Deep Purple: “Hush” (Shades of Deep Purple, 1968)

It’s looking like this will be a full week of obituary posts. Yesterday, we lost Turkish experimental composer Ilhan Mimaroglu (a tribute to him will come tomorrow), and keyboardist Jon Lord, who was the heart of Deep Purple and also played in Whitesnake and bunch of other bands. 

For me, it’s his work in Deep Purple that stands out. Lord had studied classical piano since he was five, and when he formed Deep Purple in 1967 with Nick Simper, Rod Evans, Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice, he was already nearly a decade into a professional music career. He played in several blues bands, including the Artwoods, and made money as a session player while he tried to get an acting career off the ground. He was present at the arguable birth of hard rock, playing the piano part on the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.”

In 1966, Lord briefly helmed an outfit of his own called Santa Barbara Machine Head, where he first experimented with the heavy organ sound he perfected in Deep Purple—the other members were future Faces and Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, future Pretty Things and Pink Fairies drummer “Twink” Alder, and Birds/Creation/future Badger bassist Kim Gardner, and it’s interesting to imagine what might have been if that band had persisted. 

As it was, Lord met Simper while playing with the Flower Pot Men , and by the end of the year, Deep Purple was a going concern. It’s fascinating to pay particular attention to Lord as he finds his unique style over the course of the band’s first few albums. His playing still had a strong classical influence—and it was Lord who led the charge on the band’s experimentations with a full orchestra on its two 1969 LPs, Deep Purple and Concerto for Group and Orchestra

Where Keith Emerson went full-on into classical rock, though, Lord embraced the blues playing of the bands he’d established himself with, and wound up with an interesting hybrid style that he made his own with his signature distorted Hammond organ tone. He was able to work as part of the rhythm section or as a soloist with that sound, and when he and Blackmore combined on a riff, they could just about take your head off.  

In 1970, the band replaced Simper and Evans with Roger Glover and Ian Gillan and instantly got a lot heavier, becoming one of the first true hard rock bands—Lord’s classical background gave the band a progressive edge that grew stronger as he slowly embraced early synthesizers. He also kept a sporadic solo career going on the side that indulged his most openly classical ambitions. 

When Deep Purple broke up in 1976, Lord and Paice formed Paice Ashton Lord with keyboardist/vocalist Tony Ashton, which was actually a quintet (Bernie Marsden and Paul Martinez didn’t get their names on the marquee), but the project only lasted long enough to produce a single album, 1977’s Malice in Wonderland, and Lord found himself back in the studio session world, a world he frequented even after joining Whitesnake in 1978 (he was pretty underutilized in Whitesnake anyway).

Deep Purple reunited several times, often in its full Mk. II configuration, and Lord finally quit the band in 2002 to focus on other projects, including a revival of his classical work. He’d been fighting pancreatic cancer and died of a pulmonary embolism yesterday. He was 71.

I struggled a little with which song to feature here, whether to go for a deep cut like “Shield” or “Speed King” or maybe a solo track from Sarabande or settle for something a little more obvious, and, well, the obvious songs are often obvious for a reason, so I wound up going with Deep Purple’s funk, catchy cover of Joe South’s “Hush,” which features a phenomenal organ solo from Lord that occupies almost the full last minute and a half of the song.

Before the solo, though, you can hear Lord trucking away as part of the rhythm section, using his organ to push the song along in a little game of push-and-pull with Nick Simper. This is the track that put Deep Purple on the popular map and helped make all of Lord’s orchestral experimentation possible—if they hadn’t sold records, their record company likely wouldn’t have indulged them. Lord was still figuring out his sound here, but his playing already had all of the dynamism and life that made him such an interesting keyboardist.

UK Prog, Volume 3: 1968-1969 A Crack in the Chrysalis (Notes)

Volume Three is split between 1968 and 1969. Notes to come in the following post. Obtain the mix here.

