RITCHIE BLACKMOREWith a constant barrage of rumours flying around after the departure of Cozy Powell - an event that the media were convinced signalled the final trumpet for Rainbow - it was pleasing to know that the band are still in full flight. And since enlisting the powerful arms of Long Island unknown Bobby Rondinello in only the last couple of months they are already working fast and furiously on their next studio album.
Blackmore in New "Black Stockings" Sexism Outrage
I of course, had to check the situation out. And apart from scanning the story so far, there were obviously a few more questions to ask, what with the never ending saga of a Deep Purple reunion constantly being threatened in the music rags, a story was on the cards.
So... The location for the new album is Copenhagen's Sweet Silence studios, discovered when the group decided to record a completely new track as a B-side for 'All Night Long', mid way through a tour of Denmark. The result was a haunting instrumental titled 'Weiss Heim' (the name of Blackmore's Long Island abode, a monicker which translated from German means white house). It's the first place that Ritchie found he could get a good guitar sound within a matter of hours, rather than days.
Apart from having every facility you could want from a studio, Sweet Silence also possesses every episode of 'Fawlty Towers', making for excellent entertainment and proving irrefutably that the Danes have a good sense of sarcasm (and also some of the strongest bloody beer I've tasted).
On reaching the studios we were greeted by the band (minus Graham Bonnet, who is back home in LA) and were informed that album's progress was ticking over nicely but a bit slower than expected. Graham went back as the group were still finishing off the backing tracks and still had to complete two more songs to make up the required eight tracks. They already have two possible singles, one a Russ Ballard toon entitled 'I Surrender' and the other written by a pal of Ritchie's called 'Magic'.
The album isn't out until February but I can safely say that listening to some rough cuts this is going to be one of the heaviest Rainbow LP's yet, including a rip-snorting instrumental and a surprise ending - say no more!
At the production helm we again have the more than capable knob twiddling pinkies of Roger Glover who will also be providing the bulk of lyrics.
Blackmore was in a particularly good mood when we talked, and proving once again that he's not the heartless bastard everyone makes out he was pleased to announce the formation of a Rainbow fan club that he himself has personally endorsed and is run with the help of close friend Ian Broad.
It's only recently that I've realised that Blackmore has such a clear, definite concept of Rainbow, in as much as exercising his ideas of how a group should be run to retain its freshness/vigour and prevent it from becoming like the countless other units that have become musical equivalents of clapped out old whores of the industry, victims of contractual commitments.
From the outside looking in, with his constant chopping and changing, Ritchie comes over like some sort of musical Sweeney Todd wielding a chopping axe that senselessly severs the destiny of his fellow players at a regular rate almost as if the man gets some peverse pleasure from the process.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Blackmore's general outlook towards Rainbow couldn't be more positive/logical: he definitely has a method to his madness and a total disregard of the cogs that make this business turn in a robotic, intentionally uncreative way. He possesses the attitude of the true musician which accounts for his extreme nature and makes Rainbow so damn good.
We conducted our interview in the lobby of the hotel in the wee hours of the morning. It was accompanied by a backdrop of Blackmore's favourite toons blasting out of his portable cassette rig...
Let's start off with Donnington, were you pleased with the outcome of the event?
"Yeah, I was really surprised and pleasantly surprised by Donnington, I thought the whole show went really well, because the whole thing could have really collapsed, it was such a big production. I was quite surprised by the press reaction. But then I thought about it and decided we were due for a slagging. I read a few letters from fans and judging by the things they were saying it didn't seem like the reviewers were at the same gig, but obviously they had it in for us before they even went. I liked it and although I'm always interested in what the critics have to say, it's my opinion that counts in the end to me, and I thought it was really good."
Are you sensitive to criticism?
"Yeah, you'd have to be a fool not to listen to it, but I have a cynical angle to the whole thing. The press are becoming more and more bitter and in the last three years they have become incredibly coarse. I think the function of the press is to keep the people informed with what's going on and you've got to take a few ups and downs, within reason. But the whole things seems to have got to a 'let's knock everybody because they're earning so much more than we are, and there's poor old me I can't buy a pint of bitter.' And they're not going to hurt the fans by it, the fans if anything are going to be bored by the stubborn reviews".
Are you worried about cracking America?
"I'll attempt it in my own way, but I certainly won't lose any sleep over it. Although I live in America, I think that Europeans are much more knowledgeable when it comes to bands. On the whole the bands that are more famous in Europe are better bands, they mean more and are saying more. In America you have to put yourself in a glossy little package and present the whole thing properly. You have to have the record company a hundred per cent behind you and you have to pay people this and give cocaine to other people. I get to the stage where I say 'I'm sorry I can't be bothered with that'. If it means doing that I'd rather remain an unknown idiot, I'm not going to those limits. If the guitar doesn't say it, well, tough."
