SMOKE ON THE WATER History
Smoke On The Water generate more interest and comment than just about any other aspect of Deep Purple’s history, so we have added brief history of the track for new readers.
Smoke On The Water was written and recorded during sessions for Deep Purple’s seminal rock album Machine Head (the third by the Mk 2 line-up of Gillan, Glover, Blackmore, Lord and Paice) in Montreux, Switzerland in December 1971.
Deep Purple were watching a Frank Zappa concert in Montreux’s Casino concert hall when a flare gun was discharged into the ceiling and started a fire which eventually destroyed the venue.
They had planned to set up and record there the next day but their recording gear and mobile studio were saved and the group escaped with everyone else, and watched the hall burn down. As the smoke drifted across the lake nearby, the sight inspired Roger Glover to jot down the song title Smoke On The Water.
The group set up the Rolling Stones Mobile and began recording in another hall nearby. The first backing track they laid down was for Smoke On The Water, before police closed down the session after neighbours complained about the volume.
Deep Purple then moved to the empty Grand Hotel to the south of the town and recorded the rest of the album in one of the corridors with matresses to deaden the noise. Machine Head was almost finished when they realised they needed another song to balance the album, and remembered the Smoke backing track.
Ian Gillan wrote the lyrics and this was one of the last tracks recorded for the album. At first they only finished up as a surprise for Montreux music promoter Claude Nobs, but after they played it to him at a dinner party, he said they’d be crazy not to have it on the album.
Deep Purple began promoting the new Machine Head album early in 1972, but Smoke On The Water was the last track to be added to their concert set for a BBC broadcast in March.
Smoke On The Water was thought too long for a single and the group were sure another album track, Never Before, would be a hit.
Smoke On The Water then appeared on a special live album, Made In Japan, in August 1972. A massive album hit in Europe, their American label Warners had the idea to issue a single of Smoke On The Water – with a studio edit on one side and a live edit on the other.
Radio stations in America picked up on it and before long it was a huge hit in early 1973, and then issued across Europe and Japan as well. Incredibly the single was not issued at all in Britain until after the group had split.
Smoke On The Water stayed in their live set even after Ian Gillan left in 1973 and was sung by David Coverdale. In 1975 guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left, but the riff was taken over by Tommy Bolin.
Deep Purple split in 1976 but Smoke On The Water was now a firm favourite with audiences, and when the musicians formed their own groups they all played the song live.
Ian Gillan was first with his group The Ian Gillan Band. Blackmore followed soon after with Rainbow. Even David Coverdale has included it in his shows on a few occasions.
Deep Purple reformed in 1984 and Smoke On The Water was one of the oldies they could not ignore and helped them become the biggest grossing live act in America in 1985. It was decided not long afterwards that Smoke On The Water was the second best known song in America after their national anthem.
It is still part of the band’s set, and when they appeared at the Montreux Jazz festival in 2016, Frank Zappa’s son came on stage to play Smoke On The Water with them, on the 45th anniversary of the Casino fire. Roger, family and guests visited the hotel the following day to rekindle memories.
The Grand Hotel is now converted to private apartments, and there is no public access.
A full history of the recording of the album will be published in 2017.