Ian Paice made his name as drummer with seminal heavy rock band Deep Purple. In fact, throughout their long career, which has seen numerous changes among the other personnel, he is the only drummer the band has had, playing on a whole string of million-selling albums. For three years between mid 1973 and mid 1976, Deep Purple were the biggest rock band in the world, a fact which record sales prove.
It's a fact that the key element underpinning the whole development of heavy rock was the rhythm section and, along with a few others, Ian Paice can lay claim to have been right at the forefront of this movement. It has been said that Deep Purple set new standards for heavy rock bands and much of the credit for that achievement must go to Ian whose style became one of the most influential in rock drumming.
Ian brought forward from a previous generation of rock drummers the tight, precise playing and crisp, clean sound of the best of his predecessors but added power, formidable speed and technique to create a unique style and sound giving the best of both worlds. His fills on the single, `Black Night', which rose to Number 2 in the charts in late September 1970, caused problems for many a `covers' band who must have been very grateful that Deep Purple didn't release more singles! (Listen to the drumming on `Fireball', `Burn' or `Highway Star' among others).
Without doubt, Ian Paice has assured his place in the drummers' hall of fame.
When DrumNet interviewed Ian, Deep Purple were celebrating the group's 30th birthday and Ian was only a month away from his 50th. From what we saw and learned, he has no plans to slow down, either in his drumming or his busy schedule!
Ian, what first inspired you to become a drummer?
Well actually, my first instrument was the violin but I worked out very quickly that it sounded better if I hit it than if I tried to play it! As a kid I was struck by the visual side as much as by the sound. I started out watching old Hollywood movies where someone like (Gene) Krupa would be featured and they'd do a glamorous thing like shoot upwards through a drum, through clear heads, and you'd see him playing. It seemed the most visual instrument there was.
So at a very early age, about eleven I think, I started trying to make my own drums - you know, out of biscuit tins and anything else I could find that was sort of round. That went on for two or three years, nicking Mother's knitting needles and all the rest of the usual things that kids do.
My Father was a musician as well. He was a pianist. He had his own little trio, or occasionally a quintet. Before I was born he was a pro and when the family came along he gave it up and just did it for extra cash at weekends. When he saw that I wasn't going to stop he bought me my first kit. I was fifteen. It was a red glitter Gigster. It cost £32.12s.6d. (£32.63) - and it wasn't worth it! It had these old fashioned tuning lugs that went over the rim and every time you tried to tune the snare drum up, because it came with real vellum heads, they'd just ping - they'd just break! So you couldn't do anything about that except have that real sloppy bebop sound which I didn't really like.
And that lasted for a few months and then he realised I was serious about it and he bought me my first serious kit which was a Premier in `Aquamarine Pearl', a deep blue thing. By that time I was starting to listen to the radio a lot, the stuff from my generation and just before. All the stuff I'd been listening to before that was my Father's music - without money you didn't buy records. He was playing his stuff all the time. They were all swing drummers and so, although I enjoyed that music then and I still enjoy it now, I wasn't actually consciously listening to it. But those influences, those feels, were around me all the time and when I did start to play they came out.
By that time I'd started watching and listening to my generation's stuff and I thought the best looking kit around was Ringo Starr's, so I got one just like it. It was a Ludwig in Black Oyster Pearl and at that time, with Avedis Zildjian cymbals on, it cost about £450 which was a fortune. I had to get a job just to pay the hire purchase instalments. I had the job for about a year and I was gigging with a local band playing covers. This was 1964 and I was sixteen. And then, just very occasionally, we'd bump into this other band who were professional - it didn't mean much, just that they didn't get up in the morning! But every now and then, you walked into the same gig so you got to know each other, and when I was about seventeen their drummer left and they offered me the gig. It was the toughest decision I ever had to make.
So it was listening to swing drummers from your Father's generation that got you going initially, but who were the contemporary drummers that you listened to and admired?
Yes, there were two or three drummers who I thought were in a different class from the rest. One was Bobby Elliott from the Hollies and one who was just starting to `cross over' into rock music was Ginger Baker who before then had been purely a jazz player. This was when Cream were happening, around '66-'67. And then, when you started listening to Ginger, of course you started listening to where Ginger was getting it from. And I listened to some of the American drummers like Bernard Purdie and Carmine (Appice) who'd taken what Ginger was doing and turned it round again. So there were people around there but they sort of crept up on you because they were sort of bouncing off each other all the time.
Other drummers around and just before your time would have included people like Mitch Mitchell, Tony Meehan and Brian Bennett. Were they influential in any way?
Mitch yes and Tony Meehan had a great feel. What he did on things like Diamonds and so on was simple but had a really good rock and roll feel to it. I never thought Brian did, but that's just a personal thing. I think Brian Bennett came from a much more jazz based way of playing - a lot more gentle - and didn't have quite that fire. Both of those though were just a little bit before my time and the music was not really what I was interested in - that instrumental stuff.
It really started happening for me when the Beatles started making music. No matter what anybody says, they were the best group in British rock and roll. I don't know whether Ringo was a good soloist, I don't think he ever had the chance. But when you have a feel like that it really doesn't matter does it? Everything he played was dead right - and different. Nobody's ever played that wonderful `slush' hi hat thing the way he did it. It was superb - messy but exactly right!
Talking about originality and coming back to your own playing, people still argue today about the intro to `Fireball'. Do you think you could stand to tell the story behind it just once more for the record?
