FIFTY minutes outside London, lan Paice awaited my arrival in his Porsche. How but good, having just watched lush, rolling countryside from my train window? Time passed quickly as we sat in a pub and lan related his story to me. It was during the summer of ’68 that Deep Purple first made its impact in America with a Joe South tune called “Hush.” The record moved into the Top 10 and soon the success of their first album, Shades Of Deep Purple, paved the way for a concert tour. Their reputation grew the following year with the release of such singles as “Kentucky Woman” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” The Book Of Taliesyn and Deep Purple In Concert further stimulated the public’s interest.
Some 12 albums were recorded between 1968 and 1975, at which time Ritchie Blackmore departed. Tommy Bolin made one album with the group, Come and Taste The Band, but the group disbanded in 1976, much to the dismay of rock fans throughout the world.
Listening to lan speak about his subsequent positions with such notable groups as Whitesnake and Gary Moore, one can easily understand the role Deep Purple has played in his life. It has been such a monumental part of his career that he can barely contain his excitement about the group being back together.
As I look out the window of the pub, I am struck with the contrast between this member of Deep Purple, a group which foreshadowed the rowdy, heavy metal genre, and the soft-spoken individual who enjoys the quiet country life of the Thames Valley. Obviously, that balance is important to him.
“It is now, because I’m not 21 anymore,” he says candidly. “I have a wife and two children. My main indulgence outside music is horse racing, and I’m never more than half an hour away from that. That’s my only involvement in country life, other than the fact that I like the quiet. I don’t like cities. I have a lovely house, privacy and I can do what I want. I could not get that in the city. I’m lucky that I’ve been in a situation which has made a lot of money for me and has given me a certain independence.”
RF: How did Deep Purple get back together after all these years?
IP: Basically, what happened was that Jon [Lord] and I thought there was still a possibility of getting the Purple thing back together, so we started making quiet inquiries about the interest on the business side amongst record companies, promoters and such. What we didn’t know was that, at the same time lan [Gillan], Ritchie [Blackmore] and Roger [Glover] were doing exactly the same thing in America. Of course, business people do talk to each other, and the next thing I knew, I got a call from the manager of Rainbow saying we were both going at this from different angles and on different sides of the Atlantic. When we realized that all five of us, in fact, were interested in doing it, we set up a meeting. The gist of the meeting was that if we were going to do it, we were not going to do it as a nostalgia thing or a hit-and-run job of going out on the road for a year, making a lot of money and then forgetting about it again. The concensus of opinion was that if we were going to do it, we were going to do it properly—a straight continuation of what we were doing ten years ago. We were going to do it very seriously and look at it as a two-and-a-half to three- year project, and that’s where we are now. It was most important that we didn’t just do it for the money. We had to find out that we still liked each other and it would work again when we started playing together. The next stage after the meeting was to set up a rehearsal area for about a month. We went up to Vermont, where it was quiet, and it worked incredibly well. At that point, we knew there was nothing really to stop us. We got on very well and the music came very easily again.
RF: What was it like the very first time you played together again?
IP: It was a little strange, but it seemed very natural. That might seem like a contradiction, but there was that chemical thing, and you don’t know why it works with some people and why it doesn’t with others. It was strange to see the faces across the stage playing, but at the same time, it was the most natural thing in the world. It was as if ten years hadn’t really existed.
RF: What kind of music are you creating?
IP: It is the same rawness that was in the early stuff, but with a passage of ten years, so it’s 1980’s music instead of 1960’s and 1970’s music.
RF: What do you perceive as the difference? Can you put that into words?
IP: I can’t. It’s a genuine extension of what we’d done before, just played a little less frantically. We still seem to be getting the rawness and aggression coming through, which is the trademark. I don’t know; when I hear the old records, they’re still nice, but that was then. I hear what we’re doing now and it’s definitely today. It’s not a trying-to-live-in-the-past sort of thing. That would be a huge mistake.
