By Ray Shasho
Ian Gillan is the legendary charismatic frontman for one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history. Deep Purple is essentially known for its hard rock pulse. Its musical schemes have encompassed progressive rock, blues, R&B and even jazz, but the ingenuity of Deep Purple has never been more evident than on its latest release entitled, Now What?!
Now What?! The brand new Deep Purple album is quarterbacked by producer and musician Bob Ezrin. Ezrin is a legend in his own right and one of a very few who can still make a difference in today’s convoluted music world. Ezrin produced highly successful albums for Alice Cooper, Kiss, Pink Floyd and Lou Reed to name just a few.
It’s an incredible mix of progressive & hard rock genius. Deep Purple is triumphant with its band of virtuoso musicians featuring … Ian Gillan’s poetic and majestic vocalizations, Steve Morse’s incisive guitar licks, Roger Glover’s savvy bass lines, Ian Paice’s masterful drumming and Don Airey’s wizardry on the keyboards.
Notable tracks on the new release include … “Weirdistan” a mesmerizing blend of keyboards, synthesizers and wailing guitars accentuated with quixotic melody. Gillan, Morse and Airey especially shine on this track. “Bodyline” is vintage Purple supplemented with a jazzy guitar chant. “Above and Beyond” is an awe-inspiring and nobly performed progressive rock configuration, “Blood from a Stone” A slow-bluesy number that gets periodically barraged by heavy guitar riffs. The tune is an ideal intro for a James Bond movie. The slower keyboard strokes are reminiscent to Ray Manzarek (The Doors). It’s a magnificent song! “Uncommon Man” is definitely one of my favorite tracks. Steve Morse’s proficient guitar licks are definitely a spotlight on the track. It’s a powerful song that lifts the band into new horizons. “Apres Vous” is an incredible jam that exhibits why Deep Purple is still one of the best bands in the world. “All the Time in the World” is a tailor-made Top 40 hit if mainstream radio was still any good.
Now What?! is an exceptional album performed by an incomparable band of musicians. Deep Purple delivers an intellectual mix of music that will captivate the Purple fanbase, rock and prog aficionados, the contemporary listening audience and future generations to come … I gave Now What?! (5) Stars.
The Deep Purple Story: Keyboardist Jon Lord received a telegram from Tony Edwards stating that he’d back Lord in putting a band together; later Edwards called Ritchie Blackmore to meet with him. In December of 1967, the two musicians met up and collaborated for the first time. John Lord had already asked Nick Simper to play bass, a former bandmate with ‘The Flower Pot Men.’
While living in Hamburg, Germany, Ritchie Blackmore saw drummer Ian Paice performing onstage with his band The Maze. The group was fronted by singer Rod Evans. Evans auditioned for the lead vocalist role for a scheming new (Deep Purple) band and won the spot. Blackmore remembered Paice from Hamburg and asked Evans to bring him along. Blackmore and Lord were a bit worried that Evans mannerism was much like Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck. Jon Lord later stated, “We’d eventually beat him into shape.”
In 1968, Deep Purple was officially formed. The band was named after a Nino Tempo and April Stevens song of 1963, believed to be Ritchie Blackmore’s grandmother’s favorite song.
Deep Purple’s musical styles intentionally mimicked the American rock group Vanilla Fudge (“You Keep Me Hangin’ On”). The group quickly scored commercially with their Top 40 hit single “Hush” (#4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart) and became overnight sensations in the U.S.
Ritchie Blackmore’s vision for the band was to implement heavier rock techniques, and while Rod Evans and Nick Simper were in the group it may never have been accomplished. After Rod Evans was dismissed from Deep Purple, he went on to form Captain Beyond in 1971.
Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover were performing at Woodford Green in London with their British pop rock band ‘Episode Six.’ Their lead singer Ian Gillan was noticed by Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord. After watching Gillan’s performance, they offered him the lead singer position for Deep Purple. Eventually Roger Glover would be asked to join the band, while securing one of the greatest music lineups in rock history.
