|Deep Purple 1968. Nick Simper top left.|
People have their preferences for which was the best line-up of Deep Purple but for me there’s only one, the first one. Rod Evans (vocals), Jon Lord (organ), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Paice (drums) and Nick Simper (bass) made three albums at the end of the 60s including Shades Of Deep Purple which, with its rocking riffs and rollicking organ, was a significant influence on The Prisoners in the mid-80s who regularly included “Hush” in their live set. It was this which first piqued my interest in the band. Once Graham Day formed The Prime Movers they recorded both “Hush” and “Mandrake Root” from the Purple's debut album. I dug it out the other day for the first time in ages and there’s some really great stuff on it.
The following interview with Nick Simper is an old one which was conducted in a West London pub many moons ago (circa 1993) for issue three of Something Has Hit Me fanzine. There’s more to Nick than just Deep Purple and it reads like an archetypal 60s pop star story which zooms through Shadows covers, package tours, tragedy, success, Hollywood, missing money and acrimony.
What was the first group you were in?
The first group that were any good were The Delta Five. I mean, we could play without getting booed off. We played the ballroom circuit, juts doing current pop hits. Around this time I met Cliff Barton, who played with Georgie Fame, and he was one of the best bassists around. He said “Get rid of all that Shadows crap, come to my place and I’ll show you what’s really going down.” He had all the American records that I’d never heard of: Barrett Strong “Money”; Ray Charles “Sticks and Stones”; all that R&B stuff, I couldn’t believe it. I told him The Delta Five were looking for a rhythm guitarist. I played lead at the time. “What do you want a rhythm guitarist for? All the best bands don’t have one.” He told me I had to see Buddy Britton and the Regents and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. I went and was knocked out that just a guitar, bass and drums could make such a wall of sound. They really were the first trios in the country and became my idols at the time. This caused a bit of friction with The Delta Five as they wanted to play Cliff Richard while I wanted Chuck Berry. So I left and tried to form my own band but I couldn’t find a bass player. Every kid had a guitar and most were better than me, so I thought sod this and bought a bass and the first Marshall 4 x 12 amp from Jim Marshall’s little shop. Six months later Jim’s son Terry phoned me and asked if I wanted a pro job that paid £25 a week, which was big dough.
What was the band?
Buddy Britton and the Regents. I couldn’t believe it. I toured with Buddy all through 1964 and the early part of ’65. Made two singles that flopped. They were what were called turntable hits, everybody played them, but nobody bought them. Buddy got this residency in Soho but I wanted to stay on the road, so I left. Knocked about a bit, playing with a few bands here and there. Did a few gigs with The Birds.
You then joined your other idols, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, right?
Yeah, that was basically Buddy Britton’s old backing band that became the Pirates when Johnny started to relaunch his career again. Made one single with them, “Send For That Girl”, toured with them for about nine months until we had the car crash that killed Johnny. October 8th 1966. I tried to keep it going with the Pirates but it wasn’t the same and didn’t really work out. And I couldn’t really work for a while because I was a bit smashed up from the crash. Everyone always asks about Deep Purple but for me being in Johnny Kidd and the Pirates was the best time.
After working with Billie Davis and then Screaming Lord Sutch you got involved with The Flowerpot Men. How did that come about?
Well, John Carter and Ken Lewis were a pair of songwriters, and they became The Ivy League. Lewis was a diabetic and couldn’t really go on tour so got heavily into recording and they came up with the song “Let’s Go To California”. They put it out as The Flowerpot Men using the singers from The Ivy League. Suddenly it was a big hit but there wasn’t really a group so we that were Billie Davis’s band went out on the road with it. Made an absolute fortune for about a year. It was the very last theatre tour I think in the country, where you’d get about fifteen bands on the bill. Traffic were top of the bill, The Flowerpot Men second, Keith West and Tomorrow, Art who became Spooky Tooth were there, Mickey Finn, and about third from the bottom were an American band called Vanilla Fudge. I’ve never seen them credited for it but without Vanilla Fudge there would have been no Deep Purple. They were amazing. They’d come out with their short college boy haircuts and really attack their instruments, play twice as loud as everyone else and play songs that went on for ten minutes. For which they were kicked off the tour. But I’d never seen anything like it, never been so excited by anyone.
