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Funky Claude tells the story

View of downtown Montreux

Gibson.com has an interview they recently did with Claude Nobs. The inevitable question, of course, came up:

Tell me what you remember about the “Smoke on the Water” incident on December 4, 1971.

This was one of the concerts I was doing besides the festival in the summer. I had Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, and one time I had Frank Zappa. And at the end of the concert someone threw a flare gun at the ceiling and everything started to be on fire.

You helped get people out of the burning building. There’s even a lyric about it in “Smoke On The Water.”

It was actually not that difficult because we had big bow windows in the concert hall overlooking the swimming pool. Frank Zappa took his guitar – a Gibson, a very strong one – and he smashed the big window down with his guitar. Then a lot of people could go out through there. The people went out through that exit, and within about five minutes, the 2,000 kids were out. And the people were watching the fire thinking, “Oh, you know, Frank Zappa is just doing an incredible ending to his show.”

How did the Deep Purple song evolve out of the ashes?

Deep Purple were watching the whole fire from their hotel window, and they said, “Oh my God, look what happened. Poor Claude and there’s no casino anymore!” They were supposed to do a live gig [at the casino] and record the new album there. Finally I found a place in a little abandoned hotel next to my house and we made a temporary studio for them. One day they were coming up for dinner at my house and they said, “Claude we did a little surprise for you, but it’s not going to be on the album. It’s a tune called ‘Smoke On The Water.’” So I listened to it. I said, “You’re crazy. It’s going to be a huge thing.” Now there’s no guitar player in the world who doesn’t know [he hums the riff]. They said, “Oh if you believe so we’ll put it on the album.” It’s actually the very precise description of the fire in the casino, of Frank Zappa getting the kids out of the casino, and every detail in the song is true. It’s what really happened. In the middle of the song, it says “Funky Claude was getting people out of the building,” and actually when I meet a lot of rock musicians, they still say, “Oh here comes Funky Claude.”

Read the interview at Gibson.com. Bear in mind that the article managed to get a couple of things wrong. It makes you believe that the band was at the Hotel Eden au Lac when the fire started, while they were actually in the Casino itself and retreated to the hotel across the bay later; and Eden au lac is not the Grand Hotel which was empty, cold and bare. That building is further down the road and has been converted into a condominium since then.

Thanks to Bryan Wawzenek for the info.

3 Comments to “Funky Claude tells the story”:

  1. 1
    T says:

    I am not ashamed to admit that I had not heard the account of Zappa smashing out the window. I assume it was an SG.

  2. 2
    purplepriest1965 says:


    So its his fault they did not put When A Blind Man Cries on the album!

  3. 3
    Moreblack says:

    wow,i was there,or i had been here for the last 35 36 years,nice,great time,…the old Funky Claud…yeah really good guy…

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