Apocalypse Purple

A new column. Mostly jazz, some metal; all Burk — ed.


Waiting, waiting, and now it’s here. Few artifacts really snag one of those exciting, weird musical moments that make unpatchable cracks in “reality,” and this does. Insanity, spontaneity, spectacle. Dangerous, then and now.

What: Deep Purple’s outdoor performance at the 1974 California Jam in our nearby Ontario, first filmed for ABC’s In Concert, subsequently available only on import, and finally released in full last week by Eagle Vision with a bunch of bonuses as the DVD Deep Purple Live in California ’74. Chemistry: volatile. Led by maniacal guitar genius Ritchie Blackmore, the proto-metal jam fiends, in the wake of Machine Head and Made in Japan, had shipped more millions than all competition over the past year, only to shatter their classic lineup with the departure of screaming jesus Ian Gillan and hammering-bass innovator Roger Glover. The two were replaced by dual front men with shit to prove: unknown 22-year-old blues belter David Coverdale (later of Whitesnake) and ex-Trapeze bassist-testifier Glenn Hughes, wrangling mostly new material from the just-issued Burn on their very first Purple tour. Backstage, battles raged with promoters over set times and camera positions. And 200,000 dusty potheads stood witness.

Now, here’s what happened when I cranked it up. Prodded by Hughes’ always unconventional bass frequencies, my right speaker leaped off its shelf and crashed to the floorboards, popping the tweeter from its mount. As I taped it back together, my daughter stormed in shivering, demanding to know why I hadn’t responded to her whomps on the outside door. On a trip to the kitchen, I found my wife debating whether to wear headphones to bed. When I stepped outside to, uh, clear my head, the normally waggy neighbor dog raised hell. Coyotes howled on the hill. A helicopter spiraled lower. I had to restart the disc four times.

The stack-heeled and hairy Purplians withheld nothing that 1974 day. Hughes, scatting nutso through a bush of hair, was clearly wired to the teeth: “There’s a place,” he babbled between songs, “you know you’re gonna get there, but it’s all in your head.” Ian Paice’s stompatronic drums quaked inside Hughes’ head and everybody else’s. Jon Lord took dentistic delight in the ungodly screels he extracted from his new synthesizers. Young Coverdale throated forth with movie-star confidence; the shot of the purpling sunset horizon, blimp drifting, Roman candle arcing, as he declaimed “Mistreated” — that’s pure Apocalypse Now. And Blackmore grew from sideline perfectionist to dazzling soloist to dynamic juggler to treacherous berserker, smashing a TV camera with his guitar, fleeing from a pyrotechnic napalm explosion, and shoving his entire amp and cabinet over stage edge.

Deep Purple succeeded in pissing off just about everyone, except the fans. When you push your thing all the way, lasting disturbances can result. Thank god for the damage. But I gotta stop writing about it now. The helicopter is circling again.?

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