Veteran English Rocker
WHEN RITCHIE BLACKMORE steps into the stage lights and begins to play. His 22 years experience and high adrenalin turn him into a self-described "aggressive bulldozer" of a guitarist. "I feel like I own the stage." he says. Indeed, his scaring lead work with Deep Purple and his natural evolution with Rainbow, his current band, have carried him onto the stages of four continents and his recordings into the charts time and again - in one year alone, Deep Purple sold over 14 million albums world-wide. Rainbow recently released their fourth album, Long live Rock 'N Roll which fuses the seemingly incongruous styles of classical, Renaissance, German Baroque, and heavy rock music. "I criticize my own work pretty harshly," Blackmore says, "yet I feel this is some of the best music I have ever been part of."
Ritchie's musical initiation began in 1956. when at age 11 he got his first instrument - a secondhand Framus Spanish guitar. He lived near guitarist Big Jim Sullivan [see GP, Jan.'73], from whom, he says, "I learned quite a lot of tricks." By the time he was 17 Ritchie was working as a session guitarist, often sharing duties with Jimmy Page, [see GP, Jul.'77], and he joined Screaming Lord Sutch's band in London. Sutch, one of the most colorful characters in British rock during the '60s, modeled himself after American blues singer Screaming Jay Hawkins.
"Working with him was terrifying at first anyway," says Ritchie. "He did a stage act in which he'd dress up like Jack the Ripper. He had shoulder-length hair before anyone else, and every gig was an adventure. He taught me to get out and give it to the people." After several years apprenticeship with Sutch, Blackmore tired of the British music scene and moved to Hamburg, West Germany. He became a regular at the Star Club, backing visiting musicians including Jerry Lee Lewis. In February 1968 Blackmore, organist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice met in Hamburg and discussed thc possibility of forming a group.
They added bassist Nick Simper, who had also worked with Sutch, and vocalist Rod Evans. By the summer of the same year their first single - a hard rock version of Joe South's "Hush" - was released in the U.S. Following the succes of their first album, Shades Of Deep Purple, the band toured the U.S. in October 1968. Though the band's first three alhums received wide acclaim in the U.S., they did not release any recordings in England until 1970.
In July 1969, Evans was replaced by Ian Gillan, who would later play the title role in the recorded version of the Jesus Christ Superstar [MCA, 10,000], and Roger Glover took over as bassist. While the new lineup rehearsed, Jon Lord began working on a concerto for a rock band and symphony orchestra.
On September 24, 1969, Deep Purple joined the Royal Philharmonic at Royal Albert Hall; the performance met with wide approval from both classical and rock reviewers, and was later released as Deep Purpie And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Deep Purple spent a half-year working on In Rock, and the LP was successfully received in both the U.S. and England in 1970. Later that year the group toured Europe, and in May 1971, they made their first trip to Australia. The hand scored further successes with their following albums: Fireball in 1971, Machine Head (reportedly recorded in a hotel corridor in Montreux, Switzerland) in 1972, and Made In Japan and Who Do We Think We Are? in l973. Machine Head and Made in Japan both achieved gold-record status soon after release. In 1973 Gillan quit the band, citing its "lack of progression," and he was soon followed by Glover. By 1975, Blackmore had also tired of his role in Deep Purple. "Things were getting a bit boring in rock and roll," he explaied, and he began to seek new musical direction.
In spring, 1975, Blackmore teamed with fomer Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Blackmore found that Dio shared his interest in medieval music, and many of the songs they began to write reflect this interest. Joining Blackmore and Dio was Cozy Powell, who had worked as a drummer for Donovan and Jeff Beck [se GP, Nov. '75] and had three solo singles to his credit. They called themselves Rainbow. Their original bassist Jimmy Bain was replaced by ex-Widowmaker Bob Daisley, and keyboardist Tony Carey was rcplaced by David Stone. Shortly after its formation, Rainbow traveled to Munich, West Germany, where they recorded Rainbow, their debut album. With his new band, Blackmore claimed: "We're going to have much more emphasis on melody. In other words, everything isn't going to be hung on a riff." Ritchie has recently begun to study the cello. When asked if he will soon be delivering cello solos in live performances, he answers: "Maybe when I'm 40. It'll take me that long to really play it well."
When did you first start playing guitar?
