The Real Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: David Coverdale

On April 18, Lou Reed, Green Day, Ringo Starr, Joan Jett and others will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, joining everyone from The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who to Kiss, Metallica, ZZ Top and, er, ABBA. But what about all the bands this US institution has overlooked, ignored or wilfully snubbed over the years? The giants and innovators of rock, prog, punk, blues and more who weren’t deemed important enough, cool enough or American enough to warrant entry through those hallowed portals. Nearly 50 years after forming, Deep Purple are the greatest band not to be in the official Hall Of Fame. They are one of a diminishing handful of bands who formed in the late 60s who are still active today, who are not content to rest on their laurels and who still exist in a meaningful and creative way. While many of their peers are content to play the chicken-in-a-basket circuit – their tour posters emblazoned with monochrome mug shots of how they looked back in their bushy-tailed heyday – Purple have matured like a fine, expensive wine (a Sweet Burgundy, as their former guitarist, the late, great Tommy Bolin, might have it). From 1968’s Shades Of Deep Purple to 2013’s NOW What?!, Purple’s passage through time resembles a mountain range of breathtaking highs and turbid lows. On the next several pages, via a series of interviews with every key member past and present, we celebrate Purple’s extraordinary, multi-decade career. We highlight the radically different personalities of the musicians who have impacted on the band, and marvel at how these contradicting characters were able to gel musically. We examine the mysterious – and occasionally devious – workings of this at times most volatile of bands. We analyse the contributions of alleged bit-part players including Nick Simper, Joe Lynn Turner and the aforementioned Bolin. Plus much more besides. This is Deep Purple dissected, deconstructed and laid bare. (Oh, and we only mention Smoke On The Water once.)

Did you know much about Deep Purple’s history when you replaced Ian Gillan?

Yes, plenty. I had the single Emmaretta with Wring That Neck on the B-side. I thought the guitarist was exceptional. Black Night and Strange Kind Of Woman were great. I jammed Strange Kind Of Woman at my Purple audition, a bluesier version, which Ritchie seemed to like. In Rock stopped me in my tracks. I had to borrow Machine Head from a lovely young lassie in the boutique where I was working after leaving art college.

What were the highs and lows of being in Purple?

My highest point was getting the gig and seeing Burn be incredibly successful. I think they all sighed with relief when it charted high everywhere. The lowest point was the latter days with the disintegration of the band through drugs and alcohol abuse.

How did you find the songwriting process in Purple?

I felt I had to prove myself after getting the gig with them. I knew I had been given an incredible opportunity and I didn’t want to blow it. But, my god, I was so young and naïve. Thrown in the deep end to sink or swim. The two sci-fi lyrics I wrote for Mr Blackmore, Burn and Stormbringer, I’d never written like that before. But then again I’d never been given music like that before.

Were you in competition with other bands in the 70s?

Purple was a power unto itself. There was only a handful of really big bands in those days, not as over-saturated as now, so we all had our own playgrounds to enjoy, without competitive interference.

Does it gall you that Ian Gillan claims never to have heard any songs from either Mk III or IV?

It’s never bothered me, to be honest. On any level.

If you could pinpoint one thing that enabled Mk III to build on the glories of Mk II, what would it be?

Obviously the foundations of the success they’d built up before Glenn and I joined. But Burn wasn’t too shabby an album to build the success even further.

When Tommy Bolin joined, were you confident you could carry on Purple’s proud tradition?

I actually suggested we change the band’s name after Ritchie left. Of course, that idea was shot down immediately. I never considered Tommy a replacement for Ritchie. Ritchie is irreplaceable. Tommy was a beautiful, conflicted soul. A great, creative player with his own identity, which lent itself to new directions for us. Some were positive, others not so. But I truly admired and loved Tommy for who he was and what he brought to our table.

Does your time in Purple feel like a distant whirlwind to you now?

Yes. It’s over forty years ago now. Though I have been reflecting on those days much more in recent years. After the tragic loss of Jon, particularly. It made me finally realise that life is too fucking short to hold animosity, bitterness and resentments. So I decided to reach out to Ritchie to share the sense of grief and the loss of Jon with him, and to express my gratitude to him for bringing me on board Deep Purple.

What happened then?

During our conversations we did discuss the idea of getting back together in some way, shape or form, which was Jon’s wish. During this time I pulled out the albums and started messing around with some of the songs, rearranging ideas, adding a new bit here and there. The bonus for me was I rediscovered my love for that time and the work all of us achieved together. Magical times.

But nothing happened. Why?

After several discussions with Ritchie’s manager, I felt I didn’t share their vision of how they saw the project. I sincerely wished them well and respectfully withdrew. Don’t forget, I was only getting in touch to express my sadness over losing Jon, and I wanted to make amends with Ritchie. But, I must say, I was excited by the prospect initially. Along with millions of others, I’d love to hear Ritchie play electric rock guitar again. He could shake the earth!

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.