Appetite For Destruction
No blurb, no preamble, no waffle... just the most revealing interview with legendary DEEP PURPLE guitarist RITCHIE BLACKMORE you're ever likely to read. In-depth conversation by TOOTS DALEY
I've never made any big secret of my passion for and fascination with the music of Deep Purple (a closet HM fan is one thing I am definitely not), especially my fan-like admiration for the virtuosity of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. I realise the DP circus has long left town, but in view of all the negative media attention they received, I felt that a positive article allowing one of the group to state his views would still be relevant, and I must say that Mr Blackmore certainly dispelled the ongoing myth of his bad boy image by affording me no end of cooperation (the guy even lent me his tape recorder!).
Ritchie Blackmore and vicious rumours seem to go hand in hand; and, of course, being a 24-carat media brat I soak them up and believe them all the difficult bastard who hires and fires and drinks the blood of virgins, etc. Just the casual mention of his name seems to induce either nervous twitching, undiluted venom or outright sarcasm. Sure, Mr B isn't exactly his own best PR, going to great lengths to distance himself from media and record company types alike, yet is must be said that during this tour he was the only member of the group to consistently entertain fans in his dressing room... and on the football field!
You may not be aware of this, but the man in black has a raging passion for football and at any opportunity will organise a match in every city the band plays in. As one might expect, the majority of the DP entourage is usually too busy recovering from the night before to make any worthwhile contribution so the teams tend to be a combination of awestruck fans and unwilling (and unhealthy!) media types.
The fans' participation is always rewarded with a backstage pass and you're more likely to find some denim-clad youth who's hitch-hiked his way to the show supping on the group's backstage goodies than the usual host of celebs and liggers. It would be hard to deny that Ritchie is often unpredictable - to say the least - but he's no bigger bastard than the average legendary muso.
In fact, as photographer Ross Halfin will admit, Blackmore was the only member of the Purple entourage not to give us any grief. At one point, our beloved Halfwit was instructed riot to point his sacred lens at any other member of the band while they were onstage. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that going on the road with Ritchie was a sheer delight, and the fact that 99.9 per cent of the press hate his guts has done nothing to affect the adulation of the fans (in fact, one of the Birmingham audience accompanies me on the interview).
Rather than waste too much space, with selfindulgent, sycophantic waffle about the general wonderfulness of Purple, I thought it would be a smarter idea to dedicate all the pages available to The Interview, which I think speaks for itself. However, before finally signing off I would like to stress that prior to going on the road with the band and witnessing a stunning performance in Birmingham I was as apprehensive as most people about this reunion business after the shoddy debacle at Knebworth. I'll even admit that this year's shows at Wembley Arena stunk worse than a bag of my flatmate's socks (and he's a roadie), but if you could have seen that aforementioned gig in Brum where the five finished off with an impromptu version of 'Speed King' and Blackmore swapped instruments with bassist Roger Glover in the middle of 'Smoke On The Water', you'd realise why Purple were and always will be one of the greatest heavy rock bands ever to shake the portals of this planet.
There was also a night to remember for the chosen few when Blackmore made an unscheduled appearance with the Jackie Lynton Band at some anonymous pub. There we saw the genius of the man who, along with Clapton, Page, Beck and Hendrix, can convey his brand of magic with or without the aid of 1000 watt amps and all the other pyrotechnics the space age has brought us. Here we saw Blackmore playing Black Blues with the sort of compassion and fire that can only come from someone who has spent the best part of a quarter of a century playing the role of musician.
In fact, all of Purple are playing better than ever, including Ian Gillan, whose voice has become a lethal instrument since the recent removal of his tonsils. And I've been told on pretty good authority that the next DP vinyl release will be a live album, an exciting prospect indeed.
And now... The Ritchie Blackmore Interview.
Do certain things trigger you off when you're performing?
"Definitely. When I'm on stage I play the first two numbers blind. I'm out there with just my momentum driving me on, and then halfway through the second number I start to look up at the front row, and then maybe the third number I start to look around. If anything is going to go wrong it's around about the third number that I start to notice it.
"It's exactly like you said, something triggers me off. I'm in a great mood, I'm trying hard, I'm all psyched up, then suddenly something will happen...."
