RITCHIE BLACKMORE has said he's been a guitarist for 21 years, which probably makes him old enough to be Johnny Rotten's Dad. And yet, if you compare the energy output of the New Wave with Blackmore's Rainbow, you might think the generation gap was reversed.
The aim of Blackmore's music is to overwhelm his audience. If you can stay under whelmed by this double live set, you'd be better off switching to Neil Diamond. Only one album has come close to making the same impact, and that was "Deep Purple In Japan", but Blackmore has sharpened up his act a good deal since then.
This guy is the only one of the tax exile axemen to consistently deliver the goods. No way is he gonna do a Clapton, warbling along to limp pop songs. No way is he about to go the way of Page, putting his music through a liquidizer along with his food.
Of course, along with the riffs, you buy Blackmore's own brand of outlaw mystique. But few people question the credibility of his image. He really is a hard-bitten guitar-slinger. A man who is obsessive, alienated, and aggressive. You can hear it in the music, because it's no pose.
Don't be fooled by the twee extract from "Over The Rainbow" that precedes the Rainbow stage act. The band power straight into "Kill The Kings", a riff ferocious enough to wipe out an entire dynasty. It hurtles along at a furious rate, making The Ramones seem like pedantic plodders in contrast.
Ronnie Dio is one of the few Americans who can sing heavy metal with conviction. He never ever gets shrill and girlish in an effort to keep up. And while many horses stamping in the stable Cozy Powell leaves his rivals at the starting gate.
Next up is "Man On The Silver Mountain", equally unrelenting. On "Blues", which follows, Blackmore shows he can be equally eloquent in a more soft-spoken manner. But that's mainly for added dramatic effect, making "Starstruck", the side one closer, even more of an assault on your central nervous system.
The whole of side two is devoted to "Catch The Rainbow", in which Blackmore confronts his major dilemma: how to play sophisticated music for head-bangers. Get too tasteful, and you end up with no audience. This cut just about strikes the balance. For each sensitive solo, there's a chunk of blasting riff. It's a risky business, though.
But there need be no qualms about "Mistreated", Rainbow's version of the last Deep Purple classic. No wonder Blackmore was discontented with the original. This is in a different universe. The song starts with a sound not unlike an incoaming shell. An abrasively pitched, high decibel hum. Imagine Ted Nugent with a million volts up his plectrum, and you get the idea. Then the shells land, as Blackmore hits that majestic riff and Dio gives the lyrics a grandeur they never seemed to possess before. A moment to savour, as is the pneumatic. Blackmore solo that follows. It begins with wrenching, shuddering, high-energy Ali mocking an opponent. But the quieter segment rapidly gives way to Dio's emphatic vocals, as Powell kicks the song back in to life.
The start of side four reflects Blackmore's avowed interest in medieval music. "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" is the title, though what it's got to do with the original song is by no means clear. Certainly, Blackmore plays the familiar theme as a prelude, but a totally different brain-damage riff follows. Ah well, if he wants to think it's medieval, let him. From here, it just sounds like flat-out 20th Century heavy metal. The new dark ages, rather than the old.
The albums's final cut is in many ways its finest. "Still I'm Sad" used to be an old Yardbirds's hit single, based on a monkish chant. But the brothers are safely locked in the crypt for his rendition, as Blackmore's barbarians rampage over hallowed ground. The original gets the sort of treatment Vanilla Fudge gave to "You Keep Me Hanging On", except Rainbow can really play. This is a truly gross performance.
Ritchie Blackmore has never been fashionable among the more effete poseurs in the rock biz. But this is an album to cut through the hype that bolsters trendier acts with fleeting reputations. Put this week's latest exquisite sensation up against Blackmore's Rainbow, and you just won't believe the carnage. Ritchie Rules. No question of it.
Bob Edmands, New Musical Express - 16 July 1977
RAINBOW • ON STAGE (Polydor)
Rainbow are a heavy band. You remember heavy bands? Plenty of bass, thunderous drums, yards of lead guitar? Of course you remember, my little spiky head. Well, Rainbow had no real trouble getting gigs and at one of them they took along a mobile recording studio and captured in realistic stereo everything that went on, and here it is, a record that is so successful in America that the band has just blown out a whole series of British concerts to go over there for some gigs. As a heavy band the guitarist was looked on as a hero, an electric wizard, and Ritchie Blackmore (you have heard of Deep Purple?) was reckoned to be one of the best.
Certainly while these concerts were being recorded, there were times when Mr. Blackmore was almost subtle. The tumultuously received blitzkrieg of "Man On The Silver Mountain" slips oh-so-cleverly into a restrained blues, and Ritchie's own "Mistreated" works through influences from mediaeval to jazz. Alongside Mr Blackmore was Ronnie James Dio, a young singer among the lustier tonsils of his generation. To his credit his singing was distinctive in a field not renowned for individualism. Although the audience loved every minute, there are a few numbers that stood out that night as better than others. "Catch The Rainbow" moved from a slinky intro into passages that built in mood and power, giving the band's two main instrumentalists a chance to demonstrate their prowess, despite a facile and repetitive keyboard riff.
"16th Century Greensleeves" was a piece with a mock mediaevil guitar start that slams rapidly into heavy metal. The rather tiresome "Still I'm Sad" went in headfirst and never surfaced. An odd thing about this album, my little razor-bladed chum, is that apart from it lasting less than an hour - and there are four sides, remember? - the engineer got a reasonable recorded sound on the guitar, vocals and keyboard, but the bass falls flat, and the drums of Mr Cozy Powell, never a man to hold back on power, sound empty and weak.
