INTERVIEW by Steve Gett December 1980
Ritchie Blackmore's character is all too often misjudged by the music press and critics who fail to understand his personality usually resort to giving him a 'monster image'. However in getting to know the man behind the public mask I have generally found Blackmore to be quite an agreeable fellow and there is certainly a strong 'Mr. Nice Guy' element in him. True he is a man of moods and this is something he readily admits. The numerous changes within Rainbow, fifteen to date, are often credited to Blackmore's moodiness but in actual fact he can provide a valid reason for every arrival and departure from the outfit.
1980, one of the most successful years in Rainbow's history, marked the departure of Cozy Powell and more recently of vocalist Graham Bonnet. Cynics have consistently hinted that the end of the group is imminent, yet they still carry on. The qualiy of the new L.P. indicates that they are by no means finished yet.
At the end of last year I travelled to Copenhagen, where Ritchie and Roger Glover were putting the final touches to the album which is tentatively titled 'Difficult to Cure' and is due for release in the Spring.
On the eve of Ritchie's departure from Denmark to his home in Long Island where he planned to spend Christmas, I took time to chat with the legendary guitarist in the coffee shop of the Hotel Scandanavia. I'd just been treated to a sneak preview of the new album and as we devoured hamburgers Blackmore proceeded to give one of his frankest ever interviews.
Since the farewell to Graham Bonnet and the arrival of new lead singer Joe Lynn Turner was a major topical point it seemed apt to commence by asking Ritchie about the continual comings and goings that take place in Rainbow.
RB I don't just do it because I get bored with people, which I get the impression the press often assumes - there's always a valid reason. A lot of bands play safe because they know that if they break up they won't be able to do anything else. I'm not like that. I like having new people in, fresh blood always helps, but there's got to be a reason for it.
SG So what's the lowdown on the new guy?
RB Joe's twentyeight and he's been playing around for a long time. He's been playing the guitar since he was eleven and so he's a very good guitarist as well. That means we'll be able to do some of the quieter songs and things like 'Weiss Heim' on stage with a second guitar. The last time I worked with another guitarist on stage was with the Outlaws back in 1963. In fact Joe is an extremely competant all-round musician. He can sing a Hendrix-style phrasing or a commercial song in a much straighter vein.
SG How did you come to meet him?
RB I saw him playing in New Jersey after a friend of mine recommended him. He was in a group called Fandango, or something, and I heard their album first and was quite impressed. I'd had it in my mind to look for a new singer in the last six months because I wasn't completely happy with the way things had been going.
SG Does that mean you weren't too happy around the time Rainbow played at Donnington?
RB No, I enjoyed that, in fact it was up until that point that I was happy. Then suddenly I realised that something was wrong but I couldn't figure out what it was. For a while I thought that it was me. Things weren't gelling and I must admit I had grave doubts about Donnington with so many people coming. There seemed to be no sense of direction. Fortunately Donnington turned out to be a lot better than some of the other gigs we'd played at the time - maybe I was just a lot more drunk than usual. Afterwards I came to the conclusion that there was no rapport between Graham and myself and that Rainbow was simply five professionals out there going down well and being accepted for that reason.
SG How did the idea to play Castle Donnington come about?
RB My Manager rang me up and told me that there had been talk of a big outdoor festival in Britain and would I be interested in doing it. Obviously we then went into more detail but I stressed that I wouldn't do it unless the conditions were right for the kids.
So many of these outdoor events are O.K. on paper but they're never practically viable. Eventually we worked out the whole idea for the show and that we'd get in a special sound and light system that would be big enough for the amount of people expected to turn up. In the end I was very pleased with the way things worked out.
SG A lot of people hinted that with Cozy leaving the end of Rainbow was close at hand but yet you've carried on and it strikes me that now yourself and Roger are the main nucleus of the band. It seems strange that things have gone round in full circles.
RB Yes, Roger and I do get on extremely well together. Sometimes he and I violently disagree about certain matters but he knows why we disagree. Most people assume that I'm just throwing another moody but he really understands our differences of opinion. That's why we always reconcile and make up, ten minutes later. He always understands me which doesn't necessarily mean he agrees. A lot of people don't understand. I'm a moody person and I won't deny the fact. But Roger has known me for so long that he can determine when the mood is right and when not to even acknowledge me in a lift. I can't blame a lot of people for not understanding me because the fault must lie with me. But I can't change myself - that's the way I am.
SG How do you account for your moodiness?
RB I guess it's a weak sense of discipline. I can't really explain it. I find I can get into a mood very easily if I'm pressured by responsibilities or committments. They're the things that seem to bother me most of all. That's why touring often gets to me because sometimes after two weeks on the road I just want to pack it in but I can't since I'm committed through contracts. Maybe I'm simply very unorganised. I think one should always be totally behind what you're doing rather than doing something just for the sake of it and that's what happens to me a lot of the time. If I'm not into something then I do become moody about it.
SG Roger would appear to be a slightly different character.
