In what may be the longest title in the Seymour Duncan blog section, this time my verbose title is justified See, Deep Purple is one of the reasons I play guitar, and is still one of the reasons I continue today. Getting inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is way overdue, but they were always the underdog in their rich 50-year history of music-making. Politics around the induction ceremony notwithstanding (no induction for the original bassist on the first three albums, for instance), Deep Purple always had the substance there when it came down to the original music. While Ritchie Blackmore might just be the original shredder (listen to all of In Concert if you need proof), they have had some really amazing replacements for Ritchie over the years. This article is about the ones that didn’t play on Machine Head, In Rock, or Made in Japan.
3. Tommy Bolin
Poor Tommy Bolin was forgotten in Purple history, but he was Ritchie’s first replacement in 1975. Ritchie became dissatisfied with David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes increasing American R&B/funk influences and bolted off with Ronnie James Dio to tour with his Rainbow project. This left the rest of Deep Purple to audition new players. On the radar was American Tommy Bolin, who was starting a solo career after a successful career as a sideman. His work with mega-drummer Billy Cobham included the album Spectrum, which contained a few genuine fusion classics. His slide playing sat well in the James Gang too. Tommy looked and played like a 70s rock star, and they would need a big personality to continue on.
Tommy’s only studio album with Deep Purple is Come Taste the Band, and you can hear the funk influences in full swing. While it doesn’t sound much like a Deep Purple album the way we think of them now, it was an important period with some excellent songs. Tommy’s Strat, Alembic, and Les Paul sounded nothing like Blackmore’s, and his use of the Echoplex (particularly the spaceship sounds you can find by twisting the time knob on an analog delay like the Vapor Trail) is in full force. He kept his delay control mounted on the mic stand to reach it easily.
Unfortunately, Tommy Bolin was a casualty of the 70s drug scene, with a not-so-healthy heroin addiction that eventually claimed his life. By that time, Deep Purple had split up, although a live album remains of Tommy’s time in the band, and you can hear Jon Lord’s keys play many of Ritchie’s iconic licks as Tommy was too inebriated to play. At this point, the story is that the band tuned many guitars to open chords, so he could barre simple shapes to get through the set. A sad ending to the start of a brilliant career, it is a shame it ended up badly.
2. Joe Satriani
Yeah, that’s right. The Alien himself filled in for Ritchie in the mid-90’s when Ritchie walked off in the middle of a tour, leaving a band known for their guitar playing without a guitarist. Joe grew up playing Deep Purple songs, and was already a huge star himself at the time. While Joe never recorded a studio or official live album with the band, bootlegs exist. Adding his name to the line-up added some value to the fans who were hoping on seeing Ritchie. How did a guy with a sound that was the polar opposite of Ritchie get the job? He was already a star, could learn the setlist in a few days, and above all, he was easy to get along with.
How did he sound? Actually, really well. Towards the end of Ritchie’s tenure, he would sometimes refuse to play, or just stand in front of the amp and produce feedback for the whole duration of some of his solos. Of course, Joe’s rig choices were different than Ritchie’s, and a lot more modern. A run-through of his gear can be found here. He was strictly a humbucker player at that time, and he used a lot more gain that Ritchie ever used. However, he got along well with the singer (this was Ritchie’s big problem) and they even played Surfing with the Alien in the set. He chose to focus more on his solo career than stay with Deep Purple, but remained on friendly terms.
1. Steve Morse
The guitarist who has been in the band the longest (and who, as of this writing is kept out of induction in the Rock & Roll HOF) is Steve Morse. I was a Deep Purple fan since about age 7, and as I studied guitar in my early teens, I read an interview with this quirky guy who dared to start an instrumental rock/country/classical fusion band named the Dixie Dregs. He didn’t play like anyone who I’d heard before, and picked Every. Single. Note. The music sounded to me like Bach was invited to a hoedown with Al DiMeola. I was a huge Steve Morse fan ever since then. Later, he paired down to a trio, joined the American progressive-lite group Kansas for a few tours, and was then recommended by Satch to try out for Deep Purple. He didn’t even know much about the band and the rehearsal was the first show. Several studio albums (the new one is almost complete) and a ton of live releases later, his playing has been on every Deep Purple recording since 1996.
Since the Dixie Dregs, Steve’s sound has gotten fuller and thicker with time, and he never really made any attempt to change his style and sound to mimic Ritchie. His original Telecaster had 4 pickups on it, and uses a variation of that theme with his signature Music Man guitars.
One of the interesting things I’ve learned from Steve is his use of delay. He uses separate delay pedals for different lengths of delay, and they are always on. The echoes are sent to their own amp, and he controls them with a series of volume pedals to fade in the correct amount of delay. I do this with my Vapor Trail, using the insert jack. I attach a volume pedal to the insert jack to control my echoes, but until I have someone else carrying my amps, I only bring one to a gig.
We all know that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame isn’t the definitive voice for who had the most impact in rock music. While it is unlikely anything resembling a Deep Purple reunion would ever happen with Ritchie Blackmore, we still have recordings to listen to any time we want. Personally, I love music from all eras in the band, from the classical folk rock of Ritchie’s ES-335 through an AC-30 on the first three albums (my favorite Ritchie tone) to the Stevie Wonder-like inflections of Glenn Hughes, it is all good to me.
Who was your favorite guitar performance in Deep Purple? Who’s tone do you like the best?