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"Deep Purple? Are they still together?"

To the surprise of many Rock fans, the answer is yes. In fact, 1998 marks a milestone for this enduring band, as they begin their 30th anniversary as a performing act. To celebrate, EMI will be releasing a much-anticipated new studio album, as well as remastered Anniversary Editions of their first three records, and classics Made in Japan & Who Do We Think We Are!

Like their esteemed peers who managed to last this long (such as The Stones, The Who, & The Kinks), Deep Purple have had their share of breakups, reunions, and turbulent times. But after a volatile split with founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in 1993, Jurassic-critics finally thought they had heard the last of Deep Purple. Why would they want to bid good riddance to a legendary band? For this answer, we must look at the immediate past.

You may remember that in 1984, the "classic" Deep Purple reformed after a 11-year hiatus. As this was among the first major reformations of the rock era, it was a largely welcomed event in the music industry. The result was the triple platinum Perfect Strangers and record concert receipts. It seemed that the 70's supergroup, who once reigned with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath as kings of the Rock world, picked up where they had left off.

Unfortunately, by their 1987 follow-up album, House of Blue Light, the same problems that blew them apart in the 70's had resurfaced again. Blackmore insisted on increased creative control, and after another successful tour (and an ill-conceived live album), the continual frustrations expressed by singer Ian Gillan would eventually lead to his pink slip from the band.

While Deep Purple were busy suffering through egotism and apathy, the musical landscape changed and quickly passed them by. As they entered the 90's with Gillan's replacement, former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, both fans and critics screamed foul. This prompted the record company to insist the next album include Gillan's signature vocals.

Most were skeptical of success, and the second reunion of the "classic" line-up went largely ignored. By 1993, Deep Purple had not only fallen out of public favor, but also public memory. Feeling that the band could no longer continue in its present form (specifically with Gillan), Blackmore left mid-tour. However, to the surprise of their loyal fanbase and the jeers of critics, the band decided to carry on without him.

Amazingly, what to many should have been Deep Purple's death-knell quickly became a startling rebirth. First with guitar guru Joe Satriani as a temporary replacement, and ultimately with virtuoso Steve Morse, Deep Purple have spent the last four years rediscovering the joy of music again. Indeed, after 1996's critically acclaimed Purpendicular and the resulting tour, there was little doubt that the band was in exceptional form.

Jon Lord & Ian Paice, the two constant elements in Purple's signature sound, are playing Keyboards and Drums with the same passion and ability that earned them global esteem. Ian Gillan, whose golden throat landed the original lead role in Jesus Christ Superstar, is once again showcasing his classic vocal stylings. Plus, Roger Glover's wonderful Bass and Production work tie it all together in a way only Roger could.

On the guitar, fellow legend Steve Morse has aptly filled Blackmore's sizable shoes. Among the elite few inducted into Guitar Player Magazine's Gallery of Greats, the Dixie Dregs maestro, composer, etc., has added an unquestionable vitality to Purple's music. To even their own surprise, fans have warmly embraced Steve, as many proclaim that Purple haven't performed with such vital intensity since the early 70's - the classic DP era. This is certainly showcased on Live at the Olympia '96, which was recently cited as among the top 10 CD's of 1997 by Vintagerock.com.

Because of this rebirth and the advent of the Internet, fans are uniting internationally to enjoy their favorite band again, while also recruiting new faithful to the fold. In fact, it's been said the rejuvenated Deep Purple may have the strongest underground following in the world. Certainly, if you love live music, Deep Purple have always stood amongst the best of the best (Made In Japan). Besides, in a world dominated by Spice Girls and Oasis, it's not often you get an opportunity to hear seasoned musicians performing at their artistic peak, and the great ones sure aren't getting any younger. Enjoy!

Copyright © 1997 "The Highway Star"

By Ed Jankauskas

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