RB Sure, he thrives on pressure but I hate it. Sometimes I think he's a masochist. Someone said to me the other night 'How can you go out to nightclubs and leave Roger working so hard in the studio?' and I answered that I could do it very easily. My work begins when his finishes. Now I'll go home and start writing ideas for the next L.P. I deal with the early stages and Roger comes in towards the end. He also helps a lot in the middle obviously. We'll get together, I'll pass on the message for a song and he takes it from there.
SG How did you come up with the material for the new album?
RB A lot of the riffs I wrote on the spur of the moment with Bobby, our drummer. I just told him to play away and then we found we got into some riffs. Roger would come in half an hour later and when he liked something we'd take it from there. But the music will be completely finished before he starts thinking about the lyrics.
SG You seem to have a particularly solid working relationship with Bobby.
RB Yes, I like Bobby because he's very relaxed. He's a very strong technical drummer and in fact he's spent a lot of time teaching drums at a special clinic back in the States, and I think he's possibly more patient than Cozy was. Bobby's a solid drummer and he plays on the beat, not before it, in a very similar fashion to John Bonham. He's also a very hard hitter and he always hits the drums in the same place every time - no rim shots or anything like that. He likes Zepplin a lot and Bonzo was his favourite drummer. He's very strongly influenced by Led Zeppelin and I suppose I am in a way. I never go out and buy their albums but they're one of my favourite bands.
SG There were strong hints of Zeppelin on a couple of tunes from the new L.P.
RB Yes, perhaps on 'No Release', which is also a 'Gypsy Eyes' Hendrix-type thing, and also 'Freedom Fighter'. (Ritchie continued to discuss individual items on the L.P.) Both 'I Surrender' and 'Magic' are definitely American orientated things. I suppose it must be a kind of attempt to break through on the U.S. market.
SG How about the slow instrumental number 'Maybe Next Time'? That seemed pretty depressing.
RB It is a very sad piece that was inspired by the idea of a girl being left high and dry and miserable. It's a very depressing tune and everyone seems on the verge of bursting into tears when they hear it. But I think that the world needs all types of emotion and that's why I've included it. At this stage I'm very pleased with the way this album has worked out and I think it's definitely our strongest effort to date.
SG Are you particularly concerned with images?
RB No, not especially, as long as you don't have a band with five quasimodos on stage. In fact what aggravates me sometimes is that somebody can be a brilliant player but if he's fat and ugly, half the time he won't make it. There are quite a few bands where people have only been picked because of their looks. It would be very naive of me to say that I didn't care what I look like - I think everybody does. I try to look the best I can and that's it. I won't go over board because I simply couldn't. You can only do so much.
SG You seem to have a fascination for the colour black - I mean you tend to wear it a lot.
RB The thing is I really like the colour. I don't always wear it offstage though. It's a very intense dramatic colour. I just love drama, depth and intensity and for me that colour says a lot of things. It probably also says a few other things like the fact that I have a very dark side to me. I border on being morose but I'm not.
SG How about going into this dark side of you?
RB In what way do you mean?
SG Well, obviously people tend to think of things like black magic for example.
RB I'm not into black magic, I'm an observer of it and I'm very interested in psychic phenomena. I do a lot of seances and communicating with the other side but I really like to find out from other people all their experiences about things like ghosts and what have you. But I'm not into offering up slaughtered lambs and all that nonsense and I'm certainly not into Aleister Crowley.
SG What first got you into this?
RB Actually it was Nick Simper our first bass player in Deep Purple. When the band started he was really into seances and did them all the time. I wondered what the hell was going on. I heard all these sounds like glasses smashing and became intrigued. It's the old, old story. Something that's dangerous gets you interested and you start getting involved. But I try to keep at a safe distance and I'm always well protected in that area. I've read more or less everything there is to know about it but not that many people know enough to be able to write on the subject. They tend to repeat themselves, so I'm basically finding out for myself. I only wish that I was articulate and concise enough to be able to write my own book because I think I could quite easily do it.
Ritchie had mentioned that he bordered on being morose and as we discussed this dark side of his character the conversation reached an even grimmer topic - that of death. (Although he's not permanently obsessed by it, the idea of what happens to us when we die intrigues him).
RB There's a morbid interest that I have which revolves around the fact that when people die they don't simply kick the bucket and that's it - I just can't believe that. I can't accept it, we've got a reason for living and then dying. Sometimes I think I know but in all honesty I doubt whether we shall know in this life. That interests me one hell of a lot. When I play I'm spiritually moved. It sounds a bit corny to talk about it, I'm not a so called Jesus freak, but I'm well aware of a lot of religions around me and I'm trying to find out which is the right one, if indeed there is one - just like anybody else. That's why I'm so serious in life. I can't just sit back and take everything with a pinch of salt. I ask myself a lot of questions-it's a strange thing life. Trying to come to terms with the fact that we're all going to die eventually.
SG (By now I was having second thoughts as to whether Blackmore has an obsession with death). When do these thoughts about dying tend to come out?
