The Revenge of the Maestro
Interview with BURRN magazine - November 1990
Let's start with the question why you left the Polydor label and moved over to BMG.
Ritchie: As you know, I love the Germans. BMG is based in West Germany. They work honestly and carefully and cooperating with them is a pleasure. Polydor recently began to use the American methods of doing certain things... Some of my german friends used to work in the headquarters of Polydor, but now they moved over to BMG. In addition to that, BMG offered us a better contract. But I plan to record a solo album on Polydor, although we haven't reached an agreement on this issue, yet.
Over the last couple of years you haven't released any solo albums; you've always did within the context of a band. What's the reason?
Ritchie: I'm very hesitant with these things. I know that people like Jeff Beck and Joe Satriani are releasing solo albums, but the question is: Will the people be interested in an instrumental album of myself? I'm not sure. In other words, if I don't feel good about it, I like hiding behind others. Well, maybe one day, when I drink enough of these (pointing to the German beer), I'll have the confidence to release one. Sometimes I feel like recording an album like that, and I might do it someday, but not now.
People who are listening to instrumental albums are always waiting to hear something technical. Maybe that's the reason?
Ritchie: Perhaps, I prefer to play as follows: (imitates slow playing) than: (imitates shredding). I just feel being stressed doing that. I think that's the problem of the modern world. Everyone is too much under pressure. Let's drink for that!
At your age musicians prefer to hear a single note and not hundreds, right?
Ritchie: Yes and no... Difficult question.
Ritchie: Hmm, let me think... Well, I still don't follow what other guitarists are doing. In today's world it's all about playing fast and technical, but that just bores me. I don't follow that fashion, and I hope that there'll come a time when people will listen to guitarists, who are playing from the heart. These changes will become visible if you pay attention to the fact that Eric Clapton has become popular again; Jeff Healey, too. People are beginning to get bored of guitarists who are just paying attention to the speed and technique. Despite this, the shred guitar playing hasn't gone out of fashion, it might will get even more popular. I don't think it makes any sense. It's like reading Shakespeare's verses at double speed, but what's the point?
I don't know if you are aware of this band, but I love the new band Cinderella - their music has something and I think they have a good musical taste. What do you think about shredders who play from the heart, and those who do it just for the sake of speed?
Ritchie: I don't really know much about them. Of course, they are on the radio all the time, but it seems to me that the music always repeats itself in a circle, and when some kind of fashion reaches the end point, the music starts to strive for the opposite. In addition, if we talk about music that comes from the heart, then, for example, the Japanese people are always open for any kind of music. They are always listening very carefully, and I think they understand it. So, instead of following speed, they are enjoying music that comes from the heart. I think the shred guitar is mainly an American fashion, but the Americans have another positive side. When Americans become your fans, they stay with you for years, even decades. Meanwhile people from the UK have a new favourite band every six weeks. In America, a bands popularity is growing like a snowball, so that's a good place in a sense.
What about Europe?
Ritchie: I think the fans there are like the Japanese. I especially like the Italians, it's my favourite audience. They are always very emotional during the concerts. In addition, 99% of our viewers in Italy are men. (laughs) They keep their women locked up at home and don't allow them go to the shows. Not like in Japan, right?
Businessmen of our time are not really interested in becoming musicians anymore. Today it's more about really believing in yourself or thinking of being different than the others. Can you say that about yourself, too?
Ritchie: With me it was the same. Perhaps most musicians start to play music from an interior anxiety and self-doubt, and the music becomes some sort of determination for them. We feel calmer and more stable, holding a musical instrument in our hands and playing music. I'm not one of those who radiates self-confidence, and I've also never felt quite fullfilled. Maybe the lack of self-confidence attracts so many people about me?
Ritchie: I think so. My friends are often surprised when they see that I don't want to talk about my music. People ask me why, but I don't want to discuss it with pride. And on stage, when I play the guitar, I'm the center of attention, and, in fact, for me it's easier to do this than working as a carpenter, when no-one is seeing me. I can't imagine myself doing this! I could never work as a carpenter just for the sake of making money.
By the way, can you tell us about the reason Ian Gillan left the band?
Ritchie: Two years ago I was getting fed up by Ian's behaviour, so he had to leave. I lost all respect for him. On stage, he sang beautifully, but it was different in the studio. We haven't been able to write any songs, so in the end also the others got fed up with him. But this topic is very invidious, because Ian isn't here to defend himself, so I don't want to go to deep into everything that happened, but I've also wanted to work with a vocalist that was able to sing a melody. In addition to that, we always had arguments with each other. His opinion about music is completely different than mine. At times he seemed to be purely out of principle - we could never agree on something. He also didn't like the distribution of royalties for authorship. When we reunited Deep Purple, we agreed on distributing the authorship on the band members that were really part of the song writing process. The bulk of the music was just written by three members and not being divided to all 5 members, as it was done before.