Was Jon Lord in The Flowerpot Men with you?
Yeah, The Artwoods had spilt by then and he was in The Flowerpot Men with me. We were getting a bit fed up and one day Jon said if we had the chance to do our own thing, like the Fudge, would I be interested. And that’s really how the Deep Purple thing came about.
How did Deep Purple get together? Weren’t you originally called Roundabout?
No, Roundabout never existed, that always annoys me when I read that. Chris Curtis, who had just left The Searchers, knew this wealthy businessman called Tony Edwards and he was talked into investing in the pop business. Edwards talked to a few guys he knew and they all put in five grand to put behind a pop group. Chris formed this band, getting myself and Jon, and I knew Ritchie Blackmore from my Lord Sutch days and he was one of the best guitarists around. Chris, who was the drummer, wanted to sing but he wasn’t really any good so the whole idea fell apart. A while later Tony Edwards came back to me and Jon and said if we still wanted to form a band he’d put up the money. So, it was Jon, Ritchie, myself and Bobby Woodman on drums. The management rented this old farmhouse near Borehamwood, a real spooky old joint, and we auditioned just about every singer in the world. Eventually we got Rod Evans and he was a knockout. Bobby Woodman didn’t really want to create anything new and kept pouring cold water on our ideas, so he was fired. That’s when Ian Paice, also from Rod’s old band The Maze, joined like a shot. But we didn’t have a name. Every time we’d come up with one, somebody he already registered it. Our manager kept saying “Why don’t you call it The Magic Roundabout” and we said “Don’t be stupid, that’s a kids’ programme.” He was obsessed with it but there’s no way we were ever going to be called it. People have got the idea we gigged with that name but we never did. Then Ritchie says “What about that song ‘Deep Purple’ by Nino Temple and April Stevens? That would make a good name.” We were a bit embarrassed by it at first.
How did the record deal for Deep Purple happen?
It was a lot of luck really. One day this producer of sorts, Derek Lawrence, knocked on the door and says he’d got this deal going with America, a brand new record company just formed and owned by Bill Cosby. He said there was megabucks, millions of dollars to spend, and all they needed was a band, but it had to be an English band as their first signing. He reckoned whoever it was, they’d be enormous. The label was called Tetragrammaton. Six weeks later we had “Hush” bombing up the American charts.
Tell us about recording the first album, Shades of Deep Purple.
We had just come back from doing about ten dates in Denmark and they said we had to record an album the next day. “Right, how long have we got?” we asked. “Two days.” Recorded the whole thing in two days. Sounds like it as well. Went in, did nearly everything first take, bang-bang, four track machine, hardly any overdubs. Rod came in the next day, put all the vocals on, mixed it in about five minutes, sold about ten million copies to date. Amazing.
And “Hush” went to number four in the States, didn’t it?
It went to number two on a few charts, but it averaged out at about number four. The LP went top ten. So after leaving The Flowerpot Men in March ’68, we were touring all over America as Deep Purple by September. Hardly knew how to play together really.
Why wasn’t it a hit in Great Britain?
A combination of things really. The record scene here was all down to payola, it was so crooked. The charts were totally rigged. A lot of it depended on buying records in the chart return shops and everyone knows about Brian Epstein and his garage full of Beatles records. This went on all the time. The record companies would find out the chart return shops and send people in to buy loads of copies. Also, we were out of the country most of the time so people didn’t really know who we were, they thought we were an American band. We had a publicist who was on £50 a week, which was a bloody good wage, and he wasn’t worth tuppance. He didn’t get us any press at all, and there could have been so much made out of the bands we’d be in before and the success in the States.
There were quite a lot of cover versions on the first couple of albums, was that influenced by the first Vanilla Fudge album?
Oh yeah but sometimes we’d hear a song like “River Deep Mountain High” and really want to do something with it. That one I don’t think really came off actually but the way we did “Help” did. John Lennon said that he wishes he’d thought of doing it like that but it never crossed his mind. The single of “River Deep Mountain High” in America was embarrassing. It was about ten minutes on the album but they edited it down to two and half and you can hear the joins. It was awful. We said you can’t do that and the record company said they already had and it was in the charts. It’s then you realise you’re just total puppets. The follow-up, Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”, was bloody good though. A lot of the covers come down to pressure to record from the record company. They’d tell us they’d booked the studio and we were supposed to record the next day but quite honestly we’d be sitting there at ten o’clock the night before wondering what we were going to do. We didn’t know, so we’d go “let’s do a Beatles song” or something.
