When Roger Glover was first asked to join Deep Purple as their bassist in 1969, he turned them down.
The British rock band had already achieved considerable success the previous year with their first two albums and the hits “Hush” and a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman.” But founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice wanted to move the band in a heavier direction.
Replacing their vocalist was a priority and they invited Ian Gillan from the less successful Episode Six to audition for them in London. And he brought along his songwriting partner and the band’s bassist, Glover.
“We had been writing together for a couple years, and when he got the offer to audition for Deep Purple he said to me, ‘look, this band is looking for songs too, and we have good songs.’ So I went to London with my acoustic guitar and we banged out our songs to Jon Lord,” said Glover in a recent phone conversation from his home in Switzerland.
“The Jon played us a demo of the song and told us that they were recording it that night. He asked me ‘do you want to play bass on it?’”
The session for the song – “Hallelujah” – was impressive enough that not only was Gillan asked to join the band, but so was Glove. According to band lore, Blackmore was only interested in Gillan and not Glover, but drummer Paice was impressed by his bass playing and suggested adding him too.
“I turned them down,” said Glover with a throaty laugh. “I had been playing with my friends in Episode Six for many years, in college and later as a professional band. But I thought about it overnight. Deep Purple sounded so good. When I was in the studio with Ritchie, Jon and Paice, I was amazed by their musicianship. The temptation to change course was too strong to pass up.”
Within a year, thanks to the album Machine Head and “Smoke on the Water” – whose title was Glover’s creation – Deep Purple became huge and have remained cornerstones of the blues-based hard rock genre ever since.
For the 76-year-old Glover, it was just another step in a life he says seems to have “been laid out” for him.
He got bitten with the do-it-yourself skiffle music bug in the mid-1950s, which evolved into rock & roll.
“The first 10 years of my life, all that was on the radio was horrible music, to my ears anyway,” said Glover. “Then skiffle happened, this very homemade raucous kind of music that you could make with acoustic guitars and hit just about anything for percussion. It was so animated and it set me alight. And soon after was this tsunami of great music from Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Eddie Cochrane. I loved it.”
By age 12, he had picked up a guitar and started experimenting at writing songs. He formed his first band at 15, and soon moved over to the bass.
“It wasn’t because of a passion I had for it. Two of the guys were better guitar players than me, so I volunteered to play bass. I was just being practical. I was forming a band and I needed something to play in it. I took off the top two strings of my Spanish guitar, put a pickup on it and that became my first bass. Of course, when I actually got a proper bass and amp, I realized that it really suited me. I enjoyed the sound and power of it.”
ALTHOUGH HE was making a living from his work with Episode Six, Glover’s initial four-year stint with Deep Purple that included the iconic live album Made in Japan, propelled him to the rock pantheon.
He and Gillan left the band in 1973, and various configurations and reunions continued for years until the current lineup of Deep Purple coalesced. American virtuoso guitarist Steve Morse had already replaced Blackmore and a long list of his successors in 1994, and keyboardist Don Airey replaced a retiring Lord in 2002, marking the beginning of the longest lasting configuration of the band, one that Glover chalks up to chemistry.
“Maturity may have something to do with longevity, but it all depends on the personalities in the band. Some bands are volatile and others are calm. For us, Steve Morse brought an era of peace to the band. When he joined, we decided we weren’t going to be led by anyone. We were a band of five members, all of them equal leaders. So there’s no jealousy and no motives for any arguments.”
Essentially an oldies band, Deep Purple still tours internationally and sells out arenas at will. Israel is no exception, as the band has appeared regularly in various venues over the last 20 years to a seemingly insatiable cadre of graying fans.
This year is no different. The band’s May 22 show at Tel Aviv’s Menorah Mivtachim Arena has done so well at the box office that another show has been added the next night at the Pais Arena in Jerusalem.
Glover has some affectionate feelings for Israel, especially the Tel Aviv restaurant where “I ate the best hummus I ever had in my life.”
He’s traveled the country on his various trips here, including a three-day diving holiday with the whole band in Eilat.
Glover said that the band is excited to get back on stage after the last two years of the COVID pandemic that has seen them mostly grounded, although they did begin a tour in February that was truncated when some band members tested positive. But Glover said that despite the enforced layoff, the band quickly gets up to speed on their classic material.
One hiccup will be the integration of acclaimed Irish guitarist Simon McBride into the band in place of Morse, who is sitting out the six-month tour that begins in Israel to care for his ailing wife. “Simon’s brilliant,” said Glover, adding that the band shouldn’t miss a beat.
“It’s not like we haven’t been playing, we just haven’t been playing together. So we do have to actually rehearse together a couple times. It’s brushing off the cobwebs, but it always falls into place. It’s a bit like putting a comfortable glove back on.”