How does a band—and not just any band, mind you, but one that’s among the loudest and baddest to ever walk the earth—keep up the intensity decade after decade after decade? According to the only man who’s ever filled Deep Purple’sdrum throne, you just have to love it, like your life depends on it.
We can practice drums or play in a band until we’re blue in the face. We can be dedicated, tour 365 days a year, and take every gig possible to hone our sound. But no matter how hard we work, we probably won’t ever help pioneer a genre of music like the round-spectacle-wearing, long-sideburn-sporting British rock ’n’ roll master Ian Paice and his highly influential band of the last forty-six years, heavy metal gods Deep Purple.
Purple’s sound is so heavy that in 1975 the Guinness Book of World Records listed the drummer and his mates as “the globe’s loudest band”—though if you’ve ever seen Paicey play, you’ve noticed that his touch on the instrument is anything but “loud.” Everyone—and we mean everyone—has heard Paice’s famous 16th-note hi-hats chugging along with Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar riff on “Smoke on the Water,” from the band’s 1972 studio masterpiece, Machine Head. “Smoke on the Water” is iconic in every sense, a classic example of a rock song built on tension and release, and Paice’s jazz-inspired snare work, commanding hand-foot combos, and supreme sense of timing are among the most important elements that draw generation after generation of rock fans to it.
Purple is no one-hit wonder, though. Despite a number of lineup changes since bursting onto the scene with its revved-up cover of Joe South’s “Hush” from its 1968 debut album, Shades of Deep Purple, the band has continuously drawn critical respect and a large, loyal international following. And the musicality, power, and creativity of Paice’s drumming is stamped all over Purple’s catalog. Take the opening title track of 1971’s Fireball, whose blistering double bass and syncopated bell and snare patterns during the intro come at you like a bull out of the gate. (It’s actually a rare instance of Paice playing double bass. So rare, in fact, that he needed to grab a spare drum left in the studio—by the Who’s Keith Moon!) Or take the slippery funk groove and ridiculous fi lls on Machine Head’s “Maybe I’m a Leo.” Or the left-handed drummer’s dark but groovy swing on “I Need Love,” from 1975’s Come Taste the Band.
Remarkably, Purple is still raging, and Paice continues to come up with magical ways to keep up the heat. Last year the band released the studio album Now What?!, and Ian’s powerful pocket and sense of restraint on tracks like “A Simple Song” and swinging half-time shuffl e on “Bodyline” are proof that he can still insert himself into any musical environment without taking over the song. This year, the current “Mark VIII” lineup of Ian Gillan on vocals, Roger Glover on bass, Steve Morse on guitar, Don Airey on keyboards, and Paice—the only remaining original member—has been out hitting the world’s stages yet again, bolstered by the recent reissue of the band’s seminal 1972 live document, Made in Japan . Paice was gracious enough to chat with MD from his home in England a day before embarking on yet another world tour.
MD: Your style is very different from that of the drummers from the era you came up in, the late ’60s and ’70s. You play with so much modern power on albums such as Machine Head and Fireball, but you also have a greasy, bar-band, boogie-woogie feel, like we hear on the early-’80s Whitesnake records you played on. You managed to transition styles pretty easily for someone who’s renowned for pioneering heavy metal drumming.
Ian: When I started playing drums and listening to music, I wasn’t just listening to rock ’n’ roll. The early infl uences that enthralled me were not rock ’n’ roll drummers—they were jazz drummers, big band drummers.
MD: Big band drummers from England?
Ian: No, the really good guys from your side of the pond. The first guy was Gene Krupa. I wanted to look like Krupa—he looked so cool. I don’t mean that in terms of sort of mimicking his act or look, but when I saw those old movies of him, he was the coolest-looking guy in the picture. There were other movies that might have had Buddy Rich in a cameo, or one of the other great big bands—the Dorseys, Count Basie—so I was watching all these different guys.
Before I had drums or sticks, I had a pair of old wooden knitting needles of my mother’s, and I would try to copy what these incredibly great players were doing, just by watching the way their hands moved. I wasn’t trying to be like all the kids who were mimicking the rock ’n’ roll drummers they had seen. I was already trying to be something that was probably a stage ahead of that. All the big band guys just had their genre down, and it was magnificent what they were doing. And even though it was a different generation from mine, that magic came through.
