Article from Trouser Press, July 1978
"Hi, I'm Ritchie Blackmore. And I want to tell you what I've been
doing for 15 years..."
by Jon Young transcribed by Darkhop
As Dave Schulps and I rolled along in the darkness to our
impending interview, we were filled with apprehension. After all, Ritchie
Blackmore has never been known as a pussycat. In fact, most accounts of
his years with Deep Purple emphasize his moodiness, sullenness, and
even outright hostility. The Teutonic severity of Ritchie's current group,
Rainbow, does little to suggest that time had mellowed Blackmore the
least bit. We didn't even know where we were being driven! What if
Ritchie got annoyed with our questions and had us "silenced"? Paranoia
There was nothing to worry about, as it happened. After a circuitous
drive we pulled up to a suburuban bar in Greenwich, Connecticut
(Ritchie lives nearby), and parked ourselves in a greasy-looking
swinging singles place. Over a typically giddy barroom roar,
interrupted occasionally by notes from an "admirer" who asked
things like "are you Deep Purple?," we had our talk.
Ritchie Blackmore turned out to be a genial model of decorum, and
was fully prepared to discuss anything. Indeed, when we got over
the surprise of discovering him to be a pleasant fellow, he even
fielded borderline tactless questions, unthinkable to ask of
someone with his image. My only complaint about the thoughtful and
open Mr. Blackmore was that he insisted on keeping his juiciest
comments off the record.
Rainbow had that evening finished a rehearsal prior to their
multi-month tour in support of a new album, Long Live Rock 'n'
Roll. Seeing as how this was the band's fourth album, why the long
wait to try and make a mark on America?
"It's just that the other markets came first, Europe and all that. We
took advantage of it rather than just playing around America as a
small time band. Now the only market left is America and we're the
underdog. Most of the time we're sharing the bill with REO
Speedwagon and Foghat is topping the bill in some places. It's not
like starting again. A lot of people feel that, but it's just something
you do. I'm quite looking forward to it. It means I can get back to the
bar afterwards. If you're a top-billed act you get back to the hotel
and everything's closed."
Did Deep Purple audiences get too big?
"They were too big sometimes. It was moving too fast. It's funny how
sometimes it will escalate and turn into something that big, when
you know you're just the same as any other band. All these people
are turning out to see this band and next year they'll be turning out to
see some other band equally as bad or as good, whichever way
you look at it. The way it's been going I think it's been getting worse.
In America you have some very strange big groups."
"No, Kiss I like because they don't care what people think of them.
They take a chance and it's worked. They're the first ones to admit
they're not good musicians. I'm talking about middle of the road
bands that turn out that lethargic laid back cocaine beat. The dj's
love it and they play and play it all the time."
Oh, Fleetwood Mac?
Laughing, "Funny you should mention them. Nice people, but I have
reservations about what they're doing. But the rest of America
doesn't seem to have reservations. It's gone into this mellow thing
and I'm not keen on that. I like intense music that comes across as
drama, as acting."
The new wave has that excitement, doesn't it?
"Well, that's got the impetus, the energy, but it hasn't got the music.
That's wrong as well. I don't quite know what I prefer to listen to, the
new wave or Fleetwood Mac. I often think of that and I think I would
play Fleetwood Mac because I can't take the other stuff."
To go back to square one, when did you start guitaring?
"When I was 11. It mostly was my idea along with my father. He
made sure I went along to proper lessons, because if I'm gonna
have a guitar, I've got to learn it properly."
Did you have it in your mind to rock?
"Yeah, because there was a guy called Tommy Steele prancing
around with a guitar and Presley and all that lot. I wanted to do that
just like everybody else... Duane Eddy, then Hank B. Marvin, then
Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, James Burton, Les Paul. I
bought all of Les Paul's records up until I was about 17, but after that
I didn't have any idols. Then I was mostly praciticing. I listened to
rock via Buddy Holly up until 16, 17 (1962). Then I was on my own. I
didn't have any inspirations from guitarists, it went more into
inspiration from violinists. I don't listen to too much rock 'n roll really.
Jimi Hendrix was good and I liked Cream. I wasn't really getting off
on people like the Beatles and the Hollies, all that vocal business.
The Stones? I considered them idiots. It was just a nick from Chuck
Berry riffs. Chuck Berry was OK. Sometimes I'm outspoken, but I
don't have any time for the Stones. I can see where they're
respected and their rhythms are very good, very steady on record. I
respect them but I don't like them."
