[% META title = 'Deep Purple, Interviews' %]
If they ever made a Spinal Tap 2, it would be the story of Deep Purple's return to fame. They've sold over 90 million albums, rocked their way through 27 years of "turn it up to 11" music, touring, drugs, booze and lineup changes, and now they're grappling with e-mail and the complexities of Web-sites. Irrepressible groupie Cotton Ward joinsbassist Roger Glover and Hammond organ player Jon Lord on the comeback trail.
Envy. Total, irrefutable envy is what you feel on meeting Roger and Jon. There they are, two guys somewhere in their 50s, who've edured the rigours of life on the road, growing up and over-indulging in everything since 1967. They should look something like wizened Keith Richardses or bloated Elvises, but, no, they're glowingly healthy, have retained their sense of humour and were chuckling congenially with the comfortable rapport of people who've been best friends forever. And they probably have been. They've played hard, but they look fantastic for it, too.
What was going to happen today, with just me, them and a four-poster bed in the presedential suite at the Landmark Hotel, London? Where were the signs of wild abandon? Would they live up to their song titles: Living Wreck, Bloodsucker and Hard Lovin' Man? Well, there was a cigarette butt in the ashtray, which intriguingly had lipstick on it, but it probably belonged to one of the PR ladies, and Roger swigged from a bottle of Carling, but it took him the whole hour to finish it. Jon didn't look like he was going to let loose -- a huge gold crucifix dangled prominently across his collarbone and he signed album covers with the words: "God bless". What happened to the towering, grim-faced Jon who'd glowered on the front of Purple albums? No more hair dye and dark sunglasses -- here he was proudly grey, with his long hair neatly slicked back in a ponytail.
So many questions. But we're here to talk about computers. So tell us -- what do you think about the Internet.
"The Net's still in it's infancy," declared Jon. "Roger first turned me on to it, as he's done with many other things..."
Roger signed up with America Online and found the Deep Purple newsgroup (alt.music.deep-purple) last year. "After each gig there'd be half a dozen reviews and it was rather flattering to see people discussing it. Even if the comments were negative, it was unusual being privy to what your fans thought...When you're touring and visiting a different town every night, you don't get to see the local press comments until a maybe a year later when a clippings service sends them out."
Smelling of violets
Do they change their performances to please fans?
"No, they're only expressing an opinion and if it's not the same as mine, it's wrong," Roger jested. "But sometimes they influence the choice of songs we perform on stage -- they plant ideas. For example, I've always wanted to play No One Came live and a few fans mentioned this, and it's encouraged me to follow up that idea."
Jon pointed out that only a small proportion of the band's fans use the Net. "It'd have to be more wide-ranging before we took a lot of notice. On-line users are the commited few with a certain mindset. We interact with them sometimes, but we don't take everything they say as gospel."
Roger said he was happy to answer e-mails -- but only up to five a day. "I get that many now from fans, but if there were more than that, I'd change my view. I don't have that much time."
Jon recounted how he'd been harassed by a persistent female e-mailer. "She'd asked me a few questions and wanted to give detailed answers, but I didn't have the time, so I asked her to wait a few days. But every time I logged on there would be messages from her asking 'How long? When will you get back to me?' I finally did write a couple of pages in reply, but I didn't like her constant questions. I don't think I would like to asnwer fans' e-mails every day. It would just take too long."
The battered .net tape recorder suddenly refused to record and Roger whipped out a Walkman, whacked the tape in and they both considerably checked the sound level. "Sssss," they hissed as the tape ran from the beginning. Professionals to a fault.
What's happening with the Deep Purple Web pages? There are several, but the most comprehensive is at http://www.fsl.com/purple. It was started and maintained by a fan, Dave Hodgkinson, who claims that there are about 16,000 readers of alt.music.deep-purple and 10,000 visitors a month to the site. About 20 per cent of these hits come from Japan.
"It's flattering," Roger said. "I went through it and corrected a few points and looked at the classical quotes bit."
Jon said the band wanted to become involved with the site, but wasn't sure where to start. Paying a professional Web page designer to spice it up could be a good move, I suggested. "We could help out monetarily," Jon agreed. "And we could provide some ongoing info about what the band's doing."
They were thwarted in offering downloadable audio samples from the band's latest album. "We can't give permission for that. Our record comapny, BMG, vehemently refuses to grant it," Roger said. "We thought we could at least put the album covers on the site and a couple of 15 second teasers from the new album. But BMG says it's not giving out any free music until there's some sort of international agreement on this. And this doesn't look likely in the near future."
Jon said it was unfortunate that there wasn't more input from Purple. "But there's not much we can do at the moment, not the way it stands. The whole situation has to be examined by the record company's lawyers. When this is all sorted out, we'll see." And they would ideally like to get it sorted soon too, as they're busy drumming up publicity for their European tour and new album, Purpendicular, which was released in January. Mid-year US tour venues will be decided upon depending on album sales.
Purple has always been an "on the road" band, keeping fans slamming with hits such as Speed King, Child In Time, Knocking At Your Backdoor and their most famous song, Smoke On The Water. This classic tune has currently been revived in the Strongbow cider TV ads and rivals Stairway To Heaven as one of the most played songs in music stores by budding young guitarists. With so much touring, Roger and Jon have been using e-mail to keep in touch with their loved ones since 1984.
"A computer was something I'd take around the world with me to put in names and addresses and keep a diary. Computers came into my life in 1984. Then there was a hiatus of several years," Jon said.
