The Fury of Ritchie Blackmore
Was it for real? Was it a farce? Ask Ritchie Blackmore, but don't mention it to SHEILA PROPHET.
HEY, DOES anyone want to know about this great new game I've discovered? Well, not just me - there's also his photographer, Polydor's English product manager, and two ladies from Polydor in New York. The game is called 'Waiting For Ritchie' and though the rules are a bit confusing (seeing as Ritchie makes them up as he goes, along) you can become quite an expert at it, given time. And we've had lots of time.
It all started one Saturday in Bridgeport, Connecticut (Where? Yes, exactly) where Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow has been booked to play one of those open air shows they specialise in over there in the USA. After standing around outside the stadium (so we couldn't see the other bands, presumably) for two, or was it three (I lost count) hours, a passing roadie informed us Rainbow wouldn't be playing, because the equipment got here too late. We searched out the manager and found this to be the truth. Ah well, I thought, maybe I could just do the interview instead...
Oh, NO, Ritchie was in no mood to do it now. I was told, although Cozy Powell and Ronnie James Dio were waiting to talk to me. I explained we had 'done' Cozy several times already: this time it was Ritchie we wanted.
It turned out Ritchie was free till Wednesday, when he was playing in Philadelphia, so I asked if we could do the interview at his home before then. This bright suggestion resulted in me spending Monday and Tuesday trapped in my New York hotel room, just in case Ritchie decided he'd do it, on the spur of the moment, and we had to drive out to his place. He didn't of course (rule 44, of the game: never choose the simple solution) and on Tuesday afternoon we were informed he'd do it after Wednesday's gig.
And this is where you came in, Wednesday, after the gig. We wait. Outside the stage door. Yes, we're told. Ritchie will do it. At the hotel. Add another hour of waiting time. (Rule number 97: never underestimate those previous last minute hold-ups.)
And at last, at midnight on Wednesday, I am finally ushered into the mighty Blackmore presence. We retire to an empty corner - Blackmore, his current girlfriend, and me. He doesn't bother to introduce us.
He's wearing a red shirt: in an effort to get things off to a cherry start I remark chattily that I thought he always wore black?
"No," he says, looking with distaste at my (coincidentally, black) dress. "Why, do you?"
He speaks with all the warmth of a Birds Eye frozen dinner. Uh oh. I drop the idea of making friends and go on with the interview. Tonight's gig was a short one? He explains that, since the group have been supporting Reo Speedwagon, they have rehearsed a shortened support set - which is what they played tonight. He admits they were "very average" tonight - one reason he didn't feel inspired to smash his guitar.
MOST nights, though, Ritchie does go through the pointlessly destructive ritual of breaking up a perfectly good guitar, because, he reckons, music is not enough these days - you need an extra gimmick to make the show an event.
I say isn't it very expensive? And Ritchie replies that he doesn't mind, because it's important to the show. Yes, he says, he does buy his own guitars they cost him £100 each.
(Now, as you probably know, this is extremely cheap for a quality electric guitar: I later find out from a director of Fender that Ritchie has a promotional deal with the company which means "He ets his guitars at an extremely advantageous price".)
Next question. What about the 'Rainbow to split' rumours?
The truth is, he says, that they have asked a certain member of a certain other band to join Rainbow. No he can't tell me who, because the guy hasn't decided yet.
So will Rainbow be expanding to a six-piece?
So you're kicking someone out then?
Says Blackmore sarcastically, "This would appear to be the logical conclusion."
Who? Again he can't tell me, because it seems the poor unfortunate doesn't know yet. However, since I have already heard the manager refer to the band as "the three of them" it seems safe to assume it is neither Cozy or Ronnie. This leaves bass player Bob Daisley and keyboards player David Stone. Later, in my presence, the manager tactfully refers to an absent member of the band as a "dummy" - a remark which amuses Blackmore no end. When I later suggest to a Polydor employee that the keyboards player may be leaving, the suggestion is not denied.
I ask Blackmore what the financial situation is (meaning are the two outsiders paid differently from the rest) and he groans. "Dire."
Oh come off it. You're a tax exile, living in America - you can't be that badly off?
To my amazement, Blackmore proceeds to deliver a lecture on "Communism having Britain by the throat" saying he'll return home only when a Tory Government get in. (And presumably, lower the wealth taxes: if Blackmore was living here now, he'd be paying 82 per cent in tax).
I ask him how he feels able to comment on the political situation in Britain when he isn't living there?
He replies that my question is "predictable. All the journalists say that."
Well, perhaps, but the fact that my reaction is an obvious one doesn't make it any less valid.
Blackmore's tone of voice has gone from the initially cold to the positively icy, so I decide to soft - pedal, and try to jolly things along with a few joky questions about: a) his moody image; b) his reputation for being seen around with lots of women; c) his infamous VD quote from the last interview he did for Record Mirror with American writer Jim Farber.
