Ritchie Blackmore

The Original Man In Black

RITCHIE BLACKMORE has only given a handful of interviews in his impressive musical career - and has therefore often been misunderstood, put in the wrong light or simply ignored. At least that's how “Mr. Stratocaster" himself.

If you ask about the most popular guitarist in the rock scene, you get a thousand different answers. However, if you ask about the most important and most stylistic, the name RITCHIE BLACKMORE is sure to come up immediately. Alongside Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Michael Schenker, the former Deep Purple and Rainbow guitarist is one of the greatest innovators in rock history. His "Highway Star" solo was copied a thousand times over, the legendary four chords of "Smoke On The Water" were the inspiration for THE hard rock riff par excellence, and his moody, mysterious manner was the blueprint for the rock star image, to claim that hard rock and heavy metal would not exist in their classic form without RITCHIE BLACKMORE.

* Ritchie, everyone knows that you don't like to give interviews and therefore only every jubilee...

It is a question of time. On tour I hardly have time for interviews and that's why I cancel most of them. It's just more important to me to be properly prepared for a concert than to give interviews. But today I have time...

* You have just recorded the second Blackmore's Night album "Under A Violet Moon". You sound much looser and happier on it than on the old Deep Purple and Rainbow records.

That's true. Even though I played rock'n'roll very early on - and still play it occasionally - I just needed new challenges. What I'm doing with Blackmore's Night is exactly the music that I've always listened to privately - 25 or 30 years ago. When I play guitar at home, it's almost always medieval sounds, and I found it only logical to record the whole thing. The fact that I sound so easy going as you notice is because Blackmore's Night will never be the monster that Deep Purple and Rainbow were to me. The end of my work with Deep Purple was sheer horror: I hated the music because it was simply no longer honest.

* Do you speak for yourself or for the whole band?

I can only talk about myself - but I got the impression that the others thought the same way. It seemed to me that the band was being artificially kept alive because of the security it offered us all. We made good money, were driven around in limousines, and had obviously chosen the route of least resistance. The management was of course happy, because they collected percentages without much work. In the end, it only made me feel disgusted - it was obvious to everyone what was being played. I had to do something else, play different music, sit around at home - no matter what. The main thing is that it was honest and without compulsion.

* You consistently avoided the typical rock'n'roll circus, even after the first Blackmore's Night album was released and performed with the band in castles, churches and theaters. The more astonishing is the fact that the disc was extremely successful even without the usual promotion hype.

Right, the album was a lot more successful than the last Rainbow album. I think it's easy to hear how much I enjoyed the recordings. Both records were mostly recorded at my home, which had a big impact on the atmosphere. You can just hear whether a musician is comfortable with the recording or not.

* The fact that your partner Candice Night sings on both records is certainly not unimportant.

Right. That doesn't just refer to the recordings, but to the whole process of creating the songs. Everything happens in the most natural way: I sit at home, play the guitar, and Candice comes in and sings. You can tell immediately whether something fits or not and you work much more effectively. With a band like Deep Purple you have to meet in the rehearsal room, jam for a while and hope that something comes out of it. That used to be fun, even if I always thought that the vocal melodies in particular often sounded very unnatural because they were obviously constructed.

* Do you have any problems switching from electric guitar to acoustic guitar and vice versa?

There are a few tricks that you have to learn. I pluck the acoustic guitar with my fingers, I play the electric guitar with a pick, which of course makes a huge difference. Indeed, I sometimes have problems: I admire flamenco players, for example, who play with all five fingers of the right hand. On the other hand, I only use three fingers and therefore cannot play certain things, which annoys me. Flamenco players do not get along well with electric guitars.

* So the next challenge for you is Flamenco...?

It is possible. When I play acoustic guitar, I want to play it naturally - not with a pick. This also applies to live concerts, where I play both acoustic and electric guitar. When I do Blackmore's Night I am still very nervous because we play so softly that you can hear every wrong note. Switching from the loudest band in the world - Deep Purple - to the quietest is a change. I'm used to standing in front of a wall full of Marshall amps and suddenly I feel completely naked. It takes a lot of discipline on stage. Acoustic guitars have a completely different feedback than electric guitars, some notes have a different sound - it's like learning a new instrument. Suddenly I have the same problems that I had when I was 15, but which I was able to displace with the electric guitar.

* Don't you sometimes miss the electric guitar? She rarely appears on "Under A Violet Moon".

Yes, sometimes. That's why we always play a longer rock'n'roll medley live as an encore, where I can let off steam on the electric guitar. Usually we play a two-hour acoustic set followed by 25 minutes of rock'n 'roll.

* Do you find it difficult to integrate yourself into a band structure at Blackmore's Night? With Deep Purple or Rainbow you, as a typical "guitar hero", were much more in the spotlight.

