Musician, Not Politician
There is one room in Ritchie Blackmore's house which is precisely fashioned to the style of a German bar and this is where the interview was conducted. Over glasses of potent German lager he reflected back to the years when he first aspired to take up guitar. Away from the amplifiers and audiences that surround Deep Purple, Richie Blackmore's known to be the quiet one of the band, and is normally reluctant to do interviews - "I don't really think my opinions are any more important than anyone else's, as Rory Gallagher said "I'm a musician, not a politician"'. In this exclusive interview Pete Makowski traces Blackmore's progression from his days with Lord Sutch to one of the world's leading rock bands.
"When I was going to school everyone was into motorbikes and I saw a guitar. A guitar to me sort of shone out and I thought 'what a fantastic instrument'. My friend had one and I would hold it in the mirror and strum it and I couldn't play anything but it just looked, right. I thought I must learn this instrument, I was eleven at the time.
"I went into classical music for two years tuition, which was good foundation, slightly old fashioned, when you're playing the blues you come unstuck because they don't teach you how to slur notes.
"In those days I was really hung up on jazz, traditional jazz, skiffle and I used to play in a pub in Twickenham around Christmas Eve. I used to play anything just to be in. There used to be a fantastic guitarist around called Roger Mingeh, who I haven't heard of since, he influenced me a lot.
"Big Jim Sullivan lived near me and I used to go round his place and say 'Jim show us something new please'. I couldn't believe some of the things he could do. That was all around between eleven and thirteen and to be quite honest between eleven and twelve I wasn't getting anywhere. I knew my tutor was looking at me and thinking 'well I'll take his money' because it took me six months to hit this chord. "Everytime I hit the F part it would go dunk and I'd look up at the tutor and he would say 'keep at it' but I'm sure he was thinking 'God when's this hour over'. And also he would say 'right here's your music for this week take it home and learn it' and I used to go out and mess around.
"But it seemed that it came very quickly after about the two years between the second and fourth year. I progressed a helluva lot. The Shadows were on the scene and Duane Eddy was God and Buddy Holly was great. Then I went off them on to Django Reinhardt and Les Paul who my dad kept telling me to listen to until it clicked and I realised how good he was. He was the first guy to double track and use echoes. Bloody hell, nobody's got to his plane yet and that was done in 1945.
"Django Reinhardt I couldn't grasp. I knew he was good but I couldn't copy any of it but Les Paul I could work out and play so it was more interesting. I often do it now, speed up the tapes and play along with it just for a laugh. He was doing slurring of notes and Jeff Beck would admit being hung up on him. No one seems to mention his name now, they just think he was a guitar instead of a guitarist. Les Paul was the guvnor."
When Ritchie went to work he found his mind was preoccupied with music: "I used to work at London Airport and I remember one time I went into a plane and into a cockpit of a Viking and all the passengers were seated. And I rolled in with what we called an I.L.S. meter which shows the glide path and it's only got two terminals to connect up. And I was so involved with music that I put the thing in upside down, I don't think that went down very well with pilot."
Gradually Ritchie's playing developed and he decided to look for a professional stint. And he couldn't have got into it deeper than to take his apprenticeship with Britain's outrageous Screaming Lord Sutch.
"I wanted to be my own boss and Lord Sutch was great in a way because before that I used to play in the wings. I was so shy. But he used to grab hold of me and drag me into the front and would say 'move' and I'd say 'yeh' and I'd be moving cause I thought he'd kill me or I wouldn't get paid 'cos everyone was leaping about.
"The thing about showmanship is you have to have a different attitude live. You either go out conscious of people or you go out and think 'I'll show them' and do whatever you like. Sutch got me moving, lighting fires on stage and blowing things up and running round on stage in a loin cloth and I was as skinny as a rake at the time.
"I was so embarassed 'cos all the other guys were big and strong like Tarzan and there was me in a loin cloth with bones sticking out and I used to hold the guitar so nobody could see my bones.
"In one part of the act you had to run through the audience screaming with clubs in your hand and there'd be these teddy boys waiting for us and the last one through would get knocked on the head and we'd get on the stage and think 'where's the pianist?' and the guy would be laid out in the middle of the audience.
"It was a kick up the arse for me playing with him because up till then I was playing Shadows' music and the band were strictly blues and rock and the first thing the drummer said to me was 'You'll have to get rid of that echo chamber'.