How's the new album developing?
"This one's going to be much heavier, it's more of a party LP. We've kept all the tempos up and so far we haven't got one slow song on it because I believe people want to be in an up mood. There's too much going on politically, the environment is so down, I don't think people need to be reminded of anything like that. I'm also beginning to lose my classical influences, although I have and always will have that influence within me, I'm not as obsessed with it like I was a couple of years back. For about four years I wouldn't listen to anything except classical, nowadays I find myself turning it off and listening to heavy rock which I find refreshing. With classical music, it's got to the stage where I'm not trying to push it on people anymore. I think the older you get, the more you become interested in it because it's a delicate type of music and you have to mature as a person to appreciate it. But, uh, I'm kind of unmaturing these days. I'm going through a phase where I'm listening to a lot more rock and roll and I'm pleased because I was beginning to wonder if I was losing my interest in it. At one point all I would play was heavy baroque music, weirdo music, a lot of church music... maybe I was seeking refuge from something... I don't know. At the moment I'm turned on by playing heavy rock and that's why this album is going to be more up."
With so many changes in line up it seems that you thrive on friction.
"Yeah, I don't like everything to be hunky dory, rock and roll is not supposed to be nice. I don't think a band is a band unless you have aggravation. I get satisfaction out of Rainbow because I keep it moving and people come and they go, to me new blood gives me energy. I only change members so that people can say 'Oh that's it Blackmore has really fucked himself this time', and I need people to say that, because it gives me the edge that I need."
Don't you get frustrated with the constant changes in line up?
"No, I get frustrated with the line up of the band. I'm not a callous person but I feel if someone has to be taken away, then it has to be done. I'm not going to sustain a band so they become like Deep Purple. I got out of Purple because I felt we were getting stale and I found with certain personnel of Rainbow that we got stale again. I like to be rejuvenated, its almost a vampire like thing. I feed on the blood of musicians passing through and when the blood's dried up I get rid of them (laughs). No, I don't really like to think I'm getting rid of them, I've just passed them on to other fields. I'm looking for a perfect line up, like everybody's looking for a perfect woman. I'm not looking for the perfect band, I'm looking for a band I really get off playing with... and it's difficult. Not because I'm a perfectionist but I am damn fussy I suppose."
Was this perfect balance achieved with Purple?
"No it wasn't in Purple. I was very excited and honoured to be in Purple because the whole thing was new to me and I was thankful that I was doing a gig and not starving. But after a while I began to realize that I wasn't really saying too much, neither was the band although a lot of people thought we were. There's a lot of things we did - and I'm talking about myself in particular - that didn't mean anything, it was just us plodding away. It's very difficult to make everything you do mean something.
When we originally talked about the Purple reunion, it seemed just like a fun idea. Now it seems a lot of politics will be involved. How can you separate the two if the thing ever came to fruition?
"I shall just keep myself isolated from the people I don't want to be with and keep in touch with the people I want to see, which is the band. As long as the band feel that they want to play then that's alright. Me, I'm not going to push it, I know the line up I want to see playing. But I've seen so much fuss go down in the last six months it's beginning to bore me and it must be boring to the public. It was just an idea I thought of for nostalgia's sake, now everybody's getting too serious. Initially it was to get back together for a month, no records would be made, just a one off.
Say it did happen, could you see yourselves writing any new material?
"I'm very interested in getting together with Ian Gillan because I think he's got a lot to offer. He's always been an honest bloke who's stuck to his guns"
Are you annoyed about the New Deep Purple? (as exposed in Sylvia Simmons' report in Sounds recently)
"No, I think it did annoy me for about a day, I was just reading the interview with Rod Evans in Sounds and he hasn't changed, he's a really nice guy, there's no malice intended. He probably wanted to make some money out of it which he felt he might not have done in the beginning. But that's all over and now the lawyers are in and that's been stopped."
How come the name Deep Purple means so much more in America than the individual projects ex members, including yourself, are involved with?
"I dunno, I think a lot of American people are thick 'cause Rainbow, Whitesnake whatever, we do things in the same vein that Purple did, but unless it's got the name stamped on it, they shy away from it. Maybe it's because we were one of those bands that disappeared when we didn't have to."
Do you still enjoy playing live?
"I enjoy playing live most of the time, but there's places like Wembley where I didn't enjoy it and that's why I won't carry something through if I don't enjoy it."
