[% META title = 'Ritchie Blackmore, Interviews' %]


by Martin K. Webb

     Ritchie Blackmore, lead guitarist and co-founder of Deep Purple, was born in Weston-super-Mare, England. Emerging to fame in America in 1968 with the hit single "Hush" Deep Purple has appeared with the Royal Philharmonic at London's Albert Hall, faced fourthousand rioting fans in Stuttgart, and been smuggled out of a concert hall in Iceland in a paddy wagon. Blackmore's first guitar was a secondhand Spanish type which he since replaced with Stratocasters and Gibsons. Recently his solos have been pushed forward in Deep Purple's overall sound which has been recorded in the normal studio settings as well as less orthodox places such as when their album, Machine Head, was made in a hotel corridor in Montreux, Switzerland.

GP-How long have you been playing guitar?
RB-For about fourteen years.

GP-Did you ever have lessons?
RB-I had classical lessons for a year. That helped, because I learned how to use my little finger. A lot of blues guitarist play with only three fingers, and so they can't figure out certain runs that require the use of their little fingers. Classical training is good for that.

GP-Besides getting to use your little finger, has classical training affected your playing in any other way?
RB-I would say it shows up most in the music I write. For example, the chord progression in "Highway Star" solo Bm, to a Db, to a C, to a G is a Bach progression. In other words the classical influence is always there some- what, but I don't intentionally use it that much really. I play a lot of single notes, and that's not classical.

GP-How do you rate Steve Howe (Yes), as far as putting almost strict classical stylings into a rock context?
RB-He's very good at it. I remember him from a long time ago, and he's always been good. But he's not the kind of guitarist I can listen to. He's very good at runs, but I don't like that type of playing much.

GP-When you were first starting out were you influenced by anyone in particular?
RB-At the time everybody else was copying Hank B. Marvin and the Shadows. In the beginning Duane Eddy used to be my favorite. I also got into James Burton and Scotty Moore. Big Jim Sullivan was a big influence. He plays with Tom Jones now. He's very good, but he's kind of wasted with Tom Jones. Big Jim used to live practically next door to me. He'd only been playing about two years, but he was just about the best guitarist in England, straight away. I thought I was alright and learning pretty well, until I saw him. I could'nt even understand what he was doing. So used to kind of sit on his doorstep and wait. When he'd come out, I'd ask if I could come in. He taught me guite a lot of tricks. I think he used to get a bit fed-up with me hanging around. But when you're around someone that good, your own standards are raised. It saves you a lot of trail and error.

GP-Did you ever do much work in record sessions?
RB-When I was about seventeen. Some of the work was a drag, but some of it was interesting. Session work makes you more strict. You can't hit notes all over the place. You've got to make each one really count. When you're recording, if you're not really clean in your playing, it sounds like a mess. You may think you sound fabulous on stage, but when you hear yourself played back on record, it's just disasterous most of the time. If you can play well in the studio, you can play well on stage.

GP-You use three Stratocasters on stage. Are they mainly for break-downs?
RB-No. I use one of the brown ones mostly. The black one just happens to have a bit more of a distorted sound.

GP-Are they modified?
RB-Not much at all. I put the middle pickup all the way down, because it gets in the way of the pick. I only use the straight bass and treble positions. It wouldn't do me any good trying to use any of the middle positions on the selector switch, because the way I play I'd just be knocking it out of position constantly. As it is, that black plastic cover keeps coming off, and I cut myself up all of the time. I'm not into that Keith Richard trip of having all those guitars in different tunings. I never liked the Rolling Stones much anyway. I guess their popularity depends on something more than just their music. I don't use foot pedals and wah-wahs and fuzzes and whatnot. I used to, but I found that I couldn't get a good natural sound. It's impossible. When a wah-wah pedal's turned off the sound is very thin. You'd always find that with Hendrix, for instance.

GP-When do you use your Gibson?
RB-The last time I used it was on the Deep Purple In Rock album, I think. I prefer the Stratocaster because it has a more "attacky" sound. At first I couldn't get used to the Strat after the Gibson. The necks are quite different. But now I can't get used to the Gibson again. A Stratocaster is harder to play than a Gibson, too. I don't know why. I think it's because you can't race across a Strat's fingerboard so fast. With a Gibson you tend to run away with yourself. It's so easy to zoom up an down, you end up just playing physical shapes rather than really working for an original sound.

GP-How did you come to use your tremelo bar so much?
RB-I liked the way Hendrix used his tremelo, though I don't think I use it the same way. A lot of guitarist think that a tremelo arm is for someone who can't play a hand vibrato. But the tremelo arm gives a different vibrato all together. It affects whole chords. I can do the old hand vibrato just fine, but I like attacking the strings and getting all those sounds. You can get a lot of aggression out with a tremelo arm. I've got a Bigsby on my Gibson, and it's a wast, because it's got too much leeway. You have to pull it back a half-an- inch before it does a thing. But the vibrato on the Strat reacts immediately. As soon as you pull on it, the strings start going back.