And that’s how I started playing, so when I began playing in a rock ’n’ roll band, all those influences—all those little tricks and movements—were already there in my playing. So I saw it from a slightly different point of view.
MD: Your playing is chameleonlike. Whitesnake’s “Fool for Your Loving” and “Come an’ Get It” are basically R&B drumming compared to the psychedelic drumming of Mark I Deep Purple and the heaviness and power of Mark II Purple. You have a distinct sound, but also a unique ability to blend into the music.
Ian: Sometimes what’s needed is totally different from what I may have played on the track before. As you say, it’s somewhat chameleon like, but I’ve always tried to look at the drum part as a piece of music rather than just a rhythm.
I’ve never really been happy with having to play a “1, 2, 3, 4….” I’ve always found that if you can find a good drum track, it generally makes a much better music track, because then the rhythm becomes inherent to the composition. It’s part of the life of the song. But when it’s just a matter of “1, 2, 3, 4,” and wait till the end, I find that a little disheartening. You can’t do it all the time. Occasionally there’s a track that comes up and all it needs is a “1, 2, 3, 4,” and the more stuff you play, the worse it sounds. So you have to understand that sometimes trying to be too eclectic can send you in the wrong direction.
MD: When you appeared at the Modern Drummer Festival in 2005, your playing really connected with the crowd on a level that had nothing to do with technique, flash, or speed. People could feel it.
Ian: Any art form, whether it’s with a paintbrush, a drumstick, a violin, or a piece of stone, is about the artist giving his emotions to the person receiving that art. If you end up with a one-way street, where the art is just giving and the audience doesn’t understand what’s going on, then the art sort of gets lost. It doesn’t need to be the most technical or the fastest thing; it just needs to talk to the person who is receiving the art. And if it can do that, you’ll get the emotion back from the receiver. And it’s the most gratifying thing in the world, where you may do something which to you is quite simple, and everyone else goes, “Wow! That was just the right thing at the right place, and it made me feel good.”
Some people say, “Oh, you’ve got all this technique….” I don’t. I have the ability to translate what I’m hearing in my head into notes that I put on the kit. If it comes out as being technical, that’s pure chance, because I didn’t have any formal training. I used to watch and learn from these good drummers, and I would learn a few rudiments from guys who knew them when I didn’t.
MD: That comes from playing with a lot of bands too, not just being a drummer practicing on your own. I read that you were playing at a young age.
Ian: I got my first kit at fifteen, and I started playing with my old man during dinner dances—waltzes, quicksteps, foxtrots, those sorts of things. I had a crappy little job as a civil servant, which just about made me enough money to pay the installments on my drumkit.
My old man said once, “Look, my drummer can’t make it—sub for him tonight.” And after playing this rather cheesy dance music for three hours, he gave me the same amount of money that I’d have earned in three days at my job. Hey, this is pretty good! Wasn’t a lot of fun apart from it being with my old man, which was funny because he did like a drink or two and that became quite hilarious at times. But then you move on to your little local band and that takes you as far as that can go.
Then, if you’ve got the juice, someone comes along and says, “You wanna move up the ladder?” For me it was very quick. I went from getting my first kit on my fifteenth birthday to being in Deep Purple before I was twenty. So for me, it wasn’t the number of bands I was playing with—it was the number of gigs I was able to do. That’s the real secret. And when you’re in a cover band, of course, you’re not just playing one style of music. You’re playing everything that’s a hit. For us that may have been a Motown groove or a Beatles thing or a Bob Dylan song. It was all under a sort of blues/rock/R&B umbrella, but it was all different styles of playing. So you get all this stuff in your artillery case.
MD: All the great drummers seem to have played gigs all the time when they were young. But if you’re not gigging and you’re just practicing or watching drum videos, it’s the equivalent of playing tennis against a wall and not actually being part of the game, right?
Ian: Not expecting any surprises. You’re in control of everything. These kids on TV shows like American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent…in a controlled environment it’s easy to get things perfectly right. It’s when things aren’t perfectly right, when things go wrong, that you need all those gigs and the experience of dealing with catastrophes to be able to get through it. Kids don’t get it now because they can’t play often enough.
