His Rainbow Has In It Some Deep Purple
"I really don't hold much hope for the future of mankind," guitar legend Ritchie Blackmore stated as his stoic features broke into a sly grin. "Any society that can revere a group like the Bee Gees is doomed as far as I'm concerned."
Over a 13 year career that has been highlighted by his gothically-tinged guitar theatrics. Ritchie Blackmore has developed a reputation as one of rock's more controversial characters. Yet despite his image as an often moody performer (a contention supported by back stage punch outs and shattered Stratocasters) as we sat downing glasses of Beck's beer in a New York hotel bar, the 3-year-old Blackmore proved to be an erudite, informative, and even charming conversationalist.
While a number of his remarks reflected a cynicism that can be viewed as a natural outgrowth of having spent over a decade atop the rock treadmill, his forthright attitude only enhanced his stature as one performer who has never chosen to play it safe.
Since 1968, when he burst upon the music scene as lead guitarist for the hard-rocking supergroup Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore has ranked among the most gifted and imaginative instrumentalists that rock 'n' roll has ever produced.
As the driving force behind Purple's rise to international stardom, he became one of the most imitated heavy-metal guitarists around. His fiercely tremoloed style, filled with kamikaze-blitz feedback outbursts and faster-than-light solos (best evident on such Purple classics as "Smoke On The Water," "Highway Star," and "Speed King") helped Purple create an unmistakable sound that mixed AM-radio accessibility with FM-styled progressivism. But true to the mercurial nature that has become his trademark, just as Purple reached the peak of their popularity in 1975, he decided to leave the band's commercial security and form a band of his own — Rainbow.
"Purple had become an incredible bore to me," he said as he stuffed his tall, thin frame behind a small New York restaurant table. "Everybody had become so lazy after the success of Machine Head and Made in Japan that nobody wanted to rehearse anymore. The hand had become a business instead of a musical group, anti that's something I just couldn't put up with. I knew I had to leave, and once we finished our commitments, which included things like the California Jam where we played in front of over 500,000 people, I said, 'Good bye, it's been nice.' I knew what I wanted to do with Rainbow, and that was to return to playing music that had some degree of artistic integrity. I didn't think that was too much to ask."
He quickly found out, however, that "artistic integrity" was not necessarily the ideal replacement for the metallic accessibility that had distinguished the best of Purple's work. On such albums as "Rainbow Rising" and "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll," Rainbow created a dense, often impenetrable melange of mystical lyrics, cataclysmic caterwaulings and thunderous guitar overtures that proved too intense for long-time Purple devotees, yet too cerebral for those weaned on the manic energies of bands like Black Sabbath.
While the band garnered a strong and dedicated following throughout Europe, in America, where Deep Purple had always enjoyed their greatest success. Rainbow was a virtual nonentity. Now, however, with the band's newest album, "Difficult to Cure," proving to be Rainbow's most listenable and successful album yet, Blackmore finds himself once again cast into the American rock 'n' roll spotlight.
"Yes, I do understand those who felt that the first Rainbow albums were a little too heavy." he said. "We were trying to explore certain areas where I thought there was potential, but we were often too demanding on ourselves and on our audience. We tended to he too dramatic on stage and on record, and it became very difficult to maintain that level of intensity for long.
"I had always believed that audiences in the States needed more commercial sound to latch on to, and the failure of Rainbow to make it here proved that. There was definitely a problem," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "and I knew that either I could take the blame, which I saw no reason to do, or I could just sack the entire band."
Thus emerges what is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Rainbow story — Blackmore's seemingly unquenchable lust for firing and hiring new hand members. Over the group's seven-year history, an incredible total of 14 different musicians have come, and then almost instantly departed, from Rainbow's ever-changing lineup.
On "Difficult to Cure," for instance, vocalist Joe Lynn Turner and drummer Bon Rondinelli have been summoned to replace Graham Bonnet and Cozy Powell (who appeared on the hand's Last album, "Down To Earth") who, in turn, replaced Ronnie James Dio and Gary Driscoll. Now. Blackmore hopes, with Turner and Rondinelli joining holdovers Don Airey (keyboards) and ex-Deep Purple member Roger Glover (bass and production), Rainbow has finally found a permanent lineup. "Change is a natural part of rock'n'roll," he said. "I tend to have love-hate relationships with everybody and everything -my girlfriend, my guitar- so why should the band be any different? I've not been looking for perfection over the years as much as I've just been trying to make Rainbow the best band possible.
