Thirty-Five years on, a literal lifetime of music making and still the classic sound of Deep Purple survives. Actually, it does much more than survive, it is thriving as they head toward their fourth decade in rock and with no better evidence of this possible than their latest CD, “Bananas.”
Since Deep Purple’s reformation in 1984 the group has tended to keep a progressive musical heading, morphing their sound with each new record. Though it was always distinguishably Deep Purple, no new recording ever sounded much like the previous outing, but now all that has changed, if only slightly.
Rather than completely ignoring their pedigree, Deep Purple (with the urging of new producer Michael Bradford), took a look back to the days when an album’s worth of work came mostly from five guys facing off, (generally but not exclusively in the musical sense), against each other and letting the tones settle where they may. Historically, the practice worked with albums like “In Rock,” “Fireball,” “Purpendicular,” and the group’s signature “Machine Head,” all testifying to the success of the approach. “Bananas” is easily added to the long list of DP classics with individual tracks, “Silver Tongue,” “House of Pain,” and “Razzle Dazzle” each bound to be perennial live favorites both of group and audience alike.
Having constructed a special set list just for North America that features the entire “Machine Head” album as well as a selection of other “Hits,” and a healthy dose of the brilliant “Bananas” disc Deep Purple have done the unthinkable and remolded their own legend. Deep Purple on stage in 2004 is a remarkable thing to witness; perhaps truly better than ever before. On the eve of their incendiary performance in Detroit I spoke with bassist Roger Glover about the deepest aspects of keeping DP Rocking and Rolling in the 21st century.
DAVID LEE: “This is a bit of an ungodly hour for a Rock and Roller, isn’t it?” (laughs)
ROGER GLOVER: “ It depends on from which side you approach it. A Rock and Roll person should approach it from the night end! (laughs) ‘No, it is not too late, I was just going to bed!’ (laughs) It is like that old Blues song, ‘I got in this morning and got into bed.’”
DL: “Yes, and you are in the States too, so it really is 9:00 a.m. - whereas if you were in the UK, it would at least be five hours later.”
RG: “Well, you know, that stereotypical Rock and Roll lifestyle that people think of - you can’t really do that at my age. I mean, I did that in my twenties; I used to get up at four in the afternoon, have breakfast at six and move around a bit, watched television until it was time to go to the club. I actually did that. Ian Paice and I lived in a flat together in London in the early days doing that.”
DL: “Back in those days - in addition to your job as Deep Purple bass player - you also had a ‘real job’ as a producer for other artists so you had to keep some decent sleep schedule didn't you?”
RG: “Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, it is all exaggerated. After all this is show business - ‘home of exaggeration.’” (laughs)
DL: “You obviously were well rested for the recording of "Bananas" which only took you about four years to do after the "Abandon" Album? (laughs) This time out you didn't produce.”
RG: “I didn't? I thought that I did?”
DL: “Not according to the credits?” (laughs)
RG: “It was a joke! (laughs) No, as a matter of fact, when we had the reunion in '84 I said then that I didn't want to produce Deep Purple because by then I had produced all of the Rainbow stuff that I was involved in and I just said that I didn't want the responsibility of producing a band that I am a part of. Rainbow was slightly different in that I was more of an employee in Rainbow but with DP we were all in it together. I really didn't want to do it and so everyone said, ‘OK, we will all do it then.’ (laughs) Which, silly person that I am, I ended up doing it! The idea of producing Deep Purple was never mine but it sort of ended up that way and on "Purpendicular" it was very much the same kind of thing. I said, ‘I don't really want to produce’ and they said, ‘We will all do it,’ and of course I ended up doing most of the work and I said, ‘I am never doing this again!’ and then I immediately did it again with "Abandon." But after that,I think that we all realized that although there are some lovely bits and pieces on there as an album, it didn't really have the impact that we wanted it to have and I think that we all realized that we needed to have a producer. We needed an outside ear and it was going to be quite a while before we did the next album, five years in fact. The reason for that gap was mainly due to work on the concerto and touring with orchestras and Jon Lord leaving and, you know, all sorts of things conspired. We were determined to have a producer on the next one in any case and Michael Bradford came into the scene from somewhat out of left field.”
