An Interview with Simon McBride of Deep Purple

All images courtesy of Deep Purple PR/Getty Images


By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

For veteran guitarist Simon McBride, taking the stage with Deep Purple, one of the most explosive bands in rock history, is just another day at the office.

McBride first entered our collective consciousness at the age of 16, when the Belfast-born six-stringer replaced fellow Irishman Vivian Campbell in a reformed Sweet Savage. The teenage phenom recorded two gems in Killing Time (1996) and Rune (1998), dazzling audiences across the globe, before a foray into the blues found him backing Andrew Strong.

For six years, McBride stood beside Strong, counting to gain a deep foothold, firmly establishing himself as a multi-genre virtuoso with songwriting skills as seamless as his fluid fretwork. Now a heavy-hitter in the guitar world, McBride slung his PRS over his shoulder and alerted the world that the best was indeed yet to come.

In the following years, McBride continued to see his star rise, sharing stages with Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Joe Bonamassa, Don Airey, and Ian Gillan. Ever curious and insistent on pursuing musical exploration, McBride joined Snakecharmer after the departure of Mick Moody, lending his talents to Second Skin (2017).

With a resume as stout as McBride’s, it’s not hard to see why Deep Purple chose him to fill in for longtime guitarist Steve Morse, who was at home caring for his ailing wife. And after a series of summer tours, it was no surprise that the band officially announced McBride as its guitarist in September of 2022.

But even after all he’s accomplished in nearly thirty years in the business, the veteran axe-slinger is ever-humble and eternally appreciative of his place in the pantheon of rock music. And while McBride might not have expected to enter the Deep Purple fold, he is now looking forward, head held high, in command position at the stage’s edge, prepared for everything and anything.

“I’m excited about all the gigs, the tours, and the possibility of what could happen next year,” beamed McBride. “We have a lot of stuff planned around the world, which I’m very much looking forward to. And the possibility of a new record; that’s also would be very exciting. Being part of a Deep Purple record would be a dream come true and more than I could ever ask for.”

While on tour, McBride dialed in from his hotel in Austria to recount the unexpected events of the last year, which have seen one of the industry’s most seasoned talents now steeped in the limelight as an official member of Deep Purple.

Andrew:
Having officially been named Deep Purple’s guitarist, what sort of emotions are you experiencing?
 

Simon:
It’s been an amazing year, and honestly, it’s been life-changing. If somebody had mentioned to me last year and said, “Simon, you will be the new guitar player for Deep Purple,” I would have laughed in their face and said, “Yeah, that’s, that’s never gonna happen.” [Laughs]. But here we are. And now we’ve just started our third tour together, and it’s all been going fantastic. The guys are brilliant, everybody’s very happy, and everything is going great, which is a good thing. But nobody is happier than me, though, because it’s Deep Purple. I’ve joined one of the most iconic rock bands in the field; that’s dream come true stuff. I’m very happy. 

Andrew:
Can you recount the initial call you received to fill in for Steve Morse? 

Simon:
Well, there was talk of me stepping in for Steve temporarily towards the end of last year in 2021, but I never really thought much of it. I never thought much of it because it was always a case of, “It may happen, or it may not happen,” because it depended on Steve’s wife’s condition as to whether he would be able to tour. But it just got to the stage where Steve decided enough was enough, and he needed to look after his wife, which is an amazing thing he’s doing. So, I knew it was possible, but I didn’t know for sure; I only really found out recently that I was being confirmed as a permanent replacement. 

Andrew:
Having worked with several members of Deep Purple in the past, was the chemistry immediate? 

Simon:
Yeah, it was immediate, to be honest. We had a few days of rehearsal in May, and that’s all we needed. And then we did a few shows in Israel, and places like that, which were my first shows, and all we had was those few days of rehearsal. I know Don [Airey] very well, and I’ve played with Ian [Gillan] and Roger [Glover] for a long time, so it clicked quickly. But yeah, it was a funny thing; we did the three or four days of rehearsals, but we really only needed one. After the first day, we all looked at each other and said, “Well, we think it sounds pretty good. We don’t really need two extra days.” We got to work straight away, and everybody was very happy. It helps that I’m a very easygoing person, and I get on well with everybody, I think. So, there was never an issue or a thought about if I would get on with them or not. And as I said, I’ve met them before, knew their personalities, and knew what to expect, so it’s been a great atmosphere. 

All images courtesy of Deep Purple PR/Getty Images

Andrew:
How do you tackle the parts of Richie Blackmore and Steve Morse?
 

