MAN OF MYSTERY
Ritchie Blackmore maintains a low-key profile off stage. Rarely speaking to the press, the image he portrays is one of a moody and broody character whose only true pleasure comes from smashing the guts out of his blond Stratocasters. But in a recent interview the Deep Purple guitarist let know his feelings and the impression was far different from what one would expect. In the midst of an American tour, he took time out to try to make more solid the mystery that is Ritchie Blackmore.
I've been playing for about seventeen years now, I started playing classical when I was twelve. I. actually picked up a guitar when I was about eleven but I didn't play anything seriously for about a year. I went to Jimmy Sullivan for lessons; I had two teachers, one, Jimmy, who was a friend and didn't charge me anything. I just used to go to him for my little tricks and things. He was quite hard to follow anyway because he was so good. The other guy was a private guy who was teaching me classical music for a year but that was all, after that I was on my own.
I played with Lord Sutch in 1961, did a few sessions with him. After that I went with a group called the Outlaws. So I was a Savage (Sutch's band) one minute then I was with the Outlaws, then I went into the Musketeers, then I was a Wild Boy, from a Wild Boy to a ... what was it, I was dressing up in something else. Oh yeah, the Roman Empire, that was Sutch's idea. He thought it would be great if we all dressed up as Romans for some unknown reason. Matthew Fisher was in the band, too. Matthew was on one side of a single I'm working on, 'Black Sheep Of The Family'. If he was into rock and roll he'd be brilliant, but he's not, he doesn't want to be associated with it. Which is a pity because he's got so many ideas.
After Lord Sutch ... I had to do it with him or otherwise I was fired. I think it all came from one night we were on stage and he bumped into me and I fell off stage and fell against a radiator and got an electric shock, this is true. And I jumped up into the air about eight foot and he said, "Keep it in." It just naturally came from that and aggression from the business; striving to kind of make something. You can only starve for so long before you start going barmy. I haven't been the same since.
I did sessions from 1963 until 1966. Jimmy Page was doing sessions as well and we were like rock and roll guitarists who would go around playing; neither of us could read but we would do the sessions where they wanted a rock and roll fill but they didn't want a reader. That got a bit too much because I just don't like playing other people's music. I did a few sessions with Jimmy but one was with him and Jeff Beck. Jimmy Page was producing, Nicky Hopkins was on piano, a guy, Cliff Barton, since died, one of the best bass players around was on bass, Jeff Beck, meself. It was an EP backin' some idiot; I think it was my mate although he couldn't sing. That was interesting. But most of them became really dull; they're either very dull or frightening sometimes you get some idiot who wants it played this way and then if you get a few violinists in you get a lot of musical snobbery going around; 'Oh, he can't play, he can't read' and sometimes it was very hard. You had to learn melody without the notes.
How did you know about him? He was my idol for about three years, in fact I got all the stuff I do on stage, my moving, from him. He used to move on stage in a certain way with his guitar and I used to idolise him. He used to be with a group called Nero And The Gladiators and they used to rock up all kinds of hits like 'Hall Of The Mountain King'. That was 1960. His playing was brilliant too but I saw him about four years ago in Paris and now he's terrible; he used to be my idol now I'm his idol.
No, I make it a point not to play on anybody's record.
I was there in 1966 and '67, living off of immoral earnings. I've lived over there quite a few times, once in 1963 right after the Beatles were there. I did the rounds then as well, it was a great time then. There was eight bands a night in this club, the Star Club. And they had this programme worked out, a band would play for an hour and then come off. There were some great people around then. Tony Sheridan who is a great singer, Ray Charles, I was with Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, the Seachers were on.
It was April ... no, it was March... no, it was January of 1968 because we went on the road in March to Denmark. That's quite funny.
No, no idea whatsoever. Jon (Lord) did most of the writing, I helped a bit. No, we didn't really know; we were inspired by the Vanilla Fudge at the time. I had a little bit of Hendrix I was inspired by.
