Rainbow Living It Up
Blackmore And Company Finally Reach Their Street Of Dreams
Ritchie Blackmore stood stage right, stoically playing his white Stratocaster as 20,000 fans went crazy in front of him. Suddenly he whipped off the guitar and tossed it into the air. As the rest of Rainbow continued to lay down a rock solid beat, the man in black casually caught his instrument, dropped it on the floor and began strumming its tremelo bar with his foot. After treating his instrument with such disdain there was nothing left for Blackmore to do but pick up the guitar, smash it to smithereens and toss its battered remains into the audience.
"There's no disrespect to the instrument intended," Blackmore said as he sat in his dressing room, downing a beer a short time later. "It's something of a theatrical ploy, but I enjoy doing it. I imagine there's a bit of the 'ritualistic sacrifice' attitude there, and the crowd always seems to enjoy it, so I don't see the harm. You'll notice that I never use one of my concert guitars during the closing number. Usually it's a new instrument right out of the box. That way I haven't had the time to develop any sentimentality towards it."
While Blackmore's guitar-smashing antics have long been a highlight of Rainbow concerts, the group's recent album, Bent Out Of Shape, shows that the band has turned in a slightly more mellow — if no less rocking — direction. With the success of the ballad Street of Dreams, and the radio-oriented stance exhibited throughout the LP. some rock fans have begun to wonder if perhaps after 15 years in the hard rock sweepstakes, Blackmore hasn't begun to soften his metallic stance.
"I don't think so." he said with a cold look in his dark eyes. "We're enjoying a great deal of success with the music we're playing these days, and there's nothing wrong with that. I went through a period with Rainbow when we were making very uncompromising music. Unfortunately, few people seemed interested in listening to what we were playing. Over the last few albums we've turned in what could be called a more commercial direction. But we haven't compromised our musical standards. We're still playing Rainbow music."
One of the main reasons for the band's shift in style has been the emergence of vocalist Joe Lynn Turner as an outstanding songwriter. Of the nine original tunes that adorn Bent Out Of Shape, Turner co-wrote eight.
"Joe has an excellent sense of melody," the band's bassist and producer Roger Glover explained. "Ritchie generally will come up with a riff and Joe will develop lyrics and a hook to go with what Ritchie's done — they make quite a team.
"I'm very glad that Joe's been able to take on the additional responsibility of songwriting." Glover added.
"I used to feel obligated to write quite a bit of the material, and that took away from my production time. This way, everyone feels involved with a particular task in the creation of an album. Rainbow is like a team in that we each have a specific job to do, and we each feel comfortable doing that job."
One of Glover's primary responsibilities is making sure that Blackmore's stellar guitar skills get the proper attention in the recording studio. While Ritchie admitted to "still being scared to death when the red light goes on in the studio," Glover feels that his goal as Rainbow's producer is to make sure that Blackmore's studio work sounds as vital and inspired as his live performance.
"I don't know if Ritchie will ever be able to play as well in the studio as he does on stage." Roger stated. "That's just a fact of life. He feels somewhat inhibited by the sterile confines, and nothing anyone says or does can change that. Nevertheless. I believe that Bent Out Of Shape features Ritchie's best playing ever. The song format we're using prohibits him from having as much freedom as he had on earlier Rainbow albums, so his solos have to be more succinct and more dynamic.
"The studio we used to record the album. Sweet Silence, in Copenhagen, is especially good for Ritchie. We had worked there before on the Difficult To Cure album, and we remembered that the studio seemed to enhance Ritchie's playing like nowhere else. My goal is to try to capture Ritchie's natural sound, so we set up his amps in the recording room, then put mikes in front of them. Sometimes that works and other times it can be a disaster. On this album that process worked perfectly. We captured a resonant sound that gives the album a very powerful feel."
On such tracks as Stranded, Desperate Heart and the hit single Street of Dreams, the hard work of Blackmore. Glover, Turner, keyboardist David Rosenthal and new drummer Chuck Burgi is clearly in evidence. In sharp contrast to earlier Rainbow albums, which featured gothic lyrical imagery and one-dimensional metal anthems. Bent Out Of Shape covers a wide range of hard rock styles while never compromising Blackmore's goal of "playing music we can believe in."
"This album shows the progress that Rainbow has made over the last few years." Glover said. "This is an album for the 1980s, as opposed to the standard heavy metal sound of the '70s. Bent Out Of Shape has a very modern sound, yet the elements that have made Rainbow popular are still very much there.
As long as Ritchie is present, there will always be that very distinctive sound that separates Rainbow from every other band. He's still the best heavy metal guitarist in the world, and no matter how many ballads we may record, his playing will always add that hard edge. The band is very strong right now, and we hope to keep the same sound, and the same members, for a long time to come."
Glover's back-handed reference to Rainbow's personnel problems brings up the key ingredient in Rainbow's continued evolution. Has there ever been a rock and roll band that has undergone more lineup changes than Rainbow? Over the band's nine-year history, no less than 15 different musicians have passed through the group's revolving door. Such rock luminaries as Ronnie James Dio, Cozy Powell, Graham Bonnet and Don Airey have done their time at Blackmore Tech, and while most prefer to forget their stint in Rainbow, as Don Airey put it, "working with Ritchie was a very eye-opening experience."
On Bent Out Of Shape, the band's tradition of never having recorded two albums with the exact same roster continues, with drummer Chuck Burgi having replaced Bobby Rondinelli. While Burgi admitted to being "a little shaky" over the opportunity to work with the unpredictable Blackmore, Roger Glover insisted that Rainbow's current lineup could very easily stand pat for a number of years to come.
"This is the most compatible lineup Rainbow's had since I've been here." he said. "The band's musical direction is clear, and with Ritchie, there's no question about who's in charge. There are always personality conflicts in any band, but there just aren't any monster egos involved in the band. There shouldn't be any big run-ins between Ritchie and anyone else.
Ritchie can be a little difficult to work with," Glover added with a knowing smile. "He really hasn't changed from the way he was in Deep Purple 10 years ago. He's still very intense, and very demanding. But he doesn't push anyone in the band harder than he pushes himself. Everyone respects Ritchie — whether they agree with him or not. They know he believes in what he's doing and is totally committed to the band. We've all been involved with music long enough to know that success has its price. It's not easy being in a successful band.
You've got to keep pushing yourself if you want to stay on top. Ritchie's not scared to push people if he thinks everyone will benefit in the end."
© Andy Secher, Hit Parader Magazine - March 1984