In my first band, when I was fifteen, we always did three shows a week—Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Thursday, Friday, Sunday. By the time I turned professional at seventeen I was doing six or seven shows a week, fifty-two weeks a year. You get to the top of your game very quickly, and you see so many other guys who are better than you, who have more things to offer than you, and you take what you think you can use, and what you think you can change. You also might see some guy who’s absolutely bloody awful but has one thing he does well, and you can use that one thing. But if you’re not out there on stage and not meeting these other guys, you can’t grow the same way, and your playing is much more limited.
And when you’ve done it night after night after night, you also learn what doesn’t work. This is as important as learning what does work—sometimes it’s more important. I might enjoy doing this one thing, but it completely knackers the song up. It’s one of those things that if you don’t play every night you’ll never get it.
MD: You’ve always been a very fluid drummer in Deep Purple; you can hear the swinging, the jazz influences, especially on the first few albums. When you come around to Fireball and Machine Head, your playing is straight power, yet it still looks so graceful.
Ian: Thinking musically means you have to adapt to every piece you’re playing. “Hush,” which was a big hit, was a samba beat. Now, if you don’t have that feel down, then the song doesn’t work. The fact that it had a nice avant-garde free-form organ solo at the end meant that I could do other things, but it was still within that rhythm.
The limitations of the first incarnation of Deep Purple included Rod Evans’ voice. He was a pretty good balladeer, but he wasn’t a great rock ’n’ roll singer; we were held back on certain things that we were edging towards, but we could never quite get there because Rod’s voice wasn’t made for that. When we acquired Ian Gillan and Roger Glover in 1969, all the ideas that had never quite come to fruition now began to blossom. You say the drumming style changed—well, it had to, because the music being created was different.
Another drummer who had a massive change in style was Billy Cobham. If you go back to his late-’60s recordings with the Horace Silver Quintet, he’s playing gentle, almost lounge drumming. Then he comes back three or four years later, and all of a sudden you’ve got Billy Cobham the monster, playing all these polyrhythmic things with speed and power with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Now, that change wasn’t something that happened overnight. He just never had the vehicle to play that way.
We had a lot of good players playing similarly at the time but not the same. So we could all take things from each other without stepping on each other’s toes. I could take something from John Bonham, who could take something from Cozy Powell, who could take something from Ginger Baker, and we had Mitch Mitchell…. We had a handful of great, different hard-rock drummers, and we would gently blend stuff from each other. And in the States you had Carmine Appice, who was your first real monster rock ’n’ roll drummer. He was really important to all of us.
MD: Early on, some music critics negatively labeled you guys a British Vanilla Fudge.
Ian: That’s what we wanted to be, we were so enthralled by the Fudge. But we needed to do it slightly differently, so we used a lot more classical pieces to try to make it work. But it was sort of paying homage to heroes. We couldn’t admit that we weren’t them, but sooner or later the true nature of the beast had to show up. [laughs]
MD: Does it ever blow your mind that Deep Purple basically invented the heavy metal genre?
Ian: It was one of those things…if you were there at the time, somebody was going to do it. And we’re forgetting that the real innovators of this whole thing—who were there before us—were the Who. The Who were the first band that played loud and had crazy virtuosity throughout the band. So let’s not forget the importance of the maniac at the back there, Keith Moon. He just broke every rule in the book. Sometimes it was a train wreck; most times it was magnificent. The Who just changed everything for everybody. They took a lot of the shackles away for a whole generation of young British musicians, drummers especially.
MD: Who were some of the drummers you came up alongside who were your friends?
Ian: You couldn’t say that all of the drummers were “friends”—we were friendly acquaintances—because everybody was working all the time. The only time you actually met someone was if everyone was in the same club in London for the night, or if you were on the road and ended up with the same night off in the same town. It was far more likely that your friends would be instrumentalists who weren’t drummers, because you were always working. But I knew Cozy Powell quite well. I knew Bonzo a little bit—we weren’t close friends but we were friendly. I never really knew Ginger. I knew Mitch Mitchell…but that’s about it. Everybody else was working as hard as I was. You got to know each other more after you became established.
MD: You did a bit of session work early in your career as well.
