SAY Deep Purple and just about everyone will sing you that instantly recognisable riff which defines their Smoke on the Water.
The band will bring that 39-year-old rock classic live to Melbourne’s Festival Hall on Sunday next week. We catch British-based vocalist Ian Gillan at his Portugal studio amid a hectic touring schedule to request answers to long-pondered questions about one of the history’s top guitar riffs, and more.
How did you come up with that riff?
The best things happen spontaneously. We were recording an album called Machine Head in Montreux in Switzerland. We needed another seven minutes on it and we only had a day left and the engineer said, “what about that jam we did on the first day for the sound check?” It was just a jam session really. So we put that together with the story of the events that happened during the recording. Most things that are going to work happen fairly quickly.
Do all your songs get written like that?
Absolutely. We’ve never gone into the studio with prepared material… we never have. When we arrive at the studio we put the kettle on, have a cup of tea, say, “How’s the family? You still got that old car? Is that dog still alive?” and then we start jamming. That’s how the songs get written.
If someone had told you then that seven-year-olds would be playing that riff in 2010, what would you have said to them?
Up until 15 years ago I would have been very surprised, because contemporary music is a generational thing. It’s quite incredible how the audiences have changed in most places in the world.
Now our audiences are averaging around 18 years old. It’s a shock to me. I said to my daughter after we’d finished a show in Wembley, “Grace, who let all the kids in?” and she said, “Dad, you just don’t get it do you? Deep Purple is really cool”. She was 15 then, she’s 26 now… and writing her own songs.
Did you ever imagine it would be one of the first riffs any guitar student would learn?
It’s because of its simplicity. We learned blues and an awful lot of those things have evolved from simple structures. When I picked up my guitar I spent the first day learning the chord E, the second day A, then B7 and all of a sudden I could play the blues. I’ve just finished doing some concerts with orchestras… and they love it because if you have a simple structure you can show off as much as you like during the performance.