Ritchie Blackmore's contributions to guitar rock began in the mid-'60s, when he performed sessions for the likes of Screaming Lord Sutch and the Outlaws. Then came Deep Purple, a band that painted a striking blueprint for hard rock and metal largely through Blackmore's tastefully searing guitar work. With his blues-and quasi-classical-based approach, he cranked out some of the catchiest riffs and runs ever on songs like "Hush", "Smoke on the Water", "Highway Star", "Black Night", "Woman From Tokyo", "Burn", and many others. While his playing on the band's first three albums — Shades of Deep Purple, Deep Purple, and The Book of Taliesyn (which have just been re-released on Spitfire Records with bonus tracks) — is groundbreaking, it pales in comparison to his efforts in Purple's "Mark 2" period, which began in 1971 with the explosive In Rock.
In-between stints in Purple, Blackmore continued to charter new hard rock territory in Rainbow. But these days, he's leaving the heavy stuff on the backburner, concentrating, instead, on Renaissance music with his group Blackmore's Night. "On one hand I've gone from the loudest band in the world (Purple was named the "world's loudest band" in the Guinness Book of World Records) to the most quiet band in the world," Blackmore says. "In fact, Blackmore's Night is so quiet on stage that it's very difficult to play certain things with people (in the audience) shouting. We have a lot of people on stage all dressed up in medieval outfits. And our fans know that if they come to our shows, they can dress up. It's like a Renaissance festival."
Guitar.com: Have you tried to perform at actual Renaissance festivals?
Blackmore: They've wanted us to play but didn't want any sort of electrics and we do use certain electric things like PAs. But we might get to do some in the future.
Guitar.com: In the past, you've cited The Who as a key influence.
Blackmore: After listening to them in 1964, I realized that maybe I should have a go at writing because Pete Townshend's way of writing appealed to me. Luckily it paid off in certain areas with Purple.
Guitar.com: When you co-formed Deep Purple in 1968, were you interested in breaking new ground?
Blackmore: I didn't consciously think that way. But I loved drama in music and the classical side of rock. I had gotten into the intense playing of Bach and Vivaldi, and other classical people. I tried to incorporate those complex progressions, but not too much, because if you put too much complexity into rock, the whole foundation gets lost and it becomes pseudo or too avant-garde.
Guitar.com: Purple's earliest work could be described as psychedelic.
Blackmore: Lame, I'd call it [laughs]. I did think our very first record, Shades of Deep Purple, was pretty good, but with the two that followed, we were kind of feeling our way, like the blind leading the blind.
Guitar.com: Was the hippie drug culture a factor during the early years of Purple?
Blackmore: Nobody in the band took drugs. We'd be drinkers a bit, but the drug thing was not for us.
Guitar.com: It's interesting that the band became so popular with a cover of Joe South's "Hush."
Blackmore: I used to live in Hamburg, Germany, and I'd heard an earlier version of that song on the radio. And when I got together with Jon Lord, I said I really liked it. When we got around to playing it, he put in this brilliant organ solo.
Guitar.com: Your playing in the second incarnation of Purple was strikingly different from your work in the first version of the band. Many would say your style became heavier and darker.
Blackmore: Very true. In the beginning, I was a little bit lost as to what style I really had. And then everything clicked with In Rock. Ian Gillan [vocals] and Roger Glover [bass] had come in, so that gave us new blood. I found my niche being much heavier music, and playing with more sustain on the amplifier, that sort of thing. We consciously sat down and said, "Let's have a go at being really heavy." It was after hearing Zeppelin, I think. Gillan had this big voice. I had looked for Ian Paice for about a year after seeing him perform in Hamburg. He's an incredible drummer. And he was the motor of the band.
Guitar.com: Many would say that the band was somewhat "progressive" during that period.
Blackmore: Yes, our era was the Jethro Tulls and the Procol Harums.
Guitar.com: Machine Head was one of your most heralded releases. Any memories of working on that pivotal album?
Blackmore: I'm always fond of music that I can make quickly, and we did that whole LP in three weeks. Everything was very natural and it all worked. I had vague song ideas worked out, like for "Space Truckin'," "Highway Star," and "Smoke on the Water," before we went into the studio. However, we did get kicked out of our first studio, where we layed down the backing track to "Smoke on the Water." We had too many complaints from the neighbors for making noise so the police threw us out. So we went to a deserted hotel, and recorded in a corridor. We had the Rolling Stones' mobile recording unit with us, and to hear a playback we'd have to make quite a trip. From the corridor we'd walk through one bedroom, into the bathroom, then walk through the bathroom and into another bedroom, and then across the bed to this outside balcony — and it was in Switzerland, so there was two feet of snow outside. We'd then run down the balcony and into another bedroom, through two doors and up some stairs. Then we'd walk to a reception area, out the door and across a courtyard. As you might expect, we didn't hear too many playbacks.