Ian: When I was at home or when I had a day on the road with nothing to do, if something came up I’d always take the chance and do it. Back in ’68 I apparently did a session for the Velvet Underground. Maybe five years ago somebody sent me the tapes of it and said, “It says it’s you.” I listened to it and thought, It COULD be me.
I do remember that one of the craziest sessions I ever took was through jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris. Eddie was a nice guy, but you could see that the record company wanted to put rock ’n’ roll names on his albums just to sell a few more records. It was me, Stevie Winwood, two or three other names who were worthwhile. I did three tracks. They all had written parts, which were nonsense to me, and I had to have Eddie explain what I was meant to do. Those sort of sessions you remember because it’s so nonsensical!
MD: Things started changing for Purple around 1973.
Ian: Ian Gillan left because he wanted to do something else, and Roger was having health troubles, so it was difficult. We were having to cancel tours. We were stuck with a successful band with no singer. So we had to try to keep it going without losing the emphasis of the band, but you know it couldn’t be the same. Then we eventually found David Coverdale. Ritchie Blackmore always wanted the band to move to a more blues-rock format, and David had a more bluesy voice. So that allowed Ritchie’s more bluesy ideas to come through.
It’s difficult…you look back at all the crazy mistakes you made and you think, How did we let that happen? We let it happen because we weren’t in control of ourselves. We were just having too much of a good time all the time and not seeing the dangerous signs happening. Looking back, what we should have done when it was all becoming uncomfortable and no fun was to have just taken six months off—have a big holiday and recharge the batteries and just forget we knew each other for a while. But we didn’t have the experience then, and we didn’t have management that was experienced enough or cared enough to see what was happening.
In that period, in one year we made three albums, did two U.S. tours, a European tour, and a Japanese tour. Yeah, you can’t do it. Eventually you have to step back and remember this sort of adult Disneyland that you enjoyed five or six nights a week is exactly that—it’s Disneyland; it ain’t reality. And sometimes you have to come back home and take out the garbage and go to the supermarket, just to remember that life is really important.
MD: You kept yourself pretty busy after the initial breakup of Purple in 1976. You went on to do a trio thing, and then you joined Whitesnake but later left because you didn’t want to tour as much, correct?
Ian: No, initially what happened was that David, [founding Deep Purple keyboardist] Jon Lord, and I decided we didn’t want to do it anymore. There was a three/two split in the band—three guys who liked to drink and two guys who liked other chemical substances, which took them sort of beyond control. And about that time I was starting to think about having a family. In 1978, when my son was born, I got the call from David to join Whitesnake. All my ideas [about staying home to raise a family] went out the window, because I really missed being on stage with a good powerful band. So that’s how I got back into playing again.
I never realized how much I would really miss it—and not just being on the stage. I missed being surrounded by other good musicians. When you surround yourself with guys who are maybe not the same level as you are, it’s doable, but you spend the whole gig worrying about them rather than concentrating on what you’re doing. But when you’ve got good guys around you, all you’ve got to do is your thing. And I really did miss that. So once I got back into the touring thing again, I realized that I would never let it go until I really couldn’t do it anymore. Because what I have here is a finite article, and the years will eventually take their toll and the things I want to do will be impossible. So I’ll never let it go again when I don’t have to.
MD: It’s interesting that you were saying that thirty years ago. It’s 2014 now and we’re talking about you going on a world tour tomorrow.
Ian: Each one of us in Purple—even Stevie [Morse], who’s the youngest one now—knows that we can’t go on forever. And when it does eventually stop rolling, we will all miss it so badly. So while we’re still having fun, which is the number-one thing here, and we can still generate a living for our families and audiences still want to keep coming to see us, we just keep banging on. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever—there is no turning a corner and rebranding and re-forming. So we’re going to hold on to it as hard as we can.
MD: You guys are still powerful on stage.
Ian: If you look at some of the footage of me in my twenties, I’m working like a son of a bitch. It took me a long while to work that out. When the sticks are two feet in the air…you’re not making any noise up there. It’s when that stick hits something that you make the sound—and the better you get at it, you can be far more efficient in how you apply that power. It’s almost like a karate punch—it doesn’t travel very far, and the moment of impact is when all the power is created. Power is created through speed.
