This must be one of the earliest interviews done after Mr. Blackmore took off for what became Rainbow. Always exciting to hear from the man in black, and I hope he now continues his hard rock career once more with the new Rainbow band he is going out on the road with in 2016. Have a good read!
It`s so nice being nasty
They were Deep. And very, very Purple. And very, very, very rich. Then somebody left. Then somebody else left. Finally Ritchie Blackmore left. Now there`s only two originals left. The whole thing is, can David Coverdale be said to be on a good screw and has the Bitchfinder General got the whole world sussed out?
Pete Erskine (in London) report.
“He`s alright,” says the PR reassuringly on the other end of the `phone. “He`s not the character people make him out to be.”
The Holiday Inn, Swiss Cottage. Strictly nouveauland. Restrained vacuum-formed decor and static electricity shocks from the toilet door knobs.
The ashtrays in the bar are bland enough to discourage even the most hardened pilferer. Instead I fill my pockets with book matches, lie to the barman that I`m a guest and pay 40p for an expensive looking bottle containing very cheaply produced beer.
A tall, lank-haired gentleman in jeans and Spanish-copies-of-western-boots enters, buys himself a drink and introduces himself as Ian Ferguson, Ritchie Blackmore`s road manager.
Well, tell us then, Ian, what`s he really like… I mean, you know, working for him `n` all?
“He`s very honest,” says Ferguson, in what might be a Scottish accent, “…and very outspoken. But he never orders me to do anything. He always asks.”
Nevertheless, Ferguson adds, Ritchie always gets his own way. Which might explain why he`s half an hour late for this interview – he`s gone shopping. Presumably for clothes – he makes his subsequent entrance in a Tesco tank-top ensemble which makes the lead guitarist of the Doobie Bros look sharper than Peter Wyngarde.
Presumably to gain some kind of psychological tactical advantage, Blackmore proffers a handshake from behind the settee so that I have to stand up, twist round and lose my equilibrium all in one swift fluid movement. His companion, a short personable American guy with a thick bush of black hair and Italianate features, invites him to sit next to me and we begin – with Blackmore morosely explaining that the reason he`s doing interviews is that a few “thick people” don`t know that he`s left Deep Purple. He stares with an expression of acute boredom straight through my notepad and through the glass sliding doors bordering the hotel pool which is filled to capacity with the children of visiting Americans.
Blackmore and Purple parted company three months ago.
“-Physically that is. Spiritually, I left about a year ago,” he adds dryly.
One gathers you didn`t enjoy playing on the last album.
“I made the best of it. I was a bit tired of the ideas and the personnel; it was all a bit routine.”
He does not think that the band`s approach is “dated”.
“But everybody`s approaching their material in the same way. Most of the big bands I know are; most of them are very lazy.
“The way we used to approach making records was we would allot two weeks for rehearsals, then for maybe twelve days play football, and the other day we`d sleep, then we`d probably rehearse for one hour of the day that was left.
“We wrote most of the material in the studio, so it was a case of falling back on professionalism rather than creative…um…songs.
You mean you were just going through the motions, Ritchie?
“Yes,” he continues, staring toad-like into his beer, “I lost the excitement of it.”
Hard to imagine Blackmore excited. But wait…
“… But now I`ve gained it through being with different personnel.”
And he`s certainly not into the solo LP business, this is just another band.
The band comprises Jimmy Bain, bass, Gary Driscoll, drums, the Italianate American (Ronnie Dio) lead vocals, Micky Lee Soule, keyboards, and Ritchie Blackmore, guitar.
Blackmore ploughs on resignedly, still gazing glazedly at the aquatic activity through the glass doors.
“People used to say to me, `When are you making a solo?` and I used to say, `Well, I do that all the time with Deep Purple!`
“It was a case of I wanted to use different people and make… just try and make… I found that quite honestly I was doing most of the work with Deep Purple myself – without sounding conceited – I just found that a lot was relying on me. So I thought, sod this…”
In terms of what? The stage performances?
“No. The writing.”
Oh. I thought most of that came from Jon Lord.
“Hmm, I know,” he smirks. “A lot of people thought that.”
Has it always been like that?
“Yes, since `Deep Purple In Rock`. Before that it was kind of equally shared. Since `Deep Purple In Rock` it was written always by Roger (Glover), Ian (Paice) and myself. John would be very good at advising whether to use an A Major or a C Minor but he didn`t write.
