The "New" DEEP PURPLE feat. Rod Evans
Sounds Magazine, U.K. – September 20th, 1980
Sylvie Simmons names the guilty men
THE FIRST reports were brought back by tourists from Mexico; somewhere between the cheap tequila and sombrero keyrings the news that Deep Purple had reformed and had headlined a 40,000-seater bullring, swearing on their plaster crucifixes that this was the real item, Ritchie and all.
Then, in July; a full-page ad in Performance (a trade magazine at the lower end of the scale). A pic of five men, four of them looking like any four guys you could pick up at the Starwood any Friday night, the fifth - Rod Evans - looking like a slightly bewildered stockbroker. This, the ad announced, was Deep Purple.
It was taken out by a talent agency experienced in the field of revivals. A rehashed Jay And The Americans was on the roster, rubbing shoulders with a resurrected MC5, a zombie Herman's Hermits, a reheated Canned Heat and a band that had been playing Colerado and other outback circuits billed as the original Steppenwolf. Geoff Emery and Tony Flynn, two of the guys in the Deep Purple pic (Dick Jurgens and Tom De Rivera were the others) were getting their feet wet in this 'comeback' (with no original members, clever trick) outfit. By all reports taking it in turns to be Michael Monarch. Their offstage hours, according to 'Steppenwolf's singer, were spent in a garage practicing Deep Purple songs. All that virtuous hard work paid off when the same agency decided that Purple's time had come to be reborn (to be Wild).
Could be it was an attempt to upgrade somewhat sleazy proceedings by getting a token credibility member in the band; maybe it was a genuine try at putting together a decent band. Whatever, Flynn and Emery, along with some considerable financial backing and enough biz Big Guys to put together a Godfather III behind them, dug up Rod Evans - from 1968 till 1970 the singer in the earliest Purple lineup along with Blackmore, Lord, Paice and Nick Simper - from the American hospital where he'd been earning an honest living for most of the last six years since leaving the music industry. Together they did some test dates in small halls in Texas, billed as Deep Purple, then hightailed across the border to headline a packed Mexican stadium.
Evidently some of the more prestigious American organisations are as impressionable as the Mexican HM fans, or possibly just unscrupulous. Handled here by the renowned William Morris Agency and booked to play the Long Beach Arena - a 12,000 seater stadium that even more than the Forum hosts most of Los Angeles' heavy metal concerts - by one of the top rock promoters, Avalon Attractions. A week before the show, tickets were selling well for the supposed Purple reunion.
THEN, ON the day of the concert, a large ad appeared in the Los Angeles Times, no pics in this half-page announcement, just a list of names: Blackmore, Coverdale, Gillan, Glover, Hughes, Lord and Paice would not be performing with the New Deep Purple, as they were suddenly dubbed. Who the hell would be - other than Evans - was anyone's guess.
Deep Purple (Overseas) Ltd, who took out the ad, also filed an action in the L.A. Federal Court on behalf of Ritchie and co., seeking an injunction to stop the band from using the name, plus damages. The show went on, but so do the lawsuits. Already the lawyers are stockpiling ammunition. Only last week, lawyers for Purple (the ones in the white hats presumably) had contacted local rock critics dutiful or stoned enough to sit through the New Purple (black hats) show to testify that the performance was dire enough to ruin Purple One's name, reputation and, more to the point, back catalogue sales.
The Long Beach gig was pretty much sold out. The kids I spoke to were either curious to see what was going on, confused, or stupid, expecting anything from Blackmore to a complete reincarnation of all the Purpleites over the years, including the dead ones, or just for a HM night out. After a couple of numbers - barely recognisable renditions of 'Highway Star' from 'Machine Head', the opener, and 'Might Just Take Your Life' from 'Burn', a trickle were leaving and asking for their money back. Others seemed content to bang their heads when possible (difficult when the band were playing several different songs at the same time, to my ears, not to mention various tempos all at once) and cheer at the memory of classics that most weren't old enough to remember.
They certainly weren't helped by a dreadful sound system, like a thousand industrial vacuum cleaners plugged in at once, but neither were they by a sadly amateurish standard of playing, shown up all the more by some of the most splendidly over-the-top visuals I've seen since Kiss. From the sublime - a whole network of multicoloured lasers aimed in the air, at the crowd, pyrotechnics, smoke, lights, bangers, dry ice, flashbins, more pyrotechnics and a fascinating laser-dot light show on a screen at the side swirling and circling and flashing and bleeping away - should have given out free acid at the door - to the ridiculous: drummer in glitter suit comes round the side with a chain saw proceeds to demolish Geoff Emery's keyboards as he keeps on playing, a couple of sparklers coming out the back before the thing starts to smoke, still making that godawful noise, and Emery shoves it aflame into the pit. Oh Ritchie, what have you wrought!
