Who Do We Think We Are? Part Two

After the disastrous tour for their ‘Come Taste the Band’ album wrapped in Japan in March 1976, a burned out, drugged out, and generally down-and-out Deep Purple limped back to the UK and quietly died. it was an ugly ending to one of the greatest and most important HM bands in history.

But wait! Deep would return just a few years later, re-grouped and ready to once again take Hard Rock world by storm! YES!!

Oh, wait… Did you think I meant the MkII reformation that took place in 1984, resulting in the Platinum-selling “Perfect Strangers’ album and the highest grossing tour of 1985? Sorry, no. I was referring to the absolute debacle that occurred in 1980, when a handful of small-time west coast musicians-for-hire put together a bogus DP, booked a North American tour and fooled absolutely no one. Sorry.

Our story actually begins with Steppenwolf. The ‘Wolf broke up in 1972, but various versions of the band persisted for decades, in fact right up to this very day. Just between 1977 and 1980, there were 9 different Steppenwolf line-ups, 8 of which featured at least one original member: usually either Nick St. Nicholas or Goldy McJohn. (One line-up included Frankie Banali!) It was during this revolving door period of band membership that guitarist Tony Flynn and keyboardist Geoff Emery became members of Steppenwolf.

Nick St. Nicholas was the last original member involved in this ongoing ‘New Steppenwolf’ fiasco. When he finally left, one would think that was that… But Flynn and Emery picked up the ball and ran with it, assembling another new line-up and touring clubs as Steppenwolf. With ZERO original members. The band consisted entirely of ‘jobbers’; hired hands picked up by McJohn and Nicholas over the years to fill out a line-up and enable the band to tour. Steppenwho??

Emery and Flynn left in 1980, as John Kay started threatening lawsuits. The pair must have made a few bucks whoring around under the Steppenwolf banner, as they immediately set to work forming a bogus version of another classic (and defunct) band: Deep Purple. Emery (who was also a lawyer, which explains a lot) contacted former DP Mk1 vocalist Rod Evans and original bassist Nick Simper to see if either was interested in ‘reforming’ Purple. According to Simper, “Rod phoned in 1980, when I was not at home, so he told my wife I should call him back, which I – in some wise anticipation – never did.” Smart man.

Rod Evans? Not so smart. Evans climbed aboard the phony express and, along with SteppenWTF alumn Dick Jurgens on drums and fellow anonymous jobber Tom De Rivera on bass, proceeded to do business as Deep Purple. Emery and Co. quickly found out the name ‘Deep Purple’ opened a lot more doors (and would potentially bring in a lot more cash) than the ‘Steppenwolf’ moniker, as Evans’ presence lent this project enough credibility that a tour was booked by the prestigious William Morris Agency, and a record deal was secured with Curb Records, an affiliate with Warner Bros. Records. Deep Purple was back!

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The New Purps managed about 30 shows in the US, Canada and Mexico before the lawyers got involved. The nightly set list contained Mk I staples ‘Hush’, ‘Kentucky Woman’, ‘Mandrake Root’ and ‘Wring that Neck’, but also several Mk II classics, such as ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Highway Star’, ‘Space Truckin’ and ‘Woman From Tokyo’. Mk III’s ‘Might Just Take Your Life ‘ and ‘Burn’ were included as well. But despite the stellar set list, the tour was a disaster. Several stories of near-riots have been related by fans over the years, including this one, posted online by a fan who attended a show at The Factory in Staten Island, NY on July 17:

“I distinctly remember the band coming on stage (although very briefly) sans Ritchie. It was a packed house and the crowd immediately went apeshit and started screaming for Ritchie and within a minute beer bottles started flying toward the band members. It quickly turned into a chaotic scene so I don’t recall for sure, but I believe a few of them were hit and injured. And if that wasn’t bad enough things only escalated once the bouncers tried to intervene…”

In an ironic twist, the opening band that night was a NY group called Samantha; their drummer, Bobby Rondinelli, would join Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow later in the year. Another interesting tidbit: The support band for the Swing Auditorium show in San Bernardino, CA was none other than the 9th bogus version of Steppenwolf! Awkwerrrrrrd!

