[% META title = 'Deep Purple, Interviews' %]
Unite & Rule
(From Kerrang! No 97, June 27 - July 10 1985, pp.28-30; 38)
Mick Wall: It's been a good 12 months since the announcement that Deep Purple had reformed. At the time there must have been a great many personal expectations within the band for the coming album and world tour; have you fulfilled a lot of those expectations Ritchie?
Ritchie Blackmore: Funnily enough, yes. I didn't have too many expectations, I thought 'sod it, let's do it!' I was sick of all the rumours and I said 'let's get on with it' and Roger (Glover) said 'I'm with you!' I couldn't believe the business we did and the amount of records we sold. We had to double up everywhere we went -- Australia, Germany, America -- and I was worried about filling out one show in each city; in fact, we ended up doing two sold-out nights everywhere.
It's nice to know that so many people wanted to come along to the shows. Deep down inside I'm a very cynical person and I always think no-one's going to show up, no-one's interested. That's why I shy away from interviews because I can be very negative and I don't want to represent the band in a negative way, the unit that I'm with at the time.
I was surprised how well everything worked. I thought it would happen in America, though; having lived here so long myself I knew there was a real buzz, you know 'when are they going to get back together?' The Americans o tend to stick by their bands, their Black Sabbaths. It takes a hell of a lot longer to make it over here than in England, but once you have made it they don't forget you which is good from a musicians point of view; you can relax and just play forever.
MW: When you came to chose the material for the show, how did you reach a decision on what to play and what to throw away?
RB: What we did is, I sat down and thought, well, what's going to show off as a brilliant guitar player, and then I told the rest of them what we would be playing!.
(It's nice to see Blackmore sparring humorously with his own The Man And His Dark Moods image, and we both sit there laughing at each other again. All the same I press the point...)
I'm so used to manipulating a band, as with Rainbow, that I tend to be very domineering with my thoughts. So I said 'I think this is a good a repertoire', and Roger looked at it and thought it was good, but wanted to add another number, I think it was 'Mary Long'...
MW: Oh, do you play 'Mary Long' in the show, then?
RB: No. We don't do it, see what I mean? And Jon (Lord) was happy to go along with the set because I think Jon was just very nervous about the whole thing anyway and not particularly into the repertoire, more just to show how it was all going to sound after so many years. Luckily, everybody feels happy about all the numbers that we play on stage which is good because sometimes, most times, there's always one or two numbers you don't like playing. For instance, we don't do 'Woman From Tokyo' even though it was a big hit here in America and, uh, Camberley Surrey!"
MW: Do you play any numbers from the 'Who Do You Think We Are' album (the very last LP the Mark II line-up recorded before Gillan split for and early retirement)? It never struck me as the happiest sounding album...
RB: No it wasn't a happy album, very strained. I can't even remember what was on it, but I don't think we play anything from it, no.
MW: Would you like to break into the singles market again? You had a lot of hits in the Seventies...
RB: Yeah, but it's always worked very strangely for us. 'Woman From Tokyo' was a big hit here, but I don't think it even released in England. Whereas 'Black Night' was a big hit in Britain and did nothing here. 'Smoke On The Water', meanwhile, was only a hit on its third release here in America; I mean, it got to like Number Two but it took three goes to do it. That just goes to show that you have to keep going with something you have faith in even if it means re-releasing things.
MW: Before the very first reunion gig in Australia, did you or any of the band lose any sleep?
RB: I don't know. I don't make it my habit to sleep with the rest of the band if I can help it. I think it has been known for some of them to sleep together, though; I have heard rumours about the management and the bass player sleeping together...
MW: Only if it's been a good gig though, right?
RB: Ha, ha, ha, yeah right... no, actually, for that first gig I just got drunk, whiskey comes in very handy I find. I usually have a level I drink down to before a gig. It's kind of below the label by about an inch.
MW: Is this Scotch or Bourbon?
RB: Oh Scotch, I'm still British you know! Whenever I think of Bourbon I think of all those silly American boogie bands from the South, what are they called? Molly Hatchet, that's the one! I can see them in the back of their tour bus swigging their bloody Bourbon...
MW: When I drink whiskey it turns me into a raving lunatic with a very bad temper, which is OK if you happen to be John Wayne, but you can get into trouble if you're not, you know?