Talking of Ritchie, Tony Flynn makes a pretty good lookalike at a distance, but that's where the similarity ends. The solos are inflicted rather then performed, cranium-busters distinguished only by the laser accompaniment.
Rod Evans has a pretty good voice, a bit rusty considering the time off but at the deeper end of the scale. Still I get the feeling it would sound better on anything but the songs they attempted, all latter-day Purple standards, most not even good enough as cheap Top of The Pops soundalike record versions. 'Space Truckin', 'Woman From Tokyo', 'Smoke On The Water', renditions so pale musically that you'd have thought they'd stopped breathing, but so bright visually that you came out with a suntan. Still they battled on, even did an encore of sorts, so it wasn't entirely a bomb.
But the production, the arena, the lights, the hype and the problems are just too big for this band. It's like sticking a midget in a Cadillac and expecting him to drive in a straight line. The band should have got a new name, given themselves a chance to grow on the club circuit, because they're not yet up to the standard that all this publicity brings, let alone the comparison with the Deep Purple we all remember.
BACKSTAGE THE manager and various associates were rushing around, looking busy or determined. Middle-aged men in suits and ties with attaché cases and little speeches off pat, as if they were ready to be dragged into court at any minute. Perhaps they're used to it; the manager smiling, shaking hands, assuring me this was no con trick on the kids, that tonight wasn't their best but "the sound of the 80s", as he calls it, will prevail.
They've approached well-known Michael Lloyd (of teenybop artists and record company connections fame) to produce the debut album so that it will be all things to all men - AM, FM, HM and 'experimental' stations - and that the line-up will be there on the album for all to see: The New Deep Purple starring etc, and - well he stops himself before be can say his true feelings about the nasty Ritchie B and lawsuits, telling me it's HEC (the original Purple management company based in England), not the musicians who are unfairly hassling his boys by taking out lawsuits. But, he reckons, they have right on their side, and they're going to win.
What follows sounds like the Official Pep Talk (Rod Evans all but repeats it word-for-word to me later) about Sabbath, the Doobies, Humble Pie etc going round with hardly an original member between them with no-one losing any sleep, and this is, he says, no different, except that if anyone does, Rod Evans has a right to the Deep Purple name. He tells me a story of Ritchie and Rod sitting together in Germany, taking about starting a group, and naming it after Ritchie's dying granny's favourite song . . .
He goes off to find Evans. The promoters are standing around, shellshocked. "I'm embarrassed" says one of the promoters. The other mumbled "Piece of shit".
ROD EVANS is as nice a guy as you could meet, honest, straightforward and frank. Somehow he struck me as having landed himself in something that turned out to be a lot more trouble than it's worth. Either that or they should give him an Oscar. From talking to him it sounds like a few unscrupulous musicians and a hell of a lot of big industry organisations getting together to play a very expensive game of chess, and we all know who the pawns are.
This line-up has been together since the end of January this year. It was the agency's idea to place the band in stadiums. Rod is a bit embarrassed about it.
What were you doing between old Deep Purple and this one?
"When I left Deep Purple originally, I came over here and joined a band called Captain Beyond. I was with them about four years and then I left - I wanted to get back into the so-called straight world somehow. You get tired of the road for whatever reason and so I went back to school and studied medicine, got my degree and worked in a hospital for five years. I was the director of respiratory therapy - a specialist field."
Why come back to the music biz?
"Old soldiers never die - someone says do it and you do it."
Who said 'do it'?
"A friend of mine came up to me, the organ player and the guitarist Tony, and they had it in mind and wanted to go the whole route. As you know, it's not only the music that gets you there, there are certain other facets that will help push a band. So we had a certain amount of money behind us, record company interests and so on, so it seemed feasible. It came along at the right time because I was tired of what I was doing, you know, toeing someone else's line and working semi-nine to five. I was ready for a change. I had a little trepidation, but as soon as I got onstage it seemed okay."
Are you saying someone presented a Deep Purple comeback to you as a fait accompli ready for you to just say the word and join?
"Right - 'Are you interested'. Exactly - and the other guys who were in the original band with me, Jon, Ian and Ritchie, were all into their own projects."
Did you actually contact them and ask if they wanted to do a comeback?
"No, I didn't. I think someone in the band spoke to Jon and Ian and they said they really had no interest to reform Deep Purple in any way, so there was no problem."
So they gave you their blessing?
"I don't know if it was an actual blessing, but they at least knew about it and they weren't throwing all their money in together and making trips to America to nail our feet to the ground or anything. Hopefully it won't be detrimental to me in the lawsuit, but it does seem that at the end, as with any band, when these questions come up it's always accountants and managers that seem to dig their teeth into these things and want to keep it, whereas the years that went between the final break-up and now there was never any interest shown. Now all of a sudden there's an interest. It seems to be that angle rather that the ex-members. We got hold of Jon and Ian and they said we have no desire to get back into it, we're off on our own thing".
You said the others gave their semi-blessing but you didn't mention Ritchie Blackmore.
