Rock Chronicles. 1970s: Ian Gillan

artist: Ian Gillan date: 02/16/2008 category: rock chronicles
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Rock Chronicles. 1970s: Ian Gillan
When: November 1975 Where: Phoner What: Ian holds a very special place in my heart because he was literally one of the first three or four people I ever interviewed. It was an amazing moment and one that I have always remembered. Though I don't have that interview on tape. And over the next several hundred words, I'll tell you why. The summer after I finished high school, I did the Jack Kerouac/bohemian/hippie kind of On The Road trip - but in Europe. I took my best friend along, my 6'4 guitar playing buddy in case I found myself in harm's way, and for three months we were vagabonds and vagrants out on the great open highways of England and France, Spain, Italy and Greece. Before departing, I had met Mark Yandle, the editor for a softcore porn newspaper (I think it's still being published) called the Los Angeles Star. I had been trying to get my stories published everywhere (Creem, Circus, Rolling Stone, Guitar Player, et al) and I was rejected at every turn. It turned out that the only place I could score a by-line was in a newsprint-format rag like the Star. You know the type - there are one or two semi-nude photos of women but the photography is so terrible and the paper of such poor quality that you can't tell what you're looking at. The ink rubs off on your fingers and most of the pages are dedicated to ads for professional massages. Yeah, right! It's no wonder nobody would publish me. My writing was so (you pick one): 01. abysmal 02. atrocious 03. artless 04. fucking bad I was lucky these magazines didn't go out of their way to track me down through the S.A.S.E. I always enclosed (for the return of my story though why I ever wanted them back is beyond me), break my thumbs, trash my typewriter, and burn down the house. And then salt the ashes so nothing could grow there for a 1,000 years. What I'm trying to say is, I sucked. I know as an intro to an interview with Ian Gillan that this is the long way around. But hopefully once we arrive at our destination, the main body of the story, you'll be glad you stayed the course. So, I now have a folder full of rejection slips and a heart full of woe. Imagine my astonishment then, when a little folded newspaper arrives covered in a plain brown wrapping. It is addressed to me and when I open it, I recognize it as a copy of the Star. I'm looking through it, still a bit confused about why I'd been sent an issue, when I come upon a review of T. Rex at the Hollywood Palladium. I remember thinking, I wrote a live review of T. Rex at the Hollywood Palladium. I know, I know, I was a bit slow on the uptake. Picture the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the ape picks up a mastodon bone or whatever it is and crashes it down on the heap of skeletal remains. Grabs the bone, crashes it down grabs the bone, crashes it down. Slowly, in the same manner it came upon this Neanderthal, realization dawns. A new dawn has dawned, the dawning of my life as a published writer. That's what it was for me; I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a virgin moment, right? Your first kiss; the first time you got laid. You're there and you can't believe it's happening even as it's happening. But there it was, my name in print. The fact that this was a trashy tabloid you could only buy from vending machines (the Star was so bad, open air newsstands wouldn't carry it) didn't matter. To me, I saw my name engraved on the very tablet of God. I'd go on to have another live review of West, Bruce & Laing published a couple months later. I contacted music editor Mark Yandle, introduced myself, and prostrated myself in front of him for running my stories. He said he really liked my writing and would like to see more. I informed him I was going to Europe in about a month's time and he suggested I send back stories and act as a sort of European correspondent. I loved the idea. He gave me a list of names of people to contact, publicists and mangers, and said they'd be able to help me in setting up interviews. He was right. I never did make a single penny for any of the stories I sent to Yandle from England. But he was responsible for the start of my writing career. One of the names he provided for me was Tony Brainsby, a publicist doing publicity for Ian Gillan, Paul McCartney (you may have already read about that) Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and others. Tony asked me if I wanted to interview the ex-Deep Purple singer and I jumped on it. Remember, I'd just started writing and already I was talking to the likes of Gillan. In fact, the very first interview I ever did was with Joe Cocker. I took off like a rocket and plummeted like a kamikaze. Yes, Joe was my first, but here's the unbelievably embarrassing part - I recorded over that interview! Probably when I sat down with Ian. And then I recorded over that one with an interview with Gentle Giant. I was too stupid to use different cassettes. I never thought, in a million lifetimes, that I'd ever really make a living out of being a writer. Not really. In the introduction to this series of stories, I mentioned being cocked, loaded and ready to pursue. That was my philosophy. Well, when I was in England during the nascent days of my writing profession, I hadn't yet developed an approach. I thought how clever I could be if I