By Simon Robinson

The Days May Come CD release has taken so long to get to market that the recordings have acquired almost as much myth and legend as the band themselves. Happily for all of us, the waiting period is now over and it’s time to see what the fans think. And to be fair, this release is one for the fans. If you’re expecting multi-tracked studio recordings, you’ll be disappointed. If however you’re prepared to accept some shortfall in the audio fidelity in return for a glimpse of a unique moment in Tommy Bolin and Deep Purple’s chequered history, and some blistering playing from both parties, then this one is for you.

Let’s face it, in the fascination with (and debate over) Deep Purple’s 68-76 era, nowhere do people’s opinions polarise more widely than with the final Mk 4 incarnation which comprised organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice (there since the band’s formation in 1968), singer David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes (recruited back in 1973, so fairly old hands by this time) and of course the new kid on the block, guitarist Tommy Bolin. Together for less than a year, Mk 4 produced just one studio album and managed three months together on the road before it all fell apart. Speculation as to whether, if they’d stayed together longer, the Bolin line-up could have scaled the heights of their illustrious predecessors still runs rife.

As a Deep Purple fan of many years standing, my own reaction to Tommy’s arrival in 1975 was probably fairly typical — confusion. The James Gang meant very little to us in Europe, while Spectrum had only reached a limited audience (though both David Coverdale and Ritchie Blackmore had heard it, and been very impressed). Purple’s new album was loud and heavy, but it came at you from a different perspective, and we weren’t sure quite what to make of it.

In the calm that followed the band’s eventual demise in March ’76, there was time for reflection. Tommy’s solo albums began to circulate more widely and were clearly the work of an extremely talented musician, while Come Taste The Band began to reveal itself as one hell of a Deep Purple album. Indeed it more properly reflected the true power of the band than either of its two predecessors.

So what had caused it all to fall apart? Whenever people questioned the band about their decision to carry on without Blackmore, the response inevitably went something like this — “you should have heard us rehearsing for the album. The spark was there, the playing unbelievably good, it more than justified us giving it a go.” Which was fine, except none of us could hear the proof! Indeed it was generally assumed that none of this early material had survived until in 1998 rumours began of someone posting details on the internet of rehearsal tapes from the very period in question. Dismissed by most as a crank, we managed to get a phone number for the mysterious ‘Captin California’ who was behind the stories and called him up. Shortly afterwards a tape arrived through the mail box, featuring short 60 second clips (he was worried about bootlegging!) of Deep Purple rehearsing. We began to get very excited.

As a fan for many years, I’ve been involved with the archive reissues of Deep Purple material for many labels since the late seventies. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome in any release of this kind but the general feeling was that these tapes were worthy of release. Robert Simon (to give the Captain his proper name) entrusted us with the original cassettes and over the next year negotiations with both the Deep Purple management company and the Tommy Bolin Archives proceeded, while at the same time the tapes were sent to a specialist digital restoration studio in Cambridge, England. Hearing this material for the first time was an experience few of us who were there will ever forget. Robert had warned us that the tapes had been made in a haphazard way. We all stood there as these amazing jams belted out of the speakers, praying for them not to end too soon. It was then time to sit back and take stock.

Once Tommy had been offered the Deep Purple gig back in ’75, the band had booked in at Robert Simon’s studio to write and rehearse through late June and into July. A few song ideas had already been worked out but Bolin’s arrival added a new dimension to the process.

As well as handling the mixer desk in the rehearsal room, Simon taped some of the proceedings so the band could hear the results. Inevitably these tapes were later reused but a couple got put to one side, ending up in a garage which Simon rented in LA. “I must have dropped them down onto cassette and forgotten all about them. On one I even taped a Wet Willie show over one side, can you believe it?”

