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It died with an awful sound

View of downtown Montreux

40 years ago, on December 4, 1971, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention played a gig at the Casino de Montreux. You know the rest. In case you don’t, read on at the Darker Than Blue blog.

MontreuxMusic.com has videos, pictures, and press clippings from the event that changed music history. Check them out.

And the “most subtle piece of rock memorabilia” award goes to Bathroom Wall T-Shirts for their very topical today Casino de Montreux. Live Music. 4 December 1971. number. I’m so getting one myself.

20 Comments to “It died with an awful sound”:

  1. 1
    David Sanderson says:

    Whenever I wear a DP T shirt at work, I get people coming up to me and I patiently explain that the band are very much still on the go despite what many people think, one guy said he taught his young son the riff to SOTW but didn’t know the meaning of the title as he wasn’t really familar with DP, I then explained that the lyrics are more or less the story of what happened in Montreux, amazingly he replied ‘Oh,so that’s what it’s about, I heard they set fire to some island’! Roger mentioned this myth on one of the DVDs, just how did this rumour start doing the rounds?

  2. 2
    Roberto says:

    a long story, full of events like is the Deep Purple one, and anyone still referring just to this montreux accident which brought to the most famous but surely not the best Purple song…I’m tired of it…

  3. 3
    Drdp says:

    When In Concert – I love the Guitar/Keyboard interplay right after this lyric to commemorate that “Awful Sound”! We hear SOTW so much these days that ”Familiarity may breed contempt” but one day it may go away and surely ”Absence will make the Heart grow fonder”! I know I will NEVER tire of the RIFF THAT LAUNCHED A MILLION GUITARISTS! One for TMIB today!

  4. 4
    StratKat (a.k.a. 'T') says:

    It is interesting to read about this historic event from the perspective of contemporary newspaper articles. One of the stories said that at the time, the cause was unknown, but could have been a “short circuit that burst from the ceiling” or a “firecracker”. Mothers wanted to know if anyone–their children in particular–had been hurt. “Pulling kids out the ground,” indeed. They were reassured that only three had minor injuries and ultimately were allowed to leave the hospital the same night.

    Spectators on the roofs of various nearby buildings watched the fire from their vantage point, and “shouts arose each time they heard the interior explosions.” Some 25 fire hoses surrounded the structure, but one participant who “was everywhere–at the hoses–at the hydrants” said there was little that they could do.

    One question regarded the speed at which the fire engulfed the structure, with the large amount of wood used being the culprit. “The column of grey smoke rose to the sky like an atomic mushroom cloud.” The police sent out a communiqué “inviting the pop concert attendees at the Montreux Casino, who were witnesses to the start of the fire, to give any useful information.” Frank Zappa lost 600,000 Swiss francs’ worth of equipment. It could have been Purple who lost their equipment, and one wonders how history would have been different had that been the case.

    I still believe that someone knows who the “stupid with the flare gun” was, and some day we will know whose act of stupidity inspired the composition of rock’s most recognizable song and propelled our heroes to super-stardom around the world–a song that is played live to this day.

    This song is of special significance to me. You can read about it another musical experiences here:


    and coverage and videos of some experiences performing the song here:


    starting about halfway down the page.

    I have heard countless versions of this song, and no-one plays it like Blackmore. The snappy power from plucking–rather than picking–the strings produces a sound only he could achieve. Michael Lee Jackson kept telling me, “More staccato! More staccato!” which I did–until the rest came in, then I reverted to the more legato style of which so many other guitarists are guilty.

    Never much of a fan the way Steve Morse plays the riff, I have found the definitive versions to be Roger Glover’s remix (nobody but Blackmore could do that ending–durrnt, Durrnt, DURRRRonnnt!) and the first two performances on the Japanese tour. This was Purple at their peak.

    Perhaps not their BEST song, “Smoke” is arguable the most significant, putting the band on the map in the United States. Ironically, it was the heavily edited live version pressed onto the back of the studio version that got peoples’ attention.

    As for the Casino, as one article put it, “The Casino constitutes one of the key elements of the tourist facilities of Montreux. It will be rebuilt.”