By the time the tour hit Canada, Promoters began billing the group as ‘The New Deep Purple Featuring Rod Evans’. This didn’t stop Evans from making ludicrous statements like ‘Here is one off our “Burn” album’ when introducing ‘Might Just Take Your Life’ in Quebec City. A fan who attended that show posted this online:

“The fans were expecting Ritchie Blackmore not a fake look alike. The fans were very disappointed and started throwing stuff on stage at them. They even tore out theater seats to throw at them. The place was a mess… They almost caused a riot. It was a very bad concert for them and for the ‘Deep Purple’ name.”

It wasn’t just the fans that were pissed about the charade; promoters were also burned by the overwhelming negative feedback that the shows generated. Gary Perkins, promoter responsible for booking the band into Long Beach Arena, said “I feel like I’ve been duped. We just didn’t know what we were getting into. I though the group was more legitimate.” Robert Boulet, who booked the Quebec City date, said “They do not deserve to be paid, it is revolting.”

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As the tour progressed, the band started feeling the heat. Fake Purple played a festival in Mexico City, where in the band’s defense, Evans claimed in an interview for Sonido magazine that the new DP were using the Deep Purple name:

“In a totally legal form. I was the founding singer of the group and when I decided to form a new one with the guitarist Tony Flynn…. Before this we spoke with Ritchie Blackmore, of Rainbow, and with the people of Whitesnake. And they agreed.”

This proved to be a total lie. Evans changed his tune and sounded defiant in an interview for leading UK music paper Sounds in August, where he stated:

“We haven’t really tried to get hold of Ritchie. Whether Ritchie gives his blessing or not is of no real consequence to me as my blessing to him forming Rainbow would be of no consequence to Ritchie. I mean, if he doesn’t like it I’m sorry, but we’re trying.”

Tony Flynn spoke to a Rolling Stone reporter soon after, defending the sham with:

“(…our group) sounds exactly the same and looks exactly the same. In all respects we are the same product.”

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Evidence to the contrary can be found on Youtube, where footage from the televised Mexico City show can be easily found.

Presenting themselves as Purple had initially proved more lucrative than their previous scheme, but soon enough the Purple hammer came crashing down, and Emery and his cohorts finally found that messing about with HEC Enterprises (the real DP’s management company, who wholly owned the trademark for ‘Deep Purple’) was a different animal than the under-the-table deals with the ageing hippies that comprised the last remnants of Steppenwolf in the mid-70s.

Emery had actually incorporated the new Purps, and had the balls to call the company “Deep Purple, Inc.” Emery also applied for legal ownership of the “Deep Purple” trademark, the status of which he apparently believed was in question. Wrong. Wasn’t this guy a lawyer? This move brought out the big guns from HEC’s corner, and the whole mess was finally aired in federal court in California in 1981.

HEC’s suit against the imposters named Deep Purple, Inc. as well Evans, Jurgens, Emery and Flynn individually. The case was a slam dunk for the real Deep Purple, with the court awarding HEC/DP compensatory damages of $168,03.11, $504,09.33 in exemplary damages, $103,191.52 in attorney fees for HEC Enterprises’ counsel, and $40,782.00 for the legal fees of other plaintiffs (meaning concert promoters who had joined the suit). None of these dudes had that kind of dough, including Evans, who despite singing on Deep Purple’s 4 million-selling ‘Hush’, was skint.

The real DP knew that would never see any of the money. Stopping the bogus Purple wasn’t really about money. For the members of Deep Purple, it was about others cashing in on their years of hard work and creativity. It was about protecting a legacy. Perhaps Jon Lord summed it up best. For an interview in Hit Parader magazine immediately after the verdict was revealed, Lord said:

“The worst part of the whole thing is the damage it might do to our reputation. If we do get back together and decide to tour, what happens if word gets around saying, ‘Oh yeah, I saw them last year at Long Beach, and they weren’t anything like I remembered.’ The name Deep Purple still means a lot to most rock and roll fans, and I mean to see that it stays that way.”

