February 23, 2019

FTV: The Purple Octopus

Is Classic Rock Magazine obsessed with Deep Purple?  In an early summer of 2018 issue, they included a bonus CD with the majority of the tracks having some connection to Deep Purple’s own label, Purple Records.  This came on the heels of of earlier issues of CRM that focused on the current state of the band (the Mark whatever version) including a CD of DP tracks and articles focusing on Deep Purple themed projects being mounted by ex-members David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes.  When this early summer issue arrived, the Deep Purple themed cover art peered out at me and my initial reaction was, “What is with all the Deep Purple stuff?” Like many others, I became a big fan of the classic (sorry, the MarkII) line up that gave us 1972’s Machine Head and Made in Japan albums.  After wading through the latest Purple themed CRM, I  began to understand the roots of this fascination with all things Purple.

    The MKII Deep Purple fractured in in 1975 and the nucleus of CRM’s latest “all things Purple obsession” issue focuses on the various incarnations (MarkIII to MK?) of the band as well as the scattershot affect the band’s various members had on the music business over the next nine years.  When they disbanded, they certainly didn’t leave a Purple blackhole that sucked them all into oblivion (while the world waited for them to pop out of the other end of the wormhole and reunite). In fact, just the opposite happened:  the scattering of Purple’s members sent ripples across the fabric of the musical universe that influenced a multitude of bands not just over the next nine years, but in the decades that followed.

    One of the first MKII members out the door in 1973 was vocalist Ian Gillan.  He was fed up with the music business and proceeded to open a hotel in the country and take over a recording studio.  He was so far off the radar that when his MKII bandmate, bass player-songwriter Roger Glover called seeking his vocal skills for a project, he wasn’t sure he was up for it.  Glover had left Purple at the same time as Gillan and began forging a career as a record producer. When Pink Floyd and Purple keyboardist Jon Lord passed on a composing gig for a musical adaptation of writer William Roscoe’s 1802 poem The Butterfly Ball And The Grasshopper’s Feast, Glover set about crafting 20 songs to match the 20 characters in the book adapted from Roscoe’s original work.  The first tune he composed (Love is All) was voiced by Ronnie James Dio on the record.  When it was time to mount a one-off performance of the whole undertaking (which was supposed to spur album sales in the UK), Dio bolted at the last minute to join Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This, of course, left a gaping hole in the live production (which also grew to include singer-model Twiggy and horror movie icon Vincent Price). According to Gillan, “I had walked away from the business.  I hadn’t sung a note in two years. I got the call from Roger the night before, and went on anonymously. I wasn’t listed in the programme because Ronnie Dio was supposed to have done it. I had short hair, was wearing a shirt and ambled on stage,   I had the lyrics on a lectern and no idea what would happen. But I got a standing ovation. It went on for quite a while, and I couldn’t help but think: ‘This is what I do, Why am I messing around?’ With in a week, I’d got my guitar out and was back in the studio.  I haven’t looked back since that day, and it’s all thanks to Roger.”

    That fateful call from Glover lead to the formation of the Ian Gillan Band whose recorded output amounted to two albums:  Child in Time (1976) and Clear Air Turbulence (1977).  Friction caused him to leave his own band and form a second version simply called Gillan.  It was a solid unit and they recorded five albums between 1978 and 1982 and while it was a good band, those around him kept reminding Gillan that they “were a fantastic band, but not as good as Purple.”  Gillan reportedly left his own band (again), this time for vocal cord surgery. Fully recovered, it took only a few months for him to replace Dio again, this time fronting Black Sabbath. His namesake band felt betrayed.  His stint with Sabbath only lasted a year, but Gillan recounts that, “I loved every minute of being in Sabbath. It was the longest party I’d ever been to. The the Purple reunion came along (in 1984) and the old magic was back.”

    As for Rainbow, Blackmore recruited Ronnie James Dio’s band Elf (formerly Electric Elves) to record his first album after leaving Deep Purple MKIII.  Blackmore wanted Purple to pursue more of the pomp-rock vein but the rest of the band wanted to use the talents of newest members David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes to go in a more white-soul direction.  Elf was being produced by Roger Glover for Purple Records so they had a loose connection to the family. When Dio and Blackmore teamed up, he was only going to sing on one track of what Blackmore envisioned as a one off side project.  They ended up working up a whole album in three weeks which got Blackmore interested in making it a permanent band. When they met, Ronald James Padavona was a rock singer who would have felt at home with any straight ahead, boogie rock band.  He borrowed the Dio moniker from a noted New Jersey gangster because he thought it sounded cool. Working with Blackmore moved him away from the typical bar band boogie into more mystical topics that had always interested Dio. Science fiction and mythological topics melded with Blackmore’s vision of a meeting between heavy rock and heavy classical music.  According to Dio, they had decided to call the band Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio’s Rainbow, but when the first album came out, it was billed as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Dio may have been generous to a fault, but he never forgot a slight. The feelings of betrayal and disrespect that this episode generated meant that Dio’s days with Rainbow were now numbered.  

