Sorting Through Deep Purple’s Musical Family Tree: Shadows in Stereo

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Acclaimed science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once wrote a short story called “Die, Maestro, Die!” in which the main character, after murdering the leader of a swing-jazz dance combo, spent the rest of the story sabotaging various musicians in the band in order to find which player or what instrument was responsible for giving the group its particular sound.

What does this have to do with anything, one might ask? Well, Deep Purple finally got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year – no complaints there. But fans were left wondering how only eight of the 14 players who can call themselves Deep Purple alumni qualified for the honor. In other words, why were some contributions deemed more significant than others?

Understandably, guitar ace Joe Satriani probably didn’t get in, as he never appeared on any official album. Guitarist Tommy Bolin and vocalist Joe Lynn Turner were presumably excluded on the basis of having played on only one studio album each. However, it doesn’t explain the absence of original bassist Nick Simper, whose appearance on three studio albums equals that of vocalist Rod Evans, vocalist David Coverdale and bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, who themselves were all inducted. It also snubs current keyboardist Don Airey and guitarist Steve Morse, who have been playing with the band for 14 and 22 years, respectively.

Deep Purple’s unheralded heroes have almost enough members to make up a band themselves. And if you consider other Purple related projects, it becomes obvious that there really were quite a few assemblages of groups that pursued similar musical avenues but never caught on with the general public. Even if you pare it down to just to people who have worked with guitarist Richie Blackmore or vocalist Ian Gillan, the crossover is astounding. As well, it sets up a number of interesting comparisons.

In no particular order:

QUATERMASS: Drummer Mick Underwood played with Richie Blackmore in the Outlaws back in the mid-1960s and later with Ian Gillan and Roger Glover in Episode Six, before they left to join Blackmore in Deep Purple. Bassist/vocalist John Gustafson was Glover’s replacement in Episode Six. Along with organist J. Peter Robinson, Underwood and Gustafson went on to form Quatermass, a bass/drums/organ trio that played rock with occasional prog leanings, but only made one self-titled album. As well, Robinson played keyboards on the original Ian Gillan version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and Gustafson sang the part of Simon Zealotes on the same record. Underwood and Gustafson subsequently played with Gillan’s solo projects, although at different times.

In the ’90s, Underwood would reform the band as Quatermass II with different players, including Nick Simper on bass, ex-Gillan guitarist Bernie Tormé, and Don Airey — who played keyboards for everyone it seems, including Rainbow, Whitesnake and Deep Purple.

TRAPEZE: A bass/drums/guitar rock trio with prog leanings, Trapeze featured Glenn Hughes until he left to replace Glover in Deep Purple. Guitarist/vocalist Mel Galley later worked with Coverdale’s Whitesnake.

CAPTAIN BEYOND: After exiting the original Deep Purple, singer Rod Evans crossed the Atlantic and formed Captain Beyond, whose mixed a wide range of styles, including the early prog rock Evans played during his Deep Purple days.

WARHORSE: One of Nick Simper’s first projects after Deep Purple evolved into Warhorse, who are often remembered for leaning more toward the sonic thud of Black Sabbath or Uriah Heep than the flash of Deep Purple.

GILLAN: The original Ian Gillan Band featured John Gustafson of Quatermass on bass, among others. After the band ended, a new band was started called simply Gillan, featuring drummer Mick Underwood of Quatermass on drums and guitarist Bernie Tormé, who later played briefly with Quatermass II. Gillan eventually returned to Deep Purple.

RAINBOW: One of the more successful Purple offshoots, Richie Blackmore’s project originally featured the late Ronnie James Dio on vocals, who would later be replaced by Joe Lynn Turner — who himself made one album fronting Deep Purple. (Dio also was known for his involvement with Black Sabbath, and Ian Gillan sang briefly for the Sabs as well.) Rainbow recorded one near-perfect album, Rainbow Rising, which was once voted as the greatest heavy metal album of all time. Eventually, they would adapt their sound with an eye on conquering a more commercial market.

WHITESNAKE: David Coverdale began fronting Whitesnake right after he left Purple. At one point the band included both Jon Lord and Ian Paice — which means that for a while Whitesnake had former Deep Purple members in 3 out of 5 positions.

Whitesnake very successfully appealed to AOR tastes, so maybe it’s no surprise that Whitesnake, latter-day Rainbow, and latter-day Deep Purple, with their juggled cast of rotating members sound at times very similar. For example, Deep Purple’s “House of Pain” (with no Blackmore), “Fire in the Basement” (with Joe Lynn Turner on vocals in place of Ian Gillan), and Whitesnake’s “Don’t Break My Heart Again” easily fit on a playlist beside selections by Quatermass II, Gillan, Rainbow and the like.

So, again – congrats to Deep Purple, and all the often-unmentioned musicians who contributed in one way or another to their success. Deep Purple themselves would likely acknowledge it’s about making the music, even if you don’t make the list.

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