Would it be unkind to call this a vanity label? Certainly Purple Records put out a lot of material by various band members or hangers-on, and it is fair to say that not all of it would have got a commercial release on a non-Purple-affiliated company. But a lot of the material was excellent in its own way, and the history of hard rock and metal would be the poorer without it.
Established in 1971, the label only put out one LP in the first couple of years – Curtiss Maldoon by Curtiss Maldoon. Dave Curtiss had been involved in an early incarnation of Purple when they were called Roundabout (he played bass), while Clive Muldoon had joined Curtiss in Bodast with Steve Howe, later of Yes. purpleHowe plays guitar on the record, while it also feature the single Sepheryn which, of all things, was reworked by Madonna into her 1996 hit ‘Ray Of Light’.
The Purple People sampler of 1972 was a great showcase of their acts, but for obvious reasons of cost and risk, the early days of Purple Records saw them focus more on single releases – ten in 1972 and five the next year, but from 1973 to 1979 they released a handful of albums a year. However, with Purple themselves disbanding (albeit only temporarily, of course) in 1976, it is the period of 1973-1976 that marked the label’s heyday.
The group that begat the label were just about to enjoy their finest hour: Machine Head, their greatest work, was the first Purple release on the EMI-distributed Purple Records.purple Recorded with the Stones’ mobile studio in Montreux, Switzerland, it was an instant classic and, of course, went on to sell absolutely shed-loads.
In musical terms, and certainly with the benefit of hindsight, the classic Deep Purple Mark II incarnation had already peaked. The next release (non-UK) was the live Made In Japan (the record that sent them over the top in the USA), but it was followed by the less instantly striking, Who Do We Think We Are, which would prove to be Ian Gillan’s last with the band until 1984, and Roger Glover also left after learning that Ritchie Blackmore was planning to fire him. Grumpy old Ricardo.
But with Saltburn’s finest son David Coverdale installed on vocals, and Glenn Hughes on bass, the band enjoyed a new lease of life with 1974’s Burn, an excellent record.purple After that, Stormbringer, Ritchie’s last, and Come Taste The Band, Tommy Bolin’s first, albums on lead guitar all charted well. The much under-rated live album Made In Europe followed and then 1977’s Last Concert In Japan was the last non-compilation Purple release on the label, but was a dreadful shambles – Bolin couldn’t play properly because he had lost feeling in his arm. There was also a Mark II singles compilation in 1979 on the Purple label.
So that’s the label’s big Purple releases: what about the rest?
They released some right dirty, pounding early metal from Hard Stuff – a project for Quartermass bass player John Gustafson and Atomic Rooster’s guitarist John Du Cann and singer Paul Hammond. They were signed in 1971 when Rooster folded, and originally called Bullet, but discovered there was another band of that name. They changed their name to Hard Stuff and released Bulletproof and Bolwx Dementia on the label before John joined Roxy Music briefly and, more enduringly, the Ian Gillan Band.
Glam rockers Silverhead looked like they might go all the way, with singer and Pamela hubby Michael Des Barres and (later) future Blondie bass player Nigel Harrison. They recorded an eponymous debut in 1972, with Purple producer Martin Birch on the controls. Ian Paice also did some production for them, but they never quite took off. They also put out a single by Des Barres, who would later be a frequent character actor face on US TV with roles in everything from Roseanne to MacGyver to Seinfeld.
As for Purple members’ solo stuff, the label released records by Jon Lord (Gemini Suite – which helped launch the label, and featured Tony Ashton on vocals, and has the single worst cover in the history of recorded music too) and First Of The Big Bands, another Lord collaboration with pal Ashton and a kind of Hammond organ v boogie piano showdown.
David Coverdale’s 1977 LP White Snake (nb two words, not the 1987 Whitesnake) was his first solo release and steps on the road to the mighty hair metal act of ‘Here I Go Again’ fame.
One of the stranger releases on the label was the 1972 release ‘Who Is The Doctor’ – with Jon Pertwee on vocals. Worth a lot of dough to Doctor Who fans. It was a fun little project for Roger Glover, and although it was really just a novelty record, showed that Purple Records were forward-thinking in terms of electronica. The track was done by Rupert Hine, who would go on to be an important synth-rock producer, and Stevie Nicks squeeze, and who was signed to Purple Records by Glover, putting out a couple of albums for him. Glover, with Ian Paice, also produced for Purple Records signings Elf, whose Ronnie James Dio would later go on to sing for Rainbow.
Also showing Purple Records willingness to take a risk and innovate was the signing of Carol Hunter. The great New York session guitarist who worked with Richie Havens and Neil Diamond, but left Diamond’s band to pursue a solo career – her first release was ‘The Next Voice You Hear’ on Purple Records.
Other signings included Tucky Buzzard, a hard rock project perhaps best noted for being produced by Bill Wyman, and Yvonne Elliman who put out a very interesting mix of quiet acoustic numbers and some rip-snorting rockers including a magnificently banging cover of The Who’s ‘I Can’t Explain’ – the sample of which formed Fatboy Slim’s 1997 hit ‘Going Out Of My Head’, big-beat trivia fans.
As Deep Purple went into hiatus, the label inevitably slowed down, with the last non-Purple release being Coverdale’s second album in 1978, Northwinds. It seemed that the story was over at the end of the 1970s, but in 1997 a CD reissue label approached the owners with the idea of re-establishing the label and releasing material that fits the label’s ethos.
Yes the label was purple and had a big P on it and a vanity project it may have been, but what’s wrong with a bit of vanity, eh, especially when you are as brilliant a band as the Purps.