Gillan and Glover’s first recording with the band was Deep Purple In Rock (1970), and according to band members, every song on the album made a statement. The band wrote and recorded crucial tracks immediately with their new lineup. The album featured Ian Gillan’s first penned song with his new band entitled, “Speed King.” Other notable tracks were … “Child in Time” and “Hard Lovin’ Man.”
The band toured extensively in Europe and followed the success of In Rock with Fireball in 1971. Fireball hadn’t reached the same success as its predecessor but did spawn the classic track “Strange Kind of Woman.”
“Smoke on the Water:” Deep Purple had always enjoyed making music that sounded live, so they recorded their next album with a mobile studio in a theater setting without the audience. They decided to record the album in Montreux, Switzerland at the Hall in the Grand Hotel at Lake Geneva. When they got there, the last function at the Casino hall before the band took over was a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention concert. The band decided to watch the show, but after an hour into the concert people began staring at the sparks on the bamboo ceiling. Then the music stopped and Frank Zappa walked up to the microphone and announced, “I don’t want to alarm anybody or cause any panic but …FIRE!” Within minutes the huge complex was an inferno. The huge blaze was caused by a man firing a flare gun into the ceiling.
The band went back to the hotel and watched the fire burning all day. A few mornings later, Roger Glover woke up half asleep and muttered the words …Smoke on the Water. The band always writes the music first so they already had a riff in place, and so they wrote the lyrics exactly as they witnessed the event.
The Machine Head album released in early 1972 (#7 on the U.S. Charts) would later be touted as an early influence to heavy metal music. The album became one of Deep Purple’s most significant releases spawning the classics … “Highway Star,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Lazy,” and “Space Truckin’.” Machine Head went platinum.
Also in 1972, under resistance by the band, they recorded a double live album in Japan entitled, Made In Japan. The album was essentially the Machine Head tour. The band recorded (3) concerts ... (2) in Osaka and (1) in Tokyo. Most of the material came from the second night in Osaka. Made In Japan also went platinum and the live version of “Smoke on the Water” became instrumental to the song’s success.
Smoke on the Water” (#4 Hit on Billboard’s Hot 100) was officially released as a single in 1973 and became one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock and roll history. Deep Purple were now international superstars in the studio and on the road.
At the peak of their success, Ian Gillan gave a six month notice and stated that he was leaving the band after fulfilling all of his commitments in 1973. The album Who Do We Think We Are was released in January of 1973. The release generated the hit single “Woman from Tokyo.” “Smoke on the Water” was also busy that year becoming Deep Purple’s biggest hit of all-time. Who Do We Think We Are was the last studio album to feature Ian Gillan as their lead singer until the 1984 reunion LP Perfect Strangers.
Deep Purple did six American tours before Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left the band. The grueling touring schedule and fatigue became the reason for their early departure from the band. In 1973, the band had eleven different entries in Billboard and became the top-selling artists in the U.S. But without its lead singer and bass player the band felt like it was the end.
Deep Purple brought in several lineups through the years. Lead singers that included David Coverdale and Joe Lynn Turner, guitarists Tommy Bolin and Joe Satriani and bassist Glenn Hughes. There have also been band reunions that have included the original Deep Purple core lineup.
Sadly, founding member, keyboardist and songwriter Jon Lord died in 2012.
Ritchie Blackmore and his wife Candice Night currently perform together with their medieval folk rock band Blackmore’s Night.
Ian Gillan is the son of a school teacher mother and a factory worker father. Gillan came from a musical family; his grandfather was a bass-baritone and sang opera, and his uncle was a jazz pianist. Ian was a boy soprano in the church choir when he was young.
Besides being the legendary voice of Deep Purple, Gillan also sang the role of Jesus on the original recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. He also recorded with his solo bands the Ian Gillan Band (1975-1978) and Gillan (1978-1982).
Gillan was also the lead singer of Black Sabbath (1982-1984).
Ian Gillan performed in the charity group Rock Aid Armenia and later (2011) participated in the supergroup ‘WhoCares,’ a continuing effort by Gillan to help the people of Armenia after a devastating earthquake. The group was comprised of Gillan, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Jason Newsted (Metallica), Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden) and Mikko “Linde” Lindstrӧm (HIM). They recorded the songs … “Out of My Mind” and “Holy Water” which is included in a 2-CD compilation of rarities from the music careers of Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi. Proceeds from the CD helped rebuild a music school in Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia. Gillan and Iommi received the Armenian Presidential Medal of Honor for their humanitarian efforts.