Basicaliy I started when I was 11. I don't really have a musical background from my pareents, but my father was a kind of mathematician, and he helped me with the notes in a purely mathematical way. I would show him some music and ask, "Why is this like this?" and he would work it out without knowing why, which I could't do at that age. And that's what I've been doing since I was 11.
Did you take any lessons?
Yeah, when I was 11 I took classical lessons for a year. I thought I had to start playing on the right foot and the right hand, and I felt I had to learn properly. So I took lessons for a year, and then I went my own way after that. You lose your identity unless you do it yourself. You've got to get off on the right footing, but after that you have to carry on with your own identity, which for me came later. I suppose my style originated from not being able to pick things up very easily. I used to play my own solos rather than copy other people's.
Did you find the guitar accessible?
No, I found it very hard at first. It was very difficult. The first six months were difficult and then it became very easy; then after about three years it became very difficult again.
Was it some time before you got your first electric guitar?
It was about five years. The acoustic I was using was a Spanish guitar that had about 400 pickups and knobs and switches. And then I bought a Hofner, which was a very thin guitar. It was a great guitar; I wish I could find it today. It didn't have any f-holes, it was a solidbody. And then I bought a Gibson ES-335 when I was about 16, and I stayed with that one until I was 21 or 22, something like that. And then I heard Hendrix's sound, which hit me in the stomach, and I went for that. With the Gibson you really lose that identity - everybody sounds the same, I think, unless you're listening to one of the top-notch guys.
Did you play in bands with friends?
I played in a skiffle group, and there were ahout 20 guitarists involved and none of them could play. We were playing Lonnie Donegan stuff "Rock Island Line" and things like that. But first I started playing off what you call a dog box: it's a piecc of string attached to a broorn handle which goes through a tea chest and gives you certain notes. And any one of the notes will do, as long as it goes boom. Then I progressed to the washboard with thimbles and things.
When did you begin studying with Big Jim Sullivan?
He was teaching me when I was about 12. My brother's girlfriend knew him and he would come over to the house; of course after I heard him play I idolized him. I would always be around his house trying to learn different things. He was good because I could see how far I had to go to try and keep up. At first I thought, "Oh, no, I'll never make it if this is just the guy around the corner," but luckily not everybody was like him. It just so happened he lived around the corner and it was like having a genius around, and you think everyone else is the same way.
What kinds of things was he showing to you?
He was teaching me classical - Bach, and things like that - and he was teaching me to read better than I was. He said to me once, "Whatever type of music you're going to play, you must stick to it; don't be a jack-of-all-trades." So I decided rock and roll was the thing. Which is ironic - he didn't practice what he preached. He plays country and western, classical - just everything very well, but of course people don't know him for anything. And so I started to rock and roll because I was excited by it.
What was your frist band when your playing had a chance to expand?
It was the Outlaws, which was a band that used to do a lot of sessions. Chas Hodges was on bass - he used to be with Heads, Hands & Feet. We stayed together for about two years and did a lot of sessions. That was a very good band, it was instrumental and we didn't have a singer. I learned a lot from sessions; I did about four a day when I was 17 or 18. It was the same time Jimmy Page was doing sessions. If they wanted a rock and roll player they'd get Pagey or myself, because they had a lot of people who could read, but they didn't have too many people who could feel heavy rock music. All these readers didn't want to know about playing rock, whereas Jimmy and I didn't read too well, but we could just feel the sessions.
Whom did you do sessions for?
The sessions were for everybody, even for Tom Jones at times. But half the time they were backing tracks, so we didn't know who they were for. Occassionally we'd see the artists, but the people were really not well-known; they were well-known there but you wouldn't know them here.
You used the ES-335 for the sessions?
Yeah, and I had a system for getting a fuzz sound. This was the early '60s, and I hadn't seen a fuzztone, so I used a smashed speaker which was about three inches around and gave this fuzz-box sound.
What type of amplifier were you using?
A Vox AC-30.
That was virtually the only amp available then.
That's right, and they were the best, too. I've still got that Vox. It's encased in a Marshall cabinet.
You did sessions for how long?
I did sessions for about two years, and then I went to Germany after that and did sessions there and stayed there for quite a time, about three years. Then the Purple thing started.
You used the ES-335 for the early years of Deep Purple?
That's right, the first two years. I used it on the first two albums, Shades Of Deep Purple and The Book Of Taliesyn.
Your work with Screaming Lord Surch was before Purple?
