Deep Purple in Rock: Improvisation and discipline in Business

Deep Purple In Rock

The hard rock band Deep Purple are responsible for millions of young boys camping out in music shops trying to play the riff to ‘Smoke on the Water‘.  At the age of 14 I used to sit at the top of the stairs at home in the darkness trying to figure out the riff with my Hofner Futurama guitar and 10 Watt Zenta amp, until my mum would shout me to come down to get my fish finger sandwiches.  Aside from these problems, Deep Purple offer us a great example of improvisation and discipline in action in the context of a rock outfit.  The Mark II incarnation of the band is generally considered to be perhaps the definitive lineup, but also the most volatile.  Much of the conflict within Deep Purple arose from Ritchie Blackmore, their phenomenal virtuoso guitarist and moody maverick.  Check out Deep Purple Mark II’s work when jamming here:

In this extract from ‘Mandrake Root’ we see the art of improvisation within a disciplined structure as Blackmore sends musical instructions (using his arms as a baton ! ) to the keyboard player Jon Lord, to repeat and develop certain lines (This is particularly obvious around 48 seconds onwards).  He also sends orders to the rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover with respect to starts and stops within the music (around 1 minute 50 seconds).  Blackmore’s signs are perhaps more aggressive than those used by Prince to change direction at short notice within the band 🙂  What then are the parallel lessons for business from Deep Purple?   Here’s three to get the discussion started – Please add your own views by commenting on the blog.

1. Innovation in business requires discipline as much as it does creativity:  Creativity to come up with novel strategies; Discipline to execute them, so that ideas turn into profitable innovations.  Companies such as Google, 3M and Innocent may seem to be all about creativity at first glance, but a deeper inspection reveals discipline and structure, even if that structure does not emanate from ‘management’ in all cases.  Giving people 20% of their time to work on speculative projects is the business equivalent of a free form jam within Space Truckin’, Lazy, Mistreated and many other pieces of Deep Purple’s repertoire.

2. It requires extremely strong leadership and a compelling shared vision to hold diverse people together.  To encourage a company that continuously learns / adapts and improvises into the future requires leadership that is precise on the destination, yet loose on the journey.  We’ve seen this point before in my blog posts on Led Zeppelin and Prince.

3. Conflict will occur where there is diversity / divergence.  It must be handled properly if progress is to be made.  Ultimately Blackmore’s maverick behaviour proved too much for the band, especially the singer Ian Gillan, and despite several reunions, the band proved impossible to hold together.  There have been many arguments to suggest that what Deep Purple Mark II needed was a manager who could hold the various personalities together and perhaps some time off from touring.

What else do you consider we can learn from Deep Purple about business, innovation, conflict and so on?  Share your thoughts by making a comment to this blog.

Editor’s postscript:  My thoughts go out to Jon Lord who is currently fighting cancer. Although I am a guitar player, it was Jon Lord’s innovative organ playing that led to my fanaticism with Deep Purple. Since I wrote this article, he lost that battle – so sad.

To finish, here’s another piece by Deep Purple’s Mark II line up, the famous California Jam performance where Ritchie Blackmore destroys several guitars and sets fire to his amplifiers.  I can’t immediately think of a transferable corporate lesson from this sequence but it sure is fun.  Takes me back to my teenage years with the Zenta amp on all the way up and me smashing the guitar into the speaker trying to coax some feedback out of the amp!

For more Heavy Metal Business articles – check SPINAL TAP on project management and LED ZEPPELIN on strategy.  Check out our conferences and events – where we extract business lessons from the Deep Purple classic ‘Smoke on the Water’ amongst many other things.  Come along to one of our ‘Monsters of Rock Business’ events, featuring Bernie Torme, who played guitar for Ian Gillan.   Take a look at one of these as featured on Bloomberg TV.

Our books including “The Music of Business” are available at AMAZON.


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via

Bill Nelson: Integrity and Creativity in a bottle

The genius that is Bill Nelson – Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Bill Nelson performs a special one off concert and art exhibition at the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds on October 1st.  This provides me with the perfect excuse to rave on about this man’s genius in terms of the sorts of capabilities that great business gurus such as Peter Senge, Tom Peters and Seth Godin write about.  Before we begin, let’s see the master at work, performing a song he wrote for Stuart Adamson of Big Country and the Skids as a tribute at his funeral – “For Stuart (Triumph and Lament)”.  Bill Nelson produced some of Stuart’s work and Adamson was a great admirer of Bill’s musicianship, which Bill incorporated as a series of ‘musical ornaments’ within this piece.

