Live and in the Studio
A month or so ago, a new Rainbow LP hit the shops. This most recent product from the prominent hard rock group, was titled 'Difficult To Cure'. If that refers to the incurability of some kind of hard rock virus is just a question.
Rainbow was formed in 1975, after the driving force, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, turned his back to the famous group Deep Purple. Ritchie now lives (May 1981) in the US. But he is a thoroughbred Englishman who sees his native country as well as Japan and the northern part of Europe as his largest sales market. Ritchie isn't the only ex-Deep Purple member anymore in Rainbow.
In 1978 Roger Glover joined the group. First as producer, later also as bassist. During the recordings for 'Difficult To Cure' the line-up did not remain stable. Drummer Cozy Powell left, followed a little later by singer Graham Bonnet. New are Bobby Rondinelli and Joe Lynn Turner. The only one beside producer/bass player Roger Glover who stayed in the band is keyboard player Don Airey.
The new Rainbow LP was recorded in Denmark for tax reasons.The studio in question is called Sweet Silence. And the nice thing is that Music Maker has a relationship there. We asked to keep an eye on the recordings and if possible a conversation with the gentlemen of Rainbow. That worked wonderfully well. So you see, as soon as roadies, managers and similar people of undoubtedly great importance are away, suddenly anything can be done. Hence, this story is not only about the recording procedure, but also about the equipment used by Rainbow during performances. And, better still, we managed to frame the whole thing with the members of Rainbow.
When did you get seriously interested in music?
I started when I was 11. Tommy Steele who was the rock'n roller at the time provided the inspiration. A year long I had guitar lessons, learning scales. That was important because I was taught to use all four fingers of the left hand. Especially the use of the little finger, which is very important. Initially I followed the game of people like Django Reinhardt, later on they became Wes Montgomery, Les Paul, Duane, Eddy and Buddy Holly.
When I was about seventeen, I played in a skiffle group on an instrument called the 'dog-box'. It was a kind of broomstick with 1 string. Then I ended up with Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages. From that moment on you can consider me a professional. Matthew Fisher, who later joined Procal Harum, was also in that group.'
Did you play chords or single notes at the time?
I think I have always relied more on single notes than chords. When I was about thirteen years old, I got hold of a chord book and then I saw how many there were to learn. So it seemed better to me to stay with notes.
Have you listened to records a lot to get ideas?
Yes. But I've never been good at picking things up through my ear. James Burton was one of my idols. When I heard him play something I tried too, but the end of the song was that I had it my own way. What I did learn is that James Burton used banjo strings to bend his notes. After my classical guitar lessons I had two more lessons. Near me lived two very good guitarists. One was Jim Sullivan and the other was Roger Minga.
Both were at a high level that I wanted to try to match. But because I cannot pick up something that someone else does, I probably developed a style of my own quite early. That has its advantages and disadvantages. It is a advantage if you write music yourself, but a disadvantage if you do sessions and they want you to play something specific. At the beginning of the sixties I did some sessions for a group called the Outlaws. That was my first studio experience.
Your sound, has that changed over the years?
It's like a kind of food to me. When I come across something I like, I eat it all the time. When it comes to sound, I'm not an adventurer. Likewise I don't try amplifiers recommended by people. That is because I'm happy with what I have. I used to use a Vox amp that I really liked. But I know Jim Marshall personally so I went to his factory and had them build something there that sounded exactly the way I wanted it literally in the factory while the Marshall technicians put the case together. There I tried the end result. People closed their ears complaining because I was playing so hard. My amplifiers have a lot of highs.
Have you ever played with someone like Jeff Beck?
Jeff Beck, yeah. When I played with Lord Sutch in '64, we did some sessions that were produced by Jimmy Page. Jeff wasn't playing with the Yardbirds then and he was really good.
Eric Clapton's guitar is made up of specially selected pieces from old Stratocasters. You also smash up a guitar sometimes. What kind of thing is that?
