Ritchie Blackmore
Lashes Out

"Somewhere over the Rainbow. . ." It is unlikely that Judy Garland would have expected to find the loudest, flashiest and most dangerous rock band extant at the end of an arch of prismatic colours, but Rainbow fill certainly fired a crock of gold at the end of their current campaign.

Rainbow are dangerous in that they are a sudden threat to the existing order of things. The mysterious, almost sacred hierachy of groups is about to undergo a reformation and we shall have to add a new name to the select circle who have achieved world domination.

Those who thought they were moving up the pilgrims' way to fortune will find their path blocked. Those who have already arrived will hear an ominous, insistent hammering at the gates. Who are these invaders? And will they bring enlightenment and culture in their wake, or destruction and rapine? The answer is a mixture of both, for lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and drummer Cozy Powell have combined in barbarous, and yet strangely noble, array.

Rainbow are an Anglo-American combine whose message is outrageously simple and whose ruthless drive is unassailable. Already the converted are offering up pagan prayers. "Ritchie is God!" they were yelling in the great temple dedicated to weird cults, the Odeon, Hammersmith, last week. The last band to emerge in this fashion were Queen some three years ago, but Rainbow have a much more convincing link with British rock group heritage: they have FORM as long as your arm. Ritchie Blackmore has for a decade been associated with the trouble-raked, but hugely successful and now defunct, Deep Purple.

Cozy Powell has been uniquely placed among the heaviest British rock drummers in that he achieved public acclaim with his hit single "Dance With The Devil," and the respect of fellow musicians for his work with Tony Joe White, Jeff Beck and his own band Bedlam. The rest of the band are virtually unknown to British audiences, but have already made a startling impact. Lead singer Ronnie James Dio is one of those men who can crack chandeliers with perfectly pitched, stentorian notes, forced through his stubby frame with all the power of an RB211 jet engine. He is a softly-spoken New Yorker who once led his own band, Elf, which did many tours supporting Deep Purple. Tony Carey on keyboards is from California and played with a Connecticut group Blessings, before he auditioned successfully for Blackmore's new band. Rainbow's bassist Jimmy Bain helped introduce Carey to their leader. Jimmy is from Scotland but lived in Canada before returning home to work with a group called Harlot.

Neither Powell nor Blackmore are wholly convinced of the strength of the bonds between them and the rest of the group. With such powerful personalities involved, there have already been rows and explosive flairs of temper. Cozy is now playing at a peak of perfection, with great strength and zest, his style at a mid-way point between Jon Hiseman and John Bonham, two of the drummers he most admires.

Cozy Powell

"I'm now giving the drums all the power I should have two years ago," he said. "With Jeff Beck it was impossible to wack hell out of the drums because it wasn't that sort of a band. Now I'm in a band where I can do what I want to do, and unleash the power! In the past I must have played as much different music as most drummers have done. But this is the sort of music I most enjoy and I'm best at. I'm not really a jazzer, I'm just a straightforward rock drummer, but I listen to everything that's going on. I'd never played with Ritch before, but going back 15 years I was in a support band to his group, the Outlaws, and that was the last time I saw him. He's from the West Country, same as me, and we did the same round of clubs and bars.

"They say Ritchie is a difficult man to work with, and he is at times. But he leaves me alone and lets me get on with it, which suits me."
In what way is Ritchie "difficult?"
"He's very demanding - he knows exactly what he wants and won't settle for anything less. Jeff on the other hand - brilliant guitar player - very difficult to know what he's thinking. You can't expect to know what's going on in a guy's head, so consequently it's very difficult to play with him. Some nights would be great and other nights he'd just go off on a tangent and it was very hard to keep up. All guitar players are prone to that."
Had Cozy had ups and downs with Ritchie too?
"Not personally, we've got on very well since the band started. But I hate to think what will happen when we do have an argument... no, he's been very good. He more or less lets me have a free hand. I like it this way. With my own band I had before, all the responsibility was on my shoulders and it was so difficult for me to tell a guitarist what to do, what notes and chords to play. Ritchie has got it all pat. All I've got to do is give him the foundation he wants."

Cozy actually gave up drumming for nine months after the disappointments of running his own band. "There was absolutely nothing happening in England, and not a lot in the States. I didn't want to peak out and go downhill. I just wanted to stop completely and I figured it would be good for me after having played for like 14 years. "I didn't see a drum kit for nine months and just raced cars. I got so much into motor racing I was going to knock drumming on the head. Finito. Then Ritchie called me up and I thought, well Ritchie was in LA auditioning a whole bunch of drummers and couldn't find what he wanted. He came to the last concert I did with Jeff at the Roundhouse. So I went to LA and joined the band there and then.