re-used the same cassette; I'd save money and luggage space when I returned to California. One might have defined this theory as shell-shocked, choked and headed for doom. I didn't know what I was doing. I mean, for the price of a cassette, I could have had that interview with Gillan, with Cocker, and everyone else. Man, how does the world suffer such a fool? I could have interviewed Fleetwood Mac but for some insane reason I said no; I didn't even bother. This wasn't my favorite period of Mac music - Bare Trees/Penguin records - but how do you turn this down? And here's an even more classic example of ultimate stupidity. Tony: I'm working with this band called Queen. Their first album is coming out and they're going to be huge. You could be one of the first writers to ever interview them. Me: You said they're called Queen? That's pretty weird, Tony. They sound like a glam band. Tony: No, they're a great band; you'll really like them. Me: I don't think so. That's such a lousy name for a band. They'll never do anything. Freddie, Brian, John, and Roger were all going to be there. The Queen album. What would it be like to read that interview now? Tony gave me a copy of the album, a white label test pressing, and when I returned to West Hollywood I put it on. I listened to the opening track, Keep Yourself Alive, and I think I threw a shoe against the wall. I could not believe how amazing the song was and how un-glam Queen sounded. I often think back to that moment and continually curse my defective blockheadedness. I was an idiot and admit to it. So, that's why I don't have the interview with Ian Gillan that I did back in 1973. I erased over the tape. When it looked like I might have a future with music journalism, I started buying new tapes and never recorded over anything again. I do have this one from 1975, though. As we exchanged salutations via telephone, Ian insisted that we'd met at the Tropicana Hotel in East Hollywood; I didn't remember that. I told him we'd actually first met back in England while he was producing a band called Pussy. He didn't really remember that. It didn't matter because he was really delightful back in '73 and he was ultra-cool during this conversation as well. Here, he's speaking about the Child In Time solo album by the Ian Gillan Band. Hopefully the detour in arriving here wasn't too much of an obstacle to read through. I really thought that it was important to understand why Gillan was such an important character in my life and indeed as a participant here in the Rock Chronicles. You've got a new band together. How did it come about? I needed a rest right when I left Purple. I'm not saying that I was in the band Pussy - I was just producing them and helping to manage them, really. After that I just drifted into a complete wilderness. I did nothing. I didn't even listen to the radio. I didn't play any records. I did nothing. So about 9 months ago, I began to feel a bit re-energized and started to feel fresh again. So I wrote some songs and I went into my studio and recorded them. It was so multi-directional. I was so confused because for the first time in my life not being with musicians, when I was writing I was writing everything myself. I just hired some musicians in the studio. Good ones, but there was no direction whatsoever. They just played what I told them to. It was like just a complete cross-section of everything, from really basic simple rock to just ballads and everything. I suppose that it was a combination of frustrations, which started to come out again. It was no good really as a product because there was no way that I could even associate with the style. So I aborted that album completely and asked Roger Glover to produce me; Roger produced the album. That way I thought, Well, I've worked with Roger before. We could do some writing together. Essentially it started out as a solo album. So I got a band together and it started coming along really well in Munich. We started doing some tapes and things. It started getting together so well and so strong that the nucleus of the people, I thought, Well, I'd really these people to work with on the road and everything. The 2 people from that session came with me to Switzerland, where we had to abort the session because we had some trouble in the studio. And now we're going to completely do the whole lot in the first 2 weeks of January because all of the songs are written and everything. Ray Fenwick is playing guitar; Jim Gustafson is playing bass and singing. Mike Moran is playing keyboards and Mark Nauseef, who used to be with Elf, is playing drums and keyboards and percussion. Well, maybe playing keyboards, I don't know. We're all writing together now and it's really coming along very well. Most of these people have been, up until now for some period of time, session musicians. They all emanate from being musicians in their early days, performing. But for the last 2 or 3 years, they have been session musicians. Consequently, they're all bursting at the seams to get back on the road again after a long break. We just seemed to have really hit a nice formula with the band. The music that we're getting into at the moment is really coming out very strong. I'm glad to say that I'm not in any way concerned about the possibility of any pretension with it at all, which is something I've been concerned about in rock music in general for some years now. To explain that a little more, the hangover of particularly the lyrical aspect