Classic rockers Deep Purple still filling seats

Published on March 29th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Contributing Writer

When it comes to legendary status, few bands in the history of hard rock are at the status of Deep Purple, the pioneering band that gave the music world such classics “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star” and “Burn,” to name a few.

And the legends will perform August 15 at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio.

For keyboardist Don Airey, there are a number of reasons why the band is still drawing full houses.

“The fact is, essentially, we are a live band with no Pro Tools back stage,” he said. “There’s no faking it. What you see and what you hear is all real, in direct contrast to what is going on with a lot of shows.”

While Airey is not an original member, he is legendary in his own right having been with Rainbow (“Difficult to Cure,” “Down to Earth”), Whitesnake (“Whitesnake”) and Ozzy Osborne (“Blizzard of Ozz,” “Bark at the Moon”), among others.

That includes such songs as “Mr. Crowley,” “Spotlight Kid,” and “Here I Go Again.”

“It seemed to work from the get-go after Jon [Lord] was taken ill, and I flew over at a day’s notice,” he said. “When he decided to leave, they asked me to join for good.”

Fortunately, Airey wasn’t feeling too much pressure.

“The first gig was such short notice that the secret is to just be yourself and that’s what I was,” he said. “I didn’t try to play just like Jon because he was so unique.”

Of course, there were some challenges.

“I’ve always been a big fan of the band, and on my first gig we did ‘Fools,’ which is a marvelous track, but one I wasn’t familiar with and I had a couple of hours to learn it,” he said.

And did he try to sound different.

“No, because no matter what I do I always sound like me,” he laughed. “A musician has to be themselves and I have a big enough track record that it works well for me.”

Lord left the band for good, leading to Airey becoming the permanent keyboardist. He is joined by guitarist Steve Morse and original members Ian Paice, Ian Gillan, and Roger Glover.

He did start off using Lord’s Hammond organ.

“The Hammond organ is an amazing instrument, but no one is like the other,” he said. “It’s not easy to get a rock sound out of it. You can’t just push a button and have it go. You really have to know what you are doing. I had to refurbish his.”

Airey points out the musicianship of the band.

“I was just talking to Ian Paice about it and he pointed out that in the early days, Deep Purple was a free form jazz band,” he said. “They just went out and no one was quite sure what was going to happen. Numbers would change overnight, and there would be different bits and people would play flat out.”

And over the years, they have attracted scores of fans, including young ones.

“A great part of it is the audience of young persons whose parents played Deep Purple music nonstop on vinyl so all these kids and a lot of young people want to see what it is and what it is and what it sounds like live,” he said.

And those iconic songs have a lot of staying power.

“’Smoke on the Water’ wasn’t perceived as anything exceptional,” he said. “Bruce Payne, who was the manager then and still manages us, pushed the record company to release it. It took seven times before it would be a hit.”

Songs like “Burn” feature blazing guitar riffs and solo and an iconic keyboard solo. “Highway Star” is another featuring classic guitar and a wild solo. But Airey is certainly up for that challenge.

“There was a poll in Japan for the greatest keyboard solo and ‘Highway Star’ won but ‘Spotlight Kid’ that I did with Rainbow was second,” he said. “It’s always good to get some recognition.”

For Airey it is all about going with what works musically.

“With any album or band, if you are a good player you go in and see what is there and see what is inside yourself and try to put it together and see what the world makes of it,” he said. 


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