Ritchie Blackmore

Disc & Music Echo Interviews '70 - '72
Vintage Interviews from the Deep Purple days

Purple-Serious Ravers!

DEEP PURPLE are an exciting, musically talented, and the highest paid group among those who haven't had hit singles or albums. They have done successful tours of America and their thing with the classical orchestra at the Albert Hall last year is generally considered to be the most successful of its kind.

Really, they should be bigger than they are. And that is why their new album "Deep Purple In Rock" and the separate single "Black Night" are so important to them. The album is the first one that really features Ian Gillan and bass-player Roger Glover, although the two former members of Episode Six have been with Deep Purple since last July. It is also the nearest album to what they are like.

Says guitarist Ritchie Blackmore: "Ian is better than the other singer and Roger has more ideas than the bass player we had before. And this new album is a lot better than the previous ones.

"I've always been disappointed with our albums. The first one was a good attempt for a first. But people have always said 'It's not you.' We've always tried to be too flash on our records but basically we are an exciting band. When I play on stage I like to get people into a kind of party thing. People want to enjoy themselves. We're serious about the music but we do a lot of showmanship and people think, because of that, that it's suspect. They say 'what is he leaping around for?' - but I like to leap around.

"The thing is that when you're making a record there is no point in leaping around for the benefit of the engineer so the albums have lacked something. I don't think we'd want to do a 'live' one because they get messy, like 'The Who Live At Leeds.' That's not half as good as they usually are on record.

"Our new one is certainly the nearest to what we are like on stage. And it's the first to represent the band as it is now. It's much harder, raucous and exciting. That is what we are trying to get across, rather than musical ability. It's hard and simple. I hate the last three LPs.

"I think bands should be exciting live. There are so many groups going round with a hidden message - and they are so boring. I didn't really enjoy the thing we did with the orchestra. But I was happy for Jon (organist Lord). We don't write together now like we used to, but we're not growing apart musically. We both like each other's stuff. He's happy now he's done his concerto and happy just to play with the band."

But there is to be another Deep Purple-classical fusion. On September 17 they perform Lord's "Gemini Suite" with an orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold, who worked with them on the Albert Hall concerto. In the meantime they will be gigging round the country and on the Continent. A States tour is planned for later in the year.

They are a fine band and lucky to have two musicians like Blackmore and Lord in the same group. To say they are like the Who and the Nice rolled into one is an inaccurate understatement. But Ritchie Blackmore takes that as a compliment.

© Disc & Music Echo, June 1970

I'm getting a bit tired of the things we're doing with classical orchestras

RITCHIE BLACKMORE, outstanding guitarist with Deep Purple, started playing when he was 13 and had classical lessons for a year. First group, Mike Dean and the Jaywalkers (nothing to do with Peter Jay), then joined Lord Sutch, then the Outlaws, The Three Musketeers, did a lot of sessions and bummed around in Germany before Purple. Did have two Fender Stratocaster's before an airline lost one recently. Also has a Gibson. Uses two 200-watt Marshall amps boosted to 400 watts, plus a 100-watt a 50-watt and a Vox 30-watt in a Marshall cabinet. Married a German girl, Barbel, last year and has just moved into a new house at Harlington, Middlesex.

I started playing when I was 13 on a £9 electric guitar. I can't remember what make it was. Then I bought a Hofner Club 40 for £30. I had classical training for a year and that did me a lot of good because I learnt about using a finger for each fret instead of just three, and how to hold the plectrum properly.

I wanted to play classical music but I was just kidding myself really. I knew I'd never be able to play as well as I wanted to. But I think it was a good thing to start off learning the right way and then develop your own style from that.

The first professional group was Sutch. I was with him for a year and a half. The Outlaws was in 1962. After that I messed about doing sessions and was generally out of work. In 1964 I went to Germany and formed my own group, The Three Musketeers. When I came back I played in various bands, backed Neil Christian, mucked around at sessions, then went back to Germany in 1967. That's when I met my wife. That time I stayed 13 or 14 months and did hardly anything. I used to practise four or five hours a day. I used to hang around the Star Club and the Top Ten and sit in with bands I knew. It's quite interesting to sit in with different groups to see how they think.

Then, suddenly, I got about 300 telegrams from Chris Curtis saying he wanted me to join a group and I came back. That's when I met Jon Lord. There were a few other people in the band. I was just going to be a second guitarist.

But eventually there was just me and Jon left so we started Purple from that. I had already played with Ian Paice and he had really knocked me out and after about two months we managed to find him. Then we got a bass player and a singer. That was in 1967. I think I was really good then but now I've lost it all again.