DL: “My home town of Detroit in fact!” (laughs)
RG: “Right. And he is known for Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker and all that but when we met him, and as unlikely a choice as it might seem, you see he is this huge black guy and we are not! He just opened his mouth and said the most amazing things on our first meeting. He said, ‘I grew up in Detroit but I love Rock and Roll so don't stereotype me!’ He also said, ‘I love Deep Purple and I really think that I can bring DP back to that sound because that was a sound that I loved.’ When you are in a band it is sometimes hard to recognize who you are and what your character is and with a band that has a past you also want to be careful not to parody yourself. You don't want to become your own cliché. Unconsciously, I think, we were trying to do that, to progress and go on and be different and he (Bradford) was the one that actually gave us the courage to not disrespect the past, to live up to the past and to play the way that we do naturally. He said, ‘There is no secret to the sound of Deep Purple, it is just the way you play, that is it - so just do it!’ He actually gave us the courage to do that and that is why I think this album sounds like a throwback to the seventies if you like. He was also very good at cracking the whip and making us do it really quick. It is difficult to crack the whip when you are in the band but he did have the authority and everyone trusted him and everyone got on with him great. He is a very intelligent and very funny man - good company. The reason that the album sounds fresh, to my mind, is that we did it quickly. There was no second guessing, there was no, ‘Well maybe we can do this better,’ or ‘Oh, lets have a second take.’ It was like, bang-bang-bang and it was done. To me that is what gives it a vitality that the last album lacked so I am very happy that we got Michael in as a producer.”
DL: “The material that made it to the album - was this all straight from the studio sessions? Or were there some songs that came in fully formed?”
RG: “There were two songs that we were actually working on with Jon which is why Jon's name appears on the credits though we changed them around a bit but most of them were written in that first studio writing session. Michael came with a couple of ideas of his, which, you know, there is no reason why we can't do someone else's songs. "Hush," for example, was someone else's song. We are not going to turn down a good song and "House of Pain" was such an obvious DP song and we probably wouldn't have written it ourselves.” (laughs)
DL: “For a writer - unbiased perspective seems to be the goal but I am apt to lose that when it comes to Deep Purple and I have to confess that "Abandon" wasn't my favorite DP album but with "Bananas" it was an immediate love. Right from the jump I knew this was going to be a great album and then to hear Ian do a scream like that...it was obvious that this was going to be a classic Deep Purple record.”
RG: “See, if we were doing it ourselves, self consciously, we might not have done that because it seems so obvious yet people like you, that is what you want to hear. So that is why it was a great move to have a producer. I learned a lot actually.”
DL: “As you alluded to already there was another evolution in the band where Jon Lord moved out and Don Airey moved in. From the best that I can surmise it would seem that toward the end Jon was there in body but not truly in spirit and Don Airey came in full of spirit. Is that a correct reading on the situation?”
RG: “Well, I wouldn't say that really. Well, yes I would. (laughs) I don't want to malign Jon because he is really a special person in this band. I mean if there is ever any dignified way of leaving a band this was it. It is true, I think, to say that his heart was really moving much more toward orchestral works than ‘hard rock.’ We were doing a band and he was, at the time, doing "Pictured Within," (a solo album) and so his head was really in two places and most of it was with his solo album. It was such a personal thing to him and very important to him at the time; it was extremely important to him actually. So, we felt that there was a slight presence lacking from Jon on that album (“Abandon”), but you know, he is a friend so there was never any argument. When we did "The Concerto" tour he seemed to be unhappy so it was widely assumed within the band that this would be his last (tour). However, he didn't want to leave so he didn't and we carried on. It was a very, very difficult thing for him to do - to retire from a band that he helped start thirty-odd years ago. He loves the band. We all love the band, it has changed all of our lives, but eventually the cold, hard truth was that we feel that we need to work live because we are a live band. He didn't feel he was ready to commit himself to that kind of time to the road and so things came (very friendly) to a ‘head.’ Jon said, ‘You know, I can't commit myself to that time and that is that.’ Now, he had become ill on a previous tour and we had Don Airey as a replacement and he just seemed such an obvious choice. I mean, he played Jon's parts really well. Since Don has joined the band he has really become his own man in quite the same way the Steve Morse is nothing like Ritchie - nor do we want him to be! We want him to be Steve Morse, you know? You have to be 100% your own man to contribute and we don't want a cardboard cutout of a figure. Do you see what I mean?”
