Deep Purple have gone through many, many incarnations since they first landed on the charts in 1968 with a cover of Joe South's "Hush." Fourteen members have come and gone during the past five decades, and the only constant is drummer Ian Paice. He was on their first album and he remains behind the kit to this day as they continue to tour the world. We chatted with him about the group's long-awaited Hall of Fame induction, the possibility of an onstage reunion with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (who left in 1993) and the enduring mystery of original lead singer Rod Evans, who seems to have fallen off the face of the planet.
How do you feel?
I knew it would probably happen one day. I do appreciate how difficult it probably was for them to do it with so many lineups, so many different members. It's a minefield, really. I suppose it's rather nice.
Who told you the news?
My manager called me a couple of nights back.
Your first reaction?
I heard that Chicago got it as well and was like, "It's about time they got it too!" Without naming names, there's a few people that got inducted that my own personal feeling is they aren't that important in the way of what music has done. I remember seeing Chicago at the Whisky a Go Go when they were still CTA and they were magnificent then. They blew me away. They're a real important band — a lot more important than some people that actually got in there.
You think Deep Purple's induction took so long since there's been so many singers and guitarists that it was just hard to sort through?
I don't know. It's two things. You either are flavor or the month or you've been forgotten. We have to be honest: You go back to the glory days of bands like Chicago and ourselves, it's a long time ago. We're still working. We're still touring. That's great. But a lot of bands that seem to be important are not there, or aren't seen to be there. They get forgotten.
Do you think part of the problem is so many voters are in America and you were never quite as big here as you were overseas?
Of course, that does effect what people are aware of. If you're not seen on the U.S. touring circuit very often, then why would U.S. voters pick you? It's not a criticism. It's just a reality of life. Certain parts of the world have different musical tastes now. I'm not saying there aren't a lot of rock & roll fans in the States, but what is covered by the media and what is thrown in front of people by TV, like the flavor of the month, segregates things quite badly.
We'll do a show where we'll have a wonderfully mixed audience of kids in the front, then people that are slightly older until you get right to the back. In other countries, you just have an audience of more mature people or just kids. It's been broken up in a way, which is so sad. The best shows are where everybody, of whatever age, are experiencing the same thing and getting the same buzz out of it. You need the kids to kickstart it, and once they get it going, the old folks remember why they went to a rock & roll show in the first place. It's a wonderful feeling when it all kicks off like that. In the U.K. and the States, the media has cut the generations in half away from each other. It's very sad.
I know many of your hardcore fans were very angry at the Hall of Fame and very insulted that it took so long for this to happen. It doesn't seem like it bothered you quite that much.
Yeah. The problem with Purple is there has been so many incarnations, so many lineups, that I almost thought a couple of years go, "Why don't they forget doing a Purple one? Why not treat the guys individually?" We've been so fortunate to not just have band members, but to have virtuosos. They warrant their own place individually in the Hall of Fame, people that have influenced whole generations of people who play that instrument, and singers. That would have been the easy way out of it. That's just my little thing on it. But it looks like we're in. That's very nice. I'm pleased.
You're going to come and perform, right?
I have no idea. All I've heard is we've got the thing. I just learned this two nights ago, and I've kept my big mouth shut. This is the first time I've discussed it with anyone. Whatever else is decided, we'll make a decision on that when it comes through.
I see the list of members that are getting in here. It's Ritchie Blackmore, David Coverdale, Rod Evans, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Glenn Hughes, Jon Lord and you. Do you think that makes sense to bring in those people?
I suppose it does. Realistically, you'd like to think that anyone who was ever in the band made a contribution and should really be listed. It doesn't matter if they were there for an album or two; everyone who was in the band actually contributed to the fact we're still there. All these people, from the very beginning to the current lineup, [have] helped maintain Purple as a viable touring entity that a lot of people around the world really enjoy. So to pick some over others, I wouldn't have done it that way.
Bands tend to perform with former members at these ceremonies? Do you think that might happen?
I have no idea. I haven't even thought about it. No idea. We have to accept that there are personalities that don't see eye-to-eye in our history. How that would work, I have no idea. Whether that could be put aside, I don't know. It's definitely one to contemplate and think about.
I've seen it go down many ways. I've seen people that absolutely despise each other hug, perform and put aside all their shit for one night. And I've seen people snipe at each other during the actual speeches.
That's reality TV really biting you in the ass!
