Ritchie Blackmore

Deep Purple Metal Legend

"Slaves and Masters" is the best Deep Purple album since the reunion. How did you prepare and record the album?

- It took at least two years. First, we needed to find a set of coherent ideas. We needed good songs and strong rhythms. And we were looking for a singer. Those we auditioned were either shouting or singing too monotonously. At the beginning of rehearsals, someone mentioned the name of Joe Lynn Turner, but we decided to reject him because he was known for participation in Rainbow. In the end, we listened to him anyway, as we couldn't find anyone else, and from the first verse it became clear that he was suitable for the job. Regarding the recording, it is obvious that after two years of preparation and with the enthusiasm that we found the new vocalist we needed, we were in the best shape. The rhythm section of Glover and Paice is especially energetic. The new album is the result of the band's collaboration. This is not a pedestal from which I show my speed or show my technique. I got away from that approach to guitar playing a long time ago. Now I'm more interested in riffs and improvisations around riffs. I come up with riffs. I change them, and even when I play them for the 15th time in a row, I still manage to play them in a new way. I think that's why I like the new album more than the previous ones.

Improvisation has always been your strong point. How do you bring the spontaneous spirit into the studio?

- On this album, I tried to work in a different way. In the studio, I played to the rhythm of a box set with the exact tempo of the track I wanted to record. This removes all the usual restrictions: I can go wherever I want. I can play any note I want, there is no bass player to confuse me, and there is no drummer to urge me on or slow down the rhythm trying to follow me. Sometimes I only use the metronome. I love the freedom it gives. Also, I'm the kind of guitarist who enjoys creating on the go. I never learn my solos by heart. Some solos have basic elements that I can use again, but I like to play what I feel at the moment, and in the end the solo is always better than what is written in the scores.

You often use trills in your playing. Where did you get this trait?

- Maybe this is due to my nervous nature (laughs)! In fact, I have always been inspired by Bach, there are many trills in his work, especially in the Brandenburg Concerto, one of my favorite pieces.

You also use harmonies in minor keys. Is it the influence of oriental music?

- Yes, I was very fond of studying Turkish and Egyptian musical scales. I really like these scales and they naturally fit my fingers. I must have been an Egyptian in a past life! I also like old, Turkish lute. There are radio stations in Germany that play great Turkish music.

You have always been a melodic guitarist and were one of the first - if not the first to use sweep, legato and arpeggio. How did you manage to build your playing style like that?

- It all comes down to the fact that as a child, I never knew how to copy music well. My friends knew how. They only had to listen to the tape once or twice, and they could already copy the intro, chorus or verse exactly. Even when I tried to slow down the recording speed in order to learn a solo, I always started to improvise, having learned only the first note. And then sometimes the different styles that I studied begin to appear. I first learned to play classical guitar with nylon strings. Then I listened to a lot of Dwayne Eddie, Scotty Moore and Cliff Gallup. After that, I discovered Django Reinhardt, and then again got involved in rock 'n' roll guitarists like Tony Harvey and Big Jim Sullivan, then I discovered Renaissance music and the lute.

Do you like medieval music?

- Mostly medieval dance music from the 1520s-1580s. Most of the composers remained anonymous. Others are known such as Susato, and all of his work is in this style. This music touches me very much. I even happened to wear Renaissance clothes and play lute music on an acoustic guitar. I even go outside wearing such clothes. This is exciting!

Do you play this music on an electric guitar?

- Never. The structure of sound is different: electricity can destroy the spirit of medieval music. Sometimes I play it on keyboard synthesizers using the sound of a church organ, but I don't dress like a monk!

When did you start playing the guitar?