"There was one group around at the time that really stayed me and that was Nero and the Gladiators, on stage they were incredible. The guitarist was Tony Harvey and he was my idol, it was the way he moved with the guitar and played, I used to see them down Southall Community Centre. I was so obsessed by them that I tried to get in with them when Tony Harvey left. Tony Harvey's playing really pushed me on and that's why I joined with Sutch, similar type of band.".
After his time with Sutch, Ritchie went on to join Mike Berry and the Outlaws and also started working on sessions as were many other guitarists at that time who are now colossal names.
"I did sessions with people like Heinz and Jimmy Page was doing sessions at the same time and producing Jeff Beck. I didn't know Jeff at the time but he knocked me out when I first met him, he had a weird way playing, it hit you straight away, a very naturally talented musician. He's not the only guy I like today, the guys in Wishbone Ash are very underrated. There are a lot of good guitarists around today.
"Eight years ago I used to say I wanna be the best but I don't think that now because there's so much competition, there's too many guitarists that are probably better than I am. I wanna play the music I can play the best. I can't stand bands who want to blow other bands off.
"I'm not into that any more because once you reach a certain stage, you just want to your music and make people groove. The reason many groups don't impress me is because they're all up to the same tricks that we were up to. Pulling off little strokes that can get themselves publicised, you can't blame them really because any band who go on natural just don't make it.
"The only band I know that go on without thinking they're superstars were Free. To me they were a great band, they are far ahead of any other band I know. I think they're the only English band that people should feel they're lucky to have."
Back to the session: "I got the feeling I was into making money because I was desperate for bread and starving. It was sessions for singers that were not so well known. It was funny 'cos I'd put the radio on and suddenly realise it's session I'd done and then I realised that every session sounded the same."
Around that time Ritchie became depressed with the whole scene and decided to take refuge in Hamburg: "I gave up because of the Hollies, no disrespect to them, I like them as people. They came along and the Beatles made it big and I had no respect for them at the time. I thought they were hyping it. McCartney to me now is a genius. I've often said he doesn't play music he manipulates it to whatever he wants and there are only a few people who can do that... Stevie Winwood.
"I get the impression that McCartney says 'right I want music to do this' and it'll do it. When I get pissed off I put on Traffic, Beatles or Hendrix tracks and it gives me more hope that maybe one day I can do something as good as one of their tracks. My ambition in music is to write some soft melodies, I'm a bit of a smoother on the side, I love playing soft romantic melodies.
"I think the best thing to come out in the last few years is 'Space Oddity', very classy. I love pop but not as it's being played now, that's why we've cooled it in England. We don't really want to get caught up with some of the bands going around now. There's nobody I can put down like Gary Glitter, I knew him when he was Paul Raven and he had hard times, he fucking sweated it off and now he's making people happy and having a good time. And there's a little thing I'd like to clear up. I think Sweet think that I think they're shitty and I don't, I like them, they're good musicians.
"I tend to get involved talking about bands because when you've been in the business for so long you analyse which is a bad thing. You should take them for what they are."
When Blackmore went to Hamburg the roots were set for the formation of Deep Purple when ex-Searcher Chris Curtis got in contact with Blackmore:
"He sent me some telegrams saying 'Come over to England I've got a band together'. He had Jon Lord who I didn't know. Chris said come over and we'll jam and see. I liked what Jon was playing and he liked what I was playing and it started from there. And then all these guys started disappearing and Chris was saying 'we don't need a bass player' and I said 'What do you mean?' and he said he was going. I said what about the drummer and he said 'we don't need him either'.
"Then Chris started going weird and I thought what's happening here? And in the end I found out that Jon had gone to Germany. Chris was a bit of an extrovert and upset a lot of people and apparently Jon had given up and gone to Munich. But I still wanted to get together with him so when he came back we jammed.
"We eventually blew Chris out and started to do our own thing and we got in touch with our present management John Collette and Tony Edwards who had a lot of money and said they'd back us. I got Ian Paice who I'd met at the Star Club in Germany and completely knocked me out. He was only fifteen then.
"We got a singer, Rod (Richards, who is now in west coast band called Captain Beyond). He was a good singer but a ballad singer. He left because he wanted to go to America, we still keep in touch.