Do you think that Ritchie will even show up?
That's questionable. He can confuse you sometimes. You think he'll do one thing and he'll do the other. I wouldn't put money either way on that one.
If he comes and wants to play with you guys, would you be down for that?
Umm ... Some of us would think about it. Some of us probably wouldn't. It depends how it's presented and what everybody's individual feelings are. But precedence must now go to the guys that are still working the name and keeping it alive. Their choice is final.
Then there's David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, multiple singers. It gets complicated.
Tell me about it! I understand the complexity of it. That's probably why it's been delayed quite a long time before it's actually worked. If I was running the Hall of Fame, I would't have known how to do it.
And there's Rod Evans, who hasn't been seen in public in 35 years.
If anyone knows where Rod is or even if he is still on the planet, that would be good news.
It would be pretty amazing if he showed up.
We haven't had contact with him since the late 1970s. Nobody seems to know where the hell he is, or even if he is still alive. Not a clue.
That's pretty amazing in the modern era that someone can just vanish like that without a trace.
It is, yeah. He has no family over here, so there's nobody to talk to to find out. He just went off the radar.
Why do you think you are the only person that's been able to survive every incarnation of this band?
I don't know why. It just seemed like whenever I've been working in Purple, it seemed like being at home. I worked with other great people when Purple wasn't touring and it was fun, but it was playing someone else's music other than something I was really instrumental in helping to create. That is different.
Do you think you are more agreeable and willing to compromise than the others?
That's generally the way guys in the back of the stage tend to be. Their egos are more in control. It's not that we don't have them, but we have a hold of it. There's different characters. Some people are more logical and see the dangers of doing the wrong thing, and other guys just go with the flow of their emotions at the moment. And you live or die by that decision you make.
It must be a point of pride that you've been the backbone of this band for nearly 50 years.
It's nice to look back on. I think it does help the legitimacy of a band if you have at least one guy that's been through it all. That's your anchor. That's the one guy that goes onstage and whatever is played, you know he played it. That's nice. There are certain outfits with none of the originals left. When you hear that classic record, you know in the back of your mind that it's not those guys.
Nothing annoys me more than when some moron writes about you guys and says you're a one hit wonder for "Smoke on the Water." It's so insulting and wrong-headed, but some people do think that.
All you can do is keep going out there and putting your music in front of people and hope you pick up some new ones and hope you show them another string to your bow. We just finished a great six-week tour of Europe. Backstage at the 02 Arena in London we saw some young kids that managed to get free tickets. They said it was the best thing they'd ever seen and they were going to pick up albums and see what it's all about.
There are so few genuinely great hard rock & roll bands left in the world. There's great blues bands. There's great pop bands. There's very, very few genuinely great hard rock bands. When these kids get a chance to see something they didn't know existed, they are blown away the same way the generation before them was blown away. It's a different animal. It has power. It has majesty. It has all the stuff that great art should have. If you've not seen it or experienced it, it can open your eyes.
There tends to be a big all-star jam at the end of the night. Do you think you could have fun playing with Chicago, Cheap Trick and Steve Miller?
Always. It's fun to play with other guys. When you know the guys onstage with you are experienced and you can bounce things around, it's effortless and fun.
What's so great about the band now is you guys have found a stable lineup that's really endured.
This is the longest we've ever been together. We're having fun. We have a finite article here. That ticking of the clock, you can't ignore it. And one day it won't be possible, but right now that day isn't on the horizon yet. As long as we're enjoying it and as long as the people want to see it and as long as we believe we can do it to the standard that people would expect, we'll keep doing it. That's the important thing.
One bittersweet part of the evening will surely be thinking about Jon Lord.
Of course. If Jon is looking down on us, he won't mind too much. He moved on to his musical love quite a few years before he left us, and that was his orchestral compositions. He was happy doing that. He loved his years on the road with a rock & roll band, but he was always a classical buff and that was his real love. He'd be pleased with us.
I'm sure in the coming months a lot of fans are going to fixate on who exactly will play that night, and whether or not Ritchie is going to come.
As an ongoing band, we need to take into account how the present members feel about that, the guys that aren't involved in this evening. We don't have salaried guys with [keyboardist] Don [Airey] and [guitarist] Steve [Morse]. They are fully accredited members of the band and they share in everything, and into decisions as well. They will have to be consulted and see how they feel about anything that the three of us originals think we would or wouldn't like to do.