"We haven't really tried to get hold of Ritchie. Whether Ritchie gives his blessing or not is of no real consequence to me as my blessing to him forming Rainbow would be of no consequence to Ritchie. I mean, if he doesn't like it I'm sorry, but we're trying."
But how can you rationalise going out and trying under the Purple banner, especially when you were in the band for just two - some might say relatively unimportant - years?
"Sure, you've got to have certain rationalisations you can make to yourself because it's an established name to a certain degree and in a certain type of music, but we didn't see anything wrong because a lot of bands have been doing this.
(The manager's speech follows.)
"So it's a shame to kind of knock it on the head for the fact that it isn't everybody together. Plus what seemed peculiar to Deep Purple is that there were several formations of the band and it never seemed to really affect the fans of the music as long as it was played up to a certain par. They just wanted to hear the music. . .
"I don't know, I feel at times at a certain disadvantage because I feel I should be making some kind of excuse or other, and the other part of me is saying to hell with it, I'm doing it, I'm going to make the best of it. We're not trying to shyster people in any way and we'll see what happens, how far the acceptance goes.
The songs you chose for the set were not from your period with Purple at all. How do you justify that?
"Well, I think at first you try to justify it, but justification's not the right word. In the end it's obligatory, a lot of it. They expect it. You can sure enough play 'Hush' (the band's hit when he was a member), which we were going to do tonight except for technical difficulties. But you'll play 'Smoke On The Water' then someone else will ask for 'Burn' or 'Tokyo' so it's very hard. Even if we came out with a whole bunch of new material, which we're working on now, they'd still want to hear certain songs. The volatility of the kind of crowd that a rock group draws especially in the States - they can be very volatile at times."
From all you're saying, wouldn't it have been better all round to come up with a whole new name and image, then you wouldn't have to deal with expectations and comparisons? Surely it would be more satisfying to do your comeback with a new band and identity, playing the clubs and building a name without relying on past glory?
"No, it's very hard to do that. Would you like to be a cub reporter again? A lot of these things are very hard to explain because they're almost intangible. I can't say why I didn't, why I did - it's never that clean cut. You're in the flow and you follow the momentum and it builds up and you're in it."
"There'll always be people in the crowd looking for Ritchie or asking where's Jon. When I was in Captain Beyond at the same time from the agent's standpoint they would always say, there's two guys from Iron Butterfly, one guy from Johnny Winter and one guy from Deep Purple, and people would come up to me all the time and say why the hell aren't you playing Purple material, or they'd go up to the Iron Butterfly people and say why aren't you playing 'In A Gadda Da Vida'. I think that kind of thing goes with the territory regardless. It might be a little more so with our project now, but of course it's advantageous as well".
Did you re-form Deep Purple to cash in?
"No, I think the reason was that I wanted a change and it was a good opportunity to come back into music instead of, as you were saying, start out as Willy And The Wombats or something playing nine hours a night in some club somewhere. Very few bands, I think, rise from club level to national level because there are all these other facets that have to be involved to support you, certain organisations, like record companies and agencies. But it's whether we can suffer the slings and arrows and so on.
"Sometimes it's very hard, but when you weigh it up, and we're in it for better or worse, we're going to make the best of it. We're not in it to make a killing in a year or anything like that. We're actually serious about perpetrating the Deep Purple name and keeping it standard."
TONY FLYNN we know about. Drummer Dick Jurgens and his chainsaw were well known to the others; Tom de Rivera won out in the auditions. Emery was at one time half an 'original' Steppenwolf, half an attorney according to Evans. Right now they're all committed to making an album which they plan to release in the New Year after the Christmas rush. Evans reckons they're ready to do so. In the years off, he says, he didn't really keep up with any new music, but was aware of the HM resurgence because it got a mention in Billboard magazine, making it legit, one of the things that dragged him away form the urine samples and back into the stadiums.
Is this a long-term thing?
"Yes it is long-term, though one never knows. You do your album and if people like it and want more and everything's copacetic in the band, you carry on. It's the same with most bands."
How would you like your Deep Purple thought of - its music for example?
"I think it's always going to be thought of in a certain way until hopefully we get a couple of albums out, then people will change their certain view of the band. But it's always a premier heavy metal kind of band, one of the first, and always in the forefront of that kind of music, and I think it will be very hard to change the public's opinion because you'd lose a lot of people in the bargain. We aren't the other people and we will write a bit differently and hopefully we can go off on a tangent, more towards the Genesis type of thing where it becomes musical - hopefully show a melodic side to Purple as well as brain-surgery rock."
If you don't come out of the lawsuit with a smile on your face, and have to give up the Purple name, will you carry on under a new one or go back to the hospital?
"Hopefully that won't happen. I feel we're in the right in a sense. But when it comes to the lawsuit, if the worst comes to the worst, we all feel confident enough that we can play under another name and make it as well."