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Controlling the elephant

Guitar Player reprints online an excerpt from a vintage interview with Ritchie Blackmore that was first published in the July/August 1973 issue of the magazine.

Did you ever have lessons?

I had classical lessons for a year. That helped, because I learned how to use my little finger. A lot of blues guitarists play with only three fingers, so they can’t figure out certain runs that require the use of their little fingers.

Besides getting you to use your little finger, has classical training affected your playing in any other way?

I would say that it shows up most in the music I write. For example, the chord progression in the Highway Star solo – Bm, to a Db, to a C, to a G – is a Bach progression. The classical influence is always there somewhat, but I don’t intentionally use it that much really. I play a lot of single notes, and that’s not classical.

Continue reading in Guitar Player.

15 Comments to “Controlling the elephant”:

  1. 1
    Ivica says:

    The first meeting. 1979 .. the city of Split Croatia.. then an unknown keyboard player in the dark plays the intro (“Second Sight.”) the other three enter the first bars of the fast song Secret of the Dance.” a lot of smoke on the stage .. the first lines in the parterre where they were …after 30 seconds a tall man with long, very long hair comes on stage,headbanging ..
    sleeveless denim jacket, white cowboy boots
    white pants and a t-shirt, a denim jacket the color of the clear sky without sleeves, followed then a clenched fist with a bent elbow… this is Ian Gillan…

  2. 2
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Ivica got lost in the wrong thread – and I thought that only happened to me!

  3. 3
    Gregster says:


    I actually have the “Guitar Player Book” with this article in it circa 1974…It has all the great Rock players within it since the magazines inception in 1967…

    Trower, Zappa, Page, Iommi, Hendrix, Beck, Townshend & countless others within its pages.

    The RB interview isn’t a bad one, & at least it reveals some honesty “Just steal from everybody” lol !

    Peace !

  4. 4
    MacGregor says:

    This could be the interview Uwe mentioned a few months ago in regards to the Blackmore’s Steve Howe comment. Something along those lines regarding classical scales wasn’t it or possibly his solo’s. This is the first time I have noticed a comment from Blackers in regards to Howe, from my memory at least. It makes me wonder as to what Blackmore thought ten years or so later with so many of the newer guitarists implementing that into their own styles. Well we know what he thought of a few at least. Cheers.

  5. 5
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I thought so too at first, Herr MacGregor, but in the one I read (another guitar mag or was it Melody Maker?) he elaborated that Howe knew many different scales, which he thought was a good thing as most other guitarists didn’t, but that he (Howe) was not very good/fluent at combining different scales and always sounded to Ritchie “like he is practicing scales”.

    Howe is not a conventional rock guitarist by any means (and doesn’t aspire to be) and his solos tend to sound a bit scholarly, but I think Ritchie was a little harsh in his judgement. Admittedly though, Blackers is very good at moving elegantly/organically from one scale to another or combining them, it’s part of what made him stand out in the 70ies if you like me hold the (unfounded according to some) view that he actually can improvise!

  6. 6
    Gregster says:


    RB was generally always putting-people-down / speaking negatively in these early days, generally to prop himself up, revealing his own insecurities.

    He claims in one sentence that Pete Townshend is a poor guitarist, only to say in the next sentence “he’s really good at his chord scene”…

    Steve Howe is a very unique player, having his own distinct sound that’s instantly recognizable. It’s up to the listener to like or dislike what you hear.

    Hearing RB talk about scales is like listening to a painter talk about fast cars, no idea at all.

    There’s only 5-major groups of scales, with several off-shoots within them, & two of them are repeat pattern, the diminished & whole-tone scales. All is interrelated depending on the chord played to offer your choices.

    RB only generally delved into Maj / min pentatonics, Major scales & offshoots, the Harmonic Minor scale through the 1980’s, & the occasional diminished flourish. So he played generally only 3/5 available…

    Peace !

