DEEP PURPLE's Stormbringer Turns 40 - "I’ve Never Embraced The Expression Heavy Metal Because All My Themes Are Emotional"
December 10, 2014, 5 years ago
Today, December 10th, marks the 40th anniversary since Deep Purple hatched a conundrum of a record called Stormbringer, one that would ultimately result in the acrimonious split for “the man in black,” Ritchie Blackmore from the band, and a complete meltdown of Purple one record later.
With this abridged excerpt from my book Gettin’ Tighter: Deep Purple ‘68-’76 (see Martinpopoff.com), we celebrate this diverse record, one that nonetheless hatched metal classics in “Lady Double Dealer” and the resplendent and epic title track for the ages...
Come record number two for the surprise Deep Purple Mark III incarnation, despondence was starting to set in, most notably on the part of Ritchie Blackmore, who would be casting his eye about for a solo situation in which to sink his teeth. But Stormbringer got made, and much to the chagrin of Purple purists, it got made… kind of funky. What distinguishes the album, however, is its almost invisible status, or its under-rating, if you will, as a fierce vocal showcase, more so than Burn or Come Taste the Band. In any event, in total, it most definitely is quite mellow and quite funky.
Although you’d never know Deep Purple were by this point somewhat of a funk band by the opening hard rock spread of the classic title track, a song that grooves large, riffs malevolently and gets downright artful come chorus time.
“Oh my God!” recalls David Coverdale. “I wrote two songs which could be termed heavy metal or whatever. I’ve never embraced the expression heavy metal because all my themes are emotional. But I wrote two songs to keep Ritchie Blackmore happy, which was ‘Burn,’ which is, I still think, a classic and ‘Stormbringer,’ which basically if you look at the lyrics, they are more or less sci-fi poems. But it never felt comfortable for me to have those. In fact, I think that’s where Ritchie got the name Rainbow from, the hook in ‘Stormbringer.’ ‘Burn’ I can enjoy any time of the day but I don’t really go for ‘Stormbringer.’”
“That was the second album with a song as the title cut,” notes bassist and co-vocalist Glenn Hughes. “I thought it was another great classic, but I wouldn’t call it a heavy metal song. I would call it more of a classic rock song. Call it what you will. Back then I guess you’d call it heavy metal.”
After that bombastic calling card however, things get slinky and R&B-ish; for “Love Don’t Mean a Thing” on which Coverdale delivers his most lascivious vocal ever. Ritchie however, is barely himself. Turns out he’s even less himself than we suspected. “I love that track,” notes Glenn Hughes. “I’m going to tell you. I’m going to give you a real exclusive here. We were on the road with Ritchie, the last American tour with him, the Burn tour, we were going to do Stormbringer. This is... no... when we did the Stormbringer record, we were in Chicago and Ritchie had met this black guy and he was playing in, either a bar or a subway, and he was singing this song which basically Ritchie took for the vibe of ‘Love Don’t Mean a Thing,’ you know? He just maybe borrowed it, if you will, just a piece of it. And funny enough, if you listen to the vibe of it, it’s funky. And it’s very funny when Ritchie says he hates funky music. But when you listen to that track, the groove that is laid down, even his vibe on it is funky! ‘You Can’t Do it Right (with the One You Love)’... its funky! So ‘Love Don’t Mean a Thing’ is funny, because Blackmore fans, when he talks about how he doesn’t want to play this music, he’s doing it on that track.”