In case you are wondering just who Bill Nelson is, he led 70’s Art School band Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise.  In spite of his huge success, Nelson left considerable wealth and fame to pursue his own artistic and musical direction.   However, like so many great influencers his footprint on modern music is immense and pervasive.  Nelson is admired by a catalogue of rock’s monarchy, including Mc Cartney, Brian May, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Prince, The Foo Fighters, The Darkness, My Chemical Romance and so on.  If any of you saw MCR at the Reading Festival, you will have heard the opening lines from Bill Nelson’s song ‘Maid In Heaven’ towards the end of MCR’s emo anthem ‘Dead’:

Turning to the transferable lessons for people in business, Bill Nelson articulated his principles for personal reinvention in his online diary.  Although they are artistically expressed, they are directly transferable.  Bill kindly allowed me to do some ‘translation’ in my book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’.   We explored a couple of his reinvention principles in a previous blog.  Here’s some more:

Reinvention Principle No. 1 – Trust the muse – she knows best

In the context of business reinvention, ‘trusting the muse’ means that we should trust intuition rather than relying on research as a means of doing new things.  We live in a world that is drowning in data.  As a result we downplay intuition.  New stuff does not always come out of a detailed analysis of old stuff!

“Act when there are no alternatives to stasis” Photo courtesy of Stewart Cowley

Reinvention Principle No. 2 – Act only when there are no alternatives to stasis

‘Acting only when there are no alternatives to stasis’ reminds us to examine all alternatives before making a decision on critical issues.  This is not a recipe for not making decisions!  Examining alternatives requires us to synthesise options, to bring alternatives together that will produce better options rather than compromises.  It requires the use of analogue (and/also) thinking rather than digital (on/off) thinking.  The pressure of business life often forces us into action rather than reflection / synthesis, with the result that we get sub-optimal decisions and / or performance.  I’ve written more on this subject in previous posts on creativity.

Check out Bill’s extensive catalogue of music at SOUND ON SOUND.  To study Bill’s 12 principles for personal and corporate reinvention in more detail, read Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll. If you fancy seeing Mr Magnetism Himself check out the Clothworkers Hall in Leeds.  I am proud to know Bill Nelson, who has integrity and creativity written into his DNA, even at the expense of fame and fortune.  Integrity is easy when it does not mean you have to make tough choices, but most people fall by the wayside when the going gets tough.

Bill Nelson has a wonderful skill of making classy pop music, a skill which he has largely left on the shelf due to his desire to pursue his own artistic vision.  Lest we forget what a great talent he has for producing catchy pop hits, I’ll leave you with a film of Be-Bop Deluxe performing one of these 2.5 minute wonders on the Old Grey Whistle Test – “Maid in Heaven”, the song whose opening guitar lines are quoted by My Chemical Romance.  To see more of Bill’s work in this area get yourself a copy of his ITV Legends Concert, which includes “For Stuart” and an entire catalogue of Be-Bop Deluxe, Red Noise and Bill’s solo material:

p.s.  For a series of 2.5 minute lessons on business and Human Relations check out my new book ‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ – available FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.

ITV Legends Concert DVD – AMAZON

‘Revolt into Style’ – The new book cover

Punk Rock HR

This is the first post to introduce my new book “Punk Rock People Management”.  Before we start, here’s a classic piece of Punk Rock – New Rose by The Damned:

I had the great fortune of seeing The Damned, The Doctors of Madness, The Jam etc. many times at The Marquee Club in London.  This included getting ‘extinguished’ by Captain Sensible on stage when it became so hot that the Captain decided to hose those pogo-ing on stage down with a fire extinguisher amidst electricity and live cables.  This was in the pre-risk assessment era – Hooray! 🙂

Punk Rock People Management suggests that the HR profession has become a bloated industry which delights in making things more complex than they need be.  In the book I have stripped down People Management to the bare essentials.  This means that each ‘chapter’ is just one page long – ideal for the busy person / Kindle reader etc.  Thus you can read a chapter in less time than it takes to pogo to a Sex Pistols or Linkin Park song! 🙂  On hearing about it , Tom Peters, the world’s greatest business thinker, author and speaker sent me a mail with just two words in it:  “Do it!” – Now that’s what I call succinct in the normally long world of HR!

Never mind the HR Boll..cks

To whet your appetite, here are some chapter titles.  The book is organised using the classic ‘Life, Sex and Death HR cycle’, i.e. Hiring, Inspiring and Firing:


Selection – Shall I stay or shall I go?

