Purple Reign: Roger Glover Asserts His Rock Relevance in the Ageless Deep Purple

September 19, 2013
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HE COLOR PURPLE IS INDELIBLY DYED INTO the founding fibers of hard rock. Along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple formed the holy (hellish?) trinity of the idiom that would ultimately induce heavy metal. Yet, while the band has always pinned the meters in terms of popularity, sales, and volume, critical acclaim has been less than royal—especially when viewed in the context of Zeppelin and Sabbath. Roger Glover, who replaced original Purple bassman Nick Simper from 1969–1973, and has been on his second stint since 1984, has taken a similar backseat to his pre-metal plucking partners. True, Glover sees himself as a songwriter first, being the band’s cornerstone composer and lyricist. And, yes, his big-picture view of music, coupled with behind-the-board skills, has led to genre-spanning producer credits. But consider Glover’s in-your-face, snarling bass on Purple’s 1972 classic, Machine Head, alone—a record that would set the tone for decades of ensuing music—and it’s clear his contribution to the canon of rock bass has been largely overlooked.

Overlooked but not unseen, for while Zeppelin has long remained hangared, and Sabbath just started touring in support of its first new disc with Ozzy Osbourne in 35 years, Glover, vocalist Ian Gillan, drummer Ian Paice, and guitarist Steve Morse have been pounding the concert path incessantly since 1994 (keyboardist Don Airey has been onboard since replacing the late Jon Lord in 2002). Better still, the quintet has a brand new CD to support. Now What?!, produced by Bob Ezrin, is a mesmerizing, mojo-returning mix of vintage ’70s Purple with modern mindset and production. From riff-rockers to big hooks colored with brushstrokes of pop, R&B, and jazz to full-blown prog-metal epics, Now What?! is a rhetorical question. Down low, Glover grounds the group’s go-for-it grit with sympathetic, savvy lines that reveal their well-traveled road to telepathic onstage unity.

Born November 30, 1945, in Brecon, Wales, and raised in London, Roger Glover began his musical journey with piano lessons at age seven, where his quick ears enabled him to play songs after one listen. Gravitating toward rock & roll, he picked up guitar at 13, inspired by Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran. Bass entered the picture soon after, when Glover saw his first live band, the Lightnings, rehearsing in a local gym. He recalls, “Upon seeing them, my two friends and I decided to start a band; they were both better guitarists than I was, so I said, I’ll be the bass player, and I removed the top two strings on my Spanish guitar.” Graduating to a red Hofner “Solid Bass,” Roger moved to North London in 1961 and formed the Madisons. A year later, the Madisons merged with the Lightnings to become Episode Six. Over the next seven years Six would release over a dozen singles, never quite breaking through. That would all change for Glover when Deep Purple came calling in the summer of ’69. We talked with Glover while he was in London, in a reflective mood, to discuss Purple’s first studio CD since 2005.

Why the long period between recordings?

There are two reasons for the gap: First, we’re a heavy-touring band, not just when we have a record. It’s a very nice and fortunate position to be in, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing. Second, CDs are just not in vogue now, so our enthusiasm for doing one, even though we all like to write songs, just wasn’t there. It wasn’t until about two years ago that we started thinking about it and organized a writing session. Then last February, Bob Ezrin came to see us play in Toronto, and he loved the band. Afterward, Bob said what blew him away was not only our level of musicianship, but how we were able to achieve a lot of spontaneity within set songs. He said, “You’re not going to get that big radio hit anymore—finding a catchy riff and banging out a song. Those days are gone. You’ve got to be yourselves and stretch out.” We took those words to heart in the writing session, and it was a very stimulating shot in the arm. I think we came out with some really interesting songs.

What was your role in the writing, and did a concept take shape?

The music side of it comes from all of us; we actually don’t write songs, they kind of grow out of jams. Someone might come in with a riff or a chord sequence, something fairly basic that everyone can chew on for a while, and the song kind of evolves. It’s always been the same with Purple: The music comes first and the lyrics are secondary. We have no idea what the songs are about when we’re writing the music. Afterward, Ian [Gillan] and I will work on what goes over the top, lyrically. He has a place in Portugal where we went for a week, and every day we’d listen to the tracks and write lyrics. Then we headed back to Nashville and finished the CD. As for concept, none really came about as we went along. Years ago, when we were making Purpendicular [1996], the catch phrase for the record was, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea,” and that continued here. We don’t write Purple songs; we just write songs that become Purple songs because we’re playing them. There’s no formula for it, other than we’re obviously aware we’re a hard rock band, and that’s what the music is going to be. So it’s within those confines, except hard rock is unconfined in that it has elements of blues, folk, classical, and jazz.