Way, way out of character for Deep Purple though. “The Stormbringer album is when I was well and truly involved in the band,” agrees Glenn, indicating that a power struggle was on. “I mean, I was with Burn, but with Stormbringer, we toured about a year and we were really at our height. Blackmore at the time was thinking of leaving, and I think the genre of the songs that David and I were writing, like ‘Hold On’ and ‘You Can’t Do it Right’ and ‘Holy Man,’ it was becoming a little more apparent that it was becoming a crossover group. Because Ritchie always built his songs around the Bach guitar playing and I really respected Ritchie for that because he was an originator, the first true innovator of that kind of music. But I’ve got to tell you man, on Stormbringer, I was firing on all cylinders as a writer and a singer and a player. It’s a great record! Listen back to it. I had a lot of fun recording it, at Musicland in Munich and we finished it up at The Record Plant in L.A., where we did ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Highball Shooter.’ Funny enough, I re-recorded ‘Highball Shooter’ for one of my solo albums. So I have good memories of recording Stormbringer, in both Germany and L.A. It was a great time for the band and it was a great time for me and I thought I sung really well on the record.”“Holy Man” is an underrated track on the album, one that, like “Soldier of Fortune,” struck a convincing yet crisp and hi-fidelity blues chord, not unlike Bad Company in nature. As well, it is one track on the album that is sung solo by Glenn Hughes. “I distinctly remember him doing the solo,” recounts Glenn. “Ritchie... you didn’t really suggest too much to him. But I did ask him, as I had written the track, if he wouldn’t mind playing a bottleneck, and he looked at me and rather than take a bottleneck up, he picked a screwdriver up and played it, almost in defiance. And the funny thing is, he played it wonderfully. I mean, he didn’t react mean to me. He looked me like, ‘Hmm, OK.’ But as I’ve said in the years since, that Blackmore, he didn’t like the way the band was going and the way the interaction was. The thing is, when you get two guys in a band like Coverdale and Hughes, we changed the spin on things dramatically. And the thing is, with Ritchie Blackmore, bless him, I have nothing but good things to say about Ritchie, but Ritchie had a problem with singers: Ian Gillan, Ronnie Dio, Joe... he just has a problem with the colour they bring to a band or whatever, the ego, whatever you want to call it. But ‘Holy Man’ is a song I’m really proud of because it’s the first solo song I got to sing on with Deep Purple. It’s a great song. I think the tone I used to my voice is very innocently sang. It’s a tone I hadn’t used before, so I was very excited by that.”
Remarks Ritchie, comparing blues with classical, and more specifically whether blues has helped him with renaissance music, “Blues doesn’t really help. Because obviously with blues, you’re bending notes. And in those days, you never bent the notes. It was always trills. And I learned, when I was learning to play guitar, to play trills, because I had classical training. So I kind of went back to that. In fact, the only thing that blues has to do with it is the relative minor keys, of which the lutes often play. But again, you can not bend the notes or play a blue note, or 7th... especially major 7ths, which are kind of frowned upon. There are a lot of limitations to Renaissance playing, as there is in blues playing. In blues playing, you very seldom play the majors. You always keep it in the relative minor keys. So I’m attracted to the fact that it’s limiting. It’s unlike jazz, where there are no wrong notes, and musical possibilities are endless. But with blues and Renaissance, you can have a few notes that just don’t fit.”
Closing out side one was another track indicative of the album’s funky vibe, ‘Hold on’ being a bubbly, galloping cross between pop and R&B.; Ritchie’s guitar solo is considered by Purple watchers as the most absurd of his career, the man turning in a flippant bit of country picking that left them all baffled. The solo would be cut in the control room in one take, and it’s fully amusing to one and all who grasps what was going on within this band of battling brothers.
These two tracks—in a row no less—would mark the first time since the Mk. I era that Ritchie would not be included in a song’s writing credit. Further diminishment came with the fact that Ritchie’s guitars had been laid low in the mix throughout the album. Blackmore hadn’t bothered to show up for much of the mixing, so the other guys took advantage of the situation. And for once, it didn’t seem to bother Blackmore. His mind was elsewhere—in stereo: his six year marriage was on the rocks and he knew his tenure in Deep Purple was on the rocks as well.“David Bowie was actually with me when I recorded the vocals for that song,” recalls Glenn, musing o’er the fateful “Hold on.” “Stevie Wonder came in and heard me sing ‘Love Don’t Mean a Thing.’ He was in the next room recording and I had met him and he came in. He was my hero, as you know. Iggy Pop was in there, Bowie… I had a lot of friends in the studio; I had a lot of friends in L.A. at the time. The Record Plant was filled with spectators and well-wishers. For me, it was recorded at the height of my love, flower power, peaceful state.” Additionally, Jon Lord recalls with a chuckle Wonder coming in while Coverdale was singing “Soldier of Fortune.” Stevie was part of an entourage of about six people, and David, not being able to see who was out there and rattled by the commotion had said, “Whoever it is in there, fuck off!”
