Ritchie Blackmore

Father forgive me, I really want to be A Nice Guy

Rainbow are dangerous because they are a sudden threat to the existing order of things. The mysterious, almost sacred hierarchy of groups is about to undergo a reformation and we shall have to add a new name to the select circle who have achieved world domination. Those who thought they were moving up will find the path blocked. Those who have already arrived will hear an ominous, insistent hammering at the gates. Who are these invaders? And will they bring enlightenment and culture in their wake, or destruction and rapine? The answer is a mixture of both.

Rainbow are an Anglo-American combine whose message is outrageously simple and whose ruthless drive is unassailable. Already the converted are offering up pagan prayers. "Ritchie is God" they were yelling after a concert from the band last week.

Rainbow have FORM as long as your arm. Ritchie Blackmore for a decade was associated with the hugely successful and now defunct Deep Purple. Cozy Powell has been uniquely placed among the heaviest British rock drummers. He achieved public acclaim with his U.K. hit single Dance With The Devil, and the respect of fellow musicians for his work with Tony Joe White, Jeff Beck and his own band Bedlam.

The rest of the band are virtually unknown to most audiences, but have made a startling impact. Lead singer, Ronnie James Dio, is one of those men who can crack chandeliers with perfectly pitched, stentorian notes, forced through his stubby frame with the power of an RB211 jet engine. He is a softly-spoken New Yorker who once led his own band, Elf, which did many tours supporting Deep Purple. Tony Carey on keyboards is from California and played with a Connecticut group Blessings. Rainbow's bassist Jimmy Bain is from Scotland but lived in Canada before returning home to work with a group called Harlot.

Make no mistake, this band can outdo Merlin when it comes to invoking power. But all is not serene within the group. Both Powell and Blackmore are not sure of the sort of commitment between themselves and the rest of the group. There have already been rows and explosive flares of temper. But musically things are fine.

Cozy is now playing at a peak of perfection. "I'm now giving the drums all the power I should have done two years ago." he said. "With Jeff Beck it was impossible to whack hell out of the drums because it wasn't that sort of a band. Now I'm in a band where I can do what I want to do, and unleash the power!" And as for personality clashes: "They say Ritchie is a difficult man to work with, and he is at times. But he leaves me alone and lets me get on with it, which suits me."

In what way is Ritchie difficult?
"He's very demanding he knows exactly what he wants and won't settle for anything less. "Jeff Beck on the other hand brilliant guitar player -- very difficult to know what he's thinking. You can expect to know what's going on in a guy's head, so consequently it's very difficult to play with him. "Some nights would be great and other nights he'd just go off on a tangent and it was very hard to keep up. All guitar players are prone to that."

Had Cozy had ups and down with Ritchie too?"
Not personally, we've got on very well since the band started. But I hate to think what will happen when we do have an argument ... no, he s been very good. He more or less lets me have a free hand. I like it this way. It's nice to work with someone as good as Ritchie, and good for me to get back into it again after being off for a while. The first time we went into the rehearsal room in LA I went bananas. We just blasted away for two hours. And then it all fell into place. Ritchie had tried some English and American guys and basically they were all frightened of him. I'm not frightened of anybody and just went and steamed in. Exactly the same story with Jeff. I went down to the audition, and there were literally 25 drummers all there with the kit that was supplied ... 'Is it my turn now' ... tapping away very lightly. I thought 'sod all this', slung the kit out, got mine in and sat right in front and said right, you wanna play? Let s play. You ve gotta be a bit arrogant if you're a drummer. You've gotta give 'em a kick up the ass.

"It was the same with Ritchie. With a heavy rock guitar player, you know they want a hard, solid foundation. If they don't get that you're wasting their time. But you still have to pace yourself, which is very difficult in our show. It's an hour and a half of torture! Yeah, its painful all right. My hands are really suffering. I've drawn blood many times. John Bonham is of the same ilk and I lived in Birmingham for a while and met my wife there. I got to know John and Robert really well. John and I are probably the only two drummers in England who play in that style. I like him because he doesn't play too many fills but when he does, it means something."