"We had quite a bit of success with Down To Earth, especially in Europe, but I just wasn't pleased with the way things were going in the band. Cozy, who'd been with us for five years was an excellent drummer, but he had his mind on other things and his attention was sometimes diverted from what we were trying to do. With Graham it was simply a situation where he just wasn't much interested in playing rock'n'roll anymore. It no longer motivated him.
With the strong chart performance of both Difficult To Cure and the band's latest single "I Surrender", it seems Blackmore may, in fact, have hit upon the right personal to stop rainbow's revolving-door policy. With Turner's flexible, pop-oriented voice serving as an ideal foil for Blackmore's patented guitar outbursts on songs such as "Spotlight Kid" and "Freedom Fighter"Rainbow has managed to create a surprisingly commercial, eminently listenable sound. Even Blackmore seems pleased with the results.
"There's no denying that the new album is more commercially oriented than previous Rainbow albums," he admitted. "A few years ago I would have insisted that making good music is the only thing that's important, and that selling records means nothing. I realize now that a statement like that is made only by someone who isn't selling many records.
"Everybody wants people to buy their product, and even though I'm not particularly happy with certain commercial aspects of rock'n'roll, I'm quite pleased that the album is doing well. I like a good pop song as much as anybody, and numbers like "I Surrender" are surely commercial in nature. My philosophy has become that you can be commercial as long as you don't sell your soul to do it."
According to Blackmore, one of the main reasons for rainbow's recent evolution from heavy metal 'monster' into the more commercially oriented band that appears on Difficult To Cure, is the presence of former Deep Purple cohort Roger Glover, who serves as both the band's bassist and producer.
Joining the group just prior to the recording of Down To Earth, Glover's influence not only convinced Blackmore to explore more accessible musical terrain, but also has the effect of relaxing the guitarist both in the studio and on the road.
"Roger's been a friend for a long time," Blackmore said. "By now he knows me as well as anyone. He's been especially important to me in the recording studio because he's able to get me relax and play more creatively. I tend to be very uptight in the studio, which is surprising when you consider all the years I've been playing music.
Once I see that red light go on I become very narrow minded and cautious in my playing. That's the main reason that I hardly ever listen to anything that I've recorded. What I've been able to put on record over the years, whether with Purple or Rainbow, has only been a little part of me. When I'm onstage I always think, 'Hell, I'll just go for it tonight.' That's a feeling that no other producer except Roger has been able to bring out of me in the studio.
"I have a terrible technical memory when it comes to playing the guitar," he continued. "Roger understands that and gives me a lot of freedom when we record. I can never remember what I've played on a record or during a concert which is a very frustrating quality for a musician to have. That's why some of my recordings have been so bad. I have to rely on spur-of-the-moment inspiration instead of being able to work a solo out. That's one of the reasons I hardly ever listen to my own records - I get so frustrated trying to figure out how I played a certain solo.
I never heard Purple's Made in Japan until last year. Then I was able to sit back and say 'Hey, that was pretty good.' I'm able to realize now what all the excitement over Purple was about. That was a pretty good rock'n'roll band."
Blackmore's fond words for his old band may, in fact, be an indication of where his career is headed in the near future, While he stresses that nothing will ever make him give up Rainbow, he admits that there have been serious talks of a Purple reunion, with he and Glover again joining forces with keyboardist Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice and vocalist Ian Gillan for a six week concert tour later this year.
While details have yet to be finalized it now seems a good bet that Deep Purple, once the most succesfull band in rock'n'roll (it sold an incredible total of 13 million records in 1973 alone) will soon be again unfurling its volatile heavy metal banner.
Jon (Lord) and I have been talking about a possible reunion for some time now," Blackmore stated. "I was very interested, and still am, but certain details have to be worked out before I'm prepared to make any sort of commitment to the venture.
"Jon and Ian Paice are currently in Whitesnake, which happens to be David Coverdale's band (Coverdale replaced Gillan as Purple's vocalist in 1974). Both Jon and Ian want to do the reunion but they want David to be the singer. I realize their position, that they are working with David on a regular basis, and that they'd be jeopardizing their regular jobs for a one shot arrangement, but I refuse to be part of any reformation unless Ian Gillan's the vocalist.
Any future Purple venture would have no bearing on Rainbow, or, as far as I know on Whitesnake either, he continued. "We'd try to arrange the tour, which would be mostly in the States, to coincide with a time that both bands would be off the road and not in the studio. That shouldn't be that hard to do.
"I don't think any of us are particularly motivated by the money, at least I hope not. My main intention is to let a whole generation of kids who've bought all the Purple albums have a chance to see us onstage. It sounds like fun to me." he added with a contented smile. "And after all the time I've spent in rock'n'roll, I think I'm entitled to a little pleasure."
© Andy Secher, The Aquarian - June 10, 1981