|On the Mauve
Keyboard Review, Issue 139, July 1997
GOING SOLO "I'm looking to get it out around November, because the new Purple album won't be until next Spring; I wouldn't want to compete with the rest of the guys in the band. It's something I've been wanting to do since I did the last solo project, an album called 'Before I Forget', back in '81. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure why I even wanted to make that album - it just seemed like someone else's idea. I think it is really important to have a clear vision of what you want to do and this wasn't the case back then. There were two or three songs that I was very pleased with, but the album didn't thrill me as a whole. It was one of the best kept secrets in the rock world - I think it sold 11 ! That was a very odd period in my life." Does Jon compose his music by fiddling around on the keyboard until he comes up with something, or does he write things straight down? "I compose both at the keyboard and away from it, although if I write something down, say, on a plane, I'd have to polish it up later on a piano. I've got a Disclavier, a sort of very up-market player piano with a built-in disk drive, but it is a proper piano, and it is a wonderful compositional tool. I'll just improvise ideas into it and it will record them all." Do Deep Purple have any plans for future albums and tours or is Jon getting tired of gigging, after all these years? "Not at all- it's my job, so I'm just used to it. Touring is actually great fun - it's the travelling, getting from A to B, that can be very tiring. But the actual mechanics of going on stage and doing concerts is great fun. I think we did 134 concerts for our last tour, and it was a really good one too. Not bad for a bunch of old timers! "The band has reached a point in its life where I don't see it going on for that much longer at the moment, we have no major plans to extend things beyond another couple of albums, but you never know. I'm not so sure lan (Gillan - vocalist) would agree with me, because he said he wants to be in Deep Purple when he's 80! "One of the reasons I would like to establish myself as a solo artist is in case Deep Purple, yet again, goes pear-shaped, as it has been prone to in the last 20 years or so. I would like to know that I've got something outside the band. I'm a middle-aged man, and it's important for me to know what I'm meant to be doing for the rest of my working life."
ALL-TIME CLASSIC Purple's 1972 live album 'Made In Japan' is still regarded as one of the most successful and exciting rock albums ever. Even the band's studio originals sound pale in comparison to some of these live versions. "I've always felt that the great thing about Purple, and one of the reasons I'm so proud of the band, is that it by far outstrips its recorded work as a live animal. Purple has always been a live band and I don't think we've ever been particularly great in the studio. So, 'Made In Japan' was fortuitously able to capture that incredible energy, and it still sells truckloads because of that. It's one of the best-selling live rock albums ever, and I think that it's one of the best sounding too. We made it for only $3,000 - it just took four nights of live recording on to an 8-track, with Martin Birch at the helm. The weird thing was that we were all so unconcerned about the whole thing that nobody was actually aware of being recorded. We were never thinking, 'God, we've really got to get this right because this is going down on tape', so there was no diminution of the interplay, spontaneity and feeling that we usually got on stage." Keyboard gear has changed drastically over the past 25 years, but Jon's setup has remained relatively unchanged. "I use pretty much the same as what I've used for 20 years or more. I play a big Hammond C3 through a couple of Leslies, enhanced with stronger speakers. They're the same two Leslies I've had since the mid-'70s. They've been treated with loving care, but my technician does have to work hard to keep them going. I also have a big mother keyboard and a Kurzweil Micro Piano, which has a fabulous set of samples. I might use an occasional module, just to deliver the odd 'synth' sound, but that's about it. "What you can do with technology today is so remarkable, you're tempted to get studio madness and just use the technology, rather than use your innate ability to just make music. You could stay up to all hours in the morning using all of these wonderful toys, and just end up sounding like everyone else who's got the same toys.. I think it's a great shame because the creativeness is in danger of being singled out of the situation." Jon's career with Deep Purple is well documented, but how did he get into music in the first place? "I played from the age of five, through most of my school years, and it was assumed that I might have some sort of future as a performing pianist. But it became apparent to me at the age of 15 that the amount of work required was far beyond what I was capable of and willing to do - you see, I had discovered girls and football at around that time. I did have lessons right up to the age of 17, though, but I decided I wanted to be an actor and ended up in a London drama school. When I left there I started playing the piano again, stuff like Dave Brubeck, in pubs and clubs, just to make a crust. By chance I met a guy who said 'Do you know anything about R & B?' so I said 'Sure', not knowing what on earth it was, and I got a gig with him. So I sort of stumbled into being a musician out of the need to eat!
PURPLE PATCH "Then in 1967 I met Chris Curtis (the ex-Searchers drummer), who decided that he wanted to stop being a Merseybeat musician. He wanted to be part of the 'London scene'. At the time, I was playing in the backing band for the Flowerpot Men, as some sort of penance for all my earlier sins. Chris introduced me to Ritchie Blackmore and a rich businessman who wanted to invest in a pop band, and then he suddenly went a little bonkers and disappeared. So Chris was the catalyst - he wandered into my life, changed it, and wandered out again. Meeting Ritchie was obviously the turning point in my life, and by the Spring of '68 we had a band together. "The most satisfying moment in my career to date was probably the end of '69, when lan Gillan and Roger Glover joined the band. We realised within a few weeks that we had a super band and that we had something to say. It was a marvellous time, and it really was incredibly exciting. It was a wonderful time to be a musician, because there were no rules and there were a whole number of different bands making new kinds of music. That post-Beatles period was a very special time for musical creativity." And what advice would he have for aspiring young keyboard players? "Just practice, practice, practice; there's no substitute for that, and you can't buy it in a packet. And it's important not to get downhearted, no matter how bad things like rejections may seem. It's like getting paid for your hobby, but it's still hard work and requires a lot of discipline. I'd also advise anyone to drive 500 miles to avoid a drug: at the end of the day, no drug can ever enhance your playing - you may think you're playing better, but that isn't the case."