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DVD Review: Deep Purple Live At the California Jam 1974

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I have a confession to make. I really miss seventies arena rock.

No, I’m not talking about the bloated, watered-down late seventies model popularized by blow-dried, faceless power balladeers like Boston, Styx, and REO Speedwagon. I’m talking about the real stuff, seventies arena metal: Shrieking Vocals, fuzzboxes, feedback, flash pots, and drum solos.

You know … The stuff you’d go to hear in an arena filled with the thick haze of pot smoke. Where you’d wait outside for hours prior to showtime, anticipating of the mad rush to the stage to secure the best “festival seating” once the doors opened. (Remember that?)

I was 18 years old at the time (and to quote Alice Cooper, “I Liked it”). And it was the greatest shit ever: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, and Deep Purple.

In 1974, when this DVD was filmed, Deep Purple was a band at the height of its powers. Their primary distinction at the time was the fact that they we’re generally believed to be the loudest band in the world … they we’re even listed as such in that year’s edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.

I can personally back that claim with a story of my own. I saw Deep Purple in Seattle that year at a show from the very same tour captured on this DVD. Being a dedicated rocker at the time, and being much younger and stupider than I am today, I opted to park myself and my unprotected ears right in front of the stage. What I remember most about that night, is that between songs all I could hear was this sort of low, droning hum; no applause, no crowd noise, nothing but the hum.

And for the next three days I couldn’t hear anything else either. In fact, I found myself bumping into things a lot and walking kind of sideways. What I later learned, after finally seeing a doctor, was the short-term hearing loss I had suffered from the concert had also affected my equilibrium.

Yeah. Deep Purple was loud all right.

They were also at that particular moment in time, arguably the biggest and best heavy metal band on earth.

Deep Purple played no bigger show that year than the one they played before about 200,000 people at the California Jam held at Ontario Speedway. Sharing a bill with such other hitmakers of the day as Sabbath (no slouches in the volume category themselves), Emerson Lake & Palmer, and The Eagles, Deep Purple’s set at California Jam was also filmed for broadcast on ABC’s late night In Concert showcase program.

This DVD represents the first time the entire Deep Purple performance from California Jam has been commercially available. With a running time of about 119 minutes, the set consists of a mere seven songs. Which not only tells you something about the song lengths among heavy metal bands of the day in 1974, but more importantly, that you are in for a treat if you are a sucker for extended jams.

Touring to support their 1974 album Burn, Deep Purple also introduced its two newest members that year … a then unheard of vocalist named David Coverdale, and ex-Trapeze bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes. Replacing the departed Ian Gillian and Roger Glover, California Jam had to be something of a trial by fire for the two rookies.

Indeed there are some initial jitters. Coverdale seems fixated on locating the California sunset, while Hughes does an inordinate amount of nasal sniffing in between songs. In the seventies, it seems things did indeed go better with …

Anyway, by the time we get to a blistering “Mistreated”, Coverdale in particular seems to find much of his future Whitesnake form. Belting out the bluesy lyrics with all the bluster of a younger Robert Plant, Coverdale also matches Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar pyrotechnics note for note.

Blackmore of course, was considered something of a guitar virtuoso back then mentioned in the same breath as such masters as Clapton, Beck, and Page.

For much of this DVD, the camera favors Blackmore from the rear for some odd reason. But occasionally, you can catch glimpses of his fingers flying over the fret board. It is here you can see where he earned his reputation as one of the era’s greatest guitarists and a later inspiration to everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Yngwie Malmsteen.

As the show begins to draw to a close, Deep Purple bring out the big guns in true seventies arena metal fashion. For California Jam, that meant the biggest gun of them all, “Smoke On The Water”. In an era where riffs were king, “Smoke On The Water” was indisputably the biggest riff rocker of them all.

It also meant 20-odd minutes of a show-stopping version of the concert staple “Space Truckin”, from Deep Purple’s breakthrough Machine Head album. If you are one of those people who skips through your DVDs, this is the one to fast forward to. For the aficionado of the extended seventies arena rock jam, “Space Truckin” is the payoff.

After the obligatory solos from keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice, Blackmore goes on an absolute tear, eventually destroying several guitars, a camera, a monitor or three, and finally blowing up the amplifiers. At the time, it was apparently somewhat of a controversial move, although I do recall an eerily similar scene captured on film when The Who played the Monterey Pop Festival. Still, it is a visually stunning sight, and this DVD captures the event in all of it’s incendiary glory.

