Deep Purple's first big hit was a cover — Joe South's "Hush" back in 1968 — and they've recorded a few others over the years. But the thought of a full covers album wasn't on any of their minds when producer Bob Ezrin introduced the concept during the pandemic's early stages, resulting in the new Turning to Crime.

"There was a conference call one day, and Bob said, 'I've got an idea,'" singer Ian Gillan tells UCR. "He said, 'You can't get together to write. Why not get together just to play?,' meaning virtually. And we were all like. 'Hmmm ... .' Gradually a few tapes were sent around and we started adding our parts, and the whole thing came together very quickly. It was no effort at all."

It did take a little convincing, however. "We had a long discussion about this," Gillan recalls. "You can never improve on an original, so it's a challenge. But Deep Purple primarily is an instrumental band. It always has been. The music comes first to us. So the songs we selected were songs we could Purple-ize. I think I wasn't looking at it that way, but the guys were, and I'm so glad they did. It was really a chance for the guys to stretch out a bit after all those months locked up."

Including renditions of Love's "7 and 7 Is" and Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," with videos for both, Turning to Crime comes just 15 months after Deep Purple's most recent studio album, Whoosh! — their quickest turnaround since the mid-70s. Gillan says about 50 songs were considered and ultimately whittled to the final dozen, adding with a chuckle, "I'm very pleased that not one of mine was chosen for the final choice."

What will surprise many fans is the album's range; Hard-rocking tracks such as Cream's "White Room," Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things" or Bob Seger's "Lucifer" — even Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels' "Jenny Take a Ride" — are perfectly in character, but the likes of Huey "Piano" Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken," Louis Jordan's brassy "Let the Good Times Roll" and Jimmy Driftwood's "The Battle of New Orleans" are nothing any Purple devotee would expect to hear from the group.

"When I joined Deep Purple [in 1969], I left what was called a harmony group, or a West Coast harmony group, into what became a hard-rock group, a heavy rock group, a heavy metal group," Gillan remembers. "Everyone was fixated on having a damn label for everything. We never signed up for that. All of that music, across the board, we thought of as rock. Anything that was not Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, it was rock. There was grown-up music and kids music, that was it. And [rock] was kids’ music. So everything on [the album] is what we would consider rock."

Well, almost everything.

"I think [drummer] Ian Paice had a few worries about 'The Battle of New Orleans,'" Gillan says with a laugh. "But Roger and I used to sing that song in a balled called Episode Six back in the '60s. [Guitarist] Steve Morse, being American, was like, 'How can you guys sing a song about the British getting beaten by the Americans?' I said, 'I know you wouldn't do that, Steve.' [Laughs] You've got to understand that British humor; we laugh at everything, including ourselves — and particularly ourselves. It's just a great song, so we had a lot of fun doing it."

Also of interest is the album-closing "Caught in the Act" medley, which features bits of the Jeff Beck Group's "Going Down," Booker T. & the MG's' "Green Onions," the Allman Brothers Band's "Hot 'Lanta," Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" and the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'." "That’s just an example of what we do when we come back on for the encore," says Gillan. "Don Airey starts playing a tune; nobody knows what it's gonna be, and that's the fun. Sometimes it's two songs, sometimes it's six. There's no plan. We just go through, and it's a bit of fun. So [the medley] was Bob's idea: 'Do that thing you do onstage.'"

Watch Deep Purple's 'Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu' Video

Gillan says that a second volume of Turning to Crime is not out of the question — possibly, he adds, as something that could be done between studio albums. Right now, however, Deep Purple are looking forward to getting back on the road, with dates currently planned on the Rock Legends Cruise in February out of Florida, then Europe during the rest of the year, with Asia and Australia following in 2023. Nothing is planned for the Machine Head album's 50th anniversary next year ("We've done that about six times already," Gillan notes), but it's clear that Deep Purple are no longer saying the "long goodbye" professed a few years back.

"That was a bit of a dodgy moment," says Gillan, who also used the pandemic lockdown to write a book, although he's not yet saying whether it's a memoir or something else. "We were at the end of our relationship with our manager at the time, and two or three of us weren't very well, had illnesses and operations and stuff. All kinds of crazy things were suggested about gimmicks to promote a tour. Someone said, 'If we make it the farewell tour, everyone will think it's the last tour.' None of us liked the idea, but there was pressure from the office. So we said, 'Let's call it the Long Goodbye, and that leaves it open-ended.'

"But it's not ending after all," he adds. "We're not going anywhere — yet."


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