Deep Purple: "The Word 'Classic' Hangs Around Your Neck Like a Noose"
After some 40 years of making music, you'd think Deep Purple would get a little more respect. This was the band that crafted one of the most indelible riffs in the entire rock 'n' roll idiom in the form of "Smoke on the Water." It is required learning for any budding guitarist. It's the band whose string of '70s albums -- In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head, Who Do We Think We Are, and Burn in particular -- placed them on a tier alongside Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Nazareth, and Uriah Heep as the foremost champions of the emerging form that would come to be called heavy metal.
Still, Purple's trajectory was erratic at best. In the midst of their '70s heyday, personnel problems began plaguing the band, resulting in an ongoing series of shifts in membership that continued well into the new millennium. Following the first incarnation of the band in the late '60s, a core group -- guitarist Richie Blackmore, vocalist Ian Gillian, drummer Ian Paice, keyboardist Jon Lord, and bassist Roger Glover -- established themselves as Purple's most indelible lineup.
Regardless, even as they were reaching new peaks of popular success, personal squabbles found practically all the participants departing at one time or another, leaving Paice as the only constant member. These days, Glover and Gillian are firmly back in the fold, joined by guitarist Steve Morse, who's been on the roster 20 years, and Don Airey, who took over keyboards from the late Jon Lord in 2002.
We caught up with Glover at his hotel in Montreal during the band's current tour and took the opportunity to ask him to retrace Deep Purple's storied legacy and his own as well.
New Times: How do you account for Deep Purple's ongoing popularity?
Roger Glover: If I was to analyze, I would say it probably has something to do with the honesty of the music. The band has always been about music, rather than any sort of show business or fame or fortune. It's always been a musical band, and it's that spirit of the band that still lives on.
The lineup has changed throughout the years, but it seems the brand continues intact.
I guess in a way, but once you became a brand, fame has its own way of multiplying itself. And after the initial fame comes curiosity, and then comes people who want to reinvent memories, and it goes on from generation to generation. It's wonderful, especially in Europe. We get a very young audience these days, especially when we play Romania or Russia or Poland or Italy or places like that. We get kids under 20 -- mostly really young people -- so that prolongs the life of the band even more.
There have been all these incarnations of the band, and yet, you seem to be able to continually reinvent yourselves.
Change is good. Most people are wary of change. They don't want to touch the thing that made them famous in the first place. People prefer their own comfort zone. I've had this conversation so many times, but the fact is, we don't actually worry about change so much.
Somebody once asked me, "How come you don't write songs like 'Highway Star' anymore?" I said, actually we do, but they don't sound like "Highway Star." We'd be a parody of ourselves, and that's when you get in trouble and become intimidated by your past.
How do you accommodate people who come to the shows and want to hear the landmark songs while also moving forward and showing that you have new material to offer?
Well, we have to take into account the audience. We don't want to pander to an audience, but obviously there's some common sense about it. We realize they want to hear those songs, but the thing about Purple is we're not a cabaret act.
We're actually musicians who play. We don't use tapes. We don't use gimmicks. So what they get is honest musicians playing music. When they get an older song, it's fresh. People ask all the time, "Don't you get tired of playing 'Smoke on the Water,' and the answer is, no, because it's fresh every night. Even as a bass player, you can have fun with it.
You're so much more than the bass player, though. You've done solo albums and numerous productions for other artists. How do you find time for all of it?
Well, to be honest, my solo albums are usually spaced around ten years apart, so they're slow in coming. And I'm not doing too much production work these days. At least 90 percent of it was in the '70s, when I had a six-year break from being in the band, and that's when I did Rainbow and Rory Gallagher, Nazareth, and Judas Priest and Elf and all that. So much of that production work was way back then.
And yet, when your name is mentioned, it's obvious you're known not only for being a part of Deep Purple but also for your outside efforts. And that gives you a very rich and varied résumé.
I'll tell you what it gives me. It gives me a headache when I come out of the hotel and find fans who have every album I've ever been on. But I don't mind it. I take it in good stride. Sometimes I'll have 40 albums to sign, but it's nice way to cap a career.
How long have you been out on the road with this latest jaunt?
We haven't stopped touring. That's the honest truth. We tour all the time. Our latest album came out last year, I believe. And the album before that came out eight years before, believe it or not. So people ask us, "Are you having a comeback?" and we said no. We never really went away. In eight years, we never stopped touring. We are a touring band. Records are things that happen only once in a while.
Has it gotten old for you at this point? Do you still enjoy it? Some people get burned out on touring after awhile.
Some people do, I guess, but I think the opportunity to travel the world, see new cultures, meet new people, and enjoy yourself onstage -- and get paid to do it -- is just a magic formula. I can't imagine anyone not wanting to do that. The family tends to miss you once in a while, but that goes with the job. When I'm home, I'm home 100 percent, unlike most fathers. It's a balancing act.