RF: Everybody calls Deep Purple the forerunner of heavy metal. Now that you’re actually back in the ball game, do you see this as heavy metal?
IP: I don’t think it ever really was. What we spawned was heavy metal. What we did was heavy rock ‘n’ roll. I think metal tends to be quite mindless—void of any subtlety at all, lyrically or musically. No one could ever say we were of that ilk. Thought always went into what we did and that still applies. When we do get back on the road, people will actually see where a lot of it has gone wrong in music. Bands have gone for the power of it without thinking about why the power is there. It’s a small point, but quite important.
RF: When and why did you become interested in drums?
IP: My father was a musician and he used to play a lot of big band stuff around the house. Then I saw a couple of Krupa movies, and I just thought the guy looked so flashy that I thought it might be something I’d like to do. It was really the visual side rather than the music side that I went for first. When I was 15, they sort of got fed up with my taking biscuit tins to use as drums, so they bought me a red-sparkle kit, which cost about $50, brand new. It sort of went from there.
After about six months, I joined a little rock ‘n’ roll band, which I stayed with until I was about 17. Then I turned professional, which didn’t mean I earned any more money; I just didn’t have a daytime job. From that band, which worked extensively through Britain and Europe, I ended up at the Star Club in Hamburg in ’67, which is where I met Ritchie. The rest became history.
RF: Isn’t that where you also met Jon Lord?
IP: No, I had met Jon before at the Marquee in London. A band I was in was the support act to a band he was in. The band I was playing with, called the MI5, had been doing a three-month gig in Milan, Italy. We found that we could pick up three weeks at the Star Club in Hamburg on our way back. That’s what we did. It was at that time that Ritchie was living there, and we just sort of bumped into each other. In those days, it was very much a musician’s place. Everyone who was good but hadn’t really gotten any success would go over to Germany because they could make more money. For three weeks it was sort of, “Hi. How are you?” with Ritchie. We went back to England and carried on working. About nine months after that, Purple was being formed. The singer in my band auditioned for the job and Ritchie said, “Do you still have the drummer with you?” He said yes and that’s when I came along to the gig.
RF: From what I gather, the experience in Germany was very good training.
IP: Yes. You worked hard. You were building up your physical power to actually play, while at the same time, completely crucifying yourself by being silly because it was very hard to be normal there. Mid-week at the Star Club, you’d start at 6:00 in the evening and finish at 4:00 in the morning. There would be three bands up. You’d play an hour, take two hours off, play an hour, and take two hours off. So you’d play four hours a night. On the weekends there would be four bands on and you’d still play four hours, but you’d start at 4:30 in the afternoon and play until 8:00 the next morning, by which time you were so wired that you couldn’t go straight to sleep. So you’d go down to a little beer house and before you knew it, it would be time to go back on stage. After three days, you wouldn’t be feeling too well. But once you got into the swing of it and learned how to pick up a half an hour’s sleep here and 40 minutes’ sleep there, you would end up with a lot of physical power, especially for a drummer where the more you play, the stronger you become.
RF: What exactly do you mean by stronger?
IP: If you are driving a car, you have an overdrive switch where you just give it that little bit more than you would normally give it. But you can only do that so long before your muscles start cramping up on you and you have to go back to what you call your normal gear. If you’re really fit and you’ve really been playing hard a long time, it’s easier to stay in the overdrive gear. It makes you a lot more excited, and for some reason, it always picks up a band. That sort of thing is more prevalent in rock ‘n’ roll than any other music where it’s physical force that generates excitement. Of course, the more fit you are, the more you can sustain that and the more exciting it becomes. There are things I can’t do now that were easy to do then, even though I know more things now, technically. I know the easy way around things, where I struggled to do things the hard way 16 years ago.
RF: Did anybody ever try to discourage you from playing left-handed?