And in 1998, while responding to postings about the ordeal on a Captain Beyond fansite:

“I did not enjoy having to appear in court against a guy I’d once worked with – but he who steals my purse steals trash; he who steals my good name takes everything I have.”

 

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‘Snakebitten

Rainbow, Gillan, and Whitesnake: three bands that filled the void between Deep Purple’s 1976 break-up and the Mk II reunion in 1984. All achieved great success in the UK and Europe, with charting albums & singles, Gold records, TV appearances, etc. However, while Gillan (the band) never made any serious waves on this side of the pond, Rainbow and Whitesnake did. Blackmore and Co. did it the old fashioned way: touring America incessantly in the late 70’s, and later retooling their sound for FM radio. The story of Whitesnake’s road to fame and fortune in the US is a tragic one. If handled differently, Whitesnake could have been another Bad Company, maybe even an Aerosmith. But sadly, this was not to be. In an effort to break into the lucrative American market, Whitesnake dove headlong into the empty glitz and glam of the of the MTv era. When the dust settled, we’d lost another fine band in the great Hair Metal Wars of the 1980’s.

Whitesnake had evolved out of the post-Purple career of David Coverdale, who, after 2 solo albums, decided to make a go of it with a proper band. ‘David Coverdale’s Whitesnake’ debuted with the ‘Snakebite’ E.P. in 1978, and by their third album, had absorbed former Purps Ian Paice and Jon Lord into their ranks. Alas, almost five years/albums into their career, despite major success in Britain, a breakthrough in the States continued to elude a band that was three fifths Deep Purple Mk III. Guitarist Mickey Moody, frustrated that a band with several Gold records could be 20,000 pounds in debt, quit the band near the end of sessions for Whitesnake’s fifth lp ‘Saints an’ Sinners’. The Coverdale/Marsden/Moody triumvirate was no more.

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David Coverdale knew some major changes needed to be made if the band were to break outside of the UK. The singer abruptly called a halt to the recording sessions and put the band ‘on hold’ in an effort to cut ties with manager John Coletta. During this enforced hiatus, guitarist Bernie Marsden left the band, as did the rhythm section of Niel Murray and Ian Paice. David Coverdale and Jon Lord were the last ‘Snakes standing…

So ‘Saints an’ Sinners’ sat unfinished for most of 1982. By the end of the year, Coverdale was managing Whitesnake himself, and had rebuilt the band from scratch. The new ‘Snake was comprised of bassist Colin Hodgkinson, ex-Trapeze guitarist Mel Galley, and Cozy Powell. Not exactly blooz-rawk legends… Recognizing this, Coverdale invited Micky Moody and his down-and-dirty slide guitar back to the band. Moody accepted.

As it turned out, all the unfinished ‘Saints…’ album needed was backing vocals, so Moody and Galley contributed vox and the sessions were wrapped. (Some believe the album was actually finished, with Coverdale holding the completed record hostage during his efforts to separate the band from Coletta.) ‘Saints an’ Sinners’, recorded by a version of Whitesnake that no longer existed, hit #9 in the UK. The record, um, missed thd charts completely; this latest failure of Whitesnake to crack the American market infuriated the band’s new manager…

Just before starting work on album #6, Coverdale scored a major record label upgrade, moving the band in the US from Atlantic to Geffen. The band began recording a new album in earnest. If anyone could guide Whitesnake to their US breakthrough, it was proven starmaker David Geffen. Geffen often acted as career advisor to the artists on his label, with outstanding results. What would this new high-powered ally advise Whtesnake’s new management?

Mickey Moody, back in the band he helped found, felt like a stranger in a strange land. Throughout the recording, Moody sensed his time was short. While on tour with Thin Lizzy in 1983, Coverdale struck up a ‘friendship’ with guitarist John Sykes, while Moody’s own friendship with the vocalist had all but evaporated. After a backstage incident between Moody, Coverdale and Sykes, Mickey decided to once again quit the band. He called a meeting to make his announcement, which everyone in the band attended… except singer/manager David Coverdale. John Sykes, available after the demise of Thin Lizzy, was immediately announced as his replacement. Imagine that.

