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Smoke On The Water

The Deep Purple Story
By Dave Thompson

Revew by Simon Collins

Image cover smoke on the waterIt's hard to imagine a world without Deep Purple, and since I was in fact still being breastfed in April 1968, when a band called Roundabout, then on tour in Denmark, made the fateful decision to change its name to Deep Purple, I have little practical experience of living in such a world. I've been listening to heavy metal ever since I was old enough to have an independent musical taste (the first records I ever bought were by Judas Priest and Status Quo – I was ten), and as far as I can see, there were really only three bands responsible for spawning the entire genre – Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. My attitude to these bands is much like the Jewish attitude to Moses – these guys were the patriarchs, the prophets, the founding fathers. Black Sabbath was arguably the most influential band of all, despite being musically much cruder than the other two, since Sabbath introduced the whole parent-worrying, devil-worshipping, glorification of evil thing that heavy metal has been associated with ever since. Deep Purple, however, spread its influence far and wide.

If you were to draw up a family tree for Deep Purple (this book doesn't contain one), including all the bands which contributed personnel and those which were formed by ex-members, it would look like a friggin' map of the London Underground. To name only the most famous bands to bear some sort of relation to Deep Purple, there are Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Gillan, Dio, Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, UFO, Ozzy Osbourne, the Gary Moore Band, Nazareth… Viewed from this Purple-centric perspective, heavy metal stops looking like a bunch of different bands and starts to resemble a huge multinational conglomerate, complete with mergers, takeovers and acquisitions, with only Led Zeppelin remaining independent, like the Apple to Deep Purple's Microsoft.

Deep Purple is the only band I'm aware of which people regularly discuss in terms of Mark I, Mark II etc. For the uninitiated, Mark II is the lineup universally agreed to have produced their finest work – founding trio Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Paice (drums) and Jon Lord (keyboards) were joined by vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover for 1970's breakthrough album Deep Purple In Rock. The three albums produced by the original Mark I lineup are historical curiosities, but In Rock is a truly ground-breaking piece of work, and it was followed by Fireball, Machine Head and the lacklustre Who Do We Think We Are before Gillan and Glover were replaced by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes in 1973.

By Dave Thompson's reckoning, as of 2003, Deep Purple is currently in its Mark VIII incarnation, although this figure doesn't count the two Mark II reunions. It also doesn't count the revival act 'Deep Purple' which toured America in 1980, during a hiatus in official Purple activity. This bogus band contained precisely one member of the Mark I lineup, singer Rod Evans, and caused riots at several venues before being litigated out of existence.

Since Deep Purple helped form the template for heavy metal bands, it's unsurprising that parallels between Smoke on the Water and This Is Spinal Tap are numerous. Excessive volume? Deep Purple was the official world-record holder for years. Singer and guitarist who can't stand each other? Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore. Lead guitarist who flounces off stage in the middle of live sets? That'd be Ritchie Blackmore again. Grandiose pseudo-classical side projects? Jon Lord pioneered the genre with his 1969 Concerto for Group and Orchestra. On-tour mishaps involving a replica Stonehenge and a dwarf? It happened to Black Sabbath during Ian Gillan's brief tour of duty (1980, Born Again tour):

'When the dwarf would fall off of Stonehenge, the screaming would fade and the druids would come on to the sounds of the bells tolling. On opening night, we could still hear the screaming after the dwarf fell… somebody had moved the mattresses! ... I think he bounced right out the door.'

In Smoke on the Water (it must have taken ages to think of that title – not), veteran rock journo Dave Thompson (he's written dozens of biographies of everyone from the Chili Peppers to Suede) has written an informative but uninspiring book. Admittedly, he's not helped by the fact that the members of Deep Purple do not, on the whole, seem to have led lives of great hedonism and debauchery. Sure, Ritchie Blackmore's replacement on guitar, Tommy Bolin, died from a heroin overdose, but he was out of the band by that time, and, as an anonymous insider commented, 'The problem wasn't so much that Tommy was into drugs, it was that the rest of the group weren't.'

Ian Gillan has had problems with the booze over the years, too, but compared with the rock'n'roll search and destroy missions conducted by Led Zeppelin over the years and exhaustively documented in Stephen Davis' Hammer of the Gods, Deep Purple's on-the-road behaviour seems to have been pretty restrained, and the overwhelming impression given is that of a dedicated and hard-working bunch of serious musicians. Aww, boring!

As befits a book this size about a group this venerable, Smoke on the Water comes equipped with an exhaustive discography for every incarnation of Deep Purple, plus solo discographies for all members, plus an index, in which, amusingly, 'Smoke On The Water' is listed next to a rather less well-known number called 'Smelly Botty'! A few more photos wouldn't have gone amiss, though, and it would have been useful to have a chronology section.

Ultimately, the greatest testimonial I can offer this book is that reading it caused me to dust off my Deep Purple collection, and give it all a listen - In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head, Burn and of course Made In Japan. 'Black Night', 'Fireball', 'Speed King', 'Demon's Eye', 'Child In Time', 'Highway Star' and of course 'Smoke On The Water'. All together now – dur dur dur, dur dur dur-dur, dur dur dur, dur-dur…We all came out to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline…

This music, by and large, still sounds incredibly fresh and exciting, over thirty years after it was recorded. In fact, writing this review has been a costly process, since I felt moved to go out and fill gaps in my collection, buying copies of Made In Europe, the not-nearly-as-good Mark III follow-up to Made In Japan, Perfect Strangers, the not-half-bad 1984 comeback album by the reformed Mark II lineup, and the 2-CD deluxe edition of Machine Head.

Available Deep Purple product is radically divided between, on the one hand, excellent mid-price reissues of some of their best work, mostly compiled by bassist Roger Glover, which are fanboys' feasts of remixes, remasters, outtakes and rarities, and on the other hand, a confusing surfeit of more or less cheesy compilations and countless live albums. It's hard to approach a song as legendary as 'Smoke On The Water' and listen to it again without prejudice and preconceptions, but it's worth making the effort. Deep Purple rocked.

$17.95 / 402pp / ECW Press / 2004 / ISBN 1-55022-618-5
contact: ECW Press, 2120 Queen Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4E 1E2

deep purple  , music  , simon collins  , black sabbath  , judas priest  , ritchie blackmore  ,
Rating star    

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