Interview Metal Express Radio 2019
A few years ago, you were diagnosed with cancer and Hallelujah (I'm Alive) tells your story of those times. When were you going through this?
In 2009 I got diagnosed. Back then someone had suggested I do a band with my buddy Jurgen Blackmore called Over The Rainbow. I don't do covers but I figured it'd be like the real Rainbow where we'd just let loose and play like we did in the '70's but it turned into Joe Lyn Turner's Jukebox and he wanted to do 4 minute songs which in fairness is what his vision of the whole thing was. He was an 80's guy and I was more a 60's guy and was up for a jam. In the middle of that I was diagnosed with bladder cancer and they took out a lot of my organs, not my Hammond organ but they took everything else.
I went under the knife and they opened me up and when I woke up, I only had one thought, Hallelujah I'm Alive. I had pretty much the same sort of cancer as Ronnie James Dio. I hadn't heard from him in years but I always stayed in touch with Wendy. I asked her what happened. She thought his cancer was caused by life on the road, what he was eating and not getting enough sleep. It was the same with Jimmy Bain, he died on a cruise ship with undiagnosed lung cancer. They wouldn't even give him health insurance in America. Jimmy was my brother in arms. We were the two Punk kids against the Rock stars. Ronnie was OK but Ritchie and Cozy were fairly full of themselves.
Was joining an established band like Rainbow a daunting move for you?
Are you kidding me? I kicked Ritchie's ass and made him a better player. I was 20 when I joined Rainbow and I wouldn't let him get away with anything. Cozy Powell, the cockiest man I ever met, called me cocky. He said that Ritchie fired me because I got too cocky. I didn't get fired because I left. I left three times and he rehired me three times after he tried literally everybody else in the world. Everybody seemed to be scared of him, sure he could shred but I could shred too. I wasn't afraid of him. He just didn't like him. He really hated me and his people skills aren't what they could be but he could play and I never saw a showman like Ritchie Blackmore, he was just magic, just an amazing showman. He taught me a lot.
Does it surprise you that over 40 years after you were in Rainbow that people still talk about it?
It does. I don't really take it as a compliment but I respect the fact that people mean it as a compliment. We made Rising in a week. We had Martin Birch keeping the peace. I must have played a total of 3 or 4 hours on that record and we had very little rehearsal. Ritchie told me that he needed to start the record off with something interesting. He said that we should get the new kid to do something as he was going to the pub. I asked Martin Birch what he meant and he said he wanted a keyboard intro so I said OK. We did two takes over an hour. Ritchie came back in and listened to it and said it was interesting and he'd take it. I did another one for Stargazer that never made the album although it might be on the deluxe version now. Then there was A Light In The Black. He had the grace not to be there and I wasn't there when he played. I played it in a high shredding Mini Moog sort of way. If Ritchie liked something, he'd say it was OK. Some might be insulted by that but that's just how he said he liked something and he said my solo was OK.
Did you put the eastern theme into Stargazer?
I certainly did not. Ritchie was inspired by Kashmir and wanted something similar. He sang what he wanted to me. It was all Ritchie's composition but I did teach him to play the keyboard/guitar theme in A Light In The Black.
The keyboards in Tarot Woman and A Light In The Black are two key parts to those songs. Do you feel that you should have had a song writing credit for those?
Have you heard On Stage? What do you think that 45-minute keyboard solo is worth? This was all about the Rock and Roll school of Fuck You economics? Of course, I should have had a song writing credit. They didn't even credit me with my playing on Long Live Rock 'n' Roll until last year. Officially David Stone played on the whole album but I know he played one song, Gates Of Babylon and most of the rest was me. They wrote me out of it but I definitely did Rainbow Eyes and Long Live Rock 'n' Roll and can hear the low growl of my Hammond throughout. I left in the middle of making that album.
The interplay between the musicians was incredible live on stage, was that mainly improvised?
All of it was. We did not rehearse. It was free and improvisational as Jazz. We didn't have to love each other to do that. The tension was always there in fact he fired me on stage in Bristol because I played something, he didn't like and he told me to go. I went back to the hotel and was ready to leave and he said that I couldn't just leave but he just fired me and then wanted me back straight away.
Why did you end up leaving?
I ran away on December 7th and didn't tell him I was going. I got a taxi to the airport in Paris. I thought I was going to die. It got violent and I don't do violence. I called my old man using a pay phone and told him I wasn't going to make it. He told me to get to Charles De Gaulle airport and there'd be a ticket waiting for me. I told the road manager Colin Hart that the line has been drawn and I was gone. He was a lovely guy and he booked me a taxi to take me to the airport. I haven't seen or heard from Ritchie again since then. I was in the band from early '75 to late '77.
© Mick Burgess, Metal Express Radio - June 5, 2019
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