- When I was 11. I took classical guitar lessons, then I built a microphone into the acoustic guitar, which I connected to the radio. Then I bought my first amp, the Watkins Dominator. I played in several one-day bands until I was hired for The Savages by "Screaming" Lord Sutch. At the time, I had a Gibson and a Watkins Dominator, which was a 30 watt amp. Lord Sutch dressed like Jack the Ripper, I was forced to wear animal skins and Tarzan outfits. His show had a theatrical concept and I loved it. Thanks to him, I was able to join The Outlaws, a studio band with Chas Hodges on bass - he played The Heads, Hands & Feet with Albert Lee, and now he is in the duo Chas & Dave. The Outlaws worked mostly with Joe Meek's artists. We've probably recorded 400 records. After a while, I stopped counting. For example, we played along with Heinz on his hit dedicated to Eddie Cochran "Just like Eddie". We also played for pop singers I've never met! In fact, between 1962 and 1964, most British pop albums were recorded by either Jimmy Page or The Outlaws. I've also played musicians like Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis on tour in England.

You probably have incredible memories of these tours...

- It was just crazy! When I was hired to play with Jerry Lee Lewis, the musicians of Sound Incorporated - an instrumental English band that had already worked with him - warned me that he was used to hitting his musicians if they didn't play the way he wanted. I was very nervous at the first concert. Jerry Lee showed up right before the show and we didn't have any rehearsals. He sat down at the piano and simply said, "This song is in D," and began the concert. After singing two verses, he played an incredible solo on the piano, then turned to me and said, "It's your turn, boy!" (he called everyone "boy"). Near the end of my solo, he got up and walked over to me. Then I was sure that now he would hit me right in the face, and I began to worry because the monitors were too small for me to hide behind them. But he just shook my hand, took my shoulder, and said that he liked what I was playing. At the end of the tour, he wanted to take me to Memphis to play with him. At the same time, in 1963, Johnny Holliday also asked me to stay with him in France. But I didn't want to live anywhere other than England, because I knew that my favorite guitarist Tony Harvey, having moved to France with Vince Taylor and The Playboys, had lost all interest in playing guitar due to lack of attention from French sponsors who absolutely were not interested in rock and roll. Very sad because he really was the best guitarist of his time when he played Nero & The Gladiators and then The Playboys. I tried to imitate him for two years.

How did you started Deep Purple?

- After The Outlaws, I played with Neil Christian and The Crusaders for a while. But I wanted to develop towards classics and jazz. In 1964 I founded the trio The Musketeers, and we toured Germany. Basically it was an instrumental, very fast band. I've played everything from Chet Atkins to Django Reinhardt, even Flight of the Bumblebee. Then it was not accepted: we dressed like musketeers, wore swords... Then in London I gathered Mandrake Root, and when this group broke up, I started looking for new musicians, and met John Lord and Ian Paice. There was an immediate rapport between us and we founded Deep Purple, incorporating all these classical, rock and jazz elements that I was finally able to play in a new musical direction.

How did your playing developped?

- If you count on the main milestones: under the influence of classical music by Bach, under the influence of The Who, because of which I began to play simple but strong riffs, and, since 1967, under the influence of Jimi Hendrix. When I heard it, I realized that I needed to switch from Gibson to Stratocaster. Then in the 1970s I became interested in oriental music, started learning to play the cello, this is a very unusual instrument. Now I can tell you about it - in 1974 I almost gave up my guitar! As a result, in 1975, I gave up playing the cello. But I've learned a lot. On cello, I wrote "Stargazer", the music of which initially had nothing to do with the guitar. So this is a unique song that is the result of many years of work.

What guitars do you use?

- Until the late sixties, I used Gibson. I like their shape. This is curious - Gibsons sound much better when run through Fender amps. I was considering getting a Gretsch Duo Jet, which sounds a lot like Gibson, but such old guitars are very difficult to find in good condition. Then I switched to the Stratocaster because I liked the Hendrix sound.

Your guitars are customized. What have you added?

- Pickups. For a long time I used Bill Lawrence pickups, but when we toured a lot in the States, there were concerts when they were constantly buzzing, and this buzz covered everything I played. Many concert halls do not have grounded wiring and sometimes it was impossible to play. Then I installed anti-noise pickups. They do, but they also cut the sound a little. Anyway, they let me play every gig, which is better than nothing. For a long time I thought that only I had problems with interference, but during soundchecks I tried to play the instruments of other guitarists, and it seemed to me that this is a common problem that everyone sooner or later faces. I remember Gene Vincent told me that Eddie Cochran covered his box with a cloth to remove unwanted hum. And that was a long time ago: almost before the beginning of World War II ... (laughs).

