Ritchie Blackmore

A Flirt with the Middle Ages

The guitar master goes astray: With "Shadow of the Moon", a co-production with his fiancée Candice Night, Ritchie stresses on his fondness for acoustic guitars and sentimental sounds. An idyll the new Rainbow album brought to an abrupt end. Playing the Stratocaster in "Stranger in Us All", Ritchie is once again in his element. You can feel the energy from the interview with FACHBLATT, too.

Ritchie Blackmore, one of the last E-Guitar-Virtuosos and probably the greatest proponents of the Marshall-Stratocaster combination has put his equipment aside in exchange for a tambourine and a Taylor acoustic. He has just finished a renaissance oriented album with his fiancée Candice Night.

"Shadow Of The Moon" is Blackmore's first ramble through this music terrain and at the same time a perfectly wrought album, full of strings, pipes, synthesizers, which support Candice Night's wonderful voice. The album, published under the project name Blackmore's Night, reveals the soft and emotional side of the master guitar player, who has been amazing us with his technique for decades.

However, the fans of the electric guitar get something for their price, too. He published a new Rainbow and vintage album - "Stranger In Us All". Provoking and brilliant it possesses exactly those qualities which have always distinguished Blackmore's work. Famous for his sparseness with words, the exceptional guitarist talked to us about the events of the last few years.

Let's start with your new album "Shadow Of The Moon". It's not exactly typical for you...

As a matter of fact, I've been carrying this concept with me for the last 25 years. The music of the renaissance has always appealed to me. I played it often at home and at some point my fiancée began singing to it, accompanying my playing.

We were getting better and better, and in the end we started composing and recording the material. At the beginning the songs were pretty authentic and typical for the Renaissance. As the time passed we loosened the whole thing a bit and added a commercial touch to the songs. However, the fundamental idea was not lost in the process and so now the album reflects both: the 16th century and the present.

I have some friends in Europe who play in classic orchestras. I watched and learned a lot from their way of playing. On the other side, some of the other parts we play, originate from the 16th century and are authentic. That's why one cannot say, we have invented or constructed something new. Some of it was simply already there. The rest resulted as a natural development of the playing itself. In addition, Candice is quite skilful when it comes to interpreting my ideas. She gives a specific touch to my songs through her melodic voice.

In order to be able to record this type of music you should actually think in a completely different direction from the one you followed while producing a Rainbow album or any other electrified albums.

Absolutely! I play the acoustic on this album and of course that's a completely new technique. I think I've somehow had a lot more fun on this one than on the production of a hard rock album. In the end everything we played came up to our own expectations. With rock ‘n' roll you never know what is going to come out in the end. Everything is much more complicated when you play in a band with five other people – because of the egos. You have a certain view of the things while someone else wants to go into the other direction. Most of the time the end product is not what you have hoped for. That's the problem with bands. When you're alone or with one more person around you, it's easier to steer the whole thing in your direction.

Did this problem arise in your more recent projects, or was it already an issue with Deep Purple?

Mainly in working with Deep Purple. Everything was so confused and complicated. In the beginning every single one had a vision, but in the end no one was really satisfied. One just couldn't realize his own ideas.

… which became quite apparent on the last Deep Purple records.

Yes, there were just five egos, each pulling in a separate direction. To further walk this way was not a prospect for me any more.

So this phase contrasts with the early Deep Purple phase, when everybody looked more or less in the same direction?

It's somewhat funny: At first there were only three of us who were responsible for the songs: Ian Gillan, Roger Glover und myself. Ian Paice and John Lord, on the other side, wrote no songs. Now, we had to involve them in some way because we wanted no fights.

Is your proficiency in the acoustic guitar on the same level as your proficiency in the electric?

I have never paid attention to that. What's important to me is the song writing and that the main idea comes to an expression. It was never the point of it all to show the spectrum of what I can and put it to the test. It was not supposed to be just another guitar production. "Shadow Of The Moon" is no affair for hardcore guitar players who are concerned about the newest technique and self-portrayal.

Have you ever pondered on the question what your fans would say when you suddenly record an acoustic album? After all you're better known for the Marshall walls and the Stratocaster.

No! It was all about the songs and the melodies. I've long since given up the role of a ringleader. It's a title the others should fight over. It's a dead-end street: People are either envious of what you can, or don't like your records anyway. So it's all about impressing other guitarists. That's not a subject for me anymore.

The job as a guitar hero isn't important for you and your music anymore?

That's right. The riff, the accord order, the arrangement come forward when it comes to song writing, not the solo. I must sometimes go into the studio to play a solo; alas in the end I can't remember what the song was about. Other guitarists build a song around some great solo part. That's not the way I work.

On the more recent Deep Purple Albums one has the impression you're not that moved as you were on Machine Head and In Rock.

On the latest Deep Purple albums I just didn't feel like working together with the singer. The record label did everything in their power to convince me and in the end I said "OK". We were doing a two month tour and just after 3 weeks I thought, "I can't take it anymore." So I ruled the whole thing off, played the rest of the tour and gave them the chance to find a new man. It just didn't work out for me anymore.

And the singer's name was Ian Gillan.