“That`s another big reason why I left. There were no writers in the band – including myself. I can write to a degree but I do need help. Ian was always there – Ian Paice the drummer – he always had lots of adrenalin, wanted to get on with it and play – but a drummer can`t contribute any more than playing the drums unless he`s a songwriter and a piano player.
“There were people who said we hated each other,” he observes, shifting his gaze to an adjacent lavatory door, “but I never let it get that far. Otherwise we`d have broken up a long time ago.
“I used to have my own dressing room because I like solitude before going onstage; I have four or five guitars to tune up and I can`t do that with someone playing bass or organ in the same room. I prefer to be on my own.
“I`m a loner – not because I don`t like people, it`s just that I like to be alone because…uh… for instance… I find myself more interesting than most people I meet…
“It sounds pretty conceited… probably is… I dunno.”
And he chuckles to himself, then leans across to Dio attracting his attention by grabbing his knee, halting me in mid-question by pointing out to Dio how amusing he finds the perambulations of one particularly graceless non-swimmer.
Blackmore, his mirth subsided, continues:
“We did have a channel we had to keep to – or producing hard rock all the time. I love hard rock. It was my idea to do it, along with Ian and Roger, but we couldn`t stray from it very much or people would go `It`s not as hard as their last one` or if we did do a hard rock thing the press would always go `Huh, same old thing. Heavy Metal Rubbish`. Which they never,” he adds wearily, “saw the subtleties of. And of which,” he post-scripts slightly petulantly, “they never will do. They`d rather talk about folk singers. But that`s another thing.”
About what? (Sorry).
“About folk singers. They turn out second rate music but it`s quiet and they can talk over that.”
Interesting, that. “A folk singer is someone who turns out second rate music.” Blackmore has a curious fixation with “folk singers” – as if there`re only two types of music in the world: Deep Purple and folk singers.
He`s a real dab hand at the lightning epithet, too. Last April he told an interviewer: “The so-called greats like Segovia knew nothing about feedback.”
Here he was making a correct assumption. “The music that we make demands attention,” Blackmore continues, retracing earlier steps, “which puts people off.
“The best writer, I find… is Chris Welch…
“It`s the same as… Black Sabbath. Immediately you say their name people say `Oh, rubbish, rubbish` – they might not be the best in the world but they`re certainly a lot better than most of the folk singers that get talked about and praised.”
Give us an example of a “folk singer”.
“I can`t. I really don`t know because I don`t take any notice of them.”
Blackmore prefers Jethro Tull and J. S. Bach.
Do you think that people missed the subtleties in Deep Purple, Ritchie?
“Yes. I think they do. I think they did at the time. The kids didn`t, the press did. That`s why the band was…”
What were the subtleties?
“The subtleties were what was involved in the simple structure of the song, incorporating such a limiting structure. To have to make up good solos in that structure is very hard. People would hear a riff and say `Oh, that`s kids` stuff` but it`s not as simple as that. And you can name music in seven-four or five-four but it`s easier than making four-four if it`s not different, the content. For instance, the solos count on a lot of the songs.
“That,” he concludes, “was the subtlety of most of the songs.”
But isn`t that approach of The All Important Solo a bit passe? I inquire, and he stares blankly and lets me ramble on until I trip over my own point of view but finally manage to wind up by saying that that particular approach has been used for at least ten years.
“And it`ll probably go on being used for the next hundred years,” he responds sullenly.
But ain`t it a little predictable?
“No. I don`t think so.”
Well, Clapton, for one, forsook it ages ago.
“Yeah. And he`s also got very boring,” comes the quick rejoinder.
So you`re still a solos man, Ritchie?
“No, I`m a backup man now. I play cello,” he says cracking a joke. “I back up Ronnie who`s on violin.”
They both laugh good-naturedly.
He`s played guitar for 19 years and doesn`t listen to many other guitarists, mainly violinists and cellists. He doesn`t listen to much heavy rock, goes to quite a few classical concerts. He says he believes heavy rock is very closely related to J. S. Bach in terms of rhythms and directness.
“In my opinion, that is. Not that anyone else would think so. They`d say `How dare he say that!`
“I either listen to Bach or hard rock done by a very good band. Not too many good hard rock bands about…Paul Rodgers is a good singer but Bad Company are pretty average. Zeppelin sometimes pull out something good…”
One wonders – as a layman, that is – just what it`s really like to be a famous lead guitarist. Would Ritchie like to stow the image for awhile?