But it doesn't seem to be obvious things ...
"No, it's never obvious things. I'll just see one little thing. I'll maybe see someone backstage who I don't like, or it could be someone in the band playing something that I don't like. Or if I hear myself playing badly that will put me off too. Or maybe incompetence with the lights and the sound, that could throw me, after which I'll sulk for the rest of the show. That's my worst problem, sulking because of incompetence."
Do you ever forget what makes you react like that?
"Well I know what it is when it happens, but very often by the time I get offstage after a two hour set I've forgotten what the hell it was that upset me and then I think it must be me. But then I think back and remember what it was.
"Like the other night, what upset me was that in the middle of 'Child In Time' I looked up at Jon (Lord) and he wasn't even playing during my solo - he had his arms folded! He was watching me and I thought, 'Why isn't he playing?!' That puts me off. Or as I said before, a lighting cue can mess up and then Ian will say something that annoys me, and after about four little things you've suddenly got this big cloud of doom above your head because everything's not perfect.
"Then you start sliding, you start tripping over yourself; it's like, I can do better than this, and you're trying so hard to please that you end up like a little schoolkid, running offstage, stamping your feet and going, 'NO! I'm not going to play! It's not right so I'm not going to play at all! I should say, 'OK, so it's not perfect, we'll overlook that - the audience probably didn't even notice, just get on with the show', but I simply can't seem to do that. I start sulking and dwelling on stupid little negative things."
The way you talk about it, it's as if there's something that annoys you about yourself. Is this something you've looked into before?
"I really wish I could overlook this shit. I wish I could just say, 'Hey, everybody makes mistakes' but I get so emotional about the act, so emotional onstage..."
But can't that be an advantage as well?
"Yes, it's an advantage in that you can reach peaks of greatness, but you can also reach depths of doom and that's why there are times when I refuse to do encores. It's not because I'm lazy or not into it, or because I want to go home, something as trivial as that. It's usually when something hasn't come off quite right and I feel embarrassed or annoyed, bitter - it's a collection of a lot of negative thoughts. So I sulk and stomp off. I just can't go out there and play like a robot."
Have you ever done that?
"Yeah sure, I've gone out there a few times, gone out there and played like a robot, played an encore and thought 'To hell with it, I'm going to be like the rest, I don't care, why should I take all the responsibility and care so much.' You can't care that much. You've got to limit yourself. You can't go through life caring too much or you'll end up in a hospital with ulcers."
That leads me to the next question: do you ever think about letting your audience down just because something beyond their control has upset you? Or have you gone beyond that stage; do you just play for your own satisfaction these days?
"Yeah, I do play for myself but with the audience very heavily in mind. I have a great deal of respect for the audience; in fact, I have a total dedication to the audience and myself, but come first. The audience is close behind. If I get disgusted with something I play, I start to lose faith in myself and then, naturally, the audience suffers."
How much of yourself do you give?
"I like to try and give 100 per cent, but at the same tíme if I feel rejected in the slightest I turn around and go, 'F**k them!' I'm not at all professional when it comes to keeping-your-chin-up-let's-try-and-see-it-through attitude... I can't do that. I've, never, ever done it in my life, successfully. Consequently I've walked off at Wembley nearly every time I've played there. I think my ultimate ambition is to play an encore at Wembley (laughs)."
This isn't the first time that you've admitted to finding it difficult to maintain a professional attitude; if that really is the case, how did you, in the case of Rainbow, manage to lead and front a band for so long?
"I don't know. I do have a very strict routine; I eat well, I try to sleep well. I know I drink too much... I'll have to think about that. I can always associate with Hendrix - not that I'm in the same league, but I can feel for him. When he played the Royal Albert Hall he did a terrible show. I could tell he had a lot on his mind and he got too sensitive about the gig. And if you listen to bootlegs of it, he starts f**king up and there's no applause, there's this ominous silence 'Jimi's not making it' and of course he can feel this.
"Anyway, according to Chris Welch (famous British journalist and Kerrang! Features/Reviews - Editor), after the gig he went off to a little night club called the Speakeasy and did an incredible show; he'd had a few drinks and was more relaxed.