IP: No. I never even thought about it until I went to set up my first decent drumkit and saw that it was built for a right-handed player. The tom mounting was in the wrong place. When you watch yourself in the mirror, you look right-handed, so you think you look just like everybody else. Had I gone for lessons, I dare say the teacher would have tried to get me to play right-handed. Had I done so, I think I would be a better player today, because I would have been training my weaker hand to play all the hard stuff from day one and the independence my left hand would have would be amazing. Basically, I’m just a mirror image of every other drummer. The ambidextrous thing of changing over is the sort of thing Simon Phillips and Billy Cobham have perfected. It must be very hard for them because they were set in their way of playing right-sided. Had I started being naturally left-sided and been trained from day one to play with the right, that would have all been there automatically. Any drummer who is naturally left-handed should try playing the other way around for a year, because the independence on the left side will be frightening.
RF: Did you have any formal training?
IP: The only formal training was my father showing me what a daddy-mommy roll was. He said, “Practice that,” and I did, and that was it. Then I knew there was such a thing as a paradiddle. I didn’t know what it was, but I found out from other drummers. Everything was just a variation of that.
It’s funny; when I do clinics, the first thing I say is, “Anybody with any technical question, just forget it. I’m not interested in it and you can probably play more rudiments than I can. The thing is, I can probably play a bit faster and better than you can.”
RF: Do you feel that the lack of technical knowledge has hindered or helped you?
IP: A bit of both, really. There are certain things I might have liked to have done with formalized arranged music, but I have always found that very difficult because I don’t read a note. There are certain things that become very difficult unless you know how to throw every rudiment in the book in. Yet, on the other hand, the fact that I never have any preconceived ideas about what anything should be gives me a lot more freedom than people who maybe know a little too much for their own good. When we did the stuff in Purple with the orchestras, you should have seen my score. Everybody had a proper score with notes, treble clefs and staffs, except me. For the first movement it said, “Hang around for about six minutes, wait for three big bangs, and come in with first rock ‘n’ roll rhythm.” That was good enough for me. The fiddle section the first time through was saying, “Is this guy for real? Is he joking?” But the funny thing was that on the first two run-throughs, I got it right and they got it wrong. It only needs one note to be in the wrong place and the whole section goes, whereas I know exactly what my piece of music is. I wrote it for myself. It was quite something to see their faces.
RF: Did you enjoy the symphonic work?
IP: It was a lot of hard work for basically a very short time. We maybe did orchestral work three or four times—two different pieces—and I’m talking about three to four weeks of heavy work. There are easier ways to enjoy yourself. I’m glad I did it so I can say I did it, but I wouldn’t want to do it again, nor would I wish it on anybody else. Orchestras don’t play in time. We play on the downbeat and they play on the upbeat. There’s a fraction of a second difference and they’re always late. There’s nothing you can do about it and there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s just the way things are.
RF: A hard rock band working with an orchestra was very unusual for that time.
IP: In those days, it was a lot easier to be lots of different things. Now, you’re either a rock band, a blues band or a pop band. You can’t say, “We do this and this.” People won’t take it. They put you into a little niche and bag, and if you say, “But we can do this as well,” they’re really not too interested. Back then the whole thing was to break down the barriers, knock all the walls down and say, “Look, we can do anything we want.”
RF: They’re not as interested in experimentation now as they were back then.
IP: There’s no money in it. Back then, nobody was thinking in terms of money. Now, I’m afraid the business has gotten mixed in with the artistic side. People start thinking, “This is not a commercial track.” whereas that used to be the management’s problem. Now everybody knows there’s so much money to be made that, if it’s going to be made, they try to keep it all for themselves. This means that everyone takes a lot more of an interest in the financial aspect. It isn’t just because we were kids then, whereas now we’re adults. The kids now look at it that way. The first thing they talk about is how much this album is going to cost and make, instead of, “Let’s just make the album and see what happens.”
RF: Who were your influences drummer- wise and musically?