DL: “Of course.”
RG: “It is the same with Don. Don's personality has now come through. He is a brilliant technician and he is different than Jon and I am not going to compare the two, though people always will, of course. The internet is full of ‘Oh but it is not Jon Lord,’ or ‘The band is not the same without Ritchie.’ It is endless but there is nothing we can do about that. What we have to do is be in the present - the here and now - and we have to not look back.”
DL: “With that said, isn't it a bit of a strange choice to advertise the American tour as ‘Featuring the entire “Machine Head” album?’"
RG: “Well, we really want to get "Bananas" across to as many people as possible obviously and it is not a problem in Europe. In Europe, we are just seen as a fairly big band that tours regularly and we always put on a fantastic show and we have a real hard core following there. But in America (because of the radio and media situation), it is very difficult to get new music played. All that they want to play is the old stuff. You know, we are a ‘Classic Rock’ band. ‘Hey Deep Purple have a new album out? Fine, let's play "Smoke on the Water!”’(laughs) It is an almost impossible barrier to cross and I suppose the only way to do it is to play a gig in every town on every night of the week. People's concept of who you are really comes from the media and we can't control that. So, being a ‘classic’ band and also with the fact that the music business is in dire straights at the moment, we didn't want to go out on tour to half empty houses and there was a good possibility of that. The way to get around it was to have three bands on the bill so that each band sells a few tickets for the whole. But, a three band bill is like the shed tours in the summer and it is a pain in the neck. It restricts your time and it is unwieldy; it is awkward and has great expense so one of the agents or promoters came up with the idea, ‘Hey, why don't you do “Machine Head” instead of a third band?’ We were not sure of that idea because we thought it was a backward step. However, we were ultimately convinced that it would be worth a try. So we said, ‘It is worth a try as long as we make sure that “Bananas” gets mentioned in the radio and print ads and we get to play some of our new songs.’ That is really what the deal was. In a way it was just using our set in our favor.”
DL: “Beautiful. So "Bananas" will get its’ time as well then?
RG: “We played, I think, six songs from "Bananas" on the last tour and they fitted in seamlessly with the older material. It all sounded great together. The band is playing so well together right now. Someone said to me a few months ago, ‘This band has had such an illustrious past but Deep Purple has never played better than it is playing now.’ It is lively, it is inventive, it is unpredictable. It is predictable enough that we show up! (laughs) But, it is unpredictable musically.”
DL: The tradition for Deep Purple when they have a member of the band coming or going is to have a live collection come at the same time, any plans on recording a live set with Don Airey?
RG: To a certain extent I think that we do a live record every night! Because there is always someone there recording it. I don't know that there is any plan for it. I think that we are going to get into the first few dates and see how this works with "Machine Head" and stuff. It is always a possibility of course. I think that one of the problems is, if this is really a problem, is that we have an enormous amount of product out there. You would be surprised, when you get to a hotel somewhere in Frankfurt to find that four or five guys are waiting there with huge shopping bags and inside of each they have seventy or eighty albums! And then they want every one signed. ‘Oh no, please use a different pen on that one.’ They are very, very particular and it could be an object of ridicule but these guys are very serious and I actually respect them a lot because they are our bread and butter. They (and people like them) are the reason that we are in this hotel so I am always nice to the fans because I am a fan myself.”