But I think Ian wasn't affected, because he was always one of the collaborators, right?
Ritchie: Yes, that's true, but Ian didn't like it - besides, he had a problem with the manager. Right before he left, he strongly quarreled with him. In addition, he expressed a lot of unflattering situations in the studio. When we wanted to make some decisions, and told him that he was the only guy who wasn't supporting our decision, he just kept saying: "Why should I agree?".
Ritchie: Even now, I can't say anything negative on his talent as a performer on stage, though I can't stand his behaviour behind the scenes. But he'll probably say the same thing about me. During gigs Ian was able to make cool jokes, but he always had big problems to improvise, because he loves it when concerts are monotonous. He didn't want to try something new, and sometimes it seemed to me that he was thinking: "It's better to let things going like in the good old days...".
Do you agree with Ian Gillan on the fact that the album "The House of Blue Light" can't be called the most successful album in your catalogue?
Ritchie: The recording of the album took us so long, that even before the release, I was already tired of it. (laughs) On this album, there wasn't even one successful song. During the recording sessions the problems already started with Ian Gillan. That's why it took us so much time to finish it. Within the group we constantly had conflicts, which made it very difficult. So when we finished recording the album, I said: "I don't want to record another album in such an atmosphere".
Is there any particular song that you like from this album?
Ritchie: I think some of the songs were good, but I can't think of one that I really liked personally.
So the conditions under which you were recording this album weren't very inspiring for you?
Ritchie: I'm always interested in making music, but I don't like to spend so much time in the studio, working for days on just one song. I start to loose my interest and enthusiasm. Then I often ask myself: "What am I doing here?". I like to play and write music when I feel like it, when I'm in the right mood. On "The House of Blue Light" there aren't such songs. Besides, I also don't like the sound of the drums, which is also why I never listened to this record afterwards.
So you aren't upset that the album sold very poorly?
Ritchie: I took it as a matter of course. The fact that we have spent so much time on this record, killed all the songs, they didn't sound natural anymore. A really good song is written in something like 5 minutes. When you listen to these songs, you will realize that some of them are actually not that bad, but the endless editing killed them.
Let's talk about the new album. Many fans weren't very happy about Joe Lynn Turner, what do you think about this?
Ritchie: People, who hate listening to this album, should forget about the old Deep Purple for a moment. I think that "Slaves and Masters" is a new era for the band. When we decided to change the vocalist, we've heard a lot of other singers before Joe. But they didn't have the character, which Joe's voice has. We were not sure, whether we should choose Joe, due to the fact that he sang in Rainbow, and we would be three old members of Rainbow, which is why were afraid of using Joe. But well, I think you should listen to the album to decide, whether you like it or not. I like Joe and think that he did an excellent job. I believe that you have to listen to the albums yourself. I hate when people just listen to some people telling them that it's rubbish. What do you think about it? I like this album very much personally.
It's my personal opinion, but as a fan of Deep Purple and Rainbow, this album kills two birds with one stone, so I'm very satisfied with it...
Ritchie: Two birds with one stone? Sounds great. It may be a good slogan to promote this album. (laughs)
What do you think about the performances of the other members in the group?
Ritchie: It seemed that they were just forcing themselves through it, so they drank a lot of beer (laughs).
So one of the reasons you've decided to use Joe was to write more melodic songs?
Ritchie: Good question. Of course, the melody is a very important aspect, and his voice is perfect for that. When we worked with Ian, I thought more about the riffs. Now it's the opposite - we've concentrated more on the vocal lines now. On the other hand, some of the songs Ian Gillan sung just perfectly, and Joe has some problems with these. Joe is a very melodious singer, sometimes too melodic. So in this case, he has to adapt to these songs. Ian sang very aggressively and he shouted a lot. He was a totally different vocalist. He has his own style.
With whom of them do you prefer to work together?
