“Frank Zappa and the Mothers were at the best place around, but some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground.” Deep Purple, from their song, Smoke on the Water
The Montreux Casino on the shoreline of Lake Geneva in Switzerland was opened in 1881 and had modifications built on it in 1903 and was the home to many symphony orchestras. It wasn’t until the late 60’s when jazz, blues, and rock artists began performing at the casino. In 1967, music promoter Claude Nobs began the Montreux Jazz Festival with jazz performers such as Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and Keith Jarrett performed there. In the 1970’s rock bands began performing there as well. On December 4, 1971, Frank Zappa and the Mother of Invention were into a 90 minute set on stage when a fan in the crowd fired a flare gun at the wooden roof of the venue, causing a fire.
Rock group Deep Purple was in Montreux with a mobile studio that they rented from the Rolling Stones to lay down some tracks for an album. The band, as was everyone else were forced to leave their rooms at the hotel and the billowing smoke across Lake Geneva gave birth to the rock legends’ song “Smoke on the Water.”
Music promoter and Jazz Festival creator, Claude Knobs assisted firefighters in rescuing people from the casino during the fire and is also immortalized in the song with the lyrics:
Funky Claude was running in and out, pulling kids out the ground.
The casino was rebuilt and the Montreux Jazz Festival continued there in 1975. Notable rock bands who performed at Montreux are the likes of Deep Purple, Santana, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Queen. Led Zeppelin never performed at the jazz festival itself and Queen made seven albums at a recording studio there. The recording studio is still there and can be toured by visitors. There is a bar in the casino called “Funky Claude’s” and near the casino is a statue of Freddie Mercury, the former lead singer of Queen and there is also a memorial to Deep Purple and their song, “Smoke on the Water” near the casino as well.
If you can get a hold of a bootleg album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention called Swiss Cheese/Fire, you can hear the outbreak and the announcement of the fire.