By Steve Newton
Deep Purple was one of my favourite bands in the seventies, so it was a real kick to finally interview Ian Gillan in 2006, when he called me up from a tour stop in Buffalo, en route to a gig in Vancouver.
He was promoting his star-studded Gillan’s Inn album, a celebration of his 40 years as a singer. That disc featured appearances by guitarists Tony Iommi, Joe Satriani, Uli Jon Roth, Jeff Healey, Steve Morse, Janick Gers, and Redd Volkaert.
Here’s the complete transcipt of our phone conversation, published for the first time ever:
Hello, Ian Gillan?
How ya doin’?
Sorry about the cock-up, mate. I’m doing really fine, how are you?
No problem; not at all. Doing fine. You’re in Buffalo?
I’m in Buffalo, yeah. We’re just stoppin’ over, en route to somewhere else [chuckles].
Thanks for doing an interview with me here in Vancouver…
Oh great pleasure, great pleasure.
First off, I wanted to ask you–I understand you’ve written a thriller novel.
Man…you…I leaked this out in a conversation–it’s a bit premature–but yes, it’s something I’ve been working on for six years in research, I’ve just started writing it now, and it should be finished in about six months. It’s about the Declaration of Independence of the four counties in the southwest of England, from Westminster and Brussels. So it’s an accumulation of all the things my friends and I have talked about in the pub every Tuesday night for the last 20 years. So it’s a good fun–there’s a lot of chasing going on, there’s a lot of politics there, there’s a lot of cultural things too, so…
Who’s the publisher gonna be in North America?
Well I haven’t signed yet. I’ve got one who’s offering me not quite enough, but the points are good, so I’ll probably end up with them. I’m not sure; I’ve got two or three people interested, and I’m going to leave that to my manager and my agent.
Are you an avid reader then?
I am, yes.
Who are your favourite authors?
Well. I’m a huge fan of Patrick O’Brian, the Jack Aubrey [series of nautical historical novels], the 20 books he wrote on that, they’re absolutely incredible. I think my favourite book, my most inspiration book of all time, was Flatland by Edwin Abbott. That was written in 1885, but it’s the most stunning book. It changed my life.
But I like reading all kinds of stuff. I read trashy novels, and I read the classics, and all sorts of stuff.
Well best of luck with that novel.
I’ve been getting up to speed on your latest music. Congratulations on Gillan’s Inn. I was surprised to see Uli Ron Roth on there.
Yeah, I think that he was surprised as well [laughs].
Where do you know him from?
It’s ironic really. When I started doing this I just made a few phone calls to my buddies, and Uli was jamming with us down in Cornwall with Deep Purple–he lived in Wales at the time, I think he’s moved back to Berlin now–so he came along and he was jammin’ with us and we were having a chat afterwards–I’ve known him for a long time–and he said, “Oh, any chance you’re gonna be doing any solo projects, because I’d love to be involved if you are.” And I said, “Uli, your timing is perfect! I’ll send you some information; we’re planning something in a couple of months.”
He’s an amazing guitarist. I’ve got some of his solo albums, and he’s awesome.
Yeah, he really is a great player.
You’ve got an awesome lineup [of guitarists] obviously. You’ve got Joe Satriani…
Yeah, he’s not too bad either.
Yeah, he’s not too shabby. Did you ever wish he’d become a permanent member of Deep Purple?
Well it’s funny if you think of things like that. You wonder how things would have turned out if you’d taken this road instead of that road, where would you end up. I think probably not. Now maybe, I don’t know. I think Steve [Morse] was instrumental–I didn’t mean to use that word–but instrumental in giving us a new start in terms of writing and style and everything else.
There’s so many different influences with individuals within Deep Purple–from jazz and blues and classics and pop music and all that sort of thing. I mean my background is very diverse. My grandfather was an opera singer, my uncle was a jazz pianist, and I was a boy soprano in the church choir before I got myself into trouble with rock ‘n’ roll.
So all of this has been held together, and I think probably the rigidity with which Ritchie Blackmore wanted to pursue his singular direction, was absolutely the worst thing that can happen to a band with so many influences, and so all the texture and the dynamics was missing.
So we got Joe, obviously, when Ritchie walked out in the middle of a tour, and Joe was with us for about a year. Whether he’d have been the right guy, I don’t know. He’s an absolutely brilliant player. I mean we all change as we go through life. Joe steps up and jams with us a lot whenever our paths cross.
One of my favourite tunes on the new album is “When a Blind Man Cries”, and I was wondering, did you think Jeff Healey should be the one to play on that since he knows how it feels when a blind man cries?
Well I think you couldn’t pick a better player. Number one because he’s a great musician, number two because he understands the irony in the lyrics. And he absolutely personifies that song. The whole principal behind it is that everybody’s complaining all the time. You see able-bodied people going around moaning and groaning about this, that, and the other, and you watch those people with great difficulties walking, mobility difficulties, speech difficulties–I mean all kinds of impairments–and you never seem to hear them moaning. They seem to get on with it, and they deal with the disability. So that’s what the song’s about, and I think Jeff understands that.
And he’s got one of the wickedest sense of humours I’ve ever known.
Where do you know him from?
Well Jeff’s been jamming with us on and off over the years. I’ve got a lot of friends in Toronto; my producer is in Toronto, Nick Blagona. And we were just putting musicians to songs, we were just compiling a list of who we wanted to play on what. And for “Blind Man” we just looked at each other and “Jeff Healey, gotta be!” We were only in Buffalo, right here at the time, just across the border [from Toronto], so we picked up the phone and said “Would you play on it?” and he said “I’ll play on that, and two or three others if you like.” And he did; we got him on three songs. And then in return I went and jammed with him when he reopened Healey’s, his jazz club in Toronto.