Yes, I forgot about that. The Screaming Lord introduced me to showmanship. Before that I used to play in the wings, and when I met him he pulled me out front and demanded I jump around and act stupid. My first impression of him was that I thought he was mad. In those days nobody had that kind of long hair; God knous how long it was. And he had his own act. But he had a fantastic hand, he had an amazing band.
Who was in the band with you at that time?
Ricky Benson, who later went with Georgie Fame, and Carl Little, who the Stones wanted and he turned them down - he's heen kicking himself ever since. And [pianist] Nicky Hopkins used to come along now and then, because we all lived around the same area.
How did that post-Sutch album, Hands Of Jack The Ripper, happen?
Sutch phones me up and said "Do you fance playing tomorrow night?" I agreed and I came down with [keyboardist] Matt Fisher of Procol Harum, and we did just a night of playing. And I saw the recording equipment and thought, "He's doing it again." And he said here's $500 for playing tonight.
You started developing your stage routine with Sutch?
Yeah, that's right. He pulled me on the stage and I was slightly electrocuted, because he was touching the mike and me. After that I thought if he can get away with it, I can do that, because I could see how well he was going down and how much money he was earning. I thought, "I can run around the stage and act like a maniac. Maybe I'll get paid for it, too."
Did you use a Marshall amp in the early days of Purple?
No, I was still using the Vox miked. It used to buzz like mad. I changed to Marshalls about eight years ago. I knew Jim Marshall [see GP, Feb. '77]. He was a drum teacher, and I saw the Marshall setup and liked the way they looked. The design I liked, but the sound was awful. So I went back to the factory because I knew Jim and I said, "Look, I want this changed and I want that changed." And I used to play in front of all the people that were there working; there would be women there assembling things, and I had the amp boosted to 400 watts. So I would be playing away right in front of all these people and they'd be trying to work. I'd go, "That's not right, more treble," and they'd take out a resistor. I had to play full blast or otherwise I couldn't know what it was going to sound like. The people hated me.
You changed to a Fender Stratocaster for the third album, Deep Purple In Concert?
I think it was, yeah. In fact the Strat I used belonged to Eric Clapton. I used it and liked the sound of it; it was very sharp but impossible to play. The neck was so bowed, it was really bad. He just had one kicking around the house, and I picked it up and he said, "Take it away." It had a great sound for a wah-wah pedal because it was so sharp, but it was very difficult to play because it was so bowed. I thought it was an interesting guitar at the time, even though all the octaves were out.
You actually used that guitar on the third album?
Yeah, there are quite a few tracks where both guitars the ES-335 and the Stratocaster are used. But I can't remember what songs were with which.
Did you find it difficult changing from the Gibson to the Fender?
Yeah, the transition was really hard. I found great difficulty in using it the first two years. With a Gibson you just race up and down, but with a Fender you have to make every note count; you have to make the note sing or otherwise it won't work. It's more rewarding because with a Gibson nobody has an identity, as I said before.
Had you heard people like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page using Les Pauls?
I was into Les Paul guitars when I first saw Albert Lee [see GP, Aug. '77] play. He's probably one of the best guitarists in the world. I first heard him play a Les Paul in 1960. That's when I wanted one. When it became popular and everyone had one, I dropped it. But I loved Les Paul [see GP, Dec. '77] and Mary Ford anyway; I had all of their records. I was into Les for about four years. Chet Atkins was the other guitarist that everybody was into, but his thumb thing got on my nerves a bit. I thought Les Paul was much better, and Mary Ford was better to look at.
Did you hear the album with Les Paul and Cher Arkins, Chester & Lester [RCA, APL1-l167]?
Yeah I wasn't too impressed. I would like to someday meet Les Paul. It was like him, Scotty Moore [see GP, Aug. '74], and James Burton [see GP, Mar. '72] who were my main influences. They were real guitarists, not posers.
What about the Green Bullfrog album?
That was me, Albert Lee and Jim Sullivan. Ian Paice and Roger Glover were on it and whoever else was around at the time. Tony Ashton was on it, I think. It was awful, disgusting. It was done in a day and nobody knew what we were doing. I was embarrassed; I never heard that L.P actually.
It's interesting to hear when each of you takes a solo.
I was there with my stack, Albert was there with his little amp and Telecaster, and Jim was doing his fingerpick stuff.
So it was the Stratocaster and Marshall for the duration of Deep Purple?
