The Deep Purple Story
2/23/2007 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
Smoke on the Water: The Deep Purple Story - Dave Thompson - ECW Press
Dave Thompson: Smoke on the Water: The Deep Purple Story (ECW, 2004)
Deep Purple were among the bands that inspired me to take up the guitar at the age of fourteen, which today is literally half a lifetime ago. And reading this unofficial but lovingly assembled biography of these British innovators, it becomes a sobering reminder of how quickly time (and age) advances. I mean, can it really have been almost four whole decades since the band came to be? Does the legendary “Smoke on the Water” really celebrate its thirty-fifth birthday this year?
Yes, as someone who was not even born when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left the band for the first time in 1976, and who only got to see the band live a couple of years ago, this is quite a trip. It’s an impressively vivid literary trip back to times that brought considerable and welcome change to the music world, bringing rock music to full realization. Enough of my pontificating! You get the idea: How great it would have been for a younger Purple fan like me to have been there, to see firsthand the events in the band’s career that have now become the stuff of classic rock legend!
One of the things that impressed me about this book, however, is that it does not need to dwell on the type of sensationally scandalous tales that many authors would be tempted to dwell upon given the material at their disposal in covering a band like this. Oh, sure, we hear about Blackmore almost literally destroying the stage at the California Jam of 1974, as well as the drug-related death of his successor, Tommy Bolin- you can’t really escape major events like that in chronicling the band’s career. But for my money, one of the most fascinating and moving parts of the book is right at its (and the band members’) humble beginnings. It is eye-opening and fascinating to learn not only of the band members’ lives at the time they first decided to pick up their instruments as children, but also the society in which it took place. The historical context that Thompson provides in this regard is quite remarkable, adding significantly to one’s understanding of what led to the formation of this and other now-legendary rock ensembles of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. (He manages to link the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in England with the elimination of mandatory military service for able-bodied young men out of school in a way that is logical and yet profound.)
Understandably, Thompson often takes the perspective of a fan, thus relating in impressive detail the scene around the band as they rose to fame. His attention understandably wanes when discussing the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s, when the band members were pursuing various solo projects, and thus his writing on that era sometimes seems a bit haphazard in jumping from one story to another (though he does bring up nifty curios such as bassist Roger Glover’s The Butterfly Ball solo effort). While reading about a “bogus” Deep Purple reunion tour circa 1980 involving original singer Rod Evans (and pretty much no one else from the original group), I was interested to learn that the questionable nostalgia act in question booked a gig in Somerset, MA, just a few miles down the road from my hometown! However, Thompson is back in form when relating stories of the Deep Purple we know and love after their apparently difficult reunion in the 1980’s and the subsequent lineup changes. I take issue with his opinions on some of the less popular Purple releases (was Slaves and Masters really that bad?), but I simultaneously appreciate his ability to gauge where many fans felt the band was at a given time.
For Purple historians, this book is also a gem of handy and obscure trivia. We get a few decent black and white photographs in the middle, but the real treat is a detailed discography at the back of the book, which takes in not only Purple, but also the numerous solo efforts and guest appearances of the band members (Glenn Hughes on Motley’s self-titled effort!). Not a perfect document by any means, but Smoke on the Water is nonetheless a most valuable story of a most valuable band.
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