  7. 7
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Ok, so not only could he not improvise, he didn’t know scales all that well either. Never mind how he was lauded for exactly that by this Steve Vai guy who really has no idea about such things.

    At the rate you’re going, lieber Gregster, I’m sure that by the end of the year we will all agree that Ritchie Blackmore was really only Tommy Bolin’s guitar tech who went by the name of Hugh.

    Tune in as our torrent of tall tales from Tasmania continues!



  8. 8
    MacGregor says:

    Talking of Steve Vai he is about to venture down the Robert Fripp guitar path in the new ‘Beat’ band with Adrian Belew, Tony Levin & Danny Carey. Playing the 80’s & 90’s era King Crimson material. I wonder if Vai will be sitting down when he is playing. Seriously though I do wonder how he will go being so ‘disciplined’ in that sense of things. There is no doubt that he can play it all. I will have a listen to some live clips online out of curiosity. Cheers.

  9. 9
    Gregster says:


    Leiber Uwe said qt.”Ok, so not only could he not improvise, he didn’t know scales all that well either. Never mind how he was lauded for exactly that by this Steve Vai guy who really has no idea about such things”.

    *1. RB travelled by bicycle a few miles for classical guitar lessons for 1-year approximately, which he didn’t like, as he often fell-off said bike…

    * RB’s main influence & teacher was Big Jim Sullivan, who he used to hassle every-night to learn “bits & pieces”, perhaps as much as 2-3 bars of Bach each time when he visited, as claimed from the “RB story” DVD.

    * RB is quoted in Guitar Player Magazine as stating “Just steal from everybody” as advise for youngsters learning guitar…

    * Jon Lord is noted for saying RB had a “maverick approach to chords”, meaning he had no clue, & flew by the grace of his fingers & ears…

    All this to say, RB is one-of-those players who though had some official training, in truth is more of a self-taught player…And this is what gives him his unique identity when he plays, & certainly helped define the DP sound in the beginning…

    And within the Guitar Player magazine article, he reveals his non-ability to articulate the theoretical side of DP’s music, with regards to the bach progression used in Highway Star, & the “arpeggio” sequence…He doesn’t give the chordal qualities ( Maj, min, dim or Aug ), & there’s no arpeggio movement that I can here in the studio solo. What he refers to is a straight-up-the-scale, triplet note sequence at his solos climax.

    Most of the “greats” of guitar are mostly self-taught musicians, that found their own way on the instrument, & developed their own sound & style, often through the blues & pentatonic scales. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all, it proved quite successful for many players.

    The down-side of being self-taught, is the inability to discuss music with others, as all you have is your ears & your playing to speak with…And if you find major success, you tend to keep quiet, & become very selective with whom you choose to play with, as evidenced with Rainbow…

    Tommy Bolin needed help to get-off the “smack”, not RB as a guitar technician, though he provided many more colours from the rainbow of musical notes to play over the tunes with perhaps.

    Peace !

  10. 10
    Svante Axbacke says:

    @8: Vai will not sit down. https://youtu.be/Ci8UW5RQ7l0?si=CbkTuyekQW2dJ7j7

  11. 11
    MacGregor says:

    @ 10 -thanks for the Vai interview, a wonderful insight into his take on it all. The closest I have come to King Crimson was the Crimson ProjeKCt in 2014. Markus Reuter the touch guitar, Warr guitar & Chapman stick player was laying down the Fripp parts then. A student of Fripp’s from the early 90’s & associated with ex Crimson members across the years, he knew the music very well & is a multi instrumentalist on a grand scale. Steve Vai will be different again but just as brilliant & a different drummer involved also in Carey & it should be grand indeed. Cheers.

  12. 12
    Uwe Hornung says:

    But Herr Gregster, that is actually Ritchie’s charm as a soloist how he climbs through different scales in one solo in a very natural, not premeditated way, he follows his ears and fingers!

