It’s no secret to any Deep Purple fan that lineup changes through the years have been plentiful. However, most people don’t realize that that band was born out of a supergroup called Roundabout, which by design, had a revolving door policy.
Ritchie Blackmore was the original Roundabout guitarist, but he quickly grew tired of the band, and set out to create his own band with Ian Paice and Jon Lord. The original incarnation of the band included vocalist, Rod Evans, and bassist, Nick Simper. The Deep Purple moniker was inspired by a song by Blackmore’s grandmother’s favorite crooner, Larry Clinton and his Orchestra.
Deep Purple’s first single, “Hush,” was actually a Joe South cover song that garnered them attention in the United States. The band was recruited to be the opening act on Cream’s farewell tour, but was fired after three shows when the audiences starting turning out to see them instead of the headliner. Shortly thereafter, they were back playing pubs in England.
With a trend afoot towards harder music, Blackmore immediately began making lineup changes to create a heavier, blues rock sound. When Evans and Simper were replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, Deep Purple Mark II was formed. This version of the band is what most people envision when they think of the classic lineup, but clashing personalities prevented it from having any continuous staying power.
In spite of the heavier makeup of the band, Lord wanted Deep Purple to do something closer to his roots and play with an orchestra. Blackmore agreed, with the caveat that they would focus on becoming heavier if it didn’t take off and allow them conquer America.
Blackmore knew that he wanted the band to follow a different path, but wasn’t exactly sure what direction to take until Led Zeppelin’s debut helped guide them towards a new sound.
A tragic event would help to launch Deep Purple into the mainstream with arguably the most memorable riff in hard rock music history. The band was in Montreux, Switzerland to record what would become “Machine Head.” They had rented a mobile recording studio from the Rolling Stones at the entertainment complex that was part of the Montreux Casino.
The day before they were to begin recording, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were playing a concert in the casino’s theater. In the middle of the concert, “some stupid with a flare gun, burned the place to the ground.” The fire destroyed the entire complex and left Deep Purple with no place to record their album.
With an expensive mobile recording studio and no place to play, the band was forced to quickly find another recording space. They ended up at the nearly desolate Montreux Grand Hotel and created a makeshift space. The story of their experience became their biggest hit, “Smoke On The Water,” a phrase that came to Roger Glover in his sleep just days after the fire.
“Machine Head” had success in England, but it wasn’t as well-received initially in the United States. The limited traction that they had built in the United States was lost when the band was forced to cancel several dates because Gillan and Blackmore both came down with Hepatitis.
It wasn’t until “Made In Japan” that Deep Purple finally started to build a large following in the United States. The success of the album also helped boost sales of “Machine Head.” With “Smoke On The Water” climbing up the charts, it seemed that the band had finally arrived, but there was trouble on the horizon.
Blackmore and Gillan brought out the best in each other musically, but personally, the two simply did not get along. Blackmore and Paice had opened discussions with Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott about starting a new three-piece blues band, but ultimately decided to stay with Deep Purple as long as Gillan and Glover left the band.
Deep Purple Mark III featured Glenn Hughes on bass, and an unknown blue collar vocalist named David Coverdale, though Blackmore’s first choice was Paul Rodgers. In a matter of weeks, Coverdale went from the obscure working class to traveling on private planes and performing in front of massive audiences.
One of the first shows with the new lineup took place on April 6, 1974 at California Jam, the west coast’s answer to Woodstock. Hundreds of thousands of fans packed into the Ontario Motor Speedway to see Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and other notable acts.
With the concert running ahead of schedule, the promoters tried to get Deep Purple to go on stage before sunset, but Blackmore wouldn’t cooperate. Because of the planned light show, he refused to go on stage until after sunset, and ended up hiding so that the band couldn’t be forced to take the stage.
During their performance, a cameraman kept prodding Blackmore for a camera shot. What he received was an assault on his camera by one of Blackmore’s classic Fender guitars. But that was only the beginning. Unbeknownst to the rest of the band, Blackmore had planned a pyrotechnic explosion with his guitar tech, but a misfire caused several amps and pieces of equipment to go up in flames. The band ended up helicoptering off of the stage to elude angry fire marshals.
Deep Purple’s performance at California Jam may have angered the powers that be, but when word spread about the show, American audiences were clamoring for their chance to experience the mayhem first-hand.
By 1974, Blackmore had soured on the groovy, melodic direction that the band had taken on their “Stormbringer” release, so he decided to pull the plug on Deep Purple and form Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, a band with one big ego instead of five.
With Blackmore gone, the band decided to move forward with Tommy Bolin on guitar. Lord had planned on leaving the band after Blackmore left, but decided to stay when he heard Bolin play. But the fans weren’t as accepting as Lord. They made life very difficult for Bolin as he tried to replace the guitar legend. He eventually died of a heroin overdose after he had already left the band.
In March of 1976, after a concert in Liverpool, founding members, Lord and Paice, shook hands and agreed that Deep Purple had run its course.
In 1984, the classic Deep Purple lineup reunited after being offered a large sum of money by a record company. “Perfect Strangers” was a commercially successful album that fed off of the tension that never really went away between Blackmore and Gillan. Although the classic lineup was back together, it wasn’t destined to last.
“We weren’t really a band,” states Glover. “We were a dysfunctional outfit. Ritchie was off on his own, and Gillan was drinking again, a little too much.”
Old tensions arose as Gillan wanted to tour extensively, but Blackmore didn’t. In 1989, after an ultimatum forcing the band to choose between the two, Blackmore remained in the band. The departed Gillan was briefly replaced by Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow).
Turner left the band in 1992, and was replaced once again by Gillan. The band would record one final album with the classic lineup, “The Battle Rages On” (released in 1993). However, the battle didn’t rage on for very long this time around.
While touring in support of the record, in November of 1993, Blackmore walked off the stage in the middle of a concert in Helsinki. It would be his final appearance with the band.
With a tour of Japan about to kick off, the band was left without a guitarist. They approached Japanese fan-favorite, Joe Satriani, who initially declined because he had no interest in trying to replace the legendary Blackmore. Eventually, he gave in, and the tour was a tremendous success. However, Satriani never aspired to become a permanent member of the band.
Satriani was replaced by Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs) in November of 1994. Morse’s arrival created a seventh incarnation of Deep Purple that lasted until 2002, when an aging Lord amicably left the band because he no longer had the energy to continue touring. He was replaced by Don Airey (Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne) to create Mark VIII of Deep Purple, a lineup that is still intact to this day.
In July of 2012, while Deep Purple was recording their latest album, “Now What?!” – Lord lost his battle with cancer. According to his family, Lord was still composing music in his mind just hours before his passing, playing notes in the air while on his deathbed.
Lord’s passing deeply saddened his former bandmates, who will always consider him a part of the band.
“Souls having touched are forever entwined,” stated Gillan when reflecting on the life of his friend and former bandmate.
Deep Purple’s longevity with numerous lineup changes is something that is unlikely to ever be duplicated again in music. The current lineup has the best chemistry in the history of the band, so there is no telling how much longer the band will go on. When the band finally calls it a day, they will go down in history as one of the bands (along with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin) that gave the world the spark that ignited the fire of hard rock and heavy metal.