Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple form the Holy Triumvirate of hard rock, credited with creating and inspiring the entire subgenre of heavy metal. Last year, Purple finally joined Zeppelin and Sabbath in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after being eligible for more than 25 years and nominated two other times—ironic, since the band contributed “Smoke on the Water,” arguably history’s most recognized guitar riff. In 2013, Now What?! (Eagle) was Purple’s first album of new material in eight years, instigating a Stateside resurgence that continues to peak with the release of the album InFinite. Deep Purple’s current U.S. tour co-headlining with Alice Cooper is further validation of the group’s viability, as well as its enduring influence on the world of rock. This newfound fervor may have resulted from the decision to enlist legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Kiss, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper) to helm Now What?! “Bob Ezrin started something in us,” admits Roger Glover. “He said a few words after seeing us play that were very encouraging, and I think it set us off on a new songwriting venture.”
InFinite (also produced by Ezrin) exercises the same musical muscles that made Now What?! so compelling, blending rock, prog, and jam into a singular-sounding stew that remains equal parts unmistakable and undefinable. “The difficulty with a band that has our kind of history is to come up with new music that sounds like it’s from us, but doesn’t sound like any song we’ve written before,” says Glover. “That’s the key—the songwriting took a fresh turn. I’m quite proud that we’ve now produced two albums with Bob that sound like us, but don’t sound like anything we’ve done. We’re not a parody of ourselves. That’s an achievement in itself.”
Deep Purple currently features Steve Morse (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboards), who ably assume the mantle burnished by their predecessors Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord, while adding their own, personal flair. Ian Gillan (vocals) and Ian Paice (drums) from the iconic “Mk II” lineup remain. Glover joined Deep Purple in 1969 and stayed with the band through 1973, fortifying the Mk II lineup and helping craft landmark albums such as In Rock, Machine Head, and Who Do We Think We Are. When the Mk II lineup regrouped in 1984 to record another milestone, Perfect Strangers, Glover solidified his place as Purple’s definitive bassist, co-songwriter, and occasional producer.
When writing new material, are you consciously trying to stay out of the way of your own history?
I’m not that conscious of it. I was doing an interview quite a few years ago, and the guy asked, “Why don’t you write songs like ‘Highway Star’ anymore?” I said, “We actually do write songs like ‘Highway Star,’ they just don’t sound like ‘Highway Star.’” I know what he was trying to get at. The thing is, before we released “Highway Star” [1972, Machine Head], no one knew what the future would be. When you write a song, if you do it from the heart, that’s all you can do. It’s up to the audience to make it what it’s going to be.
What is the songwriting process like? Do Purple songs still evolve from jams?
Yeah, they always have—right from the get-go. I remember my first time meeting the band and having rehearsals; the jamming was amazing. Before that, I thought jams were 12-bar blues, because that’s what they always seemed to be. But joining Purple, it was a whole different kind of jam. It was more freeform jazz with a rock undercurrent. I remember hearing one of the first jams, thinking, “Well, I don’t know this song; where is this going?” It didn’t take me long to realize no one knew where it was going [laughs]. And out of those jams, if we hit on an idea that sounds like it could be a promising song, we work on it. That’s exactly how it works today.
Do you all record live, simultaneously in the studio?
It is quite live in the studio. That’s how we keep it fresh and how we keep it Purple, if you like. It’s got a player’s feeling; it’s not a manufactured pop record with a lot of layers and orchestrations and production flourishes. It’s just four guys playing. There’s an honesty to that. Bob was amazed that the four of us make such a huge sound.
When you joined, Purple had already experienced success with “Hush” [1968, Shades of Deep Purple]. Was there a noticeable difference compared with what you had been doing in your previous band, Episode Six?
Most of the players I knew were friends from school, and we all learned together, so there was nothing spectacular about it. We learned songs and we played them as we learned them, and every gig we played the songs the same way—that’s how I thought it worked. With Purple, you could just come up with any idea, and they could play it instantly. It wasn’t a question of learning something to figure out if it was any good. You didn’t have to learn it; they could just think it and play it. That’s a degree of musicianship that was beyond me at the time.
I understand you weren’t happy with your tone on Machine Head. Can you elaborate?
American recordings always sounded much better than anything that was coming out of England. Americans had this beautiful, warm, rich, deep bass sound, but in England it always seemed a bit scratchy. I suppose unconsciously, I was always trying to find that American sound—I was looking for different basses, thinking maybe it would improve me or whatever. In 1971, on our first real American tour, I went into Manny’s [48th St., New York City] and I saw a Rickenbacker 4001. I had seen the Beatles and Yes using Rickenbackers, so I bought one, and the first song I recorded on it was “Smoke on the Water.” I went through a Marshall stack, but it always sounded too distorted to me. When I remixed the 25th anniversary release of Machine Head, it was the first time I had listened the individual tracks in 25 years, and I said to the engineer, Peter Denenberg, “I always thought my bass was too distorted.” He looked at me incredulously and said, “People would give their left arm to sound like that these days.” So, I obviously didn’t know what I had.
