DEEP PURPLE Frontman On 'Smoke On The Water'

April 27, 2010

Harbant Gill of the Herald Sun recently conducted an interview with DEEP PURPLE singer Ian Gillan. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

Herald Sun: How did you come up with [the "Smoke On The Water"] riff?

Gillan: The best things happen spontaneously. We were recording an album called "Machine Head" in Montreux in Switzerland. We needed another seven minutes on it and we only had a day left and the engineer said, "What about that jam we did on the first day for the soundcheck?" It was just a jam session, really. So we put that together with the story of the events that happened during the recording. Most things that are going to work happen fairly quickly.

Herald Sun: Do all your songs get written like that?

Gillan: Absolutely. We've never gone into the studio with prepared material... we never have. When we arrive at the studio we put the kettle on, have a cup of tea, say, "How's the family? You still got that old car? Is that dog still alive?" and then we start jamming. That's how the songs get written.

Herald Sun: If someone had told you then that seven-year-olds would be playing that riff in 2010, what would you have said to them?

Gillan: Up until 15 years ago I would have been very surprised, because contemporary music is a generational thing. It's quite incredible how the audiences have changed in most places in the world. Now our audiences are averaging around 18 years old. It's a shock to me. I said to my daughter after we'd finished a show in Wembley, "Grace, who let all the kids in?" and she said, "Dad, you just don't get it do you? DEEP PURPLE is really cool". She was 15 then, she's 26 now... and writing her own songs.

Herald Sun: Did you ever imagine it would be one of the first riffs any guitar student would learn?

Gillan: It's because of its simplicity. We learned blues and an awful lot of those things have evolved from simple structures. When I picked up my guitar I spent the first day learning the chord E, the second day A, then B7 and all of a sudden I could play the blues. I've just finished doing some concerts with orchestras... and they love it because if you have a simple structure you can show off as much as you like during the performance.

Herald Sun: How do you feel when you perform that song on stage nearly 40 years later?

Gillan: I get a tickle in my tummy around midday on concert day every time. We played in 48 countries last year and are generally working about five cities a week. You could easily become blase... but there is nothing quite like getting up there and being improvisational. It's like doing something in the circus, like a trapeze act, where you've been doing it for years but you've got to be careful. I sang "Nessun Dorma" twice with Pavarotti and he told me he'd heard "Smoke" about five or six times and every time was different. He was so jealous because if he deviated one jot from the traditional interpretation of the famous arias, he'd be crucified. We have the freedom. It's exciting. It's like you going to the office every day, and then outside you've got your motorbike waiting and you jump on and roar off into the night and feel the wind blow through your hair. It's like sport, you know your teammates but you never quite know what's going to happen on the day.

Read the entire interview from Herald Sun.

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