Ian Paice: Q&A

Last updated 14:22 05/11/2009

I wrote (a version of) this interview for a drumming magazine a while back - I've never been much of a fan of the Q&A interview; but Ian Paice (drummer for Deep Purple) was great with his answers; and it was fun to talk drums with him. I figure some of you might be interested to see what he had to say...
Ian Paice
Let's start at the beginning: when did you first know that you wanted to be a musician?

I spose I was about 15 when it hit me that I could actually do it properly. Before then, like most kids you just dick around with the idea of playing an instrument for the fun of it. Then after I'd done five or six months worth of gigs with my local band I realised that I was doing it ok and people were complimenting me and it sorta creeps up on you that that's what you're going to be doing for the rest of your life. I don't actually remember it as a definite decision made on any particular day.

Were drums the first choice? And can you play any other instruments?

Drums were my first choice but they weren't the first choice of an instrument that was given to me. Um, when I was, I dunno, nine or ten, somebody thrust a violin in my hands - and I tried really hard but I couldn't get on with it, uh, I couldn't make it sound like a violin anyway. I found it sounded nicer by turning it over and drumming my fingers on the back of it - so that sorta lasted about three months, so nothing much there. Ah, I can pick out a couple of chords on a guitar but that's about it...um, I sorta knew as soon as I picked up a pair of my mum's knitting needles and pretended they were drumsticks...

Who were your first drumming heroes and influences?

When you're a kid you listen to what's on the radio and you try and mimic what you hear. And that's the pop songs of your time. But before I was even playing drums there was music in my house from my father and his records were always on the old gramophone and they were the loves of his musical life. And that was all the big bands of the 20s, 30s and 40s: [Duke] Ellington, [Count] Basie, The Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, you name it they were all there and the music was playing all the time.

So even though I was very young and not really thinking about it those sounds and those influences and those feels and those rhythms were sinking in to my brain. So when I did start to play and I was listening to a different style of music those, those subconscious influences came through. And once I realised that that's what I was doing - bringing in a different generation's way of playing rock'n'roll - I started to look and find out more about the guys who'd actually done what I liked to hear. And so, the very first influence was Gene Krupa; and not really cos I wanted to play like him - I just wanted to look like him!

He [laughs] was a very cool looking guy...but then you start listening and you take it a little more seriously and I think like everyone you find one guy that you just relate to as working on a different level. And that was Buddy Rich. And although I don't style myself at all on what he does, I don't even think of myself in those sort of lofty leagues I try and utilise some of his inventiveness and some of the fire in his playing. Um...but then, you go along from that and you move and you find the contemporary guys who are closer to your own age and you start listening to the very best guys. Vanilla Fudge came along with Carmine Appice who was brilliant.

Cream had Ginger Baker who was wonderful and Hendrix had Mitch Mitchell which was superb! And they were all different, so you could learn a little bit from all of them and you could take a little bit from all of them and blend them together and make your own style.

Several other "important" drummers came from that scene: John Bonham, Keith Moon, Bill Ward, Mick Fleetwood... Was there a feeling of competition, particularly among the "hard rock/metal" drummers? And were you friends with any of these people?

Was their a fair amount of competition? Drummers don't work that way. We're a different tribe from other musicians. We work at doing different things and I imagine if there were two guys who were very close in style in might get a little, ah, confusing. But nearly every drummer you can think of - and every one on your list - played a different way.

And I say, you know, you wouldn't want to be like the other guy but you might see one or two things that they did and you say 'well, I can change that; I can bring that in to what I do'; so it was always a learning process from each other. And whenever drummers got together, they might mention drums for twenty seconds, but they're more likely to waffle on about other stuff and have a few beers...and, it's usually a very happy camaraderie.

You've recorded some iconic drum performances: Space Truckin', Fireball, Pictures Of Home, Black Night - what are your favourite Purple drum performances? And are there any songs you wish you could have done differently now?
Made In Japan
One of my favourite performances with Purple...is obviously the live recording of The Mule on Made In Japan; that was a pretty good performance. Um, it was probably the best drum solo I did that whole year of touring [1972/3]; it was just sorta lucky that the microphones were there to capture it. And when I look back to all the tracks I've recorded and all the things I've done - there's probably a handful where I wouldn't change a thing and the rest of them, you know, if you could go back to them again and just re-live that moment in time you'd probably change a few things or try and improve on a few things, but I'm not a great believer in that, you know I could've done it better; because if I could have done it better, I would have. But in hindsight, there's a couple of things...you know, you listen back to a track and you say 'well I wish I hadn't done that' - hey, but, it's no big deal.

