Deep Purple are an English rock band formed in Hertford in 1968.The band is considered to be among the pioneers of heavy metal and modern hard rock, although their musical approach changed over the years. Originally formed as a progressive rock band, the band shifted to a heavier sound in 1970. Deep Purple, together with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, have been referred to as the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal in the early to mid-seventies”. They were listed in the 1975 Guinness Book of World Records as “the globe’s loudest band” for a 1972 concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre, and have sold over 100 million copies of their albums worldwide.
Deep Purple have had several line-up changes and an eight-year hiatus (1976–1984). The 1968–1976 line-ups are commonly labelled Mark I, II, III and IV. Their second and most commercially successful line-up consisted of Ian Gillan (vocals), Jon Lord(keyboards, backing vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), and Ritchie Blackmore (guitar). This line-up was active from 1969 to 1973, and was revived from 1984 to 1989, and again from 1992 to 1993. The band achieved more modest success in the intervening periods between 1968 and 1969 with the line-up including Rod Evans(lead vocals) and Nick Simper (bass, backing vocals), between 1974 and 1976 with the line-up including David Coverdale (lead vocals) and Glenn Hughes (bass, vocals) (and Tommy Bolin replacing Blackmore in 1975), and between 1989 and 1992 with the line-up including Joe Lynn Turner (vocals). The band’s line-up (currently including Ian Gillan, and guitarist Steve Morse from 1994) has been much more stable in recent years, although keyboardist Jon Lord’s retirement from the band in 2002 (being succeeded by Don Airey) left Ian Paice as the only original Deep Purple member still in the band.
Deep Purple were ranked number 22 on VH1’s Greatest Artists of Hard Rock programme and a poll on British radio station Planet Rock ranked them 5th among the “most influential bands ever”.The band received the Legend Award at the 2008 World Music Awards. Deep Purple (specifically Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Gillan, Glover, Coverdale, Evans and Hughes) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
In 1967, former Searchers drummer Chris Curtis contacted London businessman Tony Edwards, in the hope that he would manage a new group he was putting together, to be called Roundabout. Curtis’ vision was a “supergroup” where the band members would get on and off, like a musical roundabout. Impressed with the plan, Edwards agreed to finance the venture with his two business partners John Coletta and Ron Hire, who comprised Hire-Edwards-Coletta Enterprises (HEC).
The first recruit to the band was the classically trained Hammond organ player Jon Lord, Curtis’ flatmate who had most notably played with the Artwoods (led by Art Wood, brother of future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, and including Keef Hartley). Lord was then performing in a backing band for the vocal group The Flower Pot Men (formerly known as the Ivy League), along with bassist Nick Simper and drummer Carlo Little. Simper had previously been in Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and survived the 1966 car crash that killed Kidd. Lord put the two on alert that he’d been recruited for the Roundabout project, after which Simper and Little suggested guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, whom Lord had never met.Simper had known Blackmore since the early 1960s when his first band, the Renegades, debuted around the same time as one of Blackmore’s early bands, the Dominators.
HEC persuaded Blackmore to return from Hamburg to audition for the new group. Blackmore was making a name for himself as a studio session guitarist, and had also been a member of the Outlaws, Screaming Lord Sutch, and Neil Christian. Curtis’ erratic behaviour and lifestyle, fuelled by LSD use, caused a sudden disinterest in the project he had started, forcing HEC to dismiss him from Roundabout. But HEC was now intrigued with the possibilities Lord and Blackmore brought, while Lord and Blackmore were also keen to continue. The two carried on, recruiting additional members and keeping Tony Edwards as their manager. Lord convinced Simper to join for good, but left Carlo Little behind in favour of drummer Bobby Woodman. Bobby Woodman (as Bobbie Clarke) was the former drummer for Vince Taylor’s Play-Boys.