The second album, Book of Taliesyn, came out in ’68, swiftly after the first one.
It was the usual thing of being a conveyor belt. Never had any time. A lot of people say to me about Deep Purple In Rock and how it sounds more alive than the first few albums but you have to realise we made albums in eighteen hours; Deep Purple In Rock took six months. But what you get on those early records are performances, spontaneous performances. You were nervous as hell because if you made a mistake everyone had to start again. We were using four track machines so all my bass parts were recorded on the drum track. If I wanted a bit more guts in the bass they’d say they couldn’t turn it up because then the drums would be too loud. It was pretty hit and miss. The third album, Deep Purple, took longer.
When you got to San Francisco with Deep Purple was it like the Flowerpot Men song?
It’s funny because when we left the Flowerpot Men there was a lot of friction. Me and Jon Lord found them really good replacements, wrote out all the music, everything, but they didn’t want to know. They more or less told us to pee off, it was quite nasty. So, when we got to San Francisco airport Jon says “I’ve a good mind to send them a postcard saying we’re here, where are you?” but he never did. America could be a funny place, especially down south. Kids were growing their hair and stuff and trying to avoid being drafted. So to some people if you had long hair like we did, you were draft dodgers. And if you were a draft dodger, you were a communist. And if you were a communist, you must be gay. People would come up screaming “You draft dodging communist queers!” and start attacking us with bar stools. They were normally all right once they discovered we were English. One day we were at The Holiday Inn and The Association were staying there and they all had these really short haircuts. “What’s with the haircuts guys?” I asked, and they said they were going down south the next day.
Who did you play with in America?
Initially we started supporting Cream but after three nights we got booted off the tour as we were going down too well. They had a massive following but a lot of people considered we blew them off stage. I was a bit overawed actually because Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were two of my idols. They were the best but they never came over and said hello to us or anything. Two English bands six thousand miles from home, you’d think they’d get together and have a beer or something, but we never saw them. One of the best bands we played with were Santana, who were unknown then. They supported us and we thought “Gee, how are we going to follow that?” They were amazing. We worked a lot with It’s A Beautiful Day, The Turtles were fabulous guys, Canned Heat were a great bunch. Credence Clearwater Revival were actually the most unfriendly bunch of guys you could ever meet.
|Deep Purple, October 1968 on American television|
Deep Purple seemed to fall apart around the time of the third album. What was happening?
Tetragrammaton were spending our money like water, thinking it would never dry up. By the time of the third album we’d had five hit singles in America and Tetragrammaton were enormous on the strength of us. They then started signing up almost everyone in the whole of America I think. None of them did anything, they all flopped, the only people that were selling records were Deep Purple. All the money they made, which was our money, was invested in this movie called Picasso Summer which was the biggest disaster in the history of Hollywood. Bill Cosby pulled out and the company collapsed overnight. Meanwhile, we’d been sitting on Malibu beach being told by our manager that we’d never have to work again, that we were dollar millionaires. We could do what we wanted, go where we wanted, spend what we wanted. But when the company collapsed, from our million dollars each, we got forty thousand dollars. That was all that was left. We had gold records, hit records, we were bigger than The Who, commanding more money than them. We weren’t quite as big as Hendrix and Cream but we were well on our way.
So that was the end of Deep Purple Mark I?
Yeah. Rod Evans married some rich American woman and decided he wanted to be a movie star, so he quit. There was such a lot of friction at the time about money and musical policy. The others wanted to get Ian Gillan in to replace Rod. I’d actually offered him the job originally, before Rod joined. I knew him from Episode Six but at the time he didn’t want to know, he said “Ah, you’ll never make it. Episode Six are going to be big!” He was pretty pleased to be asked the second time. But he wouldn’t join without his best mate (and bassist) Roger Glover. They were a writing team. So I just quit.
What did you do then?
Worked with Marsha Hunt. That was good, not so good musically though. Mick Jagger got her pregnant and that was the end of that. The band carried on under the name of Warhorse and made a couple of albums which are worth a lot of money these days but I wouldn't give you a fiver for them now.
(You've got to watch this crazy footage!)