NONE of these does anything to relax the tension, and the last gets him considerably upset: he talks about it "upsetting my mother" (?!). He tells me he got Jim to print a retraction, and, at various points, calls him 'thick', 'Dumb' and 'strange'. Really? Jim seems perfectly normal to me, when I meet him later in the week: he tells me. Blackmore's retration claim is untrue. What actually happened was that, after the RM feature was printed, Blackmore's management kicked up a ridiculous fuss about it, both to us and to him himself. When he was subsequently writing a piece on Rainbow for the US mag, Circus, the US publicist rang him and asked, as a special favour to her, since Ritchie was so upset about it, could he leave out the VD quote? Seeing it merely as a (in his own words) "cute" aside, and not vitally important to the piece as a whole, Jim agreed. This, Ritchie does not constitute a retraction: simply a piece of (in my view, misplaced) courtesy.
Anyway, this subject is getting us nowhere, so back to basics: how's the new album, 'Long Live Rock 'n' Roll' (gosh I wish I'd thought of that title first) selling?
"Very well," he says, and reels off a list of impressive statistics.
I remark that that's odd, because I'd heard the album hadn't sold as well as expected (in fact I'd even heard someone say it "stiffed everywhere") - a statement which later provokes an unbelieable burst of paronoia. I am called over to where Blackmore, manager, road manager, and various other group members, are sitting with Dennis, the man from Polydor in England. Blackmore starts shouting at me: where did I get that information about record sales from? Was it Polydor?
I say I just heard it around.
"You said Polydor," snarls Blackmore. "It was Dennis, wasn't it? Dennis told you."
I tell them I will not get involved in their private politics and walk out. For some reason, Blackmore shouts after me than I am "scared". Wrong again, Ritchie.
However, back to the rapidly deteriorating interview.
I ask Blackmore if he thinks the album is an advance on the others. He does, of course. I ask him to explain how, since I can't see it myself, and he answers nastily that the advances are too subtle for someone like me to understand.
I suggest that perhaps the reason for Rainbow's popularity is not because they're advancing; but because their sound is so comfortingly familiar.
"That question is so silly," says Blackmore "I'm not even going to bother to answer it."
Blackmore glares at me. He has a peculiarly malevoent glare, which he cultivates by drooping his head forward and staring up at you sideways from the corner of his eye.
So you won't answer the question? "No."
So do you want to continue the interview? "No."
Suits me. I call over to the others that the interview is over. In that moment Blackmore pinches the tape from my cassette recorder. When I ask for it back, he offers to fight me for it. (Robbery with violence?)
THE manager and roadie rush over, and start sking me what I did to upset him. Blackmore, his morale obviously bolstered by their presence, goes into attack. He threatens me (pathetically, does he really think anyone would listen to him?) by "suggesting strongly" that I do not write the feature, and - now don't laugh, this is supposed to sound ominous - asking what my editor would think of "my attitude".
He demands to know what other bands I've interviewed recently. He asks if I like rock 'n' roll. He accuses me - gasp, shock, horror - of liking punk rock. He goes into a tirade about the definition of punk being 'inferior'. It's always embarrassing to see an older musician (Blackmore is 33) putting down younger groups, who could do with his support.
At some point the phrase 'original punk rockers' comes up. "I think you'll find," says the smoothie manager, who looks like a character from a California cop show, complete with extremely flash car, "that we were the original punk rockers."
I try not to laugh.
Inexplicably, the girlfriend - silent up till now - suddenly comes up with the evening's prize statement. "Well, somebody's got to keep rock and roll alive, haven't they? "
At this point, I think - I hope - I left.
When I got home next Monday the bizarreness goes on. The tape has now gone to a solicitor - kind of amusing that they're hoping to use as legal evidence what is, legally, stolen property!
The English publicist attempts to persuade The Editor, to change the feature. When he refuses she says, "Well, if she mentions VD, they'll sue! " (What for? He said it, not us!)
If you think this whole thing sounds farcically over the top, you're right. In normal circumstances, the situation would never have happened - in the face of such rudeness, I would normally have told Blackmore to stuff his interview after the second question. But since Polydor had brought me all that way to do the interview, I somehow felt obligated to try and salvage the situation. Wrongly, as it turned out.
Why did Blackmore behave so badly? Sounds' Geoff Barton says he doesn't like women. Ros Russell says he's always been like that. She remembers him throwing his guitar at her back in the Deep Purple days. Ros also remembers the rest of Deep Purple couldn't stand him, which would make the 'Deep Purple To Reform' rumours seem a little unlikely - unless of course, they're desperate for the money.
Why do I think he did it? To be honest, I don't know - and I care even less. I do know though, that I have no desire to encounter Ritchie Blackmore ever again - once in a lifetime is quite enough.
God preserve me from ageing prima donnas whose egos have grown so bloated that they can no longer see past them - now they're the real losers of the music business.
© Sheila Prophet, Record Mirror, 26 August 1978