Ritchie Blackmore: "I want to be a star and be onstage and get noticed"

"We all came in at different times. Paicey and I walked in - we'd booked a conference room in Greenwich, Connecticut overlooking the harbour, and it was all nice. I was nervous as a kitten. And then Ian Gillan came in, whom I'd seen recently before that. Roger came in, whom I'd seen about two months before. And who was last? Yes, the man in black! And I hadn't seen him for ten years - only onstage; I'd been to a Rainbow show but I didn't go backstage afterwards, I don't know why. And I was so pleased to see him.

And when he walked into that room and suddenly these five people were together for the first time in ten years, together, everyone just started smiling. And I think it was Ritchie who said, right then, well let's do it." (Jon Lord)

Just like that. All those reports - facts (Rod Evans' fake Purple getting cease-and-desisted) piled on suppositions (Blackmore sick of Rainbow? Coverdale sick of Lord? All of them sick of not doing so well outside of Europe with their current bands, at least never as well as with Purple) heaped on gossip (talk of two million apiece just to get back for one tour) - building towards a towerblock or rumors, always swiftly demolished.

Then Ritchie says "let's do it" and that's it, they're doing it.

Deep Purple mark two - the Deep Purple by any sane definition: Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore - are back in business, and back in Hamburg, where Roger is mixing the reunion album. 'Perfect Strangers', that they recorded in Stowe Vermont.

Just one of the many Deep Purple albums to come, by all accounts (they're signed to a longtime worldwide deal) and, from what I've heard, taking up where the old Purple let off, a heavy foundation with majestically soaring arches; the title track is a classic; Purple have given it their all, which at their best is a hell of a lot.

The album's out any minute now, the tour starts a month later in New Zealand. "We thought we'd better go a long way away," chuckles Jon, "and if we get it wrong, it's far enough away from home, isn't it! By the time we get into Europe and specifically the UK, I want this to be so hot."

They've already played one show, in a little club in Hamburg that's had the same house band for 20 years. "We were all in a great mood, and that was the first time we've actually played in ten years onstage." says Ritchie, "The name kind of got a few people thinking; but they were more interested in ordering the first beer."

Ritchie looks and sounds younger, more relaxed than I've seen him in years. The waiter pours the wine. We - Ritchie and I; though we get the pleasure of Jon Lord's company later on the Reeperbahn, the interview proper doesn't take place till the next evening - begin.

Sounds: Why put the band back together now, when you've denied rumors of a reunion for the past couple of years?

Ritchie: "I don't know. I could be very arrogant and say we wanted to create another milestone in the history of rock! Or number two, we just put it back together to annoy the press basically. Give them something to bitch about. That really is our number one priority, to upset the critics."

Sounds: According to most of the reports, you were the one who held out. If you gave the word, it would all fall into place.

Ritchie: "Aha, that's because of good PR work I suppose. It wasn't just me, it was everybody really. I held out sometimes, because I was having a good time with Rainbow. But every now and again I'd go 'let's so it', and when I did, somebody else would be held up doing something else. "About three or four years ago I said to Ian Gillan, 'let's together' - I think it was Christmas, or the day after - and he said 'I can't', we got drunk together and I said 'okay you can't' and left it at that. I think I got Graham Bonnet in Rainbow at that point, and he did his thing. And now he's gone away for his solo venture, I'm tired of my solo venture, I just want to be part of a band. I think I will always be cynical to the end and a loner and I enjoy my solitude, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be part of the band as a unit."

Sounds: There's been rumors you were offered two million apiece to get back together.

Ritchie: "I thought that might come up. I'd heard that too. It's not true as far as I know, but someone might be keeping it from me. Somebody might be having four and I'm not having bugger all."

Sounds: There's also been rumors you've taken over the band, sent them off to health farms to shape up. Was it a case of being too proud to let the thing become a Spinal Tap farce?

Ritchie: "When I first got back together with the rest of the lads, I knew the music would be always be there, but there were obviously a few things that were very apparent that had to be slightly changed or changed dramatically. It was 'well lads, if we're going to get back together we can't turn out like five old men' [Blackmore's 39; Lord is oldest at 43], we have to get down and discipline ourselves a little bit. Discipline is the important word, I think. I like to lead a semi-disciplined life, and rock and roll is not wining and dining and just drinking. You can't go onstage looking like a fat elephant - or you can; Leslie West has proved that! I never actually said to them 'you have to go a health farm and slim down'. But I think they got the impression I might have said that. I gave them the evil eye or something, but I didn't actually say anything."

Sounds: You're in the unique position of being the only person to have had his own band immediately prior to the reunion - Blackmore's Rainbow as opposed to Glover's Rainbow or Lord's Whitesnake. Did it give you more authority, or is the band an equal partnership?

Ritchie: "Exactly that. Nobody demanded it, it just came about that way as the way should be. Everybody is as important as the next person. There's always favorites from the fans. But there's five very strong musicians, and that's how I like to leave that. I write the foundation of a song and construction and the riffs and the general shape of the song. "Roger will put in some of the refinements, some of the lyrics, and he's very important on the production side. He's very happy in that vein - that's far too tedious for me. I can't stand pushing phasers for 16 hours a day. I had too much of studios way back. I think - I did a lot of sessions and I'm sick of seeing the inside of a studio."

Sounds: In the old days, five people used to get the credit for one song.

Ritchie: "That has changed. Writing-wise it's always been basically three people and it's still those same three people. Writing credits are very difficult. Everybody wants to be a writer. Sometimes someone might think they've written something just by turning up to a rehearsal of that particular song. It gets very confusing; I wish someone would do something about it. Maybe Maggie Thatcher will...The music is what really counts."

Sounds: Did it have to be this line-up?