Oh cool. And you also have, on the DVD I believe, you have “Smoke on the Water” played by three different guitarists, and he’s one of ’em?
Oh yeah, there’s about six guitars on there. Steve Morse, Steve Morris–who’s a writer I’ve worked with in Liverpool in England that nobody knows–Jeff Healey, Joe Satriani, and Uli Jon Roth. Aw, the list… they weren’t allowed to leave the studio until they’d all took one pass at “Smoke”. I believe we’ve got about six of them on the record somewhere or another.
Cool. And of course you’ve got Tony Iommi as well, the Riffmaster. Looking back–I know it’s hard to say, looking back–but were you happy with how your stint with Black Sabbath turned out?
Aw, well I had a fantastic time. Tony and I have been friends for life. It was probably the longest party I ever went to. I don’t remember a lot of what went on in the middle of it, but it was a good time. I had a great time making the music. I love the music on the record, contrary to popular comment. I enjoyed the tour; it was utter insanity. The only down side for me, of the whole thing, was the disappointment of the final production on the record, Born Again.
Because–although Geezer [Butler] says I don’t know what I’m talking about–I don’t have to say anything. I have the rough mixes we did before we left the studio, and I did go on holiday, and when I heard the record [makes muffled, incoherent noises], it sounded as if someone had put a blanket over it. I mean, to reinforce my views–sometimes I think I’m going crazy, and I’m the only one who noticed it–but I put the record on and it sounds very muffled. I know someone’s tampered with it.
Can you tell me about the contest where someone’s going to win the chance to perform “Smoke on the Water” with you?
It’s been working out great, yeah. Well, we are a jamming band. We often invite people in, but normally those people are well know. I remember when I was a kid, standing up against the front of the stage, watching Cliff Bennett or The Big Three or Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages–any of those English bands that I thought were terrific–and I’d think “I’d give my right arm just to be up on stage with the band, to play one song.” And so we’ve been running this–it just developed over a couple of drinks and we said “Well that’s a great idea, let’s do that.”
So it’s not just guitar players–we had a theremin player the other day, absolutely sensational. They’ve been a mixed bag–some have been not that good, some of them had been really good. The guy we had last night–where were we last night, we were in Philadelphia last night, or somewhere else, I don’t know–he was great.
Who’s in your touring band right now?
The amazing Randy Cooke, Canadian drummer from Toronto. He is stunning, absolutely amazing. I’ve got on keyboards and tenor sax, Joe Mennonna, who was with me and Roger Glover in the studio in New York when we did a record called Accidentally on Purpose. And he played with Dr. John on a Little Richard track [“Can’t Believe You Want to Leave”], one of the most amazing double solos I’ve ever heard.
I got Rodney Appleby on bass, who is on bass on most of the tracks on Gillan’s Inn. He’s a Buffalo musician. I’ve got [guitarist] Michael Lee Jackson, who is also from Buffalo, he put the whole project together for me. And [guitarist] Dean Howard, who I’ve been around the world with many times, who was in my Gillan band, and Repo Depot, and was in the last band before I rejoined Deep Purple. He’s a great character.
We are having so much fun, and we are doing material that we’ve never played before. A couple of songs from Perfect Strangers–we’re doing “Wasted Sunsets” and “Not Responsible”–which Purple has never played, ever. So that’s fun. And we’re looking at some material which, I think the current phrase is, out of the box. So it’s a very interesting and powerful set.
Are you currently playing the big three from the Purple canon: “Smoke”, “Highway Star”, and “Space Truckin'”?
No. We’re doing “Smoke”–because that’s the vehicle for the jamming, for the guest to come up. No, we’re doing six Purple songs at the moment. We’re doing “Smoke”, “Knocking at Your Back Door”, “When a Blind Man Cries”, “Wasted Sunsets”, “Not Responsible”, and one other that I can’t remember.
Beauty. Just in closing, Ian–I know you’ve got other interviews to do–the last time you played Vancouver you had Thin Lizzy opening for you, and I was just wondering if you had been a fan of them in their heyday.
God, well, Thin Lizzy, I know the family, and they come and see us whenever we’re in Dublin. And I like the guys that are in the band now, and I think they do a great job. And I know that the band is almost entirely changed, but a lotta people go through that. I thought they handled the whole thing with great respect, and it was wonderful.
In fact, from that tour, it was the first time that really [former Lizzy tour drummer] Michael Lee had come to my attention, and he was the guy that I invited–I mean he played on about six tracks on Gillan’s Inn, along with Ian Paice. I think that they’re the two main drummers, really.
Yeah. Well the album’s great, and I’m glad to hear you’ve got a book comin’ out. How old are you now Ian?
61? Awesome. Well, you’re still going strong. and as someone who grew up loving Made in Japan and just crazy about Deep Purple, it’s great to see you still goin’. And I’m looking forward to seeing you here in Vancouver on September 8.
Looking forward to it very much.
Okay, thanks again Ian.
Take care buddy.
Thank you, bye.
To hear the full audio of my 2006 interview with Ian Gillan–and my interviews with Deep Purple members Roger Glover and Steve Morse as well–subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 400 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
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David Lindley, 2002
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John Hiatt, 2010
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Jeff Golub, 1989
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Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
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Matthew Sweet, 1995
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Randy Bachman, 2001
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Joe Bonamassa, 2011
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Eric Johnson, 2001
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Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
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Rick Derringer, 1999
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Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
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Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
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Mike Fraser, 2014
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Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
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Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
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Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
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Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
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Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
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Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
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Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
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Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
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Chris Cornell, 2008
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Allan Holdsworth, 1983
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