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After ‘Slide it In’ was completed, David Geffen continued to work his magic behind the scenes. Geffen demanded the record be remixed for the US market. He also demanded that new guitarist John Sykes overdub guitars, and that Hodgkinson’s bass be re-recorded by ex-member Niel Murray. The resultant album is not really much different, with all of Moody and Galley’s work intact; Sykes’ more 80’s guitar tone is apparent but not obtrusive (though Murray’s new bass tracks were a vast improvement over Hodgkinson’s). The real difference would be in how the album looked on TV.

Both promotional videos for the ‘Slide’ album featured only Coverdale, Sykes, Murray and Powell (oh– and bimbos; lots of bimbos). Jon Lord had left to take part in Deep Purple’s Mk II reunion; Mel Galley had injured his arm and would never fully recover, forcing him to leave the band. New boy Sykes was now the band’s sole guitarist. Once again, the band people would experience would be vastly different than the one that wrote and recorded the music they were hearing. And so we see John Sykes pretending to play Micky Moody’s classic slide guitar parts, as well as Mel Galley’s solo on ‘Slow and Easy’ (Moody’s slide solo was edited out of the video). Sykes looks positively dreamy aping Galley’s solo in ‘Love Ain’t no Stranger’. And from the looks of the video, no one was playing the keybords.

Whitesnake’s new front line looked great in the videos, if you liked hair… and apparently America did. ‘Slide’ reached the American Top 40, a feat that no Whitesnake album before it had achieved. How? What was the difference between ‘Slide it In’ and all previous Whitesnake albums? Presentation. David Geffen knew what was coming. He knew that what music looked like would be just as important as what it sounded like to rock fans in the age of MTv. And let’s face it, Micky Moody, with his ever-present stovepipe hat and questionable facial hair, was hardly a match for the flowing locks and heroic posing of John Sykes. Geffen helped revamp Whitesnake for the MTv generation, and it worked. ‘Side it In’ went Gold in America, and Whitesnake had planted one foot firmly on the road to Hair Metal. David Geffen’s impact and influence on Whitesnake was undeniable, and after the success of ‘Slide’ he urged the band to ‘start taking America seriously’. Uh-oh.

It took Coverdale and Co. took more than three years to complete a follow up to ‘Slide’, mostly becasuse, as a band, Whitesnake was a mess. Cozy Powell quit after the last date on the ‘Slide’ tour, and was replaced by Aisnley Dunbar.
The Coverdale/Sykes writing partnership yielded two hits in ‘Still of the Night’ and ‘Is This Love’… but not much else. Unimpressed with bulk of the writing, producers Mike Stone and Lieth Olsen suggested re-recording earlier Whitesnake UK hit singles ‘Here I Go Again’, and ‘Crying in the Rain’. Then Coverdale developed a serious sinus infection, forcing the band into another extended hiatus. Sykes actually urged the band to replace Coverdale (!!!), which led to his firing by the band’s manage(Coverdale!)ment. Adrian Vandenberg was hired to replace Sykes. This was no longer a band, it was a goddamn soap opera.

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By the time the ‘Whitesnake’ album was released, Coverdale had rebuilt Whitesnake yet again, with Tommy Aldridge, Vivian Campbell, Rudy Sarzo (oh, for Christ’s sake!) and the aforementioned Vandenberg. What is this– Rainbow??. Nobody in this line up (except Covs) wrote or recorded any of the music they were fronting. And how ironic seeing Adrian Vandenberg ‘play’ John Sykes’ guitar parts in the videos for ‘Still of the Night’ and ‘Is This Love’… Somewhere, Micky Moody was smiling.

The ‘Whitesnake’ album defied all logic and was a smash hit everywhere. Riding high on the the Hair Metal wave, it charted higher in the US than in the UK, eventually selling 8 million copies, and pulled it’s predecessor from Gold to Double Platinum status. And the most important factor in this album’s success was not even a musician: Tawny Kitaen, Queen of the Video Bimbos. You know it’s true.

