THE RECORD COLLECTOR INTERVIEW
ALAN WHITMAN SPENDS A NIGHT IN THE BLACK AND DISCOVERS
HOW THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS TURNED WANDERING MINSTREL
My conversion, for what it's worth, came in 1975, in the college common room. That's where I heard Deep Purple's breathtaking performance on the live "Made In Japan" album, and in particular Ritchie Blackmore's superb guitar playing - an experience which completely hooked me, from the first crashing chords of "Highway Star".
Not that I was alone. Blackmore was feted as one of the most dazzling guitar heroes of the late 60s and early 70s, an era when technique, pyrotechnics and daring combined to make stars out of axemen as diverse as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana.
Regrettably, Blackmore's musical skills have often been overshadowed by the media concentration on his uncompromising personality. That's probably the reason why he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the `Big Three' of Clapton, Page and Beck.
But make no mistake, Ritchie has probably influenced more contemporary guitar players than any of those characters. He will always be remembered for one of rock's immortal riffs, "Smoke On The Water". The purists may sneer at its simplicity, but I have yet to hear another guitarist who can wring the same sound and tone out of that trademark Fender Stratocaster and play that riff with the same flair (critics also tend to ignore his superb solo on the same song).
In one area of the press, at least - the specialist guitar magazines - his talent has been given its proper recognition. In fact, they have often speculated that Blackmore might be the greatest rock guitarist of all, a label he would undoubtedly dispute.
A 1976 piece in Guitar Player magazine captures the esteem in which he is held in this quarter: "No other heavy player could have played the solo in 'Strange Kind Of Woman'; its harmonies are beyond the reach of their understanding."
But it would be a grave mistake to regard Blackmore as simply a heavy player, with all the stigma attached to that label. The influences he uses in his playing, particularly on stage, know no bounds, and anything from classical to blues is delivered with consummate ease. In fact, anybody who attends a Blackmore concert expecting to see straightforward heavy rock may be disappointed, as his performances are regularly punctuated to tears! Blackmore himself is aware of the fine line he treads, but for his hardcore audience, it is this diversity which is central to his appeal.
Even in such a varied career, few people were prepared for his latest band, Blackmore's Night, whose debut album is a stunning collection of Renaissance period music. "Shadow Of The Moon" has been virtually ignored in Britain, but in other countries it's been acclaimed as one of his finest efforts - something with which the guitarist would no doubt agree.
To help publicise Blackmore's Night in this country, Ritchie - with his fiancée and vocalist, Candice Night - agreed to talk to Record Collector about the project, and also to look back over his long and varied career. We visited the couple in New York, eager to steer away from the standard interview questions about Deep Purple and Rainbow, and get closer to the heart of this enigmatic musician.
Blackmore has been tagged with various nicknames since the 70s, many of them reflecting his moody and difficult media image. Descriptions like 'The Man In Black' and 'Prince Of Darkness' even carry satanic undertones, sparked by his deep interest in ghosts and seances. My initial impression was that these descriptions were very apt: dressed in full-length black cloak and tall black hat, he looked the personification of an evil wizard. Intensely private, he shuns the rock'n'roll merry-go-round, but he has a personality and charisma that demands your attention.
The dark image isn't entirely true to the real Ritchie Blackmore, though. It belies a man of intense and dry humour (Monty Python is a favourite), not to mention a skilled and elegant raconteur. Indeed, his humour has caused raised eyebrows in the past, when comments he's made with his tongue firmly in cheek have been taken far too literally. But as is often the case, his image is also a disguise for a man of deep insecurity.
BLACKMORE BEFORE PURPLE
Born in Weston-super-Mare on April 14th 1945, Blackmore formed his first band at school - the snappily titled 2 I's Coffee Bar Skiffle Group. He left school at 15 and began working as an aircraft radio technician at London Airport. Around the same time, he formed the Dominators with his former schoolmate, drummer Mick Underwood. Then he joined the Satellites, playing rhythm guitar to Roger Mingay's lead. The band secured a residency in Twickenham, supplementing this with work at weddings and youth clubs, where they'd play rock'n'roll standards and Shadows numbers. In 1961, Ritchie joined Mike Dee and the Jaywalkers and more significantly purchased his cherry red Gibson ES335 guitar, identical to the one Chuck Berry used.
But it was in 1962 that his career began to take off, as he undertook the first of several stints with Screaming Lord Sutch. Later that year, he joined one of the finest British instrumental groups, the Outlaws. They'd already been associated with legendary producer Joe Meek for a couple of years, working as session musicians at his home studio in Holloway Road, London (see RC225). They ended up playing on a multitude of artists' records, reputedly including such notables as Tom Jones, Freddie Starr, Mike Berry and Heinz.
But the very nature of this session work ensured that the musicians often had no idea where their work would ultimately end up, not helped by the fact that Meek did not retain any written records of where they were being used. As was graphically illustrated by the feature in the May RC about Jimmy Page's early career, the whole area of 60s sessions is something of a minefield for collectors. But a fascinating insight into Blackmore's work during that era can be found on the "Rock Profiles Volumes 1 and 2" and "Take It! Sessions 63/68" CDs.
A couple of examples will demonstrate these problems. Among the artists Ritchie remembers backing are Danny Rivers and Mike Berry. But Rivers only recorded three singles for Meek, between 1960 and 1962, which was before Ritchie joined the Outlaws. Likewise, they certainly backed Berry, but again before Ritchie came on board. But there is allegedly a whole album's worth of unreleased Berry tracks, including some Buddy Holly covers, and it could be these that Ritchie is referring to. The Outlaws definitely recorded in their own right, though, and the "Return Of The Outlaws" single from 1963 shows that the budding Blackmore could have stood in for Hank Marvin if required!
In 1964, Ritchie left the Outlaws and joined the Wild Ones (later renamed the Wild Boys), another band put together by Meek, this time to support Heinz. Two tracks serve to highlight his virtuosity and growing confidence: "I'm Not A Bad Guy" features some wonderful licks and a fine solo, while the speed of the solo in "Movin' In" is unbelievable. He left in 1965, rejoining Sutch again for a short period - but long enough to record a single, "Honey Hush"/"The Train Kept A Rollin' ".
Towards the end of the year Blackmore, with two other members of Sutch's Savages, toured Germany backing Jerry Lee Lewis. They decided to stay there and formed the Three Musketeers, who allegedly only played one concert in January 1966. Then Blackmore did some session work for Polydor, backing unknown artistes, before the Musketeers joined Neil Christian and his band the Crusaders for several months.
Ritchie returned to the U.K. but was soon offered work in Italy, backing local singer Ricky Maiocchi as a member of the Trip. The band quickly dropped Maiocchi and carried on without him, but Blackmore returned to England - where, almost inevitably, he ended up in Sutch's latest troup, the Roman Empire, all the band performing in Roman military costumes. They toured the U.K. and Germany, where Blackmore also played more shows with Neil Christian and the Crusaders.
During 1967 Ritchie made a record with Christian, although "My Baby Left Me"/ "Yakety Yak" was not released until the following year. After a further tour with Christian's band, he formed Mandrake Root with ex-Crusader Matthew Smith, but although they rehearsed they never actually got as far as playing a gig.