The band has had a long, chequered, history. Twenty years ago the touring/recording cycle seemed constantly fraught and the press certainly pointed to Ritchie Blackmore. Is it easier now with Steve Morse in the band? Do you miss Ritchie's playing?

Ritchie is a difficult character; but he always was. And I think when somebody's that good you can put up with the idiosyncrasies in a fair exchange for the genius that comes across. But it is a fine line and once the line is crossed and life stops becoming fun then, once that trouble is taken out of your life, you really do enjoy it a lot more. I love Ritchie...I love what he did, never take it away. But I, I sorta love what he was, I haven't seen him for a few years now, I really don't know the man anymore. He's a complex character...sometimes, well, nearly always, to his own detriment but hey, that's they way he's built.

Steve is a consummate professional and no matter what is going on, how tired he is, how many other things he may be having going on his life, he turns up on stage or in the studio and he gives you 100 percent. And you can never put a price on that. When there's a few of you working together, you've all got to pull together, because if one guy, for whatever reason - he might be ill, he might be in a bad mood - if one guy doesn't quite hack it, the other guys will always cover, but it's real hard work.

With Jon Lord having moved on now, you've spent the longest time in the band. Did you ever think you'd last this long? Were there times when you wanted to leave?

I don't think anyone in a band ever thinks it's going to last more than a couple of years, and if you're lucky, maybe five. Purple is a miracle really. The amount of people that have come and gone and the band still manages to keep its spirit alive and its commitment alive to be doing great shows on stage and enjoying it.

So we've been here - on and off - for what? 38 years now...I mean, I think, as a working entity only The Rolling Stones are sorta beating us by about four or five years. I mean there are other bands from the same era but they don't tend to work like we do. And I've worked with other people, and it's a lot of fun, but whenever I'm back in the fold of Deep Purple it feels like I'm at home.

How was it playing with Paul McCartney and David Gilmour on Paul's Run Devil Run album? How did that come about?

I was in my kitchen at home and the phone went and my wife Jackie answered and said there was a bloke from Paul's office would like to talk to me. George [Harrison] was a great friend of mine and I knew Ringo [Starr] a little a little bit. I'd never met John [Lennon]. I'd never met Paul. Anyway, the request was that Paul was going to do a rock'n'roll record and would I be interested in doing the five days recording at Abbey Road to complete it. Well, it's one of those things; you don't turn around and say no, do you? You look in you diary and say 'yes, I can do it'.

And we had a great time and we did it at Abbey Road number two, which is where all those first Beatles records were recorded. And basically it was done exactly like the first couple of Beatles albums; all the instruments were in exactly the same place: my kit was where Ringo's would've been; Paul was exactly where he would have been and the two guitarists were where George and John would have been. And we started to record every day, the same way they did. It was like a little factory, I mean, they used to turn up at 10.00am and start recording at 10.30. Knock off at 1.00pm for lunch. Start again at 2.00pm; knock off at 5.30pm and go home.

We did that for five days and we did four tracks a day, which was great fun. It's a lot easier re-recording stuff that you know from your youth. I mean you're not having to go through that learning process of new music; all you've got to do is get the arrangements straight in your head.

But I really enjoyed it and the few dates we did together, they were great fun as well, because it's always nice to play with great musicians...and Paul is a great musician. I mean he's a fabulous singer but everybody forgets what a great bass player he is. Any guy who can just play two to the bar and keep it rock and roll and not let it get country, now that's great bass playing. Because it's all about pure feel. And with David [Gilmour, Pink Floyd guitarist, who was also on the McCartney record] of course, Mr Gilmour, it's just such a lovely touch; an inherent knowledge about which note should go where. And it was great. I had a great time.

With your time off do you look to go and do other playing?

