Deep Purple lead guitarist and mastermind, Ritchie Blackmore, 29, has never been known to let tact stand in the way of a good interview. The following conversation, which occurredon Purple’s recent American tour, found Blackmore in a refreshingly self-deprecating mood.
You seem quite satisfied with your image.
Yes, quite satisfied. I don’t mind being thought of as a moody bastard. I’m actually a very serious person, and when I see girls coming up to me and saying `Why don’t you smile?” I get nasty. If I’m relaxed, you see, I look like I’m miserable. That’s the way it is. I’m just not laughing. I don’t laugh at “Didja hear the one about the Englishman and the Irishman?” I say “No,” and walk away. I love to walk away halfway through a joke. God knows where that’s coming from, but I love to fuck jokes up. The thing that makes me laugh are practical jokes. I love to turn fire extinguishers on in restaurants. That’s funny to me. I’m very happy. I’m a contented man, but I don’t go around laughing my ass off. If I’m talkin’ to some scab of a flat-chested and spotty lump, who comes up to me and says, “Why don’t you smile more?” I’ll usually say something like, “If you had big tits and no spots. I probably would.” That’s my thing. I wear black, and don’t give a fuck. Certain things I will not compromise with. There are certain compromises I will make with music if I think it makes people happy. But there are certain things I won’t do, like turning up for press receptions for gold records and things. Maybe I’ll look back in ten years and say, “I was a bit knotty then,” but fuck it. I’m having a good time.
What compromises do you feel you’ve made in Deep Purple’s music?
You know, singles and things. “Smoke On The Water” and all that trash.
There’s actually plenty of subtleties in our music. If they’re clever enough, they’ll catch them. If they don’t, that’s too bad. That’s their hard luck. I’m afraid I have no patience to explain them. Explain anything to’em. Which is a bad fault of mine. We’re not geniuses, nobody… well, there are certain bands who are. Like, Hendrix was a genius for about three years, then he went downhill because of drugs. And I thought Cream put out some great stuff for about two years. McCartney’s doin’ it right now. And of course Paul Rodgers is the greatest artist in music today. But often people entirely miss our point- As soon as they hear anything loud, they go “Well, this is heavy metal rubbish.” Yet, when they hear a folk band playin’ trash, “That’s nice.” It’s all very stupid. I am a brilliant guitarist. I know I can blow any other guitarist thaws around today off the stage. It’s frustrating to know that.
The new songs seem more melodic than usual - more funky. You said while the last group was still together you felt that Deep Purple had gotten a bit too..much into pop music.
Yeah. The new band seems to be a very good cross between pop and blues and funk. Although we don’t quite have the freedom that we should have, we’re enjoying what we’re doing now. You can’t lose the fans you’ve had all along, you see. We’ve gained more people along the way, but still, there are the people who bought “Smoke on the Water” and our singles that we have to please all along. The amount of records that we do is no big deal, but it’s nice. It’s good to know you’re being appreciated by someone. It’s very hard to play rock ‘n’ roll. A lot of people scoff at it and say that it’s easy, but you’re only limited to eight notes in rock ‘n’ roll. You can’t play any of the fancy stuff like in jazz and ragas and things like that.The thing is, we’re trying to incorporate more complicated aspects of jazz and ragas into rock and roll. I am personally, in my solos, anyway. I know that the people are behind me.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a professional musician?
When I was about sixteen. I turned professional when I was sixteen, playin’ in a group called “Screaming Lord Sutch.” Before that, it was in a group called the “Outlaws.” I was mostly doin’ sessions with people like Tom Jones, funnily enough. I did a few Tom Jones sessions. I can’t even remember which ones. They just come in and out of the studio and I’d play on all the records. For a couple of years it was like turn on the radio and “Oh, that’s familiar,” then you realize you were on it Which is very flattering, but the work was boring. And I found that about three years afterwards I was very exact in my playing.
But I wasn’t exciting people. It wasn’t an emotional thing. I was technically brilliant, but too controlled. So I got outta that, thank goodness.
What snapped me outta that was the English pop music explosion, about 1966 or ’65. I went to Germany for a couple of years. England was ridicu lous. People like the Hollies were really big. There were all these pretty faces on the television: it was, like the Osmond Brothers 24 hours a day. So I got fed up, went to Hamburg, and lived there. I studied, played, and practiced about five hours a day. Then Hendrix came along in England and everybody was going, “Hey, have ya seen this black guitarist who plays with his teeth?” and I went “Yeah, right,” thinkin’ he must be shitty.