Simon:
The way I look at it is there are certain parts you have to play the same way that Richie and Steve did. Take “Highway Star,” for example; I’m not going to go play something different because it would be very arrogant of me to do that because it’s an iconic guitar solo. And there are other solos as well, or certain parts where you have to play them the way they were originally recorded. Steve did it when he was playing some of the older Richie stuff; he played Ritchie’s parts pretty straight too. And it’s the same with certain solos Steve did; I play them as Steve did because they are written for the song, and I’m not going to make up anything better, so I let it be.

This being said, there is room in this set for improvisation, and I get to do my own thing on many of the songs. I think as a guitar player, even if I play Richie, or Steve’s parts, in some way or another, they are still always going to sound like me. Every guitarist has their own unique thing, and I am no different, so that will come through. It can be how they hit the strings or fret things; it always comes through. If I plugged into Eddie Van Halen’s rig, I’d still sound like me, unfortunately. [Laughs]. So, I go into it with that attitude. 

Andrew:
Which tracks thus far are you most enjoying playing, and which are the most challenging? 

Simon:
And I’m not lying here – I enjoy them all equally. I love playing music. And every song in the set – every one of them – is an iconic song. As far as challenging, look, to be honest, technically, there’s nothing that’s ridiculously challenging. It’s not like I’m playing a lot of really complicated, prog-rock stuff or anything like that. It’s just good old-fashioned rock, with a few twists here and there. The most challenging thing is when I do a little bit of interplay with the audience and stuff. I remember at the start, I’d have to get the audience to sing and stuff like that, so that was the most challenging thing for me.  

Andrew:
What makes you the perfect fit for Deep Purple? 

Simon:
Ah, I don’t know, man. I mean, there are a million guitar players out there, and they’re all brilliant, right? I believe in this industry, there’s a lot of luck, and I think I am fortunate. I remember my friend Vivian Campbell once told me, “Simon, a lot of the work is done not on stage but at the bar afterward,” He was right because that is where you get friendly with people. Of course, you have to be talented to get recognized, but I think a lot of it is I get along well with people, and that’s the thing with being in a band; you have to get on well offstage, too. So, I guess the reason I’m the perfect fit is quite obvious because I played with them all before, and I got to know them. I’ve done it for the last few years, so it was kind of obvious, and they knew that we get on well. It’s hard to say, though; I turn up and play and hope things go as they’re meant to. 

Andrew:
What first sparked your interest in the guitar?
 

Simon:
I was about 9 years of age when I picked up the guitar. When I was a kid, my dad was a big music fan, there was always music playing in the background, and he always encouraged me to listen to stuff. So, he bought a guitar for himself but couldn’t play it because he had an injury when he was younger, so it was always lying around. And me being that 9-year-old kid, I found it, and I made a horrendous noise with it while he was at work. [Laughs]. The first thing that inspired me to play was probably ACϟDC; I loved all that; it’s simple, three-chord, rock stuff, and is very powerful. I just loved it all. But the first thing I ever learned on the guitar was probably ACϟDC’s “If You Want Blood (You Got It),” which is so simple, but I loved it. And from then on, I just started playing more and more, and I immediately fell in love with it. I just kept practicing and practicing every day, and all the music in my house playing all the time only encouraged me more. 

Andrew:
ACϟDC aside, who were some of your early influences?
 

Simon:
I grew up in the ’80s, so Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani; all those guys were big for me early on. And even the hair metal stuff like Mötley Crüe also influenced me because I grew up listening to it. Even the cheesy stuff like Michael Bolton and Richard Marx; I loved all that stuff because they had such great musicians on the records playing these amazing parts. But if I were to narrow it down to two significant influences guitar-wise, I would say it’s probably Gary Moore and Steve Lukather who are my two biggest influences. I’ve always been drawn to what they play, and I would try to replicate it and then make it my own in some shape or form.

Andrew:
You’re often boxed in as a blues guitarist, but I’d say you’re more versatile than that.
 

Simon:
Well, yes, a lot of people do classify me as a blues guitarist. It’s because, for about ten years, I did some more bluesy stuff because it was the “in” thing at the time. You had [Joe] Bonamassa getting big at the time, and many people were saying rock music was dead, so I had to focus on the blues for a while. But remember, I grew up on ’80s rock, so my main focus of attention, and to be honest, the majority of the stuff I’ve done over the years, has always been hard rock guitar. But when you look at hard rock guitarists or any rock-oriented guitarist, it all stems from the blues anyway.

