Of course I knew Smoke On The Water growing up, from possibly the very youngest age even – but it was a revelation to me when I heard a compilation called The Deep Purple Singles. It stopped before Smoke. (Although you can get an updated version with that track). One of my mum’s all-time favourite songs is Hush by Deep Purple. So The Deep Purple Singles was one of the very first CDs we ever owned. My parents hung onto their record collection for a while – dad wasn’t sure CDs would ever amount to much, didn’t think they’d catch on. Then he won a CD player in a sales competition and the records were out the door (I salvaged what I could – still have ‘em, still play ‘em).
But that Deep Purple CD was the start of a love-affair for me. I was about 12, 13. And every song on that album was its own little revelation. And I was learning the drums too – so I listened in for what Ian Paice was doing – his 16th note pattern on Smoke on the Water one of the staples of early drum lessons. But hearing his stomp beneath Hush, or the way the cymbals dance around One More Rainy Day, as if somehow all at once a part of the organ and then completely apart from it too. And of course Black Night. A slightly advanced drum-lesson that one. Intermediate level I’d say, not for beginners.
Just the other day I heard Graz 1975 – a newly released version of an old Deep Purple show. It’s the Mark III line-up, the David Coverversion Years. I like that era. I like all of the Deep Purple stuff, not sure I even play favourites – sure, we’re supposed to like the Mk II version of the band the best for all it achieved but I love those beat-combo remnants across the original line-up and I really dig what Glenn Hughes brought to the band (as well as David Coverdale too).
But this Graz show – wow! I had a shitty bootleg copy of half of this show, a $4 tape that was my next favourite Deep Purple thing after The Singles and then the double-tape Anthology. Here you really heard how commanding Ritchie Blackmore was – he might not have had that Jimmy Page-like swagger but he was really something. Always my favourite guitar player from that era. Well, I say always – I mean, you know, my favourite “underrated” player from that time. He’s rated by guitar players I guess, but he never seems to feature as highly as I reckon he deserves. Maybe it’s because of his renaissance folly, his real-life slide as weirdo-minstrel. His remarkable feat to have gone from the real life Spinal Tap to really living A Mighty Wind.
Anyway, this Graz show – hearing the cleaned up, full version (and it’s a must, seriously) got me to thinking about Purple again. You see, I’m no lifer, I come and go with the band now, I forget about them for years on end actually. But this is stonking-good. Astonishingly good live band.
And so thinking about Purple again got me thinking about Ian Paice.
There’s nothing overtly sex-drugs-rock’n’roll about him. Nothing at all. Nothing remotely scandalous. Barely anything rock-star at all. But can he play those drums? Fuck yeah. And he’s still the machine – he hits it hard and there’s such stamina, such precision in his playing. He was a highlight of finally getting to see a version of Deep Purple about a decade ago (great show too). I even had a chance to interview both the Ians – Ian Gillan in person, live on TV. A real rush. And before the tour I talked with Ian Paice, for a drumming magazine. So it was loads of drum-heavy/technical questions. I would have liked to hear more stories about the band’s exploits I guess.
He started playing at 15, never thought too much about it – reckons he was just “dicking around”, can’t be sure of when he ever thought it would be more than that. Now he’s the only member of Deep Purple to appear on every single album – the mainstay. You can point to a particular vocalist, to Blackmore, to the organ sound of Jon Lord, all important – and then there’s Hughes, and Roger Glover – but Ian Paice is the one that’s survived, sustained – and maintained. He’s the hero in the end. I really believe that. And a damn nice guy too – proof you don’t need to live up to the rock-star caricature; you don’t need to embrace that. You can just apply solid – impeccable – musicianship, even in the cock-rock field of Heavy Metal in its heyday.
From pretending with knitting needles to getting his first pair of real drumsticks, Paice worked through a set of big band jazz influences to arrive at a sound and feel that embraces that precision of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and sits alongside all those great players from the same era – the guys working in Vanilla Fudge and Cream, with Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac. The Who, Led Zep…
I love what Paice told me about all of those great players from that era, quashing any thoughts of competition.
“Drummers don’t work that way. We’re a different tribe from other musicians. We work at doing different things and I imagine if there were two guys who were very close in style in might get a little, ah, confusing. But nearly every drummer you can think of played a different way. And as I say, you know, you wouldn’t want to be like the other guy but you might see one or two things that they did and you say ‘well, I can change that; I can bring that into what I do’, so it was always a learning process from each other. And whenever drummers got together, they might mention drums for twenty seconds, but they’re more likely to waffle on about other stuff and have a few beers…and, it’s usually a very happy camaraderie.”
I also love that he didn’t shy away from the obvious – his “hit” was/is the drum solo on the Made In Japan live album – The Mule. You can be as bored as you like by double live albums, by drum solos, by 70s excess but I really respected that he fronted up and acknowledged an important part in his career – saying he was lucky the microphones were recording on that particular night as they just managed to capture his best performance from the whole 1973/73 tour.
He also ended our interview with the best advice – and message – I’ve ever received from a musician. Simple but profound – the right energy, the right approach.
“The only thing I would hope to pass on to anybody reading this stuff is: just remember it’s music and for most people who play music it will always just be a hobby, but that’s great. Because, you know, like anything artistic, if you only have to do it when you really feel like it then that’s the best way life can be for you. When it becomes your business there are times when you don’t feel like playing, you know, we all have Monday morning blues. So, whether you end up being a pub-player, or a bedroom-player, or get on to a big stage – always remember: you started doing it cos it was fun. And always take the fun on stage with you!”
But you know even if I hadn’t ever interviewed him – or had the chance to see him play I’d always want to praise the work of Ian Paice. You hear these wonderful chops, this great skill, this perfect rock feel – and there’s a jazziness in the interplay. Even if you weren’t ever a fan of Deep Purple I urge you to check out the new Graz 1975 release, to check out that old Singles comp or any of the reissued Anthologies – to find songs like Lazy, Space Truckin’, Fireball, Flight of the Rat, Pictures of Home, One More Rainy Day, Hush, Speed King, Highway Star, Black Night, Child In Time – and yes, even Smoke On The Water – and listen just for what Paice does, for how he keeps his pace, for how he drives, that clear, clean cut and attack.
He’s one of the greats. Unbeatable. Unflappable. And a scholar and a gent.