Rod Evans, original lead singer of hard-rocking Deep Purple, walked away from the music business in the late 1970s. He didn’t even show up for the ceremony in 2016 when the band was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Evans’ post-Purple career took some strange twists, including signing on for a bogus and disastrous “New Deep Purple” tour and co-founding Capricorn-recording artists Captain Beyond. Fiona McQuarrie examines Deep Purple’s and Evans’ musical past for PKM
In the age of social media, TMZ, and digital footprints, Rod Evans has achieved something almost unimaginable. He has disappeared. The original lead singer of Deep Purple, the co-founder of Captain Beyond, the frontman of the controversial New Deep Purple, and a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Evans has not performed, recorded, or given an interview since 1980. A former collaborator was in contact with him as recently as 2017, but said that “he’s very reclusive. He doesn’t speak to anybody, and I guard his phone number like it’s Fort Knox.”
Evans was born in 1947, and began singing professionally in the mid-1960s. In early 1968, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, organist Jon Lord, bassist Nick Simper, and drummer Bobby Clarke, financed by “three businessmen who wanted to get into showbiz,” rented a house in rural Buckinghamshire with the intention of creating something “musically different”. Roundabout, as they were then called, placed an ad in the Melody Maker music weekly, seeking an “incredible singer for an incredible group”. Nearly 60 candidates responded, which resulted in tryouts being scheduled two hours apart and Simper having to make regular roundtrips to the nearest train station to pick up and drop off the aspiring hopefuls.
Evans stood out, in Simper’s recollections, not only because Blackmore remembered seeing him sing with another band, but because “he had ideas”, such as slowing down the Beatles’ ‘Help!’ to become a mournful ballad. The band decided to hire Evans, and then, dissatisfied with Clarke’s work, secretly auditioned Evans’ colleague Ian Paice. The decision to hire Paice as the group’s drummer was made while Clarke was out shopping, and Clarke was only informed after he returned that he was now unemployed.
Within weeks, the finalized Deep Purple lineup had recorded a single and embarked on a tour of Denmark. They were then rushed into Trident Studios in London to record their first album, Shades of Deep Purple. ‘Hush’, the first single, featured Evans on lead vocals and became a Top 10 hit in the US.
Deep Purple, ‘Hush’, 1968 promotional video:
However, both the album and single went nowhere in the UK. Simper alleges that EMI, the band’s label, were so focused on promoting the Beatles that other acts were ignored. Deep Purple’s management decided to build on ‘Hush’’s overseas success by sending the band on overseas tours, which led to the odd situation of Deep Purple becoming hugely popular everywhere except in their own country. That dichotomy led to even more management pressure on the band to break it big in the UK.
And so, Deep Purple recorded three full-length albums in just over a year: a workload that exacerbated tensions among the band’s members. The pace was so relentless that they had little time to develop their own material, having to rely on cover versions to fill out their first two albums.
While the band were on one of their many American tours, Evans met and fell in love with an American woman who was reluctant to leave the country. This development coincided with Deep Purple’s core membership – Blackmore, Paice, and Lord – deciding that the band’s sound should become more “heavy,” and identifying Simper and Evans as impediments to that goal. The possibility of Evans relocating to the United States might have been seen as the opportunity for the changes that Blackmore, Paice, and Lord thought were needed. Singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover were recruited without Simper’s or Evans’ knowledge, and Gillan and Glover also started secretly recording with the rest of the band – according to some accounts, Simper and Evans were given the wrong start times for recording sessions, so that they would show up at the studio only after Gillan and Glover had departed.
Paice later admitted, “We buggered off and left the dirty work to the management” when Simper and Evans were finally fired.
Biographer Dave Thompson says that Simper and Evans were given “three months’ wages, a share of the band’s equipment, and the choice between a continued cut of royalties on the three albums they’d recorded or a lump-sum buyout”. Evans chose the royalties and moved to America to marry his girlfriend.
After arriving in the U.S., Evans released a solo single, “Hard to Be Without You”, in 1970. Its poppy, almost retro orchestrations were miles away from the hard rock being produced by his former colleagues, who finally had their major breakthough that same year with Deep Purple In Rock.