In March 1968, Lord, Blackmore, Simper and Woodman moved into Deeves Hall, a country house in South Mimms, Hertfordshire. The band would live, write and rehearse at Deeves Hall, which was fully kitted out with the latest Marshall amplification and, at Lord’s request, a Hammond C3 organ. According to Simper, “dozens” of singers were auditioned (including Rod Stewart and Woodman’s friend Dave Curtiss) until the group heard Rod Evans of the club band The Maze, and thought his voice fit their style well. Tagging along with Evans was his band’s drummer, Ian Paice. Blackmore had seen an 18-year-old Paice on tour with The Maze in Germany in 1966, and had been impressed by his drumming. The band hastily arranged an audition for Paice, given that Woodman was vocally unhappy with the direction of the band’s music. Both Paice and Evans won their respective jobs, and the line-up was complete.
During a brief tour of Denmark and Sweden in April, in which they were still billed as Roundabout, Blackmore suggested a new name: “Deep Purple”, named after his grandmother’s favourite song. The group had resolved to choose a name after everyone had posted one on a board in rehearsal. Second to Deep Purple was “Concrete God”, which the band thought was too harsh to take on.
Early years (1968–1970)
In May 1968, the band moved into Pye Studios in London’s Marble Arch to record their debut album, Shades of Deep Purple, which was released in July by American label Tetragammaton, and in September by UK label EMI. The group had success in North America with a cover of Joe South’s “Hush”, and by September 1968, the song had reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and number 2 in the Canadian RPM charts, pushing the Shades LP up to No. 24 on Billboard‘s pop album charts. The following month, Deep Purple was booked to support Cream on their Goodbye tour.
The band’s second album, The Book of Taliesyn, was quickly recorded, then released in North America in October 1968 to coincide with the tour. The album included a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”, which cracked the Top 40 in both the US (No. 38 on the Billboard charts) and Canada (No. 21 on the RPMcharts), though sales for the album were not as strong (No. 54 in US, No. 48 in Canada). The Book of Taliesyn would not be released in the band’s home country until the following year and, like its predecessor, it failed to have much impact in the UK charts.
Early in 1969, the band recorded a single called “Emmaretta”, named after Emmaretta Marks, then a cast member of the musical Hair, whom Evans was trying to seduce. By March of that year, the band had completed recording for their third album, Deep Purple. The album contained strings and woodwind on one track (“April”), showcasing Lord’s classical antecedents such as Bach and Rimsky-Korsakov, and several other influences were in evidence, notably Vanilla Fudge. (Lord and Blackmore had even claimed the group wanted to be a “Vanilla Fudge clone”.) This would be the last recording by the original line-up.
Deep Purple’s troubled North American record label, Tetragrammaton, delayed production of the Deep Purple album until after the band’s 1969 American tour ended. This, as well as lackluster promotion by the nearly broke label, caused the album to sell poorly, finishing well out of the Billboard Top 100. Soon after the third album’s eventual release, Tetragrammaton went out of business, leaving the band with no money and an uncertain future. (Tetragrammaton’s assets were assumed by Warner Bros. Records, who would release Deep Purple’s records in the US throughout the 1970s.)
During the 1969 American tour, Lord and Blackmore met with Paice to discuss their desire to take the band in a heavier direction. Feeling that Evans and Simper would not fit well with a heavy rock style, both were replaced that summer. Paice stated, “A change had to come. If they hadn’t left, the band would have totally disintegrated.” Both Simper and Blackmore noted that Rod Evans already had one foot out the door. Simper said that Evans had met a girl in Hollywoodand had eyes on being an actor, while Blackmore explained, “Rod just wanted to go to America and live in America.”
In search of a replacement vocalist, Blackmore set his own sights on 19-year-old singer Terry Reid. Though he found the offer “flattering”, Reid was still bound by the exclusive recording contract with his producer Mickie Most and more interested in his solo career. Blackmore had no other choice but to look elsewhere. The band hunted down singer Ian Gillan from Episode Six, a band that had released several singles in the UK without achieving their big break for commercial success. Gillan had at one time been approached by Nick Simper when Deep Purple was first forming, but Gillan had reportedly told Simper that the Roundabout project would not go anywhere, while he felt Episode Six was poised to make it big. Six’s drummer Mick Underwood – an old comrade of Blackmore’s from his days in the Outlaws – introduced the band to Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. This effectively killed Episode Six and gave Underwood a guilt complex that lasted nearly a decade, until Gillan recruited him for his new post-Purple band in the late 1970s. According to Blackmore, Deep Purple was only interested in Gillan and not Glover, but Roger was retained on the advice of Ian Paice.