'I used to destroy real Stratocasters, but they are very heavy and you cannot just throw them anywhere. That's a bit dangerous. So in that case I use a lighter imitation guitar that I think there is reason to smash it. First time I broke a guitar was around '68. The one who started that forge was called Pete Philips. He did it in '64. He played in a group called The Creations Philips was an innovator. He played his guitar with a bow and used the microphone stand with it. And he smashed his guitar. He was the one who started it. That moleviks with the arm, like Pete Townsend did, is also his. Townsend was the first known guitarist to smash his guitar. Later he was followed by Jimmy Hendrix.
In between the frets, you had the neck of your Stratocaster sanded and polished, so that you can bend the notes better and get more sustain. But you also always use an Aiwa recorder to check the feedback. I have always used that controlled feed-back. The tape recorder that does it partly has been lying somewhere in my house for some time. And to do something with it, I converted it into a kind of echo machine, with which I could do more can achieve a delayed echo sound than reverb. I believe that tape echo is much better than any type of reverb, Space Echo or whatever.
With my device I can control the distortion, the input and the output, which means I can sound really loud and still very 'clean', or the opposite, very soft and very dirty. My recorder works like a small, controllable fuzz-box. Many people think that I am pretending to play a solo, because they see the coils of the recorder spinning. But that's not the case.
What kind of strings do you use?
Picato standard in the thicknesses 10, 11, 13 (or 14), 28 (sometimes 26), 38 and 48. And my picks have a very strange shape. That's because I can't handle the normal ones. I tune my guitar as standard. I'm not an adventurer in that respect. I use the tremelo arm constantly. The only other effect I use is a phaser.
Do you also play keyboards?
No, I only have a set of Taurus bass pedals that I use on stage. Sometimes I use a strange chord scheme to accompany myself in a particular piece. I often write music, improvise on the guitar while a bass tone goes on. I don't understand anything from the keys, so I had the relevant notes put on the pedals with big letters.
Roger told me that you write music in the studio.
'That's right. And that's the way it should be. Rock is a very special kind of music. If you write a piece of music at home with an acoustic guitar, it will sound completely different if you play it with a group. Different and wrong. Take one of the most famous rock songs, 'Purple Haze'. That sounds completely wrong when you play it on an acoustic guitar.
I think you should play with a drummer too. It's a matter of improvisation. I have a habit of putting a lot of chords in a piece of music, but later on I take most of it out again because that makes rock more effective. In the Rock & Roll you can't get too melodic. Then you spoil the whole. That's how I always write in minor the last 12/15 years. The only song that is in major as far as I can remember is 'Woman From Tokyo'. Major sound too clear, too happy. When I do something in a studio, I finish it or I burn it. We did that in Deep Purple because we didn't want music to keep swinging, which the managers could one day as happened with Hendrix, for example.
In the end, does a recording sometimes sound completely different than you intended?
That usually happens to me. That's why I don't think too much of an end result. I only start thinking when a riff or chord scheme is worth developing in advance. Ideas that are worked out in advance usually lead to disappointment and disillusionment. My work is to come up with an idea and present it to the group. The next step is to think about where the vocal possibilities lie.
How often do you record a solo?
About six or seven times. We look for the best. Sometimes we alternate tracks.
Which solos do you like best about yourself?
I think those of 'Gates Of Babylon' and 'Weisheim'. Live I happily think back to the Donington Festival in August 1980. The more people there are, the better I play. To be honest I'm not intrested if there are only 200 people in a venue, unless it is a jam and the people also came for it. If an audience is good, we sometimes stretch the solos and play more freely. But we do not change anything about the song itself. If people pay money to watch you play, you have to take that into account.
Why did you actually leave Deep Purple?
I did that because the whole affair was terribly bored and I wanted a group that I could control better. I also liked to make one LP a year With Deep Purple, we were contractually obliged to make three a year. And I got the feeling that I was just playing everything to fill the record.
Is there someone you haven't worked with when you still would like to?
Ian Anderson, I admire him a lot and he's a good friend of mine, but I've never worked with him. Another person is Paul Rogers, the lead singer of Bad Company. I like violinists and organists, but I'm not too interested in guitarists, maybe Randy Hansen's. He really has class and finesse. I jammed with him and I liked it very much.