I really need to sit down and practise a lot. The trouble is that most of the time I haven't got a guitar. They're always in the lorry travelling. I haven't got one at home. I love practising. I get very annoyed when I get on stage and find that I can't play. That happens quite a lot, like at Plumpton. I couldn't do anything that night. The guitar kept going out of tune and a freezing wind was ripping across the stage. That's why I set my amp on fire.

I suppose I have got a style because I find it hard to copy other people. When I was doing a lot of sessions people used to say "do a solo like so-and-so" and I never could. Perhaps I'm tone deaf.

Big Jim Sullivan was my first big influence. I used to go around with him and he taught me a lot. I like the way Jeff Beck plays, and I like Hendrix a lot. I don't copy Beck but, at the moment, I seem to be going on the same type of thing as Hendrix so I suppose I could be accused of copying him. If you hear something you like you are bound to play it. You think of it subconsciously. Hendrix isn't a brilliant guitarist but he's got a fantastic mind. I've never really gone for any of the other guitarists. I did a session with Beck once, which Jimmy Page produced, and he kept saying "what's that chord there" and I thought he was joking. He didn't know what he was playing, but he did some brilliant solos. On the other hand you get brilliant technical guitarists who can't improvise.

Where do I fit in? I don't know. I could be quite technical about some things and an idiot about others. I never got into reading music like I should. I could never sight read. I just used to practise scales and relative minors, diminished fifths and augmented ninths - and improvisation. I find it very hard to play melodies.

I think I got into improvisation because of early jazz influences; Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery. Then I liked Jimmy Bryant, a very fast country and Western player. I was really hung-up on speed about four years ago. Everything I did was very fast. But I stopped that. I don't even try to play fast now. I prefer to concentrate on finding good notes.

I'm getting a bit tired of the things we're doing with classical orchestras. Even Jon's getting fed-up with it now. We just want to be a rock band. When I think about it I haven't changed much since I was with the Outlaws and I don't think I ever will. I just love Rock-n-Roll, but not the little Richard kind - hard blues rock. In a way, I think I could play anything I wanted to but I only want to play rock.

Because of the limitations I find rock more of a challenge. Classical music is a challenge as well but I don't find it exciting. I play now how I like to see other people play. I'm not playing for musicians but for myself and the audience. I like to jump around and a lot of people in audiences don't care, or don't know, much about the music and want to see something. But it is good to know when I get on stage that more people than before are going to know whether I'm playing well or not.

© Disc & Music Echo, September 1970

Audiences now are much more aware of the music

RITCHIE BLACKMORE of DEEP PURPLE: "You can sum up the whole audience reaction thing today by saying that excitement does not come from pretty faces any more; it comes from the music from your instruments.

"The problem with the Stones now is that they don't generate excitement from their instruments. Mick Taylor is a good guitarist but Mick Jagger is their only showman - and really the Stones haven't a good musical thing going.

"Audiences now are much more aware of the music - and maybe that's why groups like the Hollies have gone on. The musical excitement started with the Cream and Jimi Hendrix, and, to a lesser extent, the Who, who are not brilliant musicians but do give excitement. I like to think Deep Purple are an exciting band musically, but what gets the audience reaction is the showmanship that goes with it. There are hundreds of good guitarists in Britain but most of them are so boring to watch!

"I'm an introvert offstage so I love to jump about onstage. I suppose it's 50 per cent enjoying leaping about myself, and 50 per cent watching the audience leaping about! I'd far rather get the reaction 'What a great show' than play musically for the heads. I've been through all that five years ago. But there are strange anomalies. Some nights I come off stage having played really well and there's been little reaction from the audience - and at other times I've played really badly and the reaction's been great. And I don't really know which is better.

"People will shout at me and say 'it's the music that counts, man,' but if you ask me what was the best date I've played recently I'd say the Aachen Festival in Germany, when my amplifier caught fire and the whole stage went up in smoke. But maybe if you ask me that question again in five years time I'll pick out a date that was really good musically. So I suppose you'll have to say that Deep Purple do encourage active audience reaction - but we try not to let the music suffer as a result."

© Disc & Music Echo, October 1970

We're into canary droppings

I think in another year or so we'll say that's it, no more gigs." Ritchie Blackmore, of Deep Purple, who hates doing interviews, talking rather nervously at his management offices before leaving for America where he hates touring.

"I find it like going into the army. You say goodbye to your friends - and tell them you hope you'll see them again. You eat hamburgers with no vegetables and once you've been in one Holiday Inn you've been in them all.