I actually don't like being the solo guitarist in the spotlight at all; I've always had problems with that at Deep Purple and Rainbow. If it were up to me, I would sit on a chair backstage and play from there.

But since I have to stand on stage, I have only two options: Either I hide behind the other musicians or the amplifiers - or I act very extroverted. Finding a balance between these two extremes is hardly possible for me. I used to hide by the side of the stage where no one could see me and I got in trouble for it. So I got into the habit of being more extroverted and running across the stage. However, then I felt as if I had slipped into a strange body.

* And this alien body smashes guitars on stage...

As long as there are electric guitars, I can still handle them. However, if I start smashing acoustic guitars or burning them on stage, it will be problematic...

* Will the next Blackmore's Night tour take place in castles and churches again?

This time we will largely limit ourselves to palaces and castles. If you perform in castle courtyards, you have the problem that you are extremely dependent on the weather and have to limit the audience, but the atmosphere is right. I have often seen such castle concerts myself and always dreamed of being able to perform in such places myself. With Blackmore's Night I can make this dream come true. I'm no longer interested in large halls or stadiums - I've had enough of them in my life.

* Speaking of castles: Is it true that you also stayed in castles on previous tours in Germany?

If possible, yes. Sometimes the castles were too far away from the halls, so I had to find a hotel.

* It is also said that you only accept drivers on tour who are familiar with football.

Right. I want to be able to talk when I'm out and about. Lately, however, I've rarely actively played football when I've been on tour - probably because I have a lot more fun with music now. Formerly with Deep Purple, I used every opportunity to sneak out of hold and played soccer all the time. So I was able to escape the annoying sound checks. The worst were the drum sound checks - worse than the worst dentist session! To this day it is a mystery to me why you have to check the sound of a bass drum for two hours...

* If I ask you what you like best about the 20th century, you probably say "soccer"...

The best thing about the 20th century is the ability to get on a plane at any time to dream in a 15th century German castle, haha!

* What is it about the Middle Ages that fascinates you so much?

The sense of the simple, the uncomplicated, the clear values and freedom. If you remember the past nostalgically transfigured, you only think of the good anyway. Of course there were many problems in the Middle Ages, but I don't remember them.

* You speak of "memory". Do you believe in reincarnation?

Yes. However, the linear notion of time in the context of reincarnation is something I have a hard time understanding. I believe that it is very possible to recall other incarnations, but it is possible that all of these existences are occurring at the same time. I believe that we experience different incarnations in parallel. I have been involved in spiritual matters for a long time and take part in seances in order to communicate with so-called spirit beings. That fascinates me - especially when I come into contact with intellectually stimulating beings. To do this one has to get to a higher spiritual level, which requires a lot of concentration and practice. If you don't do this, you waste your time on lower levels with spirits that I would almost call criminals.

* Do you hold these seances regularly?

Yes, mostly with Candice. It depends on the right atmosphere and the right participants in a seance. Otherwise nothing is achieved - although we are constantly surrounded by spirits who would like to get in contact with us. Most of the time, however, they don't because they know that otherwise we would be insecure. But they are there and they can be very interesting to communicate with.

* Does that play a role in your music?

Perhaps unconsciously. In any case, it plays a role in Candice's writing. For example, when we were writing Catherine Howard's Fate, something strange happened: Candice and I were in the kitchen playing the song when a thick fog manifested right in front of us. We both saw it for about a minute and believe that it was drawn to the power of the music, and most importantly, Candice's singing. Very strange. Such things can happen when the music conveys a certain atmosphere.

* You say that such experiences are mainly reflected in the texts. But they should really influence the music, right?

I try not to analyze this too closely. I am very spiritually oriented and I think it is possible that I will be inspired accordingly when composing. When I play, however, I don't worry about such things, although I believe that certain energies are channeled when composing.

* On the new Blackmore's Night album, you tie in with Rainbow yourself by re-recording 'Self Portrait' (from "Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow", '75). Whose idea was that?

A couple of fans suggested that we rework the piece. It has always been very important to me what the fans say; so we followed the advice. It's kind of a bonus track, but it goes perfectly with the rest of the album. When we perform live, we play two or three Rainbow songs every time, e.g. 'Sixteenth Century Greensleeves', 'Temple Of The King' or maybe next time 'Street Of Dreams'. The old Rainbow numbers were mostly very melodic and therefore go well with Blackmore 's Night.

* Can you imagine another Rainbow album?

I don't think about Rainbow very often because I'm absolutely happy with my current situation. It's weird: I don't mind going back 500 years, but ten years I do... When I played for Deep Purple in the eighties, I was often asked if I would one day reform Rainbow - and when I played at Rainbow, everyone asked about Deep Purple. I think people just need something to talk about - the topic itself is secondary. The fact is: I sell a lot more records with Blackmore's Night than I did with Rainbow in the nineties, so you have to ask yourself what the audience's preferences are. But I don't want to rule out another Rainbow album, even if I can't really imagine it at the moment. Should it come to that one day, the record would sound very bluesy and not have too much to do with the old stuff.