When I first saw him I thought he was pretty corny, playin’ on his back, behind his head - it had all been done before. It wasn’t until about a year later that I really sussed out what he was up to with audio experience in Axis: Bold as Love, and of course Electric Ladyland was the epitome of the whole rock thing. Since that, everyone’s been tryin’ to copy him.
I gave up all that competitive shit five years ago. I don’t really care. Couldn’t care less about other guitarists. It’s ridiculous. Everyone plays guitar now. Doc tors play guitar now. There are so many guitarists around now it’s unbelievable. I always find it embarassing when people ask me what I play and I have to admit, “Uh, guitar. EVERYBODY plays guitar. But Hendrix gave me a faith in the music scene. And when Cream came along, I thought “Well, it’s all happening again.” Although I was never knocked out with Eric Clapton’s playing, it was competent, and he was copping a lot of the English blues guitarist, and that was a good sign. He had a good sound, but Hendrix was way a head of him because he could write, hecould sing, he could perform. He blew it from 1970 onwards, though. People were supplying him with drugs, and certain managers were doing knotty things.
Anyway, he (Hendrix) gave me the faith. I had thought that people just didn’t want to hear good guitar solos anymore. I thought they wanted to hear harmony singers like - at the time -the Hollies, and the Beatles, and they were great, but musically nothing.
I’m afraid at the moment, with David Bowie and Alice Cooper and people like that, the scene has dampened again - so it’s slipping back. There’s nothing happening musically with people like David Bowie and Alice Cooper, but some people seem to think they’re the new messiahs so, I guess that’s the way it is.
You seem to shun the spotlight.
Why haven’t you taken steps to become a big guitar star?
I don’t think that I’m worthy of it, basically. I think that’s best left to people like Jimmy Page, who look the part. I always get embarrassed when I start flaunting myself. I could be very sexy onstage and all that business, but it doesn’t really turn me on. I think I’m being rather silly. If I start wigglin’ my hips, I do that for maybe half a minute then I stop. I don’t wanna get into that I like to do a bit of each, but I don’t wanna be a clown. Although people like Eric Clapton didn’t move an inch, he still wears his white suit so he gets a good photograph. His white comes out better on photograph than my black. I’m very happy where I am.
Are you the studio performer you want to be?
No, that just pisses me off. We’ve never made a good record - except for Machine Head.
How do you look back on the early staff?
I never listen to all that stuff. I don’t know if other artists get this but I can’t listen to much that I play at all. The only time I can listen to it’s when I’m drunk out of my head in a discotheque some where, hear our records, and then I’ll go, “Oh .. that’s all right.” But if some one puts it on at home, I’ll feel very embarrassed, because I’m only playin’ a third of what I can really put out. You can never excel yourself on record; it’s just hopeless. I listen to our records, think “Christ. That’s awful.” Things like “Space Truckin’.” Other times I listen to somebody else and I’ll go “Well, that’s awful too.” So at least ours is acceptable because it’s better than most.
I think Stevie Wonder is putting out some very good stuff. “Superstition” is very unique. But for me, in a studio it’s just hopeless. Some people can do it, but they get onstage and they blow it. For me, it’s the opposite. Onstage, I know I can take the chance. I can’t do that in a studio. I must be turned on by an audience. In other words, I like to show off. Whenever I get out and play the guitar, I know that I’m good, and I go “Right. I’m the greatest,” and it all comes out. When I go into a studio I think I’m playin’ to an engineer and a few other people. It doesn’t do anything for me. So most of the time I just maintain a good average.
You seem to have a very critical ear. What do you think of your contemporaries? McLaughlin for example?
McLaughlin thought that puttin’ a fuzz on guitar would give him a good rock `n’ roll sound. He’s a jazz guitarist. He can’t bend a note. He does it with such speed and complexity that it sounds good, but that fuzzy noise that he puts on everything blows it. I don’t understand it. Jerry Goodman’s got that completely true sound. He’s very articulate. And Billy Cobham, I thought, was very good. But McLaughlin is beyond me … to me, it’s like music from hell. If I was going to hell, that’s the type of music I should expect to hear on the way.
Roy Buchanan is brilliant. He goes way above people’s heads, and that’s what worries me. I think, what’s the point of being up there, if it’s going to go over everyone’s heads? You’re not going to get anywhere. Pete Townshend once said that it’s great to progress, but unless you take your audience with you, it’s pointless. I think sometimes Buchanan is too far up front. People don’t know what he’s doing.
What are your plans for the future?
I know it sounds very morbid, but if we announce that we had been killed in a plane crash, our records would just sail up. Our manager agreed that a crash would do us well, so we’ll see.
Courtesy of Creem – Cameron Crowe – June, 1975