RB: Well, when I drink whiskey it doesn't turn me into John Wayne, I turn into Oliver Reed! And then I usually punch someone and run, let everybody else get on with it.
MW: After you've played a particularly exciting gig, how do you relax?
RB: I try and drink as much water as possible because I'm usually so drunk at that point. I drink all through a gig, and afterwards it feels like my body is saying no more! I end up feeling so guilty that I've drunk so much that I walk around guzzling water and pretending I'm perfectly healthy. The reason I drink onstage, though, is because I think I'm actually quite a shy person and to be on a stage you have to project and that only really comes out when I'm drunk. That's why I do it.
MW: Doesn't that waste you, though, on a long tour?
RB: Yeah, it does. The travelling doesn't get to me or the playing, it's the drinking. It's a stimulant which can keep you up most of the night so you might end up taking a sleeping tablet or something, but it's a problem everybody has I think. When we have a day off I never go to the bar, just try and keep the system clean for 24 hours.
MW: Are you into taking vitamins or stuff like that?
RB: Yeah, I am. It gets ridiculous, though; I started off taking multivitamins, then I thought I need more C, then I thought, well, I'm a nervous wreck so I started taking extra B, then the real games began because I started thinking my muscles were tense or tired so I started taking more E. Then I found I was lacking potassium from some doctor who told me I needed it, so I took that every other day. I used to have a lot of back problems. I got injured in one of the games of football I played which developed into muscle spasm which set off all my other muscles and in the end I couldn't play. I was tingling all along my arm. This was just before the last European tour with Rainbow and I didn't think I was going to make it. Every time I put the guitar strap on I couldn't move my fingers properly without pain. I had a masseur on the road with all the time to massage the muscles and it was always touch and go whether I was going to make the date. During the day my hand kept seizing up...
MW: Didn't that freak you out?
RB: Yeah, I started getting really worried. It turned out I had an arthritic joint in the back of the neck. They X-rayed it and told me I had degenerative arthritis -- I was immediately panicking, I thought that I was it, I was dying, it was all over. But the doctor told me to relax and said that I didn't have any more arthritis than any other normal 39-year-old man. Degenerative arthritis doesn't mean it's getting steadily worse and worse, it's just that as you get older you naturally get more bouts of it; it's not rheumatoid arthritis which is the real crippler.
So I went to a physiotherapist and started doing all the exercises and now I wear a copper bracelet every time I play. That and the potassium are the minerals you should always have. My mother always wears a copper bracelet, she had rheumatism, and there's always an element of truth in ancient folk-lore, so I thought I'd wear one too. Over the last two years -- touch wood! -- everything's been OK.
MW: Have you recorded any of the dates on the tour?
RB: I think we have but I'm never usually aware of it when it happens. They record so many dates that it's no big news when I get told that we're doing it.
MW: Is there a specific reason for recording live dates, though? Will there be a live album at some point?
RB: Oh, I think it's a natural habit to record gigs, just bring in a mobile and record some of the dates occasionally.
MW: What about a live video? Everybody's doing it these days...
RB: Some of the Australian dates were videod, I think, which we used as our second video. When it comes to making videos, though, we're a lazy lot, nobody will dress up as an actor or anything ridiculous like that. We don't want to make videos, sod that! Then the record company say you've got to make a video and we say 'we won't!' and you get this big battle going on about it. The video they used for 'Perfect Strangers' was a part of a documentary some people were making, I haven't even seen it yet. If I see myself I get totally self-conscious and turn it off -- I haven't seen any of them. I heard there was a part in the 'Perfect Strangers' video where you can see me smiling and I tried to get that cut out, but I was overruled!
We just can't be bothered with videos. I'm a musician, you know? I make a record and then I'm on the road; this video business makes me crazy! There's enough to do to sell a record as it is -- to think up the songs, to record them and produce them and then get the record out, and play, and then to be asked to make these stupid videos gets me crazy. I hate them! I hate MTV; I don't know if you've seen it at all, but it's awful! You get people like Michael Jackson going completely overboard, spending a million making a video and monopolising the whole thing, which he did!
MW: I heard that the Tom Petty video for 'Don't Come Around Here No More' cost in the region of half a million dollars to make. From a businessman's point of view in the record industry, is that a worthwhile investment, that amount of bread for one video?
