Deep Purple shifted halfway through its career from rock with pseudo-classical keyboard flourishes to guitar-dominated heavy metal; in the latter, vastly popular phase, it was listed as loudest rock band by the Guinness Book of World Records. In the wake of a highly publicized regrouping of the classic lineup, Deep Purple has emerged as one of the longest-lived (with a few interruptions) U.K. hard-rock/metal outfits and a showcase for some of the most successful hard-rock stars of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, including guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and singer David Coverdale.
After woodshedding in Hertfordshire, England, Deep Purple had its first success with an American hit, a version of Joe South's "Hush" (#4, 1968), followed by Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman" (#38, 1968). The group's popularity couldn't keep its label, Tetragrammaton, from going under after the band's 1968 tour. In 1969, with a new lineup including Ian Gillan, who had sung in Jesus Christ Superstar, Deep Purple recorded Lord's Concerto for Group and Orchestra, but after it failed to sell, Ritchie Blackmore began to dominate the band. His simple repeated guitar riffs helped make Deep Purple one of the most successful groups of the early '70s, but his personality clashes with other band members, particularly Gillan, precipitated several personnel shifts in between.
In Rock and Fireball attracted attention, and Machine Head made the U.S. Top 10 (#7), thus adding to the band's success in England, Europe, Japan, and Australia. One year after Machine Head was released, "Smoke on the Water" —about the band's near-disastrous Montreux concert with Frank Zappa —became a #4 hit single, and the album returned to the Top 10, eventually selling over 2 million copies. By late 1974, Deep Purple had sold nearly 15 million albums. But the band had begun to fall apart. Gillan left for a solo career in 1973. He released a number of albums in the U.K. In 1975 he formed the Ian Gillan Band and after it dissolved in 1983, joined Black Sabbath. Roger Glover followed Gillan, moving on to session and production work (for Judas Priest, Elf, Nazareth, Ian Gillan, Spencer Davis, Michael Schenker of UFO, Barbi Benton, and Blackmore's Rainbow). Gillan's replacement, David Coverdale, sang on Burn and Stormbringer. He would find greater fame, however, in the '80s with Whitesnake [see entry] and his collaboration with Jimmy Page. Jon Lord recorded a British solo album, Gemini Suite (1974). Blackmore left in 1975 to form Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow [see entry]. He was replaced by Tommy Bolin, with whom the group recorded one LP, Come Taste the Band, before announcing its retirement in 1976.
In 1980 a bogus reincarnation of Deep Purple led by original vocalist Evans popped up on the West Coast bar circuit. Blackmore and Glover took legal action to prohibit Evans from using the name. In 1984 they reclaimed the name for themselves, reuniting for their first new LP since 1976, the Top 20, platinum Perfect Strangers, which included "Knocking at Your Back Door." Despite being welcomed warmly by its fans, Deep Purple was plagued by personal tensions, and Gillan again departed in 1989. He pursued a solo career, only to return again for 1994's The Battle Rages On, but left again shortly thereafter.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies