By Michael Russell
In this article we're going to tell the true behind the scenes story of one of the most famous songs in rock history that was actually the result of an incident at a concert.
Everyone knows the song "Smoke On The Water". Every kid who ever picked up a guitar for the first time plunked out that four chord blues riff. For many kids, it's the only thing they were ever able to play. And many of these kids think they know the story of how that song was recorded. Yes, there was a fire, a bad one. But what most, if not all of them, don't realize is that the fire that broke out that day was during a Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention concert.
The date was December 7, 1971. It was thirty years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Maybe that should have been an omen. Certainly this was not an insignificant date in history. Anyway, Deep Purple, the band who recorded "Smoke On The Water" was setting up their camp in Montreux, Switzerland to record their next album. They were going to use a mobile recording studio to do this which they rented from The Rolling Stones, known as their Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. They set up at the Montreux Entertainment Complex which was part of their casino. This is referred to as the "gambling house" in the lyrics of the song.
Well, on the eve of their recording session Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention were performing live in concert at the casino's theater. They were to perform a number of their popular songs including the epic "The Nancy and Mary Music”, "Sharleena”, "Duke Of Prunes”, and "Hungry Freaks Daddy". Frank Zappa was strange to say the least. However, before they could really get into the meat of their performance a fire broke out during the concert. It was said to have been caused by a Swiss fan shooting a flare gun at the ceiling, as was stated in the "some stupid with a flare gun" line that ultimately destroyed the entire casino complex, along with all of Frank Zappa and The Mother's equipment.
The smoke on the water that was talked about in the song was the smoke from the fire that spread over all of Lake Geneva. From their hotel across the way from the casino, the members of Deep Purple watched the fire burn and the smoke cover the lake. In the lyrics they mention a "funky Claude" running in and out. This was actually the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival running in and out of the casino trying to get people to safety.
The aftermath of all this was that Deep Purple had no place to record and Frank Zappa and the Mothers were part of the most famous concert in history to get cancelled mid way through. Deep Purple eventually found another place to record, using a near empty Montreux Grand Hotel. They converted its hallways into a makeshift recording studio. As for Frank Zappa, the concert was cancelled and never rescheduled. But he had become a part of history that little kids with electric guitars will be thankful for, for a very long time.
Your Independent guide to Concerts
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