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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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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The Bass Drum Low Down

Another thing Paice got from his performance at The Palladium was his new bass drum sound, which is big, fat, and punchy in a retro kind of way. “I met Buddy a couple of times and flicked my fingers on his bass drum. So when I did the memorial concert I tuned my bass head exactly the way he tuned his, with two complete heads (no front hole) and a couple bits of felt to remove overtones. And for the first time in 35 years I rediscovered how great … how sweet, warm, and powerful the drum sounded naturally. Yet when thumped it would get really aggressive. Plus, Carmine said, ’Look I’ve gone back to a 14"-deep shell.’ And I said, ’Whew, that sounds really good. I’ll take that.’ Yeah, I still take direction from Carmine. [laughs] Look, I would never change again. The smack is immediate. And it does sound better.”

Ian Paice

Paice’s Setup

Drums Pearl MMP Master Series (Silver Sparkle)
1 24" x 14" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Ian Paice signature snare drum
3 10" x 8" Tom
4 12" x 9" Tom
5 13" x 10" Tom
6 16" x 16" Floor Tom
7 18" x 16" Floor Tom
8 14" x 10" Tom
9 15" x 10" Tom

Cymbals Paiste
A 15" 2002 Sound Edge Hi-Hat
B 22" 2002 Crash
C 8" 2002 Splash
D 22" 2002 Ride
E 24" 2002 Crash
F 22" 2002 China

But the bass drum saga didn’t stop there. “The sound was so good,” Paice enthuses, “that when we got into the studio for Now What?! I asked producer Bob Ezrin if we could try two full heads? Okay! So we used a Remo Powerstroke with a regular Ambassador on the front, and I tuned it like a ’40s swing big band drummer would. It sounded grrrrreaaaaat! In the room we had, with the correct miking and a bit of genius from Bob and Corky the engineer, I played a bass drum that sounded like a bass drum. It didn’t just go ’duh’ with a dead-slack middle hit. It boooooomed! When you’ve got this monster down there and it’s singing to you like it does, then you enjoy playing it.”

A killer sound is one thing, but knowing what to play and when to play it is another matter. “When I play with Roger [Glover, bassist], we just know something is going to happen. He leaves me lots of room, so I can put in more of those notes I think are necessary for the music to be exciting.” During the Burn era (1974), Paice adopted a different strategy to fit with Glenn Hughes’ funkier style. “Glenn plays busier bass lines, which leaves less room. So with those bass notes taking up that space, I mustn’t play there. Paul McCartney’s bass lines are pure simplicity. When it’s that basic, you fall right in with it.

What I found with Now What?! is that sometimes the more you play, the less you end up with. But there are times when a ridiculously big and fancy drum part does the job. You just need to understand that to make it work you can’t get in the way of too many things.”

So … Now What?

The new album sees the band getting back to its roots in terms of the recording process. “We went in without any consideration whatsoever about trying to get a hit album, a radio track, or doing a video,” Paice says. “This was going to be an album constructed pretty much along the lines of what we did all those years ago.” So, not surprisingly the first thing you notice is how much it sounds like Deep Purple. Yes, 45 years after the original five-piece band formed, these British rockers still sound like themselves.

Second is Paice’s outright enthusiasm for the songs. He sits solidly in the grooves on the funkier tunes, yet really kicks the band up when it’s called for. “That’s why some musicians get ’underrated,’” notes Morse. “When they do things that help everybody else, and the music, it doesn’t always get noticed by the people looking for the obvious. His dynamics are a great example. I love the way he and all the guys can bring it way down anytime, and then build at just the right spot of an improvisation.”

There was a time when British bands crammed into the back of their Bedford vans and went slogging off up and down the motorway. How do the lads in Purple cope with the road having come this far? “It’s every man to himself,” Paice laughs. “If two or three of us have the same idea then we’ll go out to dinner together.” And what does he do with his days? “Very little. Quite frequently I don’t even leave my room. My focus is the couple hours’ work I’ll do that night. I just chill … maybe listen to music, watch a movie, play a game. So when I go onstage, my whole subconscious day has been waiting for that moment. It works great. Meanwhile Don [Airey, keys] is off every morning for a wander around the town. That works for him.”

Though life with Deep Purple has seen him ride the roads and fly the skies for so many years, Paice appears calm and relaxed, with no signs of Burnout. “Well, I still enjoy the road,” he says with a nod. “I enjoy the buzz of being on stage, playing with really great musicians and having fun. I also know that what I have now is not an infinite thing. It’s definitely got a shelf life, and that is coming closer and closer to an end as the years go by. So while I have this wonderful gift of being able to play, make others happy, and get paid for having fun, I’ll revel in it. I enjoy playing and I’ll never treat it with disrespect.”