When I do get a few weeks off, that's exactly what I have: a few weeks off! I don't look for other things to do; I don't even look for a drumkit. I mean if you see me with a pair of sticks in my hand that would be very very unusual. I love playing...but to me, it's still a hobby. It's not an obsession in life and so when I've done my work I can just switch it off.

Watching the Modern Drummer 2005 Festival, you seem to have a great rapport with Chad Smith [Red Hot Chilli Peppers]. When did you two meet? Clearly you're as much of a fan of his playing as he is of yours. Are there any other younger guys (from the generation to have felt your influence) who's playing you really admire or who you've gotten to know or work with?

Well, I saw Chad do a similar thing with Steve White [Paul Weller] a couple of years before hand and I just thought it was a great idea: two drummers with differing styles, bouncing stuff off each other. And I just thought Chad's character on stage and mine; I thought we'd be a great foil for each other, so, as we both use the same drum company for our drums I got word to him through them that maybe it'd be nice to do another one, with the two of us. And we did have a great deal of fun.

He's a far better player than most of his fans would even know, because what he has to do with the Chilli's is just - and I don't mean just in a little way, he's a perfect timekeeper - and he just has to find the groove which he's really good at but he's not really required to do much in the way of solos, but he's a very very good soloist. And we had a great deal of fun doing that thing. Who knows, we'll probably do it again somewhere, someday...

And as for people feeling your influence? If somebody's around long enough, you're going to influence somebody. It's not quite the same these days; we have a situation where a lot of young players are getting a bit 'formularised'. They're all brilliant, their technique is stunning, something that I can't even contemplate, some of it, but it's all starting to sound the same - people are going for the same drum sound, they're going for the same process of putting their fills together and it's all sorta mathematical now.

And, really, the problem is, with few exceptions, you really can't tell who's playing now. And I think the magic of my generation of players was you could generally work out within one or two guys you knew who you were listening to: if it was Ginger [Baker] you knew it was Ginger; if it was Bonzo [John Bonham] you knew it was Bonzo; if it was Mitch Mitchell, you knew...and if it was me sometimes, well maybe you knew that too. And if it was Keith Moon you definitely knew. So there was a personality involved with it. Um, I don't know whether that's quite so doable now.

When you're not playing drums what do you enjoy doing?

The simple stuff. I enjoy a quiet evening at the pub. I enjoy watching as much sport as I can on TV or live, I don't really mind...but I don't go out of my way to stay musical. If there's somebody I really like playing local or somewhere where I am, I will go and see them and enjoy it. But I don't go out looking for it.

How important is it to have new material out to tour behind? Are you surprised at the number of people from your era still doing it?

What keeps it alive on stage is the fact that you do bring in new songs. You can't guarantee that all of the new songs are going to stick around forever. You hope they become little classics in their own right, but you can't guarantee that. All you can do is, once you've made a new record, pick the ones you think have the ability to translate from the studio to the stage and give them your best endeavours.The audience will let you know what you think about them.

On Rapture Of The Deep we think we've got four or five tracks that will become favourites with a lot of the fans, just because they are immediate and they are better on stage than they were in the studio. Nearly all the great songs we've come up with - the ones that people like - are better on stage than they were in the studio. And they weren't bad in the studio.

I'm not surprised at the number of bands that still stick their toe in the water and go out and have a bit of fun on the road. When we were all kids we all did it cos it was fun and eventually the fun becomes your business, but it can still be fun. And if I was Pete Townshend or Roger Daltry [The Who] and I hadn't been on the road for a couple of years I'd look forward to going and saying 'let's go and do six or seven months of working'. That's what we are. That's what we do. I mean we may end up having different sides to our lives but at the end of the day we make music.

How do you guys make songs like Smoke On The Water interesting for yourselves to play night after night?

You don't formularise them in your own brain; you know it's gotta start one way, you know it's gotta end one way, but you can take some liberties in the middle...I mean, for a drummer, you just don't play the same fills every night and if you're thinking musically, you have one ear listening to what the singer's doing and if he does something slightly different, slight inflection in the timing, in the lyric, then you can bounce off that too. So you know, you don't just sit back there and go in to autopilot, you still gotta keep listening cos musicians change every night, so you've gotta stay with that...

