Obliged by Covid-19 to self-isolate and therefore work individually – as opposed to writing new material together in the studio, their customary procedure – Deep Purple early this year opted to record an album of covers, with each member of the group transmitting their contributions to the Anarchy Remote Studio, a digital facility in cyberspace where producer Bob Ezrin assembled the parts like a jigsaw. The result is Turning To Crime, a 12-track CD of songs “that shaped us over the years”, according to a brief note on the accompanying booklet. In reality it’s more than 12, for it concludes with a five-song medley, among which is Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed And Confused’, of which more later.
Unless I’m mistaken, the last cover version recorded by DP was ‘Lalena’, by Donovan, which appeared on their largely ignored third LP, simply titled Deep Purple, in 1969. Prior to that the first DP group had recorded plenty of covers, not least their debut US hit ‘Hush’, by Joe South, and others by Neil Diamond, Lennon & McCartney and whoever claims to have written ‘Hey Joe’. Once they got into their stride, however, original material prevailed, and this coincided with singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover joining the core trio of organist Jon Lord, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and drummer Ian Paice. This quintet, which in my 1983 biography of the group I refer to as DP Mark II, enjoyed enormous success and is still widely regarded as the ‘classic’ line up.
Gillan, Glover and Paice remain today, joined on guitar by Steve Morse and on keyboards by Don Airey. With Paice now the only member of the group to have played in its every incarnation since DP formed in 1968, Morse and Airey are by no means newcomers. The former has been with them since 1994, replacing the eternally capricious Blackmore, and the latter came on board in 2002 when Lord, their statesman-like elder, retired from rock to concentrate on serious music. Sadly, he died in 2012.
The choice of material on Turning To Crime throws up plenty of surprises and a handful of songs that might be expected. Among the latter is the opener, Love’s ‘7 And 7 Is’, at one second shy of two and half minutes the album’s shortest track but by many mph the fastest. Its inclusion offers strong evidence of where DP were coming from by the time they recorded their breakthrough LP In Rock, the relentless pace (no pun intended) of the drums leading the way over a thumping beat, crunch guitar and indecipherable lyrics, DP’s version differing from the original only in that they chuck in characteristic guitar and organ solos and omit Love’s thunderous explosion and Arthur Lee’s slow blues-based coda.
Ian Gillan long ago betrayed his influences in the lyrics to ‘Speed King’, which referenced Little Richard who was knocking around New Orleans in 1957 when Huey ‘Piano’ Smith recorded ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu’ there. This paean to chest ailments given the rock’n’roll cure offers Don Airey a chance to show off his honky-tonk chops, and to cheekily incorporate the riff from ‘Smoke On the Water’ into one of his solos. Freed from the need to sprint, Ian Paice shows himself to be a fine and steady rock’n’roll stickman. He has some previous on this kind of material, having been a member of Paul McCartney’s ‘Rock and Roll Band’, playing alongside David Gilmour, Mick Green, Pete Wingfield and Chris Hall, not to mention the former Beatle, at the Cavern in Liverpool in 1999.
A reverent take on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ follows, fairly true to the original, with about a minute of the haunting ‘Part 2’ coda slapped on the end. Next up is ‘Jenny Take A Ride’, by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, its opening section perhaps better known as ‘CC Rider’, much performed by Elvis, which morphs into ‘Jenny, Jenny’ whom Mitch invites to take a ride, before slipping back to ‘CC’. This is great boozy bar band music, the kind of thing that Springsteen favours for encores, so here we have DP channelling with some distinction hitherto unrealised E Street Band leanings.
‘Watching The River Flow’, an anomaly in Dylan’s catalogue in that it was a one-off blues-based single, seems like an unlikely cover and may have been suggested by Bob Ezrin who joins Gillan on vocals. There’s a hint of gospel in DP’s version which in an oblique way pays tribute to the full-on sound of Leon Russell, who played on Dylan’s original, and his Mad Dogs & Englishmen retinue, not least in the 30-second keyboard sign off.
We’re back in New Orleans for ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, which sounds to me like it could have come from the soundtrack to Kid Creole, Elvis’ fourth (and best) movie. Joined by saxophone and trumpet, DP take it at a medium pace, with a bluesy guitar solo and churchy keyboards adding to the southern fried flavour, Airey switching to honky-tonk at one point thought the brass is never down in the mix.
Taking on Little Feat is a fearsomely bold move but Don Airey has Bill Payne’s tinkly keyboard part off pat, and the whole band swing their way through ‘Dixie Chicken’ respectably enough. Morse is great on the slide solo, and my only gripe is that Ian Gillan’s Brit voice sounds a bit strained next to Lowell’s sly, loose-limbed, shuffle delivery. Still, it’s refreshing to learn that DP were influenced by one of my favourite American bands, and I tip my hat to Morse for the solo at the close.
In the never-ending discussion as to the origins of heavy metal, or hard rock as it was before Black Sabbath became ‘Paranoid’, The Yardbirds’ ‘Shapes Of Things’ merits a sub-section of its own, and although Jeff Beck was in the group when it was originally recorded, its composition is actually credited to Keith Relf, Jim McCarty and Paul Samwell-Smith. Still, it’s a minor psychedelic masterpiece, with Beck’s guitar hovering between distortion and the mysterious East, and lyrics that pre-empt the present-day climate crisis. DP take it at a slightly slower pace than The Yardbirds, but are dutifully reverent in their approach, though Morse, ever anxious to inject something distinctive, gets a long solo before the whole thing grinds to a suitably rave-up style halt.
Hearing Lonnie Donegan’s version of ‘Rock Island Line’ on the radio when he was about 10 led to Roger Glover becoming who he is now, so it’s no surprise that he shares the vocals, leading on the first verse, with his old Episode Six partner Ian Gillan on ‘The Battle Of New Orleans’, a hit for Lonnie in 1959, and probably the least likely cover on Turning To Crime. Joined by violin and accordion, no one in a million years would guess this hoe-down romp was Deep Purple.
‘Lucifer’, a Bob Seger song from 1970 when he led a group called The System, is the only track here with which I was unfamiliar, a mid-tempo rocker typical of the Silver Bullet work that brought him no little success as the seventies progressed. DP give it their all, but of greater merit is their take on Cream’s ‘White Room’, a far more interesting song. Another dose of psychedelia with a hint of discord on the vocals and slabs of twisty guitar, DP match Eric, Jack and Ginger bar for bar, no mean feat.
Finally, we reach what DP call ‘Caught In The Act’, their medley of five songs, the first four instrumentals, with Gillan joining in only on ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, Steve Winwood’s tour de force when he was the star attraction in The Spencer Davis Group. Airey opens the show, a ragtime figure leading into Freddie King’s bluesy ‘Going Down’, which leaps into ‘Green Onions’, funky and straight like the MGs until Morse adds some twists, then ‘Hot ‘Lanta’, on which DP somehow manage to sound awfully like The Allman Brothers jamming away on stage. Next up is an instrumental of Zep’s ‘Dazed And Confused’, opening not with the familiar descending bass line but a passage from later, then the descent before instruments take over the call and response. This leads neatly into the enormous ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ riff, played well, and after two and a half minutes the whole business grinds to a halt, a few drum beats the last thing we hear. What fun they must have had.
Also available is a 40-minute DVD The Making Of Turning To Crime, which is precisely what the title says, those responsible having concluded it was a crime for a group of DP’s stature to record an album of covers. This perhaps explains why on the sleeve they are photographed as if in a police line-up, every one of their mug shots resembling the sort of threatening ne’er do wells you’d cross the road to avoid.
When Covid is over, will they play these songs on stage?