PIGSHIT: Deep-Catalog Purple

“Just what the world needs:  Another record company.”

And with those typically snide words, on the Seventh day of February, 1968, Bizarre Productions was duly incorporated, and two hundred shares of no par value common stock issued in the State of New York, thereby creating the first of several record companies Frank Zappa would oversee during his most colorful life and career.

At this very same point in time, 3500 miles and one ocean to the east, the world’s biggest pop group launched their very own Apple company, whose singles and albums were manufactured and distributed in North America by that granddaddy of all (once-) indie labels, Capitol Records. Of course, as they usually were, Capitol’s resident Beach Boys were already over a year ahead of the Fab Four in creating their own personal Brother Records imprint, ostensibly conducting business right out of that iconic Capitol Tower on the corner of Hollywood and Vine (though, truth be told, most Brother board meetings were held in Brian Wilson’s swimming pool or, if the vibes so dictated, under a tent in Brian’s living room).

Stranger still, right there in the shadow of the Capitol Tower, 1968 saw the formation of yet another custom record label – this one the brainchild of comedian Bill Cosby alongside his manager Roy Silver, and most righteously christened with the ineffable Hebrew name of God, Tetragrammaton. Not surprisingly then, one of its first signings (besides Mr. Cosby of course) was Pat Boone and his strangely countrified, recorded-in-a-single-day, produced-by-Zal-Yanovsky-even Departure album. Simultaneously, on the far, far other side of the socio-musical spectrum Tetragrammaton also somehow found itself the American distributor of none other than John and Yoko’s fully-frontal Two Virgins album. Huh! How’s THAT for diversity in establishing a talent roster for an up-and-coming new label, even by late-Sixties’ standards?

Nevertheless, despite the presence of one of the nation’s biggest comedians, slickest Fifties teen idols, and a naked Beatle to boot, Tetragrammaton is best remembered today as the label that launched the career of Hertfordshire, England’s very own Nick Simper, Rod Evans, Ian Paice, Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore. More or less better known to this very day as, yes, Deep Purple.

Now, to say that in 1968 Messrs. Cosby and Silver had no real idea whatsoever how to handle their newly-signed band of proto-metalheads would be quite the understatement:  Rather than booking the lads into all the most hep rock halls of the day, the quintet’s inaugural tour of the U.S. centered instead around appearances on television’s Playboy After Dark (during which Ritchie Blackmore was seen giving Hugh Hefner a guitar lesson) and The Dating Game (wherein Jon Lord came in third out of three contestants and didn’t get the girl. “I was pissed off I wasn’t chosen; she was very beautiful,” the Purple patriarch could still be heard complaining a quarter century later).

Playboys After Dark Blackmore and Hefner

Despite all of the above and more, it is a testament then to the solid quality of Deep Purple’s early music that they not only survived, but actually placed a trio of singles into the American charts during their two-year stint with Tetragrammaton. In the process, they also produced three more-than-accomplished albums which, to my ears at least, remain the best they have ever done.

Those albums, Shades of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn, and the eponymous, Hieronymus Bosch-wrapped Deep Purple have just been made available again, complete with studio out-takes and BBC Radio bonus tracks, from the fine folk over at Eagle Rock Entertainment. Included therein, of course, are the band’s initial Top Forty hits (wholly machine-headed takes on Joe South’s “Hush” and even Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”), a ten-minute-plus roll over Phil Spector’s “River Deep, Mountain High” – somehow via “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – which I bet even Ike Turner would’ve approved of, plus two Beatles and even a Donovan cover. You see, like all vintage-Sixties bands, British in particular, Purple learned early the value of a carefully crafted tune …regardless of who wrote or even claimed the publishing royalties.

Of course this was the same band who, with a Seventies shift in personnel or two, went on to produce some of that decade’s heaviest slabs of Marshall-powered r-a-w-k (e.g.: the utterly Ramone-tempo’d “Highway Star” not to mention that riff that launched countless pyromaniacs, “Smoke On The Water”). Evidence of such delightfully moronic brilliance can indeed be heard as early as Shades‘ “Mandrake Root” and especially the first five-minutes-thirty of the Deep Purple album. Conversely though, this was a band which also indulged its tender moments as well – I’d like to see the Mk. 2011 Purple tackle any Donovan songs! – and even spent an inordinate amount of Book of Taliesyn concocting fits of druid bombast even Spinal Tap couldn’t, or wouldn’t touch. Jon Lord, speaking at the time to Woman’s Own magazine, attempted to explain this, um, approach by making allusions to astral association. Hmmm.

It can perhaps be seen in retrospect that this very dichotomy between the fanciful and the Neanderthal doomed this early incarnation of the band; in fact, shortly after the release of Deep Purple in 1969 bassist Nick Simper, along with vocalist (and budding Lux Interior) Rod Evans were fired for flat-out refusing to head in heavier directions, man. At this same time Tetragrammaton itself went belly up, taking with it all Purple profits they could legally or otherwise lay their hands on. This freed Jon Lord to indulge for the moment each and every Derek Smalls fantasy imaginable on stage at the Royal Albert Hall via his Concerto for Group and Orchestra, while Ritchie Blackmore set about retooling a leaner, meaner Deep Purple for the arena-rocking decade to come.

Most of you know the story from there. But for the moment, let me direct you instead back to the glory daze when our heroes were still hangin’ with the Cos at Hef’s mansion and wondering why Rosemary never took the pill; in that halcyon period of The Flower Pot Men and Their Garden (one of Lord and Simper’s pre-Purple combos, I kid you not) and other such musical madmen who were never afraid to say and play anything and everything that crossed what remained of their minds.

Accordingly these original three, thankfully re-issued albums can now be heard again, in all of their deepest, purplest glory.

But, when asked if he will still be grabbing a piece of the action, Bill Cosby’s only reply was “….hush!”



One reply on “PIGSHIT: Deep-Catalog Purple”

Comments are closed.