While Blackmore's Mysterious Crew remains Isolated in France
Recording a Studio LP, 'On Stage' Captures Their Fury Live
The only thing missing is the thunder and lightning. Otherwise, here at Le Chateau - a musty 16th century castle turned recording studio, located just 20 miles south of Paris - there are all the elements for the perfect Vincent Price, grade Z horror flick, embellished by some bizarre Arthurian details. There's the mast, the medieval gargoyles, the tower waiting to house a distressed damsel, four black cats - and right now, in the main drawing room, Ritchie Blackmore and his Rainbow are gathered for the evening's seance.
There've been a lot of these seances going on for the last few nights, lots of sports car driving and football playing, too. And occasionally, when no one is compelled to follow singular im pulses, Rainbow actually condescend to go up to the studio to work on their forthcoming album, to be released late in the year.
But luckily the band can afford to take their time with this one. Filling the void, in the meantime, is Rainbow's first live disc, On Stage (Oyster), a double set that should establish them as one of the top heavy metal bands today.
"We had originally just planned to release it as a bonus in Japan," explains Blackmore as the clock nears midnight. "But when we heard it, we figured it was good enough to go over everywhere else."
As in his Deep Purple days, Japan is still the home of Blackmore's strongest fans. Yet to avoid the Made In Japan-Purple stigma, Rainbow has used some live tapes from Germany along with their last far east dates to make up the new album. Still, the project does hark back to his Purple days with its inclusion of a side-long version of "Mistreated," which originally appeared on the Burn album. "The reason we used it is simply because this is the best version of it that's ever been done," Ritchie explains. "The vocal is just tremendous."
"Anyway, Ritchie felt the song was more his than Purple's," adds lead singer Ronnie Dio. "It fits perfectly in the set because we needed something slower-a bluesy kind of song to break things up." The rest of the album, though, is all strident rockers, with an overall effect not unlike shoving a lit stick of dynamite in each ear. Songs from the first Rainbow album dominate, highlighted by an extended version of "Catch The Rainbow," featuring a ten minute blow by Blackmore that rivals anything he carved in Purple vinyl.
The only new song on the album is the opening cut, "Kill The King" - a speed-of -light rocker in the mold of "Highway Star" or "Fireball". "That song was written especially for the stage show," Dio explains. "It's about a chess game: just the basic idea to checkmate the king or kill him, but you can read into it whatever you want. Maybe people will see it as a medieval king being assaulted by the pawns or rooks."
Perhaps the most important function of the live album is that it stands a good chance of breaking the band in America, the only part of the world over which Rainbow does not yet reign supreme - although their upcoming tour in late Summer may just change all that. "America is strange," Ritchie affirms. "Our personal appearances go down well but we get no radio play. They don't like to play songs as fast as ours."
But Ritchie and Rainbow refuse to radically alter their style, though some minor compromises are already taking place with this new studio venture. Up in the tower room, Ritchie and Ronnie work the vampire shift (midnight to dawn) trying to get down the vocal to what may be their most saleable song yet, "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll". Meanwhile the rest of the band hang out in the game room, telling horror stories and repeating Monty Python routines. Each member likes to retain a certain amount of privacy here, for though the band work well together, hanging around in the same ghostly castle for weeks on end can drive even the most congenital rocker bonkers.
"The individual members of this band aren't the most tactful people," drummer Cozy Powell warns, momentarily diverted from his motoring magazine. "Things can get pretty heavy around here. We're very intense people and that's why the music is the way it is."
"I think the key to this band is our aggro," keyboardist Tony Carey adds, sucking on an overripe grapefruit. "We all ate each other's guts, but it just makes for more creativity."
Tony himself has had his share of highly publicized battles with Ritchie's famed moodiness, but after a threatened departure last year he now seems firm in his commitment to the band. Still, Tony's musical interests extend far beyond the type of molten metal Rainbow now spew forth. Up in his room he has hundreds of tapes of classical and folksy work that may someday find an outlet in a solo career.
Cozy also has interests outside the band, mainly car racing, demonstrated to Circus Magazine by a hair-raising 140mph Ferrari race to hell along the walled backstreets of France. "I don't need rock & roll," Cozy openly admits.