"But as soon as you're put onto that pedestal you can easily topple. It's a very shaky area. To take up the guitar in the first place you're usually quite sensitive and unfortunately that can backfire on you. I can't block people out, you see, I pick up on people's emotions..."
Does it ever annoy you when people say, 'Oh, Ritchie Blackmore he's that mood bastard'?
"No, that doesn't worry me at all; it would worry me if people didn't say anything. It would worry me if they said, 'Oh, he's just doing the usual, who cares?', that would worry me. When they go, 'Moody Bastard!' at least that means they're thinking about it."
Are you your own No.1 critic?
"To a certain degree, though I do listen to people who have nothing to do with the music business, people who have a totally objective point of view, as in a girlfriend or whatever. I'll ask them what their favorite tracks is or how they felt about the act. Usually, they'll say something like, 'But don't know anything about music' not realising that's exactly the type of person I want to talk to, because people like us know too much about music.
"I don't want to hear a musician's point of view because he's not going to buy the f**kin' record anyway. I mean, I'd buy medieval music or some off-the-wall stuff, I'm not going to go out and buy some commercial band and nor are they. So they're the last people I give a shit about - musicians, f* *kin' scourge of the earth!"
Do you think so? In what respect?
"I think we'd all be better off without musicians. I think it should be party time, man, good vibes, and we should all just take drugs (laughs)."
Do you have any ambitions outside of Deep Purple?
"My ultimate fantasy consists of two things and they might sound simple to most people. I want to organise a Renaissance Fair in America or England. I'd like to cordon off an area of about three miles and have a fence all the way around it and have a marquee set up, as in the 16th century. There would be fortune telling tents, tarot card readings, palmistry tents, archery contests. There would be a king and a queen and they would be crowned. There would be an open spit with a pig being roasted and a little stage with a ballet going on. There would be pick pickets, there would be paid actors infiltrating all the people and nobody would be allowed to enter without being dressed up.
"They would buy their ticket and it would be off with the suit and on with the big heavy thigh boots; they'd have to wear a musketeers hat, a waistcoat, whatever would blend in. I'd have wandering minstrels, of course, and people, on horseback would be able to enter free. I'd serve Mead (an old English drink made from honey and beer) and that is what I fantasize about. I'm thinking of doing it in Vermont; it would probably cost quite a bit, but I don't mind losing money because I'd have a great time even if I was the only one there!"
What about the Wandering Minstrels you, talked about?
"Yes, my other fantasy is to form a band a medieval band playing Renaissance music, 16th Century 1550's Tilman Susato stuff. He wrote music for instruments like crumhorns, rackets, regals and recorders, flute and guitar. I'd like to have maybe an eight-piece doing pageantry music. I get off on all that stuff. There's something that really gripes me when I hear it. It gives me the shivers. And we'd play at weddings or other off-the-wall places.
"I'd love to do that and alternate it with what I'm doing now. And I'd go under a different name and the people we'd play to wouldn't be rock'n'roller and I would just be another guitarist playing with recorders and a11 those types of instruments. I think I have a good 16th century repertoire; all I've got to do is find the other players!"
What attracts you to that type of music?
"I don't know, it's something that has always moved me. It's something that hits me in the soul."
But it seems to be totally opposed to what you're about - I mean you're an electric guitarist!
"Funnily enough, there's a similarity between heavy, heavy rock and medieval pageantry music. They're connected. If you listen there's a correlation there, a theme. Anyway, I can see it, it's very majestic. I play majestic, resonant rock and I feel pageantry music has the same overall sound - it's amazing how close it is to rock."
Musically, do you feel you've achieved all there is to achieve on electric guitar?
"No, not at all. I haven't even touched on it. In fact, I think a lot of my anger is frustration. I'm frustrated about being angry and angry about being frustrated. I'm frustrated about not knowing what I'm angry about."
I understand (I think). But is that to do with the guitar, the music business or what?
"I think it's the guitar, because I keep myself away from the business side of things. I avoid things like record company dinners, I don't go to press receptions and the only press people I know are personal friends. I really don't want to get involved, that's for show biz people and I can't relate to them. I think of people like Judy Garland, people like that."
