (Warner Bros., 1974); Stormbringer (Warner Bros., 1974); Come Taste the Band (Warner Bros., 1975); Made in Europe (Warner Bros., 1976); Last Concert in Japan [live] (Purple, 1977); In Concert [live] (Harvest, 1980); Deep Purple in Concert [live] (Portrait, 1981); Live in London (Harvest, 1982); Perfect Strangers (Mercury, 1984); Fireworks (EMI, 1985); The House of Blue Light (Mercury, 1987); Nobody’s Perfect [live] (Mercury, 1988); Slaves and Masters (RCA, 1990); The Battle Rages On … (Giant, 1992); Live and Rare (Combat, 1992); Come Hell or High Water [live] (BMG, 1994); Live ’85 (European Import, 1994); King Biscuit Flower Hour [live] (King Biscuit Flower, 1996); Purpendicular (Prominent, 1996); Live at the Olympia ’96 (Thames, 1997); The Gemini Suite (Cleopatra, 1998); Abandon (CMC International, 1998); Child in Time (Karussell, 1998); Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Spitfire, 2000); Days May Come and Days May Go: The 1975 California Rehearsals (Purple, 2000); This Time Around: Live in Tokyo ’75 (CMC International, 2001); Under the Gun (Polygram International, 2001); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Japanese Import, 2002); Gemini Suite Live 1970 (Vap, 2003); California Jam 1974 [live] (Japanese Import, 2003); Bananas (EMI, 2003); The Best & Live (BMG, 2004); Rapture of the Deep (Eagle, 2005); Live at Montreux 2006 (Eagle Rock, 2007); The Friends and Relatives Album (Elap, 2007).