Induction – It’s my first time


Engagement – Pretty vacant

Motivation – Reasons to be cheerful

Training – Waiting for the great leap forwards

Innovation – What’s new pussycat?


Conflict – Who killed Bambi?

Redundancy – Submission

To order your copy of the book, see Punk Rock People Management.  To buy our other book go to AMAZON.

For now, let’s treat ourselves to the great punk philosopher Billy Bragg, with his song “Waiting for the great leap forwards” – a song all about the gap between talk and action in change management / organisation and HR development.  Reminds me of Red Wedge and many other great days of wide eyed optimism and passion.  There still is a better way to get your point across than stealing a bottle of water from Poundland!


Whole Lotta Love : Business lessons from Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin

Introducing Steve Mostyn as an honorary Rock’n’Roll Business Blogger here.  Steve and I met at the London Business School a while back, where we talked about the idea of an article and seminar series on Led Zeppelin and the business lessons that can be derived from Peter Grant’s superb management of the band, building on my earlier article on Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Madonna and Branding.   Steve is an associate Fellow at Said Business School, University of Oxford.  Before we get started, let’s see Led Zeppelin in full flow:

Chris Welch’s obituary of Peter Grant in The Independent Newspaper stated his achievements well.

It was Grant who arranged their deal with Atlantic Records in 1968, then hailed as one of the biggest in industry history. He never interfered with their music, but was a “hands-on” manager who travelled the world with his charges to ensure their financial and physical well-being. Grant was essentially the fifth member of Led Zeppelin. While stories of his exploits have become legendary, and he was as much feared as admired, Grant was a warm and good-humoured man who know well the impression he could make on the nervous and unwary … he was  determined that Led Zeppelin would get their fair share of the profits. As a result, Led Zeppelin became extremely wealthy from the sales of millions of albums and concert tickets during their 12-year reign from 1968 to 1980”

Behind the myth of both Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant is evidence of management thinking and action that gives the 21st century manager some new insights.

In 1966 the Jimmy Page joined The Yardbirds.  With his childhood friend Jeff Beck, The Yardbirds would tour sold out venues across America. The Yardbirds played to packed houses and gained critical success but financial failure that left the band wondering how to even meet food bills. Poor management was to blame.  Beck left the group leaving Page to assume control of the frustrated outfit. The band’s management duties were passed on to Grant and by 1968 the pre cursor to Led Zeppelin, The New Yardbirds were formed.  Grant’s management transformed the band.  So what did Grant do that we can learn from?

1.      Grow and support talent

The first role of a manager of creative people is to grow and develop talent, nurturing and most importantly getting out of the way of the creative process. Grant’s obsessive support for the band was outstanding, from ensuring the member’s financial well being to ensuring that they were always ready to wow their audience on a demanding 45 shows as part of a 50 day tour. He also created a close team of publicity, security, sound engineers, roadies and financial managers that were the core support team to the band’s success. Grant deliberately refocused attention on the needs of the artists, often at the expense of the record companies, tour promoters and other agents.  Perhaps Prince is another extreme example of someone who did not wish to be controlled by the music industry.

2.      Reinvent Business Processes – Challenge the accepted process

Grant’s paradoxical PR and publicity strategy created a genuine grass roots mass underground following. His refusal for TV appearances of the band and refusal to release singles were keys to Led Zeppelin’s word of mouth rise and ongoing media mystique. Coupled with this were his radical re-negotiating of promoters fees from 90% to 10% of door revenue.  Grant quoted by Welch.

“The days of the promoter giving a few quid to the group against the money take on the door are gone. Managers, agents, and promoters ran the business when the funny thing is it’s the groups who bring the people in. I thought the musicians would be the people who get the wages…that are the way the big names are made these days. Not by the press, but by the people seeing them and making up their own minds”

Grant’s approach to marketing would not be out of place in the 21st century where crowdsourcing and customer experience and engagement are the watchwords of business.

Today it is recognised that profits come from well managed live performances as opposed to music sales.  Grant laid the foundation stones that Beyonce to U2 have benefited from. Promoters’ assumptions about margin had well and truly been challenged. The creation of Swan Song record label in the 1970’s was a further act of controlling market access, co-director of Swan Song, guitarist Jimmy Page commented:

“We’d been thinking about it for a while and we knew if we formed a label there wouldn’t be the kind of fuss and bother we’d been going through over album covers and things like that. Having gone through, ourselves, what appeared to be an interference, or at least an aggravation, on the artistic side by record companies, we wanted to form a label where the artists would be able to fulfil themselves without all of that hassle”

3.      Inspire a shared vision. Create collaborators

Grant’s insistence that Led Zeppelin could (and would) be the world’s greatest Rock’n’Roll act was the push and belief that allowed Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones to do their best. The leverage behind the Atlantic Records deal in 1968 was evidence of that. Atlantic Records granted them a $200,000 advance before Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun had even seen the band.