Almost two hours had survived and captured the band working through some of the Come Taste the Band tracks, rehearsing vocal lines and joking with one another as they fluffed takes. The routine of rehearsal meant that Simon had to play it by ear. “You didn’t know what was going to happen. They’d just go off on these jams, sometimes if they sounded promising I’d start the tape going, or one of the band would shout across to record it.” Indeed, you can hear Coverdale doing just that about three minutes into the second track on the CD.

The tapes were mixed live, but the sound is amazing for material taped under such circumstances, you almost feel like you’re there in the studio. Tommy’s work is generally well mixed up and to hear them bouncing ideas of one another is fascinating, while some of his soloing is jaw-droppingly exciting. There is a certain amount of hiss in places (although a lot of this is electrical noise from Bolin’s guitar set-up) as well as wrong notes, missed cues etc. but these are all part and parcel of the experience.

The lengthy impromptu jams last in total for upwards of forty incredible minutes, and will delight anyone who enjoys hearing players of this calibre free of the worries of recording deadlines. Furthermore, it really begins to help restore the sometimes tarnished reputation of this troubled Deep Purple line-up. The powerful and dynamic hard rock sound, blended with intense touches of jazz and funk, as well as more mellow moments, adds a whole new dimension to their work.

The CD also includes some more structured work, kicking off with the thundering second half of “Owed to G,” written during the rehearsal period by Tommy, the “G” in question being George Gershwin It’s not often we get to hear Tommy or Deep Purple playing material like “Statesboro’ Blues” either, a well known standard which Tommy probably did many times in his early career. Drifter is another early version of a Come Taste the Band track, preceded by some amusing studio banter from Tommy and the others, followed by a howling burst of guitar and false start. When the band finally get the start right, this track powers out of the speakers, Tommy’s amps crackling with energy. The most exciting and powerful pieces make up the Days CD but, aware that some people will inevitably want to hear what was left off, a further half hour of material is available on a second CD, titled 1420 Beachwood Drive (after the address of the rehearsal studio). This includes “You Keep On Moving,” a very early run-through of one of the best loved Come Taste tracks, and “Pirate Blues,” which is a little shaky compared to those on disc one, but does have its moments — once they get the riff right that is! It’s probably fair to say that this second disc is of more interest to the die-hard Purple fans.

Soon after these tapes were cut, Bolin snuck off into another California studio to start his solo album after which Deep Purple departed for Munich where Come Taste the Band was recorded during August. It was only on Deep Purple’s return to Pirate Sound in mid-October that the creative burst which produced all this amazing work began to falter.

Disagreements over how Tommy should approach the old Purple songs live and a myriad of other day to day niggles, began to sour the atmosphere. Simon remembers it coming to a head during one difficult session. “Tommy had been in my room in tears, he didn’t know what to do.” The freedom, excitement and sheer exuberance evident on Days was disappearing and the problems spilled over into the world tour which kicked off in November, resulting in some very varied performances.

Robert Simon’s own relationship with the band also suffered when he allowed their old guitarist Ritchie Blackmore to book into his studio. Deep Purple felt let down and exacted revenge in a small but telling manner, as Rob found out. “If you look at the Come Taste The Band sleeve, it says “written and conceived at Musicland.” Pirate Sound isn’t mentioned at all!” Despite this, it’s the good fortune of Deep Purple and Tommy Bolin fans that Simon hung on to his few remaining tapes.

The material here does a lot to further the reputation of the Mk 4 line-up, as well as showing that in Tommy Bolin, the band had made an inspired, indeed inspiring, choice. Simon Robinson.

Simon Robinson has been a Deep Purple fan since 1970, and run the Official Deep Purple Appreciation Society (DPAS) since 1975. He helped found the acclaimed UK reissue label RPM Records in 1991 and left to start Purple Records in 1998. He has also been behind the ongoing series of remastered Deep Purple albums on EMI and Rhino and also works on CD reissue packages covering various artists for a number UK labels. A full interview with Robert Simon appears in Issue 53 of the Deep Purple magazine Darker Than Blue.