A prequel to #462: The Deep Purple Project
GETTING MORE TALE #746: Deepest Purple
Black Sabbath appeared on my radar before Deep Purple did. Perhaps the first true “heavy metal” album I ever heard was Born Again. Best friend Bob owned it; he raved about a song called “Zero the Hero”. He was on to something. Even though his cassette copy was murky and muddy, the chorus rose above.
What you gonna be what you gonna be brother – Zero the Hero,
Don’t you wanna be don’t you wanna be brother – Zero the Hero,
When you gonna be when you gonna be brother – Zero the Hero,
Impossibility, impissibolity mother – really a hero.
It was the first Black Sabbath I ever heard. I didn’t know they had any other singers until one day I was sitting in the basement, recording videos off next door neighbour George. One that I had selected to record was called “Neon Nights” by Black Sabbath. By then, I knew enough to know that Black Sabbath had a “moustache guy” on guitar. I was surprised to see a doppelganger on bass, but the singer kinda looked familiar.
I casually asked George, “Did Black Sabbath ever have anything to do with Ronnie James Dio?”
“Yeah, he was their singer!” he told me. My world expanded that day. It would be longer still before I had the chance to hear any original Sabbath with Ozzy.
I was picking up so much musical information from the neighbour kids. I was intrigued by bands like Kiss, who had many lineups and sounds to go with it. Clearly, Black Sabbath was one of those bands too. “Neon Nights” didn’t sound much like “Zero the Hero”.
I sought to learn all I could about rock and roll. When I had accumulated enough knowledge (barely), I made a little heavy metal trivia game. I will never forget one question in particular:
Q: What do Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, and the lead singer from Deep Purple have in common?
A: They were all in Black Sabbath.
There are two things amusing about that. 1) I didn’t even know his name, and 2) “the” lead singer of Deep Purple! Hah! Finding out about David Coverdale? That was a whole other story!
I made sure I learned his name quickly. Ian Gillan was recognisable because of his long black hair often obscuring his face. But I wasn’t ready to delve into Deep Purple yet. The easiest (and cheapest) way for me to discover new music was by watching the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic: two hours a week of all kinds of hard rock. But Purple didn’t get much play. Much didn’t have any clips of them in the 1970s, and in fact only had two Purple videos to run: “Perfect Strangers” and “Knocking at Your Back Door“. They weren’t exactly frequent flyers, so my exposure to Deep Purple took a lot of time to unfold.
Black Sabbath may have been my gateway to Deep Purple, but Purple eventually became an obsession that surpassed them. In fact I used to go by the online name “Purpendicular”, named for one of their best albums. I was known as “Purp” for so long that it became a bit of a phenomenon online in Canada and the UK when “Purp Ate My Balls” T-shirts were actually made for sale. Most were in the UK. This is an actual, true story! A handful of people still call me “Purp”.
When people know you as “Purpendicular”, you better be a serious fan. And I am. I love Deep Purple. I don’t think anyone can touch them for sheer integrity.
I floated through highschool without hearing a lot of Purple. Much acquired a few more videos: “Bad Attitude” and “Hush”. They did not get played often. I only caught “Bad Attitude” once or twice. There was little interest in the band, it seemed. Magazines announced that Ian Gillan had quit at the time of the Nobody’s Perfect album. About a year later came the news that they hired on former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner.
It took some time, but eventually Purple returned with new music. I happened to have the radio on one afternoon in late 1990 when Q-107 debuted a brand new song called “The Cut Runs Deep”.
“At first it doesn’t sound like Purple,” said the DJ, “but then Jon Lord comes in with that Hammond organ!”
I hit “record” on the tape deck.
The Earth moved. What a song. What power! And speed! Rewind, hit “play” and listen again. It was 5:42 of full-steam rock, with the kind of playing that makes the genre awesome. Purple were heavier than I expected. My ears were beginning to open.
I asked a friend at school named Andy about the new album. Turns out, his brother had it.
“Is it heavy?” I queried.