It’s intriguing how active the bass line is in “Smoke on the Water.”
I listen to it now and it amazes me. Some of the runs sound a bit naïve and simple; it’s just the usual five or six notes of a blues run. But maybe that’s the joy of it. I probably do it differently now, because I’ve learned more about technique and taste.
Does having Bob Ezrin produce allow you to focus on the music and your bass playing?
Absolutely. When you produce the band, you are wearing three hats: the producer’s hat, the writer’s hat, and the performer’s hat. And that’s at least one hat too many, even though I’m a hat person [laughs]. Bob was very inclusive. Whenever he would decide on something, he’d turn to me and say, “What do you think?” We have the same philosophy about production. First and foremost, it’s about creating an atmosphere in which a musician can really do his or her best. He did that.
In some of the promotional videos for InFinite, you are playing a Fender Precision. Did you track with that instrument?
I’ve been using my Vigiers for 20-something years now. They’re very reliable and well made, but when we started Now What?! Bob said, “I’m not sure about the bass sound.” And I was insulted [laughs]. He said, “You should try my Precision.” So, he brought it in the next day. The strings were pre-war—pre-any war [laughs]—very old and very dull. I said, “Well, I’ll give it a go. We’ll change the strings.” And he said, “No, no! Don’t touch the strings! That bass has been on legendary recordings, like Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Alice Cooper.” What I found was, it recorded beautifully. Even when playing around in the upper register, it still had depth to it. It didn’t lose anything.
Tell me about your faith in the spontaneity of first takes.
I remember Jon Lord saying to me once, when Ritchie was doing a solo, “If he doesn’t get it in two takes, forget it—come back another day.” After that, you start thinking about what you’ve done and trying to replicate what you thought might be the best bits, and suddenly, you’re not thinking about the feel. I always liked the analogy of the Zen archer: The Zen archer pulls back his bow, and the first time he sets on the target, he lets the arrow go. The longer you delay, while you second-guess your aim, the more you miss the target. [On an early take] you’re in tune with your instincts rather than your brain. And your first instincts are usually the best ones.
Ian Paice has incredible feel and swing. What influence has that had on you as a player and on Purple’s music?
When I first jammed with them, he said to me, “I don’t follow, I lead,” which really put me in my place. I’ve produced other bands and worked with many other drummers, and none of them has Ian’s feel. That swing is indefinable. I think rock & roll is that tension between swing and straight, which is most obvious in early rock & roll songs. Listen to Chuck Berry or Little Richard and you hear that all the time. The piano player is going, [straight] “dot dot dot dot dot,” and the drummer is going, [swing] “dot da dot da dot da dot.” The tension is what gives that indefinable quality. It’s not that obvious with Purple; it’s subtle, but it’s there. It’s a major part of Purple’s character.
“All I Got Is You” is a fitting example of marrying the swing to the riff.
That riff between the verses is one of my riffs, and it’s very straight. And yet, the song is swung. But we don’t analyze things. We just play what comes naturally. Actually, that riff isn’t so straight—maybe it’s just “dotty” [laughs].
What prompted the cover of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”?
It was an idle thought. Doing a cover doesn’t have to be a challenge; it’s just pure fun. It’s in your DNA, and it’s what you grew up with. Ian Paice played in a tribute band between tours and played that song, and he thought it would be fun. I think it took a half an hour. One take—bang, done. Vocals, the lot, all in one go, which is probably how the Doors recorded it. If you listen to the Doors recording now, you can be there in the room with them. They’re so honest and unaffected and un-over-produced.
What sets Deep Purple apart from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath?
I like to think it’s that Purple offers a sense of humor, lyrically and musically. We’ve always taken ourselves lightly. “Space Truckin’” [Machine Head] is a humorous song. Even “Black Night” [1970, single] is a humorous song: [Sings] “Can’t see, dark light…” What does that mean? It was just fun with words. I don’t see a lot of humor in metal; it’s all a bit doomy and destructive and angry more than anything. We can be loud and aggressive, but we don’t do it with the same intent.
Deep Purple, InFinite [2017, earMUSIC]
Amps TC Electronic Blacksmith heads & RS410 cabinets
Strings Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Hybrid Slinky (.045–.105)