April Stevens and Nino Tempo
Listen – Nino Tempo & April Stevens – Deep Purple – MP3
I figured I close out the week with something unsual (at least in the context of what you’re used to hearing in this space), that also happens to be one of my all time fave records.
Though I can’t remember when I first heard ‘Deep Purple’ by Nino Tempo & April Stevens, I’d bet that it was probably back when I was a very small child.
As I’ve stated here before, the biggest musical influence on me in my formative years was the pioneering oldies station WCBS-FM in New York City. I heard ‘Deep Purple’ on that station countless times, and I loved the record (especially the arrangement) having no idea that it was in fact a very old song. The tune was first written and published by Peter DeRose in 1933, and it was a big hit the following year for Paul Whiteman* and his Orchestra. Mitchell Parrish wrote lyrics for the song in 1938 and it became a standard, being recorded many times by many different artists through the years.
The first ‘rock’ version of the tune was in the mid-50s by the Dominoes.
Nino Tempo and April Stevens were actually brother and sister (real last name, Lo Tiempo) who both had verying degrees of success as music performers through the 50s and early 60s. When they recorded ‘Deep Purple’ in 1963, Tempo was a member of Phil Spector’s studio band. They initially recorded the song as an afterthough (reportedly in just two takes), and supposedly Ahmet Ertegun though the record an embarrassment.
The A-side of the record flopped, and DJs started turning the disc over, making ‘Deep Purple’ a Number One hit, and eventually winning it the Grammy for Best Rock’n’Roll Record, one of many such questionable awards during the early 60s (won in 1962 by Bent Fabric for ‘The Alley Cat’ and in 1964 by Petula Clark for ‘Downtown’ and in 1965 by Roger Miller with ‘King of the Road’). This is not to say that ‘Deep Purple’ isn’t a great record, it just doesn’t set off too many of my rock’n’roll sensors.
That said, something I’ve come to appreciate over the years is a certain ‘New Orleans’ feel to the record, with a rolling piano and chugging rhythm section that wouldn’t have been out of place on any number of Allen Toussaint productions from the same period. I also dig the harmonica (played by Tempo) comping behind the band as well.
Not to mention the fact that that Tempo and Stevens harmonies are infectious, updating the classic melody with a bit of a Mickey & Sylvia feel to the call and response. Interestingly enough, ‘Deep Purple’ was only one of several reworkings of older, standard material by the duo. Previous to ‘Deep Purple’ they had recorded ‘Sweet and Lovely’ and ‘Paradise’, and following it they hit the charts with ‘Whispering’, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Tea for Two’ among others. It seems odd today, but was certainly not unusual at the time, as witnessed by a number of reworking of standards a few years later by Chris Montez.
As I said before, ‘Deep Purple’ has been one of my favorite records for a long time. I hope you dig it.
*Whiteman was one of the most successful popularizers of jazz in the 1920s and 1930s. Though his orchestra’s recordings pale (no pun intended) in comparison with much of what was coming out of smaller bands in New Orleans and Chicago, they were an important bridge between harder edged jazz and the pop audience. This and the fact that his band employed some of the greates musicians of the time, including Bix Beiderbecke.