Why Rainbow Is Bound To Succeed
Things are changing for Ritchie Blackmore. And it would be accurate to say on the basis of recent examples, that Ritchie Blackmore is going through changes.
He has a new, still - evolving band titled simply Blackmore's Rainbow. A recent album of the same name proves to be hot. The band's tour, beginning any moment now, will be very interesting. In fact, there is every indication that even Ritchie's psyche - that snarly Blackmore consciousness which has thought nothing of flinging a dripping filet mignon across the dining area of a posh restaurant - is experiencing an uplift of sorts.
What does Ritchie have to say about his psychological growth and development? "Ritchie doesn't talk much," cautioned ex-playmate Purplite Jon Lord when queried about his still current friend. "He's a musician not a politician. And even when he's talking about music, he finds himself restricted. You'll find most interviews with Ritchie - for a start they're few and far between, and if he's done one in the last six months he probably won't do another because he says, 'I can't think of anything to say.'
'He's a difficult bugger," Lord went on, "but that's part of his charm."
So here we are, not expecting to have a "heart-to-heart" with the reclusive guitarist, but being charmed anyway. I am sitting in the back seat of a long, black limousine which is speeding silently in the extreme left lane of an endless four lane highway. We're passing everyone in sight. On my left, Ritchie Blackmore, dressed in black from head to toe (he only wears his white boots for concerts) has sunk into the leathery expanse. He is peering out his window at the blur of middle-America flying by. On my right, ELO cellist, Hugh McDowell, Blackmore's inspiration for his own cello studies, is doing the same out his. I almost hate to break the stone silence hut after a week of avoiding it, Blackmore had grunted approval to this interview.
As I spoke, his attention shifted ever so slowly in my direction. It seemed appropriate to start off an interview with "the brooding, mysterious" Ritchie Blackmore on a serious note.
"Are you aware of the change in dynamics of your guitar solos?" I offered.
He began straight-faced. "My whole life is purely dynamic so I wouldn't notice." Then he couldn't suppress a laugh. "It's just dynamic from start to finish. I'm just a dynamic sort of person."
"Dynamic?" I asked incredulously. "In what way do you show your dynamics? You're awfully quiet." Would the put-on last? I wasn't sure.
"I might go up and down in the lifts about ten times a day just to show off. I might go from floor to floor for no reason and show off my dynamics. I watch the dynamic tension, you know. Have you ever done that? The Charles Atlas course?? I took it for two weeks and I had to go on a milk diet for a week and I started giving myself enemas. And after that I blew it all out [laughs]. It was quite good actually."
Now I was sure. Fun and games. Here we go...
The result from the course, Ritchie added, was that, "I'd have more dynamics. And I could go up in the lifts faster."
You weren't that dynamic before you took the course?"
"No, no. I wasn't.... Do you know what dynamic tension is all about?"
This should be interesting, I thought. "Tell me..."
Ritchie was in top form. "Well," he said, "dynamic tension is the art of, umm... have you heard of Wallace Roundhead? Well he invented it and passed it on to Charles Atlas. Wally Roundhead they called him for short. Well, Wallace Roundhead used to have band called the Wallace Roundhead Folk Four. It was only three of them and that was the catch. And they used to pull in thousands of people because there was only three. And I thought, 'I must see this band.' He used to practice dynamic tension and he did it for about fifty years and it got his precisely nowhere, which is where I want to go."
This statement cried for an explanation. "In what respect?"
"Any respect. Any respect and every respect. Really."
He was vague. Time to press. "With your guitar playing, you want to go nowhere?"
Blackmore became almost cute. "Well, I'd like to go there because I haven't been there yet. You know, I'm trying."
The obvious question: "Weren't you nowhere when you started playing guitar for the first time?"
The unobvious answer: "Oh no. I was at the beginning. But I was somewhere. My ultimate goal is to be nowhere."
"How do you think your guitar playing will be when you achieve that goal?"
"Well, it should be very dynamic... and nowhere, really. One can never express a feeling of the situation according to the problem without this dynamic tension involved. As far as I knew Charles Atlas, he couldn't keep it up for very long without giving himself his enemas every day and I don't get off on that. But if I could get eventually nowhere I'd be really pleased."