It isn't all bashing in Rainbow, however, and there are many moments of comparative calm and sanity, where both Powell and Blackmore reveal a more sensitive and imaginative side to their musical natures.

"Ritchie is very much into classical music and the medieval period, and he's into the technique of the guitar. He likes to be a complete guitarist."

What did Cozy think of the rest of the guys in the band?
"The singer is the best guy we've found. Ritchie found him in a band called Elf, and he's got an amazing voice. His range and pitch is great. You'll notice he sings in tune. He can sing a melody as well as scream it out. The keyboard player is very young and inexperienced, but has a lot of potential and thats why he's in the hand. In a couple of years time hell he really going good. Jimmy, our bass player, heard him and brought him along."

Was Cozy feeling satisfied with life now and glad he had carried on playing.
"Well I must be satisfied or else I wouldn't put myself through this amount of torture every night! Yeah, I guess I'm happy. But in rock and roll things change and move on at rapid paces. I treat this gig from a day-to-day basis. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. A million things could happen. I just try and do my best every night, and as long as I can do that, I'm satisfied. I'm not a Billy Cobham or Buddy Rich, but as far as heavy rock drummers go, I see most of them off."

Eventually Ritchie Blackmore arrived at the bar, dressed in black and clutching a large beaker of beer. "Basically I'm a moody person and I'm unhappy most of the time," he said, looking very serious. "I'm always looking for that little bit more and I tend to show it in my facial expressions." His facial expression turns blacker when the subject of Deep Purple is brought up. "The band was getting very caught up in an image, whatever our image was. We had five ego-maniacs, including myself. The band paid off, obviously, but I'm glad I left when I did because there might have been a lot of animosity.

"Like tonight, the lads from Deep Purple came along to the show, and they enjoyed it and had a chat. If we had carried on together we would have been at loggerheads and would have started fighting. "It may be a cliche, but I want to play some honest music. I've earned some money and know we can play what I want. I thought Purple were quite valid. We played loudly like Rainbow does now, but we now play four or five numbers of music and then unleash the aggressive side of it.

"But with Purple it was aggression from start to finish. And I found that after four or five years we lost that spark." Ritchie speaks with calm and intelligence, a far cry from the almost demented figure who appears on stage sometimes clawing at his guitar like a cat scratching into human flesh. "We'd got very complacent. You'd turn up at the studio and the guys would say to each other: 'What are we going to do?' 'Oh, I dunno.' Jon Lord would be eating, drinking and dining, and nobody would be particularly bothered. And then the manager would appear and say: 'Well, you've got two days to finish the LP!" Nobody had anything together.

"In the end I insisted that Roger (Roger Glover ex-Purple bass player who exited in '73) went, although now Roger is a very good friend of mine. He's a good writer, and in fact we'd like to incorporate him in the band as a writer with us, because I'm not a good writer. But in Purple we weren't hitting it off as friends, socially. He was with Jon. I was with Ian Paice. We all paired off and it got a bit silly. Decisions were made by all of us, but in the last three years, I found everything was on me. At rehearsals it was 'What have you got Ritchie?' Well what have you got? Certain people in the band became passengers. They really thought they were contributing and they weren't. All they were doing was playing what I told them and I didn't like that. But the name was a very BIG name and we'd make a lot of money. If I'd stayed in the band I'd be a millionaire. But I thought, sod that, I'm gonna leave. I've made enough money to be comfortable and now I'm going to try some honest music. If it fails or makes it - great."

It must have been a tough decision to make after all those years?
"Not really because I was writing most of the songs and guys were saying to me: 'Well, what do I play?' You see Jon was technically a good player, but has no imagination when it comes to rock and roll. He's good when it comes to classical music and a lot of people used to say, 'Oh, Jon Lord is the head of the band'. I used to get so angry. It's only natural, y' know? It became a little bit personal in that way, and yet we're still great friends.