If you listen to this album, you will understand more clearly why you turned to the frantic pace of punk-power - you might also get an idea why so many of those boring old farts still like to wallow back and let a guitarist take them away. Me? Well, I found the whole thing a big, repetitious yawn; but that is, you understand, a purely PERSONAL point of view.
John Orme, Melody Maker - 20 July 1977
RAINBOW • ON STAGE (Polydor 2678 142)
Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow live, huh? Geez, I remember when I caught 'em in concert a while back. Swore off heavy metal for life (would you believe a week and a half?). Not that they weren't 'good' whatever that means. Yeah, they were "heavy" and "together" and "loud." And pointless. No brain to the band, not much heart. Mainly fingers and Ronnie James Dio's lungs blastings away.
A technical band then, but one with a few peculiarities. Like their medieval fetishes. Dio's come out in the form of his pop-Tolkien toke-down lyrics - nightmares of strange powers, deranged castle dwellers, etc. But Ritchie speaks only through his axe and it's kinda difficult to figure out if any of his licks are transcribed lute lines or not. What is evident is that the most interesting on this album come when he inserts a few moments of delicacy into the banshee bombast.
Like on "Catch The Rainbow." A stereotypical Hendrix ballad ("Little Wing," "May This Be Love") through two verses, the tune then builds strongly from gentle picked notes to the fast ferocity Blackmore's known for and back down again with nice control and restraint. Then, of course, Cozy Powell goes thunk! and we're back to the chord progression repeated endlessly as Ritchie goes apeshit, up the scales, down the scales, in and out every which way, getting everything he can out of the stale structure he's locked himself into. Why? Because there's no way out. That's rock'n'roll '77, kid, at least for superstars who've been at it ten years like Blackmore.
Usually he takes the easy way out. He doesn't even try to tie the gentle intro to "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" into the body of the song, jut flips a switch and starts pulling out the power chords. An exception is "Still I'm Sad" which contains some impressive improvs based on the melody, both from Blackmore and Tony Carey's keyboards.
Then there's the out and out dogshit. The old Purple puke - "Mistreated" wastes all of side three; Dio steps out of his heavy metal munchkin role to ill effect as the whole mess swaggers/staggers to a standstill. Definitive dinosaur rock. But the pillar of pointlessness is reached by Carey's synthesizer blues solo on side one, perhaps the silliest piece of technoflash I've ever heard.
Nobody's saying these guys can't play their instruments: the problem is what to do with all that technique. Most of the old guard guitarists have changed their tune somewhere along the line - Beck has opted for an all-instrumental approach, Clapton has settled for a slow fade, and Jimi... well, he always was in a class by himself. But Ritchie remains in a time warp, slinging his riffs across the years, seemingly unable to make a major shift in direction. Will the recent addition of ex-Uriah Heep/Tempest bassist Mark Clarke help matters? Does a Rainbow ever change it stripes? I dunno; ask Judy Garland.
Michael Davies, Creem Magazine - September 1977
RAINBOW • ON STAGE (Polydor 2678 142)
I propose now to debunk the myth of Ritchie Blackmore being a superior guitarist by telling the interested reader exactly how to play all of those sharp little licks that populate this album.
First, we have the machine-gun stutter, which is accomplished by picking any given string as fast as you possibly can and sliding your finger dramatically up and down the guitar neck until the audience gasps.
Then, there's the banshee wail, for which your guitar must have a vibrato bar. Simply hit any given high note real loud and manhandle the bar in all directions with manic frenzy.
Finally, the erudite scale, which might even require a modicum of practice. Instead of playing the blues scale straight, insert some skips at regular intervals. A good pattern is one note up, two notes down, one up, two down, and so forth, until you run out of neck. If these techniques don't work by themselves, just remember to bash the bejesus out of the open strings once in a while, or even step on the guitar. Soon, you'll have all the groupies you can stand - and we could even be writing lead reviews about you. take it from em, it works - even if it results in boring music.
In addition to having him pegged as a feeble guitarist, I find Blackmore an irresponsible brat. He claims contempt for most other guitarists because they're so obvious, while his own catalog of stunts - which I'm not about to dignify by calling a style - is the most obvious empty flash in the industry.
His incessant tantrums are well-documented and hardly the behavior of a professional. The other members of Rainbow are kids, probably because nobody his age will play with him any more. Lastly, he once had the ignorance and gall to claim that the organ was a rhythm instrument.
Tell that one to Bach - or to Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson - and watch Blackmore get his useless face smashed in, hopefully real soon.
About On Stage: it exists solely to make suckers out of the Deep Purple Loyalists. Jon Lord and Roger Glover were decidedly the brains of the operation. Accept no substitutes. Next.
Michael Bloom, Circus Magazine 1977
RAINBOW • ON STAGE (Oyster OY-2-1801)
Rainbow's On Stage is hotter rock & roll, but it will not pull heavy metal out of the doldrums, as Miles Davis periodically does with jazz. Once the angriest and most agressive genre of music, heavy metal no longer has anything to sing about. Where Kiss tramples on sexual taboos that were ground to dust in the last decade, Rainbow resorts to personal mythology that won't do much for you unless you think Robert Plant-style mysticism is poetry on the level of Lord Byron.
Ritchie Blackmore remains a master of playing boring slow stuff and then plunging into your brain with a murderous riff that can be removed only through surgery. But I just can't care when Ronnie Dio screams about being the Man on the Silver Mountain and becoming "holy" again.
Rolling Stone Magazine USA - 1977