With rock guitar, we play blues licks, but they have evolved into other things through different techniques and stuff. I do think the blues is important to incorporate as a player because there’s so much emotion and feeling in that. And if you can cross that over to whatever style you do, generally, that makes you a better player. There are so many fine players who are very technical but have no emotion. As I said, Gary Moore was one of my big influences, and when you watch him play guitar, it was like he was trying to kill the thing. So, that’s where I get a lot of my aggression when I play the guitar.

All images courtesy of Deep Purple PR/Getty Images

Andrew:
Did replacing Vivian Campbell in Sweet Savage aid in preparing you to take over for Steve Morse in Deep Purple?
  

Simon:
Well, back then, it was a little bit different. I was only 16 when I joined Sweet Savage, so I was only a kid. I didn’t know what was up or down back then, so it’s a different headspace than I find myself in now. But I’d say my whole career since then; everything I’ve done, all of it over the years, has prepared me for being in Deep Purple. I think it comes down to experience. When I played with Sweet Savage, that was a challenging task because I was a kid and had nothing to draw on in terms of experience. But most of that stuff was all hard rock, and it was a lot of full-on shred stuff, which I couldn’t play now if you asked me to. I’ll give it a go, but I’ll probably screw it up. [Laughs]. And then, after Sweet Savage, I did Andrew Strong for years, which is an entirely different animal, and then various other things after that. But all of that combined has molded me into the player I am today. I think I’m a better player than I was when I was 16. Sure, I could probably play more technical stuff when he was 16, but creatively, I think I’m a bit better just through experience and playing with so many different people. 

Andrew:
If you had to describe your approach to the guitar, how would you do so? 

Simon:
I would say today; I’m more of a thinker. When it comes to playing, I think about what I’m playing rather than just going for it. But I think that’s the sort of thing you gain over years of experience; you adjust the time frame where you can think about something, where when I was younger, I wouldn’t think; I’d play and see what stuck. Back then, I was noodling and wandering around, whereas now I use my experience in creating melodies, which has helped me as a guitar player. So, I would say I’m more of a creative guitar player these days, with some technique in there too. 

Andrew:
What gear are you using these days? 

Simon:
I’ve been a long-term endorsee of PRS Guitars. I’ve been with them since I was about 15, and they’ve been amazing to me. And they just so happen to make excellent guitars, which I love playing, so it’s been a great thing. As far as the equipment I’m using on this tour, I’m continuing with Engl Powerball Amps, which is what Steve Morse used with Deep Purple. They’re great amps, and they came to one of our shows before I had decided what amps I was going to use and made a great case. I met the designer – we had talked prior to the show – and he basically went and designed a head for me. I told him what I liked and what I wanted, and he brought it out to one of the shows, and it absolutely blew me away. I was like, “Wow, okay, let’s go with this.” As far as pedals, I’ll not bore you to death with all that because there are just too many to name and go through. I will say this – I’m like most guitar players; I’m a nerd. When it comes to that stuff, honestly, I’ve got hundreds of them, but when I play with Deep Purple, I always take the opportunity to use more effects. 

Andrew:
I chatted with Ian over the summer, and he mentioned that Deep Purple may start working on some new music in early 2023. Are there any updates in the way of new Deep Purple music?
 

Simon:
At the minute, I’m just focused on the tour. As you said, there’s been whispers of new stuff, but we haven’t done any writing or anything yet, so we’ll have to play it by ear. I take things as they come to be honest, and my main focus of attention right now is these shows with Deep Purple and having an amazing tour. But I’m always writing stuff on the road; it can be for me, or it can be for Deep Purple, so we’ll see how things unfold in terms of new music.  

Andrew:
What will you bring to Deep Purple to preserve its legacy while moving it forward?
  

Simon:
Well, the band has released so much good music recently, so a lot of preservation has been happening. I plan to bring myself to the party and go from there. My style of playing probably brings a slightly harder edge than what’s been in the band before. We will see what happens, but now, we’re just enjoying it and having a lot of fun. And there’s no talk of stopping, so there’s nothing to worry about there, which is great. I just bring my influence and style, which works very well for Deep Purple. You could say I’m a happy-go-lucky person, and there aren’t many things that seem to get me down for too long. So, I bring that sort of atmosphere to the band, which probably helps bond everything together. I don’t know; I just do what I do: I smile, play guitar, and have fun. Beyond that, I don’t overthink or let the moment get too big for me. 

All images courtesy of Deep Purple PR/Getty Images

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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