About three weeks; we did that first elpee in 24 hours. Everything was first or second take because we couldn't afford to take any more than that. It was two 12 hour sessions. One track on that I thought was great, 'And The Address' it was called. We used to have this little joke, if someone farted we'd go "and the ad-dress!". That was a good track, there's a brilliant solo in it. I was very proud of it.
It was very mixed at first because we were trying to follow people like Hendrix and Cream and the rest of them and they were just dominating everything.
Yeah, I didn't like ... I liked Jack Bruce, Ginger I thought was different, Eric I thought was put in a position which he didn't really want to be in. He played nicely but that's about all, I never got off on his playing too much but it thing I suppose. It was not outstanding but it fitted well. Jack Bruce was the Cream to me, his voice and his songs. People went to see the Cream because of Clapton but it was Bruce that really made the band.
Yeah, he's my favourite ... of rock guitarists. He's a nice guy it's just that he gets, how would you say, a lot of people really think he's a bastard because he really doesn't want fitted well which is the main to get into the big time. He's a vegetarian and if he comes to America he's well messed up. That's why he knocked it on the head before with Beck. Bogart, and Appleseed, that lot. He's just finished his own solo elpee I think which should be really good. He's a very weird guitarist because he doesn't play an orthodox style, he snatches notes out of the air for some reason. He doesn't work, he just plays. And really he's got more interest in building his cars than he has in playing. Not that you would notice.
Well, we've done such good A sides that we were thinking of making an elpee. The singer is a guy with a band called Elf, he's unbelievable. One of the best singers I've ever heard, I picked 'Black Sheep Of The Family' because it's a song I always wanted to do; it was done about three years ago by another band called Quatermass who are now friends of mine. Our group wouldn't do it because they said it wasn't original ... it's just a favourite thing I wanted to do because there are some songs I just want to play even if they're not written by us. Sometimes too much shit comes out because everybody wants to write their own material. They say it's got to be original shit instead of copied good stuff. I think there are too many bands doing their own stuff and it's bad, they can't write. It's not like the old days when bands would do other people's stuff. Now everybody's doing their own material and it's getting very very boring. Too many groups are kind of getting away with murder.
No they're not and if you look on the new album you'll see everybody isn't credited. I write with Dave (Coverdale) because he always writes the lyrics, I don't like to write lyrics. I do but it would be kind of like a session singer, here's the lyrics, here's the backing, here's the song, and he doesn't do anything. I like him to work out his own lyrics, the way he feels, and I come up with chord progressions and riffs but they always alter them just slightly to their own taste.
It was Jon's and my idea, I think. We'd do another Beatle song ... if they wrote one for us. We'll get 'round to asking them sometime, Paul McCartney or John Lennon to write us a rock song. They're the best writers in the world together. After "Imagine" I think John Lennon got lost slightly whereas Paul McCartney found himself a bit more. Apart they're still brilliant ... I prefer McCartney's melodies but I like John Lennon's aggression. Together they made it because McCartney doesn't have enough aggression. Thev stopped doing it which is a shame but I think they'll get back ... Lennon and McCartney will. The other two I don't think really mean much anyway. Lennon and McCartney should get their own band together. And use their old ladies as roadies.
Umm, Nicky wasn't constructive and didn't have enough ideas and was an average bass player so he had to go. Rod just wanted to go and live in America and he's doing very well. Rod's a very nice guy and so was Nicky but he got very bitter.
No, not at all because Rod wasn't interested and it showed so we could only do better ... which we did with Ian Gillan. Ian was introduced to me by a friend of mine who played for Quatermass who had indirectly played 'Black Sheep Of The Family' for the first time. We found Roger (Glover) in a gutter. No, Roger, poor old Roger, he'd turn up to the sessions to do one number we did, he was their bass player. We weren't originally going to take him until Paice said he's a good bass player and we should keep him. I think he tried to prove he could wear clothes that were less than ten cents; there wasn't one thing on him that was worth more than ten cents. His shirt was made out of rubber or something and he found these trousers and his shoes were done up with wire. It was really funny because I couldn't believe it.
