DEEP PURPLE + 1 FIRE + 12 MATTRESSES = "MACHINE HEAD"
by Howard Bloom Circus Magazine, June 1972
What do you do when they burn the casino where you plan to record out from under you, throw you out of a pavilion, then tell you to make your LP in a hotel hallway?
On the near side of the rain-slicked road a crowd of well-dressed people stood shivering, huddled together, watching as flames leapt from the doors and windows of an enormous, ornate gambling casino. On the far side of the road, in a muddy field close to the Casino, two roadies ran to the side of a 32-foot-long mobile trailer, stopped next to the cab, tried to figure out how to open the locked door without a key, then picked up a stone, smashed the side window, scrambled into the front seat, revved up the engine, and drove the trailer out of reach of the spreading blaze. Hours later, when the 250-foot-high flames died down and the crowd had dispersed, Montreux Switzerland’s gambling casino had been leveled to the ground. In the ashes were the charred remains of $48,000 worth of amps and instruments: every last bit of the equipment that Frank Zappa and the Mothers had been playing onstage when the fire broke out. And in a hotel nearby, the exhausted members of Deep Purple, who’d been in Zappa’s audience, wondered where they would be able to record their next album, "Machine Head" (on Warner Bros. Records). They had driven the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit to Montreux to produce an LP at the now burnt-out casino.
Singing on the stairs:
The next day, bassist Roger Glover, organist Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, and lead singer Ian Gillan combed Montreux to find a building they could convert into a studio. After being thrown out of the Pavilion by the police because they were raising too much racket, they passed up the use of a bomb shelter, a cavernous cellar that had once protected war treasures, and a chateau in the mountains, they finally found what they were looking for - the luxurious but nearly empty Grand Hotel, which not only had hallways spacious enough for the band, and a management that wouldn’t toss them out, but offered a spiral staircase that could double as an echo chamber.
"We actually went to the Casino in Montreux to record, but as you know it burnt down," says tall and powerful looking Jon Lord as he settles into an overstuffed chair in his London hotel room. "Our roadies just that morning decided not to put our equipment into the Casino, so we were really lucky. Frank Zappa lost everything in the fire. I think there was one molten cowbell left. So we went all over Montreux to find a place to record and finally settled on an old hotel which was empty for the winter except for one deaf old lady."
A quick lick between the mattresses:
"We cordoned off a corridor and put mattresses in and built a little studio," he recalls, stroking his mustache. "It was so easy and relaxed because we could record when we liked and didn’t have to worry about booking studio time. It gave the LP a much more immediate feel and a continuity we haven’t got on any of the other LP’s. This is much more how we are, and our first three LP’s were the most unrepresentative of a group’s sound onstage I’ve ever heard. The album combines the best points of "In Rock" and "Fireball", our last album (both on Warner Bros. Records). It’s exciting and musically valid. Most important is that it was done in three weeks instead of the usual six months."
The flames that reduced the Montreux Casino to black ash still spurt furiously from "Machine Head’s fifth track, ‘Smoke on the Water.’ The rhythmic squeals of Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar leap like tongues of fire into the intro, then rise higher as Jon Lord’s throaty organ and Ian Paice’s rumbling bass enter one by one to feed them fuel. Finally, the soft, charcoal grit of Ian Gillan’s voice eases the story of the Montreux fire into the rocking blaze:
We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile,
We didn’t have much time.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
Some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground.
But as the four members of Deep Purple worked in the cluttered hotel corridor, surrounded by used mattresses and wardrobes jerry-rigged to work as sound baffles, fire was not the basic element they used to give "Machine Head" its fist-like impact. Rhythm - brutal, throbbing, primitive rhythm - was the raw material with which they built each track, whether it was the slow pulsation of flame in ‘Smoke on the Water’ or the hammer blasts that raced like an engine through the auto song ‘Highway Star.’
Time for some interest:
Back in his London hotel room, Jon Lord stands up for another group that relies heavily on rhythm. "As a matter of fact, I thought the last Grand Funk album wasn’t at all bad," he says, leaning forward so that his long hair swings down past his cheeks and throws his face into shadow. "You can run the terrible risk in this business of attracting the wrath of certain people. That awful word ‘hype’ gets thrown at you. I had been on the road for seven years and that was a heavy scene trying really hard. From when Deep Purple started we never hyped a record into the chart, and our first hit album, "In Rock", came two years after we had formed the band. That doesn’t sound like hype to me. But King Crimson and ELP got the same treatment. But what do they want?" Jon smiles. "Do they want us to starve and slap up and down the M1 highway in a Commer van for another ten years? We’ve paid our dues, and now we would like some interest on those dues." In the case of "Machine Head", the dues were a little stiffer than usual. They included three weeks rental of the Stones mobile unit, the price of a few dozen used mattresses, the loss of $48,000 worth of Frank Zappa’s equipment, and the destruction of one large, elegant, and overly-flammable Swiss casino.