RB: I think it is. Usually, the record company puts up the money for those sort of things and usually they pay for themselves. I mean, in terms of record sales, Tom Petty is Top 20 in the charts here at the moment so I would say it's paid off, yeah. I can't stand it myself. I like to see a good musician; I don't like to see musician semi-act, and I don't like to see an actor trying to play. It's always so weak. And they're always self-conscious these people who try and act in videos -- I know I am. I play the guitar, I don't want to be an actor or I would have to gone to acting school.
MW: Throughout the years that Deep Purple were no longer an active group there have been huge amounts of compilations and live albums and God knows what else; now that you're back together, have you witnessed any dark figures trying to get in on the posterity kick again?
RB: Oh yeah, definitely. The two guys who used to manage the group in the beginning and are not managing us now are very upset with the state of affairs as far as us being with another management and there's legal battles going on every day. In fact, they are responsible for most of the dreadful stuff that's coming out, like some of those awful Japanese things featuring Coverdale and Hughes, just collections of the same old nonsense that we did years ago, there's nothing new at all. It's very annoying, it can bring you down a lot.
I was looking at the world charts in Billboard and in Italy we had something which I'd never heard of in the Top 10, and also in Germany there was something else, all these LPs that I'd never heard of! I mean, what the hell is this? And they've done this so many times; how can they keep churning out and regurgitating the same old bloody nonsense? But they do. Unfortunately, the kids get taken for a ride; they see a new package and think there's something new on it. It's very hard to guard against it, thought we are fighting huge legal battles to stop it. But, you see, it's also the old record company.
MW: Tell me, if someone left the band now, if there was a recurrence of the Ian Gillan departure of '73, would Purple carry on as it did back then?
RB: I don't think so, no. I think everybody's amazed at each other's talents at the moment, we're still in that mood. I'll watch the band when I'm off stage and Jon is taking a solo or something. I think they're all amazing, I really do. The way Ian Gillan sings... he's got such a big voice. Every other singer in rock bands these days always seems to have this thin voice which is pushed to the maximum through the PA. With Ian, he ends up shaking the place every night with the sheer power of his voice. Sometimes he loses it, he'll come off stage and he won't be able to talk, but the next night he's back and he is singing! It's great to see that. Ian comes up to me after some of the gigs and says 'you're my hero!'
Little weird things like that go on all the time, so the band is really into each other on stage. I suppose there still could come a time when politics might again get between us, but when we're on stage we really click because we all respect each other very much.
And I love the way Ian introduces songs on stage. Like with 'Perfect Strangers'; when we were in Japan he used to say 'this next song is about a football team back in England who used to live down the road from me in Hounslow!' And everybody's going 'what? What's he saying? Did he mention cocaine?!' And then he'd go 'there was this football team and they were from a place called Perfect Street, and this is called the Perfect Street Rangers!' Everybody was totally lost and I'd be cracking up at the side of the stage, you know? I love that type of dry humour; the Japanese didn't know whether to laugh or send away for pictures of the Perfect Street Rangers...
MW: Ritchie, do you plan to carry on with Deep Purple to the total exclusion of doing anything else solo?
RB: I don't know, every now and again, I'll think about that. But I feel that, although Rainbow did some good stuff, it didn't ever have the identity that Purple has. Sometimes with Purple I'll hear the end product and maybe think it should have been more like this or that, but it's always very popular with the masses. With Rainbow I had everything more or less how I wanted to hear it, but it didn't appeal as much to the masses so there's obviously something I'm not tapping into, the pulse of the masses. I don't feel that I was wrong -- I had to do something on my own -- but the popularity of Rainbow compared to Purple shows me that I'm not right all the time.
With Rainbow I had it all my way, totally 100 per cent, but now Ian Gillan, who is definitely not a normal person, ha!, will come up with the melodies and lyrics to things I've written which I would never have thought of. That's part of the chemistry and magic of Purple. Nobody has a voice like Ian Gillan's and you can't say that about the Journeys [Uh-oh, Ritchie... bad example! ;^) -- Ben] Foreigners, Survivors or Rainbows...
MW: There's talk in London at present that Ian Gillan is going to do a solo album; how do you feel about that?
