British drum heroes: Ian Paice, the hard rock survivor

Paice's pomp: Copenhagen, 1972

Paice's pomp: Copenhagen, 1972 (Image credit: Gennady Avramenko/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Deep Purple formed in 1968, and, over a series of superb albums, for many defined hard rock to this day. 

The classic line-up of the band, in full flow by the 1970 album In Rock featured guitar virtuosity courtesy of Ritchie Blackmore, a superb vocalist in Ian Gillan, a funkiness helped by the Hammond keys of the great Jon Lord, and an undeniable sense of groove underpinned by the rhythm section of Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums. 

Paice was there from the start, and is still going strong with the band today. His speed, prowess, technique and explosive power served to raise the bar of rock drumming, and his style and approach to the drums is central to the unique sound of Deep Purple, while his musicality, innovation and his drumming ability are highly developed.  

‘Black Night’ (1970) had drummers redoubling their practice efforts if they wanted to include it in their band’s set-list. The unison fill that starts off the track, its main shuffle groove and Paice’s brilliant cross-rhythmic triplet drum hook remain a lesson in rock drumming to this day. 

On ‘Highway Star’ Ian plays with the energy and conviction that the rock’n’roll feel demands, while his clever accenting within the 16th- note fills defines the phrasing and internal ‘melody’ of the fills. He was equally impressive on ‘Fireball’, with its fast kick work - surely the progenitor of thrash metal double kicks. 

“It’s not that what I did was particularly difficult,” says Paice, “but it is musically perfect for the track. It pushes and pulls the verses and middle-eights and sets up little instrumental bits wonderfully well. It’s one of those things, as a kid, where you’re not thinking about what you can’t do, you’re thinking ‘that is what I am going to do’.”   

The swing’s the thing

As with many of the drummers of this era who were schooled in jazz, there’s an undeniable jazz influence in his playing, and perhaps more than any other rock drummer his defining quality was his swing, particularly evident in solo flourishes. All this style was not without control, however, and his highly developed technique comes from a regular practice diet of rudiments, evidenced by his skill and his musical vocabulary. 

“I hear everything with a swing and even today I have more in common with the rock drummers of the 1950s than even the ’60s and ’70s,” says Paice. “My father was a very good piano player and his [jazz] stuff was always on the radio and I love that to this day, the subtleties of great jazz musicians and vocalists.” 

(Image credit: Will Ireland)

Paice's classic set-up

Like most of the professional UK drummers Paice was a Ludwig drummer by the late 1960s, as soon as he could afford to buy one. He was later endorsed by Ludwig and Paiste as Purple became successful. 

When Deep Purple started out in 1968, Paice played a Ludwig Super Classic kit: 22"x14", 13"x9" tom, 16"x16" with a 14"x5" Supraphonic 400 snare, in the classic Oyster Black Pearl finish popularised by Ringo. Cymbals were Avedis Zildjian: 20" ride, 18" crash, 14" hi-hats. 

Early pics show that he added a second floor tom later - typical of the one-up-two-down style derived from the big band drummers, particularly Buddy Rich. Like Bonham, he was influenced by Carmine Appice to change up to bigger size Ludwigs in Sparkling Silver Pearl, with a single 24"x14" and/or 26"x14" bass drum (live, for more loudness and bottom-end). Plus the 14"x6½" Supraphonic 402 snare, again favoured by Bonham. Paice had a strong lead bass drum foot and stayed with a single bass drum. 

His famous ‘Fireball’ double-kick boogie came about when he borrowed an extra bass drum from Keith Moon who’d been recording in the same studio and left his kit behind. Ian later played Paiste cymbals, the choice of many rock drummers in the UK to cut through amplified guitar music. These were Giant Beats and then 2002s: 15" Sound Edge hats, 20" & 22" rides and 24" Medium tiered like Ginger Baker’s on a single stand, 22" China, 8" Splash.