BLACKMORE IN THE MIDDLE
Steve Gett and a posse of five fans pin down
Rainbow's 'man in black', the elusive Ritchie Blackmore.
"I tend not to do many interviews, as you know," Ritchie Blackmore said. "But one thing I'd really like to do is one with some fans. I think that would be very interesting ..."
That was at the Holiday Inn in Baltimore. But when Rainbow returned to Britain for a tour earlier this year, I asked Blackmore if he was still interested. "Sure," he said. "If you can get some fans together, I'll go for it."
When Rainbow played Brighton at the end of their last tour, I met five fans who said they'd be delighted to meet Ritchie and interview him. I still wasn't sure whether he'd actually go ahead with it; the Brighton date came shortly after Rainbow's infamous Wembley concert. That night, Ritchie refused to play an encore after a 70 minute set and the audience retaliated by staging a riot and wrecking seats in front of the stage.
At Brighton, however, Ritchie was in a more relaxed mood. I ushered in the five fans: Dave, Graham, Nobby, Spike and Karen. They stood about nervously in Ritchie's dressing room. Ritchie tried to reassure them and put them at their ease by dimming the lights and lighting candles.
Karen opened the interview: "You didn't smash your guitar tonight."
RITCHIE BLACKMORE: No ...
FAN: We missed it.
RB: Yeah? Well I don't always do it. If I was to do it every night it would become predictable. I like to get excited when I'm on stage and jump around. But I think I've created a kind of monster and people come to see that monster. They come to see me leap about and smash my guitar. But there'll be some nights, like tonight, when I just want to play my guitar. My mind is in a bit of a turmoil because it's trying to figure out whether the audience wants to see me jump around or concentrate on my guitar. And you almost feel like handing out cards asking them what they want. I'll do whatever the audience wants, and I can do both. It's the same with encores, although we usually always come back for at least one.
FAN: What do you think about when you're playing?
RB: That's a good question because what you're thinking about is the crux of the whole thing. If I look at people I start analysing and when I see the faces in the front row I wonder what they're thinking, and I don't actually play what I should. I have to look at an object, something like a cabinet or a speaker, and if you've been into self-hypnosis, which I have, it then becomes a form of relaxation. It's rather like looking at a light above you and putting yourself into a semi-conscious state. That's why I do it. But at the same time I try and snap out of it because it doesn't look very exciting to watch someone staring at a cabinet while they're playing. So then I start thinking that I must look at the crowd and entertain, but at the same time my mind is saying no - if I want to play good music then I should be doing this self-hypnosis thing.
FAN: Do you get nervous before a big solo?
RB: No, not before a solo but there are other times when I get nervous. Like there is the spot where I do a part of Bach and I get nervous then thinking "are they going to accept my playing?", because it's so intricate and oldfashioned.
FAN: Does that actually worry you?
RB: It doesn't worry me but it concerns me and all the time I'm playing I feel they're not here to be musically educated, but at the same time I'm not going to just play rift upon riff. Once again my mind is in complete turmoil deciding to do what the people want, what I think they want or what I think they might want or what I in fact want. Usually I try to compromise by throwing them in for two or three minutes, stop, and then get on to something exciting which in turn excites me.
FAN: The audience seem to appreciate things like "Greensleeves" - was it because Jeff Beck was here that you didn't do it tonight?
RB: I didn't know Jeff was here when we went on - I'd have tried to play a little better if I had. I was a bit tired tonight, but that's no excuse. You can't say you're tired one night; there's no excuse for a bad show, you have to give the same every night.
ME: So what happened at Wembley?
RB: You're getting cheeky ... there's a lot of answers I could give you, like my grandmother was sick or I had a heart attack, which I actually read in a few papers. But now and again your brain just lets you down - I'm speaking for myself and that night I was very sensitive, as in fact I always am, but on that night I felt I could not come across to the audience and I was disgusted with what I was doing. So I came off and I said to Cozy: "Shall we do an encore?" He was very mentally brought down, he'd just done his solo, and so I decided not to do an encore. The whole thing about doing an encore is that it should come from your inner self. That night it would have just been a case of going through the motions of doing an encore and in my opinion that's cheating the audience.
FAN: Do you prefer doing smaller gigs than something like Wembley?
RB: Most of the time because in smaller places you can really get to grips with the people. That was another thing that bothered me about Wembley. There was a gap between the band and the audience of about eight feet and people were kept to their seats. In a way it was almost like doing an audition.
FAN: What do you think of the new heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard?
RB: To be honest, I've not heard a lot of them. I've heard Saxon and Samson because they were on tour with us.
FAN: We were expecting to see one of them on the bill tonight. (By then Saxon and Samson had been dropped in favour of a group called Catches who had toured Europe with Rainbow.)
RB: Well that was strange because I spoke to some fans outside one of the gigs early on in the tour and they'd really enjoyed it, but I asked them if they had any criticisms. And they said that the group on with us that night they'd seen with Ian Gillan. So then I investigated a little more and decided that if that was the case then we should get another band. Samson are a really good group, like Saxon, but I think in seeing them again, the fans were being cheated. That has, nothing to do with how good or bad the band happens to be. Like somebody said that Saxon were too good for us and that's why they didn't do the rest of the tour, which wasn't true at all. That really pissed me off.
FAN: Have you thought about re-forming Deep Purple?
RB: We've thought about it ...
FAN: What would the line-up be?
RB: You tell me.
FAN: Yourself, Paice, Lord, Glover and Gillan?