And the blues?
"It might sound condescending but I find them a little too limited. I
like to play a blues when I'm jamming, but then I want to get on to
other things. I listened to B.B. King for a couple of years but I like
singers more than guitarists. Albert King I thought was a brilliant
singer. That depth, which comes out in Paul Rodgers too. I do like a
blues base to some things, that can be very interesting with
So what was your first professional gig?
"My first band was with Screaming Lord Sutch. He had amazing
publicity stunts -- he would go up to the Prime Minister and stick his
hand out and say 'hello there.' The Prime Minister's first reflex was
to shake his hand and suddenly he's thinking 'who is this man?' He's
got pictures of him about to shake hands with everyone in the
business. He used to copy Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
"From there I was onto a group called the Outlaws. I did sessions
for three years. They were known as a very steady band, good for
session work, so we used to work together for sessions (besides
putting out a number of singles of their own). You were just given the
music to play, sometimes it was just the backing tracks. It wasn't our
job to know who we were playing for, it was just to get the money
Did you read music?
"Yeah, but not well. It was more like chord shets. Pagey was in all
those sessions. Sometimes you'd get complete rock 'n rollers who
could play but wouldn't be able to read and others who could read
but wouldn't be able to improvise. Sometimes they'd want rock 'n
roll sessions and that's what we'd do."
You and Jimmy Page both played in Neil Christian's band, right?
Blackmore laughed and mused a second before answering: "I was
with him on and off for about a year. Chris, that's his real name, was
a slightly bizarre person to work for. In fact, Jimmy Page played with
him for about three years. That's when I first met Pagey. I was 16
years old. He was good then; I rate him as a three-dimensional
guitarist. He has a range, he has ideas, but he can't be everything,
so sometimes he lacks on improvisation a bit. He's so caught up
with producing and everything else concerned with being a top
band. Whereas someone like Jeff Beck is entirely in the opposite
direction. Jeff can extemporize really well, but I don't think he can
write a song. It's always somebody else's tune. He doesn't have
many ideas, but he's a brilliant guitarist."
Our brief search for other three-dimensional guitarists failed to turn
up any more that met with Blackmore's approval. Ritchie was asked
to evaluate himself.
"This is gonna sound very cocky, but I think I can improvise better
than any rock guitarist. My failing is composing. I really fall down in
composing. I can come up with riffs and I'm good at improvisation,
but I'm not very good at putting a song together. I have done, but
there's nobody else around to do it anyway. I feel very frustrated in
my songwriting, I think it's terrible half the time. But improvising for
me is no problem -- in fact, it's something I could do all the time.
That might sound slightly weird."
So you tend not to memorize your parts.
"No, that's partly my downfall. I have a very bad technical memory,
so I can't remember, if I write a tune, exactly what the notes are. It's
really exasperating, 'cause I'll write one and 'that's great, I'll play it
again and record it.' And I'll play it again and 'oh dear, I've forgotten
it. What did I play?' It's really annoying. I don't like to write; it's a
chore for me. I do it because there aren't a lot of other people
around me who do it. It's not knocking the people around me ...
songs are a letdown half the time."
But didn't you do most of Purple's music?
"I did most of the riffs and progressions because basically, we had
so many arguments in the first two years of Purple, and I was sick of
it so I said let's split it five ways, because everyone was bickering
about 'I wrote that one note' ... 'Include this song which is a bunch of
rubbish, but I wrote it.' Every band goes through that. There's one
thing today we haven't got over with modern technology. We haven't
found a way to fashion a computer to take the information and tell
you who's written the song. That would be very nice.
"People said to me, 'You were silly to split it five ways for most of it,'
but I said, 'Purple wouldn't have been together at all if I hadn't done
that,' because they were very strong-minded people. It would have
died out in 1970 if I hadn't done that. They did (write) to a certain
extent, but not to the extent that they should have gotten a fifth share
on every song. Jon (Lord) would have written what would have been
one song an LP, but he would get out of eight songs a fifth share on
each song. It's the only way to work. But to give him his due, the
drummer (Ian Paice) gave his enthusiasm, Jon was always there for
stability. He wouldn't come up with the ideas, but he'd remember
them when I forgot them. Ian (Gillan) would write the lyrics, and
Roger (Glover) used to write some."
How did Deep Purple get together?
