Until this weekend's bombshell that Paul McCartney was going to perform in Israel in September, the title of the season's biggest rock musical event fell on the unlikely 40-year-old shoulders of Deep Purple. Unlikely because, let's face it, the British hard rock pioneers haven't exactly been tearing up the charts sinceâ€¦ about 1971. And unlikely because despite forging a dense, prototype heavy metal sound exemplified by their signature tune "Smoke on the Water," the band never really received the critical respect afforded brethren like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. But none of that has prevented music fans here from rescuing the band from the old rockers retirement home and adopting them as 2008's rock saviors. Not only has the band booked three shows at the Caesarea Amphitheater on September 7, 8 and a return engagement on September 18, but they've added an even larger show at The Hangar in Tel Aviv on September 9. Clearly, when Israelis think "purple," they're not thinking about Prince. It's a far cry from the band's last visit in 1995, when they played one show which ended in shambles when then-guitarist Ritchie Blackmore walked off stage in mid-song, apparently miffed at day-glo lights being waved by audience members. "It's very gratifying to find out that we're so popular in Israel," said drummer Ian Paice, one of three members of the band from their legendary Machine Head days, and the only band member who's been with them since their mid-1960s presuperstar pop days of "Hush" and "Lalena." "We're not the most fashionable unit touring out there in the world. We're not spring chickens, but the shows we're putting on are among the best we've ever done," Paice told The Jerusalem Post from London, where the band was playing last week. "That filters around to fans, they talk to each other on chats and Web sites, and I think that our continued success has something to do with that." It also has to with the band's being held in extremely high regard by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, where they were the most popular band back in the 1970s when rock records still had to be smuggled in and listened to clandestinely. In recognition of their status in Russia, the band performed earlier this year in Moscow at the personal request of incoming president and fan Dmitry Medvedev. While promoters expect about half of the audience here to be Russian speaking, the other half will likely consist of a mix of veteran Israelis who got hooked on the band in their youth, and teens and 20somethings who still find relevance in the heavy progressive rock of the band that was once listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's loudest band and has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. PAICE MAKES up one half of Deep Purple's pounding rhythm section, along with bassist Roger Glover who, aside from a few years away from the band in the early 1980s, has stayed by the drummer's side. And the 59-year-old Paice couldn't be happier, as the band made its name on its heavy rhythm base's setting the foundation and enabling guitarist Blackmore, organist Jon Lord and vocalist Ian Gillan to take off on atmospheric soloing. "When Roger and I play together, it's like second nature. We don't even have to think about it. When something's about to happen, we know about it, even if we don't know exactly what it is that's going to happen. Sometimes it's in relation to just one note and the way it's played, and you react immediately in the same way, two musicians locking in," said Paice. And singer Gillan's return to the Purple fold after on-again, off-again periods, brought on by constant feuding with guitarist Blackmore, brings the band back to nearly full early 1970s strength. It is rounded out by guitarist Steve Morse, a wellregarded virtuoso in his own right, the latest and evidently most stable in a long line of replacements for the talented but moody and unpredictable Blackmore, and Don Airey, who took over the organ chores from the retired Jon Lord in 2002. "Without Ian, Deep Purple is not the same. It's obvious that we were missing his singing and his demeanor on stage," said Paice, referring to the second-rate retreads that fronted the band following Gillan's departure, such as David Coverdale and Joe Lynn Turner. "When you go back to what created our megasuccess in the early '70s and if you keep the greater percentage of people involved in that process, you can also keep the spirit of the music of that time," said Paice. "So when you have three of us from that lineup, it's easy to continue getting the music to feel the way it should and play it the way it should be played." But living to play and playing to live are two separate things. Carrying on the rock & roll life when you're in your 50s and 60s takes its toll, which prompted organist Lord to be the only long-time member to voluntarily opt out of the band. "Jon had enough of what I'm looking at right now - hotel rooms and the merry-go-round of being on the road. He still enjoyed playing, but he just got tired of being away from home," said Paice. "When Jon left, we realized there were only a couple of guys who play the Hammond organ the way it should be played in rock. With Don [Airey], he not only comes from the same cultural background but from the same generation musically, and he has the same technique that suits our music without having to talk about it. He was just an obvious choice." WHILE PAICE, Glover and Gillan have all credited Morse's introduction to the band in 1996 as the pivotal move in revitalizing what had for all intents and purposes become an oldies band, it's the steady, yet sometimes astonishing work by Paice behind the drum kit that has kept the glue together through thick and thin. Heavily influenced by jazz drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, as well as British predecessors like Ringo Starr and The Hollies' Bobby Elliot, Paice said he's still a student of the drums after all these years. And he finds that, like most people who came of age in a certain era, the resultant crop of drummers just doesn't measure up. "What happens now is that kids learn to play with the help of a teacher. While there's nothing wrong with that, it tends to narrow the possibilities a bit. You had to learn by listening and copying what you heard if you could," he said. "Players then found different ways to do similar things. Nobody told you how to tune a drum kit, so you ended up finding different sounds. It made a lot of players sound unique. My generation and the generation of jazz drummers before me had easily distinguishable styles of playing. You could always differentiate between Ringo and Keith Moon or John Bonham." Paice said that today's drummers, while technically more proficient, haven't developed their individual styles. "Like everything else in the modern world, now it's more like a production line in a factory. I'm not putting down young drummers - there are plenty who are superb. But I can't find a way to distinguish one from another; that individual flair is not there." Paice has done his part to educate aspiring rock drummers by releasing a series of educational DVDs on drumming. But in self-depreciating style, he doesn't suggest that anyone actually follow his advice. "I don't presume to call them training DVDs; I know too little about it to give anyone advice. I wouldn't want to pontificate because usually my way is the wrong way - except for me. I don't play the bass pedals the right way, I don't hold the sticks the way they should be held. What I try to do is give information about drumming so a young drummer will have an idea of what he's getting into," he said. More than 40 years later, Paice knows what he got himself into, and he's one of those lucky ones who can still say they love what they do. "I actually feel better about the way I've been playing in the last six months than I have for 10 years," he said. "Everybody gets to the point of feeling like they're stagnating, and then you find another little door you can open and move a little forward. "I think the band is in that stage now. What we're doing may not be easy, but we make it sound easy".