The Real-Life Incident That Inspired Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water"

Deep Purple in 1973
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Jorgen Angel/Redferns

The dazzling images of Deep Purple's smash hit "Smoke on the Water" aren't the product of some creative imagination: they're real!

Deep Purple's 1972 single, from the album Machine Head, alluded to a real-life fire that took place at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland on Dec. 4, 1971. The casino's theatre was the venue for the Montreux Jazz Festival and other notable gigs by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Taking the stage that night was Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, with Deep Purple slated to spend time there the day after with The Rolling Stones' mobile recording truck recording their sixth album. But a rowdy fan ended up shooting a flare gun at the ceiling, igniting the entire casino.

"It was probably the biggest fire I'd ever seen up to that point and probably ever seen in my life," bassist Roger Glover later said. "I remember there was very little panic getting out, because it didn't seem like much of a fire at first. But, when it caught, it went up like a fireworks display." Festival promoter Claude Nobs helped the band secure other locations to record, including a local theatre that they were eventually kicked out of for being too loud. The only thing they managed to record there: part of a backing track with a distinctive, Beethoven-inspired riff by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore.

When "Smoke on the Water" was finally finished, with lyrics telling the story of the fateful blaze, it became the group's biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 4 in 1973.

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