Were you worried when Cozy left?
"No because I knew Bobby and although he wasn't a name, I'd seen him play and he was great. He's got a lot of animal instinct, he hits the drums really hard and he knows why he's hitting them really hard. He's got a helluva lot of technique, he teaches drums and I think it's important to know why and how you're playing an instrument."
How did you find him?
"I saw him with a small band in Long Island called Samantha and he was playing on someone else's kit, which kept falling apart, and I could tell straight away that he was a great drummer. Apparently Kiss wanted him but he decided to play music he's always loved playing with us, rather than with Kiss for the money."
You always work closely with your drummers...
"I always write the music with a drummer, I always write a riff around the tempo, I used to do it the same way with Ian Paice, not so much with Cozy."
What bought about the recording of something as commercial as 'Since You've Been Gone'?
"I just thought we needed a little bit of rejuvenation, a bit of a push on the commercial end, 'cause we were getting a little bit to heavy and underground. Hendrix once said that everybody likes to hear their music being played on a juke box when they walk into a place. I liked the song and we knew it was a commercial hit and it worked, but we quickly followed it up with 'All Night Long' which was to say 'well we know we can do it with our own songs as well'. 'Since You've Been Gone' gave us a push into the commercial area. As long as you don't go overboard and appear on the Tory Blackburn show every week there's nothing wrong with doing it. It's not a compromise, you just have to appreciate that some people aren't as musically aware as others and you can't go round educating everybody all the time. As long as you don't go overboard and sell out like McCartney who I think has gone over the top lately, he's just going out to sell as many records as he can, with no musical content. He's the prime example of someone who's gone down and is doing commercial Andy Pandy stuff. Once he set the world alight with some of the best commercial music ever, I suppose the only thing left to do is go the other way and write for children under three, I suppose it's a new avenue for him, I wish he'd get out of it quick."
What do you think of the sexist pig attack you've had for the lyrical content of 'All Night Long'.
"I think there's a lot of women who are very boring. Everybody knows it's all tongue in cheek, and anybody who doesn't know that isn't worth being talked about anyway. The whole world has always been men running after women, and the woman is the peacock going around with her feathers up, so that's the way it will always be no matter how many people go around trying to change it."
Are there still goals you are striving for?
"To try and please myself. I can see being in this band on the road for about two or three more years. I shall always play the guitar. Maybe next year I'll record an instrumental LP of all the songs I've accumulated over the last couple of years. They're all slow songs, there's not too much rock in it... it's just a different side. It's a side I've never really wanted to show 'cause I never really had it".
Have you any ambitions as a player?
"No, I just always hope that I have the capability of playing the guitar, it's up to me to practise and to get better. All I ask is that I don't get arthritis or lose my hands, 'cause that would mess my head up. As long as I can play the guitar I don't care whether I'm a commercial success or not. I'd just get a blues band together. I love getting up and jamming the blues, that's what I do best. Sometimes I get up onstage, do my antics and I can play a lot of shit. I'm more conscious of projecting than playing some nights, when I should be thinking of getting some right notes, I'm thinking of getting the front row on their feet. It can be more like cabaret sometimes."
Do you still enjoy smashing guitars?
"For some reason I always get excited doing it. I sometimes sit back and think 'what have I done tonight, smashed a guitar - why?'. Then I think, well, it excites me to do it and it excites the audience - end of reason. If I really didn't like doing it, I wouldn't do it. Maybe it's a kind of rebellion against, uh... I was going to say society, but society I find more acceptable than the music industry, so maybe it's rebellion against the music industry. Not the music, just the industry bullshit. Everybody's become money minded and talking about shipping platinum, that's not rock and roll. So that's probably why I have so much venom when I'm breaking up a guitar. I'm breaking up something which I think if I destroy then I won't be bothered by these music industry people anymore. It's a very warped sense of - it's like a Picasso painting, a very abstract expression of where my ideas are."
How do you manage to retain your enthusiasm?
"By hearing good music, that makes me think it's worth it. But I still think musicians should get all the money for something they've created. Maybe they should record cassettes and distribute the product themselves, fuck the record industry."
What do you feel about the reputation you have?
"It's incredible how I've got this name in this business for being a bastard, maybe it's just bad publicity. The people that know me, know that I'm not an ogre. The people that don't like me are the people that I don't want to like. Even close friends say 'well yeah you can be a nice guy, but sometimes I don't understand you'. But that's because I don't understand myself. If someone asked me where I was at, I really couldn't say, cause I don't know"...
Pete Makowski, Sounds, 11 October 1980