IP: After Krupa I got into rock and into the music of my generation. There was a British band called the Hollies and their drummer, Bobby Elliot, just had a sound that was different from everybody else. Everybody else had a sort of woody, wooly, mucky sound where you couldn’t actually pick out anything. He had a clean sound that just cut through. He played patterns and put interesting fills into a middle eight or into a chorus. He was actually thinking about the song he was playing. I tried to pattern myself after what he was doing. In about ’66 or ’67, Vanilla Fudge happened with Carmine, and I don’t think there’s any good rock player who Carmine hasn’t influenced to some degree. John Bonham was greatly influenced by Car- mine, although he never actually admitted it. I certainly am, and people like Cozy Powell are.
RF: What was it about Carmine that influenced you?
IP: Not to think in straight fours. Carmine thinks in accents and pushes. He just looked at it a different way. Over here in England and Europe, we weren’t looking at things that way. He was looking at sound as well. By that time, we were get- ting very hung up with studio drum sounds which were all very flat and small and not very interesting. He was the first one to really get away from that, and get back to the way a drumkit used to sound in the ’50s when it was really just a couple of bad mic’s and the room and drum sound. I’m still trying to achieve the drum sound that I hear in my drum room at home and get that on record. I still haven’t done it. I put on a little cassette machine, play, and the drums are monsters—big and nasty. When I get into the studio and try to do the same thing, it’s just too clinical. But I keep on trying. Carmine has come the closest to what I think is the perfect sound.
RF: The recording techniques back when you started were very different than today?
IP: Oh, yeah! You’re talking about four-track recording. It was very, very difficult to get true quality. The quality on Sgt. Pepper is astounding, even by today’s standards. They were running maybe three, four-track machines in synch so they were 12-track recordings, or however many machines they were using. But that was something you could do when you had lots of money to play with. For the rest of us, trying to make records and make them sound good was very difficult, because we really didn’t have the equipment to do it with. Things went over the top in the early ’70s when everybody started getting precise about what was allowed in the studio and how to get sounds. Even in those days, the free thinking seemed to be closing down on sounds. It’s come full circle again. Everybody is getting these terrible electronic sounds, synthesizers and such, and there’s no size to anything. It’s just pure impact and everything is so incredibly dull. There’s no excitement to it—clever, yes, and interesting sound-wise to a point, but there’s no excitement. There are no people playing. It’s the easy way out for young musicians to sound good without actually playing. All they have to do is keep time and play a straight tempo.
RF: Do you have any words of wisdom on how to teach yourself to play?
IP: I had no choice; there was nobody to teach me. But I would say that, if you have a teacher in your area, learn the basics and then forget it. Learning the basics will save you five or six years of struggling to find them all over again once you think you can play. It’s a very destructive thing to think you’ve been playing five or six years and you can’t play. There are things you just don’t know how to do, and they’re so simple when somebody shows you how to do them. So learn the basics. Then if you feel you don’t want to be like your teachers, teach yourself from there. But if you want perfection and want to be precise, then stay with the teacher. It depends on what you want out of music.
RF: And how do you teach yourself from there?
IP: You play with records. Play whatever turns you on when you listen to a record until you know how to do it, or until what you do sounds better than the record. Sometimes you find that what the drummer is playing is totally against the way you feel the thing, and that your way sounds even better to you. The great thing about teaching yourself is that you learn very quickly what does not work. Listening to records is the easiest and quickest way to do it. It helps you formulate your own style too because you’re not listening to one person. You’re drawing from three or four, and adding whatever you think is slightly better. That way, you become your own person. When you start listening to one person alone—a teacher or one person on record—you become just a copy and facsimile of that person, which doesn’t do any good for you in the long run. You’ll just get nowhere.
RF: When Deep Purple started, were you guys concerned that most of your success was in the United States?
IP: No, we were just happy to have success somewhere. It didn’t really matter where. Even in those days, Purple was a very expensive band to run. We had to earn our keep. Money was advanced, yet we had to work hard. We couldn’t say, “Oh, we don’t feel like playing this week…” The success in England really didn’t come until the band changed format. That’s when the band became what all these heavy metal bands are trying to be now.
RF: Do you find that the heavy metal of yesteryear is very different from today’s?