DL: “Somehow I can't see you standing outside of a hotel with a pile of things to sign though.” (laughs)
RG: “No, I am not that kind of fan, but I do understand. I shook Jerry Lee Lewis' hand once when I was fifteen! I was in a mob of kids surrounding him when he was getting into his limousine after playing the local, it was a British Legion Hall in South Harrow, believe it or not. I went along to see him and I was like, ‘Oh wow, Rock and Roll! look at him - this is great!’ I actually shook his hand and went, ‘Hey Jerry come back again real soon!’ or something silly like that.”
DL: “I love these stories, do you remember who you went with?”
RG: “Well, we were in a school band at the time, I was around fifteen and we had a school band going called The Madisons. I can't remember who exactly was there but probably two or three of The Madisons. I mean, "Great balls of Fire" was a massive, massive hit and "Whole Lotta Shakin’'" was a massive hit, and it was after those two. Wow!”
DL: “I heard very little about this but in the recording break for Purple albums you issued a solo disc. Did the break give you the time to do the solo album?”
RG: “Not really. It is called "Snapshot" because it was done very quickly. The initial reason for that was purely financial. i didn't have the backing of a record company; I just wanted to make this record. When you are paying for studio time and paying musicians you don't want to hang about telling dirty stories for a day! (laughs) So, it was done fairly quickly. A lot of the material I had in my head - but not really ‘arranged’ or I didn't know if it was going to work, so it was only when I had got into the studio, the first two days, and we did five songs in two days. Wow, that was a revelation to me and it sounded really good and I was really pleased with it. I didn't actually manage to do any more after those two days for about another year because I was on tour. Then when I went back in for about five days and we completed the rest and then went back in for about another five days to do the overdubs and finish it. It was done very quickly and I am sorry that you didn't get to hear much about it because that wasn't the intention. The intention is never to put an album out and have people ignore it! Not that I am expecting a number one Platinum disc but you know, it is really a personal thing to express yourself in song and of course you want people to hear it.”
DL: “You oversaw the re-issue/re-mix series of 25th anniversary albums up to the "Who Do We Think We Are" record and it was said that you would continue on with "Burn" and the rest. What ever became of that?”
RG: “I am not going to do them, no. It took a long time for them to locate the multitrack tapes. The process goes like this: they get the multi-track tapes and they go into Abbey Road with a guy called Peter Mews who is an absolutely brilliant archivist, and he transfers the stuff onto some kind of digital format that he can then send over to me and I can mix it. They couldn't find the stuff for a long while. I wasn't going to do "Burn" initially and then one day I heard it on the radio and I said, ‘That is a good song with a bad mix and maybe I can actually bring something to it.’ However, when we did get the multitracks into the studio and tried doing some trial mixing I didn't like the studio atmosphere I heard in the tracks. It was very odd working on something that Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale worked on. When that album first came out I found it very difficult to listen to because I had just been thrown out of the band! (laughs) When we had spent a day mixing it I said to Peter Dennenberg, a great engineer, ‘I don't feel that comfortable doing this so lets come back tomorrow and see what it sounds like.’ We did that and when we went back the second day (after only about an hour), I said, ‘I don't like this. I don't think we are bringing anything to the picture.’ The re-mastered original mix sounded better than what we were getting in the studio. Now, I don't know if it was the quality of the tape or whatever; we were not bringing anything to it and I said, ‘I feel uncomfortable with it and I have to make this decision right now before we waste any more studio time - I don't think I should be involved in this.’ So, I dropped it and I won't be doing any of the others. I will only do stuff that I was involved with. I think that it is only fair.”
DL: “And you have done all of those now.”
RG: “Yeah, well the next one, technically, would be "Perfect Strangers," and I am going to have to wait a few years for that chance. When did that come out? '84? So it would be about another five years I suppose - if that is going to be the criteria.”