    The high water mark of this version of Rainbow was 1976’s Rainbow Rising.  By this time, all of Dio’s former Elf bandmates were gone and had been replaced by drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Jimmy Bain, and keyboardist Tony Cary.  How good this lineup could have been was left as an eternal ‘we will never know’ because Blackmore replaced Bain and Cary before the next album. When Dio finally made his exit, Joe Lynn Turner was brought in with Blackmore hoping they could write more radio friendly tunes.  Dio didn’t waste much time forming his namesake Dio band and further down the line, he would find himself fronting Black Sabbath in 1981. In later years he would admit that Rainbow Rising was probably one of the best albums he ever sang on, but off the record, he had little positive to say about Blackmore.

    During a lull in the Deep Purple saga, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice all worked with Blackmore in Rainbow, a turn of events that kept fans all over the world hopeful that the MKII version of the band would get back together at some point.  In 1984, they got their wish but it didn’t take long for the old interband tensions to return and true to form, Blackmore bolted again. The split was different this time as the band kept their core together and forged on without him. While Blackmore explored different music with Blackmore’s Night, Deep Purple kept doing what they knew best.

    If we consider the original Deep Purple as the head of the Purple Octopus, then we have only discussed five of the eight arms hinted at in the title of this FTV (Deep Purple MKIII to Mk?, The Ian Gillan Band, Roger Glover’s work producing numerous bands, Dio, and Rainbow).  What other artists should be counted as the other three arms who owe their careers to an association with Deep Purple? Two of them joined Deep Purple MKIII just in time to perform in front of 250,000 people at the California Jam: Glenn Hughes (bass/vocals) and David Coverdale (vocals).

    Glenn Hughes is a rather complex individual who is still making music as a solo artist and with the supergroup Black Country Communion.  His history with Trapeze was covered in a previous edition of FTV (Trapeze (11-28-18)), but suffice to say he went from a band with more of a cult following to the top of the heap in one large step.  After signing a record deal with the Moody Blues’ Threshold Records and a tour opening for the Moodys had raised Trapeze’s profile, Ritchie Blackmore caught their act at LA’s legendary venue the Whiskey A Go Go.  Nine months later, Hughes was offered the bass slot in Purple. Hughes spent the summer of 2018 touring a show heavy on his years with Purple and still acknowledges his time with the MKIII band as being a highlight in his long career.  Of course, when he signed with Purple, he thought that the lead vocalist was going to be Free’s Paul Rodgers. Rodgers was in the process of putting together Bad Company, so the lead vocalist slot was offered to a young unknown singer who also spent 2018 touring behind an album of Purple tracks to pay homage to his time in the DP universe.

    David Coverdale (previously profiled in FTV: Whitesnake (10-12-16)) grew tired of the interband tensions but the biggest factor in his departure from Deep Purple is what it was doing to him personally:   “It got to the point of walking into a hotel room and complaining because it wasn’t a suite or because there wasn’t a double bed. Yeah, me, I did that . . . ridiculous. Whatever you’ve been through, you couldn’t know about that.  The whims you inflict on others. Not even Prince Charles should have those rights over other people.” He broke from Purple and made two solo albums, White Snake (1976) and Northwinds (which was already in the can by the time White Snake was released) in April of 1977.  The rise of punk fueled a down turn in the popularity of bands like Purple, Zeppelin, Sabbath and the like.  In an unfortunate career move, Coverdale used the Purple/Zeppelin/Sabbath template for his initial solo releases.  The lack of notice these albums received left the twenty five year old Coverdale lost along with the other Purple alum who were releasing solo records in the same vein.

    How did David Coverdale manage to rise above his dinosaur rock brethren to become the classic rock icon we know of today?   He made the conscious decision to recruit an actual band to write and record with and they became Whitesnake, the band. Their first records weren’t all that successful, but the fan reaction brought back the spark that Coverdale couldn’t kindle on his own.  By the time 1980’s Ready An’ Willing album made waves with the single Fool For Your Loving, Coverdale had found his niche.  Covering Bobby ‘Blue” Bland’s Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City in their live shows showed that they could play blue eyed soul as well as heavy rock.  Having Purple’s Jon Lord and Ian Paice in Whitesnake brought Coverdale’s Purple connection full circle.  Whitesnake may have changed personnel more than an average band, but when the MTV generation caught the videos of Coverdale’s then girlfriend Tawny Kitaen cavorting in the video for Here I Go Again, they didn’t really pay that attention to who was in the band.  Records were bought, concerts were sold out, and David Coverdale created another sub-genre of music rooted in the mystic of Deep Purple.

    Should Classic Rock Magazine spend this much time on Deep Purple?  If one picks up any current magazine aimed at guitar players, one will find a majority of them fingering Deep Purple and/or Ritchie Blackmore as an influence, including Purple’s current axe slinger, Steve Morse.  As long as we have classic rock radio, we will have Deep Purple’s music in our ears. Why should we complain if DP is still getting a lot of press forty years down the road?

Top Piece Video – DP in 1972 (the Mark II version) rocking Highway Star from Machine Head