When you got into rock'n'roll wasn't it a reaction to thee falseness of showbiz?
"Yes, I guess it was rebelling against society. At school I was very quiet. Everyday people would come up to me and say, 'Why don't you smile more often?' or `You look incredibly, white, are you OK?' And that kind of wore thin after a while. I think at the age of 15 I was excited about rock'n'roll for the above reasons, but now I'm excited for different reasons. I guess I've developed a more sophisticated approach.
"Obviously, the older you get, the more you draw away from the pummelling-your-head-against-the-wall type of approach. Purple never employed the AC/DC style, straight 4/4, everyone banging their heads..."
I don't really think that would sound natural for you guys...
"No, we always like to add in that bit of weirdness. We always have to educate the audience just a little bit. There's something in all of us in the band where we feel we have to take chances. We purposely play things that are either too slow or too fast to see how the audience will react.
"'Dead Or Alive', for example (a track on current 'The House of Blue Light' album), is much too fast for the audience to relate to; Beethoven is in 6/8 and they can't tap their foot to that, that's a little bit strange. I know whenever I play any guitar extemporization, I use a very syncopated beat so that as soon as I hear people clapping to it I deliberately offset that clapping by making it sound out of time. Anybody in the world can go onstage and say, 'Do you wanna rock'n'roll? Do you feel alright? Yeah, put your hands together etc, etc...'"
Ian (Man) must be the ultimate antidote to the clichéd frontman ..
"Yeah, Ian's above all that, he doesn't have to do that. Every other band does, except for people like Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), which is why I can always watch him. He'll never ask the audience if they want to get down and boogie. He has far too much to offer to have to resort to all the old clichés."
Do you think there's any age limit in rock'n'roll?
"I think there is an age limit in the showbiz type of rock that we're involved in but if you're into Blues, more like Eric Clapton or BB King, then you can go on forever. But with this showbiz rock you're basically playing to an audience who are in the 16-22 age group and that's hard to do.
"When you get to 41 you start relying more and more on music, though it's clear that the majority of people don't want to hear jazz otherwise players like Charlie Mingus would be No. 1 in the hit parade. So you're treading on thin ice there. The question is, how far can you go in the showbiz rock'n'roll world of the music industry - industry being the key word - before getting into the blues type of approach or in my case the medieval type of approach?"
Have you come to any conclusions about your future?
"With Purple I can't see it going on much longer. Maybe only another 25 years (laugh )! After that I think my number's up - I'm going to have to move on. As I've already mentioned, I see myself being in this little Renaissance group. That's my dream."
At one time I recall you were quite keen on doing a solo project...
"Yeah, but the solo thing is all so boring, isn't it? Whenever I hear someone saying they're doing a solo album, well, that just mean they've fallen out with their band and their egos have got the better of them and off they go to do their solo record, man!"
How much do you think the people in Purple have changed?
"I don't think they've changed at all, I think they're exactly the same - including me. In a positive sense, each one of us has become more aware of the other ones' failings and a bit more tolerant as a result. Not a lot more, but enough to understand that you don't say something negative the moment you get offstage. It's very important when you're playing in a band with five people that when you have something to say that's not very nice you don't say it within the first half hour after the show. You're so removed from reality at that point that you can't say anything and keep your feet on the ground.
"I've recently realise that rock`n'roll is very heavily involved with drinking. Last night was onstage thinking, 'Christ, I've had a lot to drink', and in a way, through that I can narrow down my field of vision to the point where I'm not aware of anything else. It's so important in rock'n'roll to be totally 100 percent into playing - in my case, the guitar. I have to close my eyes and get into the guitar, I can't be sober or straight because then I'd be aware of too many things around me.
"When I'm getting drunk I'm actually more in control, I have things more in a narrow field of vision - I get them down to a fine channel of thought, and I can't get that channel of thought unless I'm half nagged out of my head. If my train of thought goes I just don't have any continuity on the guitar. So to get that phrasing and that continuity, a fluid way of playing, I have to be totally into the guitar which is not hard to do if you have a scotch'n'coke around!"
