Return To Hard Rock
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Let's start with the fact that you recently talked about doing some hard-rock shows next year apart from Blackmore's Night. Please tell us about this project...
Ritchie: I've already decided on the musicians for this band, but I can't give out the names yet, because the contracts are still being made.
When can you name them?
Ritchie: Probably in about six weeks. By then, everything should be ready.
Can you reveal some other details?
Ritchie: Oh, not really. But next year, I plan to give four or five concerts in Europe. It will be Helsinki, Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Is there any possibility that you will play in Japan?
Ritchie: At the moment, I don't plan to play in Japan. I don't know if it comes to that. However, we'll see. It's just a hobby, I just do it for nostalgic reasons. I want the fans to be able to hear songs of Rainbow and Deep Purple before my arthritis gets worse.
Whose idea was it to do this?
What was the reason to do this?
Ritchie: I haven't played real rock concerts for almost 20 years, and I feel like doing it again, also for the fans. So they will be able to hear the old songs again.
Some years ago we've interviewed your son Jürgen, and he told us "My father told me he'll never play rock again". Did you really say that?
Ritchie: My main project is Blackmore's Night. I still have a lot ideas what I want to do with this group. This new project will be something for my free-time. As I said before, I do it for the fans. I don't plan to constantly return to the world of rock music. I've already been there for 40 years, that's enough for me. But I thought it would be a great idea to play a few concerts with the old Rainbow and Deep Purple songs. I think that's a very interesting thing to do.
Not too long ago David Coverdale told us that he had discussed the idea of a kind of a reunion with you, but that didn't work out. What did you think about his offer to play together again?
Ritchie: I like David Coverdale. He has a good voice. But I'm not interested to play the same music with the same musicians again. I like working with new people. You know, after working with me, they become known and start talking bad things about me. So I always prefer to look out for new musicians, new blood.
Do you like to discover new talents?
Ritchie: Yes, I like to open the door for new, undiscovered musicians. The singer, which I will present at next years concerts is amazing. He will become very famous because of his voice, I'm sure.
Did you audition him?
Ritchie: This time, instead of auditioning him, I've just listened to his songs. I met up with him and decided that he was going to be my singer.
Are the other musicians known to the public?
Ritchie: Some of them. I can't talk about it yet.
OK - I'll wait for the official announcement. By the way, David Coverdale re-recorded songs from the MK3 and MK4 Deep Purple periods with Whitesnake for an album called "The Purple Album". Have you heard it?
Ritchie: No, I haven't heard it. Because I recorded most of these songs with Deep Purple back then, and I have no interest in revisiting them or hearing them again. I don't listen to the music which I've recorded back then. But I was told that it's a good album. If it should be so, I'm happy for him. But if someone would ask me if I would like to listen to it, I would say: No, thanks.
Would you prefer fresh blood, even if Ronnie James Dio or Cozy Powell would still be alive?
Ritchie: Of course. A long time ago, when we had David Coverdale filling in for Ian Gillan in Purple, everyone said: Who is this? But it worked and he became very famous. The same thing happened with Ronnie James Dio. I'm sure when people hear the new guy singing, they will love him. I think he will start a great solo career after these shows.
So you are doing these shows just for the fans? Without any nostalgic feelings?
Ritchie: Fifty-Fifty. I hope someone will be interested.
Of course - there's a very big interest all over the world...!
Ritchie: People, who are into hard rock music will love it, of course. At least, I hope so. But however, I still have another project going. After this I will get back to Blackmore's Night, because this music means a lot to me.
So you'll work on both projects next year - or just the rock thing?
Ritchie: No, I'll deal with both groups.
Have you already decided on which songs you want to add to the live set?
Ritchie: I'll play the best songs.
Are they not all great songs? (laughs)
Ritchie: Yes, of course, there are some great songs. But looking back, when I recorded an album, there were 4 very good songs out of 10, and the other 6 songs were just okay.
Is there a song that you want to play the most?
Ritchie: I'll play songs that seem to be the most interesting ones to me.
Do you plan to go into the studio with this new Rainbow line-up to record something?
Ritchie: I'm definitely going to record a live album. Actually, before I found this new singer, I was planning to do a studio album with some of my old songs and different vocalists, but that's not on my to-do list anymore. However, when we play all these songs live, you can still hear a new version of them.
So primary you planned to do a studio project instead of live concerts?
And now you'll only record new live versions of your old songs?
Ritchie: Yes, we'll play all the old songs at these concerts next year.
Is there any possibility that you go into the studio to record one more rock album?
