Deep Purple’s new album features Louisiana music and musicians.
“Turning to Crime,” the classic rock band’s first album of nonoriginal songs, includes a remake of Baton Rouge resident Huey “Piano” Smith’s New Orleans classic, “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.” An animated music video for the track, featuring a Smith-like character who discovers a magical piano, has more than 330,000 views on YouTube.
Deep Purple makes more Louisiana connections on the album with “The Battle of New Orleans.” New Orleans accordionist Bruce Daigrepont and Breaux Bridge fiddler Gina Forsyth Cajun-ize the British band’s rendition of Johnny Horton’s No. 1 hit from 1959. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival producer-director Quint Davis recommended Daigrepont to Deep Purple’s producer, Bob Ezrin. Daigrepont subsequently brought Forsyth, a member of his band, to the project.
A ground-breaking hard rock and metal band formed in 1968, Deep Purple would seem among the less likely acts to record “Rocking Pneumonia” and “The Battle of New Orleans.” Singer Ian Gillan, the voice of “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star,” initially scoffed at recording nonoriginal music.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic. When the geographically distant band members were unable to write songs together in the same room, as they normally do, making an album of remakes, remotely in studios across the world, became an acceptable alternative.
“I really love this record,” Gillan told Classic Rock magazine. “It’s harking back to why we do what we do.”
Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover told Forbes.com that the band interpreted the album’s songs with affection and imagination.
“We have a great respect for the originals because it’s the song, that’s the way it was born,” Glover said. “But the other part is playing with it, and we do that with love.”
Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey faithfully duplicates Smith’s much-imitated “Rocking Pneumonia” piano riff in his recording.
“I’m supposed to say it’s a song I always wanted to do since I was a child, but at the same time it was quite new to me,” Airey said. “I didn’t know the original very well, but I knew Professor Longhair’s version, which is the one that inspired my arrangement. I just love the whole thing, that style of piano playing.
“Very, very hard to replicate,” Airey added. “It was a bit of a challenge. And when (the completed track) came back from the other members of the band with all this other music on it, I thought, ‘Wow, that worked out. What an insane arrangement.’ ”
Deep Purple’s American guitarist, Steve Morse, wondered why his Brit bandmates would record “The Battle of New Orleans,” a song that gleefully mocks their homeland’s humiliating 1815 military defeat at Chalmette Plantation. Gillan explained the choice to Forbes.com: “You’ve got to understand our British humor,” he said. “We laugh at everything, particularly ourselves.”
Other “Turning to Crime” tracks include songs by Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Ray Charles, the Yardbirds, Bob Seger and Little Feat. The album follows Deep Purple’s “Time Trilogy” albums, which have entered more than 40 Top 10 charts worldwide, including three consecutive No. 1 chart positions in Germany.
“Rocking Pneumonia” creator Smith, a New Orleans native who’ll turn 88 years old on Jan. 26, has lived in Baton Rouge since the early 1980s. His original 1957 “Rocking Pneumonia” recording peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s rhythm-and-blues chart and No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. Countless artists have recorded and/or performed “Rocking Pneumonia,” including Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, the Grateful Dead, Patti LaBelle, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dr. John.
Johnny Rivers, the former Baton Rouge resident who released 16 Top 40 hits between 1964 and 1977, recorded the best-known version of “Rocking Pneumonia,” a No. 6 pop hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1972.
Springsteen, in addition to performing “Rocking Pneumonia,” featured Smith’s original recording in his April 2020 SiriusXM radio special, “From His Home to Yours.” Speaking in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Springsteen introduced the song by saying: “Well, this song’s title says it all — ‘Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.’ ”
Smith also wrote and originally recorded Frankie Ford’s 1959 hit, “Sea Cruise,” a song that has been re-recorded even more often than “Rocking Pneumonia.” His biggest hit among his own recordings, “Don’t You Just Know It,” reached No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop singles chart in 1958.