Deep Purple Live At The California Jam 1974 is a worthy snapshot of a long-forgotten rock and roll era. The film quality is remarkably good given the time that it was recorded, and the Dolby 5.1 remastered audio captures the loudest band of it’s time in all of their ear shattering glory.

And just for the record, despite everything you’ve heard, Deep Purple is not the band who inspired the film This Is Spinal Tap. I have it on very good authority that was actually Uriah Heep.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Sonja Stevens

    Is this the same Glen Boyd who used to run a record store in Tacoma WA in the eighties? Me and my girlfriends used to love coming to your store when we we’re in jr high. You used to call us the “Heavy metal chicks”.

    Is that you?

    Sonya (I was the brunette with the sliver streak)

  • Ned

    “No, I’m not talking about the bloated, watered down late seventies model popularized by blow dried, faceless power balladeers like Boston, Styx, and REO Speedwagon”

    I’m glad you made the distiction. But… I saw REO Speedwagon in 1973. They were an under the radar band, which pretty popular along the eastern seaboard. Oddly enough their biggest hits early on, was the same material they had waxed in 1972 or 1973. I cannot recall if the material was re-recorded, remastered or just repackaged. We used to listen to their LP’s in college, and it was 1973.

    Always a DP fan, good article.

  • Earl

    Machine head was a sell out (ie commercial success). Fireball was the real Purple, and if you doubt that, really give the 2 remastered CD’s a listen, it’s obvious. Fireball was free, Machine Head contrived.

    “But that’s not what I’m writing about; you stated
    I can personally back that claim with a story of my own. I saw Deep Purple in Seattle that year at a show from the very same tour captured on this DVD. Being a dedicated rocker at the time, and being much younger and stupider than I am today, I opted to park myself and my unprotected ears right in front of the stage.”

    I have 2 similar experiences. I saw Led on the same tour that “How the West Was One” was produced. I saw them in Baltimore (Civic Center). That show ranks right up there with the best of… in my book. Sadly the CD… (sorry) sucked. I couldn’t believe anyone would even consider releasing that material… it was rank.

    The second… Grateful Dead, again at the Baltimore Civic Center — absolutely wonderful… Dick’s Picks, same concert…. yeeeechhhh.

    But in my mind’s eye… those to shows that I attended were golden. Why is that.

    The California Jam must have been a sight to behold… but based on those to experiences of my own, I seriously doubt I’ll ever buy this DVD of DP. I’m a little gun shy regarding dredging up past musical experiences which I considered (at the time) to be so wonderful/marvelous.

    And I will plead the 5th.

  • http://www.utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    Couldn’t agree less, sorry to say. California Jam was a definite coffin nail, when boogie and spectacle assumed the place of rebellion and discovery. It has been suggested that coke ‘killed’ rock & roll but I figure it was Nixon; when the war ended, the risk of rocking was gone. Plus, “Smoke On The Water” was an embarrassment.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Barry,

    While taking nothing away from the musical chops of DP (especially Blackmore), I think you are probably missing at least the “tongue in cheek” aspects of my review…

    No one is going to compare a song like “Smoke On The Water” with anything remotely political…which is exactly the point.

    By the time the song had reached a commercial and cultural mass…in 1974, and a couple of years after it’s actual release I might add…the sixties, and all of the political idealism that came with them we’re over.

    The “revolution” officially gave way to the “riff”…at least as far as the idea of music impacting culture.

    To me at least, the underlying truth beneath all of the “Save The World” idealism of the sixties finally gave way to what lied beneath it all along. A bunch of long haired guys who really just wanted to get. Free Love? Yeah, right.

    If I sound cynical I apologize…because I was one of those wide eyed, naive teenagers who bought the whole idealism of the sixties counter culture hook, line, and sinker.

    But in the end…and with all of the narcissism and “free love” bullshit underlying the promises of that movement all along was it any surprise?…it colllapsed from within.

    Thus the “revolution” gave way to the riff.

    As a teenager, albeit an idealistic one, but one with a fair ammount of hormones raging myself…I could either cry about what I knew even then was the beginning of the death of the idea of rock and roll as a force for change.

    Or I could appreciate the joke.

    I learned to do the latter.

    At least there was an honesty about it…arguably the last time one existed in rock and roll music.

    I will concede this however.

