"Ritchie Blackmore only needed Ronnie's voice"

On the 5th July 1997, one day before the Deep Purple-concert on the Daytona Europe Festival in Lahr, I had an interview with Mickey Lee Soule on the drive from Stuttgart Airport to Baden-Baden.

A reminder: Mickey was from the start to the mid seventies with Ronnie James Dio in ELF and played the keyboards on the, in 1975 released, solo LP of Ritchie called "Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow". After that he played for example on Roger Glover's Solo-albums "Butterfly Ball" and "Elements". These days Mickey's job is Jon Lord's Keyboard-Technician.

I was very surprised when I heard you're working now for Deep Purple

MLS: When I started this job I didn't see any of them for years. Roger and I used to be good friends. He produced the albums of ELF and I played on "Butterfly Ball" and another of his solo albums. I hadn't done anything in the music business for almost twenty years.

What was the reason for that?

MLS: Well, I had some bad experiences in the 70's.

Had this something to do with Ritchie Blackmore?

MLS: Ok, that was a bad experience, but that was not the decisive point why I stopped with music. I first got married, then my son was born. I had difficulties with the business site of it all and it all influenced my friendships - also with people I grew up with.

So I decided to pack it in and tried to do something else. I went some years ago to New York and started again with playing in a Blues Band. In the mean time I got divorced and my son went to Orlando. I booked a flight to visit him and then I heard Deep Purple was there in the studio - they were recording "Purpendicular".

One day I went to visit them uninvited and said: "Hey, can you remember me?". We went to a pub and got a drink. Roger and I were talkin' about old times and about a possible Side-Project. But he is ofcourse very busy on the moment.

We understand each other musically quite well and want to write something together some day again. Maybe it will be something with both our names on. Anyway at that time I didn't do anything special and Deep Purple just lost their keyboard technician. They asked me: "Do you wanna go on tour with us?". I said: "Ok, I don't have to do anything better on the moment." I do it since last year and I travelled all over the world - 125 concerts. It was a great time.

Don't you miss it to be yourself on stage?

MLS: I don't know. I miss it the same way like you miss it not to be a child anymore. I enjoy what I do now. All in the band are really nice to me and I can contribute my part so that everything is successfull. They are really friends and I don't think I would do this job for anyone else. I had some thoughts last year about stopping and start doing something else.

After we were early 1997 in South America, the tour should have been finished, because of the work on the new album. But now they wanted to do some festivals after all and I decided to stay a little longer. But I don't know how long yet. Allright, I still enjoy it, but it's not the direction I want to go in. When they again start a new worldtour after their studio stop.... who knows? We'll see.

Tell me something about your job with Deep Purple. What are your duties?

MLS: I'm the Keyboard-Technician. My job is to take care that all the equipment on stage is standing in the right place. Besides that I have to change the keyboard sounds during the show. Jon plays different keyboards, that all are connected to each other, so that he can combine all the sounds. Every song has it's own soundcombination. The changes in sounds are often in the middle of the songs. The changing of the sounds is the main part of my responsibility.

Is it tiresome labour?

MLS: No, it's not tiresome and Jon makes it easy for me. He's a nice guy with whom I love to work together.

In the band is a good atmosphere since the change of the guitarplayer.

MLS: I don't want to get too much involved in the Ritchie-Thema. I think Ritchie is a great musician and I don't know anything about personal conflicts inside this band. I only talk for myself. When I was in Rainbow we had a different approach. It was nothing personal between us. I have heard many stories and can empathize about what the people are talking.

He can be very difficult, but I think, he is a brilliant musician. He has gone his own way to present his art. You can't hold anything against him, as long as he's such a great artist, you just has to give him the space he needs. You won't hear me talk bad about him just because of his personality. I personally didn't found him so agressive like many people say, but I can understand it. He's at least a bit weird.

Have you ever been on stage with him in those days?

MLS: The first Rainbow-Album ("Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow") started in those days as Ritchie's Solo-Project. He needed the musicians of the band ELF only for the recording of that album. After the album was finished, he decided to put a band together. He asked us of we wanted to be his band and went -with the exception of our guitarplayer- to Malibu/California.

When we started rehearsals the first problems began. It was really not what I wanted. I'm more a piano than a keyboard player. So I was that happy with my role. I want to get involved in the songwriting, because I did all the writing with Ronnie all those years before. Ritchie and I had both different think- and working ways and I had another offer - and I thought it was the best to leave the band.

