I went through the majority of my formative music listening years without ever really knowing who Deep Purple was. In elementary school, I knew Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth. When I reached middle school, I got into The Beatles, The Doors and Pink Floyd. By high school, my tastes refined into King Diamond, The Stooges and Frank Zappa. I graduated high school knowing more about rock and roll than everyone in my class and more than even my classmates’ parents. But it wasn’t until my college years* that I sat down and listened to Deep Purple. It was an experience that changed my life.
See, I listened to everything and absorbed it all. I read biographies and autobiographies and watched every documentary I could to get a better understanding of rock music. Deep Purple was always there, but as a mention – an also. “Highway Star” was a classic rock staple and all my friends learned how to play guitar by riffing “Smoke On The Water”. Still, I never gave them the attention I gave Kreator or Blondie or Tommy James. So when I listened to Made In Japan – the band’s staple live album – for the first time, it hit me like a ton of bricks; this was the music that I had hoped to find. This is what I wanted out of rock and roll.
Deep Purple was bluesy, artsy, ballsy, brash, sensitive, cocky and above all, talented. They were poetic yet still rough. They jammed with a tightness rivaled only by Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Deep Purple was a natural progression from blues to rock that I didn’t even know I wanted, like Robert Johnson cranked to 11. They sang about fast cars and Vietnam and played covers of Neil Diamond.
I always knew that I understood rock music better than most, but I never knew the reason why. That reason was revealed to me through Deep Purple. Their songs were clear (Dylan), rough (Motorhead), extravagant (Zeppelin), experimental (Floyd) and charismatic (Van Halen). More than all of that, they were a band. Richie Blackmore, the guitarist, lead the group through his wizard-like command. Jon Lord, the organist, grounded everything through his tone. Ian Paice, the drummer, filled in the gaps so as to not make a single second of a single song worth missing. Roger Glover, the bassist, did more than keep the beat – he reinvented the groove multiple times in every song. Ian Gillian, the singer, wailed above it all with an intensity that fed Blackmore’s guitar. This was a band of supremely talented men who all complimented each other. Each played a role and every song was its own play. It was rock and roll art. It was perfect. It was a killing machine. It had everything.
The path that Deep Purple paved led me not only to bands like Humble Pie but gave me a richer understanding of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I fucking got it. I knew why rock music was so magical – the life forces of individuals morphing into one, with each having a distinct sound but all serving the greater good of the song. It was my epiphany.
Deep Purple would go on to influence the likes of The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Grunge and beyond. Most of the hard rock and metal bands since the 1970s owe their entire careers to the music of Deep Purple. Yet, in the late 1990s, when a hard rock kid wanted to know everything about music he could find, they were barely a blip on the radar. Certain bands live on, and others die. Why is it that the Budgies and Xs of the world are forgotten and bands like Journey and the Bee Gees are still household names? Where does the mainstream recognition come from?
It’s 2015, and Deep Purple is just now entering the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, years after generations of bands they influenced have already been enshrined. Rock critics and fans will hail this as a final victory, but to me it is nothing more than a sad afterthought in mainstream music listening culture; a definition pinned on Deep Purple since they formed. Institutions like The Hall exist for one reason: to tell a story. Yet, The Hall feels like they could tell the story of Metallica before honoring one of Metallica’s biggest influences. For decades, they told the story of rock and roll without mentioning the roots of rock. The back page headnod The Hall is giving Deep Purple now doesn’t make up for the lack of front pages the band was snubbed for all these years. It’s why I had to seek Deep Purple out as a kid. And while I’m glad I did, I know there’s an entire generation of kids who won’t know the band’s music because certain people in the music industry didn’t find their story intriguing enough.
My kids may hear “Highway Star” and one day might play their first lick from “Smoke On The Water”, but they will have to find Deep Purple themselves, the way I did. Being in The Hall means nothing. The damage has been done. Deep Purple deserved far more recognition and praise, far long ago. Shame on the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for burying this band. You’ve buried one of the most important chapters of music history along with them.