Yeah. It was really hard at first, because they didn't match. It just looked right, espccially the Marshall, so I thought I've got to make that amplifier sound right if it's the last thing I do. The standard ones are awful.
What did you do to change your Marshalls?
I had an extra output stage built on. I have no bass at all on the amp. There're an extra two valves [tubes] built into the output stage so there's more output. It's boosted to about 250 or 300 watts. I use the old 200- watt amps, which you can't get anymore because thcy don't make them.
Do you use 200-watt heads?
Yeah, which are boosted. They're the loudest amplifier in the world on their own. I'm not saying I play the loudest it depends on how many you use. But one on its own is the loudest. I don't like to use a lot of cabinets, I think just two cabinets is enough; otherwise the sound is all around you. l like to keep away from the sound, and that's why onstage I play to the left of it and point it the other way. Then I can get a perspective of what's going on; otherwise all you can hear is yourself. And you tend to get feedback and overtones you don't want.
Did you initially use one stack and later add the second?
Yeah, I just have the other one as a reserve. It's on, but I'm not using it. It's just if I blow the first one.
Do you blow them very often onstage?
Yeah, all the time lately. I don't know why. It's the output transformer that blows up. It's like a finely tuned car, you can't expect it not to break down. I really push it.
You use the same guitar/amplifier setup in the studio?
Yeah. Actually I don't play in the studio, I have someone else who takes my place. Jim Page comes in.
Are there solos you played with Deep Purple that stand out in your mind?
The solo on "Highway Star" [Machine Head] was worked out; it's just arpeggios based on Bach. On Machine Head as a whole, in fact, there was some good stuff. The guitar solo on "Pictures Of Home" was good. But when I hear that compared to what I'm doing now, there's a big difference to me. It's much better now; I didn't have the control then I do now. I think the solo on "Gates Of Babylon" [Long Live Rock 'N Roll] is the best solo I've ever done. It is the best because it's the most intricate solo, yet at the same time it's not clinical. I was well pleased with that one.
Was that a spontaneous solo?
Yeah, that was spontaneous. And also it wasn't just 24 bars of just playing on E. There were so many weird chords involved that I could go back to my old way of playing, which is just to have the chords in front of me and play the solo, whereas now every time I go into the studio to play I know exactly what the song consists of. Usually it's just two chords and I'm stale by the time I get in there. But we threw those chords around. and in fact David Stone, our keyboardist, helped a lot with that. They were strange chords diminished, augmented it was great. Because I love musical theory and I was well into that, I didn't have any problems with that side of it. I love playing a few augmented and diminished runs and not just the usual blues licks.
What did you think of the album Deep Purple did with the orchestra?
I didn't like it. I like proper classical, purist classical. That album was just a compromise; the orchestra was never playing at its best and the best was certainly out of its depth. I like chamber music basically, medieval music moreso than big orchestrations.
What did you think of Deep Purple's two live albums, Made In Europe and Made In Japan?
I never listen to them; they're old, dead, and buried. I think both of them as live LPs are rubbish, but compared to all the live albums that are put out by other bands. I think they were brilliant.
What about Rainbow's live album On Stage?
That was dire when we did it: I've had to have someone come in and salvage the tapes and get a better sound. They sounded awful. I don't. know, there's something about being live that doesn't come across. I've got cassettes of us playing really well. As soon as the red light is on and we're recording, everything gets compressed and there's no way to get around it.
There was some good playing on Burn.
Yeah, that's because we had about a year off and I had the excitement to start again. Just before that I was ready to kind of leave myself. We were just working and flogging ourselves to death. I was sick all the time. Luckily we changcd two members and there was new blood. Then again, Burn was great, and Stormbringer hecame a bit funky, soully, smooth.
"Mistreated" on Burn was a good song.
Yeah. That was influenced by "Heartbreaker" [Heartbreaker, Island 9217] by Free. I get inspired by other people's songs and write something vaguely similar.
In fact wasn't Paul Rodgers, Free's vocalist, supposed ro join Deep Purple?
Yeah, that's right, he was for about a week. I think somebody was going to chop his legs off if he did leave, so he didn't. I think he was into a different type of singing and he didn't want to follow lan Gillan and all that screaming. Rodgers wasn't into that, he was more into blues.
It seems that Ian Paice really pushed you as a player.
Yeah, I used to have to look around at him some nights to get some sort of enthusiasm.
