Monday, December 05, 2011

Deep Purple's "The BBC Sessions 1968-1970"

Although I often forget, Deep Purple were my first favorite band, even before the Who and Yardbirds. Back when I was 11, the "Hush" single was the second record I ever bought, after the Beatles' "Revolution," and I owned all three of the Mk I DP albums when they were new. The Rod Evans-Nick Simper lineup remains my fave; I disliked the murky sound on the Mk II edition's defining triptych of albums, although like everyone else I was quite enamored of their live apotheosis Made In Japan when it was new.

Reading the history of the Mk I DP, you can't help but be impressed by the incredible cynicism with which they were brought together: recruited by management for what was to have been a backing group for ex-Searchers singing drummer Chris Curtis, who subsequently fell out. No matter: They were hungry, pro, and ready to go.

Keyboardist Jon Lord was a classically-trained blues fanatic and Hammond B3 specialist who'd played in the R&B-heavy Artwoods, done session work on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," and led a proto-Purple dubbed Santa Barbara Machine Head that also included Ron Wood. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was a protege of session ace Big Jim Sullivan, and had earned his stripes in Joe Meek's studio and on the European circuit of Reeperbahn toilets and U.S. military bases, backing rockers like Screaming Lord Sutch and Neil Christian. Bassist Nicky Simper had played with Johnny Kidd of "Shakin' All Over" fame, while singer Rod Evans and drummer Ian Paice came from a band called the Maze.

Their first album, Shades of Deep Purple, was recorded in a weekend. Over the next year they'd record two more (The Book of Taliesyn and Deep Purple), plus a non-LP single, as quickly and cheaply. Very much influenced by the Vanilla Fudge, they had the audacity to record bombastic covers of the Beatles, Cream and Hendrix, featuring Lord and Blackmore in fiery instrumental workouts. By the time the third album was released, the core of the band had already been rehearsing in secret with Episode Six singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, with an eye toward moving from pop and psychedelia toward a harder and heavier sound.

The 2CD release of Purple's BBC sessions comes belatedly, following similar releases by practically every contemporary Brit band of comparable stature, and was occasioned by the 2010 discovery of two Mk I sessions (from June 1968 and July 1969) previously thought to be lost. The five tracks from a February 1969 Top Gear were included as bonus tracks with the remastered editions of the first three albums. "Hey Bop A Re Bop" from that session is a prototype for "The Painter" from the eponymous third album (two BBC versions of which are also included here).

The rediscovered July '69 session, recorded with the Mk II lineup waiting in the metaphorical wings, shows the Mk I band still playing material from Shades. By the following month, when DP returned to the Beeb's studios to cut two tracks for Symonds On Sunday, they were still playing Mk I material ("The Bird Has Flown") but also lifting the curtain on material that would appear on the groundbreaking Deep Purple in Rock ("Ricochet" is an early version of "Speed King"). It's interesting to note that Blackmore's solos still employ his clean, sitar-influenced tone on both songs; he remains the last great straight-through-the-amp guy in Brit rock.

Compare the August '69 "Ricochet" with "Speed King" from three months later. Blackmore's tone is harder-edged and the whole band plays more aggressively. "Jam Stew (aka John Stew)" from that session is a little more diffuse. By April 1970, though, the new direction has solidified, with Gillan (the original Jesus Christ Superstar) unleashing his blood-curdling shriek -- a harbinger of metal mania to come. The Mk II lineup played like the musos' musos they were. They wrote riffs as solid as the ones Page was penning for Led Zep, and Ian Paice combined the heaviosity of Bonham with the fleetness of Mitch Mitchell.

A September 1970 session, recorded especially for foreign broadcast, showcases the mature Mk II lineup. "Black Night" (which includes the signature riff from the Blues Magoos' "We Ain't Got Nothing Yet" in its intro; surprise!) and the instrumental "Grabsplatter" feature Blackmore playing with the impressive velocity that characterizes his Mk II work. "Child In Time" includes lyrics my sister misheard as "See the blind man / Shitting at the world" the several hundred times I played the Made In Japan version during the spring and summer of '73. In Concert/Texxas Jam superstardom were just around the corner. All in all, a worthy reminder that there was more to Mk II DP than "Highway Star" and "Smoke On the Water."


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