I am 'Very Honored' To Be Part Of Reactivated Rainbow
Ritchie "The Man in Black" Blackmore is a guitar legend and virtuoso and a former member of iconic Heavy/Hard Rock bands Deep Purple and Rainbow. He's responsible for many international hit songs from Purple classics "Child in Time", "Highway Star" and "Burn", to Rainbow's "All Night Long", "Stone Cold", "Stargazer" and so on. And the list of legendary musicians he has worked with throughout his career goes on forever.
This living legend has achieved a lot over a career that started in 1968 when he first put Deep Purple together and his career has covered six decades, which is just incredible. In 2015, Ritchie Blackmore got the idea to take Rainbow on the road again, this time with a line-up consisting of vocalist Ronnie Romero (ex-Lords of Black), keyboardist Jens Johansson (Stratovarius), Bob Nouveau on bass and David Keith on drums.
In April 2018, the Rainbow tour caravan reached European soil where they played five shows, one of which happened in Helsinki, Finland, where they played in front of a sold-out crowd. The Metal Crypt had the golden opportunity to have a little talk about this special tour with the band's keyboard player, Jens Johansson, who kindly answered our questions.
How's it going, Jens? I assume it feels great to be on tour with Rainbow, right?
Jens: It's a very good feeling and it is really nice to be involved in the tour. It's material I love and that I have been familiar with since I was small. On top of that, Ritchie doesn't seem to like typical tour life so he has arranged super-comfortable travel. This means lots of space between the gigs, very relaxed travel schedules, etc.
"Memories in Rock" 2018 is the kind of tour that may Rainbow fans, both old and new, have been waiting for years and now it's really happening. What are your thoughts and feelings about touring under the Rainbow name? Do you consider it a great honour to be a part of it all?
Jens: I am like you say very honoured to be a part of this. Like everyone, I had heard the rumours for many years but didn't really think it could happen. I was extremely happy when they contacted me and, of course, very curious about who the rest of the band would be, especially the singer. :)
You have played one show in the Czech Republic, one show in Germany, two in Russia and one in Finland; have they all sold out and has the response been overwhelming? How would you summarize these events in your own words? You have obviously given some memorable moments to your fans but what have the fans given back to you?
Jens: The shows this year have all been sold out or close to it, I believe. Yes, there have been a lot of really memorable moments on stage. If nothing else I can see the listeners have waited a long time for this, never thinking it could ever happen. There is now a trajectory since the first gigs with this line-up. There is some development, we are getting to know each other better musically, and the songs are a developing in different directions. But still few enough gigs that (I hope) nobody is getting sick of anyone else.
The band's set list has consisted of many classic Rainbow songs and also some classic Purple-era stuff. Which are your favourite Rainbow/Purple songs to play live and why?
Jens: They are all nice to play live. If I have to single one out at this particular time maybe it will be "Mistreated" because it has had some extremely dynamic moments in the past and also it has gone through some quite interesting developments lately from Ritchie, where he will direct the band in the same manner an orchestra conductor would. Also "Child in Time" has been absolutely fantastic most of the time this past tour, much for the same reasons.
When you play songs like "Stargazer", "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll", or "Burn" live, do you get goosebumps just hearing and seeing how your audience reacts?
Jens: "Long Live Rock'n'Roll" is especially nice in this way since the audience very often sings along with it. "Stargazer" is so epic that people just seem to get completely absorbed into it, and since there is that long guitar solo in the middle, somehow a lot of the feel of that one is tied to which mood Ritchie is in on any given night. But these are all pretty busy songs so not so much room for these very dynamic level shifts that have evolved in some of the other ones...
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of one of Rainbow's most important albums, Long Live Rock 'n' Roll. What meaning has this album had for you as a musician?
Jens: All of the Rainbow and Purple albums have been huge milestones in my life, and pretty much most of the people I have played with as well, who were any good anyway. LLRR is a fantastic album and we all sucked up anything from that camp like sponges, really. This stuff was our lifeblood. Yngwie used to joke that he would play Made in Japan on the record player until it was so worn out that it was just a thin vinyl spiral, then he'd have to go buy another copy. Only I'm not 100% sure he was joking... Maybe he was about the spiral part.
Would you say "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" might well be your personal hymn to your musical career, why you love doing this so much? I mean, being a musician, entertainer and first and foremost, being someone who is quite a wizard behind his keyboards?
Jens: It's not a personal hymn for me per se, but I think it's really an amazing tune.
Ritchie Blackmore himself considers you one of the best keyboard players in the whole world saying you have managed to adopt Jon Lord's playing style (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) when playing both Rainbow and Purple stuff. How do you feel about his kind words?
Jens: It's almost impossible to believe he said that. But if it's true, of course, I'm flattered beyond belief. Jon Lord has been a huge influence on me, so it's not so much "I managed to adopt his playing style for this job in 2016" rather than "I started trying to adopt his playing style as a teenager in the mid-70s."
Talking about Jon Lord (R.I.P.), what kind of a tutor was he when you first started learning to play keyboards? Did you see Jon as some sort of a "keyboard God", so to speak?
Jens: Definitely. Absolutely. There was nobody better in the whole world than all those guys. It was simply the embodiment of the ideal Rock band. Basically, all other bands were complete crap in my mind.
Can you remember which songs were some of the first Rainbow songs that you tried to learn to play? Do you "blame" Rainbow, at least partly for why you stuck to playing keyboards back in the day, and not guitar or drums, for example?
Jens: It was not so much at the level of "which songs" as it was "let's learn to play all of Made in Japan note for note" when I started out. Amusingly enough, Yngwie had done the same thing. Very often in Yngwie's band when we were supposed to rehearse for some tour or other, whoever-was-the-singer-at-the-time had to haplessly sit and listen as we plowed thru one side after another of Made in Japan.
You are, of course, mostly known as the keyboard player with Finnish Power Metal powerhouse Stratovarius since 1995, in which your keyboards are in a key role. Does playing keyboards in Rainbow set some limits on your playing style in terms of soloing, for example?
Jens: Yes, if nothing else the size of the venues sets limits! If I tried to cram all of those millions of little Stratovarius notes into an arena, they would be lost in the acoustics like 15 meters from the stage. And of course, the songs themselves are very different as well. But being Rainbow and Purple fans is still something I have in common with the guys in Stratovarius.
With Rainbow, the heart of many of the songs as they get played live is improvisation, which has something in common with Jazz music. It's also what attracted me these bands in the beginning. They did a lot of jamming. With Stratovarius there is approximately zero jamming, it's much more structured and in some ways, it's more predictable. Some people would, of course, prefer this, it's a lot more poppy and the songs live sound quite similar between gigs.
Now that Stratovarius has been mentioned, will be there some news regarding the band's next album any time soon?
Jens: I imagine in 2019 at some point...
How do you see the future of Rainbow? Besides this new song, titled "Waiting for a Sign", is there any new material in the works, or some plans to do some more shows across the globe?
Jens: This is all up to Ritchie. I'm up for anything if he feels like it.
Thank you so much for your time, Jens. It was nice to have this conversation with you. Last but not least, I want to wish you all the best in all of your future endeavours, whatever there may be ahead of you. Any last words perhaps?
Jens: Thank you!
Final words of the interview... Well, I am bad at this kind of thing. Anyway, with a little luck, there will be some more gigs. Also, I heard some rumours that they may have recorded the shows this year, it would be interesting if they release some of the stuff since the songs have evolved a little bit since when we last played. But actually, I am not sure if they recorded or not...
© Luxi Lahtinen, Metal Crypt - May 13, 2018