Throughout their 50-year career, Deep Purple has consistently recorded together live, in the same room, and crafted original material out of jam sessions. That is, until now. The pandemic, much like with the rest of the world, forced the band into unexpected downtime. This delayed the debut of their previous album Whoosh! — finally released August 2020 — and postponed the subsequent tour. Isolated and with nothing else to do, they decided, at the behest of producer Bob Ezrin, to upend their decades-long modus operandi and embrace the unexpected.
And so, two things immediately set Deep Purple’s latest album, Turning to Crime, apart from anything they’ve done in the past: It’s an album of cover songs, and the band members recorded it independently of one another. And it works. Smashingly. Turning to Crime is a surprisingly brilliant, peek-behind-the-curtain look at the music that influenced them in their youth. But more than that, it really puts the spotlight on two things. First is the band’s sense of humor. Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan always had a knack for the tongue-in-cheek with his lyrics, so songs like “Dixie Chicken” (originally by Little Feat) and “The Battle of New Orleans” (Johnny Horton) feel right at home within the canon of his wit. Even the performances sound like fun. I dare you to listen to Don Airey’s Southern California surf-style keyboard solo on “Jenny Take a Ride” (Mitch Ryder) and not let out a chuckle.
Second, Turning to Crime clearly demonstrates the band’s virtuosity. As much as Deep Purple’s spin on these ditties will change your perception of the tunes, the songs may also challenge your perception of Purple. Their decades-old tradition of blending rock, prog, folk, and jam never fit neatly into the heavy metal/hard rock category, and so, hearing something like Roger Glover’s commanding and swinging walking bass on the big band-styled “Let the Good Times Roll” (1959 Ray Charles version) is further evidence of the massive depth of Purple’s musical knowledge. They can play anything. And on Turning to Crime, they do.
According to Glover, under normal circumstances when they do collaborate, they don’t even really write songs. “We jam, and songs appear,” he explains. “But we have to be together to do that. The covers album was a way to take the songwriting out of the way. All we had to do was arrange and perform.”
Deep Purple along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath form the holy trinity of British hard rock, credited with creating and inspiring the entire sub-genre of heavy metal. In 2016, they finally joined Zeppelin and Sabbath in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, after being eligible for more than 25 years. Ironic, since Purple contributed “Smoke on the Water” to the musical canon, arguably the most universally recognized guitar riff in history. BM spoke with Glover to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of Turning to Crime.
How does it feel to finally be a criminal after all this time?
[Laughs.] I think I got away with it. Who knows? They might knock on the door any time. I’m accused of stealing, but all we did was borrow, mess around with it, and we’re giving it back. That was the crime.
I like that you put your own spin on the songs. Things pop up out of nowhere, like Don Airey’s little dissonant keyboard comment on “Smoke on the Water” in “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.” Did that happen organically, or was it talked about?
That happened organically, in Don’s mind. It certainly made me laugh when I heard it. The fact is, there’s a big difference between playing in a studio together with musicians and doing it entirely on your own. When it’s entirely on your own, you actually have more freedom to have fun and try things without getting the wrath of the band. You can try anything. I think what Don brought to it is a looseness. Of course, everything has to be done to a click. He and Paicey [drummer Ian Paice] have really gotten into playing with a click and making it sound natural, and that’s really hard to do. It takes quite a bit of experience to do that.
Ian’s drumming on “7 and 7 Is” is just off the charts.
Blew me away. Don has the ability to make it sound loose, even though it’s got to be tight. You don’t want it so tight that it’s not moving, that it’s unemotional. Just to play the right notes is not the effect you need. You want to play them with something else — some performance quality.
When you talk about having the freedom to play around with stuff on your own, was there anything you experimented with, recording this way?