  1. Love Sculpture: Sabre Dance 4:51
  2. Second Hand: Mainliner 14:54
  3. The Incredible String Band: The Water Song 2:52
  4. Eric Burdon & the Animals: We Love You Lil 8:20
  5. White Noise: Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell 7:22
  6. Rare Bird: Beautiful Scarlet 5:45
  7. Clouds: The Carpenter 3:30
  8. Arzachel: Garden of Earthly Delights 2:48
  9. Pussy: Tragedy in F Minor 5:01
  10. Fairport Convention: Tam Lin 7:12
  11. The Moody Blues: Higher And Higher 4:12
  12. East of Eden: Waterways 6:49
  13. Deep Purple: April 12:03  

Volume One: Mix. Notes.

Volume Two: Mix. Notes

Deep Purple: “Sail Away” (Burn, 1974)

I remember, back in the 1990s, Dave Barry running a column asking people to help him scientifically determine the worst year for music, and his readers came up with 1974. My classic rock-obsessed teenage self reacted with indignation, but age has mellowed me into someone who simply sees that a device like “scientifically” determining the worst year in music with a straw poll is a good way to generate reader response, a few decent laughs and, well, indignation from people who take the whole exercise too seriously.

Of course, 1974 was no worse than any other year for music—hell, one of the first albums released that year was Joni Mitchell’s Court And Spark. That alone pretty much saves it. Really, if you’re willing to look at the full part of the glass, no year is a bad year for music—sure, Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” might have been the biggest-selling single of the year, but I think that’s more than offset by the two best King Crimson albums, Autobahn, and the fact that the Ramones and Talking Heads both formed in 1974, never mind going further afield for things like Fela Kuti’s Alagbon Close. See what I mean?

It helps to consider who Barry’s principle audience was at the time: people who lived through the 70s and were maybe slightly embarrassed by how they spent them, or at least parts of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if the average age of respondents to his straw poll put them in one of the final years of high school in 1974.

I have no such baggage. The 70s are a big, blank slate for me, because I was born six months after they ended. I can draw whatever I want on them. I never had a bad haircut when I went to see Deep Purple and then got a speeding ticket on the way home from the show. For that matter, I never got old, stopped listening to Deep Purple and got rid of all my records right around the time the kids entered middle school, either.

Maybe the equivalent of this will happen to me some day, maybe it won’t. It seems as though people are holding on to pop culture as central parts of their identities later and later in life these days. But anyway, I found myself listening to the two albums Deep Purple released in 1974 not long after being reminded of that old Dave Barry column by finding one of his books (Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs, which mentions the column) in a library. As I listened, I could hear arguments either way as to the music’s redeemability—I could get why someone might view it in all its over-the-top glory as wretched bombast. But I was kinda too busy rocking out to agree.

Funny thing is that the band’s own guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, doesn’t particularly like these two records (Burn and Stormbringer)—he wasn’t fond of the funkier, more boogie-oriented direction the band was headed in, and left to form Rainbow with Ronnie James Dio. After he left, they brought in a new guitarist and released an album called Come Taste The Band, which, ew. But anyway, in 1974, they were recovering from the loss of vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, which is what precipitated the change in direction in the first place.

New members Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale pretty ably filled the shoes of their predecessors—Coverdale even sounds a little like Gillan when he hits the really high notes that male vocalists used to try to hit in those days, and while I don’t think these albums are the band’s best (they’re not, by some margin, even), They are filled with crunchy, proggy, funky rock that mostly gets overlooked by the classic rock canon-builders who (rightly) anointed “Smoke On The Water,” “Highway Star,” “Space Truckin’” and their cover of Joe South’s “Hush.”

"Sail Away" is just a badass song. Not much more to it than that. Ian Paice puts the drums in the pocket and just lets it ride, and as much as Blackmore claims not to have liked this funkier direction, he pretty much nails that guitar part. Dig John Lord’s restraint, too—you keep thinking he’s going to bust out into some flailing Moog solo, but he doesn’t. He just adds a little accent at the beginning of every verse, and when his solo finally does come, no flailing. Just a bit of economical melody. That’s Hughes on the harmonies, by the way—he was originally hired to be the band’s bassist-vocalist.

So what do you think? Does this song help make the case for 1974 or help make the case against it?