"If Jon Lord hadn't been a musician, he'd have been a great Foreign Secretary"
Don Airey came to prominence on Rainbow's Down To Earth in 1979 before going on to play with a myriad of bands including Ozzy, Michael Schenker Group and Whitesnake amongst many others. Almost 20 years ago he was invited to join Deep Purple to replace Jon Lord. Mick Burgess called him up to talk about the new Deep Purple album, Whoosh!, next year's UK tour with Blue Oyster Cult as well as some recollections of his days in Rainbow and love of Sunderland Football Club.
You've now been in Deep Purple for nearly 20 years, replacing Jon Lord in the band. Was it good working with Roger Glover again, who you were in Rainbow with?
It was good to see Roger again and I think that helped me when I first joined the band, to a certain extent as I knew his modus operandi. What I was expecting was a lot of moodiness and the usual trouble you get within a band but there just wasn't any of it. It was just about getting down to business. I don't think in my time in the band we've ever started a show late. It's just a very professional organisation, a great crew and management. As a musician you like to find something to complain about but it's very difficult with Purple.
Did Jon help you in those early days to settle in by showing you how he played things or giving you advice here and there or were you thrown in at the deep end?
Jon really just left me to it. When I first played, after the first 10 seconds, I realised that if I tried to be like Jon, I wouldn't survive. You've got to be yourself. I'm a different type of player to Jon. Jon left his Hammond Organ behind but it was in a terrible state so I got it stripped down and rebuilt but the heart had gone out of it so I just brought in my own gear. Jon was such a lovely guy. If he hadn't been a musician, he'd have been a great Foreign Secretary.
"Whoosh!" is your 5th album now with Deep Purple. The instrumental track towards the end "And The Address" was written by Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord on the debut album Shades Of Deep Purple. Why did you decide to re-record that for this album?
It was the record company's idea. They are great fans of the band and conscious of the history. They thought it was a nice thing to do. We had a bit of a heated discussion, but we ran through it a couple of times and then recorded it live in one take. I like it very much, I love the 60's vibe that it has.
Deep Purple and Rainbow too worked extensively with Martin Birch over the years and he sadly died a few weeks ago. Did you ever work with Martin?
I worked with him on Cozy Powell's Over The Top and on Bernie Marsden's first solo album. You didn't really notice him in the studio. He was very quiet and the opposite to Bob Ezrin. He was very firm and ready for the take and when it came, he'd get it. I remember when we did Over The Top, Cozy and I decided to get Jack Bruce from Cream to come and play bass and he's such an incredible player. He'd been having a lot trouble with a couple of producers in the studio who said his bass playing wasn't good and his sound was too old fashioned and he came to us a bit nervous. Jack came in and Martin asked him to play a few notes which he did and Martin just said "OK, thanks" and Jack went "Was that it?" and by doing that Martin was able to reassure Jack and in 10 seconds he gave him his confidence back. He did another wonderful thing as Cozy wanted to use an orchestra but it was going to cost ten grand. I offered to do it for the price of a pint on a synthesizer. So, me and Martin worked over night on the "1812 Overture" and we put the orchestration onto the album and it sounded fantastic.
Last week it was the 40th anniversary of the very first Monsters of Rock show at Donnington. Rainbow of course headlined. What are your memories of the show?
That was an incredible gig, but it was very wet. It had rained two days before and it was all very muddy but the bands were fantastic. Judas Priest were just incredible.
Did you realise that it'd be Cozy Powell and Graham Bonnet's last show with the band?
Cozy had been making a lot of noise about leaving but I never thought he would. Graham then said that if Cozy was leaving then he was too. The wallop just went from the band. My two biggest mates in the world had gone and left me alone.
You've played with Graham again over the years including a show at the Rock Garden in Easington a few years ago along with Dario Mollo and a couple of guys from Thunder.
Yeah, that was Chris and Harry from Thunder and we played most of the Down To Earth album. The tour got thrown together pretty quickly and I just asked Graham if he fancied it. It was great fun especially playing at Easington Colliery. I think I went on in a Sunderland shirt.
"Eyes of the World" is one of the great Rainbow songs. Did you do the arrangement of "Mars" at the beginning of the song?
I came up with that arrangement. Ritchie didn't like it at first and Roger put his foot down to get it included. I don't think he liked it because he didn't think of it. That's always a problem with guitarists.
Did you have much involvement in the writing of the songs on Down To Earth?
It was written in a freezing cold rehearsal room in Connecticut and at that time there was no bass player or singer. There was just me, Ritchie and Cozy. It was a fascinating time. I don't remember the reason for not getting a credit for the song writing, something to do with that they were cross collateralised or something. The band were in a bad way at the time, financially but Down To Earth saved the day.
Did the dynamics of the band change when Joe Lyn Turner and Bobby Rondinelli joined?
Absolutely yes. We became Transatlantic and that's what Ritchie was after. He was very much into Lou Gramm and Foreigner. Him and Cozy used to row about getting too commercialised. He hadn't wanted to do Since You been Gone at all and that was one of the reasons he left when he did.
You were a part of Rainbow during their commercial peak. Why did you decide to leave at that point?
I'd been in Rainbow for three years and I was absolutely worn out. I was just ready to move on and do something different.
Full interview on Metal Express Radio
© Mick Burgess, Metal Express Radio - August 28, 2020