"When I'm in the band I give my all, but if it all stopped tomorrow I wouldn't lose any sleep. The cars will overtake me sometime I'm sure."
Sharing Cozy's interest for racing is bassist Mark Clarke, the ex-Uriah Heep, Natural Gas, Coliseum rocker who recently replaced Jimmie Bain and makes his debut with Rainbow on this next album.
It's vocalist Ronnie Dio, though, who seems the most in tune with leader Blackmore, sharing Ritchie's penchant for medieval lore and spiritual research. "I wish I had lived in King Arthur's time," Dio admits, back, in the gameroom after a grueling recording session. "I only wish they had flushable toilets.
I've read all the original legends, it's a great escape for me. When I write songs I isolate myself from what's going on and revert back to medieval days. There's a track on the next album called 'Lady Of The Lake', that's based on these old legends. Ritchie's more into the medieval music than I am, but I think our mutual love of the period is what originally brought us together."
Ritchie confirms this fact several hours later in the seance room, across the courtyard, apart from the others as usual. "I often like to pretend I'm holding court in some castle," Blackmore admits, as a Chopin sonata tinkles away in the background - most appropriate since this castle is supposedly haunted by the composer's spirit. Dressed in customary black, looking somewhat like a drowned rat in these wee hours, Ritchie admits to being every inch the schizo the press has portrayed him to be. "I am as moody as everyone says," murmurs Blackmore in hushed tones that seem to mimic some old druidic chant. "I quite often find myself being the outcast but that's the way I want it. I'm glad to have the image of the mystical man in black because it keeps the idiots away. I find most people boring. I abhor making conversation. I realize I should enjoy life and laugh - I don't laugh very much. I do laugh at silly things - like if someone falls down and breaks their neck I find that very funny."
Here Blackmore lets out a surprisingly boisterous laugh which seems to transform him into a different man. "Everyone says I'm mystical but it's not true," he continues in a decidedly mystical tone. "It's just if you don't say much and wear black everyone thinks you're mysterious. I am interested in the occult and magic. My guitar playing is like magic. But I'm very religious as well. I'm a firm believer in God and I feel when I'm playing at my best, it's his gift and I'm proud of that fact. There's other times when I feel like I shouldn't be playing at all, like I should be a baker or something. My playing sometimes is very uninspired and I sound just like any other guitarist. Guitar playing to me often sounds very tedious. I like to listen to organ players a lot. I think E. Power Biggs is great. His music seems to come from the soul. Guitarists seem to play in stereotyped thirds - except for Jeff Beck and Jan Akkerman, I can't listen to them. Most guitarists are just Hollywood stars."
Ritchie, on the other hand, remains one of the most intense six-stringers currently playing, and now with the new line-up of Rainbow he finally has the control he's always sought over his final live and recorded sound. "Too much control can be bad," Ritchie warns. "But with this band I think it's better."
Yet Blackmore still has doubts about his current musical line-up. "It would be very easy for me to sit back and say, 'oh yeah man, this new band is going great,' but it's not. Life is always a struggle, a constant worry."
Ritchie feels equally unsure about the material planned for the new album. "I can't really tell how it's going. I'll know better in two years when I'm drunk. I can only hear things in perspective when I'm really drunk in some bar. When I hear old Purple things in a bar some are valid and some are just disgusting.
"As you can tell, I won't be my own publicist. I'm not interested in promoting myself. I don't care about being in a top band anymore. It's nice but I've done that already with Deep Purple. If you're successful you become predictable. I like to be the underdog sometimes. I like to shock people by coming up from underneath. I like to shock people to see their emotions. I contradict myself all the time because I don't see any validity in words. I just like shock statements."
A short while later, just as everyone's about to drop off to sleep, blood curdling screams shake the ancient castle, followed by ghastly moans that sound like they're coming from someone who just got his gonads stuck in the dicing machine. A quick jolt down the stairs finds the sounds emanating from a tape recorder lying in the foyer, obviously placed there by Mr. Blackmore himself. Ritchie stands nearby, a triumphant grin on his face. "Like I said," he smiles. "I always like to shock people."
Jim Farber, Circus, USA, 21 July 1977
Photos by Fin Costello (Ritchie), Brad Alterman (Ronnie & Cozy), Harry Sandler (live), Claude Gassian (line-up)