"It's nice to work with someone as good as Ritchie and good for me to get back into it again after having been laid off for a while. I didn't feel rusty. After ten minutes it all came back. I'd built up so much energy and aggression in that nine months off, that when I got to the rehearsal room in LA I went bananas. We just blasted away for two hours. And then it all fell into place. Ritchie had tried some English and American guys and basically they were all frightened of him. I'm not frightened of anybody and just went and steamed in. Exactly the same story with Jeff. I went down to the audition, and there were literally 25 drummers all there with the kit that was supplied... 'Is it my turn now?'... tapping away very lightly. I thought 'sod all this, slung the kit out, got mine in and sat right in front and said 'right, you wanna play? Let's play.' You've gotta be a bit arrogant if you're a drummer. You've gotta give 'em a kick up the ass.

"It was the same with Ritchie. With a heavy rock guitar player, you know they want a hard, solid foundation. If they don't get that you're wasting their time. Unless I play a really good performance I'm not satisfied. Tonight (Wednesday), I didn't play a good performance and was really p--- off with myself. The night before I played really well. Jon Hiseman was in the audience and I knew I had to play well! When you get someone that good, it inspires you to play well. Last night I just drained myself completely and didn't have enough energy left for the drum solo. It's nice to bring the volume down on some numbers. Like the quiet part of 'Catch The Rainbow'. Then I did a sudden fill-in -- bam! And you see the kids jump. Things like that make rock and roll. There's lots of time and tempo changes, which took a while to get off, but they become second nature. It's no big deal. With my drum solo - well, I've seen hundreds of them, and I know you have. They may be technically brilliant, and everybody gets up at the end and claps. But to the average punter - what do they know?

"So I say just give them a little bit of rhythm, a little bit of this and that thrown in, then give them something completely different, like the 1812 Overture! Blow 'em all up at the end, and they'll go 'OH!' Cos they're not ready for it. I'm just trying to make the drum solo entertaining, something people can watch as well as listen. In the old days you could get away with it, like Ginger with Cream, bashing away for ten minutes. Great. That was the accepted thing. But we've gone a long way since Cream, and there have been a lot of different drummers coming up, and if you're going to do a solo these days you've gotta make it a little bit special. I don't want to go on for too long. You'll notice it was pretty short. You can say what you wanna say in two or three minutes. I put 100 per cent into the whole show, so come the drum solo, sometimes I haven't got any energy left. You have to pace yourself, which is very difficult in our show as you may have noticed. It's an hour and a half of torture! Yeah, it's painful all right. My hands are really suffering. I've drawn blood many times. I usually cut my hands up on the cymbals and now wear tape on my fingers, which gets cut to shreds because of the sticks I use. I'm using extra heavy military sticks, but I'm going through them at a furious rate.

"Trouble is I can't afford to have my hands bleeding, which they did at the start of the tour. I could play, but not HARD. "John Bonham is of the same ilk and I lived in Birmingham for a while and met my wife there. I got to know John and Robert really well. John and I are probably the only two drummers in England who play in that style. I like him because he doesn't play too many fills but when he does, it means something."

It isn't all bashing in Rainbow, however, and there are many moments of comparative calm and sanity, where both Powell and Blackmore reveal a more sensitive and imaginative side to their musical natures. "Ritchie is very much into classical music and the medieval period, and he's into the technique of the guitar. He likes to he a complete guitarist. "Ritchie plays from the head and I really like the challenge of working with somebody who is that good on guitar. Jeff Beck was always a complete maniac. You never knew what he was going to do or say, but I'm priveliged to be able to work with such good players as Jeff and Ritchie."

What did Cozy think of the rest of the guys in the band?
"The singer is the best guy we've found. Ritchie found him in a band called Elf, and he's got an amazing voice. His range and pitch is great. You'll notice he sings in tune. He can sing a melody as well as scream it out. He's got a great future. The keyboard player is very young and inexperienced, but has a lot of potential and that's why he's in the hand. In a couple of years time he'll be really going good. Jimmy, our bass player, heard him and brought him along."
Was Cozy feeling satisfied with life now and glad he had carried on playing?
"Well I must be satisfied or else I wouldn't put myself through this amount of torture every night! Yeah. I guess I'm happy. But in rock and roll... things change and move on at rapid paces. I treat this gig from a day-to-day basis. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. A million things could happen. I just try and do my best every night, and as long as I can do that, I'm satisfied. I'm not a Billy Cohham or Buddy Rich, but as far as heavy rock drummers go, I see most of them off."