How do you come up with your bass parts during the jam-to-recording journey?

Do you know the theory of the zen archer? The zen archer draws his bow back and as soon as he eyes the target he lets his arrow go. The reason is, the longer he hesitates and tries to make sure he hits the target, the more off he’s going to be because his hands will start to shake. In other words, your first instinct is always your best bet. When I hear Paicey [Ian Paice] play a certain rhythm, I think, Now what can I play to that? Actually, I don’t think; I just play it. It’s not a thought process anymore. We’ve played together for so many years we automatically sync in together. From there, my part will be shaped by the keyboard and guitar. Don [Airey] has a way of making chords sound not so simple; the naughty chords, as they’re called—they’re jazz chords in the rock idiom. That actually gives me some room to maneuver, because the one thing I’m wary of is going [sings steady eighth-notes] on the root note just to keep the rhythm going. I always want to move a little within my part to add a bit of interest and a bit of jump. But at the basic level, the bass has to anchor and groove at all costs. I mean, you can get a little complicated on the bass, but it doesn’t really help the song most times.

From left: Ian Paice, Glover, Ian Gillan , Dan Airey, Steve Morse
Did Bob Ezrin offer anything regarding your parts or your sound?

A producer is a person who brings out a performance from an artist; that’s his foremost job, and certainly Bob read us very well as individuals. We were aware of the amazing albums he’s produced, and our playing rose to the occasion. He was critical at times, and he speaks his mind, but he’s also very positive and supportive. Sound-wise, he asked me to try his P-Bass. I picked it up and played it, and I said, “Well, we’ll have to change the strings,” and he said, “Don’t touch the strings!” [Laughs.] He had used the bass on legendary albums by Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. I played it, as is, on about half the tracks. Bob also suggested I switch from a medium to a heavy-gauge pick, but as it turned out I used my fingers on most tracks. I started out as both a pick and finger player, but over the years I’ve always used a pick onstage, where it’s important to cut through and be accurate. On the CD, however, the sound was so good in the studio, the parts I was playing didn’t demand a pick. I used one in a few places, like on “Out of Hand”; there’s a riff we all have to play at the end of the guitar solo, and I’m not quite good enough to play it with fingers.

Do you have favorite tracks on the CD?

Yes, and of course they change. I love “Weirdistan,” just for the title, to start, and for the ear’s worth of a riff I came up with. It’s got everything a good riff should have: It’s simple, and yet it’s like nothing else. We also had fun with the lyrics; we were in good form that day. Roughly, it’s a song about acceptance of other cultures, which sounds like a highfalutin’ meaning to a song, but to us it made a lot of sense.

“Blood from a Stone” encapsulates your style: a strong groove beneath the song, and subtle interaction with the soloist.

I can credit the writing of that song to Jimi Hendrix, in a roundabout way. I had been listening to Jimi the night before, and the one thing about his music is it sounds so free, never constrained. After working for hours on this complicated, finicky riff in our jam the next day, I finally said, Why don’t we do something simple like this, and I just started playing the riff. That Hendrix-like freedom and flow extended to my bass line throughout, as well. A similar situation happened for me on “Maybe I’m a Leo” [from Machine Head]: I was listening to John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep” [Imagine, Apple, 1971], and what caught my ear was how the song’s riff doesn’t start on the downbeat. So in the studio I said, I fancy doing a riff like this—meaning not on the one, and the line just came out of me.

Both “Blood” and “Bodyline” have a swung feel not typical in hard rock.

That’s Paicey; he’s a big band drummer at heart. Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa are his heroes. He plays with a swing like no other rock drummer I know. When I was doing the Machine Head 25th Anniversary remix [1997], on “Highway Star,” we have this big, chugging, machine gun groove going, yet when I isolated the drums, Paicey is swinging! To me, it all comes from New Orleans; if you listen to records by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and other early rockers, some of the band is playing straight and some are swinging. It’s that tension between the two that creates rock & roll. The other key with Paicey is he plays with a light touch, as opposed to power drummers I’ve been in bands with, like Cozy Powell and Bobby Rondinelli. He knows exactly how and where to hit each drum so it has a big sound, without him having to bash. He’s also got the right mentality for a drummer; when I was first offered the job in Purple, right after I recorded a single called “Hallelujah” with them, Paicey walked by me and said, “Oh, by the way, I don’t follow, I lead.”