RECORD COLLECTOR: How did you first start playing guitar?
RITCHIE BLACKMORE: A friend of mine brought a guitar to school when I was 11. The look of it was incredible: the shape of the thing, the strings, it looked so vibrant. I wanted a guitar just like that. People might say, 'Is that because it's shaped like a woman?'. Maybe that's a good answer.
RC: What were your influences at the time?
RB: Tommy Steele, 6.5 Special and people like Johnnie Ray and Bill Haley.
RC: Did you manage to see any bands live or was your exposure via TV and radio?
RB: Most of it was on TV, but I did get to see Nero & the Gladiators when I was 15. They were my favourite band, big heroes for me, and I'll always remember that show at Southall Community Centre. They were unbelievable. They dressed up as Romans and did things like "Hall Of The Mountain King" - all classical stuff but done as rock'n'roll.
RC: Which is something you had experience of later on ...
RB: Yeah. I tried to get in the band and got close to an audition but never made it. I was 15 or 16 at the time and I would have been very good for their band because I was really into that music. I think they got some other guitar player, but they had Tony Harvey as lead guitarist at the time and he was brilliant. As far as showmanship is concerned, he was my mentor, the one I really used to watch. He has since died, sadly.
After Nero & the Gladiators, the main influence would probably have been probably Django Reinhardt, people like that - not so much because of his playing but because I just liked his name. All those stories about him only playing with two fingers are true. That's all he had!
RC: Was Wes Montgomery another influence?
RB: Yeah, he was in there for a while. There were many guitar players: Scotty Moore, James Burton, Jimmy Bryant ... he was very fast. I was impressed with Country and Western.
RC: Did you always want to play fast yourself?
RB: Yes. I used to practice a lot, so speed was no problem: if I could play something, I could play it really fast. It wasn't until I was about 20 that I started to try and slow down. I just felt I was playing too fast, then it became like a nervous reaction. So when I started to slow down it was very difficult for me. Playing something and holding a note for, say, a couple of beats was like, "My God, I can't do this, because I'm too nervous", so it was back to playing fast.
RC: You moved up from Weston-SuperMare when you were very young. Do you think it was important being near the music scene in London?
RB: No, absolutely not, it did nothing for me. I firmly believe that if you are in the country, you practice more. If you are near the so-called happening town, then all you are doing is going out drinking with people when you should be practising.
It's interesting, the first time I went to London I was about 17 and I thought I could play the guitar OK. I was alright until I saw this guitar player in a small club, who was unbelievable. I thought, "Oh my God, that's it, every guitar player must be this good". That was Albert Lee, who had a black Les Paul. He was just phenomenal and I thought, "I can't compete with this guy, he's just too good". Luckily nobody else was that good, but I really thought that everybody in London was.
RC: You actually started off with classical guitar lessons. Is that where your love of that music started?
RB: No, not really. I don't really love classical music, it's the discipline and challenge that I like. I think that if anybody gets to the point where they can play a little, you want to be able to make music with some integrity. With pop or rock music, there is not a lot in it. You can just go on stage, turn up the amp and blast out, shake your fist at the audience and everybody is like, "This is alright". They watch but they're not really looking at what you are doing.
Obviously I couldn't be a classical player because I didn't start early enough - and it used to bore me, anyway. I'd play Segovia stuff, not very well, and say, "I don't want to play this". Now I see the reason for it. When I first started playing I thought it was too involved, so I don't think it really did anything for me. That came later.
RC: When you were having lessons, were you still focused on rock'n'roll?
RB: Yes. I just wanted to jump up and down like Tommy Steele. I thought, "Why I am learning some kind of scale? What is the point? Tommy Steele just goes out on stage and enjoys himself, I want to do that."
RC: At this point did it become more than just a hobby?
RB: It was interesting, I would go to school when I was 13 and I got the impression I was being picked on. I didn't really study and I felt some distance from being accepted, which was great in a way because it made me apply myself to something to show these people I could do it. That's the motivation, to show people you are worthy of something and not just an idiot.
RC: That was your way of expressing yourself?
RB: That was my way of getting back at the teachers and the system. You were either in or out, because back in those days if you weren't brilliant at Maths or something, you would be a reject. So I said, "Give me a guitar, I can do this", and I thought I would show people I could play guitar really well, so they'd go, "He was a terrible pupil but he could really play the guitar". And that's exactly what they said - later on.
RC: What did your parents think of you taking up the guitar?
RB: I always quote my father: "If you don't master this, I'm going to break it across your head". He said it in a jovial way as we were walking out of the shop, because it cost him eight guineas (£8.40). That was a lot of money, especially when he thought I would do my usual and not practise. He was the one who took me to lessons and said, "You're going to learn this properly".
RC: Did you say to him, "This is what I want to do for a living"?
RB: Not then, it was just that I could express myself better on guitar than I could at lessons at school.
RC: How much were you practising in those early days?
RB: A couple of hours a day. Between 14 and 16 I practised quite a bit, as much as I could.
RC: Do you feel you had a natural aptitude?
RB: No, I really fought with it at the beginning, it didn't come very easily. I'm getting more musical as I get older but in the beginning it was just feel. I could bluff my way around the strings just from practice, but I didn't quite know what I was playing.
RC: Were you just playing on your own at the time?
RB: I was with a band called the Dominators. Actually, the very first band I was in was the 2 I's Junior Skiffle Group, because there was a 2 I's Coffee Bar Skiffle Group with Wally Whyton and people like that and we were the junior band. I played washboard with thimbles and then I moved on to play better things.
RC: Can you recall the first time you played in public?
RB: It was a school show. It was quite funny. We did "Rebel Rouser" by Duane Eddy. The audience started clapping and just drowned us out, and we couldn't even hear what we were playing. It was great at the start but then we were going, "Where are we?". And then the teacher came on stage and said, "OK, that's enough".
When we were rehearsing for that school thing, I couldn't get the amplifier, which was a two-watt radio, to work. I kept plugging it in, taking it out and fiddling with it to get it to work and in the end, by mistake, I plugged the guitar lead straight into the mains and blew the mains for the whole school. All the lights went out!
RC: Is it true that you electrified your first guitar and built your first speaker?
RB: I built parts for the speaker and got bits for the amplifier and put it all together in a box.
RC: Your first proper job was as an aircraft radio technician. When did you decide to take up music professionally?
RB: I was in this band, Mike Dee & the Jaywalkers, who wanted to go on the road. I was sixteen and that was how I started in the profession. We travelled up and down the M1 in a Bedford van, with the back door half-open. It would get really cold.
The first record I ever made was with them in 1961. It was called "My Blue Heaven" and they wanted it rocked up. We did it with Decca Records, but we got turned down.
RC: It never got released?
RB: I don't think so, no.
RC: Was it difficult adapting to your first proper electric guitar?
RB: No, because my first electric was the Hofner Club 50 and it was great. It was much easier than my Framus which would always break down. I had this amplifier called a Watkins Dominator: it would always break down every time we did a show, so I would end up taking it back on the train to Selmans in Charing Cross Road. This happened five times, so they said, "Next time you come in here, bring your guitar with you, so we can see what you're doing". So I took the amp back with my guitar, plugged it in and started playing and it blew up right there in the shop. They couldn't believe it. I was getting used to it by then, but it was like a Monty Python sketch.
