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


13 responses to “Deep Purple in Rock: Improvisation and discipline in Business

  1. This comment comes from Open Circle Communications via Linkedin:

    Open Circle Communications • I feel that improvisation and evolution of rock bands, are perfect examples of what any good brand should do. While innovation, improvement , changes are inevitable in most brands , like it is in some Bands, this paradigm shift while making the bands more contemporary and more “now” shouldnt take away from the unique stylings of the Br\and or in the case of a Brand its identity and essence.

    Peter Cook • Hello there and thanks for your comment. The evolution of bands and brands is indeed a rich seam of further dialogue. In the rock biz, and I’m generalising here, some fans get fed up after the ‘3rd difficult’ album and reject their heroes when they attempt to progress. The ‘band and brand challenge’ is to develop your ‘product’ whilst keeping existing audience / customers and gaining new ones. Madonna, David Bowie are exceptions in so far as they have done this, whereas the norm is to be a ‘one hit wonder’.

    You have opened up many avenues for further dialogue – thank you for the post.



  2. one definite lesson when watching the creativity, is the discipline required to get to the stage to express the creativity in a certain way….practice in other words!

    Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, practice on their instruments, which develops the skill to follow a made up riff at the drop of a hand.

    Some people are naturals when it comes to music – they are the exceptions, for most people it’s roll-up-the-sleeves-and-work-at-it-time!


  3. Another comment from Linkedin:

    Mark Lambert • A great example of where the whole was greater than the sum of the individual parts, even though individually they were one of the most musically talented bands of their time. A bit of frisson between Blackmore and the rest probably contributed a competitive edge that brought out the best in them all but I think the whole sound depended on the solid base of Ian Paice’s drumming. Therefore I conclude that having a good drummer somewhere in the organisation is a prerequisite to success!

    Peter Cook • Excellent point Mark and I know plenty of drummers that really admire Paice’s drum work which is fairly jazzy for a hard rock group. Drummers (and to some extent bass players) provide the structure around which creativity can thrive – without structure there can be no innovation as ideas do not get executed and so on.


    • Mark Lambert • Thanks Peter. I’ve made the same analogy between organisations and bands/orchestras myself. I think the kind of band where there is a lot of improvisation – be it jazz or Deep Purple (my favourite band, by the way, in case you hadn’t already guessed!) – are quite different to orchestras playing scored music where there is much less scope for creativity but more emphasis on discipline and technique. Some people prefer the ‘orchestra approach’ in the workplace with a more autocratic leader/conductor whereas others prefer a more laissez-faire/creative environment. Being a jazz drummer myself you can probably guess which I prefer, and I suspect you are also more of a creative type than an adaptive….

      Anyway, thanks for posting a good thought-provoker.


  4. More comments from Linkedin:

    Jacqui Thomasen • As a teenager I once travelled for 3 hours on a bus to see Ian Paice open a village fete…. As I recall his opening comments did not contain any pearls of wisdom, on leadership, drumming or otherwise – I did however discover that Shiplake is a thoroughly charming village 😉
    I think that Deep Purple’s continued success can possibly teach us more about change and resilience as much as improvisation and discipline!


    Peter Cook • Jacqui – shame about Mr Paice’s lack of business guru skills ! 🙂 but he always seemed a nice chap – remember, drummers are always the nicest people in a band.

    Certainly the brand has endured but the formula has stayed largely the same. The MK II lineup was renowned for freeform improvisation within a score hence the post. On branding, discipline and endurance see my post on AC/ DC

    Shiplake is indeed charming!

    Coming up tomorrow – Don’t cry for me Argentina – should leaders be allowed to rock? Thanks to David Mayle for prompting me to write this. Link will be live after 8.00 am Sat 03.09.11

    This should open up a useful debate about whether our leaders are allowed to have private lives.


  5. Still more from Linkedin:

    Steve Hogg • Hi Peter – I am a singer/songwriter/MBA student/Creativity champion languishing in middle aged, middle management perpetuity – so you can imagine how inspired I am to read this blog.

    Good points about drummers and structure – and so therefore I’d like to remind people of the less successful (in my view) elements of creativity in rock music (spandex apart, if you will forgive the expression) ….ahem…..Drum solos.
    Structure goes out of the window with drum solos, and they are not a pretty sight, ever, and a law should be passed to prohibit them…………do they occur when bands become too self indulgent?……….discuss

    Ringo Starr was described as ‘the best drummer in the world’ by George Martin, but not for his technical ability, more his creative flair. When asked if he was the best in the world, John Lennon remarked ‘he’s not even the best drummer in the beatles’!! Brilliant answer, and true as McCartney was the technical genius really, wasn’t he?

    Whilst we’re on drummers, and just from a musical perspective, I love Iain Paice, John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Tony Allen, Luke Flowers (Cinematic Orchestra), and Phil Rudd of AC/DC for the excuisite ‘less is more’ approach……….I also love Aphex Twin who is an electronic knob twiddler, but whose drum programming is sonic poetry.


    Peter Cook • The OU MBA is rapidly turning into a boot camp for drummers and ‘admirers of drummers’ lol. Yes, Steve, I’ve steered clear of the spandex myself for the most part (except at weekends of course!).

    But to be serious for a moment, I am a guitar player and I always used to listen in wonder to ‘The Mule’ and, to a lesser degree ‘Moby Dick’ (see Mark’s post on this), and never really saw why drummers should not take a solo part, but hey ho, it was the 70’s.

    I play from time to time with a brilliant guy who plays like Stewart Copeland, which is an absolute joy alongside my session muso friend who works for Anastasia, Celine Dion and Shirley Bassey. I can feel a MBA Alumni weekend populated by Divas and Drummers, to re-learn the skills, attitudes and precepts of B822… Ohj, that’s the title : Divas, Drummers and Creative Management!!! 😉

    Thanks for this post – have a great weekend all


  6. I wanted to type a note to be able to express gratitude to you for the fabulous hints you are placing here. My extended internet search has at the end of the day been compensated with professional knowledge to go over with my close friends. I would believe that most of us visitors are quite blessed to dwell in a decent community with very many lovely people with great principles. I feel truly blessed to have seen your web page and look forward to really more amazing times reading here. Thanks a lot once again for all the details.


  7. Deep Purple in Rock is the first album I ever bought, I have it on vinyl, cassette and CD, I have it on vinyl on harvest and fame, tape the same labels and CD both versions, I crept into the modern age but putting it onto an ipod can’t compete with hearing it for the first time.

    Timeless music, hear it once and you can skip backwards every time you hear any track from that album, you will remember exactly where you were, yes it is that good.


  8. Embedded on Bowie, introduced to the Stones, Led Zep and much more by older siblings. I grew and developed with them so it is easy to let other ideas ride on their narrative and meaning to me. Could a Bowie song even be invoked to hold ideas for an exam?


  9. Great that I have found this blog! I have three points: 1. I agree that a goal effectively achieved is the culmination of a journey fully experienced: 2. Making time for playtime, improvising with ideas, is an important but under-used aspect of creativity within the business world. This is because playing and the serious world of work are a bit like oil and water: they do not mix well – but they need to: 3. Order and direction can be applied to the work of a group of virtuosic and creative individuals by using a Concerto Grosso approach: It is great to have found someone that can help me develop, expand and improve my own work in exploring how musical creativity can be applied more generally. Thanks!


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