The transformation was complete: from a solid band of bluesy hard rockers to glam metal fops in just three albums. Whitesnake had reached its goal of conquering America. But mega success like this does not come without a price. Whitesnake’s road to success in America was littered with bitter ex-members, covert machinations and ridiculous videos. A once-great band had sold out and become a revolving door of hired hands with big names, big hair, but no soul. There would be one more Whitesnake record (featuring Steve Vai on guitar… the polar opposite of Micky Moody; look it up) before Coverdale folded the band ‘for good’. Some consider this to be the wisest management decision David Coverdale ever made.

No Sleep ‘til Made in Japan

Merriam-Webster defines ‘completist’ as ‘one who wants to make something (as a collection) complete’. Hmmm. When I looked up the word, I was sure it would be listed as a medical term, because this affliction has been causing me great pain and suffering for most of my life.

My name is Bob Mayo, and I’m a Completist.

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Deep Purple’s landmark live lp ‘Made in Japan’ was originally released on double-vinyl in December of 1972 (April of ’73 in the US). I bought it sometime around 1979, and it’s been in my personal Top Ten ever since. It’s my sincere belief that this album contains rock music’s greatest recorded performances (my late friend Larry Boyd would disagree, and insist that the Who’s ‘Live at Leeds’ holds that title; I’ll grant it’s a strong contender). As an avid reader of liner notes and credits for all of my lps in those days, I knew that the album was culled from 3 shows: Osaka on August 15 & 16, and Tokyo on August 17, and that the best versions of the songs performed would have been chosen for the album. I never felt the need to hear the unused tracks, and never thought I would ever get the chance anyway. I was not yet fully in the grip of completism.

In 1982, I was stunned when I first saw an imported copy of a compilation album called ’24 Carat Purple’ from 1975 that contained a live version of ‘Black Night’, recorded in Tokyo on 17 August, 1972. So… ‘they’ decided to release another track from the MIJ gigs? Knowing it was out there, I had to have it. That may have been the moment where I was bitten by the completist bug. Sometime around 1991, I obtained a bootleg cassette of the entire August 16 Osaka show, which despite the terrible audio quality and increased pitch/speed due to multiple generations, at least revealed that the legendary ‘no overdubs’ claim is true (at least for the August 16 show). As the CD Age dawned, and I bought ‘MIJ’ on compact disc, I wondered, with the increased capacity of the format, why the cruel, unfeeling monsters at EMI hadn’t made it a 2-disc set and included some of the unreleased material. My completist tendencies were beginning to manifest themselves.

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While in Europe in 1993, I stumbled across a 3-disc Deep Purple set CD called ‘Live in Japan’. I was completely unaware of its existence (this was before the internet), and I snapped it up and clutched it to my chest lest another rabid MIJ fan try to pry it away from me. A feverish read of the booklet revealed that it contained almost all of the material recorded in Japan in 1972. Almost. Sure, it presented more than what was included on the original ‘MIJ’, a lot more, actually; but it still wasn’t everything. Each CD in the set contained a different show, and so 5 recordings originally released on ‘MIJ’ were included here, in an attempt to reassemble the running order of each gig. Still, 4 recordings (mainly the encores) could not be included due to time constraints. So while the set contained a total of 16 previously unheard recordings from DP’s August ’72 tour, we also get 5 ‘MIJ’ versions we’ve all known for decades, occupying the space that could have been given to the final 4 unreleased recordings. Maddening. I was at this point, a total completist. Or complete totalist. Or raving lunatic.

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In 1998, the depraved, sadistic subhuman slime at EMI Europe announced the release of a 25th anniversary edition of ‘Made in Japan’, newly remastered and featuring a second disc of…. The Missing Encores! YES!! FINALY! Hurrah! Wait, wha—?

Deep breaths…

Of the 6 encores performed over 3 nights, 2 of them were released on the 3-cd Live In Japan, and 3 were included on the remastered ‘MIJ’… leaving only ONE SONG from the three 1972 Japanese Purple gigs as yet unreleased. It was a version of ‘Black Nigh’t from the August 16 Osaka show. The wicked, degenerate cretins who control Deep Purple’s catalog were clearly plotting to see how much torture I could take before my head exploded. Soon after getting the CD in the mail, I also noticed that this 25th anniversary edition has most of Ian Gillan’s stage banter edited out. Happy Anniversary! The classic line “Can we have everything louder than everything else?” was GONE. To save 23 seconds of running time. Who was making these decisions? Names! I needed NAMES!!

