What with the recent Blackmore brew-ha-ha all over his old pals’ induction – finally! – into that so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I was reminded to dig out three vintage CD’s from my by-far favorite, as in Mark I version of Deep Purple.
I was also reminded that these initial DP LP’s were originally released in the USofA on a brand new, and in many ways quite odd little record label. A custom label, in fact, launched by none other than 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 none other than Pat Boone and his strangely countrified, recorded-in-a-single-day Departure album. Simultaneously, on the far, far other side of the socio-musical spectrum, Tetragrammaton also somehow found itself the American distributor of John and Yoko Ono Lennon’s fully-frontal, illegal-in-some-states-even Two Virgins album. Huh! How’s THAT for diversity in establishing a talent roster for an up-and-coming new label, even by late-1960s’ 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 “If Inducted, I Shall Not Attend” Blackmore.
Now, to say that in 1968 Messrs. Cosby and Silver had no real idea whatsoever how to handle their newly-signed band of proto-BallBusters would be quite the understatement: Rather than booking the lads into all the hippest rock halls of the day, the quintet’s inaugural tour of America centered instead around appearances on television’s Playboy After Dark (during which Ritchie 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).
Despite all of the above and more, it is a testament then to the solid quality of the young Purple’s music that they not only survived, but actually placed a trio of singles into the U.S. best-sellers 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 are available again, complete with studio out-takes and even some nice BBC Radio bonus tracks. 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” – 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 amps-on-11 brilliance can indeed be heard as early as Shades’ Hendrix-fried “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 current 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 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 albums can now be heard again, in all of their deepest, purplest, newly-digitized glory.
But, when asked if he will still be grabbing a piece of the action, Bill Cosby’s legal team’s only reply was “….hush!”