Guitar.com: Can you elaborate on the story told in "Smoke on the Water"?
Blackmore: We were sitting there watching Frank Zappa play and suddenly someone had one of those flare guns and decided to let it off. It set the roof on fire. Frank turned around and said, "now everybody calm down." He then threw down his guitar and jumped out the window. It was quite funny. He wanted to be the first one out. We then had about 15 minutes before the place was gutted, which was frightening.
Guitar.com: What inspired vocalist Ian Gillan to leave in 1973?
Blackmore: I think Ian and I were both in tune when we first met. And his vocals on "Child in Time" (from In Rock) were amazing. And what he used to do on stage was excellent. I personally didn't like Fireball very much, because we were just working too much. If we had a day off, the management would have us go into the studio to try and make a next LP. But we had about a month off before Machine Head, which allowed me to get my head together to write some stuff. On Machine Head we were still on the same wave length. But for Who Do We Think We Are? Ian [Gillan] and I were both in different worlds. I think we ran out of ideas.
Guitar.com: You left Deep Purple in 1975 to form Rainbow, which lasted until 1984. What were your favorite Rainbow albums?
Blackmore: The very first one (Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow) was a breath of fresh air because we moved away from the R & B stuff Purple was doing. I also liked Rainbow Rising; Ronnie James Dio was singing really well. I keep in touch with Dio; we might do something in the future.
Guitar.com: What compelled you to get back with Gillan, Lord, Paice, and Glover, and record Perfect Strangers in 1984?
Blackmore: I was very happy with Rainbow and we were doing quite well, and then Ian Gillan came around and said, "let's get together". He kind of talked me into it, and people were talking about lots of money, and I said, "Okay, I'll do it." But I do think Perfect Strangers was a good LP. I was comfortable with the band and went, "I think we'll do another one (Nobody's Perfect)," which was a mistake, because I think I played like shit on it. And I don't think anyone else really got into it; to me it was a bit of a disaster.
Guitar.com: You performed with Purple in the '90s, too, but left again in 1994. Why did you quit again?
Blackmore: I couldn't work with Gillan. I didn't feel he was taking it seriously. He was forgetting words every night, partying in general, and just blowing his voice out. I feel partying is great, but not at the expense of losing your voice. I said, "I'll give you six weeks," and then they said, "Well, then we'll have to break up." And I said, "You don't have to break up." I'll stay and do the rest of the tour and then you can get another guitar player and carry on. After I left they got Joe Satriani, but something went down with Joe that he didn't like. So he left.
Guitar.com: What do you think about the other guitarists who have played in Deep Purple?
Blackmore: I think they've done very well. Of course, Joe is a brilliant player. But I think he did the right thing by leaving only after two weeks (laughs). And Steve Morse is an incredible player. A lot of people try to get some wisecrack out of me, but when you're talking about guitar players along Satriani and Morse's caliber, they're brilliant. And I could carry on by saying I'm not too sure why Steve is hanging on in that band, but that's his prerogative, obviously. He must see something there.
Guitar.com: Any thing to say about playing technique?
Blackmore: I think sometimes if you try to play too technically, you lose something in the music - like you're playing for another guitar player. I like to play for people. I often think of the guitar last when I'm recording. The most important thing to me is the vocal, then comes the arrangement, then the song, the sound; then way down: "Oh yes, there has to be a guitar solo." Whereas, for a lot of players, everything revolves around the solo. I suppose I did that for a while in the '70s, too.
Guitar.com: What about now?
Blackmore: Now I realize the importance of leaving gaps and keeping notes out. I can't really stomach too many guitar players who just play these non-stop incessant runs. It gets crazy. It's just exercises. There has to be a reason for soloing. Usually guitar players who play that fast and put everything they can into solos are insecure. The more sophisticated and mature guitarists become, the more they go with the feel. I noticed Clapton would leave a lot of things out. Jeff Beck also achieved this. He's probably my favorite guitar player. "Shapes of Things" says it all. That was the first record that went "the guitar is here, it's arrived."
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