GP-You do a lot of hammering-on, and frequently put your pick in your mouth and play with your fingers.
RB-I play with my feet, also [laughs]. I use my fingers for different sounds and effects. But I actually play very lightly.

GP-How did that light touch come about?
RB-Years ago when I was playing in a bit band, I noticed all these guys with an banjostrings, so I decided to try them. When I did a solo they sounded fine, but when it was over I'd find that the strings would be out of tune. So I started playing lighter out of necessity. Playing a Fender is an art itself anyway. They're always going out of tune. But the way I play, I've got it pretty well under control.

GP-How loud is your amp setting?
RB-Full up, I've always played every amp I've ever had full up, because rock and roll is supposed to be played loud. Also keeping the amp up is how you get your sustain. I turn down on the guitar for dynamics. I've also got my amps boosted. I know Jim Marshall personally, and he boosted them for me. It's pushing out about 500 watts. I guess that's maybe 1000 watts in American ratings, but it's all distortion. The people at Marshall said it's the loudest amp they'd ever heard. I had an extra stage built onto it, and a couple more valves. That's why every two weeks things just to disintegrate. The speakers really get pushed out. I usually go trough two, sometimes more, every two weeks. I only use one of my stacks. The other's just a spare in case I blow the other up.

GP-Does that happen often?
RB-Sometimes we have a run of bad luck where something blows up every gig. I've had it happen about six times continous. You feel like giving it all up when that happens. Learning to play the guitar is one thing, but learning to play with a big amplifier is a different thing altogether. It's trying to control an elephant.

GP-But you can't get that power rumble without big amps.
RB-Yes, but that's about all. I'd rather play a little amp anyway. I used to do the circuit with a little amp and played ten times better than I do now. I was fast clean, but nobody took any notice except other musicians. Normal people did'nt know what the hell I was doing.

GP-What's that thing on the drum case behind your amplifier?
RB-A treble-booster with a variable control which gives me sustain. Hornby Skues made it, but I had it slightly modified, because I found that on some nights I had too much sustain, and on others I didn't have enough. So I had a variable control put on. Actually, using a Stratocaster, I don't really need any treble boost. I use the unit mostly for sustain.

GP-Does the band use all of your stage gear in the studio's?
RB-The full whack.

GP-When playing live do you stick closely to your recorded solos?
RB-I try. Unfortunately, I think the only one I can remember is "Highway Star." I can never remember what I do even in the studio.

GP-What sort of things affect the quality of your performances?
RB-Some nights I feel like I can do anything. Other nights I feel inhibited. It all depends on what I'm feeling. If I go on stage and think, "That guy down in the front row thinks I'm an idiot. He thinks I can't play the guitar," I seize up. But if just one person says,"You're great." I really turned on to play. If I overhear someone saying something like, "This guy's useless, I'm not staying to watch," it doesn't do me a hell of lot of good.

GP-When do you feel you play best?
RB-Actually, I can play best if we're having a jam session. The stuff we do on stage is always basically the same, so I like to jam now and then to keep in shape. The best I ever played this year was around Christmas at a jam in Hamburg, Germany with some of my ol friends who aren't very good players at all. I thought I played brilliantly, because I wasn't leaping around. I was just standing there with small amps.

GP-You don't like leaping around on stage?
RB-I like leaping around on stage as long as it's done with class. Like Free. They're the best band in England. Paul Rodgers is a good singer and an brilliant mover. None of this jumping up in the air and doing the splits and all that. He just moves with the music, not like Pete Townshend who's gotten to the point the he waits until the photographers are well-aimed before he leaps. He's not very spontaneous.

GP-Townshend, Page, Hendrix, Beck and even Dave Davies in the Kinks all are supposed to have been the first to use feedback, fuzz-boxes, etc. Who do you think was the first to really start getting into electricity in a big way?
RB-I've been on the scene for so long that I know all those people-or someone who does. Therefore, I knew pretty well who played om what and when and so on. The first fuzz-box ever used on a guitar for a recorded solo was used by the Rip Chords about 1957. The first fuzz-box solo ever played in England was by a guy named Bernie Watson, on a record in 1960 called "Jack the Ripper," by Sreaming Lord Sutch. It was a B side.

