Deep Purple reached their commercial apex during the early to mid '70s. Original guitarist Richie Blackmore, organist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice, joined by vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, went on to make a few million selling platters, including the classic single "Smoke On the Water," which will likely endure forever as one of the first riffs attempted by all aspiring electric guitarists.
But many people are unaware of who Gillan and Glover were replacing. The fact is, Deep Purple had already issued three albums in the late '60s with lead singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper, including at least a couple of decent charting singles, one of which was a cover of Joe South's "Hush." However, due to the collapse of the record company, their albums never saw any real promotion in North America. Even the occasional reissue or compilation was nothing more than cut out bin fodder made from imperfect, nth generation master dubs.
However, this was finally rectified a few years back when the albums, remastered and complete with bonus tracks and outtakes, were issued on Spitfire Records. Well packaged with extensive liner notes, one can now get a good listen to Deep Purple (Mark I, as this line up is often referred to by fans) in their formative years. And what is it that one hears?
First of all, neither Evans nor Simper had the technical flash of their subsequent replacements, but they are solid and carried their own weight with the band. The band as a whole is still trying to decide whether to be a pop band or morph into a rock band; dispensable covers like the Beatles' "Help" and "We Can Work It Out" and occasional awkward attempts at imitative songwriting are mixed in with some pretty original ideas that hint at the hard rock hiding rock the corner and just waiting for the 70s to begin. A spooky rendition of "Hey Joe," "Mandrake Root," "The Shield" – there are plenty of highlights, and by the time the quite decent self titled third album was released, the band seems to have found its footing – it was going to be a progressive hard rock band with a melodic edge.
But the course of history changed with the changing of the guard – Gillan and Glover's presence recombined the band's musical chemistry and they became one of the original pioneers of heavy metal, and though Evans had some success with Captain Beyond, he and Simper were relegated to the rock 'n' roll "also ran" file. But hopefully these reissues will give them the recognition they deserve and acknowledge the role they played in the development of Deep Purple's sound.