IP: Oh yeah. Basically, we worked through a progression to become what we were in the early ’70s. We went through all sorts of changes. We went through playing soul and disco at the time. That’s where we earned our bread and butter. You couldn’t just go out and play really loud, aggressive music because there was no such thing.
RF: So you did cover tunes in the beginning.
IP: On the first Purple records, there are covers of Beatles songs and Joe South. Through a natural progression we ended up with something that was different enough to become successful. Now it seems that the first thing to go for is to copy what took us a lot of years to get to, but that’s all they can do.
RF: Do you feel that playing the other styles helped you to develop the style that eventually became appropriate for Deep Purple?
IP: Yes, it had to. That’s why I can’t really think of one heavy metal band—maybe with the exception of Def Leppard—who plays anything different. They all sound like each other. You could never say that about Zeppelin, Purple or Sabbath in those days. Everybody was different. We all had our own little things that were ours. Def Leppard is about the only young band I’ve seen actually play with a good degree of talent and quality, and with an understanding of each other. Most of them just plug in, turn it up and have a good time, which is okay to a certain extent, but there’s more to it.
RF: There were some personnel changes in the group, although each person stayed for a lengthy amount of time. What are the advantages and disadvantages to working in a band that long?
IP: There are definite advantages staying with one outfit for a long time. Of course if it’s a successful one, you can pick and choose the rest of your life, really. I found no great problem after Purple split. I tried one venture which wasn’t very successful—a band Jon Lord and I put together called Paice, Ashton and Lord.
RF: That only lasted a year.
IP: The basic idea was good and the music was okay, but it didn’t work. It was clear on stage that it just wasn’t quite right. It cost a lot of money, so we said, “That’s it. It’s not going to happen,” and we just cut our losses. Then I sort of gave it up for a little while. I’m not a fanatical musician at all. It makes no difference to me whether I stay or not. It would be quite easy for me not to see a drumkit for two months.
RF: Then you come back to it fresher.
IP: Maybe that’s it. I haven’t played a kit seriously for the last three weeks, and in two days’ time I’m going to do some clinics, so the first one should be hilarious. I’ll be going for things that I haven’t a chance in hell to get. But who cares? People know what I can do. If they see me having a bad night, they know it’s a bad night. I’m not a fanatic who cares that every night is perfect, and I’m not going to change my whole life-style just to please other people.
RF: Do you feel that by playing with the same band for so long you take the risk of it becoming stale?
IP: Not stale so much as you tend to become a little limited in what you think you can do. You forget that there are other things you can actually play. I find it very, very difficult when I’m in a situation where I’m playing one sort of music to stop and say, “I’ve got a session where I have to play for a three-minute pop single.” I have to change the idea of sound. I have to change what I think I’m going to play. I find that very difficult, whereas if I had a more free-moving career, I’d be doing that all the time.
RF: Have you done many sessions?
IP: Not a lot, but then again, I always charge a lot of money because it’s not really my interest, and there are a lot of other people who do it a lot better than I do. People who want a good record really should go to people who work in studios all the time, because they’ll get a much better product. When they call me it’s just because they want my name. Then they have to pay for it. Usually, they’re frightened by the money I charge, so it works out best for both of us. They keep their money and I get to stay home.
RF: Were you actually ready for Purple to end when it did?
IP: No. What should have happened was, when Ritchie said he wanted to quit, we should have said, “Let’s just stop and look at this.” He, Jon and I should have sat down and said, “Look, if it’s because of Glen Hughes and David Coverdale and what they’re doing, then let’s change the band again or let’s just take two years off. We’ll all do what we want, come back in two years’ time and look at it again.” That’s what we should have done, because if we had, it would have continued through to now, and we’d have had a lot of fun all along. We would have done a tour every two years, made a record and still had the nice social circle. But when Ritchie left, we were a bit silly. We were determined to carry on and we brought Tommy Bolin in.
