Deep Purple is the nearest thing rock and roll has to a long running soap-opera. Despite numerous line-up changes, they are still rockin' and still touring, belting out high octane rock to legions of dedicated fans.
Deep Purple were formed in London in February 1968 by John Lord, Ian Paice and guitar maestro Richie Blackmore, already a veteran studio musician. Deep Purple MK1 also featured Nick Simper on bass and vocalist Rod Evans.
From the get-go Purple were successful in America. In the summer of 1968 they scored a Top 5 chart single with a rocked-up version of Joe South's "Hush," and followed it up with "Kentucky Woman." They even managed to get to No. 53 with a cover of "River Deep, Mountain High," Vanilla Fudged-up versions of hits being a trend at the time.
They scored a three-album deal with Tetragrammaton in America, a label run by comedian Bill Cosby. In UK they were on Parlophone.
Although their debut album Shades of Deep Purple was a top 30 album in the States, neither it nor the next two albums Deep Purple and Book of Taliesyn made any impression on the UK charts.
In 1969, Tetragrammaton folded and the band signed with Warner Bros., drafting Ian Gillan and Roger Glover as replacements for Evans and Simper. Many fans regard Deep Purple MK2 as the classic line-up.
They got off to an odd start by releasing a live album recorded with the London Philharmonic, but really hit their stride with the seminal In Rock album, featuring tracks like "Child in Time" ( a rip-off of It's a Beautiful Day's "Bombay Calling") and the manic "Speed King," which would become live favourites for the next 30 years.
Weirdly enough, despite being top 4 in UK, In Rock didn't chart in America. After two UK hit singles, "Black Night" and "Strange Kind of Woman," the band trod water with the album Fireball, then things went stratospheric with 1972's Machine Head, an album undiminished in its power by the intervening three decades.
Machine Head made Deep Purple a global superstar band. Number 1 in Britain and 7 in USA, it sold by the millions. Featuring the guitar riffers favorite "Smoke on the Water" and searing rockers like "Highway Star" it was an instant smash.
Ironically, at the peak of their success, things were going wrong. Ian Gillan says he hated this period, that the band had lost its spark and were starting to fall apart under pressure of a relentless gigging schedule. Deep Purple were a giant money-making machine for perhaps everyone except the band, and like many before and since they were kept on the road while they were hot property.
Their next studio record, though it included live fave "Woman from Tokyo," gave the impression of a band losing direction. Who Do We Think We Are? sold well and charted on both sides of the Atlantic but Ian Gillan had had enough. He and Blackmore couldn't stand each other. The fact that the legendary Made in Japan album was recorded when everyone knew Gillan was leaving makes it an even more amazing achievement. As it turned out Roger Glover got his marching orders also.
Perhaps the finest live hard rock album of all time, Made in Japan features screaming powerhouse versions of some of their finest songs. While Blackmore took all the plaudits as a top-ranking riff machine, many fans saw, then as now, that it was the relentlessly inventive and thunderous drumming of Ian Paice that took the band to such heights.
As 1974 arrived, Deep Purple had a new singer in David Coverdale, a unknown from the north of England with a ball-breaking blues rock voice, and also added Glenn Hughes from Trapeze on bass.
This was Deep Purple MK3. Were they better than MK2? The new album Burn set out to prove they were.
This is was a different hard rock brew. Hughes' love of soul made it more funky but still stuffed full of classic Blackmore riffs, on "Mistreated," "You Fool No One" and the title track. The fans loved it and put it in the Top Ten.
Of course, things wouldn't last. 1975's Stormbringer was the last Deep Purple album Blackmore would play on for nine years. He disliked the new funky direction Hughes was leading the band in.
With Blackmore leaving for world-wide success with Rainbow, the band recruited Tommy Bolin, apparently on the strength of Bolin's wild jazz rock licks on Billy Cobham's Spectrum album
Bolin was a breathtakingly original player from Sioux City who had taken Joe Walsh's place in The James Gang. The trouble was he was also a major league cocaine and heroin user.
Tales are legendary of Bolin being too out of it to play - if you can bear to listen to Last Concert in Japan, you'll find evidence of it. But on a good night, fans felt that Deep Purple was reborn with Bolin.
They released Come Taste the Band - considered an underrated album. To fans who had grown up on the crushing riffs of Blackmore however, this was watery stuff.
So, in 1976 they split up. Bolin died of a heroin overdose. It was a sad end to the band that had been one of the originators of hard rock.
Coverdale went off to superstardom with Whitesnake, accompanied on and off by members of Deep Purple. However, it still wasn't over.
The band gave it another go in 1984 with the Perfect Strangers album, which went to No. 5 in the UK and No. 17 in the U.S. For a while it looked like Deep Purple were back and back on form. But it wasn't built to last - why break the habits of a lifetime?
The follow up album, House of Blue Light, was weak. Gillan and Blackmore still couldn't get along, so Gillan left. Ex-Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner stepped in for an album then was sacked. Somehow, Gillan was persuaded to come back for another album. However, tensions were unresolved. Blackmore's dressing room was becoming known as The Badgers Den. He wasn't happy. No one was.
This time it was Blackmore who left mid-tour. The last gig he played was in Helsinki in November 1993. Joe Satriani stepped in to complete the tour.
The full time replacement was a rip-snorting guitar player from the Dixie Dregs - Steve Morse. Morse was more of a shredder than Blackmore, but his influence breathed new life into the band, inspiring them to tour regularly. This continues to this day. (It's worth bearing in mind that Morse will soon be the longest-serving guitarist in Deep Purple's history.)
The 90s saw a whole host of new and expanded live albums released from all eras of the band. Most showed just what a shockingly good live band they were. On top of that an almost infinite amount of Greatest Hits compilations have flooded the market - a sign of the band's enduring appeal.
Longtime survivor of all the incarnations, John Lord retired in 2003 at the age of 61, to be replaced by Don Airey, one of Richie's many ex-colleagues in Rainbow, and so the nepotistic dance goes on.
Blackmore now does his acoustic-medieval-madrigal thing with Blackmore's Night. He still wears mad hats and curiously appears to have a lot more hair than the Blackmore of the 70's, who Gillan used to endlessly irritate with taunts of "baldy."
2003 saw a new album called Bananas released, and while it's hard for a band as influential as Deep Purple to ever match their own past, they remain an awesome live band with a back catalogue that most of today's young pretenders would kill for.