of rock music - the hangover of the days of psychedelia and flower power - lyrically hung over to what became progressive rock and heavy rock or whatever label you'd like to hang on it. Consequently, the 2 just don't go. The basic ingredients of first generation rock, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee and those sort of people, Chuck Berry, if you like to call that rock, there were basic ingredients lyrically. I'm still talking about lyrically with sensuality, humor; I don't mean outright comedy, I mean humor and the ability to laugh at situations, and a freshness and a natural sort of aggression. It was about things which were very basic to ordinary people. It's not sort of like lumpy elephants in the sky floating down rhinoceroses' backs with these spectacles. It seems to me a bit demanding on the ear. It's something I've never really been able to get into. And yet in the context of slow music, which sort of takes you on another plain altogether, then that kind of lyric is very acceptable. You're dealing more in a surrealistic kind of form anyway. So anyway, having got that off my chest, what I'm trying to say is that really what we're doing is music, which is played well by great players. It's now sort of the music lyrically and I suppose vocally what I have been and what I always have been.
"I write the words and the tunes to the stuff I sang with Purple."
Could someone find a similarity to Deep Purple in the new songs? Well, to be quite fair, I think you could. Yes. I think you could probably say that certainly; Deep Purple as it was when I was with them, it's the same voice and it's the same singer. My attitude to writing has probably matured a bit, but then again I've benefited from a 2-year layoff. It's got a freshness to it that has occurred to me, anyway. There must be a link obviously because I write the words and the tunes to the stuff I sang with Purple. And I'm writing the words and the tunes to what we're doing now. We're writing very much in the same sort of way. Everyone is writing what they're playing, if you know what I mean. We just tie it all together and fortunately it's working very nicely. It's a similar writing formula to the one with Purple. I think probably when we go on the road, we won't be such a loud band this time. Not that I don't like the volume, I do like the volume very much. But the players are different kinds of players. So this is the Ian Gillan band then? Yeah, whatever. We haven't really thought about names or anything, but that's as good as working with anything. Is it still basically your solo album? No, we're looking at it very much more from the point of view of we're all contributing as a band. I've got a fairly simple approach to making records. The first thing I have in mind is that I've got to make a record and I can't scorn commerciality. At the same time, I can't compromise whatever art there is in it. So basically what I have to do is what I believe in and to hell with the world. But quite simply, looking at it from a realistic point of view, I suppose that it's because of my name to a certain extent I've been able to get a record deal. Maybe the other people aren't quite so well known and maybe they wouldn't have gotten such a good deal if it was them. Quite simply, purely from a mechanical point of view, it makes more sense to promote the band using my name. We've talked about it in the band and everyone's pretty much in agreement. A name just associates with whatever the product is. So whether it's Ian Gillan or Joe Shmo, after you've heard the name twice it doesn't matter. The people who recognize it, it's nice anyway in the first place. So I think to answer your original question, it probably is leaning more towards a band kind of album. And yet, I suppose being the singer, my influence would probably show through more obviously on the first album. Let's put it that way. Who did you sign with? I don't know if I can officially tell you that because the contracts haven't been signed yet. Note: The album would appear on the Polydor/Oyster label. When will the album be out? Mid-February. Note: Actual release date: July 1976. Will the album be recorded in your studio? No. You won't believe this, but the studio is going so well that I can't book time in there! We've got some really good people going regularly who work there. Because we've had this delay with the other 2 or 3 sessions we've done now and the studio is completely booked up for so long, that I just can't get in there. All I can get is a couple days of copying and remixing. Note: The album would be recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. Do you think your voice has changed? Yeah, for the better. Have you been working with your voice? No, not really. But I feel like an animal now! I feel so strong and it's coming out. The rest has really done it good. It must have. It's a case of inflection. I think the power hasn't changed at all, but it's just a case of annunciation and the words come out so much more strongly now. The only number that I'm doing on this album, which I've done in the past, I'm doing Child In Time again (this would eventually become the album's title). It's for a few reasons, really. One, because I really like the song very much and two, because it was one of the things that I feel very personal about with Purple. It was the only song we ever did in Purple, which we did onstage right from when I joined the band to when I left the band. It was