As good a player as he was in the studio, he was hopeless on stage. When he got on a big stage, he just seemed to freeze up. Instead of playing a solo, he’d end up shouting at the audience and arguing with them. Plus, there was his personal problem, which didn’t help at all. That’s when it became too much.
RF: Is working in a guitar-oriented situation different from working in a vocal-oriented situation?
IP: I find it a lot easier to play with a lead instrumentalist rather than a lead vocalist. There’s a lot more freedom. With a vocalist like David [Coverdale], what he’s doing is so all-encompassing that there is very little space left for anybody else to do much. When you’re doing a solo, then you can let go, but when what you’re selling is basically an instrumental thing with lyrics, there’s the freedom to do certain things. In guitar-oriented bands, just by virtue of the fact that they’re thinking along the same lines as you are, they give you a lot more freedom and they leave a lot more gaps. Gary [Moore] played, and although he sang, he still thought with an instrumentalist’s brain. There were places to play things. With singers, it’s their thing and they’re out front doing the whole thing. Really, you just fade into the background. There’s nothing you can do about it and there’s nothing the singer can do about it.
RF: I’ve heard that working with Ritchie Blackmore is very difficult.
IP: It can be. It can also be very easy. He’s a very changeable person. He’s not very tolerant of fools and he knows what he wants. Whether it’s right or wrong is not really the point. He knows what he wants. If he doesn’t think it’s being done properly or if it doesn’t go the way he thinks, then he’ll say, “I’m not doing it.” There’s no point in talking about it. He’s not doing it.
RF: Doesn’t that make it difficult . . .
IP: Of course it’s difficult, but you accept in the end that that’s the way he is. That terrible old cliche “the show must go on” is really true, though. Actually, there were gigs where Ritchie didn’t like the gig, and he’d sit in the dressing room and play the whole gig from there. He wouldn’t go on stage. “I don’t like this place.” We’d just do it anyway. But I don’t know what it is; people like bad guys. I think Ritchie has known this for a long time, and I think he’s actually nurtured the image a little bit. I think it’s genuine, but I think he’s helped it along a bit.
RF: Can you recall particular tunes that you are proud of or enjoyed?
IP: Only if I play the records. The obvious ones—the big hits—you can always remember those, but some of those satisfying ones weren’t singles. They were just album tracks.
RF: Can you recall any of those?
IP: On the In Rock album, I thought “Living Wreck” was good. It was a good drum sound and I thought the feel was right. There were some interesting fills in it. The Tommy Bolin album we did, Come Taste The Band, had a track called “The Dealer.” It was just so easy to play. The fills were good. I thought all the live albums were good. They captured a lot more of what was going on. It didn’t matter about good or bad; it was feeling and energy, which is never captured in the studio. Zeppelin, on the other hand, made wonderful studio albums and the live stuff was hopeless. They probably got it right at making superior studio records, but I think we probably had a lot more fun by being that much better on stage.
RF: Was it fun to the end?
IP: Not to the end, no. The last year was not fun at all. It was pure fun until Gillan left because he was very funny on the road in those times. You never knew what he was going to do next. You never knew if Ritchie was going to turn up. It was just very exciting. On the night something went wrong, it was terrible, but when you look back on it months later, it’s hilarious. That was good. From the time David and Glenn joined, it just wasn’t the same. The fun had left.
RF: After Lord, Ashton & Paice was Whitesnake, which was very blues oriented.
IP: Right. Basically, I thought, “If I’m going to go back into a rock ‘n’ roll band, I don’t want to go back and do a copy of Purple.” David was basing it a lot more on blues than Purple ever was. I thought it would be a nice change to play a different style. The first two albums I made with Whitesnake were very much that way. Then it started changing again, and I sort of got lost and couldn’t find anything to play. In all blues music there’s a freedom; no matter whether it’s white, black, pink, carefully arranged or not arranged, there’s a freedom in it. Towards the end, the songs were becoming more and more complete, finished items. You had to play one style to make the song work, or it wouldn’t work at all. That’s not what I grew up doing. I found that if the feel in the song was something I didn’t actually agree with, it didn’t matter; I couldn’t go anywhere else. The last album I made with them, called Saints And Sinners, is not a good album. The drumming on it is very, very average—not what I would consider to be me at all. I had no idea of what to play. It was just a complete sort of mental blank. I think at that point David realized it wasn’t going along the way he wanted it to, and I decided I really couldn’t contribute much more the way it was going, so we parted ways.
