It’s 2014, and Deep Purple still isn’t a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let’s cut right to it: Why?
Well, there’s a certain amount of history one has to take into account. Deep Purple reached their commercial apex during the early- to mid-1970s. Original band members Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards), and Ian Paice (drums), joined by vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, went on to sell a few million platters — including the classic single “Smoke on the Water.”
But many people were unaware of who Gillan and Glover were replacing. The fact is, Deep Purple had already issued three albums in the late 1960s with lead singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper. That period included at least a couple of decent charting singles, one of which was a cover of Joe South’s “Hush.” However, due to the collapse of the record company, their albums never saw any real promotion in North America. Even the occasional reissue or compilation was nothing more than cutout-bin fodder made from imperfect, nth generation master dubs.
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This was finally rectified a few years back when the albums, remastered and complete with bonus tracks and outtakes, were issued on Spitfire Records. Well packaged with extensive liner notes, one could now get a good listen to Deep Purple (Mark I, as this line up is often referred to by fans) in their formative years. And what is it that one hears?
First of all, neither Evans nor Simper had the technical flash of their subsequent replacements, but they were solid and carried their own weight with the band. The band as a whole was still trying to decide whether to be a pop band or morph into a rock band; weak covers like the Beatles’ “Help” and “We Can Work It Out,” and occasional awkward attempts at imitative songwriting are mixed in with some pretty original ideas that hinted at the progressive hard rock approach for which they would later be known.
Tracks like “Why Didn’t Rosemary,” “Mandrake Root” and “The Shield” already indicated that Deep Purple was emerging as a progressive hard rock band with a melodic edge. There were, in fact, plenty of highlights and, by the time the quite decent self-titled third album was released, the band seemed to have found its footing.
But the course of history changed with the changing of the guard: Gillan and Glover’s presence recombined the band’s musical chemistry and they became one of the original pioneers of heavy metal. Evans went on to some success with Captain Beyond, but in the end he and Simper would be relegated to the rock ‘n’ roll also-ran file. At least these reissues gave them the recognition they deserved, and acknowledged the role they played in the development of Deep Purple’s sound.