How did you come to join Deep Purple?

Ian Gillan and I were in a band called Episode Six, where we were writing together. In the summer of 1969, Purple was looking for a singer, and [original keyboardist and guitarist] Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore came to see us and offered Ian the gig, which he took. Soon after, Ian called me and said, “The band is looking for songs—come in and play them our songs.” So I met Lord and he listened and passed on what we had, but he played me “Hallelujah” and asked me to record it with them that night. After the session he offered me the gig and I turned him down. I said, You already took our singer, if I leave Episode Six it kills everyone else’s hopes and dreams, and I can’t live with that. So he said, “Well, think about it.” I went home and thought about it all night and called him the next morning to take the gig. It still amazes me how close I came to not following this path.

What about original bassist Nick Simper?

Well, the band politics were horrible. Nick didn’t know he’d been replaced until someone told him, and on the “Hallelujah” session I used his bass and amp. I felt bad; both [original vocalist] Rod Evans and Nick were let go without notice, which must have hurt terribly. I’ve never met Nick, but we have mutual friends and I hear he’s a great guy. His playing definitely had an impact on me because I had to play his parts. I thought he had a great big plucking sound; you can really hear it on “Hush” [Shades of Deep Purple, EMI, 1968]—I could never get that sound. Conversely, when Glenn Hughes replaced me in 1973, we became friends and I invited him and [Gillan’s replacement] David Coverdale to sing on my first solo album a year later. Glenn is much more of an R&B/funk player than I am, a very talented man with an amazing voice.

More so than your fellow founding peers of hard rock bass, you seem to prefer a clean, deep R&B type of sound as opposed to a dirtier, overdriven sound.

That’s because the music I listened to growing up was from America in the ’60s; the Brit pop stuff paled by comparison, musically and sonically. American studios had the big, rich, warm bass sounds of Tamla/ Motown and Memphis, and the wonderful playing of people like James Jamerson and Duck Dunn, to match. By the time I got to Purple, I always felt my tone was too distorted, with not enough bottom, especially with the Rickenbacker 4001, having had a P-Bass and a Fender Mustang previously. I used the Rick on Machine Head and I wasn’t happy with the sound, but when we did the 25th Anniversary remix, my engineer Peter [Denenberg] isolated it and said, “People would kill for a sound like that”—so I guess maybe I didn’t realize what I had.

People have noted that the bass is louder on Machine Head than other early Purple albums. Was there a reason?

I really don’t know why that was, but it surprises me, as well. Every time I hear the original on the radio I go, Jesus, the bass is loud!

Who were your key bass influences?

I’ve never copied anyone’s style, note for note. The first bass player I heard who was totally different from everyone else was Jack Bruce. Then I got into John Entwistle —“My Generation” blew me away— and Tim Bogert with Vanilla Fudge. But they were all virtuoso players. I think the bassist who had the most impact on me was Paul McCartney, because he was both a great songwriter and a great player. He had the lyrical sensibility to say something profound on bass that didn’t get in the way of anything else in the song. Even though I don’t want to emulate them, I admire technical players. Two of my alltime heroes are Jaco and Victor Wooten. They’re just brilliant musicians. Occasionally I’ll go on YouTube at night and check out Victor or Abraham Laboriel.

Let's touch on your writing, producing, and solo side.

I was 13 or so when I wrote my first songs; I was always intrigued by the process. I’d heard church and classical music, but for me it all came out of skiffle— artists like Lonnie Donegan. I usually write on acoustic guitar, occasionally piano or a riff on bass. My first time producing was for a friend of mine, Rupert Hine [Pick Up a Bone, Repertoire, 1971]. I had purposely watched [engineer/producer] Martin Birch on Purple records and learned about compressors and EQ. From there, I discovered and produced Ronnie James Dio on his album Elf [Legacy, 1972], and then Nazareth asked me to produce Razamanaz [A&M, 1973], which was a hit and helped soften the blow of me leaving Purple at the time. It’s true that bassists make good producers because they have the least amount of ego and they mix well with others. As for my solo career, it started with The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, where I was asked to put music to a children’s book. My other four albums, especially the last two, have enabled me to explore different styles of music beyond hard rock.