Correct. Although most of the songs were best fitted to another singer, suddenly everybody stood for Ian Gillan – apart from me. I just find the way he sings the new songs ludicrous. So I didn't take part anymore.

So it wasn't possible to transport the past times' emotions into the present?

People simply change too much. The good times were more than 25 years away. Every band undergoes certain changes after such a long period of time. When you hear the first records you think, "At the time they hit the mark. It was the right kind of music at the time." And you can't ride the wave your whole life. No band can.

Let's get back to "Shadow Of The Moon": What standard equipment did you use?

I played an Alvarez acoustic and now and then a Taylor. The Taylors sound a bit rough in studio. The amp was a Crate and was simply recorded with a microphone. Sometimes I used the Engl-Amp too.

That's interesting, because I didn't see a single Marshall on stage at your performance some days ago.

I don't use them anymore. I still possess some but I find the Engl amps much more lively and expressive. I just got bored of the Marshalls. I've no idea why everybody has one. OK, at first I liked them – they just looked great. But they were certainly not my favourite amps.

Does your guitar sound differ now?

It's somewhat clearer; it does have more resonance and character. Playing makes more fun that way.

You worked together with Ian Anderson on Play Minstrel Play. You've been a fan of his for a long time.

This was the first time we did something together. I sent him the tape, he played his part and sent the tape back. That was all. I really admire Ian for a long time now. We've known each other for 25 years.

Did Deep Purple and Jethro Tull ever tour together?

No, but Rainbow did some support acts for Jethro Tull.

Could you, as a matter of principle, play their kind of music?

Hardly. That's probably the reason I cherish Jethro Tull so much. My style is only Heavy Rock or renaissance music.

How did the song Ocean Gypsy come into existence?

A cover! And without a band something like this is really a lot of fun. Why shouldn't one cover a song he likes? With Deep Purple every song had to be an original. Supposedly because of the credit. Bullshit! One plays a song because one likes it, not because you have written it yourself.

For a change you play the electric on Writing On The Wall...

My Strat! Predominantly, the point was to surprise the people. At first one hears the music of the Middle Ages and suddenly it gives way to a disco rhythm.

Didn't this mix between renaissance and pop disturb you?

When you hear classic music, you anticipate the same elements. Change does no harm.

Which electric guitars did you employ in the production?

Just my Stratocaster. I can't say much about the picks because I often change them.

So the output sound was different compared for example to the one you used on the Rainbow albums?

The output sound was even quite similar, only the backing was different. I used small ENGL amps. The problem with Marshall is that you need 250 watt in order to get a specific sound out of it. You can down-level the ENGL amps and I like that. My amps had just 50W, in addition I used a 4x10 Cabinet – a combo of a sort.

You even play mandolin on Renaissance Fair...

Yes, I went in the next best guitar shop and said: "I would like a mandolin and some instructions how to play it." A mandoline they had, alas they had no more clue how to play the thing than me. So I played on it as if it was a guitar.

How did the song Memmingen come about?

Memmingen is a medieval German city. Every four years there's a kind of theatre play which takes place on the town square. Everyone wears medieval clothes and the decoration is authentic – really fascinating! I was there once and I dedicated the song to this tradition.

You do play a solo on No Second Chance, but a contained one. In fact you have always been spare on that...

On stage I do like playing a solo, else I hold back. On one hand a longer solo would have ruined the song, on the other hand I didn't want to sound like a contemporary guitar player. Most of them trample like a tank through the song with their solos. I believe the melody should be, so to say, an extended arm of the singing and stay to the foreground.

When it comes to the vibrato, you seem to hold yourself back there, too...

That's right. I stopped doing it when everybody took to that.

By saying that do you also mean Eddie Van Halen?

No, rather the time after that. Frank Zappa once said that Eddie has put a new definition to the guitar playing. And I think he's right. It was just Eddie's own style. I'm much more agitated when it comes to those who imitated Eddie.

How did it feel to work with your fiancé?

It felt good – because I didn't have to pay her for it. All jokes aside. We spent 24 hours daily with each other and many wondered when we would go on each other. We always had something to tell each other, we were interested in the same things – music, renaissance, spiritualism, occultism – whatever. There aren't many relationships that are even close to the one we have.

Let's get to the Rainbow album "Stranger In Us All". Was it clear for you from the beginning that you wanted a completely new band cast?

Yes, because I didn't want to go though another ridiculous situation as the one in Deep Purple. I wanted out and I wanted to start a new thing. After a few months I started on the lookout for new people. Especially in Long Island, where I live, there are some really good musicians in Club-bands, who are more enthusiastic and dedicated to the whole thing than all those who do tour the big arenas, but sadly do it only because of the money. Eventually, it became clear to me that there are more capable musicians in the club scene than on the big stages around the world.

So emotionality was more important to you than technical brilliance.

Yes, it comes to their enthusiasm. There are people who say, "For me it's the music that counts and what one can achieve with it." Others say, "Do you know who I am? I've been playing so long and I'm definitely something special." They're all not concerned about the music, it's all about themselves. It's crazy...

Steven Rosen, Fachblatt Music Magazin 05/97 - [translation from German language by Galcho]