“He turned up for the session…he was their [Episode Six’s] bass player. We weren’t originally going to take him until Paicey said, ‘he’s a good bass player, let’s keep him.’ So I said okay.”
— Ritchie Blackmore on the hiring of Roger Glover.
This created the Deep Purple Mark II line-up, whose first release was a Greenaway-Cook tune titled “Hallelujah”. At the time of its recording, Nick Simper still thought he was in the band, and had called John Coletta to inquire about the recording dates for the song. He then found that the song had already been recorded with Glover on bass. The remaining original members of Deep Purple then instructed management to inform Simper that he had been officially replaced.
Despite television appearances to promote the “Hallelujah” single in the UK, the song flopped. Blackmore had told the British weekly music newspaper Record Mirror they “need to have a commercial record in Britain”, and described the song as “an in-between sort of thing”—a median between what the band would normally make but with an added commercial motive.
The band gained some much-needed publicity in September 1969 with the Concerto for Group and Orchestra, a three-movement epic composed by Lord as a solo project and performed by the band at the Royal Albert Hall in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Arnold. Together with Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues and Five Bridges by the Nice, it was one of the first collaborations between a rock band and an orchestra. This live album became their first release with any kind of chart success in the UK. Gillan and Blackmore were less than happy at the band being tagged as “a group who played with orchestras”, both feeling that the Concerto was a distraction that would get in the way of developing their desired hard-rocking style. Lord acknowledged that while the band members were not keen on the project going in, at the end of the performance “you could put the five smiles together, and it would have spanned the Thames.” Lord would also write the Gemini Suite, another orchestra/group collaboration in the same vein, for the band in late 1970. In 1975, Blackmore stated that he thought the Concerto for Group and Orchestra wasn’t bad but the Gemini Suite was horrible and very disjointed. Roger Glover later claimed Jon Lord had appeared to be the leader of the band in the early years.
Breakthrough success (1970–1973)
The classic Deep Purple line up, 1971. From left to right: Jon Lord, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice
Shortly after the orchestral release, Deep Purple began a hectic touring and recording schedule that was to see little respite for the next three years. Their first studio album of this period, released in mid-1970, was In Rock (a name supported by the album’s Mount Rushmore-inspired cover), which contained the then-concert staples “Speed King”, “Into The Fire” and “Child in Time”. The non-album single “Black Night”, released around the same time, finally put Deep Purple into the UK Top Ten. The interplay between Blackmore’s guitar and Lord’s distorted organ, coupled with Gillan’s powerful, wide-ranging vocals and the rhythm section of Glover and Paice, now started to take on a unique identity that separated the band from its earlier albums. Along with Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin II and Sabbath’s Paranoid, In Rock codified the budding heavy metal genre.
On the album’s development, Blackmore stated: “I got fed up with playing with classical orchestras, and thought, ‘well, this is my turn.’ Jon was into more classical. I said, ‘well you’ve done that, I’ll do rock, and whatever turns out best we’ll carry on with.’ And I said, ‘If this fails, this record, I’ll play with orchestras the rest of my life.’ In Rock performed well, especially in the UK where it reached number 4, while the “Black Night” single reached number 2 on the UK Singles Chart, and the band performed the song live on the BBC’s Top of the Pops. In addition to increasing sales in the UK, the band was making a name for itself as a live act, particularly surrounding the sheer volume of their shows and the improvisational skills of Blackmore and Lord. Said Lord, “We took from jazz, we took from old fashioned rock and roll, we took from the classics. Ritchie and myself…used to swap musical jokes and attacks. He would play something, and I’d have to see if I could match it. That provided a sense of humour, a sense of tension to the band, a sense of, ‘what the hell’s going to happen next?’ The audience didn’t know, and nine times out of ten, neither did we!”
