Away from the fame and fortune of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore is setting off with a new band, a new album and an uncertain future. Geoff Barton reports
I shall do interviews initially, to get the band on its feet... but as soon as I've done that I'll revert to the mean, moody bastard I used to be."
The corners of Ritchie Blackmore's mouth curl up slowly and he smirks as he enjoys his own peculiar brand of humour. But it lasts for only an instant.
Soon enough, his face takes on a sullen, morose aspect again and his mouth droops down. Sitting next to him is Ronnie Dio, singer with the new band, Rainbow. He also smiles, but wistfully.
Slumped in a couch just outside the bar, near to the rowdy swimming pool and just opposite the dining room in the Swiss Cottage Holiday Inn, Ritchie doesn't look too awake. He prefers to talk in the evening you see, and right now it's three o'clock in the afternoon.
Also, the ex-Deep Purple guitarist is helplessly strapped to the interview conveyor belt, and is being borne inexorably from one journalist to another. I don't think he's enjoying himself too much. "I don't particularly like interviews," he continues, dark stubble jutting out from a sunken chin, "because I don't think they represent the spirit of the business. 'Music is the message' as I think your paper used to say. Really, that's all that counts.
"And it is a fact that I steer clear of interviews as much as possible - but in this case I feel obliged to do them in a way. I started the thing; it's got my name there at the beginning - Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - though it won't stay like that. I mean, I can't really say I'm not doing any interviews at all, can I? That would defeat the whole object of the exercise."
The 'exercise' consists of a split from Purple, a new band, a 'solo' album and, perhaps an uncertain future. "Uncertain? Yes, I suppose it is. And for that reason, it's not boring. I feel so much easier now than I ever did with Purple. Take making records, for example. Rainbow have a record deal where we make one album a year, and that's all I want to do. I made sure that was on the contract. "Purple have a three albums a year deal, plus tours of the world. Consequently, when I was with them, the music was suffering and we were just turning out any old stuff. There was a lot of padding involved, which I think is exploiting the public to some extent. Also, I think it's better for a band on a long-term basis if the record company says, all right, one album a year, two at the most.
"But, unfortunately, when you first join a band it's very rosy. When a record company comes up to you and says, all right, three records a year lads, everyone thinks, oh yeah, that's fine. That is, until you realise what you're up against." A group of children in swimming trunks run across the room, right in front of us, shouting in high-pitched voices and making for the nearby pool. Blackmore flinches for a moment and then gathers his senses and picks up the threads of the interview. "Yeah... take Rainbow. We're signed to Polydor in America and I think it was a good move. They're quite a small company over there; they're not too demanding, I think they'll handle us right. They're a German firm, you see, and that suits me. I like German people. They're very efficient, they have a lot of money behind them to do what they want to do."
And they also suit your temperament?
"Maybe. They're aggressive, pig-headed, they drink a lot of beer. They also produce the best composers, I think the best music that was ever invented came from Germany. Ninety per cent of the time I listen to classical music and I've great admiration for German composers. "I've heard all rock music before, you see, and I'm certainly not into funk music..."
But hold on. We digress. We should really be talking about the forthcoming album, 'Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow', due for release on August 10, and concerning ourselves with How-it-all began - an ancient Quatermass song called 'Black Sheep Of The Family'.
"Yeah, it all started with that song," Blackmore recalls, looking at Dio sadly out of the comer of his eye, perhaps not relishing having to tell the tale once again. "I wanted to do the number with Purple, so I said to them, hey, look, this is a great song, let's do it on an album. "But they weren't too keen because it wasn't an original track, it hadn't been written by one of the band. But I really wanted to get it put down in one way or another, so I went into the studio with some session people and asked Ronnie to sing." ("I was just knocked out," says Ronnie)
"From then on it, like, snowballed. We planned to release 'Black Sheep Of The Family' as a single, so we thought we'd better do a B-side. So we recorded a number called 'Sixteenth Century Greensleeves' and, as it turned out, it was better than the projected A-side. Then we weren't quite certain what to do. "So I thought ... hmmm. Maybe an album." Screams filter into the bar coming from the swimming pool. Outside you can see the kids splashing around. Blackmore's brow creases. "Anyway ... once I'd done the album I realised that I was really excited about it. I found I'd enjoyed recording it a lot more than some Purple records. Well, let me qualify that statement. I enjoyed doing 'In Rock' and 'Machine Head'was pretty good as well. But I don't think there's been an album since then that I've been really excited about.
"So I thought that, to be honest with myself, I should really leave the band. We had another Deep Purple album coming up, you see, and I wasn't looking forward to it at all. I liked playing with Purple on stage because they were very good, but in the studio it took such a long time to get things together and, um... it became a bit of a headache towards the end. "So a few weeks before we were due to go into the studios I said, no, I'd rather not. And that's when I split from the band. "I just didn't like the way things were going. In the studio we'd be five egotistical maniacs, pushing the faders up so each of us would be progressively louder than any of the others. It wasn't a team effort any more, the songs seemed to, have been forgotten.
"Also, Purple seemed to be getting - uh - funky, especially with 'Stormbringer'. And, as I told you before, I just don't like that sort of music. "It was all becoming too classy, too laid back and ... cool. That's not Deep Purple. Deep Purple are a brash, demanding band. "Don't get me wrong, I don't just like hard rock. I like hard rock, classical and ultra-melodic things. But I just don't like funk music. I hear it day and night in America and I'm sick of it all."
This 'funky' transition that Purple are apparently undergoing was primarily brought about by the arrival of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, wasn't it? As they gradually began to have more say in the band's direction, so the music seemed to alter, albeit in a subtle way. "Oh yes, obviously. Glenn is very funk orientated. Very."
So you think it was ultimately a mistake to choose them as replacements for Glover and Gillan?
"Not necessarily. I didn't say that. I don't think Purple could have gone on doing that type of music for ever. It was a good break. But now, with Rainbow, I want to carry on the music and expand upon the essence of Deep Purple - aggressiveness - but with a kind of medieval feel to it. It's hard to explain.
"My album isn't that much different from what Purple were doing at the time of, say, 'Machine Head'. Perhaps it's indicative of the direction I would have liked Purple to go on after that album, if I'd had more control." What do you think of Purple's new guitarist, Tommy Bolin?
"He's very good, he's one of the best. I think the band will probably be quite happy with him. He can handle a lot of stuff, including funk and jazz. Maybe they'll turn into a rather different band, but I don't really think so. I think they know that if they did they'd be just another funk band. They'll still keep to the rock side of things, I'm sure of it. In fact the next album will probably be a lot rockier than 'Stormbringer'.
So the split has been made, finally and irrevocably. Yet I wondered if Blackmore misses the financial security that being with Purple gave him. At the moment he's in a precarious position - after all, there's no written guarantee that his Rainbow venture will be a success. "Yeah, security is one thing I have to think about. But, to tell you the truth, I've been thinking about leaving the band for a couple of years, whether I had a band of my own or not.
"I think a lot of the members of Purple thought that because I had an album in the can I was leaving. It wasn't like that at all. I left because I was tired of doing certain things, I'd lost enthusiasm and I was fed up. So I'd been thinking of leaving for a long time. I was just being lazy and kept putting it off and picking up the dollars... another day, another dollar as they say. "But when this came along I just knew it was the right time. I might return to being a pauper, but at least it's honest and something I'll always be is honest. I think maybe ..."
The children have emerged from the swimming pool. Dripping wet, they dash by us and we narrowly avoid being sprayed with water. Blackmore looks dismayed, his expressionmore gloomy than ever before. Ï hate little kids," he says.
© Geoff Barton, Sounds 2 August 1975