I had the rare pleasure of chatting with Ian Gillan recently about Deep Purple’s incredible new album, working with legendary producer Bob Ezrin, their current tour, and the components that make Deep Purple such a great band.
Here’s my interview with singer/songwriter/ humanitarian/ and the legendary voice of Deep Purple and Jesus Christ Superstar …IAN GILLAN.
Ian was in Portugal during this call …
Ray Shasho: Ian thank you for being on the call today. Deep Purple has plenty of international dates coming up are there any U.S. dates in the near future?
Ian Gillan: “I’m not sure; I haven’t seen any American dates either (All laughing). We’re flat out until Christmas. I know we’re in all kinds of places … Morocco, Iceland, all over Europe, Russia and the Eastern European countries right through to the UK, then in Japan and South America, but I don’t see any American dates.”
Ray Shasho: Many of the legendary British rock bands who used to tour extensively in the states have either stopped coming to the U.S. or choose restricted dates. I’m hoping the decision not to tour in the U.S. is a financial decision and not because the American music scene has gone to crap.
Ian Gillan: “They seem to have gotten stuck in the mud, that’s for sure. No support on the radio, they just want to play something from the 70’s. Once you get that label of classic rock around your head in America it’s like a tombstone. It’s had an effect; nobody wants to be represented like that. I think it’s your decision to handle it as you want but the rest of the world doesn’t handle it like that.”
“It’s really funny, I heard from somebody that was on the committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination, which we didn’t get; describing us as one hit wonders (laughing). Of course this might be the same group that decided The Monkees were America’s answer to The Beatles. But I’ve been fighting my whole life against being institutionalized and have no reason to stop at the moment. You just need to see the funny side of it really. But it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to our lives or what we do. We’re on the road nonstop, we played in forty eight countries last year and life is a ball, we’re just having the greatest time doing what we do best, which is playing live.”
Ray Shasho: “Ian, congratulations on the recording of Deep Purple’s nineteenth studio album. Was this the first time Purple had worked with Bob Ezrin?
Ian Gillan: “Yes it is he was the catalyst for getting us back in the studio after seven years. We were quite happily drifting on. It would come up in conversation now and again about a new album … yea man, maybe next year-maybe next year. But he reminded us of a few things, he came out to see us in Canada, we were on a tour there in February of 2012 and it was quite a good conversation, everyone started remembering who we are and what we do. So primarily we’re an instrumental band and he said just concentrate on the music and just let it develop as you used to. Don’t worry about three or four minute tracks; they’re not going to play it on the bloody radio anyway … just make your music. So that was the trigger.”
“So we arrived in Nashville for the writing session in great shape. Having been through a very long unsettling period, there was a great empathy among musicians and almost like a family again. So the music came quickly and the whole thing was written in four weeks. Then we took another four weeks to record it.”
Ray Shasho: Bob Ezrin is one of a few trailblazers still making a difference in today’s music world.
Ian Gillan: “He’s a great musician as well as a great technician. The first time we went there, we went to see the Nashville Symphony. We listen to a lot of jazz, blues and rock and roll. Bob’s got the same taste in music as us, which is diverse. I don’t think anyone in the band listens to what you call genre music or anything like that; I listen to a whole variety of stuff when I’m at home. So it was great having him onboard with his experience of course and he immediately became a member of the band, so there was a great deal of mutual respect and that helps a lot when you’re expecting someone to guide you along. He encouraged us to be expressive, which was a good thing, and at the same time he held on quite tightly to the reins and steered us in the right direction without us even being aware of it, so it was very subtle and a manipulate job, but I give Bob Ezrin a lot of credit.”
“I can’t obviously say anything about the music because it’s too subjective, but what I can say with confidence is this is the best sounding Deep Purple record that we ever made by a long shot.”
