20 Years Ago: Deep Purple Introduce Steve Morse on ‘Purpendicular’
For Deep Purple, the departure of Ritchie Blackmore amounted to addition by subtraction. They say Purpendicular, released in April 1996 as just the band's second album without him, amounted to a rebirth. Deep Purple found themselves collaborating again, trying new things again, believing in themselves again.
Jon Lord, the group's late co-founding keyboardist, credited new guitarist Steve Morse with freeing them up. Without Blackmore's dominating presence, they recaptured the band's original close-knit, chance-taking vibe. "It was recorded under great circumstances," vocalist Ian Gillan enthused in a talk with Q95 in 1996. "The vast majority of the stuff works great on stage and it's very compatible with, strangely enough, the early stuff we did in the '70s."
Recording in 1995 at Greg Rike Productions in Orlando, Fla., Morse said he immediately sensed that something special was happening. "They were all talking amongst themselves and smiling saying, 'Hey, this is different. Everybody is involved,'" Morse told Guitar HD in 1996. "This record has a smile to it. The rhythm section is in the pocket, easy and groovin’. You sense that people are playing together."
The second (and apparently last) Blackmore era – he helped relaunch Deep Purple in 1984 after missing out on 1975's Come Taste the Band – had come to a fractious end when the guitarist walked out during a tour in support of 1993's aptly titled The Battle Rages On. That followed a lengthy period of disconnect with his long-time bandmates. Morse, who rose to fame with Dixie Dregs, arrived with none of that baggage.
"We do have the idea that we have been reborn," Gillan told ITN in 1996. "We do have the idea that we have a great future. I think the time is right to be expressive and there's a hell of a lot to talk about after the years."
A sense of frisky experimentation surrounded Purpendicular, as Morse employed pinch harmonics – a squealing guitar sound unheard on previous Deep Purple albums – to tracks like "Vavoom: Ted the Mechanic" and "Somebody Stole My Guitar." Gillan was game, inserting narrative details into the latter song that he'd only recently rediscovered on a cocktail napkin after a night of drinking with a particularly interesting character at a pub during the sessions for 1987's The House of Blue Light. Morse completed "Ted the Mechanic" with something he's described as "country heavy metal lick."
Listen to Deep Purple Perform 'Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming'
"Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming," a song that would become a staple in Deep Purple's live sets, began when Lord and bassist Roger Glover wandered into the studio while Morse was fiddling around on guitar. They immediately joined in, and "it became a song that day," Morse told the Democrat-Herald in 2014. "Any idea could grow from a sprout into a tree."
The band was so pleased with an early run through of "Rosa's Cantina" that it was essentially included on the album in demo form. "The Aviator," a song fragment that Morse arrived with, found them dabbling in newfound folk influences.
"They could always find a guitarist that would jump up and down to be doing the gig – but that wasn’t the point," Morse told Guitar HD. "The point was, what ingredient does this recipe need? Who knows? They didn’t exactly know. I didn’t exactly know either. It was absolutely lucky that it turned out this way."
At the same time, four of the five members of a lineup that produced 1972's timeless Machine Head were in the room. In keeping, Purpendicular wasn't without its call backs to their classic era. So, "Cascades" includes a series of triplets showcasing Lord's organ and Morse's guitar – echoing the harmony playing that played a huge role in the Blackmore years. "Castle Full of Rascals" has the same Little Richard-inspired rhythmic stop that Ian Paice employed on "Speed King."
"It's so nice to feel that we can do tracks on the album," Lord told ITN, "which will show the Deep Purple I hope that people have missed for a decade or two."
Unfortunately, Purpendicular didn't exactly catch on with listeners back then, reaching only No. 58 in the U.K. after The Battle Rages On very nearly cracked the Top 20. It didn't chart at all in America. Still, this rejiggered lineup's ability to seamlessly blend old and new gave Deep Purple burgeoning confidence in their ability to weather the loss of a signature member.
"We'd got very much into a trap, which was that we had come to assume that the band would not exist if it did not have Ritchie Blackmore in it," the late Lord told Klaus Fleming in 1996. "We were more and more becoming Ritchie's backing band. And Ritchie, if he didn't write it, he wouldn't play it. ... He's a wonderful player and a very good writer – [but] a difficult man, as you know. I don't want to say anything particularly bad about him, it was just that he was going one way and the rest of us were going the other. He actually did us a real favor when he decided to leave."
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