Who do you think is the greatest composer of all time?
JS Bach, I think he is the greatest representative of music the world has ever produced.If you're tired of everything that has to do with music, and you listen to his music, you get the feeling that it's all worth it anyway.
' About the bass guitar:
Lately I played on an Ovation Magnum. In Deep Purple I played a lot on a Rickenbacker. Later I switched to a Gibson Thunderbird. The first one collapsed during the US tour, so I bought a new one that I use every now and then. I like it very much. The Ovation is very suitable for rock music because the sound is quite deep. It is not directly the best bass in the world, but of course a lot depends on your way of playing. The best bass guitars are probably made by Alembic, but for me they sound too 'funky'. I hit quite hard and on the Ovation it works, without distorting the sound. I already play quite a bit long bass guitar. Altogether I play about twenty years now, I think I don't do much to change a bass. The Rickenbacker that I have used for a long time was equipped with Fender pickups, but in general I am not that technical.
I buy records like the average record buyer. Not to listen to the bass guitar or the production. If there is one thing I listen to well, it's the drums. The drums are the key to rock music. On the new LP (Difficult to Cure) the approach will be different from that on 'Down To Earth', our last record. We have a different drummer and I think the final result will be a bit bluesier and also a bit louder. 'Down To Earth' was the first Rainbow record I produced. In order to give that more value, we have started more from marketability.
And because we are not too good at writing single material ourselves, we asked Russ Ballard to write 'Since You Been Gone' and received quite a bit of criticism on that album. They thought it was all too light and although I listen too much to criticism, it is still very useful to know what people think. It was important to me that 'Down To Earth' sold twice as much as all other Rainbow LPs. Because you can't ignore something like that. Approach this new record we do the same way, but I have the feeling that the hard rock should come out more.
About writing music:
Ritchie writes the music and I write the lyrics. At least that's how it goes at first. Everyone contributes in the end. Ritchie gets most of his ideas in hotel rooms. He always has a lot of them and we work them out together. We write in the studio. Hardrock you don't write at home because houses are built for comfort and rock is not comfortable music. The stage and studio and not a rehearsal space provide you with the right atmosphere. The reason is you know that time goes by when it costs money. So there is a constant situation in which you are under pressure, which makes you work harder and faster and your ideas become stronger. In domestic circumstances you are much more likely to come up with funky, melodic things.
My first studio experience was with a group called Episode Six. That was in '65, at the PYE studio in London. I managed to get a record deal and since there was no one to do the production, I got it done. The record was called 'Pick Up A Bone'. When I produced it, I didn't even know what a producer did or where he should be. So I developed my own way of working. I have a lot of admiration for Phil Spector. He is very personal and strong because he's unique. I can appreciate Todd Rundgren, but for almost everything he does.
Musically I have no real preferences I can appreciate everything, reggae, punk, new wave, and easy listening. Except maybe musical wallpaper and some types of traditional jazz. As a producer I have used a lot of symphonic orchestras. From my 2 solo LPs, one has a fairly classic approach. The way you mix depends on the song, the group and the occasion. There are no set rules, as far as I'm concerned. But generally I don't like gimmicks. I try to record everything as straight as possible. And although I am not a 'back to mono' fanatic, I believe that rock music gets stronger when the sound comes at you in its entirety. I try to make the stereo effect as strong as possible, without spreading the sound too much.
Are Glover and especially Blackmore known, drummer Rondinelli is not (yet). It is a 25-year-old American, who has actually only played in clubs so far. He ended up at Rainbow through the many recommendations that reached Ritchie Blackmore. Who decided to take a look. Blackmore: 'Some drummers only have good technique and not a good sound, or the other way around.
Bobby plays hard, but importantly, he knows why he does it. The guys with Blackmore and Rondinelli played together and it clicked. When Cozy Powell left just before recording for 'Difficult To Cure' started, the replacement didn't cause any problems. For Bobby it meant that his record debut took place in the company of his favorite group.