"Everybody comes up trying to lay drugs on you and says 'what are you on man?' and as they won't believe we're not on anything we usually tell them we're into canary droppings. But the audiences for all that are incredible, when you go onstage it's a great feeling of everyone waiting for you, and they really appreciate you."

From this one might get the impression that Ritchie is one of those people who sounds off at anything and everything. But on the contrary he is a deep, thoughtful person, and so emotional you wonder how he can possibly survive in the music business. A classic split personality case, it is almost impossible to equate the leaping, extrovert Blackmore onstage with the sensitive quiet introvert offstage.

In fact, when Ritchie first started playing guitar with groups, he was so shy he'd start off on the very edge of the stage and then gradually creep off into the wings during the show, and play out of sight. It wasn't until he'd been Screaming Lord Suteh's guitarist for a time, that Ritchie started leaping about onstage. With Sutch, if you didn't leap and make a spectacle of yourself he got hold of the end of your guitar and pulled you about until you did.

Ritchie first decided to be a guitarist when he was 11 and saw Tommy Steele on "6.5 Special." He lived in Heston near London Airport and Jimmy Sullivan (now Tom Jones' guitarist) lived just down the road, and in those days he backed Marty Wilde. Ritchie would knock on the door and be down on his knees begging to be let in when Jimmy opened the door.

At school Ritchie had a group with about 20 people in it - only two of them could play anything, but he hadn't the heart to turn the others out. For his debut concert at school he plugged his guitar straight into the mains and blew every light in the place.

When he left school, he worked for a while as a radio mechanic at London airport before going into the music business professionally, firstly with Sutch, then the Outlaws and then playing sessions. He played on "Telstar" and things and went to Germany when he got fed up with the British musical scene.

"At that time they were only interested in people who sang. If you played, you never got anywhere." He finally came back to Britain after numerous telegrams from Chris Curtis, drummer with the Searchers, wanting to form Deep Purple.

"I said to him who's going to play lead? and he said I am. So I said oh, well who's going to play drums then? and he said I am, and I'm going to be manager." Chris finally disappeared in a cloud of smoke, but Deep Purple was formed, through word of mouth, friends of friends etc. with the same line-up they still have today, four veans later.

"For instance Mick Underwood told me about Ian Gillan and he looked like Jim Morrison so we said we'll have him." Ritchie reckons that the only reason he's survived in the business so long is because he has such a split personality and can vent his frustrations onstage.

"I worry too much really, I get a lot of tellings off from the management. If you're an emotional type of person like I am, you just get upset about any little thing - the lights aren't right, the stage isn't right. So I have to make sure I get there early to see if the hall's all right. And I can't play unless I've walked round the hall first. I go out front while the first group is playing and look at the audience, and I weigh up the amount of echo because you can't do fast runs if there's too much. Then I'll go back into the dressing room and say 'there's not a musical lot out there tonight' or 'they're quiet, they want music.' I have to do all this because if there's the smallest thing wrong it changes my whole way of thinking and it's nagging at me so I can't concentrate on the music."

Deep Purple are always, rightly, pasticular in checking up on the age and type of their audience because it varies so tremendously. In Denmark recently audiences were aged about 16 so they altered the stage act to give them a big rock show.

"They were screaming and jumping up onstage, whereas in Germany in the north it was entirely the opposite, and in England it's about a happy medium. Germany is disappointing for us at the moment. For the last year and a half we've been number one, we've sold more records there than the Beatles. When we play in the south it goes a bomb, in the north they just sit there. I think they expect us to fly onstage or something. The terrible thing is, that I think they think we're very arrogant. Last time, I went to shake a girl's hand across the barriers at the front to show we were a bit human, and she just shrank away - I felt terribly embarrassed.

"I don't get stage fright much now, only if I know there's close relatives in the audience. Usually you can treat the people as a mass, but if you know your brother or your mother or your wife is there then it makes you frightened. It's written into our contract that there must be two bottles of whisky and 28 bottles of coke in the dressing room for us. We have to have something before we go onstage. In our case we have to have something that lifts us up - we're fairly heavy drinkers.

"Once I played on hash - and as I don't smoke anyway I got even worse affected - and I just played three notes throughout the whole set. Some people go onstage and smoke, I don't know how they cope.

Musically now, Ritchie reckons Deep Purple are playing and writing well. The "Machine Head" album, which they recorded in Switzerland on the Rolling Stones' mobile unit, Ritchie considers the best they've ever done.

