Ritchie Blackmore

Bach against New Wave

He had flatly refused interviews with American magazines. But here in Los Angeles, in the middle of his two-month US tour, Ritchie Blackmore, otherwise taciturn and sullen, suddenly felt the urge for the German soul. He took Germany to his heart, especially Hamburg, where he lived for four years. Perhaps, he revealed, he would even want to buy an apartment there, for which he might want to exchange his current residence in Long Island. So while the duped US reporters had to make do with Roger Glover, Ritchie invited the ME to a casual interview over dinner. What he had to say between aperitif and dessert (smack, burp!), You can read ..... from here:

To get straight to the core of the problem: within rock music, you are one of the last ones who is still trying to combine rock with classical music. Are you actually doing this because you don't want to leave the style you once developed - or does classical music still give you real impetus today?

Classical is still my favorite music, it stimulates me, I think the dedication and discipline in this music is simply enormous. I felt both envy and respect for classical musicians who show this devotion to their music. That's why I still play classic components on stage without wanting to tire the audience too much. If you play too much classical music, you could go straight to a classical concert, where the musicians are probably much better technically than we are.

But - classical music still has a lot to offer as long as you play it with the enthusiasm of today's music ... Many of the younger listeners have no relation to classical music because they understand something small and controlled by it. Classical music should be played today with the freedom and enthusiasm of today's rock music.

At the beginning of your performance, a classic piece, in this case by Edward Elgar, thunders over the loudspeakers. Is it intended as a contrast, or are you trying to get your audience in the mood?

Both. It should become clear to the audience that we don't only play rock'n'roll, but that we also have classical elements in our music. Many 17-18 year olds don't know this music at all. But if you play it to them at the right moment, at the right volume, then every evening he gives hundreds of people who say: "Wow, that sounded good, who was it from?"

And then they are completely surprised that it was music that was served to them at home and at school - and which was precisely why they always despised it.

But that's just the point. I'm certainly not the only one who used to have to take piano lessons against my will and learn Mozart by heart without really getting a connection to the music. When I listen to classical music today, it always reminds me of an emotionally uptight and dishonest situation - I'm sure many people feel the same way.

I see what you mean. Perhaps it is particularly difficult for Germans because they were brought up in such an extremely disciplined manner. I feel the same way in connection with operas, which always remind me of school and my teacher, who says: "And now listen to this wonderful passage ..." Wagner and especially Straus' waltzes are something I listen to can't stand death Mozart was also a bit poppy for my own purposes, whereas J.S. Really adore Bach. I love Bach. Everything he wrote meant something. There were no phrases, no empty ornaments, no virtuoso runs that were only played for their own sake.

People like Bach also had it easier in that they didn't have to digest the strong influences of the media. I can imagine that it is much harder for a musician to stay 'clean' today

Exactly. You just don't know what to do anymore. Even my friends here at the table (musicians from Los Angeles - ed.) Don't really know whether they should play what they really feel - or something that is particularly applauded by society.

Do you think that more or less all new groups are influenced by superficial fashion trends?

99 percent. It really is a shame. This punk and new wave movement is desperately trying to get the upper hand - but they can't. The really big bands today have nothing to do with punk or new wave - apart from Blondie, if you add that. But I respect them too. You don't accidentally stumble upon as many good melodies as Blondie does.

Some questions about your new line-up. The choice of Graham Bonnet as a singer surprised me because somehow he's a lot smarter and smoother than a rock'n'roll animal like Ronnie Dio.

That's right. But we tested countless singers over the course of several months - and he was simply the best. He has an incredible voice, over three octaves. Sometimes, however, he gets into a mess because he tries to make notes that are too high. But perhaps his real problem is that he is too often influenced by elements of style that are too diverse.

Another question concerns Roger Glover: Has it somehow changed the balance at rainbow that your producer and co-writer is part of the group?

I used to write the songs with Ronnie Dio, today it's basically the same, except that Roger now writes the lyrics to my melodies. He keeps the whole group together, he's a catalyst, he immediately understands what I'm saying. And when sometimes I am unable to express myself clearly, he says; "Try to play this and that. That's what Ritchie means." He's priceless to me, he's an optimist, an incredibly nice guy on top of that. I am very sensitive and not particularly stable, while he always thinks his thing through to the end. It happens so often in the studio that I get impatient with something and want to do something new, but he says, "Wait, that's not optimal yet, that was a good idea, but let's keep working on it."

And when I'm in bed, he's still in the studio basking on the same song. I write something in five minutes and then I want to do something new, but he kneels down in it for days and often enough doesn't go to sleep at all. And I need someone like that. Because Cozy Powell is just as impatient as I am, a great drummer, but completely impatient. He wants to do everything in two seconds - and if that doesn't work, then he wants to go home. This is why we need someone who is stable and patient.

Rainbow is a band with a fire, people get out of their skin quickly, I don't take criticism very well. All stubborn heads.

What about democracy in the group anyway? Do you leave the other room for their own ideas?

On the last LP we more or less nailed Graham about what to sing. We discreetly whispered our ideas to Don Airey, I would say. He is so technically perfect that he can immediately implement and develop an idea. But he's more of a technician than a provider of ideas - in contrast to Paul McCartney, for example, who has fantastic ideas but is not necessarily a brilliant technician.

If possible, you should have both types of musicians in a band, you should never rely on just one side. Either you only have songwriters in the group who knock each other out with their ideas, or a group like Don's old band, Colosseum II, which only shone with their technique without affecting the listeners in the least emotionally. I have to admit that I let myself drift a bit in my solos, that I easily become too complacent.

That doesn't happen on record. There's only a short solo, and then back to the reef. In the studio, I don't have the spontaneity and freshness to play a long solo. That frustrates me often enough because I'm sure that I'm much better than what comes across on records.

By the time I gave the group an idea and the sound was right in every detail, I'd long since lost the thread. And it's really extremely annoying for me to be satisfied with second best. It hurts when you know you are better than what people hear on record.

And you try to compensate for that by often playing endless solos live?

Yeah, I think so. Everything is spontaneous on stage. I hit a note and improvise on it. This is simply impossible in the studio. Either the sound is wrong or the machine is broken. By the time everything is in order, the spontaneity is long gone.

One more question about the current cast: do you think it will last for some time this time? And second question: How is it that so many - voluntarily or involuntarily - left Rainbow?

We generally don't like talking about it because it is not comfortable for any of the parties. After all, it is not very beneficial for a musician to be told that he was fired. Just this much: Nobody has left Rainbow voluntarily so far. Maybe sometimes I ask too much, and I'm certainly not too constructive either. But once I have something in my head, I want to achieve it.

So it's always musical and not personal reasons?

Oh yes! Just musical reasons. But if I can't accept someone as a musician, I become a bastard, especially of course when he has made himself comfortable in my band. Some people have already woken up angry because they made this mistake.

Isn't it often the case that some people have become too greedy for you?

It always happens. But if I accept someone as a musician, I pay him everything in my power. In my dream band there should be two excellent songwriters and three equally excellent technicians. The Beatles e.g. had more ideas than opportunities to put them into practice musically. Or take ELP! Emerson and Palmer are great musicians, but Greg Lake is arguably the only source with ideas.

One last question: You have lived on Long Island, north of New York, for a few years. Is that just for tax reasons, or is it also personal and musical?

It was initially because of the tax, but now other things keep me here. America is what England was many years ago. There are many ideas in the air. However, I fear that in five years they will be just as dirty as the English are today. Maybe then I'll come to Germany.

Bernd Gockel, Musik Express - February 1980

[Thanks to: Wolfgang Obermayer]