RF: Then you met up with Gary Moore.
IP: It was about November of ’82. Initially that was just supposed to be an album date. I was going to make the first album with him and that would be it. But the album turned out so nicely, and I wasn’t really doing anything, so his manager came up with the idea of Gary and me putting a band together. It would be under his name, they would take all the hassles—all the business problems, the worry, finding the money—and I would have a sizable interest in the band. That was good enough for me. I would have all the fun of playing plus an incentive to do well and earn money, but without any of the heartache.
RF: What did you enjoy about that situation, musically?
IP: I can’t analyze that. I just enjoyed it. We had a very strange occurrence in the studio on the second album. We went to a fairly new studio which hadn’t gotten all the little bugs wrinkled out. The first two or three nights, we were just going over and over the same couple of tracks. We weren’t playing properly and I started to feel that I couldn’t play just from things happening like the studio breaking down—monitors not right, tape machine not lined up right. When you have to play the song maybe 15 times in a day, you can’t play anymore. The album was on quite a tight budget, but I needed a week off. We decided to bring another drummer in to cut some tracks. So we brought Bobby Chouinard from Billy Squire’s band over. He did a couple of tracks, I came back fresh a week later, and we finished up in four days. That had never happened before where I couldn’t actually physically play in the studio. I couldn’t keep time; I couldn’t think. I had just gone over it too many times. I got away from it and the initial problem was gone. I was thinking, “What am I going to tell people?” In the end, I decided “Sod it, I just can’t play. I’ll take a week off and see how it goes.” I came back and found I still could play. So I decided just to tell the truth.
RF: How has your equipment changed through the years?
IP: The biggest change came in the early ’70s when I switched from a standard kit to a very big bass drum kit. That was a Carmine influence. I heard my rinky dinky 22″ and heard his 26″, and there was no comparison. But you can’t use a 26″ in the studio; it’s just too big. On stage, they can explode if you mike them right, though. I was with Ludwig from the day I could afford a kit in the ’60s, and then I managed to get an endorsement until a couple of years ago. Ever since the company was sold, the drums just haven’t been the same. They’re made just as well; it’s just in the quality control. You find it very hard to get a key on the tension rods because the middle of the rim sticks out too far and little things like that. Those things never used to happen and they shouldn’t happen now. So I began to check other companies out. I thought Pearl was best looking and they’re particularly nicely finished drums. Drums are drums, and the rest is really what you think they look like. The sound is up to you; I don’t care what anybody says. If you get two drums made to a certain standard, they’ll sound the same. I just decided they made the best product. Apart from the obvious change of drum company, nothing has changed really. I might experiment on stage putting in some electric triggering devices off the microphones to maybe beef up the sound a little bit. But I’ve tried that in the studio, and it actually sounds better without it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up with straight drumkit and leave well enough alone.
RF: Any words of wisdom on tuning?
IP: I never, ever try to tell other people how they should tune a drum.
RF: How do you tune?
IP: I don’t tune high. The only thing I tune high is the snare drum. Sometimes I tune that too high, so somebody has to tell me. But with a snare drum, it has to be clean. You don’t get a clean sound from low tuning. It becomes very muddy. You have to find that balance where you’ve got hit and impact, and also have the clarity. With the toms it’s just a matter of hearing the weight. When it’s got some weight, it’s right. Anybody can hit a drum and tell it’s out of tune. It’s a matter of whether you want the big sound or a fast response. I tend to go for the big sound. The fast response is very handy if you have to play quickly all the time, but I don’t really play that fast. My speed is generally limited to the snare drum and independence things where I’m using two or three parts of my body to create the overall sound—not just hands to create speed. So I don’t need that fast response.
