The Adventures of Roger Glover

Roger Glover was (and is) the bass player for Deep Purple. Not renowned as a virtuoso player, Glover is often overshadowed by other members of that legendary band, and lacks the name recognition and iconic status that some of the more colorful members of the DP family enjoy (a quick Google image search of ‘Roger Glover’ came up with pics of Glenn Hughes, Nick Simper, and Geezer Butler). This condition is known as ‘John Paul Jones Syndrome’. But those who dismiss Glover as ‘just the bass player’ are making a big mistake. Roger Glover is a hero of mine. Here’s Why:

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First, let’s consider for a moment exactly what being the bass player in Deep frickin’ Purple Mk II actually entailed. Ritchie Blackmore to his left, swinging his guitar around like a broadsword, inventing new styles of guitar playing, and blowing shit up. Jon Lord to his right, effortlessly exuding cool while unmercifully torturing a helpless Hammond B3. Ian Paice behind him, relentlessly driving everything forward while somehow making his 4-piece Ludwig sound like 3 people playing Neil Peart’s kit. And Ian Gillan in front of him, singing/screaming his ass off, MCing the apocalypse. And there, deep inside this volcano of explosive chemistry was Roger Glover, standing steady at the center of the firestorm, holding down the fort, locking everything down while wearing a funky hat. Roger Glover was the glue that held the Purple pieces together, the anchor that kept this band of volatile virtuosos from careening off the rails into total chaos. Without Roger Glover, DP MkII would have spontaneously combusted after 10 or 12 gigs. Virtuoso or not, this makes Glover Purple MkII’s Most Valuable Player.

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One of the reasons Glover was drafted into Deep Purple was his prolific songwriting output while in his (and Ian Gillan’s) previous band Episode Six. Roger Glover also wrote extensively for DP, but because Purple chose to share their writing credits equally, it’s hard to know exactly what he wrote. It has been acknowledged by all, however, that Glover wrote the music to ‘Speed King’ after Blackmore suggested they come up with something that sounded like Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’. So. Roger Glover wrote ‘Speed King’… Oh, and the ‘Maybe I’m a Leo’ riff. Who knows what else he wrote that Blackmore gets all the credit for? Glover also titled Purple’s smash hit ‘Smoke on the Water’ the morning after the legendary casino fire, effectively giving the song it’s chorus and subject matter.

So: Deep Purple had with Roger Glover was a rock solid musical backbone and a major creative force. A larger picture should be emerging here; RG was DP’s secret weapon. But what about his post-Purple history?

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Imagine an album featuring lead vocals by David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Ronnie James Dio, and Uriah Heep’s John Lawton. Now stop imagining and check out Roger’s ‘The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast’ album. For a concept album based on a famous children’s poem, it’s a surprisingly substantive and engaging piece of work. And with this line-up of lead vocalists (Ian Gillan sang Dio’s parts when the entire work was performed live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975), who cares about the subject matter? Glover wrote or co-wrote all 20 songs, produced the recording, and played bass and synth. Need more? Okay: Les Binks played drums. Ha! Gotcha.

Speaking of Roger Glover the Record Producer, I feel compelled to point out that you pobably own an album that was produced by RG. Here’s a short list of some of his more notable work:

Judas Priest: Sin after Sin

Nazareth: Razamanaz/Loud & Proud/Rampant

David Coverdale: White Snake/Northwinds

Whitesnake: Snakebite EP

Rory Gallagher: Calling Card

Elf/Elf

Michael Schenker Group/Michael Schenker Group

Ian Gillan Band/Child in Time

Rainbow: Down to Earth/Difficult to Cure/Straight Between the Eyes/Bent out of Shape

Deep Purple: Perfect Strangers/House of Blue Light/The Battle Rages On (and every post-Blackmore DP album until ‘Now What?!’)

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Glover was the producer who convinced Judas Priest to record Joan Baez’s ‘Diamonds and Rust’ in a bid for radio play. Glover also worked the same trick with Nazareth on their ‘Loud & Proud’ album by suggesting Joni Mitchell’s ‘This Flight Tonight’. Suggesting that metal bands record songs written by female folk artists, and actually getting them to agree to it… Dude’s a genius. It would be tough to overstate how important these songs have been to each of these bands.