Rod Evans – Hard to Be Without You, 1970:
Evans’ next musical venture was an even more dramatic departure. He was contacted by the managers of Iron Butterfly, who wanted to put together another band after Butterfly unexpectedly imploded in 1971. While the new band actively resisted the label of “supergroup”, it was difficult to avoid, with a lineup including Evans, guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dornan from Iron Butterfly, and drummer Bobby Caldwell from Johnny Winter’s band. Captain Beyond took its name from a nickname Chris Squire of Yes gave to Reinhardt during a European tour (“because of my blood-red eyes”) and were signed to Capricorn Records.
Captain Beyond – Dancing Madly Backwards, live in 1972:
In later years, Reinhardt alleged that Evans “had mental problems” and walked out several times before the first album was completed; Caldwell countered that Evans was only “insecure about his abilities”. Then, as Captain Beyond was preparing to record a second album, Capricorn suddenly had success with another of its signings – the Allman Brothers. According to Reinhardt, Capricorn then expected Captain Beyond to get on board with that trend and sound more “Southern”. Complicating the situation was the fact that the band’s manager was also an executive with Capricorn, which the band came to realize was, in Caldwell’s words, “a grievous conflict of interest”.
After resisting pressure from their management and label to change their musical identity, the members of Captain Beyond suddenly found themselves booked for live shows, such as opening for Sha Na Na, that did nothing to build their audience or reputation. By this point, Evans had had enough, and quit. He was convinced to come back long enough to finish the group’s second album, Sufficiently Breathless, but at the end of 1973 he told his bandmates that he was leaving for good.
“We were getting ready to start the next album. It was just after Christmas, and Rod called a meeting and told us he was leaving the band,” Caldwell remembered. “There was no obvious underlying problems that we knew of for why he was quitting.”
Captain Beyond – Sufficiently Breathless, 1973:
Captain Beyond carried on for a few more years, but Evans left the music business completely. He went back to school to train as a respiratory technologist. But then he received an offer that, as it transpired, was too good to be true.
The New Deep Purple
After Evans’ and Simper’s departure, Deep Purple went through multiple lineup changes until officially breaking up in 1976. Then, in 1979, an entrepreneur named Geoff Emery stepped into the picture.
Emery had an unusual set of qualifications. He was a lawyer and also a keyboard player, whose most notable musical credit was as a member of the “New Steppenwolf”. That band kept performing Steppenwolf’s hits long after the departure of the last musician with any connection to the original band, much to the dismay of Steppenwolf founder John Kay. In late 1979, Kay was finally able to get a legal order forcing the New Steppenwolf to stop touring and to stop using his band’s name.
Along with Tony Flynn, the New Steppenwolf’s guitarist, Emery then approached Simper and Evans to sound out the possibility of a “New Deep Purple”. This idea may have seemed feasible given that most of Deep Purple’s members had moved on to other projects, such as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Gillan, and Whitesnake, with little indication that any of them would ever be interested in rejoining Deep Purple. Simper declined Emery’s offer to become part of the New Deep Purple, but Evans accepted the invitation.
Early in the real Deep Purple’s career, its management created a company named Deep Purple Overseas Ltd. to protect the band’s business interests outside the UK. Nevertheless, in early 1980 Emery registered a company named Deep Purple Inc. and was able to trademark the name “Deep Purple” with the US federal government and with the State of California. He also persuaded the powerful William Morris Agency to act as the band’s booking agent, and to broker a recording contract with one of Warner Brothers Records’ subsidiary labels.
The New Deep Purple, featuring Evans, Flynn, Emery, bassist Tom De Rivera, and drummer Dick Jurgens, embarked on a 70-date tour in May 1980. A website of fantastically detailed information about the tour indicates a certain pattern to the New Deep Purple’s live shows; the band would take the stage and start to play, the audience would realize that none of the musicians resembled or sounded like the Deep Purple they knew, and chaos would break out.