Ritchie Blackmore

Eventually Ritchie Blackmore arrived in the bar, dressed in black and clutching a large beaker of beer. A smile broke through his normally solemn expression as he recalled the last occasion we had met, which was a jam session with a group called Jungle Pilot in a college in Islington.

"You fell off the stool during a drum solo," said Ritchie. "It was quite funny actually. It was a good jam, Tommy Eyre was on piano and Dave Lambert was singing. I enjoyed it, and still fancy a blow, anytime, in a pub somewhere."

I muttered through a Holiday Inn sandwich that things had changed a lot since those days. At the time. I recall, Ritchie was pretty unhappy with his lot in Deep Purple.

"Basically I'm a moody person and I'm unhappy most of the time." said Ritchie, looking very serious, "I'm allways looking for that little bit more and I tend to show it in my facial expression. The band was getting very caught up in an image, whatever our image was. We had five ego-maniacs, including myself. The band paid off, obviously, but I'm glad I left when I did because there might have been a lot animosity.

"Like tonight, the lads in Deep Purple came along to the show, and they enjoyed it and had a chat. If we had carried on together we would have been at loggerheads and would have started fighting. It may be a cliche, but I want to play some honest music. I've earned some money and know we can play what I want. I thought Purple were quite valid We played loudly like we do now, but we now play four or five numbers of music and then unleash the aggressive side of it. But with Purple it was aggression from start to finish. And I found that after four or five years we had lost that spark."

Ritchie spoke with calm and intelligence, a far cry from the almost demented figure who appears on stage sometimes clawing at his guitar like a cat scratching into human flesh.

"We'd got very complacent. You'd turn up at the studio and the guys would say to each other: 'What are we going to do?' 'Oh, I dunno'. Jon Lord would eating, drinking and dining, and nobody would he particularly bothered. And then the manager would appear and say: 'Well, you've got two days to finish the LP!' Nobody had anything together.

"In the end I insisted that Roger went, although now Roger is a very good friend of mine. He's a good writer, and in fact we'd like incorporate him in the band as writer with us, because I'm not a good writer. But in Purple we weren't hitting it off as friends, socially. He was with Jon, I was with Ian Paice. We all paired off and it got a bit silly. Decisions were made by all of us, but in the last three years, I found everytutng was on me. At rehearsals it was 'What have you got Ritchie?' Well what have you got? Certain people in the hand became passengers. They really thought they were contributing and they weren't. All they were doing was playing what I told them and I didn't like that. But the name was a very BIG name and we'd make a lot of money. If I'd stayed in the hand I'd be a millionaire. But I thought, sod that, I'm gonna leave. I'd made enough money to be comfortable and now I'm going to try some honest music. If it fails or makes it - great."

It must have been a tough decision to make after all those years?

"Not really because I was writing most of the songs and guys were saying to me: 'Well, what do I play?' You see Jon was technically a good player, but has no imagination when it comes to rock and roll. He's good when it comes to classical music and a lot of people used to say, 'Oh, Jon Lord is the pusher in the band'. I used to get so angry. It's only natural, y'know? It became a little hit personal in that way, and yet we're still great friends. He knows... he was put in that position because he was the spokesman of the band. He was the only one prepared to do interviews. I wasn't, being too reticent. And Jon would do interviews because he is an exceptionally nice guy."

Ritchie was now speaking out with the determination and sincerity of the man who has been bottled up and fenced in for many years. Did he think his past reticence affected him as a performer?

"No, because on stage I wanted to prove I could outdo everybody. It must have shown because I used to jump around, smash my guitar up, which I did tonight. But I did it for fun tonight. In Purple I smashed up my guitar because I wanted to prove I could get that audience. Jon was the spokesman, but there was that rift between us, whether we admitted it or not. I didn't mix with him socially because he found me moody - which I am, very moody - and he was very open."

When Ritchie set about forming Rainbow he must have felt a sense of relief that he was away from all that pressure?

"I did. I also wanted a rest. I was shattered and just wanted a normal band. I didn't care whether it was big or not. I'd like it to be big, but I wanted to play it down and just relax. There was hypertension all the time - Japan, America, England - we had no time to do anything. And it was so stereotyped. Although I created it, I got caught in my own trap. Oh God. I just had to stop playing."

Ritchie seemed almost fit to collapse at the memory.