Deep Purple was finally nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, but not voted in. Thoughts?

I don’t care about it, honestly; it would have been quite disruptive to go through that at this time. Ritchie [Blackmore] would have had to be there, and deservedly so, but that has the hallmarks of a possible nightmare, so I’m kind of glad we didn’t get in. One of the voters against us apparently said, “They don’t deserve to get in—they’re one-hit wonders.” If that’s the kind of people we’re dealing with, who needs it?

What advice would you offer to young bassists?

I don’t know what I’d say these days. It’s tough out there, but it always was. I struggled for years before Deep Purple. I think it’s harder now, though, because there’s less emphasis on music and more on fame and celebrity. There are so many more people in the world vying for notoriety. If you want to be a bass player, study and borrow from the best and learn how to really enjoy playing the instrument. You can have just as much fun gigging in a little band at your local pub every Saturday evening as you’ll ever get from being a celebrity bass player. A big reason Purple made it is that we didn’t follow any trends; hard rock wasn’t in vogue at the time, and we had no hope in hell of getting on the radio. We just did what we wanted to do, and it happened to become successful. That’s really the truest kind of success you can achieve.

What’s in the short and long range for you?

This year we’re touring Europe and Russia with the new CD, and we’ll be hitting the U.S. early next year. In terms of broader goals, most songwriters are very self-critical, and I would say I’ve written a lot of mediocre songs and the occasional good one. But I’ve always had a desire to write a song that just blows the world away. Wouldn’t it be nice to be Brian Wilson?

Selected Discography

With Deep Purple Now What?! [Eagle, 2013]; Rapture of the Deep [Eagle, 2005]; Bananas [Sanctuary, 2003]; Abandon [CMC, 1998]; Purpendicular [CMC, 1996]; The Battle Rages On [Giant, 1993]; Slaves and Masters [RCA, 1990]; The House of Blue Light [Mercury, 1987]; Perfect Strangers [Mercury, 1984]; Burn [Warner Bros. 1974]; Who Do We Think We Are [Warner Bros., 1973]; Machine Head [Warner Bros., 1972]; Fireball [Warner Bros., 1971]; Deep Purple in Rock [Warner Bros., 1970].

Solo albums If Life Was Easy [Eagle, 2011]; Snapshot [Eagle, 2002]; Mask [Lemon, 1984]; Elements [Polydor, 1978]; The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast [Purple/Victor, 1974].

With others Gov’t Mule, The Deep End, Vol. I [ATO 2001]; Gillian & Glover, Accidently on Purpose [EMI, 1988]; The Michael Schenker Group [EMI, 1980]; Rainbow, Straight Between the Eyes [Polydor, 1982], Down to Earth [Polydor, 1979]; Nazareth, Loud ’N’ Proud [Eagle, 1974].

INFO

EQUIP

Basses On tour: Six Vigier Roger Glover Signature 4-strings (two main basses, plus backups or for alternate tunings). At home: Rickenbacker 4001 (his original Deep Purple bass); fretless Godin A4; Fender Squire P-Bass
Strings Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Hybrid Slinky Bass (.045–.105)
Amps Twin rigs, each with a TC Electronic Blacksmith head and two RS410 cabinets (only one head is used to power all four cabinets, the other is a backup)
Effects TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive; EBS MultiDrive Universal Overdrive Pedal
Other Medium picks with Roger Glover logo
Recording Now What?! Signature Vigiers and Bob Ezrin’s P-Bass, both direct and through an unknown miked combo amp with two 10" speakers (Ezrin used a distortion plug-in on one track) Live signal chain Explains bass tech Mickey Lee, “Roger’s signal goes from his bass through an  A/B box (for quick bass changes) and through his effects. The effects are actually located in the amp rack and controlled by me. After the effects, the signal goes to a direct box, which sends the signal to monitors and front-of-house. The direct box also sends the signal to his onstage amp and cabinets, one of which is miked. The front-of-house engineer blends the direct signal with the miked signal for the house sound.”

Special thanks to Freddy Villano for his role in the preparation of this interview.

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