How is it different playing with drummer Cozy Powell as opposed to Ian Paice?
Ian plays more of a stright beat; Cozy always plays in front of the beat and he's pushing all the time.
You use a rosewood-fingerboard Stratocaster?
Yeah, I break the maple necks because they're so badly made. They should be broken. Now they're so badly made it's disgusting.
What year is the Stratocaster you're using?
I think it's about two years old. It's one of about ten that has a narrow neck.
What do you do to a guitar when you get it?
I do this carving-out business. I'll usually cover the Fender frets with tape or put in Gibson frets, and I'll sandpaper the wood down so it's concave so I can get my finger underneath. I have the action on my guitar fairly high so there's more control, but it's within reason. I mean, jazz players have it so high and it's musical snobbery really.
The Gibson frets have a wider profile than Fender's?
Yeah, they do. I do like big frets, but I've noticed in the last two years I've kept it to Fender frets.
Do you use Fender tuning heads?
No, I use Schallers. It's funny, I never saw anybody do it before I was doing it and I did it years ago. Now everybody does it. I wonder why that is?
Do you change the nut?
No, because that's only good for sustaining a note open. Once you hit a note on the first fret you depend on the first fret and not the nut. Although [drummer] Buddy Miles used to tell me Hendrix used a brass nut.
Do you rewire the guitars in any way?
No, but I sometimes insulate them with copper inside to stop the buzzing. That's about all, really. I don't use the middle pickup at all; I get rid of that one and rearrange the other two. I just have bass and treble black and white, that's what I like.
How many springs do you use on your vibrato bar?
Four. And I have a friend who balances the arm. He loosens the screws at the very front of the tailpiece and sets the whole thing at a different angle so it is in perfect balance. It's amazing, you just can't go out of tune. I never thought it would work. I just used to bolt them down and forget about it. I pull and push the vibrato bar - it goes down a whole octave when I push it.
Do you try to get the settings between the three major positions on the toggle switch?
No, that's a little bit of a touch of gray in there.
What settings do you use on the guitar and the amplifier?
I never touch the tone controls on the guitar; they're always full up. But I will turn the guitar volume from full to half when I'm doing a quieter solo. On the amp everything is full up. No, actually I do have markings on the amp, but it's very hard to say because I can't compare it with anything. On some amps I have the presence completely up, and on some I have it completely off. And like I told you bcfore, I have no hass. I use a lot of middle because I hate that screeching top; it's a little bit too penetrating. I use midrangc treble. And the volume is on half; if it was full up it would just catch on fire.
Do you use the stock speakers in the cabinets?
Yeah, whatever they are.
Have you ever experimented with other speakers?
I've tried all types of different amplifiers, but they're a little bit too clear; I like a little bit of distortion which is controlled through my tape recorder. I built my own tape recorder; well, I didn't build it, but I modified it from a regular tape recorder to an echo unit. It also preamps and boosts the signal going to the amp. If I want a fuzzy effect l just turn up the output stage of the tape recorder.
Can you be more specific as to how it works?
I just keep it on "record" so it records, and it's like a continual echo becaus I couldn't get that echo with any echo machine. A continual boom, boom, boom, repeat. Most echo machines are awful; it's like you're in a hallway. The tape recorder doesn't interfere with the note you're playing.
What type of recorder is it?
I don't really know. I tried using a Revox and it didn't work. I'd really be in trouble if somebody stole my recorder. I've been using it for the last four or five years.
How did you come upon this idea?
I used to do that at home; I used to take my tape recorder and use it as an echo. So I thought if I could use it at home I could use it onstage and it sounded right onstage.
How exactly is it hooked up?
There's a cord from the guitar into the tape recorder input, and the output stage just goes back to the amp. And I can control the volume, too; I can have it loud with no distortion or vise versa. I have a little footpedal that I can stop and start it with. A lot of people think when they see the tape going the solos are recorded. Lots of people ask that. Some guy shouted in New York, "Turn the tape recorder off." Actually all that inspired me, I turned it off and really whizzed around.
Do you use any other pedals or effects?
No. Well I do use bass pedals; I've only been using them for about the last six months. When the band decides they don't want to play I can go do my own little set. It's very interesting because they're a challenge. Sometimes it works great and sometimes it doesn't, but that's the chance you take. They're so loud and so bassy.
What kind of picks and strings do you use?
