"Record Collector" #228, August 1998
Alan Whitman spends a Night in the Black and discovers how the Prince
of Darkness turned wondering minstrel.
My conversion,for what it´s worth,came in 1975,in the college common
room.That´s where I heard Deep Purples breathtaking performance on the
live "Made in Japan" album,and in particular Ritchie Blackmore´s superb
guitar playing - an experience which completely hooked me,from the first
crashing chords of "Highway Star".
Not that I was alone.Blackmore was feted as one of the most dazzling
guitar heroes of the late 60s and early 70s,and era when
technique,pyrotechnics and daring combined to make stars out of
axemen as diverse as Eric Clapton,Jeff Beck,Jimmy Page and Carlos
Regrettably, Blackmore´s musical skills have often been overshadowed
by the media concentration on his uncompromising personality.That´s
probably the reason why the "Big Three" of Clapton,Page and Beck. But
make no mistake,Ritchie has probably than influenced more
contempoary guitar players than any of those characters.He will always
be remembered for one of rock´s immortal riffs,"Smoke On The Water".
The purits may sneer at ist simplicity,but I have yet to hear another
guitarist who can wring the same sound and tone out of that trademark
Fender Stratocaster and play the riff with the same flair (critics also tend
to ignore his superb solo on the same song).
In one area of the press,at least - the specialist guitar magazines - his
talent has been given ist proper recognition.In fact,they have often
speculated that Blackmore might be the greatest rock guitarist of all, a
label he would undaubtedly dispute.A 1976 piece in Guitar Player
magazine captures the esreem in which he is held in this quarter:" No
other heavy player could have played the solo in "Strange Kind Of
Woman" ;ist harmonies are beyond the reach of their understanding."
But it would be a grave mistake to regard Blackmore as simply a heavy
player,with all the stigma attached to that label.The influences he uses in
his playing,particularly on stage,know no bounds,and anything from
classical to blues is delivered with consumate ease.In fact,anybody who
attends a Blackmore concert expecting to see straightforward heavy rock
may be disappointed,as his performances are regularly punctuated with
moments of the most delicate beauty,which have been known to reduce
grown men to tears!Blackmore himself is aware of the fine line he
treads,but for his hardcore audience,it is this diversity which is central to
Even in such a varied career,few people were prepared for his latest
band,Blackmore´s Night,whose debut album is a stunning collection of
Renaissance period music."Shadow Of The Moon" has been virtually
ignored in Britain,but in other countries it´s been acclaimed as one of his
finest efforts - something with which the guitarist would no doubt agree.
To help publicise Blackmore´s Night in this country,Ritchie - with his
fiancee and vocalist,Candice Night - agreed to talk to Record Collector
about the project,and also to look back over his long and varied
career.We visited the couple in New York,eager to steer away from the
standart interview questions about Deep Purple and Rainbow,and get
closer to the heart of this enigmatic musician.
Blackmorte has been tagged with various nicknames since the 70s,many
of them reflecting his moody and difficult media image.Descriptions like
"The man in Black" and "Price of Darkness" even carry satanic
undertones,sparked by his deep interest in ghosts and seances.My initial
impression was that these descriptions were very apt:dressed in full -
length black cloak and tall black hat,he looked the personification of an
evil wizard.Intensely private,he shuns the rock´n´roll merry -go-round,but
he has a personality and charisma that demands your attention.
The dark image isn´t entirely true to the real Ritchie Blackmore,though.It
belies a man of intense and dry humao (Monty Python is a favourite), not
to mention a skilled and elegant raconteur.Indeed,his humour has caused
raised eyebrows in the past,when comments he´s made with his tongue
firmly in cheekhave been taken far too literally.But as is often the
case,his image is also a disguise for man of deep insecurity.
Born in Weston-super-Mare on April 14th 1945, Blackmore formed
his first band at school – the snappily titled 2 I’s Coffee Bar Skiffle
Group. He left school at 15 and began working as an aircraft radio
technician at London Airport. Around the same time, he formed
the Dominators with his former schoolmate, drummer Mick
Underwood. Then he joined the Satellites, playing rhythm guitar
to Roger Mingay’s lead. The band secured a residency in
Twickenham, supplementing this with work at weddings and youth
clubs, where they’d play rock’n’roll standards and Shadows
numbers. In 1961, Ritchie joined Mike Dee and the Jaywalkers and
more significantly purchased his cherry red Gibson ES835 guitar,
identical to the one Chuck Berry used.
But it was in 1962 that his career began to take off, as he undertook the
first of several stints with Screaming Lord Sutch. Later that year, he
joined one of the finest British instrumental groups, the Outlaws. They’d
already been associated with legendary producer Joe Meek for a couple
of years, working as session musicians at his home studio in Holloway
Road, London (see RC225). They ended up playing on a multitude of
artists’ records, reputedly including such notables as Tom Jones, Freddie
Starr, Mike Berry and Heinz. But the very nature of this session work
ensured that the musicians often had no idea where their work would
ultimately end up, not helped by the fact that Meek did not retain any
written records of where they were being used. As was graphically
illustrated by the feature in the May RC about Jimmy Page’s early
career, the whole area of 60s sessions is something of a minefield for
collectors. But a fascinating insight into Blackmore’s work during that era
can be found on the "Rock Profiles Volumes l and 2" and "Take It!
Sessions 63/68" CDs.
A couple of examples will demonstrate these problems. Among the
artists Ritchie remembers backing are Danny Rivers and Mike Berry. But
Rivers only ecorded three singles for Meek, between 1960 and 1962,
which was before Ritchie joined the Outlaws. Likewise, they certainly
backed Berry, but again before Ritchie came on board. But there is
allegedly a whole album’s worth of unreleased Berry tracks, including
some Buddy Holly covers, and it could be these that Ritchie is referring
to. The Outlaws definitely recorded in their own right, though, and the
"Return Of The Outlaws" single from 1963 shows that the budding
Blackmore could have stood in for Hank Marvin if required!
In 1964, Ritchie left the Outlaws and joined the Wild Ones (later renamed
the Wild Boys), another band put together by Meek, this time to support Heinz.
Two tracks serve to highlight his virtuosity and growing confidence: "I’m Not A
Bad Guy" features some wonderful licks and a fine solo, while the speed
of the solo in "Movin’ In" is unbelievable. He left in 1965, rejoining Sutch
again for a short period – but long enough to record a single, "Honey
Hush"/"The Train Kept A Rollin’ ".
Towards the end of the year Blackmore, with two other members of
Sutch’s Savages, toured Germany backing Jerry Lee Lewis. They
decided to stay there and formed the Three Musketeers, who allegedly
only played one concert in January 1966. Then Blackmore did some
session work for Polydor, backing unknown artistes, before the
Musketeers joined Neil Christian and his band the Crusaders for several
Ritchie returned to the U.K. but was soon offered work in Italy, backing
local singer Ricky Maiocchi as a member of the Trip. The band quickly
dropped Maiocchi and carried on without him, but Blackmore returned to
England – where, almost inevitably, he ended up in Sutch’s latest troup,
the Roman Empire, all the band performing in Roman military cos-
tumes. They toured the U.K. and Germany, where Blackmore also
played more shows with Neil Christian and the Crusaders.
During 1967 Ritchie made a record with Christian, although "My Baby
Left Me"/ "Yakety Yak" was not released until the following year. After a
further tour with Christian’s band, he formed Mandrake Root with
ex-Crusader Matthew Smith, but although they rehearsed they never
actually got as far as playing a gig.
RECORD COLLECTOR: How did you first atart playwg guitar?
RITCHIE BLACKMORE: A friend of mine brought a guitar to school when
I was 11. The look of it was incredible: the shape of the thing, the strings,
it looked so vibrant. I wanted a guitar just like that. People might say, ’Is
that because it’s shaped like a woman?’. Maybe that’s a good answer.
RC: What were your inpuences at the time?
RB: Tommy Steele, 6.5 Special and people like Johnnie Ray and Bill
RC: Did you manage to see any bands live or was your exposure
via TV and radio?
RB: Most of it was on TV, but I did get to see Nero & the Gladiators
when I was 15. They were my favourite band, big heroes for me, and I’ll
always remember that show at Southall Community Centre. They were
unbelievable. They dressed up as Romans and did things like "Hall Of
The Mountain King" – all classical stuff but done as rock’n’roll.
RC: Which is something you had experience of later on...
RB: Yeah. I tried to get in the band and got close to an audition but never
made it. I was 15 or 16 at the time and I would have been very good for
their band because I was really into that music. I think they got some
other guitar player, but they had Tony Harvey as lead guitarist at the time
and he was brilliant. As far as showmanship is concerned, he was my
mentor, the one I really used to watch. He has since died, sadly.
After Nero & the Gladiators, the main influence would probably have been
probably Django Reinhardt, people like that – not so much because of his
playing but because I just liked his name. All those stories about him
only playing with two fingers are true. That’s all he had!
RC: Was Wes Montgomery another influence?
RB: Yeah, he was in there for a while. There were many guitar players:
Scotty Moore, James Burton, Jimmy Bryant... he was very fast. I was
impressed with Country and Western.
RC: Did you always want to play fast yourself?
RB: Yes. I used to practice a lot, so speed was no problem: if I could
play something, I could play it really fast. It wasn’t until I was about 20
that I started to try and slow down. I just felt I was playing too fast, then it
became like a nervous reaction. So when I started to slow down it was
very difficult for me. Playing something and holding a note for, say, a
couple of beats was like, "My God, I can’t do this, because I’m too
nervous", so it was back to playing fast.
RC: You moved up from Weston-Super- Mare when you were very
young. Do you think it was important being near the music scene
RB: No, absolutely not, it did nothing for me. I firmly believe that if you
are in the country, you practice more. If you are near the socalled happening town, then all
you are doing is going out drinking with people when you should be practising.
It’s interesting, the first time I went to London I was about 17 and I
thought I could play the guitar OK. I was alright until I saw this guitar
player in a small club, who was unbelievable. I thought, "Oh my God,
that’s it, every guitar player must be this good". That was Albert Lee, who
had a black Les Paul. He was just phenomenal and I thought, "I can’t
compete with this guy, he’s just too good". Luckily nobody else was that
good, but I really thought that everybody in London was.
RC: You actually started off with classical guitar lessons. Is that
where your love of that music started?
RB: No, not really. I don’t really love classical music, it’s the discipline
and challenge that I like. I think that if anybody gets to the point where
they can play a little, you want to be able to make music with some
integrity. With pop or rock music, there is not a lot in it. You can just go
on stage, turn up the amp and blast out, shake your fist at the audience
and everybody is like, "This is alright". They watch but they’re not really
looking at what you are doing.
Obviously I couldn’t be a classical player because I didn’t start early
enough – and it used to bore me, anyway. I’d play Segovia stuff, not very
well, and say, "I don’t want to play this". Now I see the reason for it.
When I first started playing I thought it was too involved, so I don’t think it
really did anything for me. That came later.
RC: When you were having lessons, were you still focused on
RB: Yes. I just wanted to jump up and down like Tommy Steele. I
thought, "Why I am learning some kind of scale? What is the point?
Tommy Steele just goes out on stage and enjoys himself, I want to do
RC:At this point did it become more than just a hobby?
RB: It was interesting, I would go to school when I was 13 and I got the
impression I was being picked on. I didn’t really study and I felt some
distance from being accepted, which was great in a way because it made
me apply myself to something to show these people I could do it. That’s
the motivation, to show people you are worthy of something and not just
RC: That was your way of expressing yourself?
RB: That was my way of getting back at the teachers and the system.
You were either in or out, because back in those days if you weren’t
brilliant at Maths or something, you would be a reject. So I said, "Give
me a guitar, I can do this", and I thought I would show people I could play
guitar really well, so they’d go, "He was a terrible pupil but he could really
play the guitar". And that’s exactly what they said – later on.
RC: What did your parents think of you taking up the guitar?
RB: I always quote my father: "If you don’t master this, I’m going to break
it across your head". He said it in a jovial way as we were walking out of
the shop, because it cost him eight guineas (8.40). That was a lot of
money, especially when he thought I would do my usual and not
practise. He was the one who took me to lessons and said, "You’re
going to learn this properly".
RC: Did you say to him, "This is what I want to do for a living"?
RB: Not then, it was just that I could express myself better on guitar than
I could at lessons at school.
RC: How much were you practisang in thoee early days?
RB: A couple of hours a day. Between 14 and 16 I practised quite a bit,
as much as I could.
RC: Do you feel you had a natural aptitude?
RB: No, I really fought with it at the beginning, it didn’t come very easily.
I’m getting more musical as I get older but in the beginning it was just
feel. I could bluff my way around the strings just from practice, but I didn’t
quite know what I was playing.
RC: Were you just playing on your own at the time?
RB: I was with a band called the Dominators. Actually, the very first band
I was in was the 2 I’s Junior Skiftle Group, because there was a 2 I’s
Coffee Bar Skiffle Group with Wally Whyton and people like that and we
were the junior band. I played washboard with thimbles and then I moved
on to play better things.
RC: Can you recall the first time you played in public?
RB: It was a school show. It was quite funny. We did "Rebel Rouser" by
Duane Eddy. The audience started clapping and just drowned us out, and
we couldn’t even hear what we were playing. It was great at the start but
then we were going, "Where are we?". And then the teacher came on
stage and said, "OK, that’s enough".
When we were rehearsing for that school thing, I couldn’t get the
amplifier, which was a two-watt radio, to work. I kept plugging it in, taking
it out and fiddling with it to get it to work and in the end, by mistake, I
plugged the guitar lead straight into the mains and blew the mains for the
whole school. All the lights went out!
RC: Is it true that you eleetriped your first guitar and built your
RB: I built parts for the speaker and got bits for the amplifier and put it all
together in a box.
RC: Your pret proper job was as an aircraft radio technician. When
did you decide to take up music professionally?
RB: I was in this band, Mike Dee & the Jaywalkers, who wanted to go on
the road. I was sixteen and that was how I started in the profession. We
travelled up and down the M1 in a Bedford van, with the back door
half-open. It would get really cold.
The first record I ever made was with them in 1961. It was called "My
Blue Heaven" and they wanted it rocked up. We did it with Decca
Records, but we got turned down.
RC: It never got released?
RB: I don’t think so, no.
RC: Was it difficult adapting to your first proper electric guitar?
RB: No, because my first electric was the Hofner Club 50 and it was
great. It was much easier than my Framus which would always break
down. I had this amplifier called a Watkins Dominator: it would always
break down every time we did a show, so I would end up taking it back
on the train to Selmans in Charing Cross Road. This happened five times,
so they said, "Next time you come in here, bring your guitar with you, so
we can see what you’re doing". So I took the amp back with my guitar,
plugged it in and started playing and it blew up right there in the shop.
They couldn’t believe it. I was getting used to it by then, but it was like a
Monty Python sketch.
RC: How did rate your own playing against other guitarists at that
RB: I never rated myself alongside them. I just liked playing. If I saw
someone who was really good I’d look up to them. If I saw someone who
wasn’t so good, I wouldn’t go "I’m better than him", I’d just think I was
RC: Did you try to copy the people you thought were good?
RB: Yes, people like Jimmy (Big Jim) Sullivan, who was very good. There
were so many great guitarists around. I was playing rhythm guitar in the
Satellites, and Roger Mingay was the lead guitarist. He was brilliant. We
used to play places like Vicky Burts in Whitton, a dancehall. That was
my real introduction to playing live in front of people.
RC: Was it difficult getting gigs in those days?
RB: We would play just small places but it was fun.
RC: Was Big Jim Sullivan a big influence?
RB: Yeah, he gave me some lessons. I used to sit on his doorstep
because he wouldn’t answer the door. Eventually, when he did, I would
ask him to teach me such and such a riff. He was in Marty Wilde & the
Wilde Cats at the time and he was phenomenal. It was amazing to see
somebody that good.
RC: Where does Jackie Lynton come into the picture? You have
been associated with him in the past but nobody seems sure how.
RB: We were going to get a band together when I was about 19. When I
used to work in a factory, they would play Jackie Lynton & the Teen
Beats. That was about 1960 and he was great. Then I got to meet him in
1961/62, a very nice guy. In 1964 we tried to get a band together: we met
Kim Fowley, who was doing P.J. Proby stuff, and he gave us some
demos to learn. Jackie had the records and lost them by leaving them on
the train, so we didn’t do it. Typical! But Jackie can really make me
crack up on stage. I love it when the band starts off a number and he
comes on and goes "Hold it! What’s the first word?" We’d tell him, and
he’d go, "Oh yeah, sorry, sorry". The whole audience is crying with
laughter, because you know it hasn’t been worked out.
RC: In 1962 you started playing with Screaming Lord Sutch & the
Savages. Was that a big step up in your career?
RB: Yes it was. I went to rehearsals with this guy, who was offering a lot
of money. I’d never heard of him, but I went and passed the audition –
then turned it down. I was only 15 or 16, and they toured so much I just
didn’t want to leave home. Then I went back about six months later and
said I’d try it. I’d only rehearsed with him and I didn’t know the stage
set-up, I didn’t know what was going to happen. We started playing "Jack
the Ripper", and Sutch entered the stage in a coffin. I thought, "This guy
is nuts and I’m playing in his band! I’ve got to go home with this guy, and
he’s driving the van." I was not amused.
RC: Sutch has commented on how shy you were.
RB: Yeah, that’s right. He used to grab my guitar neck and go, "Come
on, move, move!"
RC: And you used to hide behind your amps?
RB: Oh yeah, behind my amps and in the wings. He used to grab me
and pull me out. I learnt a lot of showmanship from him. He taught me
you can get out there and act like an imbecile, and people will think it’s
wonderful. It’s very interesting, it’s like a whole psychology. You go out
on stage and if you look self-conscious people will watch you. If you go
out and throw yourself around like a fool, it’s like a show, a whole
masquerade. But the moment you start taking yourself too seriously and
go into a shell, people see it. He taught me to just get out there and run
around. In the end I was running around in a Tarzan outfit and these
people were going for it. I can’t believe it!
RC: He commented that your playing was brilliant, even at that
time. Did you think otherwise?
RB: No, I thought I was OK.
RC: Did you rate any of the guitarists of your own age?
RB: Yes I did. When I was 16, there was Richard Hardy from
Manchester. He was very good. Pagey was good. Albert Lee was the
best. Then Jeff Beck came along when I was 17, he was brilliant.
RC: How did your stint with the Outlaws and your association with
Joe Meek come about?
RB: I went to meet him, and he liked my playing. He was a producer, so
he used me on sessions. Then I joined the Outlaws who did all his
session work. I would listen to the radio and think, "I know that song". I’d
hear so many songs on the radio that I’d played on. It was a weird
feeling. Now it’s the opposite – very strange.
RC: Was it strange adapting to playing in the studio?
RB: Yes, it was rigid. I was pretty good until they’d say to me, "Play this
melody". As I didn’t read music, just chord sheets, that threw me. I
couldn’t remember melodies to save my life.
RC: Did any of the artists impress you in particular?
RB: There was Mike Berry, of course. We see him over here now in Are
You Being Served?. I did a record with him, I think. Most of the records
were done with Roger Mingay playing, he was the guitarist. A lot of
people credit that to me but it wasn’t, it was him. (Ritchie is presumably
referring to some of the Outlaws’ earlier work, recorded with Mingay
before he emigrated – AW.) It takes a lot to make me laugh, but Freddie
Starr had me crying. I first met him in Meek’s studio when he was a
singer in a rock’n’roll band. Chas (Hodges, of Chas k Dave fame) was
sitting there half asleep with his pyjamas on underneath his trousers.
You could see them sticking out of his trouser legs. He was always late:
he’d get the bus to the studio and would fall asleep, so he ended up
where he’d started. Anyway, Freddie came into the studio. In those days,
when you were playing rhythm, you’d sometimes just have to put the
solo down as you’re playing. It wasn’t like today where you stop, do the
rhythm 400 times and then do the solo. Freddie dropped his trousers in
the studio as I was playing. He got hold of his ’thing’ and tried to put it in
my ear as I was doing this solo. Of course, I made a mistake, and in
those days Joe Meek didn’t have a see-through screen. He would have to
come into the room to see what was going on. He came storming in,
"What the bloody hell is going on?", saw us and just went "ooohh". That
was my introduction to Freddie Starr. Apparently he and his band, the
Midnighters, supported the Beatles in Liverpool in 1962 and blew them off
RC: Did you have any input in the material or any freedom in the
way you played the solos?
RB: No, you just had to get on with the music. Joe would say, "This is
what I want from you today". He would either play us a demo or sing it to
us – and Joe couldn’t really sing, so that became embarrassing. But
Chas was brilliant and would make up his own melo- dies. Chas would
ask what Joe wanted, and then sing it back to him and say, "You mean
something like this?". You could see what was going on – Chas was
writing it for him.
RC: In 1965 you toured with Jerry Lee Lewis. What was that like?
RB: Jerry Lee Lewis was interesting. We were supposed to rehearse for
a week, then it was five days, then three days, and we were going,
"When are we going to rehearse with this guy because we don’t know
what we’re doing". The tour was coming up and we hadn’t played one
note with him. Finally, on the day of the first show, he strolled in during the
afternoon. We were petrified because we’d
been told if he didn’t like you, Jerry would just whack you in the face.
Luckily he liked me and wanted to bring me back to Memphis where he
lived. He’d come over to me and go "Play boy, play". I’d be looking up,
waiting for that whack.
RC: You toured Germany with them.Was that where your love of
RB: Yeah, that’s right. I immediately took to the place. They seemed to
work harder and enjoy life more than the English. In Germany, I couldn’t
understand anybody and they couldn’t understand me, and that was
perfect: let’s just play music.
RC: How did you come to cut a solo single in 1965?
RB: That was down to producer Derek Lawrence. We did "Getaway". I
think I actually wrote that but I’m not sure. I have to be careful because
sometimes I think I wrote things like "In The Mood" by Glenn Miller. (In
fact, the flipside of "Getaway" is "Little Brown Jug", a cover of the old
Glenn Miller song.)
RC: The same year, you rejoined Sutch’s Savagea.
RB: When the bills started to mount up, it was back to Sutch. You’d get
to the point where everybody in the band would go, "I can’t take this any
longer". They would leave, but you knew they’d come back. It was like
breaking out of a prisoner-of-war camp: a month later they’d come back
in. They would hate it, it was like a penance, but he was the only one
who would pay any money. You could go with all the fancy bands but
they didn’t pay any money.
RC: You actually got to record with him on this second stint.
RB: A couple of things, but I can’t remember what they were. A lot of the
stuff with really good guitar was Roger Mingay, not me.
RC: You had a group called the Three Musketeers who were
actually formed out of Sutch’s band.
RB: That’s very true. It was me and Jimmy Evans, who we’re still trying
to track down, and Silas Wegg. He loved Charles Dickens: his real name
was Arvid Anderson.
RC: The band got a mention on the "Shadow Of The Moon" album.
You must have fond memories of that time.
RB: Yeah, very fond. They were the first band I actually enjoyed playing
in. For our stage act we would dress up as Musketeers and we used to
sword-fence as we came on stage. We were the first three piece: this
was like 1964 and people had never heard of three-piece bands. All the
songs we had were really fast and the big thing in Germany in 1965 was
that you played music to dance to. Well, they could never dance to us,
so we didn’t really get much work.
We’d open the show with something called "The Plainsman" followed by
"Yakety Sax". In the middle of the act, we’d do our special, a really fast
number which was "Flight Of The Bumble Bee". You can imagine the
audience watching us. It was great for me but terrible for them. So they
used to disappear and our work went downhill. That’s how I ended up
back with Sutch again.
He was brilliant, actually. When we were in the key of A, he would sing in
C sharp. I don’t know how he did it – it’s very difficult singing in this
totally unrelated key to what was being played.
RC: Did he realise he was doing it?
RB: Sure. He’d jump around breaking things!
WRING THAT NECK
Purple to Rainbow
In 1968 Blackmore was invited back to the U.K. to join a band
being put together by Chris Curtis. After a brief tour of Denmark
under the name Roundabout, they decided to change their name
to Deep Purple.
Purple enjoyed some early success in the States with "Hush", a cover of
the Joe South song. But their first three albums were some- what lacking
in direction, encompassing everything from psychedelia to covers of
numbers by the Beatles and Neil Diamond. Ritchie was obviously
struggling to come to terms with his new environment: his playing
sounded tentative and he had to resort to experimenting with a fuzz box.
One notable exception, though, was the instrumental "Wring That Neck"
from 1968’s: "Book Of Taliesyn" which later became a magnum opus in
Purple’s live set.
Like almost every guitarist, Blackmore was amazed and inspired by Jimi
Hendrix – the reason why he decided to invest in a Fender Stratocaster.
A clue to the change in direction he was about to undertake can be found
on "Why Didn’t Rosemary" from the 1969 album "Deep Purple". It
features some excellent guitar work in the heavier style which was no
doubt dominating his thoughts. That year, indeed, he decided he wanted
Purple to pursue a heavy rock sound, and singer Ian Gillan and bassist
Roger Glover were brought in to form what is generally regarded as the
finest Purple line-up.
The band hit the road before recording "In Rock", airing some of the
songs from the forthcoming album – among them the rousing "Speed
King", and "Child In Time", which was already developing into a classic.
Ritchie had made a quantum leap almost overnight, and in partnership
with keyboard player Jon Lord he developed the improvisational style that
was to become Purple’s trademark. "Wring That Neck" and "Mandrake
Root" regularly stretched to thirty minutes and beyond, allowing
Blackmore and Lord the freedom to lead the band anywhere that took
their fancy. Blackmore’s solos ranged from frenetic exhibitions of speed
and feedback to the gentle and delicate finger-picking. No wonder that
some contemporaries dubbed him ’the one- man orchestra’.
Purple’s reputation grew on the back of these live performances, and the
success of the "In Rock" LP and "Black Night" single brought them to a
much wider audience. But while Blackmore was happy to project himself
on stage, he was clearly uncomfortable with the attention being focused
on him, which made him almost reclusive, and helped to create a
fearsome reputation in the press. Fortunately, there was still time for
some musical relaxation. During 1970, producer Derek Lawrence
organised some jam sessions, inviting Blackmore alongside two of his
heroes from the 60s, Albert Lee and Big Jim Sullivan. Others present
included Chas Hodges, with whom Ritchie had worked ex- tensively in
the Outlaws and Ian Paice, Purple’s drummer. The jams turned into an
album, "Green Bullfrog", which featured guitar work-outs on blues, gospel
and uptempo country numbers. It wasn’t released until 1972, and for
contractual reasons the musicians were all given pseudonyms – Ritchie’s
being ’Boots’, because he always wore a pair of purple suede cowboy
The album would have sunk without trace if a magazine hadn’t exposed
the characters involved. It is fascinating trying to pick out who played
which solos but some excellent work from Blackmore, demonstrating his
prowess as a blues guitarist, is recognisable on "Bullfrog", "Lawdy Miss
Clawdy" and "Lovin’ You Is Good For Me Baby". The influence of Sullivan
and Lee on his work are immediately apparent when you get the chance
to hear the three men playing together. Sadly, Blackmore did very little
session work after this project. But he did guest on one track of ex-Pretty
Thing Jack Green’s solo album in 1980. "I Call, No Answer" featured
some outstanding work, with Ritchie clearly enjoying the freedom of
playing without pres- sure. Two more recent one-offs were less dramatic.
"Apache" on the Shadows tribute album "Twang!" was a fairly faithful
rendition of the original, while he also played "Smoke On The Water" on
crooner Pat Boone’s send-up album, "In A Metal Mood".
Back in 1971, Deep Purple had the unenviable task of following up the
incredibly successful "In Rock". Rather than repeating the frantic
mayhem of that album, they chose to diversify with "Fireball". It was
probably their most adventurous release with Blackmore, but he later
commented that he thought the album was a mistake and substandard.
Nevertheless it did provide soine interesting moments from a guitar
perspective, from the country-and- western influences of "Anyone’s
Daughter" to the superbly atmospheric volume control solo on "Fools",
reputedly recorded in one take.
Purple’s launch into ’superstardom’ came with the 1972 release of
"Machine Head", which broke the band in America. Returning to a more
straightforward rock format, the album provided the material for their
revamped live set, which now included such classics as "Highway Star",
"Smoke On The Water" and "Lazy". The music was more tightly focused
with less opportunity for extended solos, but as ever Ritchie managed to
change his performance each night, as demonstrated on the "Live In
Japan" triple CD set.
However, the band’s powerful and competing egos and the relentless
pressure of touring and recording was beginning to take its toll, as
relationships within the band began to fragment. They just about
managed to hold things together for one more album, "Who Do We Think
We Are" in 1973, before Gillan decided to quit. This album is often
overlooked but Ritchie’s solo on "Place In Line" must rate as one of his
finest. His disillusionment with the ’ band forced him to consider leaving
himself, briefly collaborating with Phil Lynott and Ian Paice as Baby
Face, but they only recorded some very rough demos before new blood
was drafted into Purple in the form of vocalist David Coverdale and
bassist Glen Hughes.
The new line-up issued "Burn" in 1973, exhibiting a revitalised Blackmore
who was able to steer the band in a bluesier direction. Besides the frantic
title track, the album also featured the classic blues "Mistreated", which
Ritchie and Coverdale really brought to life on stage, and which he was
still playing in 1997 with Rainbow. Blackmore also used "You Fool No
One" as a vehicle to stretch out, and ’ his superbly self-indulgent soloing
can be witnessed on the "California Jam 74" video and CD sets. This
concert has entered the realms of legend, as Blackmore destroy’ed a TV
camera with his guitar before blowing up his amps, which set light to the
stage. The resultant carnage of wrecked amps and speakers was
dumped unceremoniously into the press pit, before Ritchie made his
escape in a helicopter, chased by the police and fire brigade!
Sadly, the freshness generated by the revised line-up proved to be
shortlived, as the new members tried to push the band into soul and funk,
which held no interest for Blackmore. He recorded one last studio al-
bum with them in 1974, "Stormbringer", but the cracks were clearly
starting to show. The album did spawn two classic tracks, "Gypsy",
featuring some of Blackmore’s best work of the era, and "Soldier Of
Fortune", with its beautifully understated solo. But when his ideas were
regularly rejected by the band, his patience grew thin, and in 1975 he
made the fateful decision to leave Deep Purple.
His immediate move was to join forces with Ronnie James Dio from the
band Elf, who had supported Purple on tour, and begin writing. Minus
their guitarist, Elf became Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – cutting an
album of that name. It was an apt title, as it encompassed a wide range
of ideas, from the ballad "Catch The Rainbow" to the aggressive
instrumental reworking of the Yardbirds’ classic, "Still I’m Sad".
Rekindling the spirit of "In Rock", Ritchie decided to follow this up with a
heavy rock album for which the whole band apart from Dio were dropped
– and drummer Cozy Powell was among those taken on board. "Rainbow
Rising" was a no-frills slice of rock heaven which featured just six songs
and gave no pause for breath. The majestic epic "Stargazer" (the idea for
which Ritchie actually worked out on cello) is generally regarded as one
of his finest songs, but shouldn’t detract from the fast and furious "Light
In The Black", with its extended guitar and keyboard solos.
The band toured America briefiy in late ’75, developing some of the new
material on stage. As a result, "Rising" was recorded in just 10 days in
Munich, capturing the raw sound of the live shows. The band finally
reached these shores in 1976 and left the pub- lic reeling. An
electronically controlled rainbow, comprising hundreds of lights, spanned
the stage, whilst Blackmore demonstrated incredible artistic control.
Audiences were treated to such memorable moments as the devastating
slide solo during "Stargazer", whilst Ritchie demonstrated his mellow
side with lovely renditions of "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" and some
laidback picking during the mid-section of "Mistreated".
A live album from the tour, "On Stage", appeared in 1977 but generally
failed to capture the excitement of the shows – not least because it
omitted "Stargazer". "Live In Germany", finally released in 1990, was far
During this period, guitar demolition became a Blackmore trademark, as
he regularly trashed factory reject Strats during the encore of "Do You
Close Your Eyes". But what began as the ’icing on the cake’ of a good
show soon lost its spontaneity. During this period, Ritchie made an
unlikely cameo appearance with the Sweet in Santa Monica on March
24th 1976, playing the encore of "All Right Now" as a tribute to Paul
Kossoff, who had just died. The Sweet Fan Club released a three-track
CD which included this song, and although it contains little of interest in
the way of guitar, it is a rare item as only 500 copies were pressed.
During the late 70s, Blackmore’s name became synonymous with
change. Rainbow never recorded two studio albums with the same
line-up, and there was a constant turnover of bass and keyboard players.
Ritchie’s penchant for practical jokes was also coming to the fore and he
found a willing and able co- conspirator in Cozy – which caused the
departure of keyboard player Tony Carey, who was convinced they were
trying to kill him!
1978’s "Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll" marked a more varied musical
approach and was notable for the unbelievable slide solo during "Lady Of
The Lake" – which fooled more than one person into thinking it was a
synthesiser – and what Ritchie regards as one of hia finest moments on
record, "Gates Of Babylon". But in retrospect the mediaeval influences of
"Rainbow Eyes" was the most telling clue to his current direction.
Graham Bonnet was brought in as vocalist on 1979’s "Down To Earth",
which signalled a change towards a more pop orientated sound. Russ
Ballard’s "Since You Been Gone", and "All Night Long", both achieved
reasonable chart success, and the band were starting to become
regulars on Top Of The Pops. Ritchie’s love for Abba has been well
documented, and appears to have been instrumental in his desire to
move away from rock and blues-based music. But while this attracted a
younger audi- ence, the lack of any real noteworthy guitar on stage or
record alienated longterm fans. It didn’t help that Ritchie was starting to
develop an aversion to the studio environment, which he felt was
beginning to stifle him. But the flipside of "All Night Long" was one ray of
light, as the instrumental "Weiss Heim" shone with expression and
The next three Rainbow albums, "Difficult To Cure", "Straight Between
The Eyes" and "Bent Out Of Shape", were all recorded with vocalist Joe
Lynn Turner, but the first two in particular merely emphasised the band’s
continued decline into AOR, with pop and power ballads dominating.
Matters did improve with "Bent Out Of Shape", which featured far more
guitar and included a beautiful interpretation of "Snowman".
For the final Rainbow concert in Japan in 1984, Ritchie sprang a surprise,
using a full orchestra on "Difficult To Cure" – in the tradition of Jon Lord’s
"Concerto For Group And Orchestra" in 1969 and "The Gemini Suite" two
years later. Clearly inspired, he produced one of his finest solos during
the intro, with some incredible note bending. It was a perfect finale to a
RC: Why did you originally leave Purple – and did you have a
clear vision of what you wanted to do?
RB: No. It started with the song "Black Sheep Of The Family". I brought
it to Purple and they rejected it because they hadn’t written it. I couldn’t
believe they turned it down because they wouldn’t get a writing credit, but
that was basically the bottom line. A lot of that went down with Purple. It
was Paicey and Lord who were adamant about not doing anybody else’s
songs. Roger Glover would always listen if it was worth doing. So I said
I’d do it with somebody else, and Ronnie (James Dio) was just around at
RC: With the first Rainbow album there were the first indications of
your interest in the medieval period. Dio was obviouely into that
RB: That’s true. He was more into the demonic side, while I was more
into pixies in the wood, although I didn’t know it at the time. He did a
great job. He came along and did very well. We started slowing down on
the third LP which we were recording in France. I remember being in the
studio and he came in with Cozy. I was kneeling down in front of my
amplifier trying to get the sound and he poked me in the back: "We’re not
standing for this. You’re on the front cover of Circus magazine and it was
meant to be the three of us. We’re not going to be sidekicks". It had
nothing to do with me, and I suddenly saw him in a whole different light.
That was it, I knew we’d finished then because I couldn’t talk to him. I
saw him as this angry, bitter little man.
RC: You had Jack Green in Rainbow. Was he playing bass on the
"Down To Earth" sessions?
RB: Yes, he was playing bass. Roger Glover came in as producer and
then went on to play bass. And then we got Graham . Bonnet in on
vocals. He was in the Marbles and was the best, he was fantastic.
Roger spoke about him to his producer and got all these positive replies,
but he could sense there was a catch. He flew in to join us and started
singing, and he was great. He did "Mistreated" really well. Then we
started recording and Graham said, "I can’t sing. I have to be in the
studio to sing." I said, "We’re in a castle in the middle of France, it’s
fantastic. The ambience is unbelievable." But no, he couldn’t sing in a
castle in France, he had to be in a dirty little studio somewhere before he
Graham was a strange guy. In Denmark we asked how he was and he’d
go, "I feel a bit strange, I don’t know why, I just feel a bit weird." Colin
Hart said, "Have you eaten?" and he replied, "That’s it! I’m hungry." We
told him one time, "Graham, your hair’s too short, the people that follow
us like long hair. You look like a cabaret singer, so can you please
grow your hair?" By the time we did Newcastle City Hall, it was actually
getting down to the back of his collar. He was just about beginning to be
acceptable. Otherwise we were going to get crucified going on stage with
our new singer who has short hair, ’cos the audience would hate it.
We had a watch on him, a guard on his door, and sure enough he
jumped out of the window and ran off and had a haircut. So it came to
showtime and we went on stage and I was looking at the back of his
head with this military-style cut. I was that close to taking my guitar off
and just going whack across the back of his head.
RC: Did you like his voice?
RB: Well, no, not really.
RC: I thought he pushed his voice too far sometimes.
RB: Yeah, he did. When we got Joe Lynn Turner in, he refused to leave. I
said, "OK, so we’11 have two singers on stage", and he went, "Well, I’m
leaving, then". He would not leave until we said he’d have to sing with Joe.
And Joe, he’s a great guy, I like him a lot but he is very effeminate. We
took him on stage in Europe and he got crucified. Backstage, I pulled
him by the throat and told him, "You’ve got to stop the pansying. You’re
not Judy Garland".
RC: You were obviously aware that the fans weren’t warming to him.
RB: I remember playing Leeds and the place was jam-packed. All the
fans are going, "Ritchie, yeah!", and pointing at Joe going, "What’s that?"
I told him he had got to stop that or they were going to kill us.
The best thing we did to him was in France. It was an outdoor gig and it
was miserable: it didn’t have a roof and the audience were sitting there in
the rain. I didn’t even bother getting changed because I hate France and
didn’t want to be there and didn’t want to play.
Joe did this bit in "No Release" where he got the audience to participate
while we backed off a little bit, and then we came back in. The audience
were miserable and not participating. So I said to the drummer and bass
player, "Come on, we’re leaving". So we came offstage and Joe didn’t
know he was on his own. We got down in the orchestra pit and Joe
couldn’t see us because the floodlights were on him and we started
throwing vegetables at him. So he started swearing at the audience, "You
bastards, you French bastards", and he was picking up the tomatoes
and throwing them back at the audience, who were now going, "We’re
not going to take this anymore", and throwing things back. Finally Joe
realised it was us, but it was too late, the audience were in uproar.
RC: When you did those last dates with Rainbow in Japan, did the
band know you were going to rejoin Purple?
RB: It came to me when I got back. It all happened very suddenly. It was
Gillan trying to round people up and resurrect the Purple thing. But the
money was so ridiculous I said I’d do it. I shouldn’t have. I should have
joined Purple for one LP and then gone back to Rainbow, but I got lazy.
RC: With the last Rainbow album, "Bent Out Of Shape", I felt you
had got the ideas almost the way you wanted.
RB: Very, very close.
RC: When something is going well you tend to stop and start
something different. Why?
RB: That’s true. I’11 tell you what it was, it was money, purely money.
My manager called me up and said, "There’s a lot of money in this". I
asked him how much and when he told me I said, "I’11 do it. I shouldn’t
haven’t done it, but I did. It was funny, though, because I’d had the riff to
"Perfect Strangers" in Rainbow about two years before, but I didn’t have a
song for it.
The Purple Reunion
And so, in a blaze of headlines, the press announced in 1984 that
the classic ’Mark 2’ line-up of Deep Purple had reformed. Rumours
had been rife for years, ever since Blackmore had joined Gillan
for a jam at the Marquee in 1978.
The reformed band released four studio albums – the first two, "Perfect
Strangers" and "The House Of Blue Light", with Gillan before he was
sacked in 1989. Solid, if unspectacular, they did at least prove that
Blackmore could still produce the goods when he set his mind to it. His
work on "Mean Streak", "Under The Gun" and "Not Responsible" from
the first LP was excellent, whilst the imperial title track translated well to
the stage. "Spanish Archer" from "Blue Light" also featured some frenetic
soloing and riffing.
Purple’s stage sets were still based around the 1972 repertoire, with a
few new songs slotted in, but as the "Nobody’s Perfect" live album
showed, they couldn’t match the power and edge that had been their
hallmark during that era. It was not that the performances were bad, but
Purple’s reputation had been formed around shows which teetered on the
brink of chaos. On most nights in the mid-80s, they merely sounded
After Gillan’s departure, Blackmore persuaded the others that
ex-Rainbow frontman Joe Lynn Turner was their man, and so he was
brought in for 1990’s "Slaves And Masters". With Blackmore back at the
helm, the album echoed the commercial sound of latter-day Rainbow –
which is probably why it’s his favourite reunion project. Whatever your
opinions of the songs, there was some particularly able guitar work on
"The Cut Runs Deep" and "Truth Hurts". But Turner fared little better than
he had with Rainbow and was panned by fans and critics alike. Ritchie
was eventually persuaded that Gillan should rejoin for the aptly titled
album, "The Battle Rages On", but the situation soon became untenable,
and Ritchie told the band he was going to leave after the European leg of
the tour. Despite its troubled development, the album had some fine
moments, from the thundering title track to the gritty blues guitar sound
of "Ramshackle Man" and the majestic "Anya".
With Gillan and Blackmore coming close to blows on occasions, the tour
was not exactly happy, but at least the combative atmosphere sparked
the finest and most passionate performances of the entire reunion, with
Ritchie taking control of the band and leading them through some
awesome improvisations during "Anya". It seemed as if he was in love
with his guitar again! The band’s onstage power was captured by the live
"Come Hell Or High Water" set recorded during this tour. But Ritchie’s
memories of this troubled period serve to illustrate how difficult the
situation had become.
RB: It was like a bad nightmare, coming back again. Actually Gillan was
OK at the start. Where it became like a nightmare and reminded me of
Sutch was in 1992. Roger and Jon are going, "It’s great", and Candice
and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing. I was saying,
"Why I am laughing at this? This a serious business." It was a big
RC: Did you enjoy playing with the other guys, because they are
RB: Yes, musically everything was great, but
the singing thing was just a joke. It was a pantomime and Ian would take
the piss out of the audience. He would just not sing or forget the words,
and he loved it. It was like, "I can’t do anything wrong" and I was thinking
it wasn’t fair to the audience.
When we first started, I asked if he was going to be able to sing "Child In
Time" every night and he said, "Ritch, I’ve learnt a whole new way to sing
– I will never lose my voice again". But during the tour he kept coming
over and saying, "No ’Child’ tonight, it’s my voice". I knew he was getting
into this routine. Now, to me the biggest number is "Child In Time".
That’s an amazing song and he sings it amazingly well when he does it
good. Nobody can sing it like Ian. I thought, "This is not right, he’s
getting out of it every night", so of course that night I went back on after
he told me we’re not doing it and started playing it. Got him! That was me
saying I’d had enough.
The others need that security, that safety net, because they can’t do
anything on their own. I would maybe love to get together every seven or
eight years and do a tour and play all the old songs. Great! Then we drop
everything and we all go our separate ways and see you in seven years.
But they take it so seriously and I don’t think they’ve got anything to offer
musically, from a writing point of view.
Paicey put it into a nutshell: he came to me and said, "You didn’t turn up
for rehearsals today", and I said "Big deal". He said it was embarrassing:
"Jon Lord spent two or three hours at rehearsals and because you
weren’t there pushing, saying ’We are going to do this and that’, we
ended up doing nothing". I was always put down: they’d moan, "We
always had to do what Ritchie told us to do", but I’d sit back and say,
"OK, let’s hear your ideas", and they didn’t have any. I’d come off stage
when everybody was screaming for an encore and think, "This was
awful". But I couldn’t remember the reasons why until Candy started
writing them down. Things started to fall into perspective. Then I
knew something was very wrong. Purple had become a security thing,
travelling the world in a limousine going, "This is very safe and secure".
Music shouldn’t be like that, it should be on the edge and that’s part of
the deal, part of the arrangement with the public. You don’t go on stage
going, "I feel totally confident tonight". You go out on stage going,
"I’m a mess". People will relate to that. They don’t relate to people going,
"I don’t need this audience, because I’m smug". As soon as they see that
you’re in trouble.
RC: Do you think that you are misunderstood ?
RB: Not really. I think people understand me because I don’t have much
patience, and I’m a very moody person. I want them to understand I am a
moody person and life is not a bowl of cherries. You’re always fighting
music to get to the bottom of something. You can’t go through life
shaking hands and saying everything is wonderful. For me life is a
struggle; there are icebergs everywhere and you’ve got to dodge them.
One of the things that puzzled and perplexed me about the whole Purple
situation was the fact that I wanted to get out, to get off the ship which I
felt was sinking, and make good music. That’s all I wanted to do and I
couldn’t believe the finger-pointing that went on.
Even to this day it bothers me what went down – with the management,
the band and the people that surround the band, a little clique. I’m
supposed to be a troublemaker because I want to play some better
music. There’s something wrong here. They’re still doing their thing,
that’s great, that’s what I wanted them to do, just get another guitar
player, but it never came across that way.
"Perfect Strangers" worked but I’ve done two really awful LPs with them,
"House Of Blue Light" and "The Battle Rages On" – although that was
shaping up to be a good LP without the vocals. If you just heard the
backing tracks, they sound really good.
RC: Did you originally record the whole of the "Battle" album with
Joe Lynn Turner?
RB: No, just two tracks: "Stroke Of Midnight" and "Lonely For You"
(neither of which appeared on the album). Joe sang them and it was
brilliant. I thought, "We’ve got to do this, and if we take on Gillan we’re
going to tape this song and do it exactly the same".
I spoke to management and asked if Gillan realised he had to sing that
one song exactly right because that’s one of the conditions of him
rejoining, and I knew he was going to be a headache, and they said he
did. I saw him in the studio and he didn’t know anything about it. That
didn’t help matters but that wasn’t Gillan’s fault, it was the management.
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