RB: It's bothering me a lot. To be quite honest, I don't think he should. He's obliged to one because of Richard Branson and Vrigin Records. I think it's a very unwise move to make but he's stuck in a corner, he has to fulfil the contractual things he signed before we got together, and I get uptight about the whole thing. We're having about three of four months or four months off and I want it to be time off, nobody should be doing anything. I don't want anybody in the group doing a solo LP because you must take time to relax; then you can come up with good ideas for the next Purple album. But if you're in the studio every five minutes that's not going to help the LP because you must take time to relax; then you can come up with good ideas for the next Purple album. But if you're in the studio every five minutes that's not going to help the LP that's coming next. I've always believed in that, it's always been my philosophy to keep out of the studio as much as I can so that when I do go in something really good will come of it.
MW: What would happen if Ian didn't do a solo album? Would they sue him for a lot of money?
RB: Yeah, I think so. From what I know of the situation it's all very touchy. But I better not say too much or your flight back to London might be jeopardised; you're flying Virgin Atlantic, right?
MW: Switching the subject, the last two years have seen a lot of reformations what with Yes, yourselves, now ELP and Ozzy and Sabbath doing the 'Live Aid' gig in America; why is it happening now do you think?
RB: Yeah, and now Mountain's back together. Good band, you know they're supporting us on our European dates?... But you're right, it's amazing how these groups have all come back. I can't think of any solid reasons why that should be and there's more than you think: Grand Funk Railroad, Three Dog Night, people that I've read about getting back together. Yes were the first, but we didn't get back because Yes did, I mean, it took us ten years to do it, but it does seem as if the scene's gone berserk. I think it's good because if people want to go and see those bands, why not?
MW: Do you think perhaps that some of those musicians might have thought that the market for their music wasn't there anymore? I mean, people like Chris Squire and Keith Emerson are vastly talented musicians but, unlike every member of Purple, they never seemed to do anything once Yes and ELP had expired...
RB: I don't know, could be... it's strange. I don't think Keith Emerson did anything for ages. I know Greg Lake joined Asia for just a short time and I really liked them. Don't know what's happened to them now, though.
MW: And I hear that Steve Hackett and Steve Howe have formed a band together and signed to Geffen Records...
RB: Mmm, I like David Geffen. I think he expects a lot of from his bands, seems to take a interest, and he's got a lot of discipline; he tends to crack the whip which I think is good. I know of a few bands who he's made re-mix their LPs before he'll put them out for the public to buy. This guy say's 'no, it's not good enough to put my name to, re-mix it, re-do the whole thing!"
MW: That happened with the Whitesnake album, 'Slide It In', did you know?
RB: Yeah, I heard that... This is gonna sound weird, but I really liked the last Whitesnake LP, 'Slide It In'. I liked the video to their single, very good song, should have been a hit, but it wasn't. I can't think of the title, though, I wouldn't know it, someone told me what it was. But it's very refreshing. People are always saying 'what do you think of David Coverdale?' and I try and remove myself from that and it doesn't influence me; I just see the band Whitesnake as being a good band with a good singer. What I might do to him if he turns up backstage at any concerts in the future is a whole different thing, that's personal!
But I'm not that stupid that I would let it corrupt my way of thinking if I hear something. If I hear something I can say 'that is good; don't like the guy, but...' ha! ha! ha! I thought the album was very good. As usual it wasn't a hit, not here anyway. Didn't do much, and that to me was typical. Makes me even more cynical than ever. Madonna is Number One which makes you realise just how bad things are. I get these moods where I put the whole business down. I love music and I love playing guitar, being on stage, but the industry gets me crazy.
MW: Do you think it's got worse in the business since you started out as a musician?
RB: Yeah, I think so. In '68 when we first started there was a lot more discretion -- people were into whether the band were any good or not. They weren't into the novel approach. Now if the guy dresses up as a girl, or the girl dresses up like a guy, that seems to do a lot for their careers. I don't know, I could go on and on. It disgusts me, most of it. People have said I'm jealous! I've got my audience and I do very well in this business but it does bother me to see good musicians put out of work because of these f**king freaks. Your Boy Georges and people like that! They love it over here, they love that novelty gimmick approach, they jump on it, it's ridiculous. I think we're all doomed basically.