Ritchie: Not now. But maybe I will write down some ideas. We will see.
OK - coming soon: A new movie called "The Ritchie Blackmore Story". Fans have been waiting many years for something like this. Why have you decided to do it now?
Ritchie: I've been thinking quite a while about doing a film like this, but until now I thought that it wasn't the right point in time. But I think the time has come now. What is great about Blackmore's Night is, that I have a lot of free time. I like to rest. Therefore, in my spare time I decided to give an interview to tell about my life and my career. The interview was recorded on film, edited and made into a kind of a documentary. Though I did not watch it.
You didn't see it?
Ritchie: Oh, I never watch myself on video. I'm too shy.
I saw an unfinished version of it and I have to say that it's very good. I think your fans will love it.
Ritchie: I hope so. I left it to other people to watch it and decide whether to publish it or not. But I was told that it's a very good film, so I approved the release of it. But I prefer to watch movies about other musicians than about myself.
So you also didn't have any influence on the editing of the film?
Ritchie: No. Although the producers asked me here and there for my advice. "Should we leave it or remove this sequence?". And of course I expressed them my opinion on their questions. You know, in today's world you have to be very careful what you say. They told me "Hey, you said this and that, should we leave it out?". I don't want to upset anyone. If I told the truth about everything and anyone, some people would get very mad at me. It can be very complicated.
The film also includes interviews with people like Brian May, Steve Vai, Lars Ulrich, etc. You also haven't seen the film sequences with these guys?
Ritchie: No. I've heard that they told many nice things about me. I'm glad that they are all speaking in such a positive way about me, because they're excellent musicians!
All those guys who took part in this film, speak in a very positive way about you. Do you know all these guys personally?
Ritchie: Some of them.
Did you choose the musicians for the film?
Ritchie: No, the producers chose them. I was quite surprised. I didn't know anything about the people they had chosen to take part in this film.
The film was also attented by Gene Simmons.
Ritchie: He's a great guy. I like him. His family, too, they are very nice people. I'm amazed of what he has achieved. He's like a businessman.
And there is Ian Anderson...
Ritchie: Oh yes, I'm a big fan of him. I'm following his activities since the early 70ies and I went to many of his concerts.
Jethro Tull concerts?
Ritchie: Yes. Once I've went to one of his concerts and after the show I went backstage to have a drink with him. Funnily enough, he used to drink the biggest glass of wine. I often went to concerts of that group, he always had different musicians. It wasn't easy to build up something like a friendship with him, but somewhere after ten meetings he began to trust me. He was very pleased to hear that a guy from the heavy rock scene is such a big fan of Jethro Tull. I always thought that he was a genius. I still think so. He's much more talented than most musicians in the world. I was angry when the critics said: "He makes boring music". I usually said to them: "It's not boring, you just don't understand his music". We both respect each other. We still communicate. He once said to Candice: "Ritchie became much more calmly after you met each other".
We also have Brian May in the film...
Yes. I can remember that we recorded a charity record for Armenia together. Cozy Powell knew him well, he had introduced me to him. The first time we met was at a Rainbow show, he came backstage, and I remember when I talked to him. When I said: "Brian, it seems Queen became a very famous group", he said "True, but not for Rock n' Roll". (laughs). An interesting statement, isn't it? He is very shy, but a nice guy. Besides, he's very clever. He had built his own guitar, in fact - he is also a scientist!
Have you heard his version of "Since You've Been Gone"?
Ritchie: No, I haven't heard it. With my head I'm always in the Medieval Ages and Renaissance music epoche. Nobody believes me when I say this! People think it must be so boring to just listen to this music. But I don't listen to rock music, even the old stuff. I don't buy any rock albums, but it happens that I hear something like that on the radio. But there's not much of that on the radio. Music of people being older than 40-50 years is not trendy, so most radio stations don't play it anymore.
Are you familiar with Dave Murray of Iron Maiden?
Ritchie: We sometimes played football together. I met them at a charity match in Frankfurt. But I don't know him very well.
Recently, he spoke very nice things about Blackmore's Night
Ritchie: It's nice to hear that he likes our music. Many people have problems with our music. Of course it's not the most popular music. 30 years ago I used to play this music at home, and the others looked at me with a big grin on their face. When I told them that I started doing a crossover Renaissance project, they said to me: "It's impossible to make money with that music". I said: "I've earned enough money, now I'll do what I really want to do". Moreover, I wasn't interested in doing hit records anymore. I play for this music for myself. A long time ago I gave concerts to very big crowds, but my ego is satisfied now, I don't need that anymore. I like to play for 20 or 30 friends now. It's a big challenge for me. When you play for 20.000 people you just have to run across the stage like a monkey with a big sound-system. When I play the acoustics, I can't hide behind my amplifier and the big sound of it.