RB It only comes out when I'm drunk. People misinterpret my being serious for being miserable. To be miserable you have to know why you're bothered but the thing about death is that you don't know what's going to happen. Obviously you have to be concerned. Mind you, this is the sort of conversation that could go on for hours when I'm drunk so I think we should go off and have a few drinks.
At this juncture we then decided to leave the hotel and take on Copenhagen's nightlife. Accompanied by Ritchie's personal assistant Ian Broad, Blackmore and I headed for the hotel Plaza, where he used to reside whilst in Copenhagen before the poor service forced a move to the Scandinavia. Inside the foyer there is a huge plaque on which are inscribed the names of numerous musicians who have stayed there in the past. Jagger, Led Zeppelin and even Purple - you name a band who have played in the Danish capital and the chances are that they've checked into the Plaza. After a couple of drinks at this modest boarding house, opposite which stands the Nimb club where Deep Purple played one of their first ever gigs, we left in search of some live music. In the end we discovered that Eric Burdon, one time member of the Animals, was playing but after surviving a couple of songs including an horrendous rendition of the old classic 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place' we left.
Eventually we found a delightful little wine bar in the city centre that was thankfully free from the sounds of disco music that echoes throughout the other clubs. Drinking merrily Ritchie and Ian Broad provided some fine entertainment as they recalled fond memories of when they played together back in the sixties. As time flashed back Ritchie unveiled an interesting anecdote about his one and only job that he had before becoming a professional musician.
'I used to work at Heathrow Airport as a radio mechanic for a company called Cunard Eagle who have since merged with the shipping company and no longer fly. I used to work in the hangers and one day, about two weeks after I'd started, I was in the main office when the telephone rang. At the time I was only sixteen and it was my job to observe what was happening and take note of everything that was going on. Anyway, the guy in the office answered the phone and after a short while said, 'Sure, I've got someone here, I'll send them over'.
'I was standing there like a dummy and the guy told me to take a huge piece of equipment over to central area which was by the control tower. This meant going across all the runways, dodging planes enroute. There was a plane over there and they wanted to check the aerials. So I had to take this big unit over and it weighed a ton. Eventually I reached the aircraft and although I had 'radio mechanic' written across my overalls I didn't know the slightest thing about it. Three guys were standing there and no-one was in the plane and they all turned round and said 'Ah thank goodness the radio man has arrived. We're saved.' 'So they told me to give them a reading and I didn't know what to do. All the time they were praising me saying. 'I do admire you radio men, it's so involved I don't know how you lads do it. You're the soul of the earth.' These guys were qualified pilots and I was just an apprentice. I didn't know how to work this unit and they couldn't figure out why the man in the cockpit wasn't getting a reading. I had about sixteen aerials out and absolutely nothing was happening. I should have sent out a frequency and they should have picked up a reading. This whole procedure went on for about fifteen minutes until one of these pilots asked me if I knew what I was doing. I replied that I didn't and they went crazy. I felt so small, it was such an embarrassment. The whole thing had been a complete practical joke and when I went back to the office they were in hysterics.'
Nowadays Ritchie tends to be the practical joker and many have suffered his 'wind-ups' but in his days at Heathrow Airport he suffered at the hands of other people. However on one occasion he caused complete chaos as he explained: One of the jobs was to clean out the air filters with a huge long hose. But you were supposed to curl the thing up so that not too much air came out. I didn't know how to work this filter and when I turned it on it blew absolutely everything down the hanger. There was a guy spraying a plane with paint and he went shooting down the end of the hanger. That didn't go down too well. Again I felt such a fool.
Working at the airport also gave Ritchie the opportunity to build a guitar. He explained, 'When all the planes were out it was great fun. Everybody was doing something for the home; making chairs and tables. I made a guitar. I did that job for nine months and then I joined Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers. I've been on the road since I was sixteen, so I guess I'm coming round for my second generation in rock'n'roll. That's why I suppose you don't get too excited about the music business - you've heard it all before. Music only repeats itself.
Clearly Ritchie Blackmore didn't like school that much. 'I left school when I was fifteen and I couldn't wait to get out. I was like a drop out. A slight rebel - I was a bully. Flashman had nothing on me. I was terrible at school and I think I was threatened with being expelled every week. I used to do athletic events like javelin throwing and swimming and they kept presenting me with all these awards. After hymns at assembly the headmaster would say, 'Blackmore's done it once more - he's put Heston up there' and I'd be given some medal for some sport. By the afternoon I'd be in his office getting the cane and being threatened with expulsion. I was always talking in class. I couldn't stand classes, I was always being caught out. I remember my physics teacher saying, 'Blackmore, never become a criminal' and when I asked him why he told me 'because you look so bloody guilty all the time - don't bother.' Meanwhile bunsen burners would be going strong and we'd have blown something else up. I'll never forget his words though. 'BLACKMORE, NEVER BECOME A CRIMINAL, BECAUSE YOU LOOK SO BLOODY GUILTY.'
© Steve Gett, for the Rainbow Official UK Fanclub Magazine 2nd edition 1981