"I saw Ian with another band in Hamburg in 1967 and I said 'when I
get something I'll let you know.' When this Purple thing came up, I
said 'right, we've got something here.' We had a millionaire backer
(Chris Curtis, of Searchers fame) -- it's very hard to start without
financial backing. He just wanted a very good group. As far as he
was concerned Jon was the best organist he knew and I was the
best guitarist ... but once we all got together he kind of fell out. I told
Jon about Ian and then we got the other two. Jon knew Nick
(Simper) and I knew Rod (Evans) the singer. We were all living in
one big mansion in England which we used to rehearse in. There
were a lot of things happening there, psychic phenomena. For the
first few years Purple had no direction whatsoever. If anything, we
used to follow what Jon wanted to do, which was OK because
nobody else had any ideas."
Be that as it may, Deep Purple roared into the American top five in
the fall of 1968 with an acidy remake of Joe South's "Hush." Yet that
original band never seemed capable of capitalizing on it. How
"Jeff Wald (Mr. Helen Reddy) was our manager on the road and we
did a lot of gigs that didn't mean anything. They were ballrooms,
they weren't on the circuit to make it. The only time we really made it
was when we supported Rod Stewart, supported him as we're
doing now in order to do the right gigs and be seen. We'd be
playing around headlining all the wrong places. Nobody knew where
to put us. We played with Cream at the Hollywood Bowl, but they
never really knew who we were.
"I really admired Jim Hendrix and I really loved Vanilla Fudge so we
just tried to integrate the two. We did "Hey Joe" and a lot of
standards because we didn't have a lot of writing going on. I'd never
written a tune before '69 when I started feeling my way and came up
with a few ideas. But at the time we were just so over the moon
about playing with good musicians, because we'd had such a hard
time finding good musicians. You find them and you ask someone
to join -- 'We've got a great band' -- 'Yeah, sure, how much do I get?'
-- 'Well, it's only just for the moment.' You know the story. We were
just so pleased to be playing with each other that we didn't really
care which direction we went in.
"[This was] Until about '70, when we decided we should replace the
singer and bass player. The singer wanted to go anyway and the
bass player was asked to leave." Ritchie's friend Micky Underwood
(now with Strapps) was in the soon-to-be-defunct Episode Six, and
he invited Ritchie to come down and check out their singer, Ian
"Ian was amazing, his voice, the way he looked and everything else.
Stupendous. We took him right there. We didn't know who to have
on bass but Ian recommended Roger.
"Why we thought we had to change singers was because of Robert
Plant. We were playing at Mother's in Birmingham and Robert got
up to sing with Terry Reid. We thought 'Christ almighty.' He was so
dynamic. And the next two weeks we were looking for a singer,
people who had Robert Plant's dynamic approach. So it was thanks
"Zeppelin, I liked their hard approach when they came out and did
'Whole Lotta Love.' I immediately tuned in with that type of style
because before when we were fiddling around with orchestras, I
thought 'something's wrong, I'm not giving all that I can.' Thanks to
them for the inspiration. They got it from Jeff Beck, who got it from
the Small Faces..."
In Rock was the right formula: agile musicians playing with a tidal
wave of force. But not a Zeppelin steal; the textures were much
more varied, the sound more flexible. Suddenly escalating
popularity soon led to "supergroup" status. That must have been a
"I was surprised because I was happy to be working."
TROUSER PRESS INTERVIEW cont'd
Did you like the Yardbirds?
"Well, Jeff was always brilliant. Yeah, I did like the Yardbirds very much.
They were an exception. Jeff was one of the first to use distortion. There's
quite a few guys before Jeff that used distortion but you wouldn't have
heard of any of them. Like Bernie Watson with Lord Sutch. In 1960 he
made a record with Cyril Davies which has an amazing solo, all distortion.
It was like Hendrix on a good night. He now plays for the Royal
Philharmonic. Just gave it all up."
Ritchie said he was motivated to try something like that in 1963. The
results ("I just freaked out") can be found on the B-side of the Outlaws'
version of "I Hear You Knockin'." Archaeologists and fans take note. From
there, via "You Really Got Me" ("The solo was too bad to be Page. It had to
be Dave Davies."), talk drifted to stealing.
"Everybody steals. It's healthy to steal. The thing is to disguise who you're
stealing from. I used to steal a lot from Jimi Hendrix."
But "Rainbow Eyes," on the new album, sounds especially like Jimi.
"What it is, is the inflection of playing in fourths. Jimi used to play a lot
of fourths. Several single notes he'd play a fourth above and that
gave him the effect. On Axis: Bold As Love it's all fourths."