* Could the singer be called Ronnie James Dio?

We keep in touch with each other and do not rule out this possibility - but we are both completely satisfied with our current situation. Ronnie has just reorganized his solo project and wants to really get started again - and I'm doing great too. That is why I do not believe that there will be a joint project in the foreseeable future.

* Are you still in contact with Graham Bonnet?

Yes. Funnily enough, I recently arranged for him to get Rainbow royalties after I heard he was broke. Candice checked that Graham had been paid correctly and found that he had never received any of his royalties. We went to court with our manager at the time, and Graham has since got the money he owes - but I ended up paying for it out of my own pocket because I was the one who started the matter. Our management got Graham's share back from my account - and now I have to see how I can get my money. Let's see if Graham can help me...

* I remember a release party on the occasion of the Deep Purple live album "Nobody's Perfect", which took place in 1988 somewhere in a castle in Hesse. The guests had to put on medieval costumes, there was wine and mead to drink, and music from the Renaissance was played. All Deep Purple musicians were present - except for Jon Lord, who allegedly boycotted the party because he should have argued with you shortly before...

Right, now the story comes back to me: Jon didn't want to dress up because he thought it was silly. But it was a costume party; so he stayed home.

* And I remember Ian Gillan keeping his pants down during the party.

Are you sure it was Ian?

* Yes, one hundred percent. He could barely stand and kept showing you his bare bottom, which didn't particularly amuse you...

Well, that's how Ian was. That's one of the reasons I didn't like him. Ian acted like a monkey anytime, anywhere to shock those around him. It got boring over time and didn't make anyone laugh anymore.

* Do you have a wish for the next thousand years?

I wish that I can continue as before for a long time. I don't have great expectations, I just enjoy my life. (With an ironic undertone) I do not hope that Nostradamus is right and that the world is about to end. On the other hand, the Nostradamus research disagrees as to how the prophecies are to be interpreted. The date for the end of the world changes constantly.

* Does the millennium mean anything to you in a spiritual sense?

No. My life is not based on numbers and dates. I live now, enjoy my life and just wait and see what comes my way.

* Do you have a career goal in mind?

No. As a musician you wander blindly, with no goal or purpose. Anyone who claims the opposite and says that they know exactly where they are going, I meet with suspicion. Because that's how only business people talk.

* Can you do something with Blackmore disciples like Yngwie Matmsteen or Axel Rudi Pell?

I know them, but I don't study them any more - which is not to say that I don't like the way they play. But I'm the type of guy who doesn't really care about guitarists, even if that sounds weird. Whenever I hear a guitarist on the radio or television somewhere, I'm either frustrated because he's so good or bored because he's so bad...

* Do geniuses have to be difficult?

I would never call myself a genius. Maybe I'm a little crazy because I just don't want to be normal. But what does "normal" mean?

* Which of your songs are you particularly proud of?

On "Burn", "Gates Of Babylon" - or some songs from "Machine Head". Also "Rainbow Rising", "Slaves And Masters" and "Perfect Strangers" were good albums. But Blackmore's Night means most to me because it's my biggest challenge so far. All the tricks I've learned as a rock guitarist are worthless in Blackmore's Night.

* You have made progress in terms of German-language titles. 'Durch den Wald zum Bach Haus' (from the new Blackmore's Night album) sounds a lot better than 'Maybe the next time' or 'Weissheim' from Rainbow days...

The Scorpions always teased me and told me that it should actually be 'White Home - and' Maybe next time '. Let's see if they paid attention and explain to me that you can write 'Bach House' in one word...

* Last question: why are so many people not getting along with you?

Maybe because I have a brain and an opinion and I don't like being treated like a sheep in a flock. Whoever wants to play my guitar has to accept my opinion, but most people prefer to look for musicians who shut up and don't question anything. Bette Davis once said: "You are nobody if you are not difficult." Everyone I admire is asked in interviews why they are so difficult - from Ian Anderson to Paul McCartney. In addition, in my case, I never had time for interviews and therefore never told my version of certain stories. So I was an easy target - especially since I look moody and notoriously dissatisfied on the outside. At some point I even liked this image. That's why I never tried to change it...

Blackmore's Night Live:

09.07. Solingen, Burg Solingen
10.07. Luxemburg, Innenhof des Schlosses Ansemburg
11.07. Osnabrück, Bischofsresidenz
14.07. Waldeck (Hessen), Burg Waldeck
16.07. bei Holzminden, Burgruine Polle
18.07. Meißen, Albrechtsburg

Götz Kühnemund, Rock Hard 07/1999