FACES : THE DEEP PURPLE REUNION: DINOSAURS ARE PEOPLE TOO
Recently, a sarcastic teen-age friend, a heavy-metal addict who loves Van Halen and Twisted Sister, made a catty comment about the Deep Purple reunion, reflecting the attitude of much of the pop music community:
“Deep Purple?” she asked, as if she were talking about some dreaded disease. “You mean those old heavy-metal guys who came out of mothballs so they could make money on tours and albums?”
She’s partly right. These are old heavy-metal guys--old to be playing this kind of music anyway. Bassist Roger Glover, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, keyboards player Jon Lord, singer Ian Gillan and drummer Ian Paice are all about 40.
“The youngest is Paice,” said Glover, a droll Welshman. “I’m 39, with one foot in the grave. The eldest is Jon Lord. He’s about 93.”
This was the personnel during Purple’s peak years in the early ‘70s, when it was one of the best and most popular hard rock bands. Purple first sported this lineup in 1970, two years after the group was formed. A few years later, members started dropping out. With assorted replacements, Purple lumbered to a halt in 1976.
The band’s best lineup has been in mothballs since 1973. About a year ago, they decided to reunite. It turns out that the “old guys” aren’t that bad. “Perfect Strangers"--the band’s debut album on PolyGram Records--was by far the best heavy-metal album of 1984. The tour began last month with 10 SRO dates in Australia (the Sydney concert received a rave review in Variety). An American tour, including Friday and Saturday shows at the Long Beach Arena, is now under way.
Glover, in town from his Connecticut home last week to work on his tour wardrobe, denied the popular notion that the motivation for the reunion is strictly financial.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want to make money,” he said. “Nobody was starving or on welfare, but obviously some of us were doing better than others. We want to earn a living, but that’s not why we’re back together. It sounds noble as hell, but the main reason we’re doing it is for the music. We all thought we could make good music together again. And we were curious about it after all these years, curious enough to give it a try.”
Why did Deep Purple split up?
“Jon Lord said it best,” Glover replied. “He said it was death by a thousand cuts. No one thing led to the break. Many petty little arguments were allowed to fester and grow and become cancerous. It was hard to say who was feuding with who. At various points, we were all feuding with each other.
“Me and Ian Gillan left first. Then Ritchie (Blackmore) left 18 months later. I left because Ritchie wanted me out. He said, ‘I think the band needs new blood. Nothing personal, but you’re out.’ At least he was honest about it. I didn’t hold a grudge. I worked with him again a few years later.”
Over the years, promoters tried unsuccessfully to convince Purple to reunite. Invariably, one of the leading opponents was Glover.
“I thought if we got back together, it would be anticlimactic,” he said. “I thought that the music belonged in another time. We were older, the audience was older, the music everyone listened to was different than it was in the early ‘70s. I really didn’t want to bring Deep Purple back to life. But as time went on I got curious about what would happen if we tried it again.”
After the parting of Purple, none of its members really went on to bigger and better things. If any had become superstars, the reunion probably wouldn’t have happened.
All became secondary figures in the rock scene, laboring in bands that were a pale shadow of Purple. The most prominent of the post-Purple projects were White-snake--featuring Ian Paice and Jon Lord--and Rainbow, Blackmore’s band, which Glover worked in both as a producer and a bassist.
Candidly assessing Rainbow, which disbanded last year, Glover said: “It was successful, but it was always a second-rank band. It never seemed to get any better. Ritchie and I were getting bored with it. Purple came along at the right time.”
Glover credited Ian Gillan with being the primary architect of the reunion. The first attempt, in 1983, was a failure.
“Ian came over from England to talk to Ritchie and me about re-forming Deep Purple,” Glover recalled. “He had been singing in some bands, but none had been that big. He was just about to join Black Sabbath, but what he really wanted was a Deep Purple reunion.
“We had dinner in a restaurant and Ian got totally drunk by the end of the meal. Ritchie and I looked at each other and said: ‘Do we really want to deal with this?’ The answer was no. So Ian went back to England with a terrible hangover and no Deep Purple.”
But Gillan didn’t give up. “He started calling us again,” Glover said. “By then, Jon Lord and Ian Paice were involved. There were a lot of phone calls between us. We were all talking again.”
In March of last year, the five former Purple members met at a hotel in Greenwich, Conn. It was the first time they had been together in 11 years.
“We were all nervous and weird,” Glover recalled. “Ritchie was the last to arrive, of course. Somehow we all got along. I got goose bumps about the whole thing. It was really thrilling. All those petty differences didn’t seem to matter any more.
Personality clashes, it seemed, wouldn’t be an obstacle if they decided to reunite. But could they mesh musically?
“We decided to see if the chemistry was still there,” Glover said. “We went to this place in Vermont and started jamming together. It felt so good. I got goose bumps again. Even Ritchie, who doesn’t really show much of what he feels, felt good about it. We knew we could record together again. We’d go to this English pub and hang out, drinking and talking about what a great time we had in the old days and how good it was to be back together.”
But Glover is realistic. This harmony, he speculated, is only temporary.
“We’re basically the same people we were 12 years ago, so there’ll be fights. But this time, we have enough experience to know what not to do. We won’t let petty differences get big enough to cause a split again. But we all know the friction will happen. There was always friction in this band and there always will be.”