If, as a band, you could be known for one song (other than Smoke on the Water) what would you like it to be?

That's difficult, because everybody says Smoke is the big song, and I suppose it is but if you look at the hits you get on iTunes then Highway Star is just as big. I can't really answer that because that's the one that is... [big] and the other ones aren't.

What is your favourite Deep Purple album?

Favourite Purple album? Well that's a purely personal thing because it's one that showcased me and I got very lucky on having the right night recorded and that's Made In Japan, because it's such an honest live album: the drums sound great - I played ok. The band was superb and it was recorded beautifully.

What are your five favourite albums (by anyone) for drum performances?

Well you can pick any Buddy Rich album you like and I'll be happy with that. There's a Vanilla Fudge album called Near The Beginning where the Side B (as it used to be) is just a 20-minute live tune with a great drum solo by Carmine in it. That's really very very good. Anything where Steve Gadd is showing his perfection is great fun to listen to.

The trouble is I'm picking out individual bits here from drummers, so they're not usually just like albums..., you go back to Krupa with Benny Goodman: absolute swing and an amazing sound. Great stuff to listen to. And then you can go back into the late 50s with Miles Davis and all the Gil Evans stuff where he was using two drummers, you know a jazz drummer and an orchestral drummer and all the parts were so beautifully written together...just listen to what goes on in Sketches Of Spain...and it's just masterful [Sketches featured Jose Mangual's percussion combined with the drumming of Jimmy Cobb and Elvin Jones. Jones offered some percussion also].

You have always managed to articulate a love of jazz and pure rock'n'roll in your drum performances. Are there any other styles of music that have informed your playing? Or that you would really like to play?

I can play most sorts of music but I am stuck when it comes to reggae and
Caribbean...I just can't get it [laughs]...I know it's sorta upside down, but it really isn't, it's a totally different mindset and I love listeniIan Paice on Drumsng to it and occasionally I like to try and do it but [laughs] it's beyond me...it's not my expertise. But I like playing all other styles from quiet jazz to big band jazz to military stuff; I enjoy what drums can do...

You're a left-hander; apart from making it hard to sit in on other people's gear, has this posed any issues for you?

Well, being a left-handed drummer of course it's not quite so easy to, if someone asks you go and have a jam it's like building a shed to try and get the kit in a position where you can play it. On the other hand, if you find something which is rather clever when you play it's a lot more difficult for right-handers to work out what you're doing...cos if a left-hander practices in front of a mirror what he sees is a right-hander, so it's a lot easier [that way] to pick things up...

What new music has really caught your attention in say, the last decade?

What new music has caught my attention inside the last decade? Not much.

Well, what new players are ones to watch, in your opinion?

Again, I don't go out looking, for two reasons:  I don't really enjoy a lot of what's going on now, as I say, technically it's wonderful but it's pretty formulaic. And I'm very protective of whatever it is that I have that people like and I don't want to dilute it by trying to be something I'm not and maybe the temptation to be doing this, doing some of these things that other people are doing, might just creep up on me, so I appreciate what they do, and I can marvel at it just like a punter can, but I tend to stay away from it.

We keep hearing rock is dead every few years, only to hear that it's been resurrected - are there any of the current crop of "retro" styled acts that you think are the real deal?

Well, rock'n'roll is dead...but long live rock'n'roll. It doesn't matter what you wanna call it, I mean rock'n'roll came out of country music, western music, bebop...and whatever we have coming out of radio-sets now came from rock'n'roll. Rap music, dance music - it's all got rock'n'roll rhythms - so it never really died, it just transforms itself in to other things, but the backbone of rock'n'roll is still there. But I think to do it properly you have to be from the generation that knew why it was created.

Do you still practice regularly? And if so, how often?

No I don't. I wish I had the mental application to do it and occasionally I will go in to my room with a pair of sticks...I find every now and then I can do half-an-hour but if after five minutes I'm looking out the window, bored stupid, then there's no point in doing it! I know I should do more but I just can't get around it. I find that what I do on stage is so far removed from what you'd actually do in a rehearsal or a practice room that it's no bloody use to me at all.

