Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin are two bastions of heavy rock music, groups who undoubtedly helped put the genre on the map with their deliciously giant riffs. Both bands formed in 1968 and quickly began to conquer the globe, Led Zeppelin would become stars almost instantly whereas it took Deep Purple up until their fourth record in 1970 to become household names.
The difference in how long it took for Deep Purple to fly off into the stratosphere in comparison to Led Zeppelin was around 18 months which, in normal circumstances, is the blink of an eye but, in the fast-paced nature of the music industry, it felt like a lifetime. There was a fit of jealousy creeping into Deep Purple’s camp, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore becoming somewhat bitter at the success that their counterparts had been enjoying and, on one slightly intoxicated occasion, he couldn’t help but giving drummer John Bonham a piece of his mind.
The two groups were close, a relationship which led to some playful taunts at each other in private. While the gentle teasing was always said in a jokey manner, often they were made with underlining of truth to the snarky remarks. “I used to be very friendly with Bonzo from Led Zeppelin,” Blackmore later recalled as reported by Rock and Roll Garage.
“We’d be sitting drinking in the Rainbow [bar in LA] – and he’d be really up and drunk or really depressed. So he’d be looking at the table. And he used to say to me: ‘It must be really hard to stand there and go: ’der-der-derr, der-der, de-derr’ [‘Smoke On The Water’]. ‘Yeah, it’s nearly as difficult as going: ‘duh-der duh-der dum’ [‘Whole Lotta Love’]. At least we don’t copy anybody!’ He goes: ‘What are you talking about? That’s bullshit!”
This response had clearly rattled Bonham to the core. The drumming maestro was more than happy to hand the jibes until the cows came home but when the tables were turned and he couldn’t quite handle it. The Led Zeppelin man then became even more furious when Blackmore returned with the receipts that he had stored in his brain of when he though Jimmy Page had pinched the occasional idea.
“I know exactly where you got ‘duh-der duh-der dum’ from; you got it from ‘Hey Joe’, you just put it to a rhythm.’ And he’s thinking. ‘And ‘Immigrant Song‘ was ‘Little Miss Lover’.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Bom-bobba-didom ba-bom bobbadidom…’ He was not a happy man, but he started it,” Blackmore fondly remembered.
He then added: “We then went upstairs to the toilet. We’re both there, weeing away, and he says: ‘Rich, did you mean all that?’ I said: ‘No, not really, I was just having a go back at you.’ He says: ‘Oh. I didn’t mean it either. There’s room at the top for everybody.’ So we carried on weeing, then went downstairs and started drinking again.”
Thankfully, Bonham didn’t take the criticism to heart and secretly loved the excuse to have a fiery debate, according to Blackmore. “He loved it. He was the kind of guy who liked confrontation, and I would always give it to him,” Blackmore said. “But I always remember when he said how we’d taken bits and pieces from people, so I told him where he got his stuff from. It was interesting to see how his mind was going: ‘Pagey, you bastard. Now I know!’”
Jimmy Page is undoubtedly one of the great innovators of all-time and, in truth, Blackmore was only innocently teasing his friend when he accused the guitarist of copying Hendrix and, for a split second, it worked. Led Zeppelin’s success was built off the back of their own greatness and nothing else, as was Deep Purple’s respectively. It was this talent and respect between the two acts was built upon as well as their penchant for a party.