always in the act. It was never left out. I'm very proud of what I did with Purple. I look back with fond memories at those days and, if you like it, it's a link between what I've worked on before and what I'm going to be doing now. When I play that, it seems to drift naturally from that into what I'm doing now. It's really nice, even though that was on In Rock, which was the first album that I did with Purple. And the best album that Purple ever made. You think so? Absolutely. That's funny, Everyone has different ideas about that. What do you think? I always had big sorts of debates with Ritchie and Jon and Ian about my favorite Purple album, and I'll tell you the reason why in a second. My favorite Purple album was Fireball. The reason I like that so much is because I thought, from a writing point of view, it was really the beginning of tremendous possibilities and expression. I just went out and bought it yesterday again in New York and having been playing it through. Some of the tracks on that album I think are really, really effective. In those days, before it was really being called heavy rock, it was still being called rock, progressive rock, something like that. It was the tag being put onto it and that kind of music. I really thought that some of the tracks on there were very progressive rock numbers, very progressive. I've just been playing it again now and listening to In Rock as well, but I thought that it was a shame that we didn't continue with that sort of expression in our writing. As opposed to the sort of slightly formulated approach to our later albums. Do you think it did become formulaic towards the end? I don't think that can be denied by anybody. Every album started with the same tempo and that's just it. That's one of the reasons why I left because I was becoming stagnant. We became so entrenched in it because that was the Purple identity and the Purple image. But we were really restricting our means of expression. I think it was one of the reasons Ritchie left. We were all very high-energy people and I think it's done everybody good. It's done me good, it's done Purple good, it's done Ritchie good. I think what we had together is kind of like a musical orgasm. Perhaps we came a bit too quickly! I don't know. When you left the band, were there any bad feelings? Oh, no. Obviously like anything, I couldn't bring myself to listen to the next album in a way. It was something I had been a part of, and there's somebody else singing. I didn't even want to listen to it. It was very personal. The whole band was personal. We had been through a lot together. I had never had such experiences onstage with such players. I have never been, for example, literally moved to tears. When I worked with Ritchie onstage, it was unbelievable. What do you think of Deep Purple now with David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes? Well, it's a new direction altogether. I think they've got to forget the past and really do what they're going to do. I would like to see more strength in personality coming through. I would like to see a little more naivete, a little less know-how. But I still think the band's great. It would be so easy to say, Yeah, they're great. They're fantastic. Of course, they are. But I mean, I try to be constructive. I would like to try a more careful approach instead of this cold, calculated approach. Musicians of our generation love becoming likeyou know, you get so many good players around. A guy like Blackmore leaves and they replace him with somebody like Bolin. Everywhere you look, there are fantastic players and everyone is like a genius in their own right and highly respected musicians. You stand back and you think about 10, 15 years ago and how people used to look upon what I would say is a similar kind of thing. I mean, not so commercial, but say the modern jazz era, where everyone was playing very well but sort of really lost sight of what it's all about and took the whole thing far too seriously. People get so serious now about things. The only problem they seem to have is when they're on the road. You look at photographs. Okay, so you see a few people smiling now, but not really very much. There is a lot of class-consciousness between the pop musician and the rock musician and the J&B and Coke and whatever. That's all part of the image, right? You don't realize you've got an image until you read what somebody's written about you in the paper. Then subconsciously or subliminally, that becomes your image and you try and live up to it. So what the hell anyway, you're not a real person. You're no longer a real person. You're offstage person becomes the whole part. Eventually, it's a complete turnaround because the only time you're really being yourself is when you're onstage. Would you work with Ritchie again? Oh, yeah. I would like to work with any of them again. I'd like to have an 100-piece band with everyone I ever worked with. What do you think of Rainbow? Superb. I've never seem them onstage. I like the record. I think they'll go a long way further than their first record. Ritchie is playing very much of a low-key role on the first album that I've been listening to. I think they've been concentrating on the songwriting, which is beautiful. There are some strengths, some weaknesses. But from what they've got and from his philosophy, knowing Ritchie, I think the band is going to be huge. I really do. It really is good, what I've heard. I'd like to see it successful.
