Ritchie Blackmore

Ritchie Blackmore Talks New Incarnation of Rainbow,
Skipping Deep Purple's Rock Hall Induction

Just when the rock world wrote him off as a Renaissance musician, Ritchie Blackmore has had a rock n' roll renaissance. Sort of.

Back in 2016 the Deep Purple co-founder, who's been concentrating since 1997 on the medieval sounds of Blackmore's Night with his wife Candice Night, formed a new incarnation of his band Rainbow. The group has played select shows in Europe each of the last two years, with five more slated for April, and has released a pair of Memories In Rock live albums. Memories In Rock II, coming April 6 -- with a live rendition of "I Surrender" debuting below -- sets itself apart with the first new Rainbow studio recording in 22 years, "Waiting For a Sign."

Those hoping for a pot of gold -- or at least more recordings and live dates -- from this Rainbow are best advised not to hold their breath. But Blackmore tells Billboard that he's been having "good fun" playing his famed power chords again, even if it's not his day job anymore....

What led you back to rock, and Rainbow, again?

It was kind of like I was 70, and I just felt like playing some rock n' roll on a few dates. So I basically put together the right players to do a few shows, just playing the old rock stuff, Purple stuff and Rainbow. I was doing it, one, for the fans and, two, for the nostalgia, and the singer I found (Ronnie Romero) is very exciting. Candice found him on YouTube, so I auditioned him and he passed. He's got a great voice, a cross between, like, Dio meets Freddie Mercury. So this would mean kind of exposing a new singer to the masses, and I'm sure he'll become pretty famous because of his voice, so that was interesting.

How has it felt returning to that band and that particular musical style?

It is good fun. We wrote some good songs back then. It's always nice to kind of blast out on the Stratocaster for a while. But I still prefer the music of Blackmore’s Night because it’s so far-reaching and the spectrum of musical stuff is so more vast than being in a rock band. But at the same time I knew there were a lot of fans that wanted to hear the old Rainbow songs, so I did six weeks on the road playing rock n' roll and then did the more classically inclined acoustic music.

What's the biggest difference between the two?

The (Blackmore's Night) stuff is murder on the hands! (laughs) Those instruments are very demanding, physically, to play.

Was there a time you'd written off the idea of playing in a rock band altogether?

No. I just wanted to pursue other avenues of music, especially Renaissance, which is still my main music that I listen to and play.

Talk about this lineup. How do each of the players distinguish themselves and how is it different from other lineups of Rainbow?

The bass player (Bob Nouveau) plays in a rhythmic sense and has good understanding of guitar chords and progressions. The keyboard player (Jens Johansson) is one of the best in the world. I was a bit apprehensive about using him because he was known for his flashy ability, but when I spoke to him he loved playing a more supportive role in the vein of Jon Lord's style. The drummer (Dave Keith) I believe should always be able to play like a metronome, and he has an inbuilt sense of rhythm, so I knew that he could do the job.

Glenn Hughes has said you invited him to be part of the new Rainbow but he declined. Is that true?

Through a mutual friend, a conversation came up saying it would be good to have him in the band. I said, "Would he be up for being just the bass player and we would have another singer singing?” My mutual friend said "Of course! I've spoken to him and he's up for it." I said, "Fine -- as long as he knows he isn't the singer, that's great." Fast forward to day before rehearsals and we contacted Glenn to see when he was going to fly in, and he wasn't aware that he wasn't going to be the lead singer at all. So I understood his situation and I told him we would have to get someone else, and he was fine. We ended it amicably before it even started.

This Rainbow seems very comfortable playing Deep Purple material as well. Is it all under the same canopy for you at this point?

Of course. That's why we call it Memories In Rock, because it's about the Rainbow and Deep Purple songs.

How did the new studio track "Waiting For a Sign" come about?

It was just an idea I had -- a vague riff, a chord progression and top line. I asked Candice to come up with some words, which we did and we sent it to Ronnie to see how he would handle it, and he did a very good job.

Is there more Rainbow material is written and/or recorded?

No material is written for Rainbow. My first commitment is to Blackmore's Night and Renaissance crossover folk music. Maybe one day we'll do some heavy stuff in the studio, but not at the moment. We're looking to touring America (with Blackmore’s Night) in July/August, concentrating on those concerts and giving Germany a rest this year. It will be nice playing to our American fans.

Are there more future plans for Rainbow?

I don't have any at the moment except for the five dates we will be doing in Europe in April. I heard tickets are doing well, so I'm happy about that.

You're a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer now, with Deep Purple. How do you feel about it now that it's happened? Any regrets about not attending the ceremony?

I have no interest in that type of thing. I don't believe in people being in the position where they can say who is in and who is out in the music business. Rock n' roll is all about freedom, not having a panel of phantom arbiters discussing who is going to be in and who is going to be out. I think Steve Miller said it best when he was inducted. Check YouTube for that.

© Gray Graff, Billboard - March 28, 2018
Photo: © Christie Goodwin