But one of Glover’s most …interesting production projects was his work on a long-forgotten 1977 album, released only in Sweden, on a label called Playboy Records…

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Male readers of a certain age will remember Ms. Benton as a Playboy model; perhaps the Playboy cover girl of the 70’s. If you weren’t old enough then to be swiping your dad’s Playboys, you may remember her as a bit player on TV’s Hee Haw. Benton also starred in an ABC TV series in 1977 called ‘Sugartime!’ about an all-female rock group ‘trying to make it big’. Well… they sure picked the right girl for that…

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Barbi Benton released 5 albums during the 1970s, with some success. Her first single reached #5 on the US Billboard Country chart, but her biggest hit was a song called ‘Ain’t That Just the Way’, which was a Number One single in Sweden for five weeks in 1977. The album from which that single originated, also titled ‘Ain’t That Just the Way’, was produced by our man Roger Glover. Glover brought some of his friends to the proceedings (wouldn’t you? ‘Hey, man, you want to come down and hang out with me and Barbi Benton, maybe lay down a solo?’), so not only does Mickey Moody of Whitesnake make an appearance, but David Coverdale hung around long enough to earn a songwriting credit, along with Barbi & Rog (so cute) on ‘Up In the Air’. Need more? Simon Phillips played drums. Ha! Gotcha.

I haven’t even mentioned Roger Glover’s four solo albums, the disco single he released under a phony name in 1974, or the excellent Gillan/Glover album from 1988 (I ran out of gas after, um, searching for suitable Barbi Benton pics). Today in 2014, Roger Glover, having long ago traded in his funky felt hat for a pirate’s bandana, is still holding down the fort for Deep Purple, and still one of my heroes. ‘Just the bass player’, my ass.

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Diver Down, Listener Pissed

When I was a kid, there was an advertisement in almost every comic book I read for a mail order “monster”, 7 feet tall with glow-in-the-dark eyes. It only cost ONE DOLLAR (plus .25 for shipping and handling). I had to have it, and so I asked my mom to write out a check for a buck and sent away for it. After what seemed like several months, it finally arrived. The “monster” was a crappy rendering of the Frankenstein Monster, printed on cheap, garbage bag-like material. Oh, and there were two tiny phosphorescent stickers that you has to stick over his eyes for the “chilling” glow-in-the-dark effect mentioned in the ad. It was a huge let-down. Even as a little kid I thought, ‘all that waiting, all that excitement and anticipation, for this? What a rip-off’.

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 That, my friends, is exactly how I felt after hearing Van Halen’s fifth album, ‘Diver Down’.

 As the 70’s gave way to the ’80’s, Van Halen were the most dangerous band on earth. They had it all: monster chops, a badass image, a steamroller live show. Van Halen records were open invitations to an endless party. They effortlessly filled the void left by US hard rock dinosaurs like Kiss, Aerosmith, Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult, who had all seemingly gone extinct by the end of the decade. By 1982, they owned hard rock.

 So why is their 5th album such a joke? What the fuck happened? In June of ’82, Rolling Stone said that ‘Diver Down’ proved that Van Halen were ‘running out of ideas’. It sure looked that way on the surface, as the whole of DD is made up of 5 cover songs, 3 instrumentals and only 4 original songs, one of which was demo’d back in 1977 and recycled here with a new title and new lyrics. But didn’t 1984’s ‘1984’ prove RS wrong? So then, what is the story behind this shameless excuse for an ‘LP’? Who’s to blame? And why? It’s been thirty-two years and I still want to know who to see about getting my money back.

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In lieu of that refund, we’ve at least gotten an explanation: After the mammoth ‘Fair Warning’ tour, Van Halen needed a break. To feed the machine while taking a well-deserved rest, the band recorded a cover of Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman”, backed it with another cover, this time a rendition of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ closing TV theme song “Happy Trails” (another ‘song’ demo’d back in ’77), and filmed a music video for the single for MTv. While the single and video were intended to buy the band time to recuperate from the grueling ‘Fair Warning’ tour, it instead became a hit, prompting Warner Bros. to invoke their contractual option and demand an album. Immediately. The label wanted the record fast, in order to capitalize on the success of the single. It’s always about money.