GP-When did you get your first fuzz-box?
RB-Around 1960 I used to have push about 30 watts trough a three-inch speaker. But I'd have to kick the speaker in until I got a fuzz-box sound. I tried getting a real fuzz-box made up in about 1956. I told some electricians that I wanted a contraption to control fuzz and sustain, to overload the amp. But it's funny, the electricians said they were trying to get away from distortion. They just wouldn't have it. They thought I was stupid. Twelve years ago Jimmy Page had a volume pedal for violin sounds. But Big Jim Sullivan was actually the first person in England to use a volume pedal. But "You Really Got Me," by the Kinks was Jimmy Page because Jon Lord, our organ player, played piano on that session and Dave Davies was nowhere to been seen.
But Jimmy used to run around telling everyone that he played on certain records. I asked him if he played on "The Crying Game" -that was Dave Berry- and "My Baby Left Me." He said,"Yes,I played guitar on that." What he didn't say was that he played rhythm guitar on it.
Big Jim Sullivan played the solo on "The Crying Game." He was livid when he heard what Jimmy was running around saying, because Jimmy had always used his guitar and everything. Jimmy played rhythm guitar because the lead guitar bit was a reading part and Jimmy couldn't read.

GP-Who first used feedback?
RB-Pete Townshend was definitely the first. But not being that good a guitarist, he used to just sort of crash chords and let the guitar feedback. He didn't get into twiddling with the dials on the amplifier until much later. He's overrated in England, but at the same time you find a lot of people like Jeff Beck and Hendrix getting credit for things he started. Townshend was the first to break his guitar, and he was the first to do a lot of things. He's very good at his chord scene too.

GP-Why do you suppose groups like Grand Funk are selling millions of records when there other bands that are doing the same thing only much better?
RB-Our main audience is about eighteen years old. People that age don't really understand music that much. They're trying to understand it, but if they were really that musically hip they wouldn't even like us. They wouldn't like Led Zeppelin. They'd be into someone like Yehudi Menuhin. America is so vast that I think people buy records mainly of groups they've seen, and I imagine that they must have seen Grand Funk all over America, they buy their records. At the same time though, I have never met one person who likes Grand Funk. On the other hand, there might be an increased interest in people like Pink Floyd. I really like some of Pink Floyd's stuff. Groups like Curved Air might start coming into favor. Some of their music is bloody good-classical, with moogs and bombs going off. Some nights their music is a complete disaster, but other nights works. It's chance music. Like some of the stuff I play.

GP-What do you mean by "chance music"?
RB-If you hold your guitar against the amp you might get a harmonic feedback, or you might get nothing. But that's what interest me: Playing with electricity. Like I can turn on some jazz guitarist, and he won't do a thing for me, if he's not playing electrically. But Jeff Beck's great to listen to, because he takes a change, and when it comes off it's so emotional. When he gets feedback going right it's like an orchestra playing instead of just a guitar with a lot of brilliant runs. Actually, the real art of chance music is knowing what to do if you don't get what you tried for. Like if a ballet dancer falls over, it's knowing how to get out looking clumsy that counts. Beck takes a chance every night. Sometimes, he's absolutely useless, and you wonder why he's got a name. Other times he pulls things off that sound like nothing you've heard before. He's one of my favorite guitarist. But taking all thoe chances is why he gets such bad reviews, sometimes. The reviewers sometime catch him on nights when it doesn't work. The kind of things that you do in that kind of playing are subconscious and depend on what type of day you've had and thang like that. If Ive read a lot, or if I've had a game of chess and my mind's working, I can play much better than if I've had a lazy day of sitting in a car or plane. But also, I just think there are good days and bad days, all having to do with the cycle of life. You know-thirthy days forward and then ten days backward.

GP-How do you like touring?
RB-If you've only done it for a couple of years it's alright. But when you've done it for about ten years like me, you end up feeling like you're always waiting for somebody or something. You wish that you could just come over here, play the thirthy hours and then go home. The whole day is a drag. You get up and wait at some stupid airport for some stupid plane which is always late. It's like going into the army. You say goodbye to everyone and say "See you again in three months," and the you come back a physical wreck.

GP-Does listening to solos performed on other instruments than the guitar help the beginning guitarist develop a personal style?
RB-Listening to as many guitar solos as possible is the best method for someone in the early stages. But saophone solos can be helpful. They're interesting because thay're all single notes, and therefore can be repeated on the guitar. If you can copy a sax solo you're playing very well, because the average saxophonist can play much better than the average guitarist. Jimmy Page says he listens to piano solos.
But I don't see how that helps, because a pianist can play about ten times the speed of a guitarist.

GP-What advice would you give to a person who wanted to become a good rock guitarist?
RB-I'd have a tendency to say "Get a good guitar, and get a good tutor book." Really the only way you can get good - unless you're a genius - is to copy. You'll never come up with your own gear, untill you've copied.
That's the best thing. Just steal.