RC: How did rate your own playing against other guitarists at that time?
RB: I never rated myself alongside them. I just liked playing. If I saw someone who was really good I'd look up to them. If I saw someone who wasn't so good, I wouldn't go "I'm better than him", I'd just think I was different.
RC: Did you try to copy the people you thought were good?
RB: Yes, people like Jimmy (Big Jim) Sullivan, who was very good. There were so many great guitarists around. I was playing rhythm guitar in the Satellites, and Roger Mingay was the lead guitarist. He was brilliant. We used to play places like Vicky Burts in Whitton, a dancehall. That was my real introduction to playing live in front of people.
RC: Was it difficult getting gigs in those days?
RB: We would play just small places but it was fun.
RC: Was Big Jim Sullivan a big influence?
RB: Yeah, he gave me some lessons. I used to sit on his doorstep because he wouldn't answer the door. Eventually, when he did, I would ask him to teach me such and such a riff. He was in Marty Wilde & the Wilde Cats at the time and he was phenomenal. It was amazing to see somebody that good.
RC: Where does Jackie Lynton come into the picture? You have been associated with him in the past but nobody seems sure how.
RB: We were going to get a band together when I was about 19. When I used to work in a factory, they would play Jackie Lynton & the Teen Beats. That was about 1960 and he was great. Then I got to meet him in 1961/62, a very nice guy. In 1964 we tried to get a band together: we met Kim Fowley, who was doing P.J. Proby stuff, and he gave us some demos to learn. Jackie had the records and lost them by leaving them on the train, so we didn't do it. Typical! But Jackie can really make me crack up on stage. I love it when the band starts off a number and he comes on and goes "Hold it! What's the first word?" We'd tell him, and he'd go, "Oh yeah, sorry, sorry". The whole audience is crying with laughter, because you know it hasn't been worked out.
RC: In 1962 you started playing with Screaming Lord Sutch & the Savages. Was that a big step up in your career?
RB: Yes it was. I went to rehearsals with this guy, who was offering a lot of money. I'd never heard of him, but I went and passed the audition - then turned it down. I was only 15 or 16, and they toured so much I just didn't want to leave home. Then I went back about six months later and said I'd try it. I'd only rehearsed with him and I didn't know the stage set-up, I didn't know what was going to happen. We started playing "Jack the Ripper", and Sutch entered the stage in a coffin. I thought, "This guy is nuts and I'm playing in his band! I've got to go home with this guy, and he's driving the van." I was not amused.
RC: Sutch has commented on how shy you were.
RB: Yeah, that's right. He used to grab my guitar neck and go, "Come on, move, move!"
RC: And you used to hide behind your amps?
RB: Oh yeah, behind my amps and in the wings. He used to grab me and pull me out. I learnt a lot of showmanship from him. He taught me you can get out there and act like an imbecile, and people will think it's wonderful. It's very interesting, it's like a whole psychology. You go out on stage and if you look self-conscious people will watch you. If you go out and throw yourself around like a fool, it's like a show, a whole masquerade. But the moment you start taking yourself too seriously and go into a shell, people see it. He taught me to just get out there and run around. In the end I was running around in a Tarzan outfit and these people were going for it. I can't believe it!
RC: He commented that your playing was brilliant, even at that time. Did you think otherwise?
RB: No, I thought I was OK.
RC: Did you rate any of the guitarists of your own age?
RB: Yes I did. When I was 16, there was Richard Hardy from Manchester. He was very good. Pagey was good. Albert Lee was the best. Then Jeff Beck came along when I was 17, he was brilliant.
RC: How did your stint with the Outlaws and your association with Joe Meek come about?
RB: I went to meet him, and he liked my playing. He was a producer, so he used me on sessions. Then I joined the Outlaws who did all his session work. I would listen to the radio and think, "I know that song". I'd hear so many songs on the radio that I'd played on. It was a weird feeling. Now it's the opposite - very strange.
RC: Was it strange adapting to playing in the studio?
RB: Yes, it was rigid. I was pretty good until they'd say to me, "Play this melody". As I didn't read music, just chord sheets, that threw me. I couldn't remember melodies to save my life.
RC: Did any of the artists impress you in particular?
RB: There was Mike Berry, of course. We see him over here now in Are You Being Served?. I did a record with him, I think. Most of the records were done with Roger Mingay playing, he was the guitarist. A lot of people credit that to me but it wasn't, it was him. (Ritchie is presumably referring to some of the Outlaws' earlier work, recorded with Mingay before he emigrated -AW.) It takes a lot to make me laugh, but Freddie Starr had me crying. I first met him in Meek's studio when he was a singer in a rock'n'roll band. Chas (Hodges, of Chas & Dave fame) was sitting there half asleep with his pyjamas on underneath his trousers. You could see them sticking out of his trouser legs. He was always late: he'd get the bus to the studio and would fall asleep, so he ended up where he'd started.
Anyway, Freddie came into the studio. In those days, when you were playing rhythm, you'd sometimes just have to put the solo down as you're playing. It wasn't like today where you stop, do the rhythm 400 times and then do the solo. Freddie dropped his trousers in the studio as I was playing. He got hold of his 'thing' and tried to put it in my ear as I was doing this solo. Of course, I made a mistake, and in those days Joe Meek didn't have a see-through screen. He would have to come into the room to see what was going on. He came storming in, "What the bloody hell is going on?", saw us and just went "ooohh". That was my introduction to Freddie Starr. Apparently he and his band, the Midnighters, supported the Beatles in Liverpool in 1962 and blew them off stage.
RC: Did you have any input in the material or any freedom in the way you played the solos?
RB: No, you just had to get on with the music. Joe would say, "This is what I want from you today". He would either play us a demo or sing it to us - and Joe couldn't really sing, so that became embarrassing. But Chas was brilliant and would make up his own melodies. Chas would ask what Joe wanted, and then sing it back to him and say, "You mean something like this?". You could see what was going on - Chas was writing it for him.
RC: In 1965 you toured with Jerry Lee Lewis. What was that like?
RB: Jerry Lee Lewis was interesting. We were supposed to rehearse for a week, then it was five days, then three days, and we were going, "When are we going to rehearse with this guy because we don't know what we're doing". The tour was coming up and we hadn't played one note with him. Finally, on the day of the first show, he strolled in during the afternoon. We were petrified because we'd been told if he didn't like you, Jerry would just whack you in the face. Luckily he liked me and wanted to bring me back to Memphis where he lived. He'd come over to me and go "Play boy, play". I'd be looking up, waiting for that whack.
RC: You toured Germany with them. Was that where your love of Germany started?
RB: Yeah, that's right. I immediately took to the place. They seemed to work harder and enjoy life more than the English. In Germany, I couldn't understand anybody and they couldn't understand me, and that was perfect: let's just play music.
RC: How did you come to cut a solo single in 1965?
RB: That was down to producer Derek Lawrence. We did "Getaway". I think I actually wrote that but I'm not sure. I have to be careful because sometimes I think I wrote things like "In The Mood" by Glenn Miller. (In fact, the flipside of "Getaway" is "Little Brown Jug", a cover of the old Glenn Miller song.)