Your Strat has a very unusual sound. What is the reason for this?

"With my Marshall amplifiers that have been customized to make the sound more powerful. I've always loved the volume. I only use one amplifier, with a 4 x 12 speaker. The sound should come from one source: this makes the sound more readable. But my secret weapon is an old home reel - it was considered old even when I started using it. I redesigned it myself so that I could use it as an echo chamber and later as a preamp and overdrive. This is a unique device and I cannot find anything that can replace it. Most of the modern effects spoil the sound, despite the fact that they write in advertising, you just have to listen to how they attenuate the sound. Everything, except for my old tape recorder... On stage I hear its parts creak, I think he is talking to me. It often breaks down, but I always manage to fix it, I cannot play without it: this is the basis of my sound. If there is no tape recorder, there will be no concert: the roadies go mad. They take great care of it and even bought a special flightcase for it. After they unpack it, they get very nervous and test diligently to make sure it works. After that it is easier for them to offload the rest of the sound system. Let's get back to talking about effects - on the album I used a Roland GP6, in some songs I played slide.

Don't you use any other effects?

- No. My sound formed by itself, and I don't want to change anything. This is not stubbornness - I studied with Big Jim Sullivan and back in 1959 saw him play the first effect pedal! I thought to myself, "What is this thing?" New equipment and effects are offered to me every day, but now none of these are actually effective.

What thickness of strings do you use?

- 42/36/26/13/11/10. Nines sound too weak and break easily. My picks are rectangular with a very sharp angle at the end. They are very different from ordinary picks, they have a very unusual shape. I've been playing with them for about 20 years now. I hit the strings very hard, but not too hard. The rest is the work of the amp. I think with the movements of the left hand it is the same as with the right. On electric guitars I rarely play chords, I prefer to play riffs on one or two strings.

What kind of acoustic guitars do you have?

- Several Washburn guitars. On the new album, I played acoustics in Love Conquers All. At home I often work on acoustics, especially when playing medieval and classical music.

What instrument do you listen to most often on stage with Deep Purple?

- Drums by Ian Paice. I always stand next to his set, because most often on stage drums are not heard well. When we play especially energetic instrumental things, it is often almost impossible to hear something, because John's Hammond sounds at full power, or because the sound system is overloaded. Then you need to listen carefully to the drums of Ian Paice.

Do you like neoclassical guitarists who consider you their idol? Yngwie Malmsteen, for example, always calls you as a role model.

- He is a very good musician, while many condemn him. But he does what he must. He ignores the opinions of his critics and implements new musical ideas. He's evolving, and probably with maturity, he will pay less attention to speed, which never benefits guitarists. But what he is playing now is already wonderful.

Is there something you don't like about quick play?

- Not at all! It would be unfair of me to criticize this style of playing, because for a long time I myself was a fast guitarist when no one else played like that. But today, too many guitarists use speed to stand out. And, more often than not, that's all they can do. All play the same linear scales in the Van Halen style, no one can find their individuality, even though many of them are good musicians.

Jazz rock guitarist Scott Henderson always carries a cassette of your solos with him. What do you think of it?

- I did not know about it. Personally, I don't listen to my music. As soon as I wrote it down, I have only one goal - to sit down at the guitar and start looking for something new. And this is very difficult, much more difficult than playing the same songs for 10 years in a row. But I prefer to create, this is the only way. Because of this, I got in trouble when I had to re-learn the 15-year-old Deep Purple songs in order to play them on tour.

You recorded the album in Orlando, Florida. Will you rehearse there?

- Now we are in England, but we recorded the new album in Florida. Then we'll go on tour.

Will you tour Europe first?

- In February we will play in Poland and Yugoslavia, and then we will visit Paris. We thought about playing in Russia, but in winter it's almost impossible to solve transport problems. Maybe after the US tour next summer... See you at the concert!

© Guitarist Magazine (France) - February 1991