  5. 5
    scott says:

    Dec. 4th: …..On this day in 1971 the casino burnt to the ground and inspired the greatest band to write their greatest song. good for DP, bad for Zappa.
    On this day, in 1975, purple crew member Patsy Collins is mudered(?) after falling down a lift shaft. Bolin injests morphine, falls asleep on his arm damaging it, the band is forced to play a second night under duress, and, are ripped off. The band was lucky to escape with their lives. Bad day for Collins, Bolin and DP in general.
    On this day in 1976, Bolin OD’s in Miami. Bad day for Bolin and the music world.
    On this day in 1993 Zappa dies.
    On this day in 1962 I was born.( Kind of Strange that my birthday and Alot of bad situations related to my favorite band coincide!?…) kind of easy for me to notice this i guess.

  6. 6
    errolarias says:

    And today (December 4) is also the day Frank Zappa died in 1993… RIP Mr.Zappa! (what a great coincidence indeed)

  7. 7
    scott says:

    @6 i did not miss that on my post.

  8. 8
    Marije says:

    Whenever I hear Smoke on the water it makes me wonder if that “stupid with a flare gun” who “burned the place to the ground” was ever identified, or how he feels about what he did, if he is still around.

  9. 9
    Scott W. says:

    @ #4 Look here:


    The stupid with a flare gun! To bad i cannot read swiss.

  10. 10
    Tracy Heyder (Zero the Hero) says:

    Hey Real “T” @4,

    I just took a look at your page. “YEEEOOOOOWWWWW!!!!!” I’ve met them all. Chatted with them all. Hell, even threw my opinions at them all. BUT, I haven’t had the gift of playing or singing with any of them. You are truly blessed my friend. I remember you making mention of this, but this is the first time seeing anything of it. Good for you man. It’s definitely a dream of mine. Maybe there’s hope for me yet……


  11. 11
    StratKat (a.k.a. 'T') says:

    Re: #9

    Thanks for the link, Scott W. A very interesting story.

    They speak French in Switzerland. Although I am not a native speaker, I have some experience with the language and translated the greater part of the article. I am not sure was “firing capsules” means–“blanks” perhaps? Or caps? On bootlegs, one often hears pops like cap guns.


    Here is the release concerning the Montreux Casino fire. As previously already stated in the press, a fire completely ravaged the Montreux Casino on Saturday, 4 December, 1971, at the end of the afternoon where a pop concert had attracted some 2000 listeners. By exceptional luck, this accident did not claim a victim. On the other hand, the damage in numbers was between 12 and 15 million francs. The investigation performed by the police can identify the perpetrator of the act that caused this catastrophe. It was one Spicka Zdenek, born 4 November 1949, Czech refugee, previously of Epalinages, currently on the run (see photo). He was placed under arrest by the [local judge] in Vevey.

    The matter is that Spicka fired a flare gun in the [concert] hall, first some [capsules] and then a small flare that lodged into the ceiling which set it on fire. The cause of the accident is therefore clearly established. Although his details had been widely circulated in police bulletins, no trace of Spicka has been found in Switzerland. It has been suggested that he shaved off his beard and mustache. Anyone who can give information regarding Spicka should contact the police…

    It is practically certain today that Zdenek Spicka, who had elected to live in a small commune established in a villa located near Epalignes, took flight the same night of the fire. According to his Czech compatriots, he left as soon as possible because he was afraid of being lynched by the crowd–understandably afraid of the consequences of his actions–even if he had not had the intention of starting the fire. Intentional fire can bring 20 years confinement with a minimum of three years, whereas fire due to negligence can bring a maximum of three years.

    Regarding the pistol, it is a firearm that one can obtain without authorization in large stores, for example. It was an Italian-made device which could be adapted to flares used to signal distress.

  12. 12
    nupsi59 says:

    Hi, check my video of “SOTW”: http://www.youtube.com/user/nupsi59?feature=mhee#p/u/10/pDO37ljDMBo

  13. 13
    Marije says:

    Scott, thanks for the link. StratKat, thanks for the translation. I do know some French (German and Italian are also spoken in other parts of Switzerland BTW), but a complete translation is quite convenient. So it was a Czech guy who fired the flare, but it doesn’t really state if he was caught. For all we know he could still be on the run somewhere…

  14. 14
    Scott W. says:

    Re #11
    Thanks for the translation Stratkat!

  15. 15
    StratKat (a.k.a. 'T') says:

    Re: #10

    Thanks for the kind words, Tracy. Certainly there is a lot to be said for your having met all of them. I’ve only met the one but I can report that Gillan is about as nice and polite a guy as you could meet. My wife still has a big, huge unopened bottle of Heineken that he offered us.