RB: You've got it.
FAN: Do you still keep in touch with any of the guys from Purple?
RB: I don't see too much of Ian and Jon because they've got a lot going for them with Whitesnake. I keep in touch with Ian Gillan, though. I'm very hard on singers, I expect a lot from them, and in retrospect Ian was giving far more in Purple than I thought at the time.
FAN: Is it true that you wanted him to join Rainbow at one point?
RB: He and I got really drunk one night over Christmas '78, at which time I needed a singer badly, and I asked him if he fancied the job. We were literally on the floor of his place at eight o'clock in the morning, drunk out of our heads, but in the morning he said that he didn't know whether he could ever work with me again.
FAN: Was there any specific reason for getting rid of Ronnie James Dio?
RB: I think he was more interested in results than anything else. There's no bad feeling; perhaps there is on his part, but certainly there isn't any on mine.
FAN: Do you think Graham Bonnet's a good replacement?
RR. Well, I leave that to you - what do you think?
FAN: He's very good, most of the time. I don't know about his hair though.
RB: I must admit that when we asked him to join I was a little worried about the short hair, and I have had words with him about it. I do have a certain responsibility to an audience because a lot of people have been coming along to see the new singer. He was growing his hair at one time but then he cut it all off. I went crazy and said: "What did you do that for?" I don't mind short or long hair, but the thing that bothers me is the people who follow heavy metal may think he's conforming to punk or new wave, and he's a far cry from that. But he defies me by singing so well that I just can't argue.
FAN: Talking about punks, they seem to have a real thing against people with long hair ... in Hastings we've been chased by all the punks and mods.
RB: It's all just a fashionable thing, like clothes. Just forget about whether your hair's long or short.
FAN: Have you ever considered playing in Russia?
RB: I wouldn't play in Russia, I just don't want anything to do with Russian politics. I do keep in contact with a lot of Russians and they're great, but the people at the top, the hierarchy, make me sick.
FAN: Are you very much against the drug scene?
RB: I'm not against it - I don't take them - but I'm definitely not against them. Because there's a lot of pressure in this business, it may sound corny, but some people need them. All I need is a good stiff drink ... and I do drink a lot of whisky. Unfortunately, some of my favourite bands have gone downhill because of drugs.
FAN: What other bands do you like?
RB: Jethro Tull, Focus and Zeppelin on record - things like "Kashmir" are brilliant. Bonzo's my favourite drummer, and he's Cozy's too. Robert's great and Jimmy is a really interesting person.
FAN: Do you ever compare yourself with Jimmy Page?
RB: No, because there's no point. He has his style and I have mine. I've said it before, but he's more of a 3-D guitarist than me. He might not be so technically aware, but he's far more aware of arrangements of songs than I am.
FAN: Do you still practice guitar?
RB: I practice for a straight half-hour before I come to a gig, and I usually try to practice at home.
FAN: Have you ever thought about packing it all in?
RB: Yes. It usually happens 15 minutes into the show every night.
FAN: When did you start playing?
RB: I started when I was 11. My father bought me a guitar for eight guineas, and after seeing Tommy Steele I really got into it. Now that I'm 34 I'm totally disgusted with what I've done!
FAN: How many guitars have you got?
RB: Basically I have three Fenders and two Gibsons, but I haven't played my Gibsons for years. I like the Fender because you can really make your mark with one. With a Gibson, no matter who you are, I defy you, and this is going to upset a lot of people (which I usually do), to have a personality and an identity coming across.
FAN: Are there any guitarists you've modelled yourself on?
RB: Les Paul ... going back to when I was 13 that is. Albert Lee was the first person I knew to have a Les Paul guitar and at the time I wanted one very badly. I thought they were incredible guitars until they became fashionable - now I won't play one out of principle. I still believe in the identity of a guitar. The Fender is harder to play because it's a very bare guitar and so you have to have a lot to say before the Fender will reward you by saying something for you.
FAN: Do you agree with bootlegs?
RB: I didn't at one stage, but now I think they're okay as long as they're collector's items - as long as no-one takes them too seriously, that's the important thing. The thing I don't like about bootlegs is the people who do them just to make money out of the fans. The band puts out an LP for the fans to buy and I don't like these middle men who just cash in on the fans. They're the same type of people, these little worms, who get outside concerts and sell tickets for 50 quid. I can't stand that and I've gone crazy with my management trying to stop it - £ 4.50, or whatever we charge, is the price the kids should pay and nothing more.
FAN: What's your favourite Rainbow track?
RB: "Stargazer" is the first one to mind. In fact, a lot of people ask me why we don't play it live. The thing is though that it is the same tempo as "Love's No Friend" and everyone would be asleep by the end if we did both songs. A lot of people have shouted out for it, but it is also hard without the orchestra. We have actually done it before but it died a death. There are certain tracks that go down well on stage whereas others are better on record.
FAN: Is much of the show ad-lib?
RB: Certain parts are. Maybe when I want to play a long solo, or when 1 feel I'm not getting anywhere, I'll shuffle things around a bit. There's other times when I'll point at someone else to take over.
FAN: You move your hands a lot, why's that?
RB: Yes I do move my hands a lot. For example, one would mean for me to be cut out of the monitors, perhaps because I'm too loud. I have different ones for various things I want. And I think the others are just nervous movements.
FAN: Are your fingers insured?
RB: Yes, with Lloyds!
© Steve Gett, Melody Maker - August 16, 1980