Deep Purple's still smokin' after all these years
British rock veterans Deep Purple sold out their upcoming Orpheum show in one week, which ain't bad for a band that hit its commercial peak 30 years ago. Maybe the strong sales were due to the fact that the group hasn't played Vancouver since the 1980s; perhaps the inclusion of opening act Thin Lizzy made the difference. More likely it was the news that Purple was going to be performing its breakthrough 1972 album, Machine Head, in its entirety.
As founding bassist Roger Glover allows, the idea to play Machine Head in full didn't come from within the band. "It's something to do with our agent or promoter," points out Glover from his home in Connecticut. "Although Deep Purple's had a long history, in most of the world where we tour, it's also considered to be a current band. But that doesn't apply to America and Canada, and to a certain extent, England, where we're only viewed as in the past, really. So it's actually very frustrating coming out with new material, and it's very difficult to get that across when all the radio wants to do is play 'Smoke on the Water'."
Whoa yeah. The holy "Smoke": soundtrack to every Fraser Valley bush party worth attending in the halcyon days of mag wheels and 8-track tapes. Its primitive riff is the bane of every snot-nosed hipster who's ever worshipped at the altar of Radiohead, but Glover gets a buzz every time his bass kicks in on that tune. "People want to know if we ever get tired of playing 'Smoke on the Water'," he says, "and the answer is no. I mean, as Steve Morse says, if there's a button you could push that instantly got the audience on their feet going nuts, you'd be hard-pressed not to push that button."
Morse is the acclaimed American picker--chosen best guitarist five years in a row by the readers of Guitar Player magazine--who took over Deep Purple's coveted six-string spot from Ritchie Blackmore in 1993. Glover first heard Morse's boggling fretwork while Purple was touring Germany in the early '80s. "We were driving to a hotel and this classical piece of music came on," he recalls, "and I thought it was [Johann Sebastian] Bach. Then all of a sudden it took a left turn, and I realized it wasn't Bach at all--it was actually quite modern. I thought 'Who the hell is this?' It was a piece called 'Go for Baroque', on the [Dixie Dregs'] Unsung Heroes album. So I immediately checked it out and I became a huge Steve Morse fan."
As well as Glover and Morse, the current Deep Purple lineup includes original vocalist Ian Gillan, organist Don Airey--who took over from the Hammond-thrashing Jon Lord in 2001--and original drummer Ian Paice, a Buddy Rich devotee who has long been acknowledged as one of the finest skin-bashers in rock. "Most drummers don't have that inherent sense of swing that he has," Glover notes. "And to me, the defining essence of rock 'n' roll is when someone in the band is playing straight and someone else in the band is playing a shuffle. I mean, that's '50s rock 'n' roll--that's Little Richard, that's Chuck Berry, you know."
There's little doubt that, come Sunday (February 8), the Orpheum's capacity crowd will listen politely when the quintet unveils material from its new CD, Bananas, and go absolutely bonkers when Paice hits the skins on deathless Machine Head cuts like "Highway Star", "Space Truckin' ", "Lazy", and the aforementioned "Smoke". Sure, the hopped-up '70s-rock freaks will be living in the distant past, but considering the present state of the world, who can blame them? "It's hard to get away from nostalgia," Glover relates, "but some musicians are there for life, you know. It's not a question of being fashionable or having a string of hits, it's just that that's what you do."