"The first thing I have in mind is that I've got to make a record and I can't scorn commerciality."
When do you plan on taking your band out on the road? If the record comes out about mid-summer, I reckon my manager will probably say we'll get out about 3, 4, 5 weeks after the record comes out. Do you know Bruce Paine? He manages Rainbow and Purple now. He's managing me. When we first started talking about me coming back into the business I said, Well, I'd like to go on the road next week. At the moment, he's really keeping me on ice and I'm getting very frustrated. But I know it's the right thing to do, but I want to get out on play. But it's going to be good. We're going to rehearse for 6 weeks after we finish recording the album. We've got really exciting ideas for the stage show and everything. What are your feelings about going back on the road again? Yeah. I'm keyed up. I'm very excited about it when I think about, even. It's really after all what I've spent all my time doing since I left school. I feel more natural onstage than I do sitting down talking to people about it. I think Roger is probably going to confine himself mostly to studio work. That's one of the reasons we're not going to be working together, which is a shame because I would have loved to work with Roger. We were together in a band years before we joined Purple. What band was that? Episode Six. Did you ever release anything? Oh, yeah. We had about 14 singles. Not one of them was a hit! You did have a musical history before joining Purple. Yeah, 5 other bands. Only 2 of them which made records, none of which were successful. What were the names of those bands? Episode Six (May 1965 - August 1966), Wainwright's Gentlemen (April 1964 - May 1965). I was once Garth Rockett (his pseudonym in a band called The Moonshiners, a long-lived outfit working from September - October 1962). I was once Jess Thunder (and variously, Jess Gillan) until the American artist Jess Thunder came out. I was once in a band called The Javelins (October 1962 - March 1964). I've got a lot of short-term things that I can't remember. Is there any other singing in the band besides you? Oh, yeah; John Gustafson, he's a fantastic singer. Really good. And I'm glad he's there because as soon as he walked into the studio for the first time, I immediately felt myself sort of pulling another 10 points on what I was singing, sort of pushing me ahead. I like working with people who are going to push me because I get a lot of energy. An example is Ritchie. Ritchie, when he played onstage, tried to blast everyone off the stage. It's a kind of competition. One of the things Ritchie said to me when I joined Deep Purple was, You've got to bear this in mind. I don't mean it badly, but I'm going to try and blow you off the stage every night. I said, All right. Great. I said, Well, in that case I'm going to try and do the same to you. He said, Yeah, great. That way we'll have a good band. I've always picked very carefully the people I work with. I'd rather be unsuccessful and happy than successful and playing with a bunch of twerps. So this is how it is. Now when Johnny walks in and I think, Oh, he can sing really well, I've really got to sing extra well to satisfy my conscious. It's just a funny little game I play. For what it's worth, I loved your work in Purple and believe they are one of the all-time great bands. Fantastic, thanks a lot. I've got some fantastic memories of those days. 2008 Steven Rosen
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