4.      Let Leaders Lead

The paradox of management is the confusion of leadership and management. Both are key to organisation success. In a Rock’n’Roll band leaders are almost never the manager. Grant allowed distributed leadership to develop within the band, from founder Jimmy Page, ‘front man’ Robert Plant, with the world’s leading drummer John Bonham to intellectual philosopher and bass leader John Paul Jones.  Here’s a rare interview with Grant:

5.      Create and enforce Governance

Governance is the often overlooked duller part of the manager’s toolkit.  Once Grant had established the rules of copyright, he was renowned for his frequent personal enforcement of challenging fake merchandisers and bootleggers. Welch comments

“People were terrified of him. He rode roughshod over anyone who tried to get in his way and he wasn’t scared of anyone, police, promoters or officials. In America he insisted on putting on his own shows, with the local promoter acting simply as an organiser”

In the 1970’s Led Zeppelin was the most profitable band in rock history. Grant’s attention to detail was also noted from his assessment of the quality of PA equipment to lighting sequences to the attention to the fine detail of his accountant’s profit and loss accounts and tax status advice.

Leadership thinker and author Gary Hamel argues that management needs reinventing:

“Management is undoubtedly one of humankind’s most important inventions. For more than a hundred years, advances in management—the structures, processes, and techniques used to compound human effort—have helped to power economic progress. Problem is, most of the fundamental breakthroughs in management occurred decades ago. Management, like the combustion engine, is a mature technology that must now be reinvented for a new age”

Some of the clues to its reinvention may be found in Peter Grant.

And finally, let’s get the Led out again, this time performing Kashmir:

Our new book ‘The Music of Business” has a piece on Led Zeppelin, plus much much more – acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.  Sample it here – available worldwide on Amazon and as a Kindle download.  Our other books are rather good as well …


Beyond the Fringe – The Edinburgh Festival and Leonard Cohen

Leonard himself

Very short post here to mention two performances of a special show written by Joe Blair, on the life, loves and music of Leonard Cohen at the Edinburgh Festival – Follow the link to Blue Raincoat.

The evening offered a selection of Leonard’s most special songs alongside a narrative that reviewed his life as a poet, lover and songwriter.

I met Joe a couple of years ago at a management seminar in Northern Ireland and he has been trying to infect me with his obsession with for Leonard Cohen ever since.  Speaking personally, I only travel as far as Morrissey and Lou Reed on the scale of moribund reflective music but it takes all sorts etc.  I agreed to provide much needed coaching on the musical performance aspects of the event and to provide some accompaniment using the haunting tones of the e-bow, an unusual guitar effect that makes guitars sound more like a violin, hence the name ‘energy-bow’.  I bought my e-bow around 1978 after seeing the music genius Bill Nelson play one.  Read more about Bill’s next show on October 1st at The Art School Ascended on Vapours of Roses.

Copies of our latest album “Music from the Basement of Cognition” will be available at the Leonard Cohen show.  For now here’s one track, aptly titled “I always knew you would come back to Earth” after a week of madness on the streets of England.  I did once record a Prince styled version of Cohen’s “The Butcher” and an electro-pop version of the same song in the style of Erasure, but I am not posting them here for fear of reprisals by ardent Cohen fans! 🙂

I’ll finish with my favourite interpretation of Leonard’s ‘Hallelujah’ by John Cale:

Postscript:  The highlight of the Festival was meeting up with the Jimi Hendrix styled blues guitarist Richard Blues – Check Richard’s work out by e-mailing him at and here’s a brief excerpt of his performance at the Fringe:

Also very much enjoyed meeting Will Gracie.  As one third of the outrageous group Hot Gusset, Will’s journey started at the age of 7 when he saw Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman.  We did some impromptu Queen and Prince songs on the street to the amazement of the festival goers.  Later that day I saw him appearing on BBC Newsnight.  It’s no wonder, for Will is a great talent. “Gimme fried chicken” in the words of Freddie Mercury !

