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Ian Paice: Decades Of Deep Purple

ian paice

He was the kid with the big hair and small oval glasses. But when disc jockies around the world dropped their needles into the grooves of Deep Purple’s debut album, Shades Of Deep Purple, in the summer of 1968, the resultant hit single, “Hush,” thrust Ian Paice into the international spotlight. With a wicked bass drum technique stoking the low end, fast hands cruising the toms, jazzy snare chops, and musical savvy, he was the perfect drummer for the band that would carry the torch of British rock into the ’70s and beyond, all the while laying the foundation for the entire universe of hard rock and heavy metal to follow. And with new album Now What?! and a globe-spanning tour schedule, Paice is clearly still the only man for the job.

The Beat Is Born

Relaxing in the glorious colonial-style Raffles Hotel in sunny Singapore, the amiable Mr. Paice is a long way from his earliest days in Nottingham, a town better associated with Robin Hood than rock stardom for a budding young drummer. Though he longed to be where the ’60s music scene was happening, “Going down to London was impossible.”

Fortunately, a move closer to London was in the offing. “My family moved south, so I was near Oxford, and London was within reach.” Being 50 miles from the music center of the universe put him in touch with a brave new world. “I saw The Nice at the Marquee, and King Crimson when they first came out. That was wonderful. And Pink Floyd playing clubs. I first saw Jethro Tull in a little drinking dive, with three heavies and four customers watching this weird guy standing on one leg trying to play a flute. [laughs] The scene had started being about rock and artistic bands … bands like Yes, who were full of ideas for creating a deeper musical part. And a lot of that was driven by bands like Mountain and Vanilla Fudge in the States.”

Amidst all this, Paice was busy gigging. “In ’63 I was working all the time, and by 17 I was pro and playing six or seven shows a week. What really gave me a step up was that when I was a child playing with my toys, my father’s big band swing and piano trio records were always playing, so when I started drumming, those jazzy rhythms came out. I played the way I heard music, adding pushes and ghost notes … more bounce. I was playing rock and roll in a different way. I also had the advantage of being the best kid in the area. There were others who played well, but they weren’t me.”

That “me” was inspired by the likes of Buddy Rich, Ringo, and Bobby Elliott of The Hollies, who was Paice’s main British influence at that time. “He was a step above everybody, with interesting licks plus a nice sharp sound. Then there was Ringo with that lovely swishy, loose, lazy feel. I saved up for a 4-piece Ludwig black marine pearl ’Ringo’ kit, which I played through the beginning of Purple.” The kit came from the same shop as Ringo’s: Ivor Arbiter’s Drum City on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. “There was only one place in the country you could get them, and that was it.” [laughs]

Somewhat surprisingly, John Bonham had yet to land on Paice’s radar. “I’d never heard of him. I mean, who had? I first saw him just before Zeppelin. It was a little club. He was with folk singer Tim Rose, who sang two or three acoustic songs before the band came on. There was a dark blue kit at the back. And for the next hour all you heard were these really powerful drums, with this little guy warbling at the front. After that I remembered the drummer very vividly. About a year or two later Zeppelin were happening and I was like, ’I know that guy!’” [laughs]

But despite the lure of London, ’60s Britain was no musical nirvana. “A year before Purple, my first pro band did a multi-act tour. The bill was amazing. Topping it were The Who, second were Cream, third were The Merseys. My band got about two songs. It was big theatres, 3,000-seaters. That tour folded after just three days! We couldn’t sell more than three rows of tickets! Yeah, unbelievable! Six months later, Cream and The Who were cracking the States, selling 20,000 seats in sports arenas! It’s all about timing.”

The Fudge Inspiration

Though blistering tunes like “Speed King” and the pumping “Highway Star” would later become their calling card, Deep Purple initially modeled themselves on New York “psych ’n’ soul” rockers Vanilla Fudge, a band in the league of Cream and Hendrix. “The idea,” Paice says, “was to make the Fudge’s concept European. Their invention, musicality, and arranging really fired up our imagination. I mean, they were really important.” And as for Fudge drummer Carmine Appice? “We’ve been best friends since ’68. We were opening for the Fudge at a gig in Canada and their gear didn’t make it, so they used ours. Carmine bent my drums, man. [laughs] They weren’t the same shape when I got them back.”

Appice remembers more about Paice than he does his drums. “I loved the way he played,” Appice says. “He reminded me of Mitch Mitchell, with great hands and all kinds of mixed sticking patterns – doubles, paradiddles, paradiddle-diddles, and hand-foot patterns.” Another close friend, Pete York of Spencer Davis Group fame, recalls that, “Among the drummers in the late ’60s, there were the hooligans and there were the technicians. I think Ian had a personal mixture of both combined with a background of listening to the greats and sorting out the sounds he really dug. Much like we all did, but he did it his way.”

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