On this day in 1971 there was literally “smoke on the water” on Lake Geneva during a Frank Zappa concert

The famous Montreux Casino  was engulfed by flames during a Frank Zappa concert was immortalized on the Deep Purple’s song “Smoke On The Water”

On this day in 1971 there was literally “smoke on the water” on Lake Geneva during a Frank Zappa concert

On December 4, 1971, Montreux, Switzerland, became a place forever linked to rock history and immortalized on the 1973 Deep Purple signature song “Smoke On The Water”. A fire at the Montreux Casino during a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention inspired Deep Purple’s classic “Smoke on the Water.” The band were performing “King Kong” when, during Don Preston’s synthesizer solo, someone shot off a flare gun. The flare hit the wooden roof and quickly spread. Originally, the band treated it with their customary irreverence. But they soon realized the danger and Zappa had the composure to tell everybody to head calmly toward the exits. As depicted in the lyrics to “Smoke on the Water,” Claude Nobs, the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, ran in and out of the building to help fans escape. Shortly after everyone got to safety, the fire reached the building’s heating system, causing an explosion but fortunately  no one was killed in the blaze. Most injuries were minor cuts and burns, with only a few people going to the hospital. The casino was completely engulfed in flames, and all of the band’s equipment was destroyed, except, oddly enough, a cowbell. The Mothers returned for a concert at the Rainbow Theater in London six days later, but it seemed their tour was cursed as during the encore of that show, Zappa was pushed offstage by a fan into the concrete orchestra pit which resulted in him spending nearly a year in a wheelchair.

The Deep Purple side of the events

Deep Purple tell their version of the events on the lyrics of “Smoke On The Water”. On that night they were in Montreux, Switzerland, where they had set up camp to record an album using The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, which is referred on the lyrics of the song as “Rolling truck Stones thing”, at the entertainment complex that was part of the Montreux Casino.  The “smoke on the water” that became the title of the song, referred to the smoke from the fire spreading over Lake Geneva from the burning casino as the members of Deep Purple watched the fire from their hotel. Left with an expensive mobile recording unit and no place to record, the band was forced to scout the town for another place to set up.  One promising venue was a local theater called The Pavilion, but just like Frank Zappa’s bad luck after at the Rainbow Theater after the fire, soon after Deep Purple had loaded in and started working and recording in The Pavilion the nearby neighbors took offence at the noise, and the band was only able to lay down backing tracks for one song before the local police shut them down. But not all was bad, because it made Deep Purple compose one of Rock’s greatest songs ever and for that we maybe have to thank that “stupid with the flare gun”.

Watch Deep Purple performing “Smoke On The Water” live in 1972 featuring an intro with Jon Lord talking about the song lyrics

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