It's a testament to the enduring worldwide popularity of Deep Purple that it's taken them nearly two years to get to North America to promote their 2005 album, Rapture of the Deep. Since the disc's release, the hard-rock veterans have toured the globe relentlessly, hauling their Hammond organ to such far-flung places as Kazakhstan, India and South America. They finally hit the States on July 12 in Atlanta for a 29-date trek that's scheduled to end Aug. 25 in Dallas.
The nearly 40-year-old outfit, celebrated almost as much for weathering repeated lineup changes as for its venerable back catalog ("Smoke on the Water," "Woman From Tokyo" and "Highway Star," for starters), has stabilized since the 2002 departure of founding keyboardist Jon Lord: Longtime members Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) now write, record and tour with guitarist Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Kansas) and keyboardist Don Airey (Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne).
Deep Purple's recent journeys also have taken them back to Montreux, Switzerland -- the Lake Geneva shoreline town inextricably linked to the band as the inspiration for and locale of its monster classic, "Smoke on the Water." Purple were bestowed the honor of headlining the 40th anniversary Montreux Jazz Festival last year, and the gig was documented for a CD and a companion DVD called They All Came Down to Montreux: Live at Montreux 2006 that were issued this past June and July, respectively. Performance highlights include the blistering opening number, "Pictures of Home," and a tongue-in-cheek jazz introduction to "Smoke on the Water."
And it's that song, in particular its ubiquitous riff, that has catapulted the rockers once deemed the world's loudest band by the Guinness World Records organization back into the sights of that sanctioning body. In June, nearly 1,700 guitarists gathered in Kansas City, Kan., to perform "Smoke on the Water" together in a bid to set the record in the category of mass guitar performance. Three weeks later, however, their attempt was surpassed with typical German efficiency by 1,800 axe slingers in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany.
Another relatively new release is the two-disc special edition of Rapture of the Deep, which came out in June 2006. The set includes the original album, an updated version of Rapture track "Clearly Quite Absurd" and live renditions of other new songs (like "Wrong Man") and fan favorites such as "Highway Star" and "Perfect Strangers."
In the few breaks Deep Purple have had -- they usually tour eight to nine months of the year -- the members have managed to squeeze in other projects. Airey is putting the finishing touches on a new solo album that he describes as "a bit of a keyboard spectacular." Glover has made headway on his own disc, which will feature some vocals from his 30-year-old daughter Gillian, a musician in her own right. Morse continues working with his Steve Morse Band and appears on the just-released Jeff Beck tribute CD, Freeway Jam: To Beck and Back. Paice regularly conducts drum clinics, and two months ago played a series of solo dates in Europe. The most visible of the members' recent projects, however, have been frontman Gillan's 40th-anniversary career retrospectives: the Gillan's Inn disc and tour, plus the DVD Highway Star: A Journey in Rock, which features rare footage and interviews with colleagues past and present.
Next up for the band as a whole is a fall tour of France, and there are major rumblings that Deep Purple will record a new studio album in 2008 -- the 40th year of their existence. We recently conducted exclusive interviews with Glover and Airey, touching upon their onstage chemistry, historic Montreux appearance and the true meaning of a world tour. Read ahead to check out highlights from our conversations:
Rapture of the Road
Don Airey: "By any standard, [the Rapture of the Deep trek] was about the best tour I've ever been on, with all the tours I've done. I don't think any of us could believe the reception we got or the size of the crowds. Quite incredible. Or the fact that the first 10 rows were mostly people about 15 and 16 years old. It's quite astonishing what's happening for Deep Purple at the moment. I think there's a lot of word of mouth going on. I think people want to see a real band playing, people who can really play their instruments. Which has slightly gone out of fashion. But we're one of the bands that do that kind of thing, and people want to get a look before we go [laughs]."
Roger Glover: "We're not a band that goes through the motions of playing the songs. We actually reinterpret them every night -- there's always a bit of fun going on. We're a band of musicians, really, not sort of pin-up boys. And musicians tend to not like to play the same thing twice. It's boring. So, yeah, the skeletal structures of the older songs are the same, but there's a lot of movement within that, there's a lot of interpretation, a lot of ad-libbing going on. Which makes it fun for us, you know? And since that's the first reason we got into music, originally -- fun, a love of music-- you don't want to lose that."
Airey: "I must tell you something about Purple -- it's not an easy gig, especially for a keyboard player. You know, there's stress and strain every number. But I think the smiles come from the fact that the band is really cohesive and really playing as a unit. And it's very enjoyable. I can't remember enjoying being in a band so much as this one."
