The Strange Employee Policy of Ritchie Blackmore
Ritchie Blackmore can really be considered as one of the most idiosyncratic rock guitarists of the entire heavy-metal scene. When in the mid-1970s the godfathers of heavy metal, Deep Purple, sold more than fourteen million records a year, Ritchie closed the door of the rehearsal room with a bang behind him. To replace his cutting guitar work, Deep Purple had to find another one. Ritchie freely admitted that the studio work and the endless tours with his companions from Deep more than once made him sick.
"It is really useless if you have to charter between Los Angeles and Tokyo year after year to rattle off the same program in every sold-out concert hall. Moreover, the tensions within the group had risen too high and I felt considerably hindered in my artistic pursuit. I decided to quit and I have not regretted it for a moment."
This resolute statement was not believed by anyone. Ritchie was too stubborn a guy to just hang up his shiny Fender guitar. While the press mosquitoes and fans chatted about the 1970s split, Blackmore put together a new group called Rainbow. And that rainbow still shines above the global rock stages, despite all the thunderclouds and lightning bolts.
The group ELF, which in America was invariably times the support act for Deep Purple, immediately provided the first members for Blackmore's group. On the first LP, which was simply entitled Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, Ronnie James Dio sang the highest notes. From the legendary Jeff Beck Group someone joined the group. Drummer Cozy Powell got along with Blackmore and together with Roger Glover, bass player and a loyal Purple pal, they formed the first solid line-up of Rainbow.
New songs were worked on and the doors of the most expensive studios opened for the gentlemen. A second disc "Rainbow Rising", had a huge success. The group was inundated with offers for concerts. And that was something that Ritchie had not so immediately expected. Together with Roger I consciously abandoned my Purple past. I wanted to make the group sound different on record and also live. The fans immediately understood that Rainbow is a new group that tries to add something new to the classic hard rock sound. And certainly to those "Smoke on the Water" states. That new sound could also be heard on the live double album "On Stage" in which the best that the group had performed in Australia and Japan was recorded. An album that every true lover of the genre in the record case cherishes like a brilliant diamond.
But Ritchie, known for being demanding, wasn't quite sure whether the band he had now on the road matched with his expectations. Singer James Dio was kindly requested to try his luck at Black Sabbath as Ritchie had now Graham Bonnet, who in the sixties was the foreman of the English Marbles and later had an international hit with "Only One Woman". That voice was perfect for Rainbow.
The fourth LP that the group released was called "Down to Earth" and by everyone very warmly received. Graham Bonnet's voice was not inferior to that of his predecessor, on the contrary even from the first note to the last drum beat this disc stood like a concrete wall. Roger Glover's production was of course not without reason. Glover is also the one who kept the songs going with his driving bass riffs. On this LP it was also noticeable that Ritchie's songs could be just as melodic and soft as hard and thumping.
Graham Bonnet did his job very well and was also able to do that on stage. Only one thing, but you didn't notice that when you threw the record on the turntable, didn't go very well. Graham Bonnet was just like boss Ritchie and knew very well what he wanted. He did not just let anyone impose this or that style and soon the individualistic characters of the singer and guitarist clashed. The many complications that followed made the atmosphere within the group more difficult. Bonnet left and in interviews he does not always express himself very friendly about the whims of his former employer.
"First and foremost I would like to state that it is not my intention to present Ritchie as an ogre. From a human point of view we got along quite well, but that is not the only thing you had to take into account as a musician. I am a rather ambitious boy and I couldn't bear to just repeat what Ritchie was telling me. It seemed like we were his backing group. Ritchie has excellent ideas but he always wants someone else to do them exactly the way he wants it. A group is a matter of everyone who plays in it and the right to have a say in musical and business matters must be there, I think. I lost a bit of my highly developed sense of self-esteem and that is also the reason why Cozy has called it quits."
Doesn't Ritchie hate those constant staff changes?
"No, I don't oblige anyone to hang out with me. If those guys want to do something else then they should know. There are more musicians in the world with whom I can build a good group. I am indeed a stubborn man, but I am convinced that the plans that I have in my head have a 100 percent chance of success, provided the whole group has the right to put their shoulders under it. That has not really happened so far. Graham and Cozy are now gone but their place was not completely empty when other enthusiasts were already on the steps of my house eager to audition. Joe Lynn Turner is now responsible for the vocals and Bob Rondinelli is one of the best percussionists I have ever seen at work. Those guys have a style, boy you have to see something like that or you don't know anything about it."
And whether we will see them. The new line-up indeed surpasses all previous ones. With the new singer and drummer who have definitely strengthened the ranks, it was only their third performance, but you could tell that from the quality and the volume.
Rondinelli lives for his drums and beats them up like an expert. His predecessor Cozy Powell has become famous for his drum solos, but what Bob does with those sticks is truly fabulous. When the softer work is his turn, he politely withdraws to give free play to Joe Lynn Turner who conjures a lot more out of his vocal cords than just screaming. Above all, of course, the guitar of Ritchie Blackmore is there in the middle, but one of the few guitarists in the genre who knows when a solo must end and who also supports the other group members when it's their turn to take the spotlights. Ritchie is known to be interested in classical music and has learned a lot from it. The use of those Beethoven ingredients does not seem pretentious but fits perfectly into the beautiful songs of which the new album "Difficult to Cure" is the conclusive evidence. The end of each concert ends appropriately with typical Blackmore songs such as "Long Live Rock'n'Roll" and "I Surrender". The crowning glory of the live work of a group and its leader who, despite many tensions and staff changes, made its way to the top. And will remain there for a long time, hopes Blackmore himself from the bottom of his haunted soul.
Rainbow shatters the sky above Forest National in Brussels on Friday 19 June - Don't forget earplugs.
Joepie nr 379, Belgium - 21 June 1981