A second album, the creatively progressive Fireball, was issued in the summer of 1971, reaching number 1 on the UK Albums Chart. The title track “Fireball” was released as a single, as was “Strange Kind of Woman”, not from the album but recorded during the same sessions (although it replaced “Demon’s Eye” on the US version of the album). “Strange Kind of Woman” became their second UK Top 10 single, reaching number 8.
Within weeks of Fireball’s release, the band were already performing songs planned for the next album. One song (which later became “Highway Star”) was performed at the first gig of the Fireball tour, having been written on the bus to a show in Portsmouth, in answer to a journalist’s question: “How do you go about writing songs?”
On 24 October 1971 during the US leg of the Fireball tour, the band was set to play the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago when Ian Gillan took ill with hepatitis, forcing the band to play without him, with bassist Glover singing the set. After this, the rest of the US dates were canceled and the band flew home.
In early December 1971, the band traveled to Switzerland to record Machine Head. The album was due to be recorded at the Montreux Casino, using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, but a fire during a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention gig, caused by a man firing a flare gun into the ceiling, burned down the Casino. This incident famously inspired the song “Smoke on the Water”. The album was later recorded in a corridor at the nearby empty Grand Hotel.
Continuing from where both previous albums left off, Machine Head was released in late March 1972 and would be recognized as one of the band’s most famous releases. It became the band’s second number 1 in the UK, while re-establishing Deep Purple in North America, hitting number 7 in the US and number 1 in Canada. It included tracks that became live classics, such as “Highway Star”, “Space Truckin'”, “Lazy” and “Smoke on the Water”, for which Deep Purple is most famous. Deep Purple continued to tour and record at a rate that would be rare thirty years on; when Machine Head was recorded, the group had only been together three and a half years, yet the album was their sixth.
“When I was nine years old it was all about Deep Purple. My all time favourite [album] is still Made in Japan”
— Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
In January 1972 the band returned to tour the US once again, then headed over to play Europe before resuming US dates in March. This time it was Blackmore’s turn to come down with hepatitis. The band attempted one show in Flint, Michigan on 31 March without a guitarist before attempting to acquire the services of Al Kooper, who rehearsed with the band before bowing out, suggesting Spirit guitarist Randy California instead. California played one gig with the group, in Quebec City, Quebecon 6 April, but the rest of this tour was canceled as well.
The band returned to the US in late May 1972 to undertake their third North America tour (of four total that year). A Japan tour in August of that year led to a double-vinyl live release, Made in Japan. Originally intended as a Japan-only record, its worldwide release saw the double LP become an instant hit. It remains one of rock music’s most popular and highest selling live-concert recordings.
The classic Deep Purple Mark II line-up continued to work, and released the album Who Do We Think We Are in 1973. Spawning the hit single “Woman from Tokyo”, the album hit number 4 in the UK charts and number 15 in the US charts while achieving gold record status faster than any Deep Purple album released up to that time. But internal tensions and exhaustion were more noticeable than ever. Following the successes of Machine Head and Made in Japan, the addition of Who Do We Think We Are made Deep Purple the top-selling artists of 1973 in the US. In Japan alone, Machine Head and Made in Japan would go on to sell well over 1 million copies combined on the back of multiple reissues.
- Deep Purple – The Illustrated Biography, Chris Charlesworth, Omnibus Press, 1983, ISBN 0-7119-0174-0
- Smoke on the Water: The Deep Purple Story, Dave Thompson, ECW Press, 2004, ISBN 1-55022-618-5
- The Complete Deep Purple, Michael Heatley, Reynolds & Hearn, 2005, ISBN 1-903111-99-4
- Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story, Greg Prato, Createspace, 2008, ISBN 0-5780031-7-1.