RC: The same year, you rejoined Sutch's Savages.
RB: When the bills started to mount up, it was back to Sutch. You'd get to the point where everybody in the band would go, "I can't take this any longer". They would leave, but you knew they'd come back. It was like breaking out of a prisoner-of-war camp: a month later they'd come back in. They would hate it, it was like a penance, but he was the only one who would pay any money. You could go with all the fancy bands but they didn't pay any money.
RC: You actually got to record with him on this second stint.
RB: A couple of things, but I can't remember what they were. A lot of the stuff with really good guitar was Roger Mingay, not me.
RC: You had a group called the Three Musketeers who were actually formed out of Sutch's band.
RB: That's very true. It was me and Jimmy Evans, who we're still trying to track down, and Silas Wegg. He loved Charles Dickens: his real name was Arvid Anderson.
RC: The band got a mention on the "Shadow Of The Moon" album. You must have fond memories of that time.
RB: Yeah, very fond. They were the first band I actually enjoyed playing in. For our stage act we would dress up as Musketeers and we used to sword-fence as we came on stage. We were the first three piece: this was like 1964 and people had never heard of three-piece bands. All the songs we had were really fast and the big thing in Germany in 1965 was that you played music to dance to. Well, they could never dance to us, so we didn't really get much work.
We'd open the show with something called "The Plainsman" followed by "Yakety Sax". In the middle of the act, we'd do our special, a really fast number which was "Flight Of The Bumble Bee". You can imagine the audience watching us. It was great for me but terrible for them. So they used to disappear and our work went downhill. That's how I ended up back with Sutch again.
He was brilliant, actually. When we were in the key of A, he would sing in C sharp. I don't know how he did it - it's very difficult singing in this totally unrelated key to what was being played.
RC: Did he realise he was doing it?
RB: Sure. He'd jump around breaking things!
WRING THAT NECK
PURPLE TO RAINBOW
In 1968 Blackmore was invited back to the U.K. to join a band being put together by Chris Curtis. After a brief tour of Denmark under the name Roundabout, they decided to change their name to Deep Purple.
Purple enjoyed some early success in the States with "Hush", a cover of the Joe South song. But their first three albums were somewhat lacking in direction, encompassing everything from psychedelia to covers of numbers by the Beatles and Neil Diamond. Ritchie was obviously struggling to come to terms with his new environment: his playing sounded tentative and he had to resort to experimenting with a fuzz box. One notable exception, though, was the instrumental "Wring That Neck" from 1968's "Book Of Taliesyn" which later became a magnum opus in Purple's live set.
Like almost every guitarist, Blackmore was amazed and inspired by Jimi Hendrix - the reason why he decided to invest in a Fender Stratocaster. A clue to the change in direction he was about to undertake can be found on "Why Didn't Rosemary" from the 1969 album "Deep Purple". It features some excellent guitar work in the heavier style which was no doubt dominating his thoughts. That year, indeed, he decided he wanted Purple to pursue a heavy rock sound, and singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover were brought in to form what is generally regarded as the finest Purple line-up.
The band hit the road before recording "In Rock", airing some of the songs from the forthcoming album - among them the rousing "Speed King", and "Child In Time", which was already developing into a classic. Ritchie had made a quantum leap almost overnight, and in partnership with keyboard player Jon Lord he developed the improvisational style that was to become Purple's trademark. "Wring That Neck" and "Mandrake Root" regularly stretched to thirty minutes and beyond, allowing Blackmore and Lord the freedom to lead the band anywhere that took their fancy. Blackmore's solos ranged from frenetic exhibitions of speed and feedback to the gentle and delicate finger-picking. No wonder that some contemporaries dubbed him 'the oneman orchestra'.
Purple's reputation grew on the back of these live performances, and the success of the "In Rock" LP and "Black Night" single brought them to a much wider audience. But while Blackmore was happy to project himself on stage, he was clearly uncomfortable with the attention being focused on him, which made him almost reclusive, and helped to create a fearsome-reputation in the press.
Fortunately, there was still time for some musical relaxation. During 1970, producer Derek Lawrence organised some jam sessions, inviting Blackmore alongside two of his heroes from the 60s, Albert Lee and Big Jim Sullivan. Others present included Chas Hodges, with whom Ritchie had worked extensively in the Outlaws and Ian Paice, Purple's drummer. The jams turned into an album, "Green Bullfrog", which featured guitar work-outs on blues, gospel and uptempo country numbers. It wasn't released until 1972, and for contractual reasons the musicians were all given pseudonyms - Ritchie's being `Boots', because he always wore a pair of purple suede cowboy boots.
The album would have sunk without trace if a magazine hadn't exposed the characters involved. It is fascinating trying to pick out who played which solos but some excellent work from Blackmore, demonstrating his prowess as a blues guitarist, is recognisable on "Bullfrog", "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "Lovin' You Is Good For Me Baby". The influence of Sullivan and Lee on his work are immediately apparent when you get the chance to hear the three men playing together.
Sadly, Blackmore did very little session work after this project. But he did guest on one track of ex-Pretty Thing Jack Green's solo album in 1980. "I Call, No Answer" featured some outstanding work, with Ritchie clearly enjoying the freedom of playing without pressure. Two more recent one-offs were less dramatic. "Apache" on the Shadows tribute album "Twang!" was a fairly faithful rendition of the original, while he also played "Smoke On The Water" on crooner Pat Boone's send-up album, "In A Metal Mood".
Back in 1971, Deep Purple had the unenviable task of following up the incredibly successful "In Rock". Rather than repeating the frantic mayhem of that album, they chose to diversify with "Fireball". It was probably their most adventurous release with Blackmore, but he later commented that he thought the album was a mistake and sub-standard. Nevertheless it did provide some interesting moments from a guitar perspective, from the country-andwestern influences of "Anyone's Daughter" to the superbly atmospheric volume control solo on "Fools", reputedly recorded in one take.
Purple's launch into 'superstardom' came with the 1972 release of "Machine Head", which broke the band in America. Returning to a more straightforward rock format, the album provided the material for their revamped live set, which now included such classics as "Highway Star", "Smoke On The Water" and "Lazy". The music was more tightly focused with less opportunity for extended solos, but as ever Ritchie managed to change his performance each night, as demonstrated on the "Live In Japan" triple CD set.
However, the band's powerful and competing egos and the relentless pressure of touring and recording was beginning to take its toll, as relationships within the band began to fragment. They just about managed to hold things together for one more album, "Who Do We Think We Are" in 1973, before Gillan decided to quit. This album is often overlooked but Ritchie's solo on "Place In Line" must rate as one of his finest. His disillusionment with the band forced him to consider leaving himself, briefly collaborating with Phil Lynott and Ian Paice as Baby Face, but they only recorded some very rough demos before new blood was drafted into Purple in the form of vocalist David Coverdale and bassist Glen Hughes.