Ritchie: It's very different... I like to work with Joe. For example, if it's snowing outside, we sit by the fire, I play the guitar and Joe starts to sing... That's how we work. Robert Plant once told me that Led Zeppelin recorded their tracks for "Kashmir" in 7 minutes. Then Jimmy Page told Robert Plant to think about what to sing. We worked in the same way with Ian Gillan. We didn't write music together. He asked us to send him the tracks, when they're ready, so that he could write the lyrics. But Joe was involved in the whole process. For example, I would ask him: "What's sounding better - should we play it in D or E?", and so on... We've worked out a lot of arrangements together. It was much easier to work with Joe. Ian very rarely listened to our writing sessions, he just felt responsible for the lyrics. It was very pleasing to work with Joe, because we worked together and exchanged a lot of ideas. So, perhaps, I prefer to work with him to answer your question.
After the reunion there's a lot more exotic oriental scales in your playing. Is there any special reason for that?
Ritchie: Not really. When I write songs, I just play the first thing that comes to my mind. There's a song, which isn't on the album, but it has elements of Japanese music. I try to write music within 10-15 minutes. I don't like working on a song for 3 days, I want to keep it natural. I also think that the name of a song is very important for the listener. It creates an image in people's heads. If a song is called something like "Crystal Ball", it creates mystical images in the head. That's why I'm interested in physical research, I want to understand how people think. You might know that I'm doing this kind of research for almost 20 years, so sometimes when I listen to someone's speech, I wanna know: "How does this guy really feel now? Is he honest?".
We shall return to the main topic...
Is it true that the opening to the song "Love Conquers All" was performed by Jon on the keyboards?
Ritchie: Right. We've decided to play it with a keyboard, because I've forgot how to play the cello.
"Fire in the Basement" has the same kind of rythmn like "Lazy" or "Starstruck". Do you like to play the shuffle?
Ritchie: Not that much. In 1964-1965, everything I played was Shuffle. Shuffle comes from the US, so this rythmn is more suited to the Americans. But it seems to have got a little bit out of fashion. So when we want to play something classical or old-fashioned at the rehearsals, we're always joking: "Well, should we do a shuffle?". Of course playing everything in this rythmn would be boring. But of course there are exceptions, for example, I like the way Jimi Hendrix used this rythmn in "Manic Depression". Today's musicians don't like to use rhythms that you can't dance to. Record companies also have problems with that. We are fortunate to work with a record company and manager, which give us a lot of freedom in this regard. I'm happy about that. Most of today's rock bands have to sound like "Guns n Roses". (laughs)
Do you think that without copying other bands, you are a kind of "Protest" band in that aspect?
Ritchie: No... I always hated to do what other people did, I never do what's expected of me. I would hate it if I would have to limit myself. I have always believed in going my own way. That's also why I didn't drive a car for a long time. Also everyone in the US is crazy about baseball, I personally prefer football (soccer), which isn't very popular over here. I love medieval and classical music... even in music, I try to stay away from the most popular things. That's my way of life.
Is that your natural behaviour or do you just do it on purpose?
Ritchie: Probably, the one and the other. For example, if everything around me is drinking beer, I would never drink it. I don't like to be like others. I prefer to be incomprehensible, not from this world.
Have you been similar in your childhood?
Ritchie: At school, everyone thought I was crazy (laughs). The difference now is that everyone became used to it. Also, many people think that a musician must be odd. But this strangeness isn't connected with music. I was already strange, before I became interested in any music. (laughs)
"Too Much is not enough" was written by Joe and Al Greenwood. Why did you decide to cover this song?
Ritchie: When Joe gave me that song to listen to, I liked it from the very beginning. The other guys, too. I have no problem to play other people's songs. A good song is a good song, even if I didn't write it. In fact, to play other people's songs is harder, because you haven't been the composer. It's a huge difference, because I can look at them from another perspective. Some guys in the group think that we should just play our own songs. I think that's wrong. We should play whatever sounds good. As you know, "Since You've Been Gone" and "I Surrender" were written by someone else, too. Sometimes it's very interesting to play someone elses music. So when it came to "Too Much is Not Enough", I was free to choose, and decided to play it, just because I liked it. Many bands only play their own songs. There are situations when someone in the band is presenting everyone an idea and asks the others for their opinion. Sometimes it's very hard to say: "Sorry, but that's a terrible song". So you start to say: "Well, that's not very...", which usually follows the reaction: "Why? Is the key wrong or do we need to change something else?". Then you have to convince the other guy that it's not possible to use this idea, and gently try to explain him why. Sometimes it happens that musicians start getting on each other's throats because of that.
In other words, it's better to say that the idea doesn't fit, instead of letting him know that it's just terrible?
