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Just read music and play it

Don Airey at the Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, Jun 10, 2009. Photo: Nick Soveiko CC-BY-NC-SA.

Louder Sound reprints online a Classic Rock magazine feature on Don Airey that originally appeared in issue 249, circa 2019.

Airey thinks they might have wanted him to join [Black Sabbath] full-time, but his decision was made for him when he got a call from Cozy Powell. Rainbow were looking for a keyboard player, and Powell told his old friend he should get on a plane and go for the job. It was not a suggestion. “He said: ‘No arguments. There’s a ticket for you to New York.’”

When Airey arrived in America he was taken straight to meet Ritchie Blackmore. There was a clavinet in the room. “Ritchie walked in and said: ‘Do you read music?’ And he put this piece of Bach in front of me – which I pretended not to know but I actually did. I played it, and he was impressed. And we were off.”

Of all the difficult bastards Don Airey has ever worked with, you’d think that Blackmore was the most difficult bastard of all.

“No, he’s very easy to work with, Ritchie,” he says. “You’ve just got to be ready for whatever voodoo he’s going to conjure up on the guitar. If people are difficult to deal with, it’s because they’re looking for the next step musically. It’s your job to try and be there for them to make it happen, and maybe contribute a little on the side.”

Read more in Louder Sound.

11 Comments to “Just read music and play it”:

  1. 1
    Gregster says:


    So it’s a bastard or magician scenario hey ???…Likely both LOL !

    You need to check-out some wineries at Anakie when you’re in Victoria Australia Don, Gus will look after you, & will possibly be able to send some back home for you too…The Cab-Sav is particularly good, all vintages.

    Peace !

  2. 2
    MacGregor says:

    Nice interview with the Don. I didn’t realise he & Cozy were that close as friends. It was nice to hear he went to see Blackmore a few years ago, good vibes there indeed. Airey has been through a lot in seeing so many pass away. That Randy Rhoads tragedy must have been awful for him, not to mention everyone else & especially the Rhoads family. Cozy & then Gary Moore, life eh? Airey would have been wasted being in Sabbath, a gifted keyboard player as he. Sabbath only needed someone to fill the void, so to speak. Geoff Nicholls did that very well. Thanks for the interview, much appreciated. Cheers.

  3. 3
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Cozy + Don + Graham were all three actually very close and had strong camaraderie within that Rainbow line-up. Roger never really warmed up to Graham (and vice versa, strange given Roger’s amiable personality) and butted heads with Cozy in the studio (Powell refusing to do more than one take of SYBG – a song he still loathed at that time, at least for Rainbow to do it -, when Roger felt that his first take was still a little stiff, you can hear that). And Blackmore practiced ‘divide & rule’, never being relaxed about power factions other than those led by him rising in the band set-up.

  4. 4
    Gregster says:

    Leiber Uwe said…

    qt.”And Blackmore practiced ‘divide & rule’, never being relaxed about power factions other than those led by him rising in the band set-up”…

    I guess we can all see how well that idea worked-out for this line-up…

    But the hair-cut was a massive-pay-back for any dodgy undercurrents lol !

    Peace !

  5. 5
    Uwe Hornung says:

    As an HR manager, Blackmore was frankly horrible!

    Some continuity has established itself within Blackmore’s Night over the decades, true, I put that down to (i) Candice’s soothing and levelheaded presence, (ii) Blackmore being too old to meanwhile even give a damn.

    His choices for the last Rainbow reunion tribute incarnation lacked the animal instinct of yore too: A singer with a very limited grasp of English to sing Dio’s and Gillan’s lyrics? A bass player and a drummer with zero heavy rock experience and feel? A keyboarder lacking fluidity and a rock’n’roll groove?

    You really have to wonder. That particular Rainbow line-up would not have gotten a job as a backing band of Joe Lynn Turner or Glenn Hughes, that much is certain.

  6. 6
    MacGregor says:

    “You really have to wonder. That particular Rainbow line-up would not have gotten a job as a backing band of Joe Lynn Turner or Glenn Hughes, that much is certain.” A double entendre? Well done Uwe, he he he. Cheers.

  7. 7
    Uwe Hornung says:

    MacGregor, your mind is a cavernous abyss of filth and smut.

  8. 8
    MacGregor says:

    No smut or filth intended Uwe, just me being silly. I was looking at it with a double meaning only. JLT wanted that ‘reunion’ gig big time & he would never have it, with any back up band. Glenn Hughes was offered the bass playing only gig, which he would never accept unless he was also singing. So yes what you said is definitely true, in both ways. Something like that. Cheers.

  9. 9
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Now I’m disappointed, I had hoped you were being nasty!

    If Glenn had joined Ritchie’s band of merry Rainbow minstrels, the propulsion from his bass playing alone would have blown Blackmore and the rest of the gang off the stage. No contest. Compared to what Glenn delivers on stage, Ritchie’s reunion line-up is a feeble lot.

  10. 10
    MacGregor says:

    There is no doubt that Blackmore was keeping that ‘reunion’ for want of a better description, a low key affair. I did think that also when hearing afterwards about the Hughes approach. Which gets me thinking & you may be able to shed a little light on this. Has Glenn Hughes ever just played bass live for a band somewhere? John Wetton joined Uriah Heep with no lead singing needed from him. Although he did get to still sing a little supporting Byron & Hensley at least. Hughes probably would have been taken aback with that approach from Blackmore. Can you imagine being a fly on the wall that day wherever Hughes was at that time of that offer. ‘Absolutely no way, who does that effing Blackmore think he is’ etc etc. Even Hughes physical energy on stage would not have worked for that gig. Just stand there & play bass Glenn, ok. I still do think, what was Blackmore thinking?. Maybe he had forgotten how full on Hughes was & had no idea. Cheers.

  11. 11
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Not only has Glenn never just played bass live, there is only one album where he has only played bass and not sung: Joe Satriani’s What Happens Next …



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