Under which name are you going to perform these rock-shows next year?
Ritchie: I haven't decided yet. In retrospect, which periods in Deep Purple and Rainbow are your favourites?
Ritchie: In both groups, there were bad and good moments, even when the music was far from being perfect. Unfortunately, large groups like Deep Purple are often gathered around a lot of people who are just interested in making money. The agents, managers, promoters, etc... Unfortunately, that big amount of money generates a big business, that tends to get out of control at some point. I remember when we played in the United States in 1985. I think the only group that made as much money as we did at that time was the Grateful Dead. People say that Bruce Springsteen earned most money in that period, but that's not true. I've always felt that in that time the promoters were the happiest people around us. They recieved 250.000 Dollar for one concert. The group had to pay for lighting and sound at their own expense, and that doesn't even include the fees for hotels and transportation. If you look at how the money is being distributed, you can see that in the first place are the agents, then the promoters, the managers and then in the end, the band. The groups recieve around 10 %. A person who's not familiar with the rock business, may that think that this is very strange, because the audience pays money for the tickets to see the band. But first of all the money goes to agents, promoters, managers, etc. People don't go to concerts to see the managers, promoters or agents. They come to see the band. For me it's a big problem. It was one of the reasons why I left the band. Today, regardless of whether we're playing for 500 or for 2000 people, we get most of the money. The promoters and agents are the last ones to recieve the money. So now it's the other way round. Great, isn't it?
I completely agree.
Ritchie: It's true. I thought it was unfair to us all in Deep Purple. Of course, we still earned a lot of money, but in relation to what the promoters, agents and co. got, it was totally unfair. The same happened with people like Bruce Springsteen. People like him will tell you the same. The distribution of the money within these bands should be visible for the musician. Most of the times the musicians even don't know about all that nonsense going on behind the scenes. It's a very important concern for me because the band who actually plays for the people should get most of the money. Because that's what people are paying for.
So that's why you left the big music business?
Ritchie: Yes and no. I'm tired of coming up with heavy riffs, because I started to repeat myself 20 years ago. The freshness of it all went away. I was no longer an admirer of that music. The same riffs, I was tired of playing the same songs and harmonys all the time.
Which is your favourite song from the new BN album?
Ritchie: Some of the songs are very good, until you start to write them down and record them and the result sometimes becomes very bad and vice versa, too, of course. Sometimes the most simple ideas are the best, while some of the ideas that you work out for many hours, don't go down to well during the recording process. On this album, I almost like all of the songs, except for "Coming Home", although I have to say that before we went into the studio, it was my favourite song! But after the recording process I wasn't happy with it. I think we've picked the wrong tools for the riff, we shouldn't have released it in this form. So sometimes when you write an idea down, it appears that it's not as good as it seems to be.
Which song came out better than you expected?
Ritchie: Maybe the third one "Darker Shade of Black". I wrote it during a snowstorm here in New York. 6 feet of snow outside, it was impossible to leave the house. I was sitting at home with my producer and I played some of my ideas to him. And after 20 minutes, we had the basic song structure together, everything worked as it should. I was very surprised. Then we added some other instruments, and I'm really happy about the end result. I think it's typical that the best songs come out spontaneously. When I played the idea of "Coming Home" some time before we recorded it, I really liked it. But when we started to record it, it didn't please me at all. But with "Darker Shade of Black" it all worked perfectly.
I also like this Welsh song "Allan Yn N Fan". It's not very easy to play. It was very difficult to play. My German friend Georg Hess wrote that song, he's a guitarist, and I really liked his style of playing it. So I even copied some of his parts. I usually don't listen to other guitarists. If I listen to other guitar players, it's usually Flamenco players or classical stuff. But his playing is excellent, I love his style. He plays in a German Medieval Band. I was so pleased with his playing, that I decided to copy it. That wasn't easy! Perhabs he's the first guitar player, I've ever tried to copy, since I was around 14-15 years old.
Because I'm actually very bad in copying other guitar players. When I hear another guitar player, I always add something of myself to it. As a result people said: "He doesn't sound like the others" about me, but that's just because I have a hard time copying other guitarists. Candy has an excellent musical memory by the way. She can listen to a song twice, and can remember all parts of it. So she writes in two takes. But she doesn't like to improvise. I'm the complete opposite. The improvise-thing is in my blood, it's very easy for me. But as I said before, I have a really hard time at copying other musicians.
So when I tried to record this Welsh song "Allan Yn N Fan", I asked Candice: "Right?", and she replied: "No, you forgot this and this part". (laughs). At first it annoyed me. With all respect to her, I've found it hard to believe, that she remembers the song structures better than I do. But then I realized that she was right. So now, when I write such a complicated arrangement, I always ask her for her advice. She has an excellent hearing, and she helps me.
You've also recorded a new version of "Where are we going from Here", why did you decide to do this?
Ritchie: Many of our songs that I recorded in the studio on the electric guitar, are being performed acoustically by us on stage. For example, one of my favourite songs "Moonlight Shadow". On stage we play it alone, just the two of us, without the band, I play the mandola. In the studio, some songs sound better with the electric guitar. But it also depends on my mood. Almost all of our songs can be played on the electric or the acoustic guitar.
You have 3 covers on your new album. How did you choose these songs?
Ritchie: I've decided to choose them, but of course, I would never record them if Candice wouldn't like them. I love these 3 songs, they're part of my past. In other words "All Of Our Yesterdays". But if Candice wouldn't like these songs I would never record them, but she loves them too. I'm happy to play these old songs. When I was playing hard rock, I couldn't have recorded or played this kind of music. As soon as I brought the idea about doing it to the table, everyone called me crazy. Maybe it will surprise you, but it was just a money issue - the group didn't want to do songs of other people, it seemed unprofitable to them. Many groups only believe in playing their own songs to earn more money. But personally, I want to play everything I like. Whether it's pop, rock or renaissance music, I don't limit myself to just one genre. People always tell me: "Oh No, Ritchie, you shouldn't play this!", but I love pop-music! For example ABBA. But many musicians are skeptical about pop-music, they say: "How can you like ABBA?".
Of course this even happened in Deep Purple. They said: "We should only record our own songs". I often said: "I think it's a great song, let's try to put it down. We haven't written it, but what's the problem?". But I was always denied. "We don't want to play other people's songs, only our own". That's idiocy. I retired from Deep Purple, because I wanted to record a song called "Black Sheep of the Family", by a group called Quartermass, my friend Mick Underwood played in this band. So I said to Ian Paice: "I love this song, can we try to record it?". But Ian Paice just answered "No, no, I don't want to play other people's songs". With Jon Lord it was easier to communicate. If he thought that it was a good song, he always agreed on doing it. But Ian Paice always disagreed with me, he said: "It's pointless, we need to do our own songs". So consequently in the end, I asked Ronnie Dio if he would like to record it with me. It was the first song we ever recorded together. Because I didn't want to work with Deep Purple any longer.
When I started working together with Dio, I realized how easy it was to work with him. We had written songs in 3 hours, while it took 3 weeks with Deep Purple. However, I have to say that this applies for the later period of the band. In the beginning it was a real joy to work together with them, but then everyone got their own limousines and houses, and then we no longer understood with each other. When I said: "I want to organize a tour. When can we go on the road? Maybe in January?", John answered "No, January is not possible, I've planned a wedding there". Well okay "February then?", and then Gillan, or someone else, replied: "No, we can't do it in February, I've already planned my holidays there, I wanna fly to Switzerland". "Well, what about March?" ... so in the end we decided to do it in July or August. We also had a problem to agree on other subjects. Everyone had a different opinion. It's very difficult to decide something, when you have 5 people with different opinions in the band.
But we have moved away from the basic subject of your question. I think that "All Our Yesterdays" is a very good album. We recorded just a few old songs. I just like them and I hope the audience will do the same. At first I was worried: "I'm not sure what people will think about it", but we had so much fun at doing these songs. Our friends loved them at our partys, so I thought maybe the rest of our audience too. I really like that I can play any kind of music, from Pop to Renaissance. We can do it all within this project. There are not many other bands who can do that.
When Brian May said that Queen "is not famous for playing Rock N Roll", he wasn't wrong. They could play straight Rock n Roll, but they prefered to work with interesting harmonies and styles and tried to connect them with their music. I was very impressed by that.
"Earth Wind and Sky" was written by your wife Candice. I've heard that the original plan was to release it on her solo album. So why did you release it on the new Blackmore's Night CD?
Ritchie: Although I mostly write the music for our CD's, I also like to play the songs that she writes. When she wrote this song, I thought that it was perfect for the album, so I decided to record it. I think it's great that she writes her own songs. The whole arrangement was written by her. There are enough of my songs on the album, so it's democratic. When you play in a band, you have to be democratic. Otherwise, the group won't last for long.