(He's serious but the bitterness is sweetened by another unexpected smile, and a soft shrug of the shoulder)
And I think England will probably go first. (chuckle)
MW: Mentioning England, could you ever see yourself living there again?
RB: It's my favourite country, along with Germany. Yet I find myself not moving from here in Long Island, I still stay here. I've noticed when I go back to London that the unemployment thing has got so bad that if you have a little bit of money and you can afford to buy a round of drinks people start to go 'hey, capitalistic pig here! He's alright, got a lot of money this one... he's got no problems'. And then they start in on you, sidling up to you in a bar and saying 'it's alright for you, but some of us have to work for a living'. That's their favourite saying: 'it's alright for some'.
There's that kind of chip on the shoulder. But that's true of me as well; I have a chip on my shoulder, but I don't know quite what about. I'll find something. And the English are lazy. I'm lazy! Basically we all just want to go to the pub and be mellow, hey...! Play darts, who gives a s**t? But then again the English, the British, have so much creativity. For some reason we seem to come out with the most amazing things; the medicine side, the music side... The biggest that are made in music come from England.
They have big people over here, but they don't seem to last, they don't seem to make a mark on history. I always put America down when I'm here and when I'm back in England I walk around saying 'typical! typical! the bastards!' Soon as I get to Heathrow Airport they start. 'Oh, you've been abroad have you? How come you've been abroad and I haven't?' This is the customs man! 'What have you got to declare?' Nothing. 'Are you sure?' Mmm... it's like a Basil Fawlty thing the way they look at you and talk to you. 'You better come with us, sir'. Uh, yes, I'd better come with you.
Very English... there are ways of getting through British customs officials though -- wear a top hat and carry a javelin; then they look at you and go 'this man is trying to cause attention, he's obviously creating a diversion for this old woman here!' Meanwhile, you walk through with a spear going 'Hello! Hello!' Your spear of course is full of anything you want it to be. And they go 'naw, too obvious'... ha! ha! ha!
MW: Are there any new bands that have sprung up since the Seventies who have impressed you? I'm thinking specifically of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard... you know?
RB: Maiden have got a great football team. We still owe them a game, they beat us 5-4 the last time we played, but I'll get them! Steve Harris is a good footballer, got a goal on a volley straight from a corner. That impressed me!
MW: Steve Harris told me that he thought you were a good footballer but that you could be a bit lazy; wait till you got the ball then use it.
RB: Yeah, that's right. That's very true, especially in that game. It's my biggest fault, I can't always be bothered with running back, I don't work the field. If I've got the ball I'm alright, but I'm not gonna run up and down. That's very true...
Def Leppard have a very fresh sound, I can see why people over here like them. They're very fresh, almost like a Beatles thing. It's still a little bit rough, but it's got glamour in it and they look right. America went berserk for Def Leppard the year before last. It was nice to see Van Halen knocked of their perch, they're a little bit smug, they think they've got it all sown up. Ian Paice is a big fan of Leppard's you know.
MW: What about Mötley Crüe and Ratt?
RB: It's all been done 15 years ago, they don't have that spark of creativity. It's all copying, bit of Van Halen, bits of this, bits of that, I can see everything in them.
MW: What about The Firm?
RB: I've seen a few videos, but I haven't seen them play. I think it's good that they're doing something; Paul Rodgers is a good singer.
MW: Did you ever rate Page as a guitarist?
RB: I've said it before. He's a strange guitar player. He's not the type of guy you can say is brilliant! No musical theory, but he has a way of writing good riffs, things like 'Kashmir' and some of the other Zeppelin stuff, his riffs were great! He's not a player I would attack. He puts down a very coloured construction to a song, he's a very colourful player of the guitar. It's pleasing to hear because I don't feel I have to be on my toes all the time and fence with somebody. He's not the fastest gunslinger in town, you know?
You can get so fast that it gets silly, but Jimmy's not like that. There are a lot of guys doing that now, though, going berserk on the fretboard and I feel like telling them to settle down, say something, what is all this? It's like quoting Shakespeare at 100 miles per hour. It's like having sex for five minutes listening to some of these guys.
MW: You're right! I bet they're not even good in bed?
RB: Well, I wouldn't know about that, thank you. I think this is where we came in.
Transcription and HTML by Benjamin Weaver