I did a demo for “Watching the River Flow,” and I didn’t want to do it the way Bob Dylan originally did it with Leon Russell, doing a slow blues kind of thing. And I also didn’t want to do it like Dylan had done it live, which is really fast. I was just playing around with tempos, and I came across a ska tempo. I thought, Hey, Deep Purple are doing a ska song — doing Bob Dylan but doing it in ska. I thought, That’s actually a great idea. Fortunately for me, I sent it to Ian Paice first, and he said, “I’m not playing ska.” He said, “I’ll play something that’ll fit.” Of course, what he played sounds great anyway. I tried to push the envelope a little too far.
Did you get demos from anyone else that challenged you as a bassist?
Three of us did the demos: me, Don, and Steve [Morse, guitar]. The ones coming from Don and Steve, they had bass lines that I would never have thought of. Probably just a keyboard bass, just fooling around, but they hit on a few things that I used. Sometimes I just played exactly what they sent. But that was not always the case. Sometimes I played what I felt. I had a new appreciation for how they thought of the bass, especially what Steve writes. He interweaves things so they become a mesh. It’s not just simple, straight-toned, electronic notes.
I’m not used to seeing you playing a Music Man bass. Was there anything else that you used, in terms of software or interfaces that helped you dial in a sound?
Pro Tools, of course, and all of the gadgets that come with it. All my main guitars are packed up in storage on the road. I only had three or four guitars here. Some, obviously, wouldn’t work. I have a Vigier and a Squier Precision, and I tried those first. I couldn’t get used to it. Then, I realized I had a Music Man that Steve had given me about 20 years ago that I hardly ever used. It seemed to be a bit clunky for me, and my style. I picked it up and it records great.
Did you use plug-ins or anything to get a sound that you liked? In the documentary [Deep Purple: From Here to InFinite, 2017] you mentioned you had a little amp, too. Did you stick a mic on the amp, or did you just go strictly direct?
I’ve got a TC Electronic combo. I did try putting a mic in front of it, but it was better going straight in and using what Pro Tools had to offer. The compression and the EQ are very good. I recorded a flat track and one with extra stuff. Bob, when he’s mixing it, could use one or the other or both or neither. It was harder getting a sound than in a studio with Bob. I listen to it now and there are some parts of some songs I cheated better than others. You naturally think that. Self-doubt. Insecurity. It’s all part of it.
Speaking of Bob, since you’ve produced your share of great records, too, is it easy for you to defer to him as a producer? How does that relationship work? Do you like having somebody else produce Deep Purple, since you’re a player and a songwriter?
Well, when you’re trying to produce the band you’re in, it’s an impossible task. People don’t listen to you as a producer. They just listen to you as, “Oh, you’re only the bass player.” I’m very happy. I’ve worked with a couple of other producers before, but Bob recognized that I was a producer and welcomed me, warmly, and talked to me about what he was doing — if I felt the same way, and he made me feel very comfortable about it. I’m very happy not to have the responsibility to produce a record. I can concentrate more on writing and playing. It has freed me up.
He has well-deserved praise for you in the documentary. He says you’re his favorite bass player, and he articulates what’s so great about your playing.
He was just pressed. He’s praising other people in the band. He’s got to find something good to say about me. The thing is, he doesn’t want to get a reputation for producing classic bands [only]. When he saw us play, he changed his mind. I think he actually really enjoys working with us. We work fairly quickly, we’re all good musicians, we don’t fool around. He just generally enjoys it. He started out as our producer, but he’s ended up as a close friend. He loves working with us, and we love working with him.
He almost seems like a sixth band member at this point.
Yes, he is. Which, a producer is, in a way.
Do you know what it was about the live performance that made him change his mind?
The spontaneity and the musicianship. He said, “I was sitting in the audience just being wowed by how good you were, being free enough to do things so spontaneously.” He wanted to bring that into the studio. There’s a song called “Uncommon Man” [Now What?!, 2013] that’s got a long, slow intro, but nothing was worked out. He said, “Right. I’m going to press play now. Go on and do whatever you feel like.” One take and we captured that. He succeeded in what he set out to do.
That kind of spontaneity in the studio and performance is becoming a lost art.
