Released in May 1973, Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's pop chart and became one the first heavy
metal hits. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Recently, drummer, Ian Paice, lead singer ian Gillan (shown below at
right), bassist Roger Glover (shown below at left) and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore talked about the song's evolution. Here is what they
said . .
Ian Paice: In late November 1971 the band flew to Geneva, Switzerland and drove to Montreux. A
friend of the band invited them to record an album at Montreux's Casino on Lake Geneva.
We had played the Casino earlier that year, and the space was ideal. But we needed a solid control
booth for our recording engineer. So we rented the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio - a control booth
built into a large truck. If rolled into Montreux the night of Dec 3.
The next afternoon, we went to the Casino to hear Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
perform. Toward the end of the concert, someone behind us shot off a flare that ignited a fire.
Frank Zappa went to the microphone and announced. "Fire! If you'd kindly move calmly
ladies and gentlemen. Calmly." Then he smashed .some of the ballroom windows with his Gibson
guitar so people could escape faster. There was a gentle panic, but everyone got out.
Ian Gillen: Once outside, we walked to the Hotel Eden Palace Au Lac short distance away. In the
bar restaurant we ordered drinks and watched the Casino burn. At some point, Roger Glover said,
"Look at the smoke on the water." There was a down draft from the mountains that shoveled the
smoke across the lake. It looked like a film set with flames shooting upward.
Ian Paice: The next morning, we found space at Le Pavillion, a grand theater near the Casino that was closed for the winter. The Stones mobile unit
parked outside, our gear was set up inside and we started jamming that afternoon for a soundcheck.
Richie Blackmore: Ian Paice and I started the jam by trying out things. He played this driving rhythm on his drums. I responded with the riff that you
hear on the record. For the riff, I'm playing two notes at the same time,starting with G on top and D below. My Stratocaster was plugged into a Hornby
Skewes treble booster that ran into a Marshall amp and speaker. The Hornby gave the guitar a vibrating, throaty sound.
Ian Paice: On the intro, as Ritchie played his riff, I played 16th notes on the hi-hat. For the body of the song, I played little 12-note skips on the hi-hat to
give the basic beat a roll live a wave. Without the mild swing, the beat would have lost it's rhythmic interest.
Roger Glover: With that riff set, we built out our instrumental arrangement. We left room for verses, a chorus and a guitar solo. By midnight, the
band had the riff and the basic rhythm track down and started going for an actual take. But we had a problem. The high volume awakened the town
and someone had called the police.
Ian Paice: After we recorded a complete take of the instrumental, the police finally came and told us to close down and leave. We labeled the reel we
just recorded as "Title No. 1." It would become the track for "Smoke on the Water." We found new space at the Grand Hotel. It was ideal, but we had
to isolate and insulate the space. To contain the sound, a carpenter put up a wooden wall to seal off the corridor where we planned to record. Then
roadies dragged mattresses from the rooms and put them against the corridor windows. We also screwed in red lights to create a concert
atmosphere. After we finished recording six songs for the album, we still needed one more. We pulled out "Title No. 1." which just needed lyrics and a
Roger Glover: Ian Gillen and I wrote the lyrics while sitting on a bench in the corridor. We called the song "Smoke on the Water" and had the lyric
simply tell the story of what we witnessed at the Casino.
Ian Gillen: "Funky Claude" was concert promoter, Claude Nobs. "Swiss time was running out" was about finishing before we had to give up the
Stones Mobile Unit. "With a few red lights /a few old beds/ We made a place to sweat" refers to the red bulbs , the mattresses and the space where
we recorded the album.
Roger Glover: When we finished "Smoke on the Water," we didn't think it was that special. I guess we just figured the song was an afterthought and
our that our fans would think of it the same way. Boy, were we wrong.
** Relive that unmistakable guitar and drum riff with a new appreciation of what Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" was really all about . .
"Smoke on the Water"