Whist developing the show, I discovered to my surprise that even Leonard Cohen was sensitive to his musical environment and did change his musical style towards songs that people could almost dance to in the 1980’s when synthesisers became popular.   I guess that’s where Lady Gaga got it from ! 🙂

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us – Strategy unplugged

Glam rock duo Sparks unwittingly stumbled upon a critical business strategy issue in their 1974 anthem ‘This town ain’t big enough for the both of us’.  Lest we forget:

Sustainable competitive advantage arises from:

1. Differences between firms, not similarities.  Thus, if you are in close proximity to a competitor in terms of products, services, geography and so on, one strategic option is to create a difference that creates space between you.  This may of course mean that you compete better. It may simply open up the market in ways that means everyone can gain share.

2. Foresight is better than hindsight.  In order to know before the competition is going to head you off at the pass, we need dynamic approaches to strategy, rather than static use of models, which tell you ‘what happened’, rather like driving a car using the rear view mirror.  One such approach is ‘Scenario modelling’ which we have used to help companies pre-empt decisions by competitors with impacts measured in millions.  Read more about how this can be done at Strategy.

3. What do you do when your competition is too close for comfort?  Well, you could collaborate – This can take many forms, from joint ventures, partnerships etc.  In extremis, buy your competitor if the market is big enough to sustain the result.

What else can music teach us about business strategy?  Share your thoughts here.  I’ll leave you with a little teaser in the form of Queen’s ‘One Vision, One Mission’ clearly a song about focus or, as Tom Peters puts it ‘Sticking to the knitting’:

Guitar Gods: Hendrix vs. Clapton : Innovators vs. adaptors

R U Experienced ? By Craig Swanson ©

Jimi Hendrix is still considered to be one of the greatest guitar players in the world, more than 40 years after his premature death at the same age as Amy Winehouse.  Plenty of guitarists have surpassed Hendrix in sheer technical dexterity, but most people point towards Hendrix’s ‘attitude’ towards the instrument as the source of his genius rather than his technical skill per se.  In my own case, my life was never the same after I saved up the money to buy a copy of his hit single ‘Purple Haze’, which I still own.  We even staged a re-enactment of Hendrix’s famous guitar burning stunt at a University in Cambridge with a bunch of MBA students some years back.  Here’s the record and the result of the spontaneous combustion of my Fender guitar:

Purple Haze – original Track label single

IBM burnt my guitar ….

Check out the real deal from Hendrix’s 1969 performance of ‘Wild Thing’ at Monterey:

Jimi Hendrix is an archetype of what psychologist Professor Michael Kirton would call an innovator, someone who fused together musical ideas to come up with something totally novel.  Jimi Hendrix fused the blues with soul, funk, hard rock and psychedelia in a heady cocktail, whereas many musicians stay within a musical genre.   In doing so, it could be said that he lost some of his audience in the process, if you were to take a very critical view of his work.   See also my post on Prince in this respect.

So what about Eric Clapton then?  Let’s take a look at some of Clapton’s classic work in the form of some blues mastery with Buddy Guy:

Generally speaking, Eric Clapton has stayed within the blues genre, (with the exception of a few ballads for the ladies 🙂 ) sticking closer to this genre and consequentially bringing it to a wider audience.  This is the behaviour of what Professor Kirton calls an adaptor.  In business, adaptors often have greater success than innovators, as they tend to produce ideas that are less challenging and which are recognised by consumers in the marketplace as being a logical build on existing ideas.  It’s the new saying “familiarity breeds repeat purchases”.

Often we need both innovators and adaptors to produce sustainable innovations.  The innovators to produce the hard to copy ideas and the adaptors to help bring the ideas into a practical market focus.

In business, examples of innovators include Sir Clive Sinclair, Sir Trevor Baylis and James Dyson whose innovations have not always been in tune with market desire, for example Dyson’s early attempts to redesign the wheelbarrow:

James Dyson’s Ballbarrow

Archetypal adaptors would include Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and possibly Sir Richard Branson, who have succeeded by taking relatively low risks with product and service innovation.

Finally, let’s hear another musical boundary crosser / innovator talking about Hendrix, none other than Jeff Beck:

To read about others who have been greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, see my post on my night in a pub with Bernie Torme, lead guitarist extraordinaire for Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan and Twisted Sister.  Also the music genius Bill Nelson, who has innovated continuously for 40 years in music, whilst shunning the music industry circus.

If you like this mini blog on Hendrix check out our new book ‘The Music of Business”, which has an expanded article on Jimi and much, much more – acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.  Sample it here:


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via