[Was Blackmore the only one into this... this "dynamic tension" as he eloquently describes it?] "Anybody else you know tried this?"
"Glenn Hughes [Deep Purple's bassist] seems to have gotten there very fast." How did he know? "You just pick it up by this dynamic flow as you're going up and down in the lifts, you pass each other and it's just an eye thing, you know. You get the 'horse's eyes.' 'Horse's eyes' are if you're at a session and you don't know where you are, so you go... [bugs his eyes out]. Like that. And that means you don't know where you are. And so the other guy goes... 'Now' [and bugs his eyes out again] and you play whatever you're gonna play."
"And you saw that look in Glenn's eyes?"
"When I was going up and down in the lift and he was passing me, yeah."
Another obvious question arose: "When he's in the other lift, you can't see him ..."
More Blackmore logic: "Oh I can, because we had it worked out that he stopped at the same floors as I did. And we made sure that the lifts stopped at the same time. We'd pass each other about three times a night, which is not bad, to get the 'horse's eyes' about three times a night. It took a while to get there, though."
Nobody else in Rainbow or Purple has been into it, Ritchie added. "They seemed to be into the more nervous exhaustion side of it, where they'd go drinking for a couple of days. For instance, you've heard of Bagshot, right? It's near Camberly. I used to go there and shoot bags every Thursday evening because at 12:00 midnight there's a lot of flying bags over Bagshot. It's a rifle town. But they have a swimming pool and they also have a club. And the first time I met Wallace Roundhead was in this club in the swimming pool and what he was doing on the guitar was just incredible, really. And I said to him, 'How do you get that effect without, kind of, starving yourself to death ?' And he said he eats once a week. So I thought, "What's that got to do with guitar playing, right?" But apparently this is his method of using this dynamic tension rather than fatiguing yourself by going up and down in the lift. You can always go up and down in the lift but it can take you ages before you get nowhere. So I took a lesson from him. I went out and shot a few bags. Paul Rodgers does it too. He goes out and shoots a few bags too, because he lives just down the road."
Is Paul Rodgers into dynamic tension too ? "No, he's not. Not into that at all and have you noticed," Ritchie asked, "that he lost his tooth? That's how he did it."
"Recoil of the rifle, I bet..."
"Right. Exactly. It's quite dangerous really."
"Do you see your guitar playing," I asked, "as an extension of this dynamic tension?"
Ritchie decided to clarify the entire matter. "It depends," he said slowly. "If I'm within, say, a five hundred mile radius of Bagshot, it does tend to come on very strongly, this psychic kind of phenomenon, if you will, this feeling of, you're wanted by an unknown force which is pulling you into like, a magnetic field and especially from around the Bagshot area within five hundred miles. But if you are at high altitude, you tend to think differently. You don't get this rapport going with any bags."
"Can you practice it here in the States without being at Bagshot?"
'No you can't. Not really. That's why going up and down in the lifts is the nearest you can get to it. You see, Bagshot is the center of the magnetic field. It's like a pyramid."
I could see that. But what I could not see was, "Why is it the center of the magnetic field?"
Ritchie was truthful: "I don't know," he said.
"I bet it has something to do with Wallace Roundhead," I offered, trying to help.
"Yeah," he agreed. "I think it does. He found it. That's why he moved there. It took him about ten years to find it because nobody knew what he was looking for. But he found it. So now he's reached his ultimate goal and he's the only guy I know who's really nowhere."
"The only guy, huh?"
"Yeah. It's like scientology when you go clear, you know. He's gone nowhere."
I wanted to know more. "Are your other actions offstage due to this dynamic tension?"
"Not really, no," Ritchie answered. "They have nothing to do with it offstage."
I was confused. "Nothing at all offstage? But you said up and down in the elevator, in the lifts..."
"Ahh," he pointed out, "but that's onstage. It depends what you mean by 'onstage'."
I was more confused (but I pretended not to show it) : "Oh. Onstage at a concert."
"Oh, at a concert. That's a different thing entirely. That's not onstage."
"You don't use dynamic tension at concerts?"
"No. I don't have time."
"What governs your guitar playing onstage?"
"It's usually scotch."
"What effect does scotch have?"
"It makes me a complete failure."
