Deep Purple: "The Word 'Classic' Hangs Around Your Neck Like a Noose"

After some 40 years of making music, you'd think Deep Purple would get a little more respect. This was the band that crafted one of the most indelible riffs in the entire rock 'n' roll idiom in the form of "Smoke on the Water." It is required learning for any budding guitarist. It's the band whose string of '70s albums -- In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head, Who Do We Think We Are, and Burn in particular -- placed them on a tier alongside Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Nazareth, and Uriah Heep as the foremost champions of the emerging form that would come to be called heavy metal.

Still, Purple's trajectory was erratic at best. In the midst of their '70s heyday, personnel problems began plaguing the band, resulting in an ongoing series of shifts in membership that continued well into the new millennium. Following the first incarnation of the band in the late '60s, a core group -- guitarist Richie Blackmore, vocalist Ian Gillian, drummer Ian Paice, keyboardist Jon Lord, and bassist Roger Glover -- established themselves as Purple's most indelible lineup.

Regardless, even as they were reaching new peaks of popular success, personal squabbles found practically all the participants departing at one time or another, leaving Paice as the only constant member. These days, Glover and Gillian are firmly back in the fold, joined by guitarist Steve Morse, who's been on the roster 20 years, and Don Airey, who took over keyboards from the late Jon Lord in 2002.

We caught up with Glover at his hotel in Montreal during the band's current tour and took the opportunity to ask him to retrace Deep Purple's storied legacy and his own as well.

New Times: How do you account for Deep Purple's ongoing popularity?

Roger Glover: If I was to analyze, I would say it probably has something to do with the honesty of the music. The band has always been about music, rather than any sort of show business or fame or fortune. It's always been a musical band, and it's that spirit of the band that still lives on.

The lineup has changed throughout the years, but it seems the brand continues intact.

I guess in a way, but once you became a brand, fame has its own way of multiplying itself. And after the initial fame comes curiosity, and then comes people who want to reinvent memories, and it goes on from generation to generation. It's wonderful, especially in Europe. We get a very young audience these days, especially when we play Romania or Russia or Poland or Italy or places like that. We get kids under 20 -- mostly really young people -- so that prolongs the life of the band even more.

There have been all these incarnations of the band, and yet, you seem to be able to continually reinvent yourselves.

Change is good. Most people are wary of change. They don't want to touch the thing that made them famous in the first place. People prefer their own comfort zone. I've had this conversation so many times, but the fact is, we don't actually worry about change so much.

Somebody once asked me, "How come you don't write songs like 'Highway Star' anymore?" I said, actually we do, but they don't sound like "Highway Star." We'd be a parody of ourselves, and that's when you get in trouble and become intimidated by your past.

How do you accommodate people who come to the shows and want to hear the landmark songs while also moving forward and showing that you have new material to offer?

Well, we have to take into account the audience. We don't want to pander to an audience, but obviously there's some common sense about it. We realize they want to hear those songs, but the thing about Purple is we're not a cabaret act.

We're actually musicians who play. We don't use tapes. We don't use gimmicks. So what they get is honest musicians playing music. When they get an older song, it's fresh. People ask all the time, "Don't you get tired of playing 'Smoke on the Water,' and the answer is, no, because it's fresh every night. Even as a bass player, you can have fun with it.

You're so much more than the bass player, though. You've done solo albums and numerous productions for other artists. How do you find time for all of it?

Well, to be honest, my solo albums are usually spaced around ten years apart, so they're slow in coming. And I'm not doing too much production work these days. At least 90 percent of it was in the '70s, when I had a six-year break from being in the band, and that's when I did Rainbow and Rory Gallagher, Nazareth, and Judas Priest and Elf and all that. So much of that production work was way back then.

And yet, when your name is mentioned, it's obvious you're known not only for being a part of Deep Purple but also for your outside efforts. And that gives you a very rich and varied résumé.

I'll tell you what it gives me. It gives me a headache when I come out of the hotel and find fans who have every album I've ever been on. But I don't mind it. I take it in good stride. Sometimes I'll have 40 albums to sign, but it's nice way to cap a career. 

How long have you been out on the road with this latest jaunt?

We haven't stopped touring. That's the honest truth. We tour all the time. Our latest album came out last year, I believe. And the album before that came out eight years before, believe it or not. So people ask us, "Are you having a comeback?" and we said no. We never really went away. In eight years, we never stopped touring. We are a touring band. Records are things that happen only once in a while.

Has it gotten old for you at this point? Do you still enjoy it? Some people get burned out on touring after awhile.

Some people do, I guess, but I think the opportunity to travel the world, see new cultures, meet new people, and enjoy yourself onstage -- and get paid to do it -- is just a magic formula. I can't imagine anyone not wanting to do that. The family tends to miss you once in a while, but that goes with the job. When I'm home, I'm home 100 percent, unlike most fathers. It's a balancing act.

With all the different comings and goings of band members over the years, has it been disruptive in terms of maintaining the trajectory? Do you have to start from scratch every time someone leaves the fold and a new member comes in? How have you managed to overcome that and keep going?

That's a good question. I haven't really been asked that before. I imagine that if you take one's life over a 40-year period, there's going to be ups and downs. There's going to be peaks and valleys. We certainly have had some of those.