The new line-up issued "Burn" in 1973, exhibiting a revitalised Blackmore who was able to steer the band in a bluesier direction. Besides the frantic title track, the album also featured the classic blues "Mistreated", which Ritchie and Coverdale really brought to life on stage, and which he was still playing in 1997 with Rainbow. Blackmore also used "You Fool No One" as a vehicle to stretch out, and his superbly self-indulgent soloing can be witnessed on the "California Jam 74" video and CD sets. This concert has entered the realms of legend, as Blackmore destroyed a TV camera with his guitar before blowing up his amps, which set light to the stage. The resultant carnage of wrecked amps and speakers was dumped unceremoniously into the press pit, before Ritchie made his escape in a helicopter, chased by the police and fire brigade!
Sadly, the freshness generated by the revised line-up proved to be shortlived, as the new members tried to push the band into soul and funk, which held no interest for Blackmore. He recorded one last studio album with them in 1974, "Stormbringer", but the cracks were clearly starting to show. The album did spawn two classic tracks, "Gypsy", featuring some of Blackmore's best work of the era, and "Soldier Of Fortune", with its beautifully understated solo. But when his ideas were regularly rejected by the band, his patience grew thin, and in 1975 he made the fateful decision to leave Deep Purple.
His immediate move was to join forces with Ronnie James Dio from the band Elf, who had supported Purple on tour, and begin writing. Minus their guitarist, Elf became Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - cutting an album of that name. It was an apt title, as it encompassed a wide range of ideas, from the ballad "Catch The Rainbow" to the aggressive instrumental reworking of the Yardbirds' classic, "Still I'm Sad".
Rekindling the spirit of "In Rock", Ritchie decided to follow this up with a heavy rock album for which the whole band apart from Dio were dropped - and drummer Cozy Powell was among those taken on board. "Rainbow Rising" was a no-frills slice of rock heaven which featured just six songs and gave no pause for breath. The majestic epic "Stargazer" (the idea for which Ritchie actually worked out on cello) is generally regarded as one of his finest songs, but shouldn't detract from the fast and furious "Light In The Black", with its extended guitar and keyboard solos.
The band toured America briefly in late '75, developing some of the new material on stage. As a result, "Rising" was recorded in just 10 days in Munich, capturing the raw sound of the live shows.
The band finally reached these shores in 1976 and left the public reeling. An electronically controlled rainbow, comprising hundreds of lights, spanned the stage, whilst Blackmore demonstrated incredible artistic control. Audiences were treated to such memorable moments as the devastating slide solo during "Stargazer", whilst Ritchie demonstrated his mellow side with lovely renditions of "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" and some laidback picking during the mid-section of "Mistreated".
A live album from the tour, "On Stage", appeared in 1977 but generally failed to capture the excitement of the shows - not least because it omitted "Stargazer". "Live In Germany", finally released in 1990, was far more representative. During this period, guitar demolition became a Blackmore trademark, as he regularly trashed factory reject Strats during the encore of "Do You Close Your Eyes". But what began as the 'icing on the cake' of a good show soon lost its spontaneity.
During this period, Ritchie made an unlikely cameo appearance with the Sweet in Santa Monica on March 24th 1976, playing the encore of "All Right Now" as a tribute to Paul Kossoff, who had just died. The Sweet Fan Club released a three-track CD which included this song, and although it contains little of interest in the way of guitar, it is a rare item as only 500 copies were pressed.
During the late 70s, Blackmore's name became synonymous with change. Rainbow never recorded two studio albums with the same line-up, and there was a constant turnover of bass and keyboard players. Ritchie's penchant for practical jokes was also coming to the fore and he found a willing and able coconspirator in Cozy - which caused the departure of keyboard player Tony Carey, who was convinced they were trying to kill him!
1978's "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll" marked a more varied musical approach and was notable for the unbelievable slide solo during "Lady Of The Lake" - which fooled more than one person into thinking it was a synthesiser - and what Ritchie regards as one of his finest moments on record, "Gates Of Babylon". But in retrospect the mediaeval influences of "Rainbow Eyes" was the most telling clue to his current direction.
Graham Bonnet was brought in as vocalist on 1979's "Down To Earth", which signalled a change towards a more pop orientated sound. Russ Ballard's "Since You Been Gone", and "All Night Long", both achieved reasonable chart success, and the band were starting to become regulars on Top Of The Pops. Ritchie's love for Abba has been well documented, and appears to have been instrumental in his desire to move away from rock and blues-based music. But while this attracted a younger audience, the lack of any real noteworthy guitar on stage or record alienated longterm fans. It didn't help that Ritchie was starting to develop an aversion to the studio environment, which he felt was beginning to stifle him. But the flipside of "All Night Long" was one ray of light, as the instrumental "Weiss Heim" shone with expression and feeling.
The next three Rainbow albums, "Difficult To Cure", "Straight Between The Eyes" and "Bent Out Of Shape", were all recorded with vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, but the first two in particular merely emphasised the band's continued decline into AOR, with pop and power ballads dominating. Matters did improve with "Bent Out Of Shape", which featured far more guitar and included a beautiful interpretation of "Snowman".
For the final Rainbow concert in Japan in 1984, Ritchie sprang a surprise, using a full orchestra on "Difficult To Cure" - in the tradition of Jon Lord's "Concerto For Group And Orchestra" in 1969 and "The Gemini Suite" two years later. Clearly inspired, he produced one of his finest solos during the intro, with some incredible note bending. It was a perfect finale to a chaotic era.
RC: Why did you originally leave Purple - and did you have a clear vision of what you wanted to do?
RB: No. It started with the song "Black Sheep Of The Family". I brought it to Purple and they rejected it because they hadn't written it. I couldn't believe they turned it down because they wouldn't get a writing credit, but that was basically the bottom line. A lot of that went down with Purple. It was Paicey and Lord who were adamant about not doing anybody else's songs. Roger Glover would always listen if it was worth doing. So I said I'd do it with somebody else, and Ronnie (James Dio) was just around at the time.
RC: With the first Rainbow album there were the first indications of your interest in the mediaeval period. Dio was obviously into that as well.
RB: That's true. He was more into the demonic side, while I was more into pixies in the wood, although I didn't know it at the time. He did a great job. He came along and did very well. We started slowing down on the third LP which we were recording in France. I remember being in the studio and he came in with Cozy. I was kneeling down in front of my amplifier trying to get the sound and he poked me in the back: "We're not standing for this. You're on the front cover of Circus magazine and it was meant to be the three of us. We're not going to be sidekicks". It had nothing to do with me, and I suddenly saw him in a whole different light. That was it, I knew we'd finished then because I couldn't talk to him. I saw him as this angry, bitter little man.
RC: You had Jack Green in Rainbow. Was he playing bass on the "Down To Earth" sessions?
RB: Yes, he was playing bass. Roger Glover came in as producer and then went on to play bass. And then we got Graham Bonnet in on vocals. He was in the Marbles and was the best, he was fantastic. Roger spoke about him to his producer and got all these positive replies, but he could sense there was a catch. He flew in to join us and started singing, and he was great. He did "Mistreated" really well. Then we started recording and Graham said, "I can't sing. I have to be in the studio to sing." I said, "We're in a castle in the middle of France, it's fantastic. The ambience is unbelievable." But no, he couldn't sing in a castle in France, he had to be in a dirty little studio somewhere before he could sing.
