If you were ever a novice guitar player, one of the first songs you learned was probably “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple.
The famous band, an early influence to heavy metal, will be stopping by the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Saturday, Aug. 15.
The list of Deep Purple’s accomplishments and accolades is lengthy, to say the least. The band was called “the globe’s loudest band” by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1975, and has sold 100 million records worldwide.
As one would expect about a band that’s been around more than 45 years, there have been numerous lineup changes through the years. The band is touring with longtime members Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums). Also on board: Steve Morse, who has been playing guitar with Deep Purple since 1994; and legendary keyboardist and organist Don Airey, who has been with the group since 2002.
During a recent phone interview from Nashville, Airey said that when he first joined the group, he was replacing longtime member Jon Lord. Lord passed away in 2012.
“Jon Lord was a really hard act for me to follow,” Airey said. “When I first joined, I knew I couldn’t be like him and just wanted to be myself, while keeping Jon in mind and what the band was. It’s been very successful.”
Airey—who played on Ozzy Osbourne’s renowned albums Blizzard of Oz and Bark at the Moon, and performed with groups including Rainbow and Cozy Powell—said he remembered the first time he saw Deep Purple.
“I saw them when I was a music student, and they were very good to the point where I said, ‘God! I want to do that!’” he remembered. “I came out wanting to be a rock musician—but a lot of people did after seeing Deep Purple. They were incredible, and it was such an incredible experience to see them. It’s slightly changed now, but the décor of mayhem and madness is still there, even today.”
In 2013, Deep Purple released its most recent studio album, Now What?! The album was a critical success and sold very well in parts of the world. It peaked on the U.S. Billboard 200 at No. 110.
“There was incredible demand for it, actually,” he said. “We were besieged with e-mails and requests for it on our website, asking when there would be new material. The record company pushed us into it, and luckily, we were able to work with the great producer Bob Ezrin. We’re very proud of the album, and it’s done well for us all around the world. It’s really given the band a boost on the road.”
Ezrin has worked with the best, includintg Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Phish and many others. Airey said Ezrin keeps bands on a fast-paced schedule.
“He’s amazing, and a bit of a shock to the system,” Airey said. “He works very quickly, and he has very sound opinions about what works and what doesn’t. We really had to get our act together before we started working with him. It was very productive. All the backing tracks were done in six days—15 songs in six days. … By the end of the second week, all the guitars were finished; all the keyboards were finished; and then Ian and Roger went away to write some vocals. He’s very efficient and very good at getting things done, and he’s got some amazing claims to fame.”
Airey said that while nothing will probably ever top “Smoke on the Water,” the band is still interested in writing and recording new material.
“It’s hard to come up with stuff that was as good as you did back in the day. That’s the difficult thing,” he said. “But making albums is the only thing we know; it’s such an actual thing to do that you keep doing it.”
Despite selling 100 million albums worldwide and serving as an influence to a large list of musicians, Airey said he and the rest of the members don’t believe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will ever induct them. The group has been passed over many times since it first became eligible in 1993—even after a public ballot for induction put out by the nominating committee showed Deep Purple ranking second on the list.
“I don’t think it will happen. It doesn’t really bother us,” Airey said. “The things that bother us: What time do we play? Where’s the dressing room? And how far is the hotel from the gig? These are the things that are important and that we have to deal with.”
Airey conceded there’s a nostalgic yearning at times.
“Everyone misses the old days: The excitement of traveling in a van with the gear and getting to a gig, going on to play and then moving on to the next one,” he said. “It was amazing back then, and it’s much more civilized now. Touring is something you can’t stop doing, and it’s very addictive, and the only cure is to get up and do it. It keeps you happy and it keeps you honest.”
What does the future hold for Deep Purple?
“We’re in Nashville at the moment, and this is where Bob Ezrin lives, so we just met with Bob and discussed our strategy for our next recording, which will start in 2016,” Airey said. “More Deep Purple is a good thing. It’s good for you.
Airey explained what attendees of the show at Fantasy Springs can expect.
“We’re doing quite a bit of new material from Now What?! That’s a big difference, and we’re playing five tracks of the album and mixing it up with all the old stuff,” he said. “It’s the same routine: We go out and sock it to them if we can, and we usually succeed. I think the interesting thing about my time with the band is that the audience has changed from a middle-aged audience to a young audience, especially in Europe. It’s lots of kids who want to see what a real band looks like and sounds like. We don’t carry Pro Tools rigs. There’s a lot of improvising, and everything is real onstage. That’s the essence of it. What you’re seeing is what you’re getting, and there are no other people playing behind the stage, and no tapes playing.”
Deep Purple will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 15, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $49 to $79. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.