I can move the stick really quickly from two feet above the drum, but those first twenty-two inches are pointless. It’s those last two inches that make the impact. That’s where you learn the technique of getting the most out of the least. You can get the same amount of volume, create the same power, but you can do it with half the energy expenditure—which, when you’re a kid, is not a concern. You’ve got energy to burn, so you just do whatever comes naturally. But absolute power is about technique and efficiency.
MD: Do you do anything different now before shows?
Ian: I’m not an obsessive musician—when I was a kid I played because it made me happy, and I still play because it makes me happy. If I don’t feel like playing, I don’t play. It’s quite normal for me not to see a drumkit for three or four weeks. I am blessed with fairly good health, apart from carrying around a few extra pounds, because I do like a glass of beer. On stage I pretty much get up to 80, 85 percent within the first two shows. By the fourth show I’m usually back up to where I should be. I have a Jack or two before I go on, never more. And I practice a few singles and doubles for five minutes; that gets the fingers loosened up, because the fingers are where the magic happens.
MD: How do you stay inspired when you’re not touring or doing music?
Ian: Musically, if I’m offered something that I can do in my little studio in the way of sessions and I think it’ll be interesting or fun, I’ll have a whack at it. Other than that, I love watching sports on TV. I’ve pretty much become…not a recluse, but a very chill guy at home. I’m very fortunate. Life has been good. I have a wonderful home here in the U.K. and a wonderful place on one of the Spanish islands in the Mediterranean for when the weather’s really nice in the summer. I just go down there and drink some good wine and eat some fresh fish and read lots of books and lie in the sun. I don’t do anything else for weeks. I just let it all go away.
I believe you can have two lives and that both can give you happiness. If you don’t have that balance, I think you get in big trouble. If you’re at home all the time, you probably go a bit loopy because you know what you’re missing, and if you’re on the road all the time you’ll go mad.
MD: The music industry today is a completely different beast from the way it was when you were coming up. What sort of advice would you offer young drummers today?
Ian: If you like playing drums, do it because it makes you happy. If you can find a few friends around you, form a little band. If it goes somewhere else, treat it as a bonus. When we started, we never thought that we would be successful, that it would be our careers. We were just kids having fun, and that was enough. For the few of us who had it and had the luck, it became something else. I’ve said before, success is a strange thing. You go chasing it and you won’t find it. But if you stay true to yourself and enjoy yourself and make yourself happy, you might find that success taps you on the shoulder from behind. But you can’t force it.
There are some fantastic young players around the world, and it seems that the industry’s against them. They can’t be pigeonholed; they can’t be put into little pockets of music. The industry doesn’t want to be bothered. Play what you like, play what makes you smile, play from your heart, and just keep on doing it and enjoying it. And if you never leave your garage—if your drums stay in your garage and you just batter the crap out of them—the very least you can do is make yourself smile, because you still have something that most of the world doesn’t have or understand.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Paice plays Pearl Masters series drums with thin 4-ply maple shells and no reinforcing hoops. His stage kits have either silver sparkle or white marine pearl finish; his studio kit is piano black.
Ian’s live configuration includes his 6.5×14 signature steel snare drum; 8×10, 9×12, 9×13, 10×14, and 10×15 toms; 16×16 and 16×18 floor toms; and a 14×26 bass drum, all mounted with the May internal mic system. In the studio he uses a 22″ or 24″ bass drum and no internal mics. All drums other than the bass drum have steel hoops.
Paice’s cymbals come from Paiste’s 2002 series, including 15″ hi-hats (either Medium or Sound Edge), 22″ and 24″ crashes, a 22″ or 24″ ride, a 22″ China, and an 8″ splash. In the studio, his crashes are 20″ and 22″.
Paice uses a Pearl Demon double bass drum pedal, all Remo Coated Ambassador batter heads except for a Powerstroke 3 on the bass drum, and Promark 808L Ian Paice model sticks. His accessories include Hardcase drum cases, Protection Racket soft cases, AKG microphones, and Beyerdynamic headphones and mics. And Ian adds this: “I’m trying to get Jack Daniels on board for ‘pre- and post-gig relaxation,’ so any JD guys reading this, help me out!”