When the members of the real Deep Purple and their management got wind of what was happening, they quickly headed to the US courts and filed a lawsuit to stop the tour. The court proceedings were not fast enough to shut the tour down immediately, which led to Deep Purple’s management placing an ad in the Los Angeles Times on August 19, 1980, directly under an ad for “The New Deep Purple Featuring Rod Evans”. The text of the ad read, “The following stars will not perform at the Deep Purple concert at Long Beach Arena tomorrow: Ritchie Blackmore, David Coverdale, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Glen [sic] Hughes, Jon Lord, Ian Paice”.
The New Deep Purple, ‘Smoke on the Water’, live in Mexico City 1980:
Several shows in the later part of the tour were cancelled, either because of poor ticket sales or because promoters discovered that this Deep Purple was not the Deep Purple they thought they had booked. The last show by the New Deep Purple took place in September, before 300 people at an arena in Rouyn-Noranda, Québec. Peter Dawson of Bunz, the band that opened the show, recalled that “it was simply atrocious from all angles. My band had ‘Hush’ and ‘Lazy’ in our regular repertoire, which we of course didn’t play. Even on our worst night, we would have blown these guys away.” To add insult to injury, Bunz were also never paid for their set.
In October 1980, a Los Angeles court ruled that Deep Purple Inc. had violated the real Deep Purple’s ownership of its name. In March 1981, Deep Purple Inc., Evans, Flynn, Emery and Jurgens were ordered to pay Deep Purple and its management $672,012 for damages, as well as reimbursing $144,000 of their legal costs. The five defendants were also barred from touring or recording under the Deep Purple name. Several sources suggest that, as part of the settlement, Evans directed all of his future Deep Purple royalties toward paying his share of the amounts owing. And then…..Evans disappeared.
So Where Is He?
Evans indicated in his last two interviews, both conducted during the New Deep Purple tour, that he had completed his medical training. Subsequently, he appears to have worked at a hospital or hospitals in Nevada County, California. The state of California’s online license database shows that a Rod Evans in that county was licensed as a respiratory care practitioner in 1985, with the license being revoked in 1997 after a disciplinary action. People who claim to have met him at work say that he is still married to his American wife and that they have several children.
Evans was allegedly invited to join a revival of Captain Beyond in 2011, but declined.
At the start of 2016, a promotional video appeared on YouTube featuring a British gentleman named Rod Evans, who appeared to be approximately the same age that Evans would be now. The video caused a brief flurry of excitement among Evans watchers, with speculation that the stories about Evans living in California were circulated as a red herring to throw fans off his trail. However, even the most dedicated conspiracy theorists had to admit that it was highly unlikely that Evans could have trained and practiced as a personal injury lawyer while he was also in Captain Beyond and then the New Deep Purple.
Later in 2016, Deep Purple were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Surprisingly, Evans was included in the induction but Simper was excluded; online commentators speculated that this was because Evans, unlike Simper, still has a business connection to the band through the royalties agreement. Ian Paice said in an interview at the time that “we haven’t had contact with [Evans] since the late 1970s. He has no family over here, so there’s nobody to talk to to find out [where he is]. He just went off the radar.” Not surprisingly, Evans did not appear at the induction ceremony.
And that is where the Rod Evans story stands. After reuniting in 1984, Deep Purple have carried on through even more lineup changes, although Glover and Paice have remained; Paice is the only member of Deep Purple to have appeared on every one of the band’s 21 albums. Deep Purple just released a single, ‘Nothing At All’, and is scheduled to resume its Long Goodbye tour in September.
Evans could have continued to play live or make records, or do the things that celebrities from long ago tend to do, like sign autographs at fan conventions or write a tell-all book. But instead he has apparently pursued a completely different career path, while somehow managing to maintain his anonymity and his privacy. We may never know why he decided to disappear, and we may never find out exactly where he is or what he’s doing now. But his ability to vanish so completely is, in and of itself, a commendable achievement.
“Mandrake Root” from Deep Purple’s debut album, Shades of Deep Purple, written by Rod Evans, Richie Blackmore and Jon Lord: