Blackmore's Mystery Castle Tapes
Rainbow Recorded Latest Disc in Haunted French Chateau
I can't be predictable," insists ace guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. "I'm too moody for that. I prefer the extremes. I don't want to be tied down to one way of behaving or another. That's why I wear black and white. And that's why I combine 15th century renaissance music with rock & roll. Whatever I do has to be intense and dramatic, and being predictable is anything but that."
Blackmore has lived up to this selfcreated, image since he picked up a guitar at 11, through his years as cofounder (with Jon Lord) as guitarist/songwriter for the heavy-rocking Deep Purple, to today, as headmaster of his own band, Rainbow. And just when Rainbow fans from Japan to England have come to expect the band's elaborately-crafted, classically-tinged hard-rock, Blackmore sends Rainbow back to the basics on the group's fourth release, Long Live Rock and Roll (Polydor).
Seven of the eight songs are out-and-out ravers, cooked up in the same heavy-metal vat from which Blackmore drew his best fist-pounding chords for Deep Purple's hits such as "Smoke On The Water" and "My Woman From Tokyo."
Only the 7½ minute ballad, "Rainbow Eyes," really reflects Blackmore's affection for the madrigal. A flute wafts along the melody while a string quartet and acoustic guitar play a faint medieval lilt in the background. Even vocalist Ronnie Dio subdues his archetypal rock shout for the guise of some wandering minstrel.
"Gates of Babylon," a charging rocker, is another tune graced with an exotic touch using Turkish music scales to sound as if if were composed for some demonic belly dancer. "That comes from writing on the cello for the last four years.
You get a different inspiration from guitar, but they both come from the stomach, "Blackmore patiently explains.
"It's funny," he notes," in Purple I was always known as the real rock & roller while Jon Lord was always the classical freak. Now it seems like the reverse: Ronnie and I are the classical freaks - and Ronnie mainly cause of me - while Cozy Powell, our drummer, is the real rocker." Born in the western part of England in 1945, Blaekmore decided to become a guitarist after seeing Tommy Steele (first of the British rock idols, who immortalized Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" in Britain in 1956). At his first public performance, in grade school, Blackmore demonstrated that unpredictable quality he always talks about by plugging his guitar directly into the wall current and blowing every fuse in the building.
He worked for a while as a radio repairman at London Airport, but found himself drawn to music. From the age of 17, until he was 23, he played jazz, and backed rock acts like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. Before creating Deep in 1968 he played lead guitar for the flamboyant Screamin' Lord Sutch. Although it doesn't show now, Blackmore then was so shy that he would wind up a concert playing from the wings, out of sight of the audience. Sutch would grab Blackmore by the guitar and lead him out.
Dio substantiates the truth of stories told about Blackmore's eventful life. "When we're on the road, you don't know what might happen. It gets crazy and Ritchie gets the craziest. Fire alarms will go off in the hotels and we'll get into fights with the hotel clerks. In Trondhiem, Norway, we got thrown out of a hotel because Ritchie and the rest of us sneaked into a bar to have a drink. When the clerk came after us, we locked him in the bar behind us. But no matter what Ritchie does, he seems to come out all right. If he fell into a vat of shit, he'd turn out to be wearing a rubber suit."
The unexpected seems to surround his life. While Long Live Rock and Roll was being recorded at Le Chateau, a 17th century castle 20 miles outside Paris now converted into a studio, the sessions were supposedly haunted by a malevolent spirit. Blackmore, long interested in psychic phenomena claims the servant of the 5000 year-old Bablyonian demon Baal, the first lord of Hell, plagued them with unplugged mikes, tapes that turned off and on seemingly by themselves and lights that switched on and off.
Blackmore, by his own claim, is prone to the dramatic. He can't resist it even when answering the question of whether he'd rather be living in the middle ages. "No," he answers, shaking his ruffled black hair, "I wouldn't because there was no cure for syphillis then."
Because of Blackmore's demanding musical standards, Rainbow has gone through two sets of bassists and keyboardists, and a drummer before Powell. It may be enough to give accountants heart-failure, "but," assures Blackmore, "with bassist Bob Daisley from Widowmaker and Canadian keyboard player David Stone, I hope I've found the ideal group. Still, if I feel someone isn't playing up to par then I'll reshuffle the band again."
So far, Blackmore has perservered with Dio as his lyricist and Powell as the foundation for a thundering rhythm bottom.
Rainbow is one of the top five bands in Japan, a solid sell-out through Europe and a 1977 winner of England's music news paper polls for best guitarist and best songwriter. Yet the band hasn't yet succeeded in the U.S - Britisher Blackmore's adopted home. But he expects this incarnation to do the trick: "We're not going to stop until America gives up and surrenders to us."
© Brad Balfour, Circus 22 June 1978