Graham was a strange guy. In Denmark we asked how he was and he'd go, "I feel a bit strange, I don't know why, I just feel a bit weird." Colin Hart said, "Have you eaten?" and he replied, "That's it! I'm hungry." We told him one time, "Graham, your hair's too short, the people that follow us like long hair. You look like a cabaret singer, so can you please grow your hair?" By the time we did Newcastle City Hall, it was actually getting down to the back of his collar. He was just about beginning to be acceptable. Otherwise we were going to get crucified going on stage with our new singer who has short hair, 'cos the audience would hate it.
We had a watch on him, a guard on his door, and sure enough he jumped out of the window and ran off and had a haircut. So it came to showtime and we went on stage and I was looking at the back of his head with this military-style cut. I was that close to taking my guitar off and just going whack across the back of his head.
RC: Did you like his voice?
RB: Well, no, not really.
RC: I thought he pushed his voice too far sometimes.
RB: Yeah, he did. When we got Joe Lynn Turner in, he refused to leave. I said, "OK, so we'll have two singers on stage", and he went, "Well, I'm leaving, then". He would not leave until we said he'd have to sing with Joe.
And Joe, he's a great guy, I like him a lot but he is very effeminate. We took him on stage in Europe and he got crucified. Backstage, I pulled him by the throat and told him, "You've got to stop the pansying. You're not Judy Garland".
RC: You were obviously aware that the fans weren't warming to him.
RB: I remember playing Leeds and the place was jam-packed. All the fans are going, "Ritchie, yeah!", and pointing at Joe going, "What's that?" I told him he had got to stop that or they were going to kill us.
The best thing we did to him was in France. It was an outdoor gig and it was miserable: it didn't have a roof and the audience were sitting there in the rain. I didn't even bother getting changed because I hate France and didn't want to be there and didn't want to play.
Joe did this bit in "No Release" where he got the audience to participate while we backed off a little bit, and then we came back in. The audience were miserable and not participating. So I said to the drummer and bass player, "Come on, we're leaving".
So we came offstage and Joe didn't know he was on his own. We got down in the orchestra pit and Joe couldn't see us because the floodlights were on him and we started throwing vegetables at him. So he started swearing at the audience, "You bastards, you French bastards", and he was picking up the tomatoes and throwing them back at the audience, who were now going, "We're not going to take this anymore", and throwing things back. Finally Joe realised it was us, but it was too late, the audience were in uproar.
RC: When you did those last dates with Rainbow in Japan, did the band know you were going to rejoin Purple?
RB: It came to me when I got back. It all happened very suddenly. It was Gillan trying to round people up and resurrect the Purple thing. But the money was so ridiculous I said I'd do it. I shouldn't have. I should have joined Purple for one LP and then gone back to Rainbow, but I got lazy.
RC: With the last Rainbow album, "Bent Out Of Shape" , I felt you had got the ideas almost the way you wanted.
RB: Very, very close.
RC: When something is going well you tend to stop and start something different. Why?
RB: That's true. I'll tell you what it was, it was money, purely money. My manager called me up and said, "There's a lot of money in this". I asked him how much and when he told me I said, "I'll do it. I shouldn't haven't done it, but I did. It was funny, though, because I'd had the riff to "Perfect Strangers" in Rainbow about two years before, but I didn't have a song for it.
THE PURPLE REUNION
And so, in a blaze of headlines, the press announced in 1984 that the classic 'Mark 2' line-up of Deep Purple had reformed. Rumours had been rife for years, ever since Blackmore had joined Gillan for a jam at the Marquee in 1978.
The reformed band released four studio albums - the first two, "Perfect Strangers" and "The House Of Blue Light", with Gillan before he was sacked in 1989. Solid, if unspectacular, they did at least prove that Blackmore could still produce the goods when he set his mind to it. His work on "Mean Streak", "Under The Gun" and "Not Responsible" from the first LP was excellent, whilst the imperial title track translated well to the stage. "Spanish Archer" from "Blue Light" also featured some frenetic soloing and riffing.
Purple's stage sets were still based around the 1972 repertoire, with a few new songs slotted in, but as the "Nobody's Perfect" live album showed, they couldn't match the power and edge that had been their hallmark during that era. It was not that the performances were bad, but Purple's reputation had been formed around shows which teetered on the brink of chaos. On most nights in the mid-80s, they merely sounded professional.
After Gillan's departure, Blackmore persuaded the others that ex-Rainbow frontman Joe Lynn Turner was their man, and so he was brought in for 1990's "Slaves And Masters". With Blackmore back at the helm, the album echoed the commercial sound of latter-day Rainbow - which is probably why it's his favourite reunion project. Whatever your opinions of the songs, there was some particularly able guitar work on "The Cut Runs Deep" and "Truth Hurts". But Turner fared little better than he had with Rainbow and was panned by fans and critics alike.
Ritchie was eventually persuaded that Gillan should rejoin for the aptly titled album, "The Battle Rages On", but the situation soon became untenable, and Ritchie told the band he was going to leave after the European leg of the tour. Despite its troubled development, the album had some fine moments, from the thundering title track to the gritty blues guitar sound of "Ramshackle Man" and the majestic "Anya".
With Gillan and Blackmore coming close to blows on occasions, the tour was not exactly happy, but at least the combative atmosphere sparked the finest and most passionate performances of the entire reunion, with Ritchie taking control of the band and leading them through some awesome improvisations during "Anya". It seemed as if he was in love with his guitar again! The band's onstage power was captured by the live "Come Hell Or High Water" set recorded during this tour. But Ritchie's memories of this troubled period serve to illustrate how difficult the situation had become.
RB: It was like a bad nightmare, coming back again. Actually Gillan was OK at the start. Where it became like a nightmare and reminded me of Sutch was in 1992. Roger and Jon are going, "It's great", and Candice and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing. I was saying, "Why I am laughing at this? This a serious business." It was a big political thing.
RC: Did you enjoy playing with the other guys, because they are great musicians?
RB: Yes, musically everything was great, but the singing thing was just a joke. It was a pantomime and Ian would take the piss out of the audience. He would just not sing or forget the words, and he loved it. It was like, "I can't do anything wrong" and I was thinking it wasn't fair to the audience. When we first started, I asked if he was going to be able to sing "Child In Time" every night and he said, "Ritch, I've learnt a whole new way to sing - I will never lose my voice again". But during the tour he kept coming over and saying, "No 'Child' tonight, it's my voice". I knew he was getting into this routine. Now, to me the biggest number is "Child In Time".
That's an amazing song and he sings it amazingly well when he does it good. Nobody can sing it like Ian. I thought, "This is not right, he's getting out of it every night", so of course that night I went back on after he told me we're not doing it and started playing it. Got him! That was me saying I'd had enough.
The others need that security, that safety net, because they can't do anything on their own. I would maybe love to get together every seven or eight years and do a tour and play all the old songs. Great! Then we drop everything and we all go our separate ways and see you in seven years. But they take it so seriously and I don't think they've got anything to offer musically, from a writing point of view.
Paicey put it into a nutshell: he came to me and said, "You didn't turn up for rehearsals today", and I said "Big deal". He said it was embarrassing: "Jon Lord spent two or three hours at rehearsals and because you weren't there pushing, saying 'We are going to do this and that', we ended up doing nothing". I was always put down: they'd moan, "We always had to do what Ritchie told us to do", but I'd sit back and say, "OK, let's hear your ideas", and they didn't have any.