Ritchie: Right, sometimes I feel like saying: "What a terrible song". Instead, you have 2-3 days of trying to learn it, discussing it with the others and try to convince the person very slowly that this idea doesn't fit into the project. All this just for the sake of avoiding a fight! It takes a lot of effort and nerves. You loose a lot of time in the studio because of that.
What's the meaning of the album title?
Ritchie: The name "Slaves and Masters" comes from the nicknames we gave the recorders in the studio. But the audience comes up with other explanations, one sees a sexual content, some people think it's politically motived, feminists see it as a battle of the sexes. As for the cover, the crystal ball is in someone's arms controlling everything that is inside the ball. Besides, life is so unpredictable and mysterious that we can't even be sure of what we are today.
What's your favourite song on the album? Is it "Whole Lotta Love" again?
When you were asked the same question about the "Perfect Strangers" record, you've answered "Whole Lotta Love".
Ritchie: Oh, I see. I actually said that? (laughs) You know, sometimes I think it's simply impossible to talk about music. When I'm sitting here at the table I can't give you a serious answer on questions like: "How do you work on music?". I don't even know what to say to that. But seriously, my favourite song on the album is "Truth Hurts", which we wrote in five minutes, and I think you can hear that. Joe's voice sounds very good on that one... I also like the song "Love Conquers All", which is inspired by medieval music, and "Fire in the Basement", a traditional blues, being played in a shuffle. But we've already talked about it. "Wicked Ways" is a very versatile song. It has a very unusual descending riff, which we stole from a hit by Loverboy. (laughs)
"Working For The Weekend"?
Ritchie: Oh yeah. That's the song I had in my mind. Of course, it's not a copy, but it was an inspiration for me to write this riff. When I heard it, I thought: "I'd like to play something in that rythm"...
Do you like their guitar player Paul Dean?
Ritchie: Yeah, even though I never met him, but he plays very well. "Breakfast in Bed" - to be honest, at first I didn't like it. However, after working it out with Joe, it came out much better than I expected it to be.
Let's talk about something different. We had the soccer World Cup this year and the German team played against the British team...
Ritchie: I was rooting for Germany because I lived in West Germany for some time and they lost the war (laughs). The British team played very undisciplined somehow. When my British fans hear that I'm a fan of Germany, they are very surprised. I tell them that it's just a game, and that I'm a fan of the Germans because they're a very strong team, but they still don't understand it. I like many things in Britian, but with football, I'm always with the Germans, because they are the best. I've spent many years in Germany, so I have a strong connection to both countries. It would be very difficult in the days of World War II (laughing).
Speaking about Germany - the Berlin wall fell, what do you think about the unification of West and East Germany?
Ritchie: Of course, I take it positively. A few years ago I had a sticker on my guitar which said: "East and West Germany are united". But it was dangerous to do that, especially when moving across the border between East and West Germany.
In the seventies, you once said that you would hate to give concerts in the communist countries of Eastern Europe. Now everything has changed?
Ritchie: At that time a harsh repression took place in communist countries. In Austria, I was once put in jail for hitting a policeman, who was hurting people. I had to pay a deposit of thousands of dollars to get out of jail. It was a well oiled machine down there. The following week, they put Joe Cocker in there, and then the two guys of Status Quo... I think the Czech Republic did the same back then. But I think this idiocy has stopped now.
So now you don't mind to perform in the Soviet Union anymore?
Ritchie: Of course. I'm ready to perform all over the world, even in Iraq or Turkey. The only place I don't want to go is Libya at the moment.
What makes the Iraq any better than Libya?
Ritchie: At first the problems were down in Iraq, now in Libya, and the next stop will probably be Turkey... The whole region is very problematic. Hey, have you noticed? Joe arrived...
Wow, amazing! I haven't heard any noise of an approaching car outside, so how did you know?
Let's talk about Iraq.
Ritchie: Hussein is like Hitler. He wants to kill everyone that doesn't like him. He's crazy. If they don't stop it him, he will try to conquer the whole world one day. They've been bombing Israel for a long time, and now they are starting to build nuclear weapons. If Gaddafi and Saddam will get nuclear weapons, we'll all be in serious problems. They should understand the responsibility they have for their country and within this world...
Do you think that the situation in Iraq can lead to a big war? Or do you think common sense will win?
Ritchie: I hope that common sense will prevail over it. At the same time, it should be a lesson to the world that you can't follow Hussein and his ilk. If someone asked for my advice, I would tell them: It's necessary to go to Iraq and take Hussein hostage. We need to keep him hostage in the US. But right now, he's taking hostages. He enjoys total control at the moment and simply enjoys it.
BURRN magazine - November 1990