RF: What about soloing?
IP: That’s pot luck. All drummers have their own tricks, and it just depends on whether or not they get the tricks in the right order.
RF: Can you reveal any of your tricks?
IP: The simplest one is just being able to perfect the daddy-mommy between the snare drum and the bass drum. If you get the placing of the notes right on two bass drums, it gives your hands time to do independent things and the sound never stops. It’s the sort of thing people need two bass drums to do. You never develop that devastating power that two bass drums can have. You can fool so many people with what you’re doing because you have so much speed going. It’s impossible for the audience to figure it out. If you’ve got two bass drums, the audience can see what you’re doing. But when you’ve just got one foot, nobody can see how you can get two or three notes happening by sliding your foot forward on the bass drum pedal. People just don’t know what’s going on, and they think you’re better than you are.
RF: Can you define for me what qualities make up a good rock drummer?
IP: A lot of natural musical aggression initially, and knowing when to control and when to let go. There are certain points in a song where you must hold back and certain points where you must let go. You’ve got to know those instinctively. You have got to have a lot of power, and you have to know how to conserve that strength because you’re playing for an hour and a half or two hours. Very little of it has to do with actual drumming. It’s a matter of how you look at the music you’re playing.
When you’re playing rock ‘n’ roll, you’re just driving along. You’re not actually trying to be a virtuoso. You’re just holding it together and hopefully making it swing. You’ve got your solo bit to be on your own and be clever. You’ve got to make sure that the band knows who is controlling it, and be sure they can hear you. It doesn’t matter how many mic’s you’ve got on the kit. If you’re playing quietly, all you’re going to get is feedback. You must have that natural aggression.
RF: Looking back, what do you feel was required of you as the drummer for Deep Purple?
IP: To be exciting. Purple should never have worked. Basically, we had five ego-maniacs. There was just a magical chemistry that allowed us to get some good stuff. I can’t think of any other band who has been allowed that much freedom for all the members to do exactly what they wanted. We were just lucky that the chemistry was right and people felt it. There was a real telepathy among the band members, and that meant I had a lot of freedom to play exactly what I wanted, where I wanted and when I wanted. It wasn’t even a matter of keeping time. It was a very exciting band.
RF: What was your role in Whitesnake?
IP: To be controlled. The tempo was totally different. It takes a lot more control to play slowly than it does to play quickly. That was why it was interesting in the beginning. It was different things to play.
What I did with Gary was a little bit in between what Purple was and how Whitesnake started out. I had a touch more freedom, but still had to keep the control because the tempos of the day are totally different from what we were playing ten or 15 years ago.
RF: Have you had to alter your playing with Deep Purple currently to accommodate the times?
IP: There are certain things we’re doing now that we never did. There is a lot of medium-tempo stuff which was sort of a no-go area back in the old days. Now it is a very well-liked kind of thing. That, for me, is not something I am particularly good at. From a personal point of view, I like things incredibly slow or incredibly fast. A medium-tempo thing doesn’t actually give a drummer a lot to do. Generally, the songs that come out medium tempo are very commercial. In the old days it was either incredibly down, heavy-duty sort of stuff, or 300-miles-an-hour, trust-in-the- Lord sort of things.
RF: Are you apprehensive at all about being back together after all these years?
IP: Before we rehearsed I was a little apprehensive, wondering if it—meaning us—had changed too much. After a couple of days of playing together, it was the same kick. That’s the magic that happens, with the possible “hiccups.” If Ritchie, God bless him, gets a huge buzz on his amp, he’ll turn around, take the guitar off and go home. He says that if he can’t play properly, he won’t play at all. I’m prepared for that happening this time around, and I should just sit back and let the world go by instead of worrying about it. I’m hoping it won’t happen at all, but I have to keep my mind open to the possibilities of things going wrong. The general mood is that optimism would be too small of a word. It’s very exciting.