Ritchie Blackmore

Make his medieval.....

"I think" says ex-Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore - without his usual wry, challenging smirk— "I was a court jester in Henry VIII's time. I'm still going into it, but I have lots of records at home which usually spark something."

The records are of medieval music, and Blackmore's affinity for it was one of the factors that turned a one-shot side project into the permanent (at least for now) future known as Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. The others: Purple's current move toward a soul sound, a cloudy social climate within the group. And what Blackmore calls their "sausage factory" approach to recording.

All this is recalled in the Beverly Wilshire-Hotel Bar, where Ritchie and Rainbow band members are waiting to take their turn with the doctor in the band's penicillin shuttle ("occupational hazard — we all have. er, colds." Blackmore explained, with winks of the eyes all around).

Blackmore now figures that he would have left Purple in about six months anyway; the solidification of Rainbow merely expedited the move. It started early, this year with a song, Steve Hammond's "Black Sheep of the Family," which Purple rejected because it wasn't group-written. Blackmore, who was recording with Purple in Germany at the time, tapped vocalist Ronnie Dio and his New York hard-rock band, Elf, to record the tune with him. Then Blackmore and Elf, which had toured seven times with Purple in the last three and a half years, went on to cut Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow album In Munich. "Halfway through the LP, says Blackmore, "I decided I was more excited about playing with Ronnie than I was with Purple."

Then it's Blackmore's moment to see the doctor. While he's gone, Dio chooses to chip away at the forbidding Blackmore image that has been constructed from "jests" such as steak and glass throwing In restaurants and statements that include, "I don't like people... they're guilty before proven innocent." But Dio thinks that Blackmore's image is often a put-on.

"Ritchie is hard to get along with from a musical standpoint, but only because he knows what he wants and it's going to be the way he wants It. Ritchie is moody, but aren't we all? I just think people have capitalized on Ritchie's moodiness and it has created an image for him. It's probably right from a publicity standpoint for that image to exist and it's probably wrong for us to say what a-great guy he is, to say he's almost like the Pope or something."

"He'll probably fire us now." says bassist Jimmy Bain in a doleful Scottish brogue. Bain, from a London band called Harlot, is one of the musicians hired to replace the other Elves (Mickey Lee Soule, Gary Driscoll and Craig Gruber) who played on the album. "They weren't the right musical personnel for the band," says Dio. "Not that they weren't good players. They just didn't fit in with what we are trying to do."

Cozy Powell, former Jeff Beck drummer and a successful singles artist In Britain (three Top Ten tunes), had flown in from England just the night before to pick up the sticks, and Rainbow's pre-tour Los Angeles rehearsals are doubling as auditions for a new keyboards player. "The music the new lineup will make, Blackmore said before the medical call, "won't be that different from Deep Purple. My roots are to the early Deep Purple music. They wanted to go into soul. I wanted to just stay where I was. Our next LP will be more of a Purple-cum-Zeppelin thing."

Dio, who writes the group's songs along with Blackmore, offers a different angle. "He wants music that's really a little different than the rock & roll everyone else is doing. Therefore the medieval concept. Being able to take that classical influence and put it to raw rock & roll, I think, is a real challenge, and that's what we're trying to do.”

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, which was more or less thrown together in three weeks, is viewed by Blackmore and Dio as a foundation for future development. The team dominates the record with aggression, growling vocals and Blackmore's familiar, fluid power-riffing — perhaps too familiar and certainly too powerful to accommodate the classical strain, which make, its presence felt in haunting modal structures and Bach progressions, and to a lesser extent in the lyrics: "Crossbows in the firelight, Green Sleeves waving. Madmen raving. Through the shattered night," from Dio's "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" (© 1975 Owl Music Ltd. Armchair music). The amalgamation lack, balance, without which the challenge cannot be met. The battle lines, though, are firmly

Blackmore returns, sits down rather carefully and, informed of his near-elevation to the papacy, attempts to repair what has obviously become an ill-fitting disguise. "No, I'm still the morose, nervous maniac I always was. That's my nature. Changing personnel won't change my nature. I like my solitude."

The best thing about not being Deep Purple? Blackmore, perhaps inspired by the memory Of chumming up to Henry VIII with one-liners, considers only an instant: "" Losing all my friends."

© Richard Cromlin, Rolling Stone Magazine - October 1975