"I'm personally nearly always dissatisfied with what I've done, but this album is pretty good. "Rock" wasn't bad, but "Fireball" I wasn't happy with at all. I never play it, I hate it, we had no time and everything was made up in the studio. We found we got a much better sound with the mobile unit and the change of environment did us good too. The unit is just a lorry converted for recording and the sound you get at first is quite bad, which is clever because it makes you work for a better sound and when you come back and hear it on an English studio it's so much better because you've worked so much more to get the sound."

Ritchie's main criticism of the band is that it houses too much talent which cannot be exercised to the full, so that eventually they will have to go their separate ways, as, indeed they have already begun to do.

"Four months ago I'd have said that the band was past its best work, now I know that it isn't. When Ian was sick we had about two months to write and it shows on this latest album. But I personally don't think I've given the people, or myself, anything which I feel very proud of. It's very weird, you get this frustrated feeling, you know what you want to do but you don't know how to put it across - that's why I formed my three-piece band on the side.

"There's five people in Deep Purple and you can never do the music you want to do one hundred per cent, so it's compromise all the way down the line. It has to be with five virtuosos in the band, I don't think there's one of us who could say 'that's MY music.' Most of the stuff is written by Roger and myself with the words and melody done by Ian. I personally would like an outlet and to hear a record done exactly like I imagine it played in the first place. It gets distorted from my original version in the studio.

"It's the same with Ian, he can't write a song straight out, he has to write over the framework we've already written and laid down and although that's difficult for him we've found that's the best way to work. It had to start from the beginning like that or we'd never have got anywhere at all, and I still think the first songs we did were the best."

Deep Purple have come in for a lot of criticism of their music one way and another, both for their rock music which John Peel has called "formula" music, and Jon Lord's famous link-ups with classical orchestras.

"The classical thing got completely out of hand. We'd turn up to gigs and people would say 'where's your orchestra?' I think Jon realises now he doesn't really want to do that any more, he may go back to it in a couple of years time but I think he'll end up doing film music.

"As for Peel calling our music 'formula' music, you've got to have a formula although I know what he means to a certain degree. But then I listen to his radio show and he's a very humorous guy, but sometimes I think he's off his head with the rubbish he plays. I used to love Top Gear when he had the Nice and Ten Years After, then he dropped that and went on to the country bug and starts playing obscure people like Blind Lemon Fatty or something.

Ritchie's own three-piece band is playing more bluesy things than Deep Purple ever do. Strangely, two years ago he wouldn't have touched blues. Ian Paice is with him on drums, and for the moment it will be a recording band only.

"I want to get on with my band - we all want to get on with our other interests - and I have to envisage an end to Deep Purple to stay sane. But we'll keep together for a bit yet because we're earning good money and we might as well clean up - I think we deserve it. I starved for six years, and the band has built itself a good reputation over the years.

"As a group we can play no better music than we're playing at the moment, and I don't know many other groups I'd like to listen to onstage besides us. I personally dig Free and ELP, but I'm not into many other bands. I don't dig The Who or the Faces because I don't dig bands that play out of tune. I think the bass player of The Who is terrific, Pete Townshend is a fantastic guy and he knows what to give an audience, he's a good songwriter but being a guitarist I go for guitarists and with Pete you know it will be crashing chords which don't mean a lot to me."

As a guitarist, Ritchie has to practise quite a lot. In the old days he used to put in at least four hours a day, and play what he wanted to play. It's two hours practice before he goes onstage or he can't manage some of the faster passages the band do. At the start of a tour he spends the whole of the first day practising.

"There are times I think someone else is playing for me. Once at the Star Club, Hamburg, I felt two hands coming round from behind me as if someone else was playing, someone who was very good. I've never had that sensation since, but I've never forgotten it.

"I think you have to put a lot of emphasis on getting it across now. Five years ago I could stand there and play what I wanted to play. It's not playing technically nice stuff that counts now, it's the art of getting people to believe you're a brilliant guitarist that's important. People would go and see Hendrix and say wow what a brilliant guitarist,' which he wasn't, he just got people to believe that be was. If you're not getting across to the audience you tend to get disinterested anyway, if people aren't cheering and saying great, great, there's not much point in it all."

He has yet to see a film of himself leaping about onstage, and is almost fighting against the day he has to because he knows he'll never believe he could do it.

"It's a completely schizophrenic thing - when I get onstage I love to leap around. It gets rid of tensions. People ask why I do it, but I just can't help it, I couldn't do a show and just stand there, and anyway from the point of view of the audience it's important for them to have something do look at. Imagine the Faces without Rod Stewart strutting about."

© Disc & Music Echo, May 1972