I eventually remembered that I had a cassette of the August 16 Osaka show, which contained the missing ‘Black Night’. It was 1998, and not everyone had the desktop equivalent of a recording studio on their laptop just yet, so I took the cassette to a local recording studio, where the engineer transferred the song onto 4” tape, slowed the tape speed to correct the speed and pitch, and used some of his other magic electric doohickeys to clarify and otherwise improve the sound quality. He burned the resulting track onto a CD. THERE!! I DID IT! YOU BASTARDS!!

With the advent of iTunes, I was finally able to group together all of the related tracks from several disparate sources, and recreate the Japanese Purple gigs in their correct running order. Yes, one of the encores still kinda sounded like shit, but I had come as close as humanly possible to recreating the audio from those 3 nights.

And then…

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‘Listen, Learn, Read On’, a 6-cd box set, was released in 2002. It was and remains the biggest and most comprehensive set of Deep Purple material ever released at 74 tracks total, 24 of them previously unreleased at that point. One of them was the Holy Grail: ‘Black Night’, August 16, Osaka. In all its pristine, mixed and mastered glory. I replaced my cleaned-up bootleg version of ‘Black Night’ with this version. The tremors stopped; I started sleeping through the night again.

Soon after spending about one hundred bucks on the 6-disc set, it dawned on me why the depraved inbred reprobates at EMI had withheld that one final song for so long. Holding it back for the ‘L,L,RO’ box set was added incentive for folks to shell out big money for a massive 6-disc set that was 64% material that potential buyers likely already owned. But what the wicked, soulless cretins in charge didn’t understand was that we Purple fans (completists) would have had no issue spending 100 bucks on 24 unreleased Deep Purple tracks, Holy Grail of not. I’ve spent more on less.

You still can’t buy a complete version of the audio from Deep Purple’s three nights in Japan in August of 1972. You’d have to buy the Made in Japan 25th Anniversary Remaster, the 3-CD Live In Japan set, and the 6-CD Listen Learn, Read On box (ooooh, sorry; it’s now out-of-print). iTunes is currently selling a woefully incomplete version of ‘Live in Japan’, with only 14 tracks and absolutely zilch in the way of liner notes, credits or recording info. It’s listed as a ‘partial album’. WTF good is that? There has been internet chatter about the corrupt, villainous perverts at Warner Bros. releasing a 40th Anniversary set, but as we head into Autumn of 2013 with nothing confirmed, this looks doubtful.

Jon Lord R.I.P.

Gillan’s Hat Trick

So this morning I’m setting myself up for the next week of my commute, dragging and dropping a bunch of albums into my ipod, when it strikes me that 3 of the choices I’ve made feature the one and only Ian Gillan on vocals. Not surprising, I guess. Ian Gillan features more prominently in my music collection than any other single musician. That’s not only because I think he’s one of the greatest rock singers ever. It’s also because the guy has been so damn prolific throughout his almost 50-year recording career. His discography is enormous. Thankfully, with Gillan, it’s just as much about quality as it is about quantity.

A big chunk of Gillan’s recorded output is rightly regarded as ‘Classic’. Just being a part of Deep Purple MkII seals that deal. But while his first stint in Purple surely cemented his legacy, it’s hardly the entire story. That Ian Gillan was able to create or co-create so much stellar music in so many different (and sometimes difficult) situations is nothing short of miraculous.

It could be said that Gillan’s most significant post-Purple period was a 3-year span during the early 1980s, as the Deep Purple MkII reunion slowly became a reality. Gillan knew he would have to break up his own band, and wrote and recorded their final album while keeping his fellow band members in the dark. He then found he’d have to wait a year for Ritchie Blackmore to wind up Rainbow, and decided to kill time fronting what was arguably the greatest Heavy Metal band of all time. But all of this was just the build up for DP MkII’s triumphant return. This tumultuous chain of events gave us three fantastic albums; three more stellar entries into the colorful Ian Gillan catalogue.