    It seemed unlikely I would ever share a stage with one of them. My brother still brings it up. He is the one who got me into Purple all those years ago. Every once in a while I get a spark of luck, such as the time I got an email I’d won a Rolling Stones guitar from a contest I didn’t remember entering! Fortune favors the foolish?

    Truth be told, though, it is a lot more fun to look back at it now than it was at the time with the nerves and what not, and not everything went as expected–but in retrospect, it was a lifetime opportunity that I will cherish forever.

    Re: #12

    Nice video, Nupsi59! I liked how the pictures went along with the lyrics and can appreciate synching the studio singing with the live video singing. That can be hard to do. Also, I had not seen some of the footage and pictures before. Thanks for that! I like the teeth someone drew on the recording log.

    Plus, seeing all that vintage equipment makes me drool…

  16. 16
    Tracy Heyder (Zero the Hero) says:


    Yes I can only imagine the tension you had to experience at that session. I remember the very first time I had met them back in 1997. My wife facilitated the event in a GOD given chance meeting. Check out my story from the review:


    I was absolutely speechless. I remember trying to put words together in order to communicate something intelligent……bla bla bla is all I remember. I think it was something along the lines of how Charlie Brown’s parents sounded if you remember those cartoons. One thing that was pretty cool on our second meeting which was at the Sunrise Musical Theater 2001 (Check the Perihellion DVD. If you’ve seen it, I’m the dude at about the 3rd row waving the white DP banner), was back stage at the Meet and Greet when Ian Gillan talked about his experience singing with Pavarotti and then began to sing a few segments from Nessun Dorma. Dude a private moment with Ian Gillan singing a tune ‘Accapella’. FANTASTIC! Read my story from that review:


    I have to say that I have had this fantasy of being at a Purple show and either Gillan or Paicey have some sort of issue whereby they can’t perform and they seek somebody from the audience to cover. I know all their tunes and would jump at the shot to fill in like that. Yeah I know, a stupid childish fantasy, but how awesome would that be? Your experience is most likely a once in a lifetime event that I have to only imagine is probably the highlight of anything musically you have experienced. You must be constantly reliving that moment over and over again. Even though I have now met with Purple many times since, those 1st two meetings are still so surreal and my wife and I talk about it over and over. Congrats on your extravaganza. I’m afraid I’d be like jelly if it was me.


  17. 17
    StratKat (a.k.a. 'T') says:

    Re: #16

    What great stories, Tracy–and well-written, too. It was like reading an excerpt from a book!

    To be honest, I’m not sure what I would rather be a part of–playing with one of the Purple members or meeting all of them at once and hanging out!

    I also understand the ‘loss of words’ part as you try to say something intelligent. People who know me personally can tell you I am one of the nicest, kindest people in the world–but unless you KNOW me, I do not come across that way and can appear overly pragmatic, stoic, and indifferent when in fact I am serious, uncomfortable around people, and misunderstood–not too different I suppose from a certain guitar hero I have. I am sure I would have said something that would have come across differently than what I meant!

    Speaking of which, I often have dreams that I am with Deep Purple, sometimes in the band and at other times an observer from the side of the stage–but these dreams are relatively frequent and pretty vivid.

    Like in your case, it was my wife who was the catalyst to get things going and the performance with Gillan’s Inn would never have taken place without her insistence. It is funny how wives are–way bolder than we are, and a lot more adventurous. I attended a Guitar Center session with Paul Gilbert and she was not shy about ripping of the handwritten set list and presenting it to him for autographing!

    Again, great reading–thanks for the links.

  18. 18
    purplepriest1965 says:

    Thanx for sharing those recognisable endearing stories from the past Tracy.

    Somehow I had not seen them before.

    And yup, it often helps to bring a good woman along.

    But it’s also frustrating that after all those years I need to “beg” to get some attention while pushing a newbie female fan forward often does the trick to break through.

  19. 19
    Diamond Dog says:

    https://www.facebook.com/zdenek.spicka.7?fref=ts Same name as the presumed flare gun owner.

  20. 20
    Lynne says:

    The Facebook page seems to belong to a young man. However…his father has the same name and is also on Facebook, and looks to be an appropriate age for someone who was young in 1971: https://www.facebook.com/zdenek.spicka?fref=pb&hc_location=friends_tab

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