"In Purple I smashed up my guitar because I wanted to prove I could get that audience. Jon was the spokesman, but there was that rift between us, whether we admitted it or not. I didn't mix with him socially because he found me moody - which I am, very moody -and he was very open."

When Ritchie set about forming Rainbow he must have felt a sense of relief that he was away from all that pressure?
"I did. I also wanted a rest. I was shattered and just wanted a normal band. I didn't care whether it was big or not. I'd like it to be big, but I wanted to play it down and just relax. There was hypertension all the time -- Japan, America, England - we had no time to do anything. It was so stereotyped. Although I created it, I got caught in my own trap. I told the lads that either I had a year off completely or I would leave the group. Then I thought, no, I wanna leave anyway. They'd all become too complacent. Ian Paice ... fantastic drummer ... but certain numbers we used to play, I'd say: 'Ian you play just a straight beat to this one?' 'Oh no, I'm not playing that,' because his thing was impressing other drummers. Yet he is still my best friend from Purple. We know each other so well. I saw him tonight and it was like old times. He's great. He knows what I feel, whereas Jon was not quite sure. Anyway ... that's Deep Purple. I said. I'm leaving, lads, get some other members, you can carry on."

How did he feel about the hero worship he has received on the British tour, with the kids shouting "Ritchie is God!"?
"Well ... I don't believe in all that personally. It's rubbish. I'm a very insecure person and don't think I'm ready to be called a musician yet. although I've been playing for 20 years. But then I hear other guitarists and think: 'Well I can do better than that.' But I still don't think I'm all that good. Hero worship? That's nothing. It will last two weeks, and then it'll be somebody else. I'd like to get into medieval music and playing baroque music. But I'm still not ready for it because it's an entirely different way of playing. Rock and roll is feedback and classical is a different approach entirely. But that's what I listen to - classical music.

What kind of audience did Ritchie feel Rainbow were attracting?
"I really don't know. It ranges from 13 to 30. I'm just pleased with the band and glad we ve got some good rock and roll players around."

He pauses then goes to confession.
"The trouble with me is I get in a studio and have to write something because nobody else has. And when I hear the song. In the studio it sounds pretty good because it's so loud. But by the time it hits a record I'm sick to death of it. So is Cozy. We never play our own records! He'll often say to me: 'Have you heard the record lately?' But I'll play my medieval music and he plays his Chick Corea.

There is tremendous violence in Rainbow's music. Did he personally feel that kind of violence whilst playing?
"That's frustration and there will always be frustration because if I feel happy and complacent I'll go into playing laidback music, which I can play but don't like to. For some reason there is this aggressiveness in me which I must get out. Plus the audience expect it. But I'm not bored with music today. I just get bored with what I play. I can outgun most guitarists today with what I play, but so what? I just listen to classical music. That's the world to be in. And yet the strange thing is all those classical violinists and cellists are dying to be in THIS world of rock and roll."

The band has done amazingly well in a short space of time.
"Yeah, but I always look ahead. There may be changes. I think Cozy would love to live in Luxembourg, near the racing track. It s very hard to keep everybody together. That's why Jeff Beck broke up Beck, Bogert and Appice. I went down to AC/DC. I thought it was a new low in rock and roll. They are giving it a bad name. And its all been done before and so much better. You need some sanity today because the problem with the rock and roll business is you can get too carried away. You need a wife and the cats, and get away from all this! Otherwise you can age 50 years if you're not careful."

Ritchie got up and strode across the foyer of the Holiday Inn in search of a late night party. It looked like he was going to postpone sanity for at least another night.

© Chris Welch, RAM Magazine, Australia - November 1976
pics: © Paul Canty

[This is the same interview as published before in Melody Maker, September 18, 1976]