“People think of them as a heavy metal band, but they swing. It‘s not just bash bash bash”: how Deep Purple changed Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith’s life

Deep Purple Mk III with an inset of Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith
(Image credit: Jorgen Angel/Redferns/Rich Polk/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)

Chad Smith is the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ resident classic rock fan, and among the bands the drummer grew up listening to were Deep Purple. In 2012, Chad appeared on the tribute album Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple's Machine Head, marking the 50th anniversary of Purple’s iconic sixth album, Machine Head. At the time, Classic Rock to the drummer about his love of the British rock pioneers, his friendship with ex-Purple bassist Glenn Hughes, and how Deep Purple could always “handle the funk”.

When and how did you first come to hear Deep Purple?

I have a brother who’s two years older than me who played guitar and turned me on to all the English rock bands from the late 60s and early 70s, and he had the Machine Head album. I think he might have had the 45 of Smoke On The Water first and then he bought the album. So my first experience of Deep Purple was listening to Machine Head on headphones in my brother’s room when I was 11. This would have been 1972, and I was already playing drums by then, so I’d put my headphones on and just play along with it.

Did any particular song stand out for you?

I remember trying to play along with Space Truckin’ and there was one fill that Ian Paice does that I couldn’t figure out and it was really pissing me off. It was driving me crazy, so I really disliked Ian Paice for a long time. I’d listen to it over and over again and think, ‘How does he do that?’ Of course, being a kid, I didn’t know that he’d overdubbed the part and it was actually two drum sets... and when I found that out I hated him even more.

Was Machine Head a big part of your musical education then?

Definitely. For me it was the gateway that led me to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all those great English bands. I’d come home from school every day and put it on loud and really piss my parents off. And it still sounds so fucking great to me. The musicianship on that album is incredible and the arrangements are so subtle and clever. There’s so much more depth to them than you first imagine, so you learn so much figuring out those songs. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers got inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame I couldn’t believe that Deep Purple weren’t already in there – that’s not right.

You play on Chickenfoot’s version of Highway Star and Maybe I’m A Leo recorded with Glenn Hughes on the Re-Machined album. What do those songs mean to you?

They’re great songs. Chickenfoot have been playing Highway Star live from our very first tour. We only had one record back then and so we wanted to throw in some covers for encores and because we all grew up on Purple, and Joe [Satriani] actually played in the band, it was a perfect fit for us. The recording that’s on the album is actually from the very first show Chickenfoot ever played, at the Fillmore. When I listen back to it, it sounds pretty good! With Maybe I’m A Leo, Glenn and I tried to funk it up. People think of Purple as a heavy metal band, but they swing, they’re not just bash, bash, bash, so our challenge was to capture that feel.

When you were working with Glenn Hughes were you pumping him for Purple stories?

I’ve been pumping him for stories for years. Most of them he can’t remember though, because he was so fucked up then. But Burn was such a great album too. When I first heard that Purple were getting a new singer and a new bassist, I was like, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know about this...’ but they really pulled it off, doing something very different and very cool.

Do you think Deep Purple are underrated as a band?

Totally. Anyone who knows anything about rock music should know how influential Purple is, but then the music industry is funny sometimes. This might sound odd to say, but I think if Purple had stopped, even after the Mark III line-up, like Zeppelin stopped, then maybe they’d have got more respect. I’m not saying they should have stopped, but sometimes bands who carry on for decades, like say, Cheap Trick or ZZ Top, get taken for granted. But when I talk to my peers like Lars Ulrich or Tom Morello, those guys understand exactly how important Deep Purple were. 

Are there any other Deep Purple fans in the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

[RHCP guitarist] John Frusciante was a huge fan, he actually played on one of Glenn’s records with me, but Flea [RHCP bassist] and Anthony [RHCP Kiedis singer] come from a totally different place. Because Flea was a trumpet player, his background is in funk and jazz, he wasn’t reared on rock music. He never heard Led Zeppelin until the 1980s. I think Anthony’s first concert might have been a Deep Purple concert with his dad, but they weren’t really a band that he grew up on in the same way as I did.

Can you imagine any Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs being played by Deep Purple?

Oh man! Jeez... Maybe Suck My Kiss. Though I can’t really imagine Ian Gillan doing those vocals. The thing that makes the Red Hot Chili Peppers original and interesting is that we all come from different places, so my Deep Purple influence might not add so much to the overall sound. But I don’t know, hearing Purple do something off Blood Sugar Sex Magik might be cool. I’m sure the Mark III line-up could handle the funk.

Originally published in Classic Rock Presents Re-Machined: A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.