POST-PURPLE: RITCHIE BLACKMORE'S RAINBOW
He is famed for cultivating a public image that extends beyond even the bounds of the antisocial. Even with Deep Purple, his own band, his relationship always seemed to be teetering on the brink of total alienation. Every week some new rumour would emerge as to who he was currently playing with, who he wasn't speaking to. Because of the glut of gossip, though, coupled with the fact that he seemed to be getting on reasonably well with the current Purple outfit, no one paid particular attention to rumours of Ritchie Blackmore's impending exit.
But it was no wolf call. For the first time ever, Ritchie has actually left the world's most successful metalloid rock band to have a go with Blackmore's Rainbow, a hard-hitting group with one album under their belts.
Blackmore's decision is a landmark for several reasons - this is the first time a member of Deep Purple has left the band on good terms with the rest of the individuals. Blackmore's Rainbow is the first record Ritchie's ever made with total control over the direction, and it's the first album he's made since Machine Head that knocks his socks off. "I think you'll like it," he assured Circus Raves' six-string maniac, "it's got lots of guitar".
Blackmore's Rainbow wasn't anything more than a spare time solo album for Ritchie at first. The guitarist had every intention of staying with Deep Purple as usual, despite the rumours that he wasn't getting along with the group and wasn't too pleased with the music. "I think Stormbringer was alright, but Purple's always been best onstage," Ritchie said, "and you know me, I'm never happy with my music."
At the time Ritchie was no less content with Purple music than he'd ever been, it's just that he went out to make a casual piece of music, it turned into something far beyond what he'd expected, and the man merely decided that he'd be happier pursuing the road to Blackmore's Rainbow.
Contrary to what you might hear on the street, Ritchie is still on very good terms with the rest of Purple, unlike the situation with people who have left the group in the past. Roger Glover is off on his own, producing several groups, and hasn't talked to Ritchie in years, Ian Gillan has metamorphosed into quite the businessman, running his own recording studio, and doesn't have much to do with the Purple gang at all. And as for those who left the original group - Ritchie has an interesting story to tell.
"We just got over a court thing with our old bass player, Nicky Simper. He sued us because we sacked him, he thought he was the fifth Beatle and just couldn't take it. I felt sorry for him in a way because he literally had nightmares about the whole thing for years - it was a bit heavy. Anybody else would've gone, "Right, I'll show you what I can do on my own," that's the attitude I'd have if somebody kicked me out of a band."
But things are quiet now between Ritchie and Purple - Jon Lord and Ian Paice are auditioning new guitarists. And Ritchie is holed up in California rehearsing the new band for a tour of America, which should commence any time now, showcasing Blackmore's Rainbow in medium-sized concert halls.
ALL THE WAY TO MUNICH
It didn't take them a long time to complete the album, but there was one little balls-up which kept the band from starting rehearsals for awhile. "We left out three lines on "Man On A Silver Mountain", the first track on the album (the single as well). It wasn't until we heard it back that we realized it, and it was the hook line of the song so we couldn't just let it be. We went all the way to Jamaica to add the line, and then we couldn't do it because the studio wasn't too hot and they booked us in for the wrong day, so we had to journey all the way to Munich. We were travelling around in clothes we had on because we thought we'd only be away for a day - it ended up taking us ten days."
A lot of people will be surprised at the finished product. The odd thing is that Rainbow isn't a total metallic attack of Strat power, but contains several pieces of evidence to the fact there is a sombre, melodic and peaceful side to the mysterious musician. It's hardly your archetypal guitar-flash-goes-solo album (Robin Trower and Paul Kossoff producing good examples of the latter). "I wanted to make it a group thing," says Ritchie, "although I think it'll appeal to guitarists. I've been listening to it a lot, which is something I never do - I like the record an awful lot."
The opening cut on Blackmore's Rainbow is every bit a rocker. "Man On A Silver Mountain" features music by Ritchie and words written by singer Ronnie Dio. "It's supposedly about some guy on top of a mountain who's like a Jesus Christ, it's kind of a religious in a way. My interpretation is that some guy goes on top of a silver mountain, finds the silver, and realizes that he can't get down again. It's vaguely a classical progression with about twenty-five chords in it, but you don't realize it because they're all relative, and it resolves after about thirty bars. It's one of my favourite numbers, very much like a Purple thing: what we call the "Bagshot Bullet" guitar playing, Bagshot being where I come from. We recorded the album in a hotel, and it was really loud... I had one of the speakers down in a cellar to get echo on one side, and this was reverberating throughout the whole hotel so everybody was complaining."
But there's another side to Ritchie Blackmore's composing side, a pensive, quieter musical facet of his personality typified in the "title track" called "Catch The Rainbow". It begins with a Hendrixian guitar lick, and builds into a beautiful song which Ritchie himself compares to Jimi Hendrix's "Angel".
"It's about ships of wonder and chains made of steel (from Sheffield), and our vocalist who wanted to be blessed at the time. That's why we had a vicar in on the sessions, we had this vicar walking around blessing everybody. That's why you'll hear Ronnie singing, "I want to be blessed all the time". I think he actually did get blessed at one point. The vicar played bass on one of our sessions as well."
"What's his name?" I asked, chomping at the bit.
"That's a secret."
Which brings us to the question of how the group got its name, and the answer obviously isn't from a popular song of the fifties.