You left the band? I always was under the impression Ritchie fired all of you. So that's not true?

MLS: Well allright, it's partly true. He sacked one after the other - first the bassplayer, then the drummer and I would have been the next. What does it matter, I was unhappy, had an offer and was glad that I could say I leave before he told me. It was just a case of right timing.

You were quicker....

MLS: I think so (laughs). But the whole thing doesn't bother me at all these days, it so long ago. The most difficult was then, to seperate from Ronnie. He and I were for years together as a song-writing team and we played in small clubs. I think, all that Ritchie wanted was Ronnie's voice. He thought, I take the whole package and sort it all out what I can't use. I don't know if he then got what he wanted because on every Rainbow album he had different musicians.

Are you still in contact with Ronnie James Dio these days?

MLS: There's still contact, very little though. He's still in the business. When I was in New York, I heard on the radio that he was going to play there. That's why I knew he was still around. We are still friends, but we are no longer that close like in the past. Some years ago I visited him in his house in Los Angeles. Today he's going his way and I'm mine. That's hy we don't meet that often.

In Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow there were some other people. Do you know what happened with drummer Gary Driscoll?

MLS: That's something, I'm not keen to talk about. About 10 years ago Gary was in New York murdered, brutally murdered. I hadn't seen him for about a year and saw it on the news on TV. This was a horror experience for me, because I also knew his family pretty well. Everyone was shocked about what happened. He was my favorite drummer.

There are a lot of drummers who are good, like Paicey who is extremely good. I don't mean in technical aspect. Gary was one of my friends and for me he was the best. The brute crime was never solved. He was tortured to death and no one knows why, maybe they confused him with someone else. Although it gave crazy rumours, till today nobody knows the reason for this deed. My belief is that Gary was the good ghost in ELF. His death is a great loss.

And what happened to the bassplayer, Graig Gruber?

MLS: I totally lost sight of him. I only know he went up West. The last I heard, he was playing in Kansas, though before Steve Morse played guitar with them (Steve is not in Kansas anymore...). What he did after that I don't know. I think, he's no longer involved in the music-business.

What's your real name?

MLS: Michael.

How did it became "Mickey Lee"?

MLS: That's a long time ago, when I was very young and started with music playing in local bands. At that time I was one of the few paino players in the area, because also then it was all guitar players and drummers. Someone gave me the nickname "Mickey Lee", because Mickey Lee Soule sounded pretty much like Jerry Lee Lewis. Soon everyone called me that.

Also Ronnie Dio, who grew up in the same town as me by the way, called me Mickey Lee, when he asked me to join his band. So he said to me: "I think, Mickey Lee is now your name." I'm not the type who was stand on Michael. It's also not like many people think, my artistname. No, it's just a nickname from the days when I was young.

Can I ask when and where you were born?

MLS: In Cortland, New York on 6.6.1946. Cortland is a small place with about 20.000 residents. Because it's in the neighbourhood of many universities, often bands could play there in the late 60's/early 70's. In the schools there were every week parties and for a performance they payed very well.

Is it true you were also for a short period in the Ian Gillan Band?

MLS: When Ian Gillan in 1973 Deep Purple left, he started after a while his own band. It should have been around the time I recorded with Roger "Butterfly Ball". Ian's keyboardplayer then was Colin Towns, the others were Mark Nauseef, John Gustafson and Ray Fenwick - they just had recorded "Scarabus". The Keyboardplayer had other commitments for a short period and they needed someone who could jump in to do this Art Warm up-Tour. So they asked me and we did a tour in France.

It was one of the weirdest things I ever did. The blokes in the band were over the top, totally crazy (laughs). It was very funny and a lot of crazy things happened like destroyed hotelrooms for example. It was a very nice experience. By the way Mark Nauseef also is from Cortland, though he now lives with his wife and child in Germany and still plays music. He'll release a solo album with a many different styles including Jazz influences. He likes all kinds of music and can play many different things. I think, he's more a percussionist than a typical drummer. He's still a good friend of me.

Thank you for being so brave to drive with us in our old car. The "Aviator" members will be pleased to hear finally something about you.

MLS: Thank you for the drive and ofcourse for the beer. It was nice talkin' to you.

Andree Schneider, The Aviator no 4, October 1997