    These days I listen mainly to the few voices left from that bygone sixties and very early seventies era who voice those original ideals…guys like Dylan, Springsteen, and Neil Young.

    I also keep my eyes open for those precious flickers of light in an era where young musicians…and even those who write about it for that matter…are all too eager to sell themselves out to a corporate musical climate the likes of which has not existed since the pre-Beatles and Dylan era of Pat Boone and the like.

    Nirvana was the last gasp of the true spirit of rock and roll as a potential gateway to personal freedom that impacted big time both culturally and commercially.

    At least for my money they were.

    On a musical level, Radiohead continues to carry the true spirit of that torch…while U2 carries the political one…self serving and calculated as Bono’s true motives may be.

    Big surprise there right?

    Meanwhile, I confess to occasionally pulling out those old Heep, Sabbath, and Purple albums.

    Because they remind me of a time…where despite the fact that innocent political idealism was being lost…things we’re one hell of a lot less complicated.

    “The riff” symbolizes that.

    And I maintain there was no greater riff at the time than Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”.

    Glad I got your attention though Barry. And it wouldn’t be the first time I have been accused of over-analyzing a simple statement.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    And now on a somewhat lighter note..

    There is a crucial word missing (due to my typing way too fast in the wee hours of the morning)from the above response to Barry’s comment.

    That word is “laid”.

    See if you can connect the dots there.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Lastly…promise this time…

    To Sonja,

    First is it Sonja or Sonya?

    “HM Chicks” huh? LOL…

    Sorry to say, I’m not the guy who ran the record store in Tacoma during the eighties.

    Never heard of him….

    Glen

    P.S. So how is that blond gal you used to hang out with…you know the one whose Mom used to special order all those Mario Lanza albums?

    And how is “Little Ozzy” doing?

    Oops…just blew my cover.

  • http://www.utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    “To me at least, the underlying truth beneath all of the “Save The World” idealism of the sixties finally gave way to what lied beneath it all along. A bunch of long haired guys who really just wanted to get [laid]. Free Love? Yeah, right. If I sound cynical I apologize…because I was one of those wide eyed, naive teenagers who bought the whole idealism of the sixties counter culture hook, line, and sinker.”

    Please don’t hypergeneralize your experiences upon the whole generation. You forgot the part about dreading the draft – that was my central point (Nixon killed rock by ending the war). But, to address your point, yes, what a time, all that sex… with all that death. A dialectical flashpoint.

  • Earl

    Glen… get it right. Sonja was testing the waters. Why didn’t you get any in the 70’s? Sonja just proved why.

    You (wink wink) could have been the record store owner!!!!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Ah hell Earl…you know how it is with us nerdy writer types.

    Book smart. Chick stupid.

    LOL…

  • Vern Halen

    I was a Deep Purple, Sabbath, Heep, etc. etc. etc. fan back in those days, too. But I turned my allegiance over to the Stooges, MC5 & New York Dolls brand of hard noises. I really did perceive there was something that smelled more of business than music at the time. I didn’t get that from listening to the MC5 throttling “Sister Anne” or “Over and Over.”

    It would’ve been interesting to see how things might have been different if the proto punk godfathers had gained success in the commercial metal fields, with which they had lots in common, really.

  • http://www.thehighwaystar.com/ Svante Pettersson

    Good review but pleeeeeaaaaaase; Ian Gillan’s name is Gillan and nothing else. Gillian is Roger Glover´s daughter. I have no idea why so many people , even people who seem to be fans of the band, think Gillan’s name is Gillian. I’m surprised I haven’t seen Ian Gilligan yet. ;)

  • WOW

    Hey, I remember parts of that California Jam. I was 16 and 2 weeks then and somewhere in front of one of those flags in the crowd. I only am sure of that because I took a few pictures of the show and there are no flags in between me and the stage. Yeah, and now I’m on the internet reading about it. What a trip.

  • Rodger

    I can’t comment on the entire DVD…I’ve only seen the Space Truckin segment, last night, and for the first time. I was a huge DP fan, but not after Gillan and Glover. Funny you mention Spinal Tap because this preposterous spectacle is full of Spinal Tap moments. This version of the song (which I like and played in the last band I was in back in the day) to me is a big sloppy mess. I get the “show” aspects with the gear smashing and fireballs, etc…yawn…but musically, omg…what a boring, incoherent, horrible mess. Sorry, just my opinion.