“I don`t think about it. But I wouldn`t like to get shot of it. Not at the moment. I still like the adrenalin and the respect you can get, the power… but only in certain ways…
“I don`t like the power of when somebody asks me for my opinion on something because often my opinions go from my subconscious to my unconscious and they don`t really make a lot of sense to people unless they know my music inside out.”
Notice the inference? He`s right. I do not possess a single Deep Purple recording.
“…And,” he continues considerately, “it`s sometimes confusing for a person to hear me talk unless I`m in the right frame of mind to talk about what I`m saying – which is nothing. I`ll stop talking.”
Pretty snakey, Ritchie, pretty snakey. A quick sidestep with an inquiry as to who`s in his new band, Rainbow (I already told you that), so we`ll pass on to the knowledge that Dio gets pissed off when reporters neglect to announce his full name – i.e. the “James” in the middle.
Ronnie James Dio. Alright?
Blackmore makes another joke. Whilst spelling out the names of his band he says “Jimmy – as in George Harrison – Bain”. And we all laugh good-naturedly and stare at the pool.
Dio is a nice guy.
“It may seem odd,” he observes, “to be doing the Rainbow thing after being a good-time rock `n` roll band.”
Dio and Ritchie write together.
I mention that I heard some of it the other night on John Peel`s prog. Blackmore immediately interjects.
“Best forgotten, that,” he grumbles.
“Well. He split the soundtrack up about seven times so everything sounded completely out of context to what we were saying…”
Dio tells him that Peel, in confidence, has been praising Blackmore to him.
“Oh well,” says Blackmore, visibly lightening, “let him carry on then.
“No,” he continues, more reasonably, “somebody made a bit of a mess-up of equalising the tapes from speech to music. No, John Peel,” says Blackmore, steadying himself for yet another joke, and turning to Dio, “no, John Peel`s a… fantastic guy,” rounding off with a mysterioso belly-laugh implying that – yet again – he`s got it all sussed. What a temporal colossus this man is!
Superficially Rainbow is not a million miles removed from Deep Purple. I ask Richie where he thinks the difference lies.
“There`s more excitement, there`s more enthusiasm because we`re all new – I like Ronnie`s voice very much, I like the way he can interpret what I play on the guitar – he seems to be able to integrate his melodies into my guitar progressions.”
You were saying something on the radio about it being “medieval”.
“Yes, we do use a lot of medieval modes.”
Like your “Witchfinder General” hat? (I didn`t actually say that. I only just thought of it. Traditionally Blackmore has often worn a Cromwellian stovepipe hat with a buckleband onstage.)
“…Uh… in the way that the modes work slightly differently to the scales. You use a lot of notes, whole tones… one prime example being `Greensleeves` which was written in the 16th century by Henry VIII – or so he told me – or rather it was probably written by one of his court minstrels who he beheaded and stole the publishing rights from…”
“Anyway. One of the songs we do is called `16th Century Greensleeves` which is how we imagined the story to be.”
It`s a period that really interests Ritchie.
“All the music I play at home is either German baroque music – people like Bauxteheuder, Telemann, or it`s medieval music. English medieval music. I prefer things like the harpsichord, the recorder and the tambourine.
“They used very weird instruments in those days…” then, breaking off, to Dio (Blackmore is still surveying the pool), “She`s drowning…” and breaks up laughing.
“And I`m interested in the supernatural and psychic research…” then breaks off again, “She`s really a great swimmer…” and he and Dio crack up again. Dio then gets up, and perhaps by way of recompense, buys another round of beers.
“Whenever I`m pissed off with the rock scene,” he concludes, “which is quite often, I just tune in to Bach, play my Bach records and medieval music and people come round – like other artists – and it`s so funny, the reaction that you get. They think `Ah, rock musician, gold records on the wall`, expecting all the funk shit to come booming out – shoeshine music – and on comes medieval tambourine dancers and jigs…and Bach!”
And folk singers?
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Rod Stewart, Ray Thomas (Moody Blues), Speedy Keen, Ian Dury, David Bowie, Larry Parnes, Deep Purple, Gil Scott-Heron, The Flamin` Groovies, Amos Garrett, Steve Hillage, Maria Muldaur.
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