Deep Purple were not have been voted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year – much to the chagrin of hard rock fans worldwide) – but that isn’t slowing them down. They just released their new album, Now What? (April 30), which is their fifth with “new” guitarist Steve Morse.
Morse replaced the band’s original guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, in 1994, but he still has rookie status in the band. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing to be 20 years into it and be the ‘new guy,'” he tells Radio.com. Even though he has been in the band longer than keyboardist Don Airey, he is still thought of as the band’s newest member. That’s partially because Steve is the lone American in an otherwise all British band, so among other cultural differences, they don’t follow the same sports: “As soon as Don started talking soccer with those guys, he got fifteen years bonus seniority.”
Morse makes light of some of the band’s other subjects that are lost in cultural translation, including the British preference for beer at less than frosty temperatures. “Warm beer: that’s one of the regular themes of my jokes. ‘Hey guys, there’s something wrong with the refrigerator, the beer’s warm!’ And don’t get me started on [British] food! But they do have the best potato chips, or crisps, as they call them.”
When it came to recording the new album, the band came to America and recorded in Nashville. Although that wasn’t at Morse’s prompting: “It really was Bob Ezrin’s doing.” Ezrin, of course, is the legendary producer of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, as well as classic records by KISS, Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel, and he helmed Now What?. “He’s based there, and we wanted to work with him.” Morse, a former member of Kansas, had previously worked with Ezrin on Kansas’ 1988 LP In The Spirit Of Things. “He’s not easy to please. He knows very quickly whether he likes something or not, and he’s not shy about telling you.”
The mood of the album was altered a bit when news came in July that the group’s founding keyboardist – Jon Lord, who’d retired from the band in 2002 — passed away. Morse said he heard the tragic news from Purple drummer Ian Paice (also Lord’s brother-in-law, as they’d married twin sisters): “He came up to me and said ‘I have some bad news.’ I didn’t know Jon was that ill, I was totally blown away. I just finished working on his [solo] record, and I had just gotten a really nice email from him.” (Lord’s album, Concerto For Group And Orchestra, was released post-humously in September.)
The band continue to honor Lord’s memory by playing songs from his era of the band in concert (Lord was a co-founder of the band in the late ’60s and played on every album through 1998’s Abandon; Paice is the only remaining founding member still in Deep Purple). Of course, Morse himself has big shoes to fill at every Deep Purple concert: a good portion of every Purple show focuses on the material that original guitarist Ritchie Blackmore played on. “I pay tribute to what Ritchie did on the classic tunes,” Morse said, adding that he brings his own personality to the songs. For now, the band’s tour has them in Europe through the summer, but Morse reports that the band is looking at a U.S. tour this fall.
And as for that Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame snub? Mores says that his bandmates would be welcome the honor.
“I think they would like to see it happen, but name recognition and politics have a lot to do with it,” noting that Purple have never been a critic’s band. “It is kind of a shame to think that the band behind the biggest rock riff – ‘Smoke On The Water’ – is not part of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.”
Well, there’s always next year. And for now, Deep Purple will concentrate on playing their new music for their legions of fans.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com