It hasn't always been love and peace and roses. When I left in '73, it was because Richie Blackmore didn't want me in the band anymore, and then six years later he wanted me in Rainbow. I never bear a grudge. People move on. There's a certain chemistry that a band has to have, and sometimes that chemistry goes a bit wrong. But you have a way of picking yourself up because you still want to do what you want to do because you love doing it. So you find a way of doing it. When Steve joined the band as a permanent replacement for Richie, he said, "Well, what do you want from me?" I said, "I don't want you to be Richie." Richie is brilliant, a great, great player, but if we found someone who looked like him and sounded like him, we'd be a parody.

We had to change, We had to reinvent ourselves. Steve said, "That's great. I'm nothing like Richie." And we said, "That's great. That's why we want you in the band." Same with Don Airey, who's been with us 11 years or so.

They're the new guys, then.

I joined in '69 and the band started in '68, so I'm still the new guy I suppose.

You were there for the big breakthrough with In Rock and the recognition it brought. So I think you can lay claim to that as well.

You can't ever tell what's going to be classic. In a way, the word "classic" hangs around your neck like a noose, because it sets you in the past. The refreshing thing is, in a lot of places in the world we go to, we're not viewed that way. We're viewed as a band that's still working. The classic rock isn't a tag that travels outside the States much.

Are you still the loudest band in the world? You once earned that distinction.

It's a meaningless title. I don't think we were any louder than anyone else at the time. They just happened to catch us at a small venue with a lot of gear.

For some people, that's the only thing they know about us. But we can't control what other people think. We certainly don't set out to deafen people or blind them. Rob them? Yes. But not deafen or blind them. Anyone who actually gets out from the computer or the TV and gets off the couch and has the energy to go see a live concert deserves our absolute gratitude. And that's what we live for. People doing that. It still happens. The internet has robbed us of a lot of things, but people still get up and go to a concert, and I'm very grateful. 

You've been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice and for some reason have yet to be inducted. Does that bother you at all, or could you not care less?

It doesn't matter that much. It seems to be more of an American institution rather than worldwide anyway. Since the '80s, our profile in America hasn't been that great. When we first got inducted -- I mean, nominated -- there was a ripple around the band, like should we do this or not? Half of us said no.

It should have happened a dozen years ago, when Jon Lord was alive. One of those people on the committee was supposedly heard to say, "Deep Purple, they don't belong here. They're one-hit wonders." If you're dealing with Philistines like that, who wants to be bothered with it? If we were to be nominated again or inducted, who knows? We would still be divided on it.

I think Richie would have to be there, because Richie was one of the main reasons why we'd be there in the first place. On the other hand, Steve's been in the band 20 years, so what do we say to Steve? The answer to that would be to have both guitarists.

Considering the number of alumni in past rosters, that stage could be pretty full.

No, that would never happen. I don't think anyone else should be there. If we were inducted, it would be because of what happened in the '70s, and that was the so-called MK Two lineup. Anyone else just sort of fell into place after that. But that lineup is why we still have a career and we're such a name band that still reverberates around the world today.

Did you know at that time, when In Rock and all the classic albums of that period come out, that the band had reached some kind of turning point and that the past incarnation was past and that you had successfully established yourselves in this new way?

Oh yeah, we planned it that way. [chuckles] Of course not. Back then, if you were in a band that lasted a couple of years, you were lucky.

Looking back now, you can see that something quite magical happened in the late '60s and '70s. There was something going on there. There was a huge creative explosion, if you like. The record companies were all run by people who loved music, unlike today. You could write songs about anything, in any particular style, and people took it seriously. Plus, the tastes ran across the board. Now it's become so polarized and shackled. Music isn't as important in people's lives as it was then. So I think we were part of a huge cultural revolution without even knowing it.

But at one point did you say, "Wow, we've made it"? Was there a certain aha! moment?

I remember one particular moment. I guess it was in 1971. In Rock and Fireball had come out. It may have been before Machine Head. We had a riot at a gig. We were touring Germany at the time, and I think Richie didn't want to do an encore or something like that, and they just stormed the stage and wrecked all the gear. And we had to take a couple of days off to get more equipment and get set up again.

So the next gig was in Stuttgart. And I remember being in the car on the way to the gig and stuck in a traffic jam. And the driver said, "Oh, this is because of the concert tonight." Someone said, you know you've made it when you're stuck in your own traffic jam. When we got to the venue, the security was enormous. It was ringed with police; the army was out. There were horses, dogs. There was barbed wire in front of the stage. It was insane.

Then I thought, something's happening here. We just wanted to make music; we didn't want this. So there was kind of an inkling that you're making waves and you're making a name for yourself in some way, shape, or form.

Are you the nostalgic type?

To a certain extent. Recently, a guy showed me a bunch of photographs, one of which was taken in 1969 when I just joined Purple. And there I was, a fresh-faced kid at 24. And I'll be 70 next year, and here I am doing the same thing I did then, signing this photograph of when I was 24. It does make you think a bit. Yeah. A lot of that nostalgia gets lost because I've forgotten a lot of it. I miss the old days. I think everybody likes to retain a bit of their youth. That's only natural. I don't dwell on it though.


Out of curiosity, what did you think of the movie Spinal Tap?

I thought it was great. Absolutely. I went to see a matinee in New York when it first came out. I went with a friend, and we just absolutely laughed ourselves silly. Then when the lights came up, I realized I was sitting in a theater full of musicians. And they all thought it was great.


So you related to it?

Oh yeah. How could you take exception to something like that? Now there was one person that I know who did take offense. I asked him if he saw it and he said, "No, I don't want to!"

Deep Purple. 7 p.m. Sunday, August 31, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $74, $64, and $54. Visit 

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Lee Zimmerman