I'd come off stage when everybody was screaming for an encore and think, "This was awful". But I couldn't remember the reasons why until Candy started writing them down. Things started to fall into perspective. Then I knew something was very wrong. Purple had become a security thing, travelling the world in a limousine going, "This is very safe and secure". Music shouldn't be like that, it should be on the edge and that's part of the deal, part of the arrangement with the public. You don't go on stage going, "I feel totally confident tonight". You go out on stage going, "I'm a mess". People will relate to that. They don't relate to people going, "I don't need this audience, because I'm smug". As soon as they see that you're in trouble.
RC: Do you think that you are misunderstood?
RB: Not really. I think people understand me because I don't have much patience, and I'm a very moody person. I want them to understand I am a moody person and life is not a bowl of cherries. You're always fighting music to get to the bottom of something. You can't go through life shaking hands and saying everything is wonderful. For me life is a struggle; there are icebergs everywhere and you've got to dodge them.
One of the things that puzzled and perplexed me about the whole Purple situation was the fact that I wanted to get out, to get off the ship which I felt was sinking, and make good music. That's all I wanted to do and I couldn't believe the finger-pointing that went on.
Even to this day it bothers me what went down - with the management, the band and the people that surround the band, a little clique. I'm supposed to be a troublemaker because I want to play some better music. There's something wrong here. They're still doing their thing, that's great, that's what I wanted them to do, just get another guitar player, but it never came across that way.
"Perfect Strangers" worked but I've done two really awful LPs with them, "House Of Blue Light" and "The Battle Rages On" - although that was shaping up to be a good LP without the vocals. If you just heard the backing tracks, they sound really good.
RC: Did you originally record the whole of the "Battle" album with Joe Lynn Turner?
RB: No, just two tracks: "Stroke Of Midnight" and "Lonely For You" (neither of which appeared on the album). Joe sang them and it was brilliant. I thought, "We've got to do this, and if we take on Gillan we're going to tape this song and do it exactly the same".
I spoke to management and asked if Gillan realised he had to sing that one song exactly right because that's one of the conditions of him rejoining, and I knew he was going to be a headache, and they said he did. I saw him in the studio and he didn't know anything about it. That didn't help matters but that wasn't Gillan's fault, it was the management.
WRITING ON THE WALL
Blackmore quickly decided that he was going to reform Rainbow, although he briefly mooted the idea of calling his new band Rainbow Moon. He established an immediate rapport with Scottish vocalist Dougie White, a lifetime devotee of Ritchie's music. The "Stranger In Us All" album was released in 1995, and surprised some people who were expecting a 'commercial' set in the vein of Rainbow's 80s work. The record still carried that unmistakable Rainbow sound, but the excellent "Ariel" stood out as a classic - based on an idea worked out with Candice Night, whose haunting vocals at the end were punctuated by some great guitar fills from Ritchie. The dark and ominous "Insatiable (Hunting Humans)" was strikingly unusual, while the album also included "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" - a piece which Ritchie had used on stage during the 1993 tour with Purple, not to mention back in 1962 with Sutch's Savages.
Rainbow hit the road in '95, proving that Ritchie's last tour with Purple was no flash in the pan as he produced some of the finest work of his career. The showmanship of old may have disappeared - he was now content to stand in front of the drum riser and concentrate on his music - but his incredible presence often made the audience forget there were other musicians on stage.
A popular inclusion in the set was "Temple Of The King" from the very first Rainbow album, a vehicle for some memorable Blackmore solos, while Purple standards like "Burn", "Perfect Strangers" and "Smoke On The Water" also figured. But during 1997, Blackmore announced that he wanted to concentrate on his new project for a year, and the rest of Rainbow decided to leave, bringing to a close the latest chapter in their tangled history.
Ritchie's 'difficult' image has passed into legend, but it would be fair to say that he is now a changed man. The reason seems to be his relationship with his fiancée, the charming and gorgeous Candice Night, who has probably brought him real happiness for the first time. He feels that at last he has met somebody who truly understands him, which has mellowed his attitude and allowed him to come to terms with all the changing facets of his life.
Ritchie's fascination with the medieval period stretches back to the mid-70s, although that music may have been in his blood much earlier, as he recalls being moved when he heard a choirboy singing "Greensleeves" when he was nine. At first, he and Candice only performed their new music at home and at parties, but the positive reaction they received from friends encouraged them that there might be a wider audience. Their album, "Shadow Of The Moon", was released last year, and is undoubtedly the most radical project Ritchie has ever been involved in. In the past, he's rarely used acoustic guitar on record, the most notable exceptions being "Soldier Of Fortune" from "Stormbringer" and "Temple Of The King" from the first Rainbow album, but now his followers had a full album to contemplate. Blackmore reckons that he is not a very accomplished acoustic player, but this comment is undermined by his virtuosity on the new album.
Ritchie describes the record as the most musically satisfying recording he has ever been involved with. With Candice providing haunting vocals, it explores Renaissance themes. It opens with Blackmore on mandolin, before you are led through hypnotic ballads like "Spirit Of The Sea" and "Magical World", to the superb instrumental, "Mond Tanz".
Ritchie has long been an ardent admirer of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, and it was therefore a great thrill to have him guesting on "Play Minstrel Play", which features some excellent guitar/flute interplay. Ritchie's love for Abba comes to the fore again on the Europop-influenced "Writing On The Wall", which is a little out of place in this context, and he also manages to interweave some electric guitar into a few tracks. The album has been a phenomenal success, particularly in Japan, but has not so much flopped in Britain as never caught the attention of the public or the media. It's hard to think of another album by such a major talent which has been released with so little fanfare, in fact. But their new record company, HTD, are hoping to change all that, and "Shadow Of The Moon" has the potential to be a huge hit.
Blackmore's Night hit the road in November 1997 in Japan. The proposed European gigs had to be postponed because of a recurring problem with one of Ritchie's fingers, which he had broken while demonstrating guitar throwing during "Space Trucking" on stage with Purple in 1987!
The shows were broken down into two segments, the acoustic set showcasing the new songs, together with old Rainbow favourites such as "Temple Of The King" and "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" which sounded outstanding in their new acoustic setting. The second half of the show saw Blackmore return to more familiar territory with his electric guitar and was notable for some unbelievable solos during "Writing On The Wall". The tour must have been a daunting prospect for Candice, who was leading a band for the very first time - indeed her only previous stage outings had been when she sang backing vocals with Rainbow - but she coped with the spotlight extremely well. The tour was also unusual for recent decades, in that Blackmore was sharing the stage with a second guitarist, Jessie Haynes.
RC: You've been talking about a mediaeval album for years. Why was now the right time?
RB: It was all to do with Frank Sinatra, who once said to me, "Who are you?". I was devastated, so I thought, "That's it, I'm going to go mediaeval". There was something about Frank that always brought about the best in me. It was what happened in 1974 that set my mind to thinking, but I used to enjoy it so much, that just to listen to it was enough. Play rock'n'roll, listen to Renaissance music. To actually play it was, "No, too sacred". Then the last five years, Candy used to sing it around the house. One of the first tunes we did was "Renaissance Fayre"; that was the one I used to get Cozy and Tony Carey to play in the early Rainbow days.