    And those guitar lessons were certainly good for something, he does play with his pinkie more than, say, other excellent lead guitarists, Michael Schenker and Gary Moore among them (Uli Jon Roth is another pinkie player).

    Tommy had very musical ears, but knew next to nothing about musical theory, even less than Blackmore. That said, Ritchie wasn’t obsessed with such things either, the harmonies he overdubbed to the original Highway Star solo lead melody do not always follow musical theory, but are rather box playing moved up a few notches. That is why there are sour notes in places which adds to the – at the time – otherworldly sound of that particular solo. One would imagine that the Wishbone Ash guitarists would have broken a few less rules doing the same thing, but would the result have been as stark?

  13. 13
    Gregster says:


    RB’s charm for myself is the “intensity” found in the way he expresses himself, especially in the early days, along with Rainbow in the live setting. People like EVH had some incredible, way-out technique & more varied note-selections etc etc, but they couldn’t hold you in “intense suspension” like RB could, eg, “Child in Time” from In Rock.

    I think it’s also important to realize, that this “using all four fingers” when playing a guitar makes you a better player, is all hype & bollox…You learn this method of fretboard 4-finger usage because that’s the way a guitar is designed to be played, or more correctly, one finger works in one fret, & so holds a “position” on the fretboard…

    Starting on the low-E-string, finger 1 = fret 1, finger 2 = fret 2 , finger 3 = fret 3, finger 4 = fret 4…

    So what happens at position / fret 5 ?????

    You move from the “E” string onto the “A” string, & the sequence starts again…

    Position 5 / fret 5 is also the tuning fret for the next string…

    This is true for all the strings except the “B” string, where it’s tuned from the 4th fret on the “G” string.

    So, a guitar by default is designed & tuned to support the use of all 4 fingers in a position / fret…But if you have smaller hands, it doesn’t matter if you move out-of-position & use only 3-fingers to move / bend those heavy-strings, nor does it make you less of a player / musician if you have to do so for whatever reasons. It’s how you play & what you manage to get out that matters, all else is bollox & miss-interpretation & assumption from those who don’t know any better, or are simply trying to find a way to put someone down imo.

    Peace !

  14. 14
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Sure three-finger guitarists can play too on their midget instrument with its infant strings, but imagine if they were bassists and refused to use their pinkie for fretting? You’re in Sid Vicious territory then.

    But then bass has always been the instrument that separates the men from the boys. I wanted to share that with you.

    It sounds terribly arrogant, but it is the first thing I look for when I play with a new guitarist – does he use his pinkie when soloing on a regular basis? And I found Gary Moore’s and Michael Schenker’s fretting always looked terribly unelegant compared to Ritchie’s exquisite spider finger moves, can’t help it.

    Simon McBride is no Ritchie in pinkie use either, but he at least doesn’t shun it like Moore and Schenker often did/do. Both of them Gibson players btw with that even more petite, unmanly scale – yuck!

    The way Ritchie does trills and hammer-ons – something he mainly does with Blackmore’s Night because bending wasn’t really invented/common in Renaissance music – has a hell of a lot to do with his pinkie technique. Billy Gibbons wouldn’t stand a chance. The man with the next-to-nothing string gauge.

  15. 15
    Gregster says:


    Once again, it doesn’t really matter imo. Put simply from my own perspectives & experience, when you’re running up & down the neck, depending on what needs to be played, it’s usually 3 or 4 fingers, depending on where you’re going, or tapping with the other available hand…

    When playing across the fretboard, that’s position playing, & that’s where the 4th finger is at attention…In fact, fingers 1 & 4 often have to step-out of position, & stretch into the adjacent fret at times.

    Some people even claim an official tutorage where there’s only 3-notes per string, so that eliminates the pinky.

    I’m from the Berklee School of thought via W.G.Leavitt methodology, & that means anything goes by the time you get to book 3 yo ! 🙂 …

    It’s like a condom, you’re better-off having one & not needing it, than needing it & not having one…

    Peace !

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