"I have done a lot of demo work, which gave me the necessary experience. My drum kit is double with a gong and cymbals. I do not use syndrums. We record the drums in one go so that the basis is immediately there. In terms of resonance I think the Sonor drums are the best. My kit is made of wood which I think sounds fuller and warmer than fiberglass or plexiglass. The sound of the drums must come from the drum kit in the studio.
So you should work with EQ as little as possible. I also don't mute anything. If your drums are in tune and you use the right heads on the right drums, the sound should be perfect.
I use both a top and a bottom skin on my drums. Sound is difficult to describe in words, but with the drums it is all about having the right amount of noise when everything is in tune. If they are not in tune, you only hear noise. You know it's very easy to put a blanket in a bass drum if you want to eliminate the noise. But it's about the right tuning. When you make a hole in a sheet, the result is that you leave the pressure in the drum escape, making it harder to control the attack, while getting a more pronounced punch with less sustain and less resonance.
I don't tune my drums to certain notes Everything is done by ear. As a rule, the bottom skins are a bit tighter than the top skins. Sticks are also important, but the Regal 5-B has enough weight to give you power and is still light enough to be technically fast. The lighter the stick, the faster you can play, but the lighter the sound becomes.
I have 2 bass drums of which the left one is usually tuned slightly higher than the right. The last one I use the most. The sizes of my bass drums are 14 x 24, the toms are 9 x 13, 10 x 14, 16 x 16 and 16 x 18. The cymbals are by Paiste. Besides my Sonor I have another drumkit. It's a 40 year old Slingerland Radioking with animal skins. The sound of the drums is fantastic. Older drums often sound better than new ones.'
Keyboardist Don Airey also participated on the previous Rainbow LP. He is the only classically trained of the current line-up. He is also not averse to an experiment, which manifests itself in particular in his use of a sequencer.
"I already saw Ritchie playing with Deep Purple when I was still a classical piano student at the Manchester Conservatory Keyboardists. Keyboardplayers sometimes have a hard time understanding guitarists, but my views changed when I saw Ritchie play for the first time.
It made me wake up in a sense. Until then I had been more into jazz. I also wrote music for the theater. After college I played in cabaret clubs all over the world. When I got back Cozy Powell asked me to join his group. It only existed for one year, after which Cozy went to play in Rainbow. He asked me to come along, but I preferred to play with Jon Hiseman and Gary Moore at Collosseum. But in March '79 I ended up in Rainbow.
My basic keyboard in Rainbow is a Hammond B-3. I first had another one, but it was irreparably damaged in a car accident. Very unfortunate, because it was the best organ I ever played. Outside of the Hammond I have a Yamaha CS-80 plus 2 ARP Odyssees, a Mini-Moog, an Honor clavinet, a Rhodes that I don't use during the gigs, Taurus bass pedals, an Orchestron, a Vocoder and a Sequencer. The last device is not used too much like Eddy Jobson does.
A sequencer is a great instrument. You discover things with it that you never thought possible. I use it a lot during solos, together with the ARP I program the whole to certain repeats. For more spatial sounds, I use an old ring modulator as an addition. With Rainbow I mainly use chords and a good powerful sound, I don't have time for string machines, echo effects and other strange things. The Mini-Moog is, as far as I'm concerned, the best synthesiser there is. The number of overdubs I try to keep to a minimum. In addition, many effects do not come across to us, because we play so loudly. Still, I want to put a flanger on the CS-80 for this recording. I can't do anything with it live. It can't be heard anyway."
For tax reasons, Rainbow always records in mainland Europe. This time they chose the Sweet Silence Studio in Copenhagen. It is a large studio, equipped with a Triad table, Lyrec 24 track machines, lots of loose space and countless microphones from various brands.
Blackmore's equipment was set up in the forward room and was boosted by a Shure SM-57 located about 10 cm from the Marshall cabinet, plus an SM-56 at a distance of about five feet and a U-58 approximately 60 cm from the amplifier.
