Deep Purple started touring and rocking the world over half a century ago. 50+ years on, these titans of classic hard rock still go strong. The group has spanned several lineups and incarnations, 20 studio albums, countless live releases, box sets, and numerous videos as well. In fact, the current incarnation of the band still includes three of the five classic members. The band will be playing the House of Blues in September, which means it’s an ideal time for a look back at the band’s history!
The earliest incarnation of Deep Purple was spun off from Roundabout, a project to be managed by former Searchers member Chris Curtis, although his involvement here ended due to his erratic behavior. What resulted was the first version of Deep Purple, consisting of vocalist Rod Evans, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bassist Nick Simper (formerly of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates), drummer Ian Paice, and keyboardist Jon Lord. The group’s MK I lineup put out three studio albums: Shades of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn, and the self-titled third record. The earliest releases from the group were more of an “art rock” direction led by Jon Lord, and a far cry from the later guitar-driven rock which would dominate when Ritchie Blackmore took more creative control in later years. Hits from this era include the band’s cover of Joe South’s “Hush” and Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman,” as well as several original compositions hinting at the band’s later success. Also of note are the Vanilla Fudge-inspired covers of tracks by artists include The Beatles, Tina Turner, and Cream. Evans and Simper were replaced when the group opted to move in a heavier direction. Evans would go on to play in the classic rock supergroup Captain Beyond alongside former Iron Butterfly members.
Replacing Simper and Evans were vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, both formerly of the band Episode Six. The first full-length release from this incarnation of the group was the live Concerto for Group and Orchestra, though it was overshadowed by its more rock-driven follow-ups; the 1970 single “Black Night,” and the first studio record from this version of the band, Deep Purple in Rock, forever remembered for its Mount Rushmore-style cover art. Spawning classics like the fast and frantic “Speed King” and the ten-minute-plus epic “Child in Time,” featuring Gillan hitting his highest vocal notes, the release is also noteworthy for fantastic deep cuts like “Flight of the Rat,” “Hard Lovin’ Man,” and “Into the Fire” (not the same song as the one Dokken would release in the 80s). Its 1971 follow-up Fireball gave audiences more classics, including the title cut, and its sessions spawned the cuts “Demon’s Eye” and “Strange Kind of Woman” (UK releases lacked the former but contained the latter, while the US release was vice versa). The band was on the rise.
1972 saw the release of the group’s sixth studio album, Machine Head. It would be the band’s greatest commercial success, due in no small part to the inclusion of the mega-hit single, “Smoke on the Water,” featuring one of the most iconic rock guitar riffs of all time. “Space Truckin’” and “Highway Star” would become classics for the ages as well, but deep cuts like “Never Before” (actually released as a single prior to “Smoke on the Water”) and “Pictures of Home” remain fan favorites. The Japanese tour promoting the album spawned the classic live release, Made in Japan, long hailed as one of rock and roll’s finest live releases. Fatigue hit the band during the recordings of their seventh album, Who Do We Think We Are, although it still managed to produce a megahit in the form of “Woman From Tokyo,” which enjoys regular airplay to this day on classic rock radio. Ian Gillan and Roger Glover parted ways with the group following its release, with Gillan going on to explore jazz fusion sounds with his solo project, and even eventually joining Black Sabbath for a single album. Glover became more involved in production, eventually producing Judas Priest’s major label debut Sin After Sin, and the Michael Schenker Group’s 1980 debut.
Filling the gaps left by Gillan and Glover’s departure were a then-unknown young vocalist named David Coverdale, and former Trapeze bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, who would handle more of the vocal work than his bass predecessors. The first release by Purple’s MK III lineup with 1974’s Burn, forever known to fans for its title track. It was followed up by Stormbringer later that year, with the group moving in a blues-oriented direction. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left the band at this time, citing dissatisfaction with the funk-driven sound the band was taking on. He teamed up with Ronnie James Dio and members of the band Elf to start his own side project, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, later simply shortened to Rainbow. Rainbow would remain in existence from their first release in 1975 up until 1984, though the band would go through many lineup changes, including three vocalists, all of whom would bring something of their own to the fold.