I use tortoiseshell picks, one end squared, one end pointed. I have them specially made for me because you can't get them at all. I use tortoiseshell because plastic is too soft; I like them brick hard. I've used this shape ever since I was 11, and I just cannot play with those round things everybody plays with, because when you jump a string you tend to hit the other string on the way. With this pick you can be more nimble. I use Picato strings; I've always used them. They're the best; Eric Clapton turned me on to these. He's now using Fender - I don't know why. Why Ernie Ball has the monopoly on strings I'll never know. The gauges I use are .010, .011, .014, .026, .036 and .042.
Are there certain keys you like to work in?
Yeah, I like F# and Dm. E is boring. I don't do too much in C; it's a little too obvious, too bright for me. G is a very resonant key, F# is more of a blues. Dm gives you the entire length of the neck to do nice open notes.
In the studio do you record rhythm tracks first and then solos?
I hate to do rhythm tracks, they bore me silly. That's why most of my rhythm tracks are very clinical. I'm so bored with just trying to get the thing right with the drums and the bass. I just love the part when it comes to putting my bit on there because if I clock up it's just me. But I can't stand going through, "I've done my bit," and the bass player goes, "Oh, I messed it up." And you do it again and the bass player gets it right and the drummer messes up. Of course by the tenth time you start hollering at everybody and you mess it up. And that's it, you're over the top by this time. Everybody is stale. You become a combination of things - annoyed, stale, worried that you're not ever going to get it off. And it's so simple, it's something you'd knock off in one minute, but get it onto tape is a pain in the ass. That's why I don't like recording too much, it's too clinical. A lot of people love it, they can edit their music and put it together and make it nice, but when they get onstage they're lost. My way of thinking is the opposite. I love to have that freedom of just going onstage and playing whatever I want to play at the time. I'll play the numbers, which I'm supposed to play, but in the in-between parts if I'm feeling good, I'll play something completely off the wall that I've never ever played in my life. In other words, I just lay back for the vocal and then I do my bit when it comes to the solo. I don't like to intricate things in the backgrounds; I don't like to clutter, I like the foundation to be simple.
Do you use special miking techniques in the studio?
I have one speaker in the studio, and I have one in an echo chamber usually. And the're both miked up, but not very close; they're miked from about nine feet away because they're so bloody loud. I play near stage volume in the studio, because the amp only operates full out it can't operate at half.
Do you practice?
Yeah, a lot, I have to. When I'm home I just play the cello and fiddle around, but when I'm on tour I usually practice for an hour and a half before a gig. If I think it's going to be a good gig and I want to impress, I'll really practice, otherwise I won't. But I'm always holding a guitar and fiddling with it. But that can be bad because you get really lazy, especially with a guitar like my old Spanish guitar with nylon strings. I tend to pick it up and just sit there strumming. It's like an artist and a painthrush; you just shouldn't slap colors around very lazily. If you're going to play you should play as hard as you can. It's hard to do because a guitar is such a great instrument just to sit there and fiddle with and sing old Beatles songs. That's the worst thing you can do.
Are there certain things you practice?
I don't practice specific things; I practice avenues of playing to try and lose myself in the guitar. I don't think you should be thinking too heavily about what you're playing. And lots of times when I'm playing the guitar, I don't really know what I'm doing or where I am. I'm just going up and down the guitar rather than looking at each note and thinking that's an Eb. And other times I stop completely and just go "Ohhh" in frustration. It's whether I'm inspired; being an extremist, I go from being totally uninspired to very inspired.
Did the speed and accuracy come from practice?
Yeah. I think it's because I also use four fingers and most other people just use three. When I first started I was taught to use my little finger, and of course I have ever since. Jeff Beck uses four; he was obviously taught the right way. It's funny, if you don't learn that in the beginning, you're lost. You must get off on that right away.
Would you like to put together a guitarist's album?
Not particularly, no. I wouldn't mind putting together a blues LP and just jamming with somebody like I did with Sutch. I often jam with my friends and I play much better than I do on record or anywhere else, because I haven't got the pressure, just a 12-bar and that's it, no fancy frills. As soon as someone goes, "We'll record that," and the red light goes on, it's like "Oh, dear." My mind seizes up and I'm stale all of a sudden.
How would you describe your righthand rechnique?
