By Dave Thompson
In 1992, the first edition of the Hot Wacks guide to bootleg LP and CDs included details of no fewer than 88 Deep Purple releases. In the years since then, that total has probably multiplied by 10, as modern technology permits anyone with a telephone to preserve a concert on a digital file and anyone with an Internet connection to disseminate it round the world.
Purple, itself, has released enough official concert recordings to sail a small flotilla on, and the days when we all sat around and wondered what the rest of the “Made In Japan” concerts sounded like ended the moment EMI packaged the outtakes as a box set that itself would have made a great bootleg once.
“The band doesn’t have a position on bootlegs,” bassist Roger Glover explains. “The band has five different positions. We all have our own views on it; Steve [Morse, guitarist] is adamantly against them. He believes that when he’s doing a live performance, it is for the moment, and, when he’s soaring away and he’s doing it for the moment, and he sees the little red light of a video camera, he freezes up, because he knows it’s going to be dissected later, and it takes away from his performance. His performance is one time only; it’s not there to be pored over and dissected, and that’s why he resents it.”
Yet the fact is, Deep Purple isn’t only one of the most bootlegged bands around, it also is one of the first groups to have been bootlegged. It was back in 1970 that the first ‘Purpleg’ appeared, a German festival performance at the Aachen Reichstadion on July 11, immortalized as the appropriately titled “H-Bombs.”
Bootlegging was still a novelty at that time. No more than two years had elapsed since Bob Dylan’s “Great White Wonder,” and no more than a mere handful of the heaviest hitters had thus far been honored — Dylan was followed by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who … and Deep Purple?
Within weeks of “H-Bombs’” appearance on those record racks that catered for such releases, the album was nestling at the top of the best-selling bootleg chart that accompanied a Melody Maker investigation into the phenomenon, and Deep Purple was bracing to become one of the most-bootlegged bands in rock history. Indeed, its catalog was so swamped by the things that when the epochal “Made In Japan” was recorded — originally for issue in Japan only — the band pushed for worldwide release simply to try to staunch the bootleg demand. Glover told the now-defunct British weekly Sounds, “There are so many bootlegs of us going around [that], if we put out our own live set, it should kill their market.”
Looking back on bootlegs in 1998, however, Glover professed himself firmly in favor of such recordings, legitimacy be damned.
“I could never understand our success; I could never understand why so many people bought our records, because they were so full of flaws! And then I started listening to bootlegs and to what we really were, and I came to reassess the whole thing. Listening to bootlegs from [the early 1970s], I realized what a dangerous band we were, and how exciting it was not to know what was going to happen next. We walked a very thin line between chaos and order, and that was the magic, that was why people bought our records. I came from a pop band, and when you’re a pop band, you learn the song, and you play it the same way every night. And now, there’s this band veering off, and suddenly the solo’s in E when it should be … ‘hey, what’s happening here?’ That’s the magic.”
Neither did the traditional music industry complaints against bootlegging hold any water for him.
“I had a meeting with some bootleggers many years ago in Germany; we had a big discussion about bootlegs, and they said ‘Listen, bootleggers are not ripping you off; you’re not losing money because of bootleggers. The fact that other people are making money from your music is indisputable, but you’re not losing money. It’s not money out of your pocket. In fact, the people who buy these things have already bought your albums probably two or three times already.’
“It was a potent argument, and I sympathize with that. Besides, they presented me with something I’d not heard in years, which was a recording of us doing [something] for a BBC session. It was a song that was written on the spur of the moment, just a blues, very fast, and it’s great; I love it. But it was never formally written and recorded. That’s the only version of it, and I said, ‘Wow, it’s so wonderful to hear this; I’d forgotten all about it!’ So it’s through bootlegs — or, at least, bootleggers — that things like that even exist.”