Review Summary: Band/promoter fallouts, on stage explosions and smashed TV cameras help make this album and the story behind it considerably more interesting than the rather dull Made in Europe.
It’s a sin that for years Made in Europe was Mk. III Deep Purple’s only official live release. While not a complete disaster, Made in Europe fell way below most people’s expectations, expectations which were extremely high following the release of Mk. II’s classic live album, Made in Japan, which is amongst the greatest live rock albums of all time. While California Jamming can hardly hold a candle to the aforementioned classic, it does offer up some of the Mk. III line-up’s finest live moments as well as an equally compelling story.
Deep Purple Mk. III:
Ritchie Blackmore - Guitar
David Coverdale - Lead Vocals
Glenn Hughes - Bass guitar, Vocals
Jon Lord - Organ, Synthesizer
Ian Paice - Drums
The event’s that preceded the infamous concert, which took place at California’s Ontario Speedway in 1974, saw the band, and in particular the ever controversial character that is lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, reach boiling point. Having arranged to go on at 7:30, the band were told that they were to go on an hour early so not to keep the crowd waiting due to the event running earlier than expected, of course Blackmore refused. Legend has it that the promoter threatened to cancel the band’s slot if the didn’t go on, making Blackmore even more angry and following a discussion with the rest of the band Blackmore threatened to quit the band (which one suspects was for about the fiftieth time, given the man’s extremely short fuse) before finally agreeing to go on.
Although set opener, Burn and following track, Might Just Take Your Life, found Blackmore’s guitar somewhat swamped by Jon Lord’s keyboards, as the show wears on it becames evident that the band were not hindered but spurred on by the emotions caused by the pre-show events and by third song, Mistreated, it was clear that the crowd were in for an electrifying show. Along with a fine guitar performance from Blackmore, Mistreated featured one of David Coverdale’s finest vocal performances, possibly his best to ever grace the song, making this version vastly superior to the one featured on Made in Europe.
Having only recorded one album with the band prior to the event, California Jamming saw the new members trying their hand at a couple of Mk. II Purple classics. Smoke On The Water proved that both Coverdale and Hughes were more than up for the task and following track, the extended You Fool No One, not only saw some excellent bluesy guitar playing from Blackmore but also incorporated The Mule, which gave Ian Paice a bit of freedom to solo. Album closer, Space Truckin’, saw the whole band get a chance to stretch out, clocking in at over twenty five minutes long, this was an impressive way to end the show. Not only did it give Blackmore the chance to stretch out but it also saw the guitarist lash out at one of the nearby film cameras, which he decided to smash with his guitar before exploding a 450-watt stack almost blowing himself and his band mates of the stage. Although this fitting climax was not evident in audio form, the raw emotion shown by the band certainly was, making this a thoroughly interesting listening experience for any Deep Purple fan, old or new.
While this is considerably better than Made in Europe to which it will doubtlessly always be compared to, it’s by no means faultless. Glenn Hughes’ vocal gymnastics occasionally stray towards the cringe worthy side of things and the recording seems a little too raw at times, but when the band get it right it's excellent and there’s no denying that Deep Purple’s Mk. III line-up were an exhilarating live spectacle and California Jamming offers a chance to hear some of their best live moments to be caught on tape.