Roger is counting on his electronically documented reminiscing to provide him with a pension plan. "My first machine was an Apple IIe and it seemed pretty complicated in the mid-80s. It was awkward and I had to type in the commands. I've kept a journal on my computer for years because I've spent so much time of my life just wasting it -- I've seen the photos of some of the greatest moments of my life, but I can't remember them. We were a hard drinkin' band and we went through a lot of vodka and different types of alcohol."
"Yeah, but none of us had a drinking problem," Jon was quick to point out. "In the late '70s and '80s everyone in the band was experementing with different things -- like staring into mirrors from above," he quipped.
Roger continued: "When I write down what's happening, it's easier to remember and purges events. Even if something was terribly emabrrasing and you wish you hadn't done it, I find writing it down helps me deal with it. We took a long time to grow up, and when we did, it was a very slow process. It could be my pension plan -- so as I get closer to retirement, it gets tackier. I first started using a Sharp computer from Radio Shack. They worked on an early kind of DOS system, or something like that."
Purple began using e-mail in 1984, which meant the band members didn't need to phone overseas roadies and tour managers in the early hours of the morning beacause of time differences.
"E-mail was very primitive then," Roger said. "But it was still quicker than sending a letter. it became the toy of the moment and of the whole music industry. You could type and blitz it out."
"We could simply leave messages to tell them what we needed. They could just get our messages the next time they logged on. And you can tell that story if you like," Jon said, cuing Roger to continue.
"Well, we were making our reunion debut in Australia during November 1984 when we first started using e-mail," Roger said. "I was in a Sydney hotel and I sent an e-mail to Jon, which was transmitted to a satellite and then to Jon's room. I kept racing around and asking: 'Have you got it yet?'".
"Yeah, we wanted to know how long it took to travel half way cross the universe," Jon said. "About three minutes back then. It was fun stuff and we were bleeping and blitzing it in those days."
"That was newfangled cutting edge technology. Remember, this was in the days before touch-dial telephones," Roger pointed out. "We had too much money and time. We've got lots of gadgets, but there's always new advances. Everything I've got now is out of date. During the past five minutes someone has probably invented some new digital technology that'll change our lives."
"And isn't that monumentally unfair?" Jon added.
Sex 'n' e-mail
But surely the Deep Purple band members were busy enjoying the heady '70s and being chased by groupies rather than slouching over their keyboards?
"Of course," Jon agreed, nodding solemnly. "But we were always careful to find groupies who were into computers," he said, nudging Roger.
"yeah, especially these days when it's much safer to get together with groupies on e-mail," Roger advised.
"Cybersex is defintively safe sex," Jon chimed in.
They happily lugged their computers around the world for a couple of years until fax machines were introduced. "Faxes superseded e-mail," Jon said. "all hotels had fax machines, and we didn't have to fiddle with those early modems, which were terribly cumbersome. They had to be larger than the telephone handset because you had to kind of mount -- oops, back to groupies again -- the phone and it had to sit just right. It was incredibly difficult to jiggle them on the top of a phone and try to get them to basically connect. I got rid of my Tandy and bought a Casio PDA. The main limitation was that that you couldn't keep a diary. It was too difficult to type on those. But it could hold 250 names and adresses. Back then I thought: 'Whoa!'.
Roger said the main advantage of faxes was that they were legally binding. "Faxes ruled for a long time. You could scribble something down, send a drawing and plug them in anywhere. And they had legal credibility. We could sign faxed contracts and this was acceptable even if it was faded."
Jon confessed to having been a computer tart and had used "DOS, PCs and Apples". His statements seemed a little confused, since he'd lumped operating systems and hardware in the one category. But he had another shameful confession to make -- yes, despite being the individual who'd achieved the complex task of composing Concerto for Group and Orchestra for the 110-piece Royal Philarmonic Orchestra, he's an utterly useless technophobe when it comes to computers.
"I get so confused. I'm all right if someone shows me how to do it, but I can't understand manuals. Who are they written for? You have to think like a computer to be able to figure them out," he complained, adding that the "best thing" he'd ever bought was a program called Norton Utilities. "It has this wonderful function which lets you undelete, and I'm often changing my mind about what to keep. Using this, you can retrieve a document you deleted two months before, which is incredibly handy." Roger then recalled a horrific incident where he'd paid a technician $250 an hour to repair his computer. "All this guy did was whip out a copy of Norton Utilities and it was fixed. I forked out $250 and ran out and got a copy of Norton straightaway," he said ruefully.
"Now I've got a PowerBook with 100MHz, but when you put a blank disk in, the icon takes three times longer to appear on the screen. I took it back to the shop and they said: 'Yes it takes longer, but this computer does so much more.' What's that supposed to mean -- 'It's doing so much more?' I've only inserted a disk. I want to know why it takes so long, but nobody has the answer." [Actually, the answer, or rather the fix, is called the PowerBook 5300 System Software Update -- Ben :-)]
I didn't know the answer, so it was time for a quick exit, and luckily one of the PR ladies, who must have been born about four years after Deep Purple first formed, walked in to end our chat. "They've been giving interviews non-stop since 11am with only half an hour break and they've got more to do," she said. It was 7pm and the boys were still hanging in there, performing, kicking it, and creating a new chapter as one of the enduring legends of rock.
Deeply dippy about purple prose, Cotton Ward (firstname.lastname@example.org) is .net's features editor.
.net, Issue 16, March 1996, pp. 28-31
HTML by Benjamin Weaver and Svante Pettersson 19 feb. 1996