As did side one, side two opened loud and proud with a fast-paced rocker, “Lady Double Dealer” presaging the metallic side of Whitesnake, and indeed a small-ish spate of happy, hard rock party songs Deep Purple would come up with through the ‘80s and the ‘90s.
Next up for Stormbringer was “You Can’t Do it Right (with the One You Love)” which bridged the harder sounds from Burn with the funk stylings of Stormbringer. It’s a medium rocking track which, like “Lady Double Dealer” would have fit well on an early Whitesnake record. Reiterates Glenn, “’You Can’t Do it Right,’ my God! I’ll tell you what—Blackmore? He plays funky on that track! I’ll tell you what, check it out, play it again. That little son of a bitch, he plays funky on it! And that guy, he hates black R&B;! And he plays it really well. So I love that track.”“Highball Shooter” followed, and to most fans, it is the third best song on the record, in terms of straight solid rock value, especially come that triumphant climax of a chorus. “Gypsy” is another morose, under-rated track scintillating in its sonic brightness, weary through Coverdale’s worn and bluesy vocal, one that is beautifully harmonized by a high Hughes. “Those two were written in the Record Plant in L.A.,” explains Glenn, “because we recorded in Musicland and we came to L.A. and those songs were recorded there and written in the studio. And I’ve got to say I loved that three or four day session we had in L.A.; those two songs turned out really good. ‘Highball Shooter’ was another Purple-sounding song which featured the two of us going at it. And ‘Gypsy’ is a very mid-paced Blackmore-esque vibe on the lead guitar, and I think the vocal sounds really good on that one.”
No surprise that “Stormbringer” and “Lady Double Dealer” made the new set list, but “Gypsy” did as well (and only those three), the tune gaining new life as a driving co-lead vocal showcase, heavier, faster, more histrionic.
Closing out the album on a dour note is “Soldier of Fortune,” a dark ballad with tasty guitar work and a mournful solo vocal from Coverdale. “It’s a very simple, straightforward melody,” notes Ritchie. “Sometimes you just kind of follow on these melodies. David Coverdale wrote the first part and I think I wrote the middle part. And it’s a very natural process. I like writing naturally as opposed to getting to rehearsals with a riff, and everybody throws in a chord because they want to be involved in the writing credits. I’ve been through all that and it’s ridiculous. But ‘Soldier of Fortune,’ I came up with the title, because I saw it written in a magazine and I didn’t really quite know what it meant. But it was a very simple, straightforward melody, just one of those that fits.”“’Soldier of Fortune,’ I love it,” adds Hughes. “David loves that song and I think he still sings it a capella in concert.”
Stormbringer’s stylistic daring would, alas, cause the destruction of Mark III Deep Purple, Ritchie leaving to form Rainbow, the remaining foursome hiring fairly unknown quantity (and American!) Tommy Bolin to fill the big man’s shoes. “Ritchie just became the... he wasn’t mean, he wasn’t angry, as he can be,” recalls Hughes on the beginning of the end. “He just sort of disappeared into the woodwork a little bit. It all happened in a matter of... it was on the last American tour, which I believe was with ELO backing up, while I think it was Elf in Europe or another one of the Purple family bands. Anyway, he told us, even before we did the European tour, that he was leaving. It was all in a matter of three months that he was gone.”
(Deep Purple classic live photos by: Rich Galbraith)