"Nicky Simper the bass player was a completely different story, he wasn't too happy with the situation. That's another story which will probably come out in the papers soon."
The band released "Shades Of Deep Purple" on EMI which was a very mixed bag indeed and didn't really give them any identity:
"We were feeling around so happy to be playing together and happy to be on a wage, it meant the world to us. We thought it would only last six months and the guy who backed us would get fed up and say 'that's it' and we'd be back in Germany. But it so happened that 'Hush' caught on and went into the charts and we went off to America and that was the beginning.
"We'd a hard time proving to the Americans that we weren't a teeny bop band because that single was slightly in a teeny vein. And every night people came saying 'oh I thought you were a teeny bop band' and in the end it got to the point of 'oh fuck leave it out'.
"Then we dropped America for two years, that's when 'Black Night' came out. My ambition was to make it in Germany because I was so down and out in Germany. I thought I'll show them one day 'cos they used to say 'Here comes that bum, and now when I go back it's a different story."
The band brought out two more albums with that line-up: "Book of Taliesyn" and "Deep Purple" which were both quite heavily arranged recordings.
"It was becoming an orchestrated band. 'In Rock' was to me was the first LP".
"In Rock" was also the dawning of the new Purple that would markthem on the rock 'n' roll map and keep them there:
"I knew a guy who played for a band called Quartermass. I phoned him up and asked him if he knew any singers and he said 'Yeh I thought he was joking, that would put you out of a job and he said that he was such a good singer he deserved a break and I saw Ian and was knocked out. And Ian Paice was knocked out with Roger Glover and we took him as well.
"They were very nice guys both of them. We'll probably get back together again as friends. Roger was an optimist while I was a pessimist and I'd say 'the gig tonight's gonna be shit' and he'd say it would be good, I never really mixed with him much.
"I got on with Ian, he had a great sense of humour. He could take the piss out of people to the extent of not putting them down. We played in the Wake Arms, Epping and we threw him on the stage with no clothes on. It was packed and he just stood there stark naked. It wasn't the best way to start a show."
The band's 'first album', "In Rock" must stand out as one of the best rock albums made but sadly "Fireball" didn't live up to the same expectations.
"Fireball" we had no time to make whatsoever and although we've got very good management, I blame them for that because they expected us to tour the whole world and make an album at the same time. I was very angry at the time because I thought how do they expect us to make an album. We went in to the studio knocking out secondary riffs and padding all the way through all the time and the whole LP to me was a failure except a few things."
The next album was "Machine Head" which after a number of setbacks, was recorded in Montreux on the Stones' mobile unit. This proved to be a lift, and the material was so good that soon after a double album of the band live was released and sold extremely well. Which is not bad considering most of the material was on "Machine Head".
"I had hepatitis, Ian had hepatitis and it gave us time to think about songs, and we all got together in the writing and 'Machine Head' was a step up while 'Who Do We Think We Are' was a step down because we started losing respect for each other.
"Ian Gillan and I had fallen out although we had not made it obvious. But he was more into business while I was into blues, and thought the hand was getting too poppy." This split was the most damaging to the band as Ian was a focal point and the band's fans waited with bated breath for the outcome:
"I wanted to get my own band together, with Phil Lynott and Ian Paice because we've always stuck together. We thought we'll get this together and start again more or less.
"And then there was talk of the money we could make if we stayed together in America blah, blab, blah and so on. Which I wasn't interested in at the time because I had made enough money to keep me happy. I just wanted to make honest music.
"I didn't want to stay together just 'cos we were a name which a lot of people wanted us to do. They said stick together and you can hate each other, keep selling and making bread, who cares whether people respect you or not?
"This respect thing bothers me; if someone thinks I'm a bastard I don't like that. I just can't think of the money and go 'well I'm not silly. I'm enjoying myself'. I've got to have that respect to enjoy myself. Obviously money comes into it because I've starved long enough.
"I asked Jon what he was doing. He was going to go with Tony Ashton and I said I'm of to make a rock band like Deep Purple and Paice is coming with me.
"Ian (Paice) said it would be silly to abandon our years' efforts. I thought it would be an adventure, but finally agreed that it would be silly starting from scratch. But I told Ian I would only stay if we had fresh blood in the band."
Coincidental there was an advert for Rose-Morris sticks
by Cozy Powell on the same page as this interview!!
© Pete Makowski, Sounds, February 16, 1974