Thursday, September 5, 2013

Artist of the Day: Deep Purple

Deep Purple released a trio of
classic albums from 1970-1972.
1968 was kind of a big year for Rock n’ Roll. Yes performed for the first time. Led Zeppelin came together as a band. Black Sabbath began their career as “Earth”. Judas Priest jammed for the first time. In Toronto, Rush kicked off their career. With all these big names, it would be easy to overlook that in Hertford, England, a new rock band was taking shape – a band that would define progressive rock and heavy metal for the next decade. This band was Deep Purple.

The first incarnation of Deep Purple was a far cry from the hard rock giant that sold 100 million records. The first lineup included guitar wizard Ritchie Blackmore, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice; the classic “Mark II” lineup cam together once Blackmore recruited new members Ian Gillan and Roger Glover for vocal and bass duties, respectively. The band entered the studio under a new record label to record their fourth album, In Rock, which included their first hard-rock compositions, including “Speed King” and “Child in Time.” It was around this time that Blackmore began using a guitar with a scalloped neck; one of the first to use this technique, he combined unprecedented instrumental control with technicality and speed to establish himself as one of the first virtuosos of heavy metal.

Deep Purple released their next album, Fireball, in 1971. While it retained the heavy metal characteristics of In Rock, Fireball was more experimental in nature. The album was the band’s first major hit, reaching #1 in the UK and selling 500,000 copies. Following the album’s success, Deep Purple traveled to Montreux, Switzerland to play shows and record their next effort. While the band was there, a fire broke out at the theater the night before they were set to record; this proved to be the inspiration for a new song the band was writing, “Title No. 1”, later to be named “Smoke On the Water”. Dismissing the experimental elements of Fireball, the band went with straight-forward hard rock songs, resulting in a record would be later hailed as part of the “Holy Trinity” of early heavy metal. The entire album was recorded without a single overdub. Machine Head opened at #1 on the UK charts, propelled by the success of “Smoke on the Water”.

This lineup of Deep Purple recorded one more album, Who Do We Think We Are, before splitting in half due to personal conflicts between Gillan and Blackmore. After several lineup changes, only Lord and drummer Ian Paice remained with the group; new singer David Coverdale and new bassist Glenn Hughes took over singing duties while guitar prodigy Tommy Bolin took up guitar after the departure of Blackmore. In 1976, the new Deep Purple released Come Taste the Band, an album with a decidedly funky feel compared to Purple’s driving hard rock of the early 1970’s. The band finally called it off after the album’s mediocre commercial performance.

It was eight years later that Blackmore and Gillan finally made amends, and Deep Purple reformed for a single tour, which eventually became a full-fledged reunion. The resulting album was Perfect Strangers, and fans of the band held it as the first great DP album since Machine Head twelve years earlier. Gillan’s voice had changed somewhat, but the band’s signature sound remained intact, and the album contained some of their heaviest material ever. The resulting tour outsold every rock band in the world except Bruce Springsteen, and the single “Knocking at Your Back Door” made the band a radio staple again. Despite such renewed success, the band would produce three more unremarkable albums before Blackmore left for good in 1993.

A new era of Deep Purple was ushered in with the recruiting of ex-Kansas guitar whiz Steve Morse in 1994. Recognized as one of the most technically proficient and imaginative guitarists in the world across many genres, Morse helped breathe creative life back into the stagnant band. After two years of touring and strengthening the bonds and sound of the revamped Purple, the band recorded a new studio album, Purpendicular. The new sound was, again, funk and blues oriented, though with more energy than the experiments of the middle ‘70s thanks to Morse’s influence. After all their success, trials, splits, and sold-out world tours, Deep Purple had finally rekindled the flame that made them legends nearly thirty years before. They have since released two more well-received albums with plans for a third, and it seems that in the pantheon on Rock and Roll survivors, Deep Purple remain an ever-evolving musical force.

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