 With no time to write any new material, VH was forced to enter the studio and somehow come up with enough material to make an album. This was not a band “running out of ideas”; rather, it was a band with no time to think; to create. So Van Halen, recorded one ‘song’ per day until they passed the thirty-minute mark, somehow pulling enough scraps of this & that together to hand in to their label, who weren’t the least bit interested in concepts like ‘quality’, or ‘value for money’. Who cares if the record sucks? The single is red-hot, so fans will buy the album. The WB execs were right: by 1998, ‘Diver Down’ had sold 4 million copies… twice as much as their previous effort, ‘Fair Warning’. Bastards.

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Is this the worst Quadruple-Platinum album ever? Maybe. It might also be the shortest. All of the albums from the Diamond Dave era are brief; only one VH album creeps past the 35 minute mark: their 1978 debut. And although ‘Diver Down’ might feel like the shortest listen in the VH catalog, ‘Fair Warning’ holds that title, at a mere 30 minutes, 58 seconds. But ‘Fair Warning’ is a proper album, a substantive, satisfying experience… ‘Diver Down’ is just filler padded with fluff. An record with the impressive track count of 12 songs that ultimately adds up to 31:24 is either the worst LP ever, or the greatest EP ever.

I worked hard listening to this record, trying to find reasons to like it. For a while I refused to accept that it was just plain bad; I must have been missing something. But try as I might, “Hang em High” and “The Full Bug” just weren’t enough for me. After the dark menace of ‘Fair Warning’, this half-assed lightweight was a real curveball. The idea of 3 instrumentals might sound exciting, but when one of them is a synthesizer/drum drone with lead guitar played with a beer can (I’m serious; look it up), then look elsewhere for EVH’s latest mind-blowing innovation. This from the greatest guitarist since Hendrix. It was pretty clear Eddie’s heart wasn’t in this.

I’m sure lots of kids were as bewildered as I was, but there were obviously four million fans who ate it up. There are hardcore DD defenders on the internet today, super-fans lacking any objectivity, in complete denial, and loyal to a fault. I respect that. The album still sucks. It’s an ugly zit on the face of the otherwise impeccable Dave-era Van Halen catalog.

As Johnny Rotten once asked, “”Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” I did. If only we’d known at the time that ‘Diver Down’ was a ‘contractual obligation album’; that our heroes were threatened with legal action to enter the studio under duress and with nothing and somehow deliver a commercially viable product to appease the suits. Viewed through that lens, the ‘Diver Down’ fiasco makes perfect sense.

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There were, however, right under our noses all along, significant clues to what was going on here… The band chose the title and cover art for good reason: flying the ‘diver down’ flag indicates a SCUBA diver is submerged somewhere in the area. David Lee Roth cryptically said at the time that the album cover was supposed to show that “there was something going on that’s not apparent to your eyes. You put up the red flag with the white slash. It means, it’s not immediately apparent to your eyes what is going on underneath the surface.” Genius. Record still sucks.

The critics had a field day with ‘Diver Down’. Here’s the last paragraph of Jeffrey Morgan’s review of DD from the August 1982 issue of Creem Magazine:

“Just when Van Halen needed to come back with a killer album to cement their status in the marketplace as the current rock ‘n’ roll kings, they had to go and pull a stunt like this. Diver Down is as bad a career move as I’ve ever seen so much so that if these guys are featured in this magazine in two year’s time, I’ll be surprised. And don’t laugh: if it happened to Aerosmith, it could happen to these bozos, too.”

Here’s the very next issue of Creem Magazine, dated September 1982:

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Not only were Van Halen featured, but they were on the front freakin’ cover. Thankfully, VH survived the debacle; the U.S.S. Van Halen was sturdy enough to withstand one stinker. Truly great bands can survive one bad album…even if it’s 7 feet tall and has eyes that glow in the dark.