When Purple started was there a certain naivety about the band? Like you didn't think about the mechanics? Is that 'innocence' something you miss?
To quote a phrase, I think I'm thrown by the magnitude of the question. I think it would depend upon the mood I'm in as to how I would answer that."
Do you look up this reunion as a big nostalgia trip?
"No, not a all, although I do like nostalgia. Most of my favourite records are old. Certain records tie in to when you were having a good time. But with Purple at the moment, the first thing that comes to mind, and it sounds so cliched, is that we've mellowed slightly. Again I would say that we're just more tolerant of each other.
"In the old days I would always fly off he handle at maybe Jon Lord doing organ recitals at the expense of the crowd - that would get me crazy. I would always be the one who was 100 per cent rock'n'roll while he would be 50 per cent classical. Now I'm 50 per cent classical and he's 50 per cent classical, so..."
When you guys first got back together again did you have any preconceptions about how you were going to deal with the obvious outside pressures?
"Well, when we got back together we agreed that we couldn't start being commercial, that we had to carry on with the same type of Purple music, even though it might just fall on deaf ears. You can't start thinking of incredibly glossy productions, calling in people like 'Mutt' Lange and doing a Def Leppard of something - we knew we had to stuck to our guns and go do with the ship if need be. Luckily, it's paid off."
About the recent British tour, I heard varying reports that you'd planned to do a series of 'secret' gigs at a selection of small clubs; what happened?
"That's very true. That was a11 so ridiculous because we had all agreed to do some small clubs. My immediate thought was, 'Yeah, great, but we're not doing places like the Marquee - the 'in' small places which every band does'. I was more into the idea of doing small venues up North, which is our biggest market, our biggest fans are up North, let them see us in the small clubs, why should London see it all? We were thinking of places that would hold a maximum of 500 people, places like the Wake Arms, Epping - small'n'sweaty, about five dates altogether. Everything was OK, we all seemed agreed and then Ian (Gillan) announced that he couldn't make any of these dates because he had to be out of the country due to tax reasons."
Were you disappointed that you just did the Edinburgh Playhouse rather than anything else?
"Yes, I was very disappointed with Edinburgh because I was more keen to do places like Newcastle or even Glasgow, but then everybody said, 'What about Edinburgh?' And it was a 3,000-seater; it became like any of the other gigs. So instead of being a real small grotty club were everybody's sweating an we're using a small PA, it was the same set-up as Wembley."
Yeah, I thought that was a bit ludicrous myself.
"I thought it was awful ... I thoroughly disenjoyed myself." You don't seem particularly involved with the political side of the biz, you seem to trust the people around you in that respect...
"Yes, a lot of it is managerial decisions; I'm just too bogged down with arrangements and getting the music on the road. I can't control everything and I think the rest of the band feels the same. Roger's to bogged down with production, I'm too involved with the arrangements and writing of songs, Gillan's busy with the lyrics, Ian Paice is very involved in being involved and so on..."
Do you think that it's essential for a musical combination of people who play together to be the best of friends?
"No, not at all. I think they just have to respect each other. Onstage, we all love each other. Maybe two hours before or after being on we might dislike each other, but onstage - that's what counts."
Have you heard Meat Loaf's song 'Rock'n'Roll Mercenaries'? He's been quoted as saying it was written about Deep Purple and how he feels you guys are cynical and money orientated...
"I haven't heard the song and I don't know what his problem is. He seems to have started all this fuss in Germany when he played with us at some festival. He ran 20 minutes overtime and I think our roadcrew said, 'Look, this has to be the last number'. Anyway, he kept playing, though we weren't aware of this at the time. The head of our crew said, 'If you don't stop now we'll pull the plug on you because we have to get on with the show, you're not the only one on tonight'. He didn't like that at all and that's when he started attacking us. I read something where he said, 'Deep Purple go onstage, play their set and then go home'. I thought, 'That's interesting, what do other bands do? Play their set, come off and then start performing miracles, faith healing or something?' I couldn't understand what the hell he was going on about. Yes it's true, we play and then we go home!"
Basically, Purple are the last bastion of the mega HM bands and therefore very easy to criticise - 'dinosaurs'; etc...