"So why not stay away from it?"
"Then I might become a good guitarist and if I did that, I might upset a lot of people."
"And also," I offered at this point, "the better you get on guitar doesn't mean the closer you'll get to nowhere..."
"That's right. It's got nothing to do with it. The guitar is just a hobby while I'm trying to get nowhere. It's a challenge, you see, because when you're playing the guitar you might get somewhere."
"So you think, when you finally get nowhere, you'll stop playing guitar?"
"Oh, of course. To get nowhere is the ultimate goal."
Contradiction time. I decided to follow it up: "You said Glenn is nowhere. Yet he keeps on singing."
"Well, Ritchie smiled, "he's not quite nowhere. He's nearly nowhere."
"Glenn predicted the end of Deep Purple in three years," I said. "Maybe he predicts the achievement of nowhere for himself in those three years."
"Yeah, probably," Blackmore mused. "I hope so, yeah."
"You know," I thought out loud, "it was odd that he came up with that figure of three years right away." This dynamic tension was catching. "Maybe he knew nothing," I added, "that somebody else didn't."
Ritchie was ready: "Yeah, you could put it that way. I couldn't have put put it better if I hadn't said it."
Back to drinking: "Does your use of Scotch,' I started to ask him, "have anything to do with vio..." but Ritchie cut me off.
"I think your tape recorder is on," he said, motioning to the machine on the floor in front of the seat.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"It's on, isn't it?"
I bent over the levels. "It's on."
"It's on, yeah," Blackmore repeated.
"Uh huh," I said, though not knowing why.
"That's what I thought. Umm... pardon?"
"We were talking about scotch," I reminded. "Does it have anything to do with how violent or mellow you feel during shows?"
"It might. It depends."
"There are other things that play on it too, I guess. Like at California Jam," I added, "you were hassled by that cameraman..."
Ritchie came right back. "He's my best mate, that cameraman. Really. My best mate."
I was intrigued. "You met him before that night?"
"Yeah," he said, as his face lit up. "It's my... it was actually... it wasn't my best friend, it was my dad. He was on the camera. If anybody else had done that, it would have been all over, really. If it's anybody else but your dad on the camera, you're going to go berserk. It was his camera. He brought it over from England."
"Right Ritchie. So to sort of tie things up here, I said as the limo rounded the bend leading to the runway, "achieving nowhere is an importance you place above and beyond your guitar playing. It's much more important in your life..."
"Oh yes," Ritchie stressed once again. "I've always wanted to be nowhere."
It's Halloween and Ritchie Blackmore is in Los Angeles with the rest of Rainbow. He's contemplating trading his guitar in for a broom (Witchy Blackmore, get it?) but at the moment he needs the guitar more. The band, which includes Ronnie James Dio on vocals, drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Jim Bain and Blackmore, is currently holding auditions for a fifth member. Still, Ritchie mentions, no one in Rainbow, besides himself, is as yet into dynamic tension. "They're a little afraid of it," he admits sadly. "Jim, the bass player, has a phobia about the lifts. But we don't go to gigs in elevators anyway, so he's alright."
About the auditions, he says, "We are still seeking a keyboard player and we're looking in England at the moment." They want someone who "can handle the rock side of it and also has the imagination into the classical end as well, you know, mellotrons and things. He also has to be very athletic, for a start. The main thing is if he can do headstands and handstands at the same time - so he can get different images of the audience."
His own cello playing, he says, "is in a bit of a rut. I haven't practiced it for a few days. But it's just a hobby."
When reminded that he said his guitar playing was just a hobby as well, he saw his cello playing in a different light; "Well, I'm getting nowhere with it fast."
What about the band? Blackmore proudly asserts, "Pretty nowhere!" Rainbow's tour is tentatively set for around the middle of December (he assumes by then to have selected a keyboard player) and after the tour they will start work on their second album. While pleased with the first, Blackmore says, "The next one is going to be even better because that 'first album pressure' won't be there."
And finally, how's his scotch drinking coming along?
"Fairly well at the moment," he concedes. "I got rid of my liver. It was getting in the way. It didn't go to waste though. I chopped it up, put it between two pieces of rye bread and had it for lunch."
© Steve Weitzman, Circus 30 December 1975