RC: That humour goes over most people's head.
RB: Yeah, including my own.
RC: Candice, do you come from a musical background?
CANDICE NIGHT: No, my parents enrolled me in singing lessons when I was four. Later they had us doing little theatre productions out here on Long Island, like Broadway stuff, and I was just singing those shows here.
RC: Was it easy doing the album?
CN: Yes, because besides singing from 4 to 12 and going to proper classes, I would also sing my little sister to sleep. Every time I opened my mouth she would fall asleep, so I knew I had that power! My friends would ask me to sing to them so I knew that people in my close circles enjoyed listening to me.
RC: How was it working with Ritchie and then recording with him?
CN: When I met Ritchie I didn't meet him as a singer, so that wasn't at the forefront of my mind at all. I met him and he slowly brought me out of my shell more with the singing. He would make me sing in front of his friends. I loved to sing to myself or my friends but then Ritchie made me sing. At parties he'd take out his acoustic guitar and make me sing, and it was a fun thing because everybody would get involved and they weren't staring and judging me. That was my introduction to singing in front of a crowd, in a relaxed, informal environment. Having Ritchie next to me, whether it's writing lyrics or performing on stage or in the studio, it keeps that environment relaxed and fun.
RC: The songs began developing long before you recorded them. Was that during the Rainbow period or before then?
CN: It was before the writing of "Stranger In Us All" and that tour. We wrote a couple of the songs while he was in the studio waiting for Dougie to do vocal tracks. "Ariel" was the first one and that was supposed to be on our album originally, but he gave it to Rainbow and they recorded it. But we never thought we would record an album like "Shadow Of The Moon", we just did it for our own purposes and to entertain friends.
At the end of one of our parties, a neighbour who was about 50 came up to Ritchie and said, "You know I'm not a fan of yours, I don't know the Rainbow stuff, but if you put out an album like this I would buy it". That's what made Ritchie think that it might be a good idea, because if somebody who didn't follow him liked what we were doing, then maybe there was a whole new audience for it. I think that really clinched it.
RC: The tracks on the album are very varied.
CN: Yes, each one has its own identity, even with the underlying, recurrent Renaissance theme. If somebody asks me my favourite track I can't chose because it depends on my mood. It's really like a story, it takes you through all these different emotions and moods.
RB: Yes, that's true, I'd go with that.
RC: You must feel the ideas are bursting forth because you have gone straight back into the studio.
RB: Yes, we have a lot of ideas.
RC: You have often said you dislike the studio. What was it like recording this album at home?
RB: It's taken me a while but the more I record at home, the less intimidated I am and the more I can get into the actual music without thinking, "I'm being recorded". If I go into the studio and I play something straight off I'm OK. Once I get to the third time around, I start to analyse what I'm doing too much, and that's when I lose it.
RC: You get bored with it?
RB: No, not bored, self-conscious. The first time I play something it's just music, but by the fifth time I start being very analytical. Analysis paralysis sets in and then it's not music anymore.
RC: So if a producer said, "Just play it once and record it", would you be happier?
RB: Probably not. When you think you have it right and the producer comes back and says, "Do it again", then you start thinking, "What did I miss that I didn't hear"? Our current producer is very good and when we were recording last night he said, "Are you happy with that?". I said, "No, not really". He knew what was wrong but he didn't say, "Do it again", so it became my responsibility.
RC: What's the story behind "Possum's Last Dance"? It's very short but so complicated.
RB: A friend told me about that song, otherwise I wouldn't have done it. I had it as an exercise, but he said it was good. You play certain things and you need feedback from people around you. I thought it was nothing, but it must have come across as something worthwhile. It's a very tricky piece to play but we did it in about 15 minutes on the second take. There is a follow up to that track on our new CD (tentatively titled "Under A Violet Moon"), which is very flash and all orchestrated too. Joe Satriani should have a field day with it!
CN: We've changed the producer and the stuff we're doing has changed slightly, because a few tracks are more uptempo and kind of intense, without crossing that barrier into rock'n'roll. I'm not a rock singer - that's not what I'm all about.
RC: Was it strange for you, working with another guitarist?
RB: No, because you can never hear what she's playing. One of these days we'll hear what she's playing and I'll tell you! Actually, she's alright.
RC: You must have been very pleased with the way the tour went.
RB: I was. I was nervous in Spain the first night when they advertised it as "ex-Deep Purple". Before we went on stage people were shouting and screaming, and we were going on with a ballad like "Be Mine Tonight".
RC: Is the Stuttgart show definitely coming out on video?
RB: I loved the sound from that show, the PA was perfect, and we will release it. It came out quite well but you can't hear Jessie. It's about 90 minutes long, but we may cut it back to 40 minutes and then add in interview parts and bits in castles with the whole band.
RC: (to Candice) Have you learnt to play your new hurdygurdy yet?
RB: It sounds great, amazing. Some of the music from the mediaeval days is peculiar, really odd. Some of it moves me so much, other stuff is awful. They wrote some rubbish back in those days, too. But some of those instruments - sackbuts, krummhorns and rackets - they're amazing. When it works, it just takes you back to nobler times.
RC: When you started doing the album did you initially want to record it in an authentic style?
RB: I will still not do the authentic thing completely. My thing is to take the emotion from that time, and the music, and play it today. I don't want to play it exactly as it was played then. Although I can sit here and get excited about those instruments, I don't think anybody else would.
RC: Are you looking at it from a more commercial point of view then?
RB: No, I just want it to be more palatable to the human ear. In those days the tuning was so bad, for a start, they didn't really tune up. So a real Renaissance piece would be out of tune.
RC: You've said your favourite band is Des Geyers Schwarzer Haufen (a German band who play authentic Renaissance music).
RB: They're still in the 1600s. Those men are fantastic. If you witness one of their concerts in a castle, you just never want to go back to reality ever again. I'm trying to creep a little bit more in their direction and they're trying to creep in my direction. The first time I met them I asked if they needed a guitar player and they said no. They had no idea who I was or what I did and now they're saying, "Do you want to join the band?". But they are my heroes, and I don't want to.
RC: Presumably the mediaeval thing started out as a hobby. Now that you are involved professionally, is it possible your interest might diminish?
RB: It's not that my interest will diminish but I don't want it to become a pressure. If you make a living by music, whatever that music is going to be, you're going to be expected to tour and the pressure is on.
CN: It's the business side that becomes the pressure. When we just sit and play at home, then that fun and freshness comes right back.
RB: Exactly, I want to try and keep it that way. That's why as soon as I start seeing the tour dates coming in and the size of the venues going up, I start going "Ugh"!
After the interview, Record Collector was given an exclusive live preview of Ritchie and Candice's new material: I can only say that admirers of the first album will certainly not be disappointed. Meanwhile, "Shadow Of The Moon" deserves investigation from anyone who has ever recognised Blackmore's amazingly eclectic talent. What other rock hero has released his most adventurous album at the age of 52?
© Alan Whitman, Record Collector no 228, August 1998