The year 1968, amongst so many other things, witnessed the formation of yet another custom record label, this one the brainchild of comedian Bill Cosby alongside his manager Roy Silver and christened with the ineffable Hebrew name of God — Tetragrammaton.
Not surprisingly then, one of its first signings (besides Mr. Cosby, of course) was Pat Boone and his strangely countrified Departure album. Simultaneously, on the far other side of the socio-musical spectrum, Tetragrammaton also somehow found itself the American distributor of none other than John Lennon and Yoko Ono‘s fully frontal Two Virgins album.
Nevertheless, despite the presence of one of the nation’s biggest comedians, slickest 1950s teen idols and a naked Beatle to boot, Tetragrammaton is best remembered today as the label that launched the career of Hertfordshire, England’s very own Nick Simper, Rod Evans, Ian Paice, Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore — more or less better known to this very day as Deep Purple.
Now, to say that in 1968 Messrs. Cosby and Silver had no real idea whatsoever how to handle their newly signed band of proto-metalheads would be quite the understatement: Rather than booking the lads into all the most hep rock halls of the day, the quintet’s inaugural tour of the United States centered instead around appearances on television’s Playboy After Dark (during which Blackmore was seen giving Hugh Hefner a guitar lesson) and The Dating Game (wherein Lord came in third out of three contestants and didn’t get the girl. “I was pissed off I wasn’t chosen; she was very beautiful,” the Purple patriarch could still be heard complaining a quarter century later).
Despite all of the above and more, it is a testament then to the quality of Deep Purple’s early music that the band not only survived but also actually placed a trio of singles on the American charts during its two-year stint with Tetragrammaton. In the process, Purple also produced three more-than-accomplished albums which, to my ears at least, remain the best the band has ever done.
Those albums — Shades of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn and the eponymous, Hieronymus Bosch-wrapped Deep Purple have just been made available again, complete with studio outtakes and BBC Radio bonus tracks, from the fine folk over at Eagle Rock Entertainment. Included therein, of course, are the band’s initial Top 40 hits (wholly machine-headed takes on Joe South‘s “Hush” and even Neil Diamond‘s “Kentucky Woman”), a 10-minute-plus roll over Phil Spector‘s “River Deep, Mountain High” — somehow via “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (which I bet even Ike Turner would’ve approved of) — plus two Beatles and even a Donovan cover.
Of course this was the same band that, with a ’70s shift in personnel or two, went on to produce some of that decade’s heaviest slabs of Marshall-powered r-a-w-k. Evidence of such delightfully moronic brilliance can indeed be heard as early as Shades‘ “Mandrake Root,” and especially the first 5:30 of the Deep Purple album. Conversely though, this was a band that also indulged its tender moments as well — I’d like to see the 2011 Purple tackle any Donovan songs! — and even spent an inordinate amount of Book of Taliesyn concocting fits of druid bombast even Spinal Tap couldn’t, or wouldn’t touch. Lord, speaking at the time to Woman’s Own magazine, attempted to explain this, um, approach by making allusions to astral association.
It can perhaps be seen in retrospect that this very dichotomy between the fanciful and the Neanderthal doomed this early incarnation of the band; in fact, shortly after the release of Deep Purple in 1969, bassist Simper and singer Evans were fired for flat-out refusing to head in heavier directions, man. At this same time, Tetragrammaton itself went belly up, taking with it all Purple profits they could legally or otherwise lay their hands on. This freed Lord to indulge for the moment each and every Derek Smalls fantasy imaginable on stage at the Royal Albert Hall via his Concerto for Group and Orchestra, while Blackmore set about retooling a leaner, meaner Deep Purple for the arena-rocking decade to come.
Most of you know the story from there. But for the moment, let me direct you instead back to the glory daze when Purple was deep within the ranks of that era’s most musical of madmen, never afraid to say and play anything and everything that crossed what remained of their minds. Here are three albums that demonstrate this all and then some.
But when asked if he will still be grabbing a piece of the action, Cosby’s only reply was “….hush!”
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.