Welcome to MusicDayz

The world's largest online archive of date-sorted music facts, bringing day-by-day facts instantly to your fingertips.
Find out what happened on your or your friends' Birthday, Wedding Day, Anniversary or just discover fun facts in musical areas that particularly interest you.
Please take a look around.

Fact #117238


Short story:

Deep Purple release a new single, Smoke On The Water, in the USA.

Full article:

by Johnny Black

The ominous metal riff – ‘Durh durh durh, durh-durh de durh’ – that spurts from Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar at the start of Smoke On The Water is acknowledged as one of the greatest heavy rock licks of all time, but the story of how the song itself came to be written is no less impressive.

Having decided to record their seventh album, Machine Head, in Switzerland, The Purps blew into in the tiny lakeside resort town of Montreux a few days early, to settle in before starting work.

Switzerland wasn’t exactly famous for its recording facilities, but the band was bored by the sterility of studio sound, and was looking for a location in which they might capture a more live sound. The band was friendly with Claude Nobs, ‘Funky Claude’ in the lyric, who ran the Montreux Jazz Festival. “He suggested that we should check out the Casino where they held the festival,” remembers Gillan. “It was a fair sized hall, a beautiful old wooden building on the banks of Lake Geneva, and you could get a really excellent live sound.” The idea was to take the Rolling Stones’ state-of-the-art mobile recording truck to Montreux, park it outside the casino and perform inside.

On the night they arrived, 3 December 1971, Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention were playing a live gig in the Casino, so Gillan and his bandmates trooped along to check out the show, and get an idea of the acoustics in the hall.

“it was a great show,” Gillan recalls, “until some guy pulled up outside in a big car. There was virtually no security at concerts in those days, so he was able to walk straight into the hall, and he pulled out a Verey pistol, one of those old distress flare guns. Nobody took any particular notice of him, because anything was likely to happen at a Frank Zappa gig, so it seemed like a Happening when he suddenly appeared in the aisle and fired this thing up towards the ceiling.”

Two thousand pairs of eyes turned upwards as the brilliant incendiary light shot towards the ceiling and lodged itself in the decorative cornice. At first, the crowd assumed it was just all part of the fun, but then the fire took hold and smoke began to fill the auditorium. “Zappa was brilliant,” says Gillan. “He stopped the band, and started calmly directing everybody to leave the building in an orderly fashion.”

Despite Zappa’s good advice, a panic ensued, much to the dismay of Ritchie Blackmore who was in the bar with a well-endowed young lady. “All these people were running past me with white faces. I presumed it must be an intermission and they were going to get ice creams until I saw the smoke coming out and I realised something was wrong. Otherwise I'd have been with this certain young lady somewhere, in some kind of cupboard, up to some sort of mischief, and I would have been burnt down with the place.”

Gillan has never forgotten the horrifying moment when, ”The plate glass windows exploded out with the heat, and some kids tried to jump through to safety, but they pretty bad lacerations.” Some of the crowd, in fear and confusion, ran through the wrong doors and found themselves trapped in the basement where, fortunately, Claude Nobs found them and led them out to safety.

Half an hour later, with everyone safely outside, the members of deep Purple watched flames licking 200 feet into the air as the Casino became a raging inferno. Returning to their hotel, Gillan remembers that, “We could still see the Casino burning from our windows. We were watching the smoke roll out over Lake Geneva, and Roger wrote the words Smoke On The Water on a paper napkin right then. We didn't have a song at this point, it was just those words.”

Glover, however, disputes Gillan’s version of the song’s origin, placing it about three days after the fire. “I woke up sweating all over and actually said 'Smoke On The Water' aloud to myself in the bedroom,” he says. “The next day, I suggested to Ian that we write a song about what happened to us.”

Meanwhile, Claud Nobs had pulled Purple’s bacon out of the fire by arranging that they could record the album in the town’s Grand Hotel, which was closed for re-decoration.

Moving into the hotel, they immediately got off to a flying start. “It was a riff that Ritchie put down,” says Jon Lord. “It's working title was Durh Durh Durh.”

The track was laid down in a hurry, just four takes according to Blackmore, because the band knew that the police were on their way to throw them out of the hotel. “We were waking up the neighbours about five miles away because the sound was echoing through the mountains,” he says. “We had just finished it when the police burst in and said we had to stop, and since we'd finished it, we did.“

All that remained was to marry the track with Glover’s idea for a lyric about the fire but, when it was finished, the band were unimpressed. “We were really approaching it as just a throwaway,” reveals Gillan, “a filler track to finish the album off.” They also felt that the title, Smoke On The Water, sounded too much like a drug reference, and concluded that it was probably best consigned to the vaults.”

Despite the band almost never playing it live, it was chosen as a single and entered the Billboard charts on 16 June 1973, where it peaked at No4, going gold just two months later.

Over the years, the song has attained all-time classic status. Blackmore’s lick was chosen as the No4 Riff Of The Millennium in the December 1999 edition of Guitar magazine, and the song delighted a whole new generation of rock fans who heard it in the 2003 Jack Black film School Of Rock. As Gillan points out, “it became one of the most successful things we ever did.“ As well as covers by Mental As Anything and Riot, the song was reggaeified by Dread Zeppelin and re-interpreted as a lounge classic for 50s crooner Pat Boone’s hilarious album No More Mr Nice Guy. Gillan’s favourite, however, remains the one by, “A South American stripper who did the bump'n'grind to this really rinky-dink little version.”
(This feature first appeared in Blender magazine)