Deep Purple’s founding bassist Nick Simper looks back with Harry Paterson
You’re in the car that crashed and killed Johnny Kidd of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. You then go on to found Deep Purple, only to find yourself a member of an even more rarefied collective. Bassist Nick Simper – like original Beatle Pete Best – is a member of an exclusive club: musicians who founded, or co-founded, some of the biggest bands in rock’n’roll only to fall foul of their bandmates and find themselves sacked before the good times rolled.
Simper was Purple’s bassist from 1968 to just over a year later, exiting the group in the summer of ’69. The recent release of the retrospective Hard Road: Deep Purple Mark 1, The Complete Studio Recordings 1968-69 package seems as good a time as any to catch up with Simper, who recorded three albums with the band. “We’d done a short tour of Denmark, and they really loved us over there,” remembers the bassist, asked about the band’s origins. “We went down really well so we were pretty buoyed up by that and as soon as we got back, management said, ‘Right, you’re in the studio, doing an album’.”
Apart from the single ‘Hush’, the nascent Purple didn’t really have any material suitable for recording. “The live show was pretty much extended jams,” recalls Simper. “We’d been impressed with what Vanilla Fudge were doing, so we pretty much just cobbled a few things together and recorded the whole album in 18 hours straight. Two sessions of nine hours each, virtually live, barely any overdubs .”
The lead single ‘Hush’ helped the band enormously. A cover of Billy Joe Royal’s song, Simper et al’s version had little in common with the original; they created a driving, funk-infused slice of irresistible hard rock. Says Simper, “Me and Ritchie first heard it in a disco and we said, ‘We should do this. This is a nice little number’. We knew it was going to be great before we’d even put the vocals down. We knew it would be a single. It just had that feel.”
Simper’s bass-line is brilliant in its simplicity and drive, propelling the song along on a deep groove that was an exponential improvement on the plodding, unimaginative original. “Yeah, it’s nothing like it. There a few similar notes, and a few similar syncopated notes, but I didn’t put them in the same place [as the original]. I guess most of it just came out of my own head and it just worked. It’s great if you can make a number your own without even having heard the original properly.”
Purple’s follow-up albums performed respectably but didn’t really move the band forward. As Simpler says, there was no time or space to consider the band’s future direction or style. “That was the problem with the Mark I line-up. As soon as we got a bit of success, we were just worked to death. In the States we were doing three shows a night and our management didn’t have a clue. ‘Let’s just work these guys to death and grab the big bucks while they last.’”
Something clearly had to give, and it turned out to be vocalist Rod Evans and Simper himself, who were promptly replaced. Blackmore and drummer Ian Paice offered various reasons for the sackings, all variations on the tired cliché of musical differences. Simper disagrees. “I know why it happened, and anything Ian Paice says is just BS. He never put a word in about anything, he’d never get involved in any arguments, any discussions. He’d say, ‘Don’t include me; I just want to play the drums’. He would have gone wherever the majority went. Rod Evans was bitter about that, because he got Paice in the band, and I had the casting vote that gave him the job. It was a simple matter of expediency.”
Simper’s bass-playing career began on a homemade instrument. “It was made by Ian Nelhams, the drummer in my first band, whose claim to fame was being Adam Faith’s cousin.” Now he’s a Fender man: as he explains, “When I started taking bass seriously, I started with a ’59 sunburst Precision which I got from Jim Marshall’s first shop. It was absolutely beautiful.”
Regarding amplification, Nick was originally a fan of Sunn and Acoustic, but the price and difficulty of obtaining reliable valves prompted a move towards a solid-state solution. These days Nick favours Trace Elliot amplification. “Damned good stuff. Absolutely stadium rock: it’s so loud, but of course you don’t have to be now.”
Deep Purple may be long behind Simper, but readers are advised to check out the Hard Road box set. Still gigging, still writing and marking his 69th birthday in November, Simper’s lifelong purple patch shows little sign of fading.