"The Rainbow is a club in LA where we'd congregate for joviality and wickedness of the first order. We liked the name, and I'd rather have left it as simply Rainbow, but then again I wanted to get it across to the Purple fans that I was involved. I suppose my name means more to the public. I hope to eventually drop the Blackmore out of the title - I hate to be held responsible in case we release a record that's pure shit."
"But Ritchie, you do like the new album, don't you?"
"Hell yes," he admits, "I'm playing it all the time. It's the most satisfying LP I've done since Machine Head and In Rock. With those albums, I really felt like I was doing something, and on this album, I feel the same.
To me, it's my third album," confessed the axe heard round the world on over a dozen albums. "I'm quite pleased with my guitar playing - I got very excited by Ronnie's voice. Not that I'm ripping up and down the fingerboard all the time, but I'm playing well, getting off on his singing, and vice-versa."
As opposed to the Purple method of renting a rehearsal studio, jamming for a week or two, and then laying down the tracks in a recording studio shortly thereafter, Blackmore's Rainbow decided to tackle the project of making a record in a far more premeditated fashion. Ritchie and Ronnie would get together at Ritchie's house and write the songs together, utilizing just sheets of paper, a tape recorder, and of course a guitar or two.
"I'd usually put down some chords and ask which ones Ronnie'd prefer, he'd pick one set, and we'd take it from there. He'd always write the lyrics - sometimes I'd give him a vague melody but most of the time the melodies came from him. He's got an uncanny knack for writing melodies over nonsense."
Then again, there are songs like "Snake Charmer" which have been running around in Ritchie's head for quite awhile, and actually sprang from a third source.
"Ian Broad, my best friend, thought up the title. Ronnie wrote a whole bunch of things around the title, and several parts had been written years ago. A lot of people might think it's the weakest track on the LP, but I liked it - with the guitar / voice thing it's really strong, and the three guitars sound fine together. It was a hard one to mix, as there's so much going on."
Now one of the last things you'd expect on a Ritchie Blackmore creation is a send-up of the Rolling Stones, but you can hear his exercising (or exorcising, as the case may be) his Keith Richards arthritic left hand on the most entertaining "If You Don't Like Rock'n'Roll".
"We did it as a tongue in cheek thing about rock'n'roll, we wanted an out-and-out rock'n'roll thing so I thought this one up and figured, we could get it done in about half an hour and rip it down because it was so simple. You would not believe the hassles we went through to get it right - because it was so simple, nobody could play it. It became one gigantic headache, and in the end it took us two days to get it perfect."
And if you think that's fairly ridiculous, check out "Self Portrait", which Ritchie describes as being a cross between Bach's "Jesu Joy Of Man's Desire" and Hendrix's "Manic Depression". Or their extraordinary version of "Black Sheep Of The Family", a song written by some members of a group called Quartermass and previously recorded by Chris Farlow, which had to be recorded several times in three different locations to get the drum track correct. There's enough variety on this album to keep the listener wondering, "Where the hell do Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow think they're going?" Everyone in the Purple Organization (who are the only people who have heard the album at the time this article was composed) has a favourite track, and they rarely seem to coincide.
For example, their booking agent, Bruce Payne, a long-time friend of Ritchie's, likes "Temple Of The King" very much. "I was inspired to write that one by a program on the television called Yoga For Health. I do Yoga, you know," Ritchie grinned. "Anyway, I was watching this television program and liked it, and put it down on my tape recorder for future reference, not taking it serious but just for a laugh. And then when I played it back a few days later it sounded pretty good. There are two classical guitars on that and one electric, but the electric guitar on that isn't really audible. It's got a medieval progression and a string ensemble / mellotron thing in the middle. There's a lyric in there, "In the year of the fox" which I wanted to be changed to "In the year of the badger", because I like badgers myself. A lot of people like that one, a lot of older people like it because it's more mellow, it's not a full-fledged assault on the ears. But I don't like to do more than one or two songs like that per album. We probably won't perform that onstage, because the vocal harmonies are very strange in the middle part - I don't think it's a proper stage number, we'd have everyone falling asleep.
My favourite rock track on the album is "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves". It was written by Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. I went to the door one night and there was an arrow in the door holding a piece of paper, and it had this song written on it. There was a note attached reading, "Please record this song or I'll shoot you." My favourite all-time song is the old tune "Greensleeves", and in England I used to live just a little ways from Windsor Castle, I was always up there just looking at the place. We wanted to record a song about castles and crossbows, and I was pleased that we were able to keep that hard rock thing within a classical mode. Hugh McDowell plays cello on that one (he being from the Electric Light Orchestra) and this is what our music is all about, really, Henry VIII and all his friends."
The next Blackmore outing, in a nutshell - Blackmore's Rainbow - combines medieval music and a 1975 spirit. Onstage you'll see them performing most of the tunes from the album, several new songs by Ritchie and Ronnie, and some songs written by outsiders that they just enjoy playing ("...but no Purple material!" Ritchie insists). Purple are on their own now, Ritchie's off in another direction, and Blackmore's Rainbow is due to float across America right soon. Only one thing will be the same - Ritchie will be retaining his spot at the right hand side of the stage. "I can only move to the left, I'm a bit spastic that way." Blackmore fans, keep that in mind when you start buying tickets to their shows, which should be pretty soon.
© Jon Tiven, Circus September 1975 - [Thanks to: Kostik]