Blackmore's Night exists for 18 years now, longer than any other group you've played with...
Ritchie: Right. This has something to do with the fact that I like to annoy people. They always say to me: "When do you reform Rainbow?" or "When do you go back to Deep Purple?", to which I respond: "Until you stop asking, I won't come back". That irritates many people.
I thought it's the fact that you love the music you're playing now...
Of course. It was a joke, I really like to play this music because it's a real challenge. Almost no one plays our music. It's not very fashionable and popular. If Blackmore's Night would release hit records and popular albums, everyone would try to copy us. In this business people like to copy from each other anyway. If you listen to some of today's rock bands, they sound exactly like the rock-bands from 30-40 years ago. Right? I have nothing against it, but I have absolutely no interest in listening to a remake of music which I've already heard 40 years ago. That's why I prefer not to listen to rock bands.
But you've decided to do a project with the music of Rainbow and Deep Purple?
Ritchie: That's a different thing. I've decided to do this hard rock project because I heard this stunning singer. His magnificent voice aroused my interest to do that. With Joe Lynn Turner or David Coverdale I would just repeat the past. I like them both, they have great voices, but they don't touch me anymore. When I thought about the vocals, I felt like: "They sing okay, but I want something else". And when I heard the voice of this new singer, I thought: "This is great! He knows how to sing!" He has something in his voice that touches me deeply. It's a pleasure to listen to his voice for me. Vocals are a musical instrument for me. It has to be melodic, I don't like when singers just scream and yell into the microphone: "DO YOU WANT ROCK N ROLL?!". It bores me to death, when I hear singers shout: "I can't hear you!", this is nonsense!
You and Candice must feel very comfortable with Blackmore's Night?
Ritchie. Yes. We both love medieval and renaissance music. So it feels great to play it. But I'm not doing this for the sake of being in fashion or making profit with it. With this project I protest against all this. I always want to swim against the tide. I never want to be like all the others, I like it when I'm different. I don't want to be part of the mainstream. The worst thing would be if someone would say about me: "He is like everybody else". That would be an insult for me.
I don't think anyone ever said this about you...
Because you're not like everyone else...
Ritchie: Exactly, I'm not trying to be like the others. I'm just me. I see.
I like to do things that people don't expect from me. I always say what I think. I prefer to behave naturally, and don't hide behind any moral rules. I don't think that there are many musicians who express their real feelings. For example, when you ask them: "What do you think about this or that group?", they say: "I love it, great band", when in fact they think: "Oh, I can't stand them, but I can't say it". I'm always pleased to hear an honest answer. I don't like people who are just pretending and lying.
What are your next plans with Blackmore's Night?
Ritchie: Everything will be as usual. We record music and give concerts. Interestingly, when we started this group, I thought that only 200 people will come to our shows. But then it were 500, and now it has increased to thousands. It seems that we are becoming more popular, so it's necessary to change something, because I don't want to be someone important in this business. It's very interesting for me to play this music, because it's not very easy to impress the audience with an acoustic guitar. That makes it even harder for me. Further we don't have a sample for our music, while other groups always have 3-4 idols, which they imitate. Our studio is located at home. When I suggest an idea to my producer, he asks me: "How do you want to record this song, how should it sound?", and I say: "I don't know". You have an idea, but it's unclear whether it's necessary to play it on the nyckelharpa, the hurdy gurdy, the mandola or the electric guitar. Nobody knows which option will sound the best. Then I think about it with my producer and he often makes the final decision. So we don't clearly know what we want to reach or how the song will sound when I go into the studio with my ideas.
Rock groups can draw on the experience of other rock bands, trying to recreate the same sound or song structures. Many guitar players just copy Jimi Hendrix. I don't know what would have happened if we didn't have Hendrix! In other words, that's the most difficult part of Blackmore's Night. What should we do? What's the best arrangement for this song? Which instruments should we play? Should we record the song with a big instrumentation or in a very simple Renaissance Style with the acoustics? Or add some rock guitar, to modernize it? We always have these problems when we're recording our CD's.
Do you want to tell something to your Japanese fans?
Ritchie: I hope it's more than 5 people! (laughs) They have always been very loyal. Of course, flying to Japan and exploring your country was always very interesting. Despite the fact that Japan is on the opposite side of the world, they were always a great audience! The Japanese audience listened very attentively, they are very dedicated, passionate about music. I hope that hasn't changed!
BURNN Magazine, Japan - November 2015