He chuckled in bemusement. “Heavier than Ian Gillan? No. No.”
I tried not to be crushed.
“It’s still good,” he added.
If it wasn’t for my sudden new interest in Led Zeppelin, that might have been the start of my Purple obsession. Instead, I spent a year or so discovering Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. To make matters even more congested, I soon found Queen, and began buying up old Black Sabbath albums too.
Finally, in the mid 90s, it was time to focus. Once I had Deep Purple properly in the crosshairs, I commenced collecting.
My first doesn’t really count. It was Purple’s latest, Slaves and Masters, their only album with Joe Lynn Turner. It doesn’t count because it was just a taped copy. Back when you could still rent CDs, I borrowed a copy from a video store up in Kincardine Ontario. I put it in my boombox and began recording. I remember my dad listening in on the last track, the epic “Wicked Ways”. He asked who the band was.
“They are more of a musician’s band, aren’t they,” he remarked. Yes! Exactly. My dad wasn’t into rock music, but he could hear that quality musicianship. They were far and above the average rock band.
Slaves and Masters is a brilliant album, and although a full third of it is ballads, it’s hard not to like. There are a lot of good songs on there. So what if they are ballads? “The Cut Runs Deep” and “Wicked Ways” more than made up for the lighter material.
Then: two hits compilations. Knocking At Your Back Door (a new release of 80s material) and Deepest Purple (all 70s). This gave me plenty to absorb in a short period of time. The most important song from this pair was “Child in Time”. It appeared in live form on Knocking At Your Back Door and Ian Gillan was still in good enough vocal shape to do it. I loved both versions. When I played it in my bedroom, my sister could hear it through the door. I played it so often that she gave it a name. She called it the “Ahh Ahh Ahh” song.
Next: Perfect Strangers. A rewarding album in the long term. Took a few spins to get there.
By 1993, Deep Purple got Ian Gillan back for another kick at the can. The classic Mk II lineup was intact: Richie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, and Roger Glover. They did a so-so album called The Battle Rages On…, and it really did rage on. As I learned more about the band, I discovered that even though they were all intelligent, schooled musicians, they fought like children! This reunion was not built to last, though it was my next Deep Purple album.
I certainly didn’t expect Blackmore to quit. And I didn’t even know about it.
The mid 90s were a bit of a black hole for metal information. Few magazines were covering classic rock bands anymore. I didn’t know that Blackmore quit until their live album, Come Hell or High Water, was out. I found out from the liner notes!
The internet was in its infancy, but I did some digging and found out that Purple were playing live with a new guitar player. Could you believe it? Joe Satriani temped with them!, but he was already gone! They were on to a new guy. The review that I read said specifically that the new guy “looked a lot like Steve Morse”.
Steve Morse was a legend in his own time! I knew him by reputation only. And I was really intrigued by this news.
I had to special order the new Deep Purple with Morse from the US. It was 1995 and I was working at the Record Store. You couldn’t even get it in Canada yet. That’s how bad it was for rock bands in the 90s. But I did get it, paying $24.99 for the import. Purpendicular arrived one Tuesday afternoon. T-Rev was working when it came in. “I hope you don’t mind, but I played a little bit of your Deep Purple. It wasn’t sealed when it came. It sounds pretty good.”
He apologised for playing it but there was no need. I thought it was cool that he was interested. Turns out, he liked that album a lot and ended up buying a copy himself!
Indeed, Purpendicular is a special album. There is magic in those grooves. Maybe it was the freedom of working without the yoke of Blackmore. Perhaps it was the rejuvenation of Steve Morse. It was probably both and much more, but what happened with Purpendicular has never been repeated. No matter how many good albums they have done since (and there have been several, including four with Don Airey replacing the late Jon Lord), none have had the…I hate to use this cliche over again, but…none have had the magic that Purpendicular has. It’s impossible to put into words, but easy to hear for yourself.
I mean, I friggin’ named myself after that album! There are T-shirts with my face on them that say “Purp Ate My Balls”. That’s dedication, pal!