Ritchie: "Yes, it had to be this line-up. Because in my book I think the most creative we ever were, the most identity we ever established, was with this exact line-up. Obviously it could have been any line-up because the would have all been there quick enough, no matter what they say! But it was established years ago that this had to be it. "There is an identity that this Purple has that I didn't find with all the other members of Rainbow. I left Deep Purple because I thought I wanted to go a different way; I wanted to experiment with all different musicians and do a similar type of music, but I felt that the band in general becoming lazy at the time,'74, and they were creeping towards that soul/r&b thing, and I was going' no, it has to be rock and roll'. "So I left and experiment with my own stuff, but after seven or eight years of doing that I've got out my system. And I think they've done the same thing. There's still a great - I won't say 'spark' because it's a great flame within the Purple line-up that we have; there is a chemistry within these five people, some sort of rhythm; it's a pulse; and it does work. That helps."

Sounds: When Purple broke up, you were all at each other's throats, everyone straining to get their extra bit of ego in. Has that changed?

Ritchie: "Now we all respect each other. I suppose we're more sensible. Because we're older - contrary to what the press may say, we're actually older! And we haven't mellowed at al, it's funny. But I'll listen more to the next person and I think they might listen more to me. There never was any egos, actually, within Deep Purple. Funnily enough, having played with about 30 others musicians throughout Rainbow, there were more egos involved in that, and that's why most of the band was changed. Ian Gillan for instance, has a strange ego-he never says 'I want to do this or that', he hears something and he genuinely gets excited, which is amazing. Then we have Jon - sometimes his punctuality's bit out of order, but his ego is not. He's such a gentleman, such a nice guy, I just wish he would turn up more on time. Roger - I still don't think he has an ego. I suppose I'm the only one who has an ego, but in the way that I know what I want to do, 'I really think this is right', as opposed to the ego of saying 'I want to be a star and be onstage and get noticed'."

Sounds: So you had no thoughts of going solo then?

Ritchie: "No, I wouldn't want to. I have nothing to say as Ritchie Blackmore, solo artist; maybe in two years. At the same time I am playing better than I ever did. That's my opinion, which is really the opinion I listen to the most."

Sounds: Were you very positive in the beginning, once you decided to get on with Purple, or wary?

Ritchie: "A bit of both. There were days when I was very wary and I said no, this not going to work, and there were other days, once we actually started playing, when I knew it was going to work. Before that I wasn't quite sure, as I hadn't heard them for so long."

Sounds: You hadn't kept up with what they were doing then? No competitive edge or anything?

Ritchie: "No, not at all. I never heard one thing Ian did with Black Sabbath, I think I heard two tracks Whitesnake did, one recently which I thought was good. I never kept up with them at all. Trying to pick up the BBC World Service one day I picked up France and they had Ian Gillan on four tracks, they were doing a program on his LP I think and it sounded very good. I just wasn't interested. I was into medieval music, I wasn't really into rock and roll. I love to play rock and roll, but the only bands I ever listened to were Ozzy Osbourne - he was good - and Ronnie Dio's band's good. I just listen to classical. I had no idea what they were going to be like. I kept my fingers crossed. We were taking a change - I hadn't spoken to them for so long, they could have been into drugs really heavily, anything could have happened. But it didn't, it all worked out really well, so far.

Sounds: Do you see this as long-term thing?

Ritchie: "Well, I don't know. I think we've discovered a lot of avenues of rock music that appeal to us and I would like to follow those up. I think if the fans or the mass in general turn around and give a definite thumbs-down, then we might all go 'ah, we weren't right to come back together'."

Sounds: Do you seriously think that might happen?

Ritchie:"I'm a pessimist to the end. Eternal cynicism, that's my thing. You can never sit back and say 'this will obviously be a success because it's good'. In this day and age, being good and being musical and in tune usually goes against you, and that's what throws the whole issue. I don't think music has really been popular; I think fashion is what's popular. Fashion is a thorn in an musician's side."

Sounds: Are you keeping Rainbow going on the side, just in case?

Ritchie: "I could, but I don't think it's fair. The music is kind of similar. I might do some instrumental stuff on the side, but I haven't really thought about it. I thought it would be nice to have both; Rainbow is total self-indulging on my part. The Purple thing is almost self indulging, not quite."

Sounds: Have you ever woken up in sweat thinking "Jesus, I've done my best to be a good guitar player all my life, and all they really want me to do is fall back on Deep Purple?

Ritchie: "No. I felt that there were so many people who respected what I did with Rainbow - I knew within myself I played ten times better with Rainbow than I ever played with Purple. There will be a lot of 'Oh no he didn't's because there were a lot of historic landmarks made with Purple because I can do both, play in a subtle manner for those people who are highly critical, and yet be accepted by the mass... I'm the type of person, I'm too angry too critical of myself ever to fall back on something. There are some nights I do that on stage but no, I couldn't let myself do that. I might get drunk one night and say let's do it for a laugh, but the next day I'd sober up and go, what am I doing? Obviously each one of Deep Purple has something to offer."

Sounds: What do you expect to get most out of being back in Purple?

Ritchie: "It would be a thrill to have it accepted without all the bullshit of 'they're too old to do this', old news. My favorite artist is Bach, who's 300 years old. Music and woman should never be dated. I don't want to get anything out of being back in Purple."

Sounds: So it's quite simple the best place for you to make music at the moment."

Ritchie: "I think it's one of the best places to be. I try to take into consideration the negative points and I end up with very confused attitude sometimes, by nit bursting with joy and saying 'this is wonderful' as some people might do. Because I don't think I could do that, even if I saw the Gates of Heaven open up I'd go, well let me inspect this first, I might be in the wrong place. I never know."

© Sylvie Simmons, Sounds November 1984