Yes. I produced a guitarist once, and when we were doing a guitar overdub, I said, “Okay, that was good. Let’s take another one.” He played one exactly the same. I said, “No, I meant with a different ending.” He said, “But I’ve learned the solo.” That’s when the penny dropped. I’ve had the luxury of working with people who cannot play the same thing twice [laughs].
Turning to Crime gives us insight into your musical influences, but who were your bass influences when you were younger? Did particular bass players inspire you, or was it more songs and groups?
I’m more into songs than anything. I started life as a songwriter, before I did anything. I wanted to climb inside songs and find out what made them tick and see if I could do something like that. Bass playing was just a way to be in a band and write songs. I come from the skiffle era [a genre of folk music], so it’s the basis for everything. [Then] you get into Chuck Berry, and then the Beatles come along, and Paul McCartney was great — he took that early rock & roll feel and made it more melodic, fluid, and beautiful. I listened to him a lot. There are bass players who I admire but have no desire to emulate — Jack Bruce, people like that. Of course, the bass was always such a huge part of the feel of the Tamla/Motown sound. That’s when you realize how important the bass is, because if you take it away you notice it’s gone, but you don’t notice it when it’s there. The New Orleans thing — the Meters. I learned a lot about bass playing from the Meters. Actually, about what not to play. You play sparse and spare and make it count. It’s all in service to the song.
I’ve always appreciated that about your playing style. Your tone has changed over the years. On Machine Head , you had a really overdriven sound. Now, your tone is warmer and a bit cleaner.
Yes, I think it is. I did the 25th anniversary Machine Head remaster, and it was the first time I’d actually heard the bass on its own since we did it — it was distorted. I always felt it was too distorted, but I had a setup, I guess it was a Marshall [amp], that always distorted things. Yet, I loved the American sound. It has real depth and clarity, and that’s what I wanted. The engineer said, “You’re joking about that Machine Head sound, right? People would give their left arm to sound like that.” I don’t know what it was I did. I never know what I’m doing. I just go for whatever happens to feel good at the time.
There are hundreds of boutique pedal companies out there trying to re-create that Machine Head sound.
It’s just a combination of the Rickenbacker and the Marshall, I guess. I heard, a couple of years ago, “Space Truckin’” on the car radio. I thought, “Oh, who’s this?” It was the middle of it. It took me a couple of seconds to realize it was us. Life is funny.
That’s an awesome discovery. Can you listen to your own stuff without judgment? Is it hard to do that without being critical?
That’s a good question. I think when an album is finished, then I’m critical. It could’ve been this or it could’ve been that, or that doesn’t satisfy. Over the years, you get used to the bad bits that you didn’t like. Sometimes you even fall in love with it. Yes, I am very critical, but the old stuff is the old stuff. It ain’t going to change, so you just get used to it.
You just recently performed in Győr, Hungary, in Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. How did that go?
Great. A lot of fun. But learning it all over again was the work. We also played “Sarabande” and “Bourée” from Jon’s solo album [Sarabande, 1976]. Learning those — it’s not easy. It’s easy to understand what it is, but the timing is kind of all that. I have to work pretty hard on that. But it was a glorious experience.
When you say you worked pretty hard on it, does that go for the bass playing in particular, or are you more involved than that?
Just the bass playing. Just learning the bass parts of the Concerto, and the timing — counting bars. I don’t usually do that. I can only count to four anyway [laughs].
One of the things I appreciated, in the documentary, was how much joy you all still have for this, at this point, and the authentic love for one another that comes across.
Well, we have a lot of fun. We do genuinely like each other, and we enjoy playing together. We had seven or eight conference calls discussing various songs and methods and how we were going to do it, etc. They were more like comedy shows. It was very funny. We were happy just to be doing something, not being on the road for two years — the relief [laughs]. –BM
Hear Him On Turning to Crime, Deep Purple [2021, earMUSIC]
Basses Vigier Roger Glover Signature 4-strings (live), Squier Precision, Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray
Amps TC Electronic Blacksmith heads and RS410 cabinets
Strings Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Hybrid Slinky (.045–.105)
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