I get just as much benefit out of a couple of days before we go on the road, just putting a practice pad on my knee and just getting the muscle-memory back and getting a little bit of power in to the forearms and wrists and that's generally enough for me.  I never know what I'm going to do anyway...it's a mystery to me as well...

The only thing I would hope to pass on to anybody reading this stuff is: just remember it's music and for most people who play music it will always just be a hobby, but that's great. Because, you know, like anything artistic, if you only have to do it when you really feel like it then that's the best way life can be for you.

When it becomes your business there are times when you don't feel like playing, you know, we all have Monday morning blues. So, whether you end up being a pub-player, or a bedroom-player, or get on to a big stage - always remember: you started doing it cos it was fun. And always take the fun on stage with you!

Post a comment
Mike74   #1   02:42 pm Nov 05 2009

Great drummer!! I must say, I agree with comments re all drummers sounding the same these days, it's easy to identify a Bonham, Moon or a Mitch Mitchell,But the new crop are all very similar... I havn't heard a drummer in years with his own sound or 'charisma'...(perhaps Dave Grohl?) Anyhow,very interesting article, long live the 'Purps!

Mark Twang   #2   03:21 pm Nov 05 2009

I've never really listened to (or liked) Deep Purple but I have to say Ian Paice comes across as an intelligent guy. Great interview.

Remmy   #3   03:27 pm Nov 05 2009

Great read Simon! good questions......

and good answers from IAN! he sounds like a very nice guy!

and he ROCKS as does Deep Purple ;-)

Yeti   #4   05:01 pm Nov 05 2009

Ditto Mark Twang not a fan but a cool read. As for modern drummers (depending on version of "modern" )would be Steve White, John Maher, Matt Tong, Pete Thomas & Brian Mcgee

Darryl   #5   05:18 pm Nov 05 2009

Great interview, Thanks Simon.

ziggy   #6   07:39 pm Nov 05 2009

Great blog Simon. Made for an excellent read.

doug69   #7   08:09 pm Nov 05 2009

Good answers mostly. But the questions, jeez did you get them off a 12 year olds website? Incredibly mundane, the usual stuff he gets every interview, probably ever since he started playing...

still since he reckons there's no good music in the last decade, he must be deaf! Understandable I suppose considering he's a drummer...

Tony Who   #8   10:20 pm Nov 05 2009

This is a great read!!! I started out on my Mum's knitting needles too!! Man, that YT clip of The Mule is superb ... I still think Paice has some of the best drumming facials (behind Keith Moon, Matt Sorum and Lars Ulrich) @ Mike #1 There are quite a number of drummers out there that are easily recognisable (particularly in the "rock/metal" catergory) Abe Cunningham stands out for me, Jose Pasilla, Jordison, escpecially John Dolmayan, Danny Cary, Thomas Haake ... shall I keep going?

I think he might be referring to modern, mainstream pop/rock as those drummers do tend to be a bit robotic in their playing. But anyway, long live Ian Paice ... Oh hey Simon, why aren't FnM coming to Wgtn anymore? Do we have crap promoters/crap venues ... what?

Simon Sweetman   #9   10:46 pm Nov 05 2009

@ Tony Who - I asked the promoter why FNM weren't coming to Wgtn and his reply was "can't help you there chief, no idea" or some such. Not that helpful, so sorry, can't tell you any more myself - as I don't know any more.

@doub69 - as most readers of this blog will know - and as I said at the start of this post I don't like the standard Q&A interviews; I like to write a piece based around a conversation. With this, because it was for a Drumming mag, and the q's had to be drum-based, it came out this way. I was pleased with it because, as you can see from the questions I got from a 12 year old's website, they kept him talking and he had plenty to say. Cheers for reading.

Tony Who   #10   09:10 am Nov 06 2009

@ Simon, I guess what the promoter told you reflects his attitude toward securing acts to play in Wgtn. A lot of people tell me to stop complaining as we get AC/DC but they're boring and I don't like them. We've missed out on quite a few big concerts but what can ya do?!

BTW Simon, pop along to Bodega on Thu 19th Nov for Battle of the Bands semi final ... <shameless plug!>

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