Any combination of these 3 microphones allowed the technician to get the characteristic Blackmore sound onto the tape. In the same room there are 2 pianos. One of them is set up on the 'live' side of the room. It was used sometimes, the other keyboards were in a separate room and were mostly recorded directly. The Leslies and a bass cabinet were in another room and were amplified by an SM-58, a D-224E and an SM-56.
The drums were set up in yet another room. The reason for this separation is clear. They did not want any crosstalk. Before recording started, the group rehearsed for a week or two. The studio was booked for a month. In December 1980, the overdubs and mixing took place.
The recording procedure did not follow a fixed pattern. Sometimes the 4 musicians played at the same time and sometimes the sequencer of Don Airey was put on the tape first. Later on keyboards and drums were dunked in. Roger followed with the bass. the keyboards came again. Finally, singer Joe Lynn Turner was allowed to do a little work.
But when the basic tracks were recorded he usually just sat there for a while. He disappeared at a certain point to work on another project in London. That's how it goes with Rainbow. The group actually consists of a number of freelancers. The most involved in the Rainbow recording is Roger Glover. While the other gentlemen watch TV, eat or sleep, he sits at the mixing desk to coordinate the whole thing.
Because the studio was booked for a consecutive period, everything remained as it was set up. But that does not mean that it reaches the 119 dB with which Deep Purple made it into the Guinness Book of Records. Roger Glover: 'I like sound at a fairly constant level. Sometimes even very quiet. If you listen to the same music over and over again, like in the studio, you have to be careful with your ears."
A performance by a group can be very boring. Often the decoration ends with a nice background with a number of musicians waving their heads back and forth. Rainbow they try to dress things up a bit more.
This means that various visual effects are used such as spotlights on the audience, rotating leslie lights and the well-known explosions. Add to that the volume of the group and you have an overwhelming package. Roger: 'I cannot deny that we have a loud band. Not loud on stage, but loud in the hall. It has become kind of a tradition. Deep Purple was once the loudest band in the world. But we want to use the volume to get a good sound, where some groups try to hide things. So use we have a Harwell/Tasco set of PA cabinets.
I find loud music exciting, so we convey that to the audience Blackmore: 'I like drama .That's how my music is. I like straightforward statements, not half the job. That's how I approach our performance.'
Sound engineer David Kirkwood has been working with Ritchie Blackmore since the Purple days. Together with three more permanent employees, he keeps the technical side of things up to standard. The drums that Cozy Powell used differs from what Bobby Rondinelli will probably use as the group goes on tour again.
Powell had a twin Yamaha 9000 drumkit and a proprietary Mavis mixer and amp that powered his giant drum monitors. Ritchie uses two Marshall 4 x 12 cabinets with a modified Marshall 200 Major Amp during a performance. An identical setup lined up next to it in case something should go wrong. He connects his Stratocaster to the Aiwa tape recorder and a phaser. Then the signal goes to the amplifier. His moog Taurus bass pedals are directly amplified by 2 1 x 15 bass cabinets plus a 2482 JBL midhorn.
The microphones used are Sennheisers 441 (bass drum) and 421 (leslie and toms), C-451 (overhead), AKG 224E (snare), an SM-57 for the guitar and an SM-58 for the vocals. An AKG D12 functions as a spare for the bass guitar, which usually goes directly to the mixing console together with the keyboards and the Taurus pedals. DI's (Direct Input) are of course used.
The keyboards and bass cabinets were developed and built by 2 Americans from the Pirate sound company in Los Angeles. That happened about five years ago. Crown DC-300 amplifiers provide the drive. The cabinets are equipped with 18, 12 and 15 inch speakers with JBL Horns at the top. The sequencer that plays a major role in the keyboard sound of Don Airey is from Sequential Circuits, the same company that also produces the Prophet synthesizers. Don connects the device to a Mini Moog. In total the sequencer has 256 notes that are stored in 16 divisions (banks) of 16 notes each. A clock that measures the electricity in time is used for the drive. If the sequencer is loaded for each performance, then he plays the entered part exactly at the desired tempo.
Music Maker, The Netherlands - May 1981