"I told the lads that either I had a year off completely or I would leave the group. Then I thought, no, I wanna leave anyway. They'd all become too complacent. Ian Paice... fantastic drummer but certain numbers we used to play, I'd say: 'Ian, can you play just a straight beat to this one?' 'Oh no, I'm not playing that,' because his thing was impressing other drummers. Yet he is still my best friend from Purple. We know each other so well. I saw him tonight and it was like old times. He's great. He knows what I feel, whereas Jon was not quite sure. Anyway ... that's Deep Purple. I said, I'm leaving, lads, get some other members, you can carry on."
How did Ritchie reconcile what he wanted to play with what the audience wanted to hear? There were many hints of classical and jazz overtones in some of the quieter passages earlier in Rainbow's set, and yet the audience only really reacts to the most blatant of bashing.

"That is a problem. You have to compromise. As Pete Townshend once said, you have to progress and take the audience with you. I like to show off and jump around, but there are some nights when there is a lot of music being thrown around."

How did he feel about the hero worship he has received on this British tour, with the kids shouting "Ritchie is God!"?

"Well... I don't believe in all that personally. It's rubbish. I'm a very insecure person and don't think I'm ready to be called a musician yet, although I've been playing for 20 years. But then I hear other guitarists and think: 'Well I can do better than that.'

"But I still don't think I'm all that good. Hero worship? That's nothing. It will last two weeks, and then it'll be somebody else. I'd like to get into medieval music and playing baroque music. But I'm still not ready for it because it's an entirely different way of playing. Rock and roll is feedback and classical is a different approach entirely. But that's what I listen to classical music."

What kind of audience did Ritchie feel Rainbow were attracting?

"I really don't know. It ranges from 13 to 30. I'm just pleased with the band and glad we've got some good rock and roll players around."

Rainbow was the first British band to have made it for a long time, right?

"Funnily enough, I don't feel the band has made it, it's just doing what we're supposed to do and it could be a helluva lot better. Tony gets into some ridiculous things. But then I shall never be happy, no matter what I do. It's always gotta be that much better, including myself. I listen to myself and think, well, that's trash. I never listen to our LPs at home."

What was it he didn't like about his own albums?

"It's all so predictable. The trouble with me is I get in a studio and have to write something because nobody else has. And when I hear the song, in the studio it sounds pretty good because it's so loud. But by the time it hits a record I'm sick to death of it. So is Cozy. We never play our own records! He'll often say to me: 'Have you heard the record lately?' But I'll play my medieval music and he plays his Chick Corea."

There is tremendous violence in Rainbow's music. Did he personally feel that kind of violence whilst playing?

"That's frustration and there will always be frustration because if I feel happy and complacent I'll go into playing laidback music, which I can play but don't like to. For some reason there is this aggressiveness in me which I must get out. Plus the audience expect it. But I'm not bored with music today, I just get bored with what I play. I can outgun most guitarists today with what I play, but so what? I just listen to classical music. That's the world to be in. And yet the strange thing is all those classical violinists and cellists are dying to be in THIS world of rock and roll. It's amazing at sessions to see how uninterested they are in what they're playing. It's a pity really. I don't suppose anybody is really happy. Any good musician is never happy because when you're playing to an audience you have to compromise and lower yourself that much, you're not really happy.

"We've all got this problem with the tax situation as well. We don't want to live in America because we love England. A group is a group, you have your friends and houses here. But you find yourself in LA and Cozy can't stand LA. So he comes to rehearsals with this attitude of, right, let's get it over with. And I can't write unless I'm relaxed and trying out different rhythms. This is a problem we have at the moment. We must have a product that is tax free, but it won't be that good because it's made away from home in another country. But if you make an album in the country you live in and are most relaxed in, you'll make a better product, but will be taxed so much that there is no point in making it. And we've got a big problem with that. I don't know what's going to happen about that, but I'll stay around here for another couple of months because I want to relax here at Christmas and write a few things. Cozy and I would love to stay here."

The band has done amazingly well in a short space of time.

"Yeah, but I always look ahead. There may be changes. I think Cozy would love to live in Luxembourg, near the racing track. It's very hard to keep everybody together. That's why Jeff Beck broke up Beck, Bogert and Appice. I went down to A.C./D.C. I thought it was a new low in rock and roll. They are giving rock and roll a bad name. And it's all been done before - and so much better. You need some sanity today because the problem with the rock and roll business is you can get too carried away. You need a wife and the cats, and get away from all this! Otherwise you can age 50 years if you're not careful."

Ritchie got up and strode across the foyer of the Holiday Inn in search of a late night party. It looked like he was going to postpone sanity for at least another night.

© Chris Welch, Melody Maker, September 18, 1976
photos: © Barry Plummer