Ian Paice: Decades Of Deep Purple

ian paice

Keeping Time

With a line-up change in ’69 and the addition of vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, new albums In Rock and Machine Head certainly cranked up the volume – and the record sales. But with the live Made In Japan, the sheer audacity of Paice’s playing revealed him to be a rocker who would lock in with Glover’s surging bass lines, then rip into a flurry of fills that spiked the energy level yet never compromised the groove. “There’s nothing wrong with just being a time keeper and playing a straight groove, but you can still make it interesting, which is why I like to play a piece of music rather than just a drum part; but to do that you have to understand when to make a statement and when to shut up. I grew up when there were exciting drummers like Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker … it wasn’t just time keeping.” Still, Paice was impressed at a drumming event when Chad Smith – instead of soloing – sat in the pocket for a couple of minutes of no-fills grooving. “Chad made the point that holding the tempo is really important. And he’s so good at it.” Smith is equally complimentary: “Ian is the consummate musician and professional. When we played we just improvised, and he was so supportive. It was a musical conversation. Playing alongside Ian was a dream come true. A real honor.”

York agrees with the musicality: “A typical Ian Paice straight-eight rock groove would have a subtle element of swing in it. It drives and flows, seamlessly and relentlessly because the eighth-notes are given a little weak/strong leverage, like you get in the best of the great jazz drummers. So a typical Ian Paice shuffle is going to swing like the clappers. Many drummers miss this by a mile because they think a shuffle is some kind of straight four without any hint of 12/8. Wrong!”

When guitarist Steve Morse got the invite to join Purple in ’94, he got a chance to lock in with that famous shuffle firsthand, but he had his trepidations leading up to the audition. “I had never seen the band live,” Morse says. “I kept thinking, What if they’re one of those groups that just coast on their name and don’t play that well? As soon as we played I was relieved to discover how good they were. Ian’s style is comfortable and strong, with lots of subtlety. Plus he has a swing that feels just right. And his dynamics are great. The drummer in my trio, Van Romaine, calls him the ’Steve Gadd of rock.’”

And what is the sensation Morse gets when standing next to Paice, and those cymbals and drums are thundering along with Glover’s bass? “It’s like a gigantic locomotive thundering down the tracks with everything totally in synch. I love it!” Singer Ian Gillan echoes Morse’s comment: “Ian is a driving force and yet very subtle. He also swings like a train.” That ’swing like a train’ is Gillan’s answer to virtually every question about Paice, and the point is well taken because, well, he does swing big and wide … like a train. He’s one of those rare drummers who, as Morse says, is “an original rock player with the ability to play like the most seasoned session man. He loves to see the whole band do well, and always plays to the needs of the band and the song. He doesn’t talk much, but everybody listens when he does.”

And if there’s one drummer working today Paice wouldn’t mind having his voice confused with, it’s Steve Gadd. “I love listening to Gadd. Love listening to Steve,” Paice says. “He’s a master, but his invention is what gets me. It not that he’s blazingly fast or intricate; he’s always just so musical. When he did a Paul Simon track the drums were part of the music. He thought about what he was playing and made it work musically.”

What about the likes of Colaiuta, Weckl, Chambers, and Carlock? “All brilliant. But what has happened with many drummers is that the orthodox way of learning to play and the technique of drumming has become more important than the personality. With Ringo, Mitchell, and Bonham, it was the difference between those players. I knew it was Ringo. I knew it was Mitch. And I definitely knew it was Bonham. What you have now are guys with stunning technique, but I can’t tell one from the other.”

Beyond The Deep

Despite his musical chameleon status within the backdrop of Deep Purple, Paice’s voice has always been distinct enough for his contemporaries to sit up and take notice. Having already earned “rock royalty” status in the drumming community, one day in the late ’90s, Paice got a call from royalty of a different caliber. Paul McCartney was putting together a band to record some favorite tunes from his youth. “Nobody was more surprised than me!” Paice remembers of being singled out. “When Paul asked, ’Who should we get?’ producer Chris Thomas said, ’Well, I just saw Paicey and he’s playing really well.’ So Paul said, ’Let’s do it.’”

With Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and The Pirates’ Mick Green on guitars, the band recorded Run Devil Run and played a few dates. “It was simple rock tunes. Some needed fire; some needed groove. But they didn’t need intricate stuff. They had to feel right and have the right amount of musical connection to make them work.”

So is it possible to play with Paul without channeling Ringo? “On a couple tunes I’d think, Well, how would Ringo approach this? Sometimes it just needed a slushy hi-hat. But with him and Ringo – that’s such a great section – it’s just boom, boom … two to the bar. Give a two-to-the-bar to most drummers and bass players and it comes out country. Give it to Paul and it comes out rock and roll.”

As if channeling a Beatle wasn’t enough of a challenge, in April 2012 Paice joined Dave Weckl, Gavin Harrison, Ginger Baker, and other drummers as part of an all-star line-up guesting with the Buddy Rich Big Band at the London Palladium. “That Buddy Rich Memorial Concert was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done,” he admits. “I picked two tunes I thought would be the easiest, but I soon realized that as much as I play, it’s in a rock and roll context, which is totally different from what a big band drummer does, where every bar has a different push, different accents, different tension and release. You’re thinking every note! It’s mind-numbing. I did hundreds of run-throughs of those tracks by myself, just to try to make sure I picked up as many of the accents and pushes that I could. It was a real revelation.” We should mention he nailed the performance, with one tune being an arrangement of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” which you can find on YouTube.

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