Ritchie Blackmore

Ritchie Blackmore on his TOP 5 songs voted by GuitarPlayer Magazine (Jan 2016)

We recently asked Ritchie Blackmore to join us in raising the lid on his greatest classic tunes to shed some light and share his personal insights on the development of this unique and evocative brand of rock.

Deep Purple
Machine Head (1972)

Truly the riff heard round the world. This the quintessential 4ths-dyad guitar hook that started it all.

Ritchie Blackmore: 'Smoke on the Water' was recorded in a ballroom, partially. It was a great sound in that ballroom. We had just played the backing track when the police showed up and told us we had to move on. It was midnight, and we had apparently awak­ened the entire neighborhood of this very small town [in Montreux, Switzerland]. In fact, they were banging on the door and sounding the sirens while we were trying to finish a second take!

The rest of Machine Head was recorded in a vacant hotel in Montreux. We took the backing track and finished it in the hotel corridor. Had the police had their way, we would never have recorded 'Smoke on the Water.' I find it ironic that we thanked them on the back of the album.

The main riff was all in 4ths, which was uncommon for the time. I was influenced by Graham Bond's organ playing in the Graham Bond Organization. Have a listen to his instrumental 'Wade in the Water.' He would play a lot of patterns, riffs and melodies in 4ths, and I liked it—it had that mysterious and evil sort of sound.

I never looked at it as inversions of a root-5th power chord but rather as a sound and texture that was thicker on the guitar than single notes. And it worked better than barre chords for heavy rock at loud volumes. The 4ths became one of my stamps because of 'Smoke on the Water,' but the very first time I used them was in 1968 on 'Mandrake Root' from the first album, Shades of Deep Purple.

Deep Purple
Machine Head (1972)

The roots of shred and one of the earliest Blackmore "go-for-the-jugular" guitar-blowing pieces. Blackmore's high-energy triplet licks and flashy legato technique—peppered with quirky modal note choices and ethnic melody-placed into a progressive-rock context—bred a generation of monster players in the Eighties.

Ritchie Blackmore: 'Lazy' came from Eric Clapton's version of 'Steppin' Out' [on John Mayall's Blues Breakers and Live Cream], which in turn was based on a traditional blues tune by Memphis Slim. I just took what Clapton was doing with Cream live and moved it along a step further. It's still in the 12-bar form for solos, but the guitar playing is maybe a little more technical as far as the speed factor and the kinds of ideas I used when improvising.

In those days, maybe because I was high strung and nervous, I tended to put an emphasis on speed and would overplay in my solos—though not to the extent of what happened in the Eighties. I wasn't comfortable just sitting on one note. I practiced a lot back then, working on my speed when I practiced scales and improvising.

Deep Purple
Machine Head (1972)

The prototypical Deep Purple, classical­rock fusion piece, and it once again set a precedent for the future. Would we have had the neoclassical metal of Uli Jon Roth, Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen without it?

· Ritchie Blackmore: I got the single-string idea in the solo from the guitar player of Johnny Burnette's Rock and Roll Trio, Paul Burlison. He showed me that descending run back in 1962. Played on the first string, it was the pattern of 'open E-high, A-open, E-high, Ab,' and so on, down the neck. I liked the sound and came to use it seven years later in 'Highway Star'.

The scale runs in the solo are to me a typically Mozart type of approach, like a string part from one of his symphonies or a keyboard line. I took a couple of hours out one day before we went in to record and structured the entire solo. That wasn't spontaneous."

Difficult to Cure (1981)

The formal beginnings of the neoclassical metal instrumental style. Ritchie Blackmore laid out the template with this supercharged rendition of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Fourth Movement "Ode to Joy" theme). He played the immortal melody with a slide, using a distorted Strat tone.

Ritchie Blackmore: I challenged myself by asking, 'Could I do actual classical music with the power of a rock band?' I've always loved classical melodies and chord progressions, but not the rigidity or limitations. In working out 'Difficult to Cure' or any piece like it from the classical literature, I would sit down with the written music—I read a bit—and play through it very slowly until I got the basics down. Then I would throw in some of my own stuff.

Straight Between the Eyes (1982)

Euro-metal came of age in the early Eighties, and this is one of the reasons why. Blackmore unleashed new levels of virtuosity with this crushing eighth-note groove and his neoclassical soloing. Note the trademark 4th-dyads neatly worked into the charging rhythm guitar figure, and the undeniable presence of the harmonic minor scale in the interlude riff. The latter would endure to become a staple of not only Euro-metal and neoclassical schools but also their thrash and death metal spin-offs.

Ritchie Blackmore: I noticed back in the Seventies that most bands wouldn't go near anything that was really fast. Most of Zeppelin's stuff was medium tempo or slower. In Rainbow, we enjoyed playing things at very fast speeds, like 'Death Alley Driver.' It was guaranteed not to get any radio play, but it was great to play onstage.

The middle [interlude] melodic riff reminds me of J.S. Bach. I was totally caught up in Bach from 1967 through 1985. I was impressed with the power of the music and strove to place some of that power in a rock context. I also loved what he did with minor keys and the involved fugal melodies. Listening to Bach inspired much of what is reflected in 'Death Alley Driver'

GuitarPlayer Magazine - January 2016