And now, back to my iPod…

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Gillan/’Magic’, 1982
‘Magic’ was Gillan’s (That’s Gillan-the-band, not Gillan-the-singer) sixth and final album. While it is perhaps their most commercial record, it’s also their most interesting. The frenetic, off-kilter vibe of previous albums such as ‘Glory Road’ and ‘Future Shock’ is largely absent, mainly due to the departure of Bernie Torme in 1981. By the following year, the band had apparently decided that replacing Torme with Blackmore-clone Janek Gers was a mistake, as there are few guitar solos on ‘Magic’, and the overall sound is keyboard-heavy. The record thus became a showcase for keyboard player Colin Townes’ decidedly left-field musical vision, culminating with the cinematic epic ‘Demon Driver’ (7:16). Gillan’s trademark screams do sound a bit ragged… Overall, there’s enough of the Gillan magic (sorry) here to ensure the album stands as a solid (albeit more commercial) follow-up to the previous year’s excellent ‘Double Trouble’, and a fitting farewell to a great band.

Lyrically, almost every song on ‘Magic’ is about moving on from a bad situation and toward a better one… which is exactly what Ian Gillan was about to do. ‘Magic’ was the band’s lowest-charting LP in the UK, peaking at #17. Ian must have seen this coming. The NWOBHM that had supported the band’s launch just a few years prior was over; while writing the songs for ‘Magic’, Gillan had apparently decided that the band had run it’s course as well. The lyrics to songs like ‘Long Gone’, ‘Living a Lie’, ‘Caught in a Trap’, and ‘Breaking Chains’ seemed innocuous enough when taken at face value, but took on a new clarity after Gillan broke up the band, allegedly to undergo surgery to have nodes removed from his vocal cords. There’s even a song called ‘Purple Sky’… Hmmm… Could there have been an ulterior motive for breaking up Gillan?

The vocal chord issue proved to be bogus, as Gillan’s next move created much bad blood among his ex-band members when he resurfaced the following year, screaming his ass off on…

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Black Sabbath/’Born Again’, 1983
With its garish, primary-colored cover, often-ridiculous lyrics, and dense, murky mix, ‘Born Again’ has a ‘special’ place in the Sabbath canon. Either loved or hated by the hardcore faithful, there’s no middle ground with this record. It’s not the complete disaster that its detractors claim, but neither did it live up to the potential of what initially seemed like an absolutely brilliant pairing. Bill Ward is back, so 3/4ths of the original Sabbath are on hand, and legendary Deep Purple screamer Ian Gillan is in fine larynx-abusing form (a truly miraculous recovery…?) But: the overall result just doesn’t gel into something deserving of the Black Sabbath name. Geezer has said that they had planned to put it out under a different name, but the record company did what record companies do: interfere.

There are moments when it all works beautifully: the uber-riffic drone of ‘Zero the Hero’, the super-heavy chug of ‘Digital Bitch’, and the sludgy dreamscape of the title track all impress, while ‘Trashed’, ‘Disturbing the Priest’ and the aforementioned ‘Zero…’ are all excellent Gillan/Sabbath hybrids. But Gillan’s lyrics just don’t work in this context, and the album is short on songs and long on filler. Two atmospheric instrumental pieces, ‘The Dark’ and ‘Stonehenge’, were edited considerably from much longer pieces (both originally clocking in at almost 5 minutes each); both work well as intros to the songs they precede, but giving them titles and track numbers of their own does little to hide the fact that there are only 7 songs here (and only 3 or 4 real keepers). An outtake from the sessions, ‘The Fallen’, was recently released on the Deluxe Edition of ‘Born Again’; this tune would have really rounded out the album.