"Whenever we get criticised they always seem to mention our age. They always mention that I'm 41, that Jon's 45, etc. But, if they talk about people like Phil Collins or Paul McCartney they don't mention a word about their age. They seem to be more obsessed with our age than we are. I can't understand what they're getting at - what the point is. It's so predictable and it's been said so many times before that you'd think they'd get on to something new."
Does it bother you?
"No, I know I look younger than I am and it doesn't seem to bother the crowd. I just wonder why they always pick on me and there's so many other things they could pick on. That we're bad musicians, that we're dull, no it's always the same thing: 'They should be disgusted, it's disgraceful that at their age they should be playing rock'n'roll - they should be home in bed or raising children'. It's bloody ridiculous!"
(At this point a fan who had been sitting with us in a state of reverential silence joined in the discussion at the request of our resident maninblack.)
FAN: Can I ask you a question about Yngwie Malmsteen? As you know, as a guitarist he's very influenced by you ...
"I think that he's a brilliant player, he just needs to calm down and become a little bit more sophisticated. He tries to be a producer and songwriter, but he's essentially a guitar player.
"It gets on my nerves that he copies me so much. This man is very, very good, why would he want to copy me? I have no idea. He phoned up my soundman and said 'I want the same sound as Ritchie'. And my soundman said, 'Sorry, I won't do that'. Anyway, you shouldn't do that; you should go for your own sound."
TD (to Fan): Do you find Ritchie's performance onstage appealing or objectionable?
"I don't find it remotely objectionable, I find it appealing, but again it's a matter of personal taste..."
Do you find there's an indefinable tension on the stage?
"No, I just happen to think that Ritchie is a very exciting performer to watch."
TD (to Ritchie): What is it that happens to you when you come to London?
"I really don't know, I've tried to analyse it. After Wembley I overheard somebody say, 'Oh well, nothing's changed, Ritchie's walked off before the encore'..."
I remember in the old days all the top musos and media people would be sitting watching you from the front row...
"That was a strain. But going back to Wembley, I really thought I played well on the second night. I finished my solo and there was just this quiet response and I thought, 'Christ, if that's all they do after I've tried to reach the depths, play from the heart...'. It was as if they were saying, 'Well done old chap, next number. That's not good enough!' There's something about the London audience, I feel like slapping them around. Yet when Rainbow played at the Sobell Centre in Finsbury Park, it was great, the crowd went berserk. It was the best audience on the whole of the tour. It's got to be the venue (Wembley Arena); the regulars turn up, the high society is there, there's certain holes in the audience where they're not responding..."
A lot of people feel that because they've paid their money there has to be an encore...
"Yeah, the mandatory encore, I won't do it! I've got to feel that I want to do more. If I don't, that's my prerogative. If I feel good and the audience feels good then I'll go for it. But I'm not going to go out there because I've got to and because it's expected. There's probably certain celebrities in the audience who may not think too much of us if we don't go out again and think that we've failed in our mission - all that nonsense. Anyway, as I've already said, I play for myself at the end of the day..."
Does the band's attitude change in certain situations, like when you're playing in London?
"Definitely! It seems to create such a strain each time we play there. I've never seen Jon clam up like that - he was a mess, both nights. I have a lot of different ways of playing, but most of the time I'm uptight in London so I only play to maybe a quarter of my full potential. It's only that occasional night when you can really open up."
What sort of audience do you think comes to see Purple nowadays?
"It's weird, 'cos I've seen a lot of young kids, families, all sorts. I don't know who I'm playing to. There was one gig in Germany where I don't think there was one person under 30 and that was really strange. But it was good to see people of that age out and away from their children, etc"
Is there anything else you would like to say?
"I think at the end of the day I am my own worst enemy. I want to create yet I also want to destroy. 'Smoke On The Water' was written in five minutes; I can destroy it or not want to play it, that's up to me. People can try and take that right away from me and try and turn me into a zombie but at the end of the day I'll only play to people I really believe want to hear me, and as long as that's happening I'll keep playing..."
© Toots Daley, Kerrang #158 - October 17, 1987
Photography: © Ross Halfin