They All Came Down to Montreux
Glover: "[Being asked to headline the 40th anniversary of the Montreux Jazz Festival] was another great honor, really. Montreux is a place dear to our hearts, because through accidents of timing and circumstance, we ended up being sort of married to the place, in that song -- in 'Smoke on the Water' -- because that's where it was recorded, that's where the events took place that are the basis of the song's words . . . We've done the jazz festival now three times. 'Jazz' is a strange word. It's not all jazz, of course, it's blues and rock -- any kind of music, really. It's called a jazz festival because that's what it started out being. But it's basically a festival of music, and it goes on for about two or three weeks, and there's lots of different bands playing different nights, and it's a fantastic atmosphere."
Airey: "We did a special version of 'Smoke on the Water' that night. We did a jazz version before we did the rock version [laughs]. Which kind of brought the house down."
The Beauty of the Beast
Airey: "The Hammond is the crux of the matter. And I inherited the Hammond -- Jon Lord's Hammond -- and the two [Leslie amplifiers]. And during my tenure in the band, I've really had them restored to their pristine state . . . And that particular organ [the Hammond] is known as 'The Beast,' and it's roaring. It's a roaring old machine. So, as long as that's happening for me, it makes the gig a lot easier . . . It's loud, that's what I can tell you, and it's overdriven, and I think people like to hear it that way.
"One of the hardest things in following Jon Lord is that he was such a character, and that he's a very entertaining man. So I've tried to bring that side of things out. I try and keep things lighthearted in the dressing room. I've got quite a few jokes up me sleeve, so we're always having a good laugh. That's one of the things. I've just tried to be very enthusiastic. I mean, I'm naturally enthusiastic, and it's very difficult not to be enthusiastic, being part of Deep Purple, so I try and keep the vibe up -- that's what I see as my little role."
Written Down in History
Glover: "The Guinness Book of World Records -- we were in there in the '70s for being the loudest band in the world. Which is not something that we actually coveted, we weren't actually trying to get in The Guinness Book of World Records, but we just happened to be there. It's kind of interesting, and kind of a backhanded compliment in a way, that we're in there again, with . . . the most guitarists at the same time [playing 'Smoke on the Water']. It's an interesting phenomenon. We don't take it that seriously, [but] I guess it's an honor in a way.
"I remember when I was starting to write songs -- I was about 13 or 14 years old -- and I did a newspaper interview with my local newspaper, and it was a big thrill -- the first time I'd ever seen my photograph in a newspaper. And it was that long ago that I was wearing a tie and I had short hair. So picture that, if you will. And the guy said to me, 'What's your ambition?' And I said, 'Well, one day I'd like to write a standard song.' Now a standard, to me, is something that maybe Frank Sinatra would do. 'Fly Me to the Moon' is a standard. 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco' is a standard. And as a songwriter, I wanted to write a standard. That was my ultimate ambition. And it's come as sort of an odd surprise to me that my ambition was achieved, but it wasn't a song like that, it was a rock song called 'Smoke on the Water.' Either way, I've made it, I guess [laughs]."
The Thrill of the Chase
Airey: "Wherever we are, I try and include something local [in my keyboard solo]. If it's in New Jersey, say, I do a Sinatra song, or if I'm in Stockholm [Sweden], I play an ABBA medley. We were in Kazakhstan recently, and I played a Kazakhstan folk song and they just went berserk. Where else? Albania -- I played the Albanian national anthem. And it's always a nice touch, if a little contrived.
"I have great fun doing it. I always go to the gig early and we look around for a likely candidate who will be able to sing -- a local who'll be able to sing. It's not always the easiest thing to find. But the best one I found was in Singapore. One of the cleaning ladies sang like a nightingale, and she sang me this wonderful song. So when it came to the bit to play it, we had her standing by the side of the stage with her family, and she was just tickled pink. So it's a way to get to meet people, not just to breeze through town without touching the sides."
A Thousand Oceans I Have Flown
Glover: "When most bands announce a 'world tour,' what they mean is London, Paris, some states and maybe Japan. We do a world tour that really is the world. And we're very lucky in that. I talk to a lot of musicians -- a lot of seasoned, good musicians in bands -- and they say, 'You don't know how lucky you are to have so much work.' Work's hard to come by. 'Getting bums on seats,' as the agents like to say it, is not as easy as it was even five years ago. I guess there's more competition from other things, other pursuits. People have much more leisure time than they've ever had and it's filled by other things. But, as I say, I think we're very lucky. Everywhere we go we get a very warm response and a big audience. It keeps us going."