Interview with Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey

Date: April 11, 2023
Interviewer: Marcelo Vieira
Photos: Daniel Croce

Sleaze Roxx: I would like to begin by thanking you for your time and willingness to answer the questions below. First, could you assess Deep Purple’s current momentum, please? The band comes from a very good sequence of albums produced by Bob Ezrin, but also suffered the loss of Steve Morse. In short, you win on one side and lose on the other. What would you say?  

Don Airey: It’s a musical fact of life that bands’ line-ups are ever changing. The circumstances in which Steve had to retire from Deep Purple were sad indeed, but a bit of new blood seems to have revitalized the whole operation — band wise, crew wise, management wise — so musical life goes on and we are looking forward to getting back together with Senor Ezrino sometime this year.

Sleaze Roxx: About the albums produced by Bob Ezrin [2013’s ‘Now What?!’, 2017’s ‘Infinite‘, 2020’s ‘Whoosh!’ and 2021’s ‘Turning To Crime’], in what aspects do you believe they differ from those the band had been producing before his arrival? Do you believe he has sort of taken on an unofficial sixth member role? What could you say about working with him and the albums resulting from this partnership?  

Don Airey: We connected with Bob after a concert in Toronto in 2012. He was obviously impressed and got down to work with us almost immediately. He is a tough taskmaster but very sympathetic too, and just told us to be ourselves, do what comes naturally, but squared! Yes, he plays quite a creative part in the construction of the songs, but I wouldn’t say — nor would Bob — that he is the sixth member. There is a sixth member incidentally, but nobody has really seen him – felt his presence, yes! The albums have been very successful sales wise and well received when playing them live – the best in my humble opinion being ‘Whoosh!’.

Deep Purple‘s “Throw My Bones” video (from Whoosh! album):

Sleaze Roxx: Regarding Deep Purple on stage, does anything change with the entry of Simon [McBride] in place of Steve? What’s it like having Simon on board and living with him offstage on a day-to-day basis?  

Don Airey: The change in the band has been unbelievable, like everyone woke up and started rocking again. Simon just seemed to fit right in, he’s got a real cheeky Irish sense of humour, always on time, likes a drink when the time is right, and plays his ass off every night. There’s a smile on everyone’s face again.

Sleaze Roxx: Deep Purple is one of the few bands of its time still producing records and touring and performing. What is the secret to maintaining productivity and good mood? Offstage, do you guys have what can be called a friendship relationship, or is your co-existence more restricted to the professional sphere?  

Don Airey: The secret is that the operation runs smoothly, and the band delivers live. We have a wonderful crew and management team, so the day-to-day gig routine is very well established. We are all friends; the dressing room is kind of quiet – the eye of the storm if you will – but with lots of good humour. We talk about football, the old days, what’s in the news, etc. Simon and Roger [Glover] will have a bit of an acoustic jam maybe, just awaiting the moment when our production manager — my son Mike — comes knocking on the door to take us to the stage.

Sleaze Roxx: Deep Purple’s main songs date back to the 1970s. From this repertoire that you are not originally the author of, which songs do you consider the coolest to play? And which ones are the most challenging, so to speak? In other words, from a keyboard point of view, what are the best examples of the genius of the late Jon Lord?  

Don Airey: I particularly enjoy “Highway Star”, “Bloodsucker”, “Hard Lovin’ Man” and “Fireball”. The keyboard parts are fantastic, particularly “Fireball”, and after 20 years, I am finally getting the hang of them!

Sleaze Roxx: Outside of Deep Purple, you have recorded with a lot of hard rock and heavy metal projects since 1974, including names like Ozzy Osbourne, Rainbow, and Thin Lizzy. Of all the albums you’ve participated in, which one do you consider the most special? And are there any that you wish had gotten more recognition?  

Don Airey: That’s a hard question there’s been so many, but probably Rainbow’s ‘Down To Earth’, and Whitesnake’s ‘1987‘. Cozy Powell’s album ‘Over The Top’ could have been more successful – great music and fun to record.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s worth mentioning that, in the 1980s, you were often asked to do sessions for hard rock bands, many of which are little remembered today, such as Glasgow, Jagged Edge, Slave Raider and Tigertailz. It’s been a while, I know. But did any of these jobs, or working with any of these lesser groups, leave any memories for you? Some curious or unusual story perhaps?

Don Airey: Tigertailz were a nice bunch of lads. The guitarist Jay Pepper was pretty talented. I remember him saying that he thought Jimi Hendrix was rubbish! The album started to sound good with all the keyboards on and they decided they wanted to add strings as well. So, I booked Morgan Studios in London, and a 16-piece section with a 10:00 am start. The band begged to attend, and I agreed on the proviso that they came in their full stage gear. We’d just got the section settled with a first run through when the band flounced in with all their peacock feathers, make up and cut off spandex clothing. Most of the string players were middle aged balding blokes in corduroy jackets and ties. The effect was absolutely amazing — they loved it, and the session went great!

Sleaze Roxx: A project I have a special fondness for is Colosseum II. You’ve released three wonderful records with Gary Moore and Jon Hiseman. Could you share some memories of that time?

Don Airey: Some of my best memories are playing with that band. We never quite captured it on record but live the band could be astounding. Gary was on fire, and Jon was nothing less than one of the world’s great drummers. We did a gig in Naples in 1978 — sold out — but the free music movement were having a demo outside the hall. The police eventually baton charged these poor innocents who fled for safety into the already packed hall, and then for good measure, the police fired canisters of tear gas after them. Starting to choke we quit the stage and made a run for the dressing room barricading the door. We heard a stampede heading our way and Hiseman shouted “Prepare to defend the Les Paul” as the door came off its hinges, shattering on the floor and the mob poured in. There was a momentary tense stand-off between band and rioters, but everyone soon realised it was just kids running away from an overzealous police force. Before we knew it, a party started. They helped themselves to the dressing room food. We poured them drinks and a rather nasty incident ended in a nice social.

Sleaze Roxx: Deep Purple returns to Brazil to play, among other dates, at the Monsters of Rock Festival alongside a stellar line-up. How is the expectation for this coming and what can fans expect from the band in terms of setlist and performance?

Don Airey: We like Brazil and the fans because music is so much a part of everyday life there. We’ll be playing quite a few old favourites plus a choice selection from the Ezrin oeuvres. We also have vídeo screens so its old music but in a modern setting.

Sleaze Roxx: Having come to Brazil a few times since joining Deep Purple, what could you say about rock fans here and the country as a whole? Is there any place you would like to go during your visit?

Don Airey: Just love the raw enthusiasm the fans bring to the concert environment. Would like to go back to Recife sometime or see the Angel Falls.

Sleaze Roxx: Finally, what is your message for the fans who have purchased tickets for one or more of Deep Purple’s concerts in Brazil?

Don Airey: Thank you. We are looking forward to hearing seeing and rocking you.

Deep Purple‘s “Time for Bedlam” lyric video (from Infinite album):

The original interview first appeared at Marcelo Vieira Music in Portuguese.