The final release from Deep Purple prior to their 1976 disbandment was Come Taste the Band, featuring former Zephyr and James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin filling Blackmore’s spot. Despite the album spawning its share of excellent songs, it was clear at this point the band was imploding. The tour was a disaster, and when it ended, it was clear there was no longer a band left. During the hiatus years which followed, David Coverdale recorded two solo albums, White Snake and Northwinds. These were the precursor to his own band Whitesnake, who would rise to superstardom in the 1980s. Bolin died in December 1976 of a drug overdose following a solo gig; he was only 25 years old.
Deep Purple’s MK II lineup reunited in 1984, releasing the well-received reunion album Perfect Strangers. The title cut and “Knocking At Your Back Door” were two instant classics, every bit the equal of the band’s classic 70s material. The follow-up release was 1987’s The House of Blue Light, which despite mixed reception from fans, critics, and the band alike, still managed to spawn minor classics in the form of “Bad Attitude” and “Call of the Wild.” Unfortunately, old feuds don't always go away, as the band would quickly discover.
Ian Gillan was fired from the band in the late 80s due to his feuds with Ritchie Blackmore. While the band planned on bringing in Survivor singer Jimi Jamison to fill the void, they were unable to due to complications which came from Jameson’s record label. For a replacement, the group brought in Joe Lynn Turner, who’d previously sung for Blackmore on Rainbow’s latter three studio albums prior to their disbandment. The only studio record to feature this version of the band was 1990’s Slaves and Masters. While not hailed as one of the band’s better releases (many fans say it’s “more Rainbow than Purple,”) it did spawn a classic anthem in the form of the hit “King of Dreams,” as well as its share of minor classics. Gillan returned to the fold as he was wanted for the band’s 25th anniversary, but during the tour dates for the follow-up album, The Battle Rages On, Ritchie Blackmore left the band; it would be the final time he ever played with Deep Purple. Guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani filled in for the remainder of the tour, but as the band was unable to hire him permanently, they eventually recruited Steve Morse, formerly of Dixie Dregs and Kansas. The first album to feature Morse on guitar was 1996’s Purpendicular.
Jon Lord retired from the band in 2002 to pursue his own projects, including classical/orchestral-style work. He’d eventually die from pancreatic cancer in 2012. His replacement in the group was keyboard legend Don Airey, who ironically had previously played with the Deep Purple spin-off groups Whitesnake and Rainbow, as well as Ozzy Osbourne’s band. The first release with Airey was 2003’s Bananas, with the band’s most recent release being 2017 album Infinite. Currently, the group is on their Long Goodbye Tour, which will arrive in Las Vegas on September 14, 2019.
Some additional trivia about the band you might not have known:
-Following the jazz fusion of the Ian Gillan band in the mid 70s, Ian Gillan went back to doing hard rock albums, simply under the name Gillan. Guitarists in the band included Bernie Torme (later of Ozzy Osbourne’s Band and his own band, Torme, featuring future LA Guns vocalist Phil Lewis) and Janick Gers (later of Iron Maiden).
-Of the five men who play on Rainbow’s 1981 Difficult to Cure album, only drummer Bobby Rondinelli has never been a member of Deep Purple (although the men on the record were never all in DP at the same time).
-Many of the band’s classic 1970s albums were produced by Martin Birch. He would later become best known as Iron Maiden’s producer, producing their works for a decade.
-Ian Gillan’s lone album appearance as a member of Black Sabbath was the 1983 Born Again album. Due to drug issues at the time from drummer Bill Ward, he was replaced by ELO drummer Bev Bevan for the tour dates.
-Tommy Bolin, prior to replacing Ritchie Blackmore in the mid 70s in Deep Purple, was in the James Gang. Contrary to popular belief, Bolin had not replaced Joe Walsh in the James Gang. Rather, he’d replaced Walsh’s replacement, Domenic Troiano. Of the three guitarists, only Joe Walsh still lives.
-Keyboardist Don Airey made a guest appearance on Judas Priest 2008 Nostradamus album.
-Original vocalist Rod Evans no longer received royalties for releases he did with Deep Purple following his involvement in a “Bogus Deep Purple” scandal in 1980, involving unrelated musicians touring under the name. He quit being a professional musician following the lawsuit and largely retired from public life.
-Only one man has appeared on every Deep Purple album – Drummer Ian Paice.