A. Carried teenagers through broken glass to escape the Frank Zappa concert fire that inspired Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”
B. Persuaded Deep Purple not to scrap “Smoke on the Water” and is the reason for its inclusion among the rest of the Machine Head tracks recorded in Montreux, Switzerland.
C. Founded the Montreux Jazz Festival.
D. All of the above.
If you answered “D,” you’re right. Five years prior to the fire that reduced the Montreux Casino to rubble in 1971 – an event described in the lyrics to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” – Nobs founded the Montreux Jazz Festival, which is still held annually deep among the snow-capped mountains of his hometown. The festival has become internationally beloved and is now, in its 44th year, running through this Saturday along the shore of Lake Geneva.
A handsome, bespectacled 74-year-old with a wide smile, Nobs remains the driving force behind the festival and a faithful music fan, enthusing about both modern artists (“Joe Bonamassa is one of the most amazing guitar players I’ve heard in a long time”) and classic rock acts like The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and his old pals Deep Purple, who alluded to Nobs with a “Smoke On The Water” lyric: “Funky Claude was running in and out / Pulling kids out the ground.”
Nobs vividly remembers the day the fire began at the Frank Zappa concert he had organized. Deep Purple had come to town to record their next album at the Montreux Casino. Staying in a hotel across the water from the venue, the band watched in horror as it caught fire and burned to the ground after a Zappa fan fired a flare gun into its opulent ceiling. Nobs not only rescued concertgoers from the blaze, but also helped Deep Purple regroup afterwards, offering them a new place to record and informing what would become their biggest hit. From the side stage of most every Montreux concert of note, he has changed the course of rock and roll. As he himself says, “I wanted to be a guitar player, but I found out very quickly I was not good enough for it. So I said, ‘Maybe I can do a festival. I can do something more interesting for the crowd than try to be a guitar player.’”
You’re halfway through this year’s festival. How involved are you these days in selecting the artists who perform there?
I am doing basically all of the special projects for the festival. Like tonight, you have a special project with German, English and Swiss artists. That’s something I like to do – not to just pick out one name and put him onstage; it’s a bit more complex. On the 9th of July we had Angelique Kidjo doing a tribute to Miriam Makeba with Baaba Maal, Asa, Vusi Mahlasela, etc. Those are the things that aren’t done by other festivals so it’s of interest to the audience to discover new artists, new arrangements, new songs, and that’s one part that makes Montreux so well known. Every year we juggle with ideas, and during the year before the festival, some new ideas come. I do a lot of travel, I meet a lot of musicians. One idea we are working on, for the 40th anniversary of the recording of Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin, is to recreate the record which was done 40 years ago. We’re also talking of doing a guitar summit, which would take all the top guys and put them together on one stage.
FRANK ZAPPA AT GONZO
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