Ritchie Blackmore

From Deep Purple to Rainbow

If you believe everything you hear about Ritchie Blackmore, then the former Deep Purple guitarist is conceited, arrogant, moody, egotistical, belligerent and damn unpleasant to work for.

The evidence is convincing. Since he started leading his own band, Rainbow, five years ago, the thirty-five-year-old Blackmore has either fired or accepted the resignations of almost a dozen members. During Deep Purple's appearance at the 1974 California Jam, Blackmore stuffed his guitar down the lens of a network television camera while playing a frenzied solo. A longstanding feud between Blackmore and former Purple vocalist David Coverdale (who now fronts the English band Whitesnake) culminated in fisticuffs backstage at a Rainbow gig in Munich last year. Even Blackmore's current bassist and producer, Roger Glover, another Purple Purple alumnus, admits that Blackmore can be "dictatorial" and "difficult to get along with." How does he plead?

"I have better things to do than excuse myself," Blackmore explains calmly over a 7-Up at the hotel bar after a Rainbow gig at a small Albany club. "It depends on who's saying what. You'll notice that most of the people saying those things about me have either been thrown out of the band or don't really know me. Without sounding self-righteous, there's always two sides to a story. And I could name every person who puts me down and tell you why they do it. There's always a reason."

Take tonight's show, for example. It was one of several unannounced Rainbow club dates designed to break in two new recruits, drummer Bob Rondinelli and singer Joe Lynn Turner, as well as to road-test material from the group's latest Polydor album, Difficult to Cure. The sound was so deafening that the only thing Roger Glover could hear was his own bass, and Blackmore didn't realize he was a halftone out of tune until halfway through the show. But that wasn't why he threw a tantrum afterward.

"The moods," Blackmore says frankly, his stern, dark features topped off with a shoulder-length thatch of wiry black hair, "are totally spur of the moment, like when people are incompetent. I had a mood tonight backstage. There were some people who were very incompetent" - apparently his guitar cases were put in the wrong dressing room - "and it aggravated the shit out of me. I find it hard to overlook incompetence backstage."

Ritchie Blackmore finds it hard to overlook incompetence period. He formed the first version of Rainbow in 1975 with members of an upstate New York hard-rock band called Elf, which had supported Deep Purple on several tours. One album later, however, he sacked everyone except singer Ronnie James Dio, because "there was a lack of musicianship, to put it bluntly." The current members of Rainbow joke about the band's personnel merry-go-round. "They could start a home for ex-Rainbow members," laughs keyboardist Don Airey. "A modest place, maybe 300 rooms."

It is plainly understood that Ritchie Blackmore rules the roost. "If there's any problems, it's down to me, my fault. If there are any rewards," he smiles, "I get most of them."

Those rewards seem modest compared to the heavy-metal motherlode Blackmore struck with Deep Purple. After developing his flair for furious riffing and Hendrix-type showmanship - first with British rock eccentric Screaming Lord Sutch, and later on the London studio and Hamburg club circuits the guitarist formed Deep Purple in 1968 with organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice. Over the course of eight years - and three vocalists, three bassists and a short stretch with the late guitarist Tommy Bolin - Deep Purple recorded several heavy metal classics ("Smoke on the Water," "Highway Star," "Woman from Tokyo") and sold more than 14 million records. Although Rainbow had a hit single in England last year with "Since You've Been Gone" and headlined the massive Castle Donington heavy-metal festival there, only one of Rainbow's six albums, Rainbow Rising, is even close to going gold in this country.

"Unlike most bands," Blackmore explains, "when I produce a certain product, if the end product is not successful, I sack everybody and blame everybody except myself. I say, 'Yeah, well, that was the old band and I canned them. See if you like this lot' If they don't like that lot, I change again."

The band is no longer billed as Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, and they don't play any of the old Purple numbers, yet the specter of that band still hangs heavy over Rainbow. According to Blackmore, the beginning of the end for Ronnie James Dio and recently departed drummer Cozy Powell came "when Cozy and Ronnie had a go at me for being on the front page of a magazine and they weren't included. That, right there, put me off both of them. It wasn't my fault someone put me on the front page."

Is Ritchie Blackmore really the blackguard everyone says he is? Roger Glover, who has known Blackmore since he joined Deep Purple in 1970, points out that "Ritchie doesn't have bad things to say about other people. It's always other people who have bad things to say about him."

Blackmore, a British tax exile who now lives on Long Island, isn't so sure. 'After four or five years of everybody leaving the band, I was beginning to think that maybe I'm really the ogre everybody says I am. I couldn't seem to relate to anyone who came into this band.

"But, like, I'm actually very close to Bob and Joe. Joe and I are both very interested in psychic research, and we do a lot of seances together. And I couldn't believe being around Bob's house, eating his mother's cooking and actually enjoying myself."

Blackmore looks almost embarrassed, as if he's just flushed his reputation down the drain.

"That, to me, is strange."

© David Fricke, Rolling Stone - April 16, 1981
Photo: © Jonathan Postal