It's up and down, always up and down. People like Alvin Lee play wrong because they play everything down. And it's so difficult to play like that. It's a very important technique to have. I often just sit in the dressing room and practice quick up- and down-strokes just changing from one open string to another. And it's very difficult. The solo from "Highway Star" is that quick up- and down-stroke. The right hand doesn't really do much, but it sounds very fast. It's like with a violinist or cellist.
Jethro Tull is one of your favorite bands?
Say no more. Ian Anderson is a genius, especially with his later stuff. It's horrifying to think how he wrote that stuff. But if you talk to him, he goes, "Oh, I just count two." But you can't count two over that, it's 9/ 5 1/2. Their guitarist, [Martin Barre, see GP. Dec. '77] and the rest of the group have memories like computers to remember that. Admittedly I wouldn't like to be in that band playing the same thing every night, hut I love to go and see them. I see them at least four times a year. In fact the last time I went and saw them was in Paris, and they put me right in the front row. I thought, "Why do they want me in the front row right in front of Ian Anderson?" So it came to the last number and Ian leaps off the stage and lands in my lap and starts singing to me. The spotlight is on me and I'm trying to act cool because my girlfriend was there. Whenever he brings out a new, LP I say I hope it's not as good as the rest of them, because then I'll feel a little bit better that I can't write like that. And sure enough, he comes out with another blinder. He gets so involved he writes a symphony. Funny enough, we had a blow with them and they were lost; Barrie Barlow, the drummer, can't keep a straight beat. Martin is fun, he's got a great memory, but he hasn't learned to improvise too well I think. He's got a problem there with his fingers, but he's still great. You can't say anything against him because he's such a nice guy. And John Glascock is a brilliant bass player, the best in the business in rock. Rainbow was after him, but we couldn't get him. If you get him on his own he's great and he's a natural. As bassist, Timmy Bogert is great, and Jack Bruce is a great bass player and vocalist.
It seems that the bass players and keyboardists you've worked with have never been quite up to your level.
That's right, that's true. Rainbow is a three-piece band really and always has been and always will be, I guess. Bob Daisley was the best bass player we could find, and we looked for ages. There are not a lot of people who want to play straight rock. It seems that when the very good guys come along, they're into this very hip jazz thing. It's very limiting and challenging to play rock, as you know. You've got set chords and you can't throw in any augmenteds, whereas with jazz you've got the whole scale. But it's worth it once you find the answers in rock and you come up with a good song. To me there's no chance involved with jazz you've got so much there to deal with. It's a musician's music; I like to play to people.
You think your playing has changed since the days of Deep Purple?
Yeah, I was listening to some of Purple's stuff and I thought I was better than that. It's very, very sketchy and it's very clinical; at the time it was the best I could do, bccause we had three weeks to get an LP together and there was so many egos involved. But I go through the same sort of things as Jeff Beck; I'm never happy with what I'm doing. And I can't get really excited talking about myself. And that's why I can't talk about somebody else even to slag them. That's why I don't do interviews – what can you say about yourself? I do this and I do that. "Yes, our new LP is great and we're touring." Everybody comes up with the usual crap – "With this new LP of ours we're going in a new direction." We're not going in any direction, we're just going along. If people don't like it, it's too bad. I certainly wouldn't change to suit the radio play that's gone down in the past three years all the Fleetwood Macs and Eagles and all that business.
You don't like that kind of music?
Not at all. I like intensity and drama, and if I'm going to listen to relaxing music, it's medieval or classical or it's up front more. There's no in-between.
Are there any other projects you're involved in?
I haven't wanted to do any other projects, but I'd like to do some work with the band Carmen. It's flamenco style, but on rock. It'd be interesting to throw some wild solos in their stuff. I don't get inspired by many bands, but they're really interesting.
Do you take much heed in what critics say about you?
I never read reviews, because if they say it's great then you go, "No, they're wrong" and if they say it's rubbish then that's fine with me. You have to believe in yourself. I listen to friends who are fans. If a fan comes up to me and says "I like your music, but that's a bit...," I'll listen; that's my critic. But people who write I don't listen to. They're just out to get a name for themselves.
Do you like playing with other guirarists?
Not particularly, no. I think one guitar is enough unless you're into that frame of mind where you can work out very good harmonies, which I'm not into. I'm just a spasmodic guitarist. I'm into self-extemporization; I'm not into working things out too much. That's why I don't play with other guitarists.
Do you think your current playing is as good as it's ever been?
I think it's much better. That's one positive thing I can say about it.
© Guitar Player September 1978