Overall, ‘Born Again’ will go down in history as a flawed experiment, a missed opportunity, a ‘classic’– not only because of the music within, but also because of the controversy, baggage and backstory that came along with it. Like Motorhead’s ‘Another Perfect Day’, it exists as a separate entity completely outside of the band’s discography, an ‘asterisk album’, a creation that doesn’t quite fit but also cannot be written off entirely. It’s also worth noting that this was Bill Ward’s final album with Black Sabbath, and the only Black Sabbath album with Jesus Christ on vocals.

One comes away from the ‘Born Again’ experience with the feeling that the next one will be better… But alas, there was to be no ‘next one’. Gillan would later reveal that he joined the Sabs to kill time while Ritchie Blackmore wrapped up Rainbow’s commitments and the Double-Secret Master Plan could finally reveal itself (‘Purple Sky’ indeed!) the following year: A reunion of Deep Purple MkII and the release of…

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Deep Purple/’Perfect Strangers’, 1984
And so, the planets finally aligned, and one of the greatest heavy rock bands of all time reunited after a decade. Each of the MkII members had found varying levels of success in several different situations. Their individual writing and playing styles had all evolved. Could they come together and create that caustic MkII chemistry once again? As it turned out, the individual members weren’t all that far apart after all. Roger Glover had been beside Blackmore in Rainbow for several years. Jon Lord had been playing with Ian Paice in Whitesnake. And Ritchie Blackmore had actually invited Ian Gillan to join Rainbow in 1978 before hiring Graham Bonnet, so it wasn’t impossible to imagine the two headstrong alphas reconciling their infamous differences.

Wisely, ‘Perfect Strangers’ doesn’t attempt to continue where DP MkII left off (with 1973’s ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’); rather it sounds like a less commercial Rainbow fronted by Ian Gillan. It would have been unrealistic to expect a true follow-up to ‘WDWTWA?’ over a decade later. That record would have found an audience, but would not have earned the band a new generation of new fans, as ‘Strangers’ so effectively did. So this wasn’t a slavish return to a classic sound, but rather an updated, revamped version of that sound. Clearly Purple didn’t feel the need to remind anyone that they’d helped invent heavy rock; instead they’d re-invented themselves for a new generation.

And this approach worked. The album is rock-solid. Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord & Paice had no problem transforming Purple into an 80’s hard rock powerhouse. The older, wiser DP was about tight, direct, impactful hard rock; precision riffs, catchy choruses, nimble drumming, and dynamic performances. The excesses of the 70’s were left behind in favor of a more compact, muscular, hard-hitting style, with Blackmore leading the overall sound in a slight neo-classical direction throughout. Keyboard and guitar interplay? Check. And with a confident and fully-committed Gillan singing over It, ‘Perfect Strangers’ sounded like Classic Rock from day one.

Without having to keep up the frantic histrionics and madcap pace of his band in Gillan; no longer under pressure to fit his lyrics and bluesy vocal approach into the doom-and-gloom universe of Black Sabbath, Ian Gillan sounds truly at home on ‘Perfect Strangers’. Gillan strides across the album, sounding relaxed, confident and comfortable. The Master of Ceremonies for one of rock’s greatest comebacks. Lyrically, Gillan was once again hiding secret messages in his band’s songs; a quick read of the words to ‘Gypsy’s Kiss’ (Cockney rhyming slang for ‘taking the piss’, which in turn means ‘not taking something seriously’) reveals his inner thoughts on the reunion and the biz surrounding it. Hey, this is the guy who wrote ‘Smooth Dancer’, remember.

Gillan had maneuvered his way out of his own successful solo band, maneuvered his way into one of the biggest bands of all time, then took his rightful place in one of the most successful comebacks in rock history. The fruits of these machinations? Three consecutive albums in three years for Ian Gillan. Three different bands, three different sets of writing partners. Each record a milestone in each band’s career; each historically significant. I’ve been trying to come up with another notable rocker who has accomplished this same feat, but have thus far come up empty. And this is just a 3-year slice of a creatively restless and somewhat daring career that started in the 60’s and continues to this day. This must be what the phrase ‘storied career’ means.

(Now, if only someone would explain the significance of the phrase ‘grey plastic retards’, which appears in the lyrics for both ‘Born Again’ and ‘Wasted Sunsets’…Anyone?)