June , 1984
By David Huff
Deep Purple - "Perfect Strangers" World Tour, aka "Reunion" Tour 1984 - 1985
Whiffs of Smoke on the Water Stoke Flames for Deep Purple Reunion
Last year, the music world bid a fond adieu to three of rock and roll's most creative and influential bands of the ‘70s – The Who, Doobie Brothers and the original Supertramp. Rock fans can at least take some heart in knowing that the most commercially successful version of Deep Purple, known as Mark II, had gotten back together after nearly a decade of musical meanderings by individual members. This reconstituted line-up was so serious, that guitarist Ritchie Blackmore broke up his band, Rainbow, and brought with him bassist John Glover. Singer Ian Gillian had already agreed to try it again when drummer Ian Paice and keyboardist Jon Lord floated the idea past him.
Now for the main question. Why? And the logical follow-up. Can it last?
This particular line-up of Deep Purple became rock royalty with the release of the album, Machine Head, in 1973. It is often cited as a major influence in the early development of the heavy metal music genre. Commercially, it was Deep Purple's most successful album, topping the charts in several countries following its release. Outside of the infamous “Smoke on the Water” composition, the album also contained the classic numbers "Highway Star", "Space Truckin'" and "Lazy".
The problem with this particular line-up was the rate the band toured and recorded albums. With the release of Machine Head, the group had only been together three and a half years, yet this was their sixth LP. The touring schedule was insane, the band undertaking four North America tours in 1972, and a Japan tour that led to a double-vinyl live release, Made in Japan. Originally intended as a Japan-only record, its worldwide release saw the double LP become an instant hit. It remains one of rock music's most popular and highest selling live-concert recordings. The classic Deep Purple Mark II line-up continued to work, and released the album Who Do We Think We Are (1973), featuring the hit single "Woman from Tokyo", but internal tensions and exhaustion were more noticeable than ever. In many ways, the band had become victims of their own success. Following the successes of Machine Head and Made in Japan, the addition of Who Do We Think We Are made them the top-selling artists of 1973 in North America. Management, however, pushed the band to the breaking point. The group badly needed a break from one another rejuvenate the spirit. It didn’t happen. Bad feelings and tensions with Blackmore culminated with Gillan and Glover quitting the band after their second tour of Japan in the summer of 1973. David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes replaced them.
Blackmore would leave Deep Purple in 1975 after the very successful tour to promote the Burn album. In a rather odd move, the guitarist actually joined the Ronnie James Dio band Elf, which had opened for Purple, along with Electric Light Orchestra during the North American run. They renamed themselves Rainbow. Tommy Bolin was tapped to replace Blackmore. Substance abuse problem doomed this talented musician. When Bolin died of a drug overdose in a Miami hotel in 1976, Deep Purple called it quits. Here we are eight years later.
In October of 1980, while touring with David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, Jon Lord addressed the rumor mill regarding a possible Deep Purple reunion. At the time, the keyboard player had reservations as to whether or not a reformed Purple could actually be a viable force again in the ever changing music world.
"If I was to ever be involved in a reunion of Deep Purple," said Lord in his Jam Magazine interview, "in whatever formation it may be, I would want the motives to be absolutely crystal clear. My No. 1 on those lists of motives would have to be that it would be musically viable, musically interesting and it would give people something to latch on to. It would not be just another license to print money."
At this particular junction in time, Lord, Paice and Coverdale were Whitesnake. The thought of dissolving this band in favor of Deep Purple was of deep concern at the time.
"I have talked this over with Ian and David a great deal,” admitted Lord, “because it threatens the future of Whitesnake in a way. While Whitesnake is a viable band and there is a future for it, I can't see myself letting this band down to reform something that may be just like a dinosaur which the environment has outgrown."
A dinosaur that's outlived its environment was of paramount concert to Lord. He wondered then about the viability of a reunited Deep Purple and whether or not the band could live up to the laurels it had created in the past. And then there was the question of Ritchie Blackmore.
"I know that Ritchie would really like to reform Deep Purple," said Lord in the 1980 interview," but I am suspicious of the motive. It is not an attack on Ritchie by the way, but this is me stating my case. A lot of Purple's conflicts reported in the press and apparently through the personnel changes came from Ritchie.
“He is a contentious man, and that is not to put him down. He always thought that what he was doing was right, and it came from a musical standpoint, not from any kind of financial standpoint whatsoever. Ritchie said he wanted to leave Deep Purple because he found it restrictive and he didn't like the music. So, he left and formed a band called Rainbow, which to me sounds just like Deep Purple.
"For Ritchie to have done what he did, I was very disappointed. To me, he was a major portion of Deep Purple the way he played and the way we all reacted to the way he performed. I was very sad when he left. Had he stayed, you would have had Deep Purple now, and we would have still been providing valid, interesting and onward looking music. It was a great shame when he left."
Lord neither condemned nor praised Blackmore. He was curious about the motives then as he most assuredly must be now. And perhaps the desire to be productive, and in a real sense, musically creative once again as Deep Purple, has healed the wounds inflicted nearly a decade ago. Lord lost a great deal of himself when the group disbanded.
"Deep Purple is a part of my life that I just can't shake and I don't want to shake," said Lord. "Some of the stuff we did, if you forgive the arrogance were, classic bits of rock and roll. Some of the happiest times of my life to date have been on the road with Purple. I will never forget them, but I don't think that you can move your life on at all by trying to recreate the past. You have to keep moving."
Only time will tell whether Deep Purple can enter the 80's with the same reckless abandon that made them legends in the 1970’s. Or maybe, the past will be an obstacle the reconfigured lineup just won’t be able to overcome.