Ray Shasho: The title and cover art for the new album was also interesting, is there a special meaning behind the title?
Ian Gillan: “Not really, I designed it originally … there’s us guys reluctant to go into the studio and we keep getting nudged, go on and make another record … no-no we’re fine having a great time, every night is a big adventure, and it’s like the phone rings and you go …Now what? Eventually you have to do what is demanded. So it’s kind of a grumpy reaction to constant prodding by the record label and by management etc. I just doodled around with it one day on the computer and it kind of caught on and I guess it was just a phrase that seemed right at the time, as with everything, and our album is a collection of ideas that represent that moment in time.”
“Above and Beyond” is a track that’s got Jon Lord’s spirit in there. I had written the lyrics, almost finished the lyrics when we heard the news about Jon dying. We kind of sat around the studio and then started talking about the good old days and some good memories of Jon. It was just like when my dad died actually, his body went away and then suddenly his spirit just filled me up and he has been travelling with me ever since. The same thing kind of happened with Jon, he filled the room and I wrote these words …souls had been touched are forever entwined. I sang them at his funeral and then I included them in the song, which was finished pretty much apart from that line. But when I wrote those words, it all made sense, and there was Jon Lord singing to us all.”
“The song is kind of a burlesque waltz in three four time and has a glorious key change. I just find it spiritually uplifting and I think it’s definitely going to be in the show.”
Ray Shasho: “Above and Beyond” is definitely one of my favorite tracks and should be a favorite among fans and critics.
Ian Gillan: “It’s difficult to pin down our kind of music, somebody was saying early on … You’re playing Wacken in Germany this summer; it’s the biggest heavy metal rock festival in Europe, just a huge annual event and they said, does Deep Purple fit into that heavy metal thing? Two weeks before that we’re headlining the Montreux Jazz Festival … go figure (All laughing).”
“We’ve headlined the Jazz Festival about four times I think. If you describe jazz as free form or adventurous music, that’s what happens in Deep Purple in a rock format every night and these guys are just unbelievable musicians and they just extemporize, every night, the same old songs but their different, they go out there and improvise. That’s what makes it so constantly exciting …it’s a thrill.”
Ray Shasho: The track “Bodyline” has a lot of those jazzy riffs that you’re talking about.
Ian Gillan: “Very sexy song that one.”
Ray Shasho: “Vincent Price” is a cool tune … any influence from Bob Ezrin’s days with Alice Cooper?
Ian Gillan: “(Laughing) No I don’t think so. We write jam sessions every day. Nobody brings any songs to a Deep Purple session ever. We start from scratch. We start at midday and go through till six, day after day after day. The ideas emerge and we record them and then after four or five days we start working on the ideas… on the arrangement and stuff like that. Every song that we start to develop has a working title, not necessarily the one we end up with, but it has a working title. So this sounded like a horror movie so we called it “Vincent Price.” We’ve all worked with Vincent Price over the years in different ways. Roger flew over to Portugal to fine tune the lyrics and so we said what would a film director want as essential ingredients in a horror movie in the 60’s with Vincent Price? So we started a list… thunder and lightning, chains rattling, creaking gates, dogs howling, vampires, sacrificial virgins, zombies …and hang on a second the song is finished. So we just put a list of film clichés and it seemed to work perfectly.”
Ray Shasho: Did the music come first on “Smoke on the Water?”
Ian Gillan: “When the casino began to be burnt down then we were short of time and the engineer said… hey guys we’ve got one day left and we’re still seven minutes short of an album. So we dug out the soundcheck tape which didn’t have a title and then we wrote the biographical story of what happened in Montreux. It was the very last thing that was added and then I sang it of course. The music came first.”
Ray Shasho: Ian, Here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview, If you had a “Field of Dreams” wish, like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Ian Gillan: “Oh man! It would have to be either Cliff Bennett or Ella Fitzgerald, one of those two.”
Ray Shasho: Ian thank you so much for being on the call today and more importantly for all the great music you’ve given the world.
Ian Gillan: “Thank you very much Ray, I really enjoyed talking with you.”
Ian Gillan official website www.gillan.com
Deep Purple official website www.deeppurple.com
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