Yeah, 'In Rock' came about because I got fed up playing with classical orchestras and I thought well, this is my turn. Jon was into more classical stuff and I said, "well, you do that and I'll do the rock and whatever turns out best we'll carry on with." If this records fails, I said, I'll play with classical orchestras the rest of my life. It was a good elpee ... everything was about a thousand miles an hour. It was a good elpee that, objectively speaking! Everything on there was good and I don't think there was one track on there I hated. Let's see the next elpee, 'Fireball', that was a bit of a disaster because it was thrown together in the studio. We had no time and there was managerial pressure, you have to play here, here, there, there. I got kind of bitter about that and said if you want an elpee you've got to give us time. I just got bitter there and threw ideas to the group that I had thought up on the spur of the moment, I had nothing in my head. With 'Machine Head' because of the 'Fireball' incident they said, "Alright we'll give you two months off" and consequently it was a great elpee, I thought. We had ideas, Ian Gillan, meself, and Roger it began to be a trio writing then; Jon started stepping back and Ian was giving percussive ideas. 'Who Do We Think We Are' was really weird because I never spoke to Ian Gillan all that time we made the elpee, I never spoke to him once. Old ladies started coming into it and all sorts of personal problems and after that we said, "Let's forget it."
No, 'Machine Head' I like the best. 'In Rock' was good but we were coming up, do you know what I mean? The only ones I haven't liked have been 'Fireball''; it's the only one I thought was nowhere. There's just nothing on it. On 'Who Do We Think We Are' everybody refused to write with everybody else. I was even holding back ideas. I was saying I'm not giving you these ideas because they're going to another thing. I was turning out shit and so was everybody else. 'Who Do We Think We Are' was bad, a waste of time.
No, because I like 'Smoke On The Water. I don't play anything I don't want to. `Mary Long' was one of my favourite tracks: 'Into The Fire' was very good I thought, 'Child In Time' was good purely from a vocal point of view, it was very different. We incorporate a lot of the old numbers but we have to move on a bit.
Yeah, they're OK. I'm never pleased with anything really. We had a couple of months rehearsal before each of those albums. Unfortunately at those rehearsals we were booked into this castle in Wales where Bad Company and Joe Cocker rehearse and we just played football and had seances all the time. That's all we did, nobody ever bloody did anything. It was terrible. It was like everybody was so lazy, Jon wouldn't get up until about six at night, come straight down for a meal, stay there until about ten o'clock at night and go down to the studio and by that time I'd got pissed off anyway and I had to go to bed. So we hardly saw each other. And then we suddenly realised we only had about four days left until we went into the studio so we all went, "Unh, what are we gonna play, what are we gonna play?"
Yeah, that's true; on 'Stormbringer' there wasn't as much guitar because I was in a way going through more personal problems. I was thinking about other things when I should have been thinking about Music. I didn't have the people there that I wanted to have there.
Yeah, unfortunately, I don't like that. We just did it; I like black people who can sing rock and roll but I don't like black music funk. It bores me to tears. But this is as far as it goes now, its the end of that. Back to rock and roll next elpee.
I don't know, I don't buy 'em. I have no idea, I can't be objective about listening to them and the LPs but not about how it sells or why or anything to do with that at all. On stage we have a lot of intense excitement, it's like a nervous, adrenalin kind of thing. People either love it or they get scared of it. That's why we maybe have a lot of people who hate us because we're so demanding ... what we put down you can't talk over and we don't want anybody talking over it. So they either say nothing or they leave; that's why, for instance, we get no radio play in England because the housewives can't do their dusting when we're playing on the radio, it probably interferes with the Hoover or something.
I don't know why but it's still there. I like playing with smoke because it makes the stage so wet that you're liable too fall over and that makes things interesting. I just like dramatic music, that's why I like dramatic colours, black ... I like things to move, that's why I like Bach because he always moves very directionally, he always goes somewhere.
On record, yeah, on stage no. On stage I just show off and play what I want to play. It looks better on stage because you can show off a bit, improvise, play what you want. But it's really not good to take much notice of what I say ... because I'm never really that excited about anything.
© Steve Rosen, Sounds, February 8, 1975