Well it was started off on one bass drum - the speed's not that difficult, it's not that fast (!) - but you're just working on a nerve and the power's impossible with one bass drum. You can't get the power, you're just trembling away! We were trying to do it that way but it just wasn't happening. The night before, the Who had been recording in there and Keith (Moon)'s kit was still around. So I just dragged one of his bass drums up next to mine and did exactly the same part. I've never tried to hide the fact that I used two bass drums. And you're right, even after all these years people still say `did you do it on one?' - I'd love to be able to say Yes! You can simulate it on one - it's quite easy (!) just using a thing where, instead of starting with the bass drum on the `one', you play the `and' of every beat. With everything else going on you think you hear the other bass drum - until you hear somebody play it with two bass drums that is, then you know what's missing!
But you know, it's not a just a question of who's got the best chops - sometimes thinking up what to play is the hard part. Playing is usually quite easy, whereas trying to find the part is difficult. It's like trying to write a song - anybody can copy a song - but the guy who writes the song, he's got the hard part.
During most of your years with Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore has been the guitarist but you've also had Tommy Bolin in the band for a short while and then more recently Steve Morse and Joe Satriani. I know they fall straight into the band's overall style but do their stylistic differences make any difference to you as the drummer?
Quite honestly - No. All I ever ask is that the guy performs one hundred per-cent, and the people you're talking about are all superb players. Yes, they all play slightly differently, but when you have a monster like Deep Purple, everybody is sort of coerced into the way of the band - you play a certain way because of the way the music's structured.
Does the same go for the bass players? I'm thinking about when Roger (Glover) left and was replaced by Glenn Hughes who was a totally different type of bassist.
Yes, well that's another matter. Glenn was a sort of funk/soul bass player and as a drummer that can leave you a lot less room. There's so much more going on that maybe you don't have the freedom you have with a really solid rock and roll bass player. Glenn wouldn't want to do what Roger did, he'd lose interest. Basically he's a singer that plays bass. They're a different breed, bass players! If you find a good one there's this amazing talent they have. Because on the one hand they have to have a certain amount of technique to get away with some of those silly riffs they're asked to play, duplicating what the guitarist does. But at the same time, they have to have the good taste not to want to show anybody they can do it! And that takes a great deal of restraint. It's OK to have somebody on a `top line' instrument flashing around and mesmerising everybody with strange notes, but you want somebody on the bass to do nothing and make it work.
Do you have favourite Deep Purple tracks or albums?
Favourite tracks, Yes - and they're generally those where I thought I played OK. There are certain tracks where I know the feel is right and the playing was OK and there are no bits I want to talk over! `Space Trucking' on the Machine Head album was really a quite nice bit of playing and on the Tommy Bolin record (Come Taste The Band), `The Dealer' also has some good playing on it. But nearly every record you make you've had to compromise to some extent. You could fix this bit or that bit, but overall you're not
going to get it any better. So in the end you have to live with those sort of things.
What's different now from when you started playing and how do you feel about the changes?
Looking back, the freedom we had then to do so much. You're so limited in the studio now because nearly everything is dominated by click tracks.. There's this terrible criteria of having to try and match up to a machine. And for a drummer it's really difficult. You can put on any modern record you want and you can tell every fill is a square. There's no swing in it at all. No matter how good a player you are, what makes things swing is that it isn't totally strict time - it does move, it does push, it does pull. And we're having to deal with that because now we have musicians who rely on it being strict time - who actually can't play to something that moves around. If you go back to the fifties recordings and listen to things like the Little Richard band, the tempo's all over the place, but they all do it together so it doesn't matter - it just feels great. Those bands relied on the feeling of it being good - not being perfect. You can get something perfect and it just sits there like a piece of lead.
You really feel then that we're too wrapped up in this perfection thing then?
Definitely. We're paying now for the eighties when `Techno' started taking over and people didn't use drummers - when they started using machines with simple programming and the thing didn't budge. People got used to it, but it's not the way humans play. A `middle eight' comes - you push into it, the verse comes - you pull back, someone takes a solo - you take a breather and pull back, things get exciting - you push forward. Those things are human nature.
And if you're not allowed to do that, it takes a lot of hard work to try and give the impression that you're doing it when you're not. You've got a very small, very limited, space inside the metronomic clicks, part of which is in front of the click and part of which is behind, but it's such a narrow band and you've got to try and give the impression that you're pushing into it but you're not really doing anything. It's very difficult.
Is there anybody you listen to now?
Well there's still a lot of innovation around but unfortunately it's not going on in rock and roll. Most of the guys playing now are going for the big sound. Its so technically generated. You don't hear any grace notes for example, all you hear is the bass drum and snare drum. They might sound great, but there's really nothing going on. It ends up making them sound like they have no technique. And also you can't tell who's playing, because when you take out those little bits, you also take away their individuality. You could always tell if it was Ginger (Baker) or John (Bonham) or Ringo (Starr) or Buddy (Rich). All those guys had their good bits and their bad bits, but they were their bits.
Its a real shame for drummers. You can usually still tell guitarists from one another - you can say, `Oh that's Blackmore' or `I think that's Stevie Vai' etc. and obviously with a singer you can still do that, but with drums now it's very difficult. They're taking all the soul out of it.
So, in your view, is British rock music alive and well and in safe hands?
Sadly I don't think so. It's a real shame that in Britain the industry is so dominated by the media. Instead of the record companies putting their powerful oar in the water and saying `this is the direction for rock music in this country', they're letting people who design clothes do it. You've got what used to be called A&R men for the record companies looking in the magazines to see what's hip!
There doesn't seem to be an original thought left because, basically, they don't know anything about music. Presumably they think they know how to sell records, but I can't think of one British record company who have actually signed somebody in the last five, six, maybe even ten years who'll still be selling records for them in another ten year time. I don't believe that Oasis for example will still be selling records in five years time and I know the Spice Girls won't!
Well people have been buying Deep Purples' records for nearly thirty years now and I have a feeling they'll still be selling in ten years time
I certainly hope so!