Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water' is almost ancient history by rock music standards, yet everyone knows the song, and when this band jumps on stage and plays this classic, the tune is as fresh as the day the band debuted it. Such longevity is the mark of true genius, and Deep Purple still shows it in the new millennium.
The first days, in England in 1968, didn't show what was in store for the band. The original lineup consisted of Rod Evans, vocals, Ritchie Blackmore, guitar, Jon Lord on the Hammond organ, Nicky Simper on bass and drummer Ian Paice. After a couple of singles, including the 1968 Top Ten hit 'Hush,' Ian Gillan took over the vocals, and Roger Glover replaced Simper on bass.
Once Ritchie Blackmore turned the band from Moody Blues-style classical-rock fusion to a combined attack by his guitar and Gillan's vocals, the albums and tickets started selling. Big albums included Deep Purple (1970) and Fireball (1971).
It was time to record the next album, and the band headed to Montreux, Switzerland, to start the project. A disastrous fire took out the venue where Deep Purple had planned to record, but the fire spawned the band's greatest song, 'Smoke on the Water.'
The album that resulted from the trip to Switzerland, Machine Head (1972), is revered as one of the best rock albums ever, and it includes Deep Purple's other classic, 'Highway Star.' After the release of the live LP Made in Japan in early 1973, the live version of 'Smoke on the Water' helped Deep Purple crack the Top Ten for the second time, and the single went gold.
This recording showed two truths about Deep Purple: they are at their best live, with every ounce of their vitality showing on the stage, and their most responsive audiences are Japanese. Short of traveling to Japan, though, you can count on a ticket to a Deep Purple show to be an excellent purchase.
Deep Purple were at the top of their game when tensions simmered over between Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan. Gillan and bassist Roger Glover left in 1974 to pursue other projects, and David Coverdale (later of Whitesnake) took over the vocals. The lineup changes did not prevent Ritchie Blackmore from leaving within the year, and Tommy Bolin (formerly of the James Gang) took over on guitar. With virtually no original members on board, the band split in 1976. Bolin died of a drug overdose on December 4, 1976.
1984 saw a new beginning for Deep Purple, with Blackmore, Lord, Glover, Gillan and Paice reuniting. Their first album together, Perfect Strangers, went platinum, but both Gillan and Blackmore stepped in and out over creative differences. By 1994, Steve Morse held down the guitar slot, and in 2002 Jon Lord left, to be replaced on keyboards by Don Airey.
Despite all of the personnel changes and the long layoff, Deep Purple continue to thrill audiences with their live show, and they have released well-received studio albums, including 2003's Bananas. All in all, a ticket to a Deep Purple show is as prized today as it was in 1973.
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