Legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore co-founded hard rock bands Deep Purple and Rainbow before making a dramatic switch in 1997 with the creation of Blackmore’s Night. Formed with his wife Candice Night, Blackmore’s Night is a Renaissance-influenced pop rock band. Fender News recently caught up with the esteemed guitarist – Rolling Stone lists him as one of its “100 greatest guitarists of all time” – for the following Q&A…
|Ritchie Blackmore and his wife Candice Night in
their Blackmore Night’s garb.
FN: As a founding member of Deep Purple and Rainbow, it’s very interesting that you have also become so successful in a totally different genre. When did you first feel an inclination towards Renaissance-inspired music?
RB: I felt an inclination towards Renaissance inspired music ever since I heard the song “Greensleeves” when I was 11 years old. And then again in 1972 when I heard David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. I would always listen to this music at home or in the hotels on the road. I was fascinated by the sound of woodwind music from that era.
FN: Blackmore’s Night’s debut album Shadow of the Moon became a gold record, while the latest album Secret Voyage debuted at #1 on the Billboard New Age charts, spending four weeks at that position and 41 weeks in the top ten. Although you’ve said you aren’t a fan of being in the studio, you have certainly had tremendous success with your recordings. What creative approach do you take when making albums?
RB: The creative approach starts with a vague melody and vague chord progression, which I put down on a small hand recorder. The next step is Candice humming a melody and we both decide whether there is any potential with the idea. If there is, Candice will go write the lyrics and we put that down on the recorder as well. I never make demos. Then when our producer is in town, he comes to the house and stays with us. We have a small studio downstairs. It’s really a tavern turned into a studio. We record it in the house. I like to be spontaneous in the studio. I usually don’t have too much worked out before I play.
FN: You and Candice are often inspired by your castle visits, and have mentioned that you usually take the time to learn about the folklore of the local European communities that you visit. What’s one of the strangest tales you have come across?
RB: Schloss Waldeck. It’s a castle that we visit and sometimes play at that has a witches museum. It goes back to the 1300s. One night we did an interview in the dungeon and heard all sorts of paranormal sounds and screams; People walking with chains attached. We later found out the castle was made into a prison and many people were in chains while there.
FN: Secret Voyage has been reviewed as an album that takes its listeners on a “musical quest – a voyage through time and space.” The single “Locked Within the Crystal Ball” does that with a traditional melody written by King Alfonso X of Castile serving as the seed for your final arrangement and composition. Candice has called this the “Blackmore-izer.” Can you describe this creative process in more detail?
RB: It just naturally unfolds. It makes the job much easier when you already have a melody that exists to work on. Sometimes it works adding modern instruments. Sometimes it doesn’t. I think it worked on “Crystal Ball.”
FN: You also revisit Rainbow classic “Rainbow Eyes” on the album. That was known as one of the softer Rainbow songs, described as somewhat ethereal. Did it lend itself well to a Blackmore’s Night song, and how did you determine the re-arrangement?
RB: Anything that is melodic lends itself to be included in this band. Originally it was very acoustic and this time around we added the electric guitar to give it a different dimension.
FN: Your guitar intro to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” is widely considered as one of the most famous rock ‘n’ roll riffs ever. The lyrics of the song were inspired by the experiences the band had when a fire broke out at the Montreux Casino concert hall in Montreux, Switzerland, but how did you come up with the famous riff?
RB: Ian Paice (Deep Purple drummer) and I often used to jam, just the two of us. It was a natural riff to play at the time. It was the first thing that came into my head during that jam.
FN: It’s been said that you never play the same set when you tour or play a song the same way twice. Is this improvisational style a desire to stay unique, a continual search for perfectionism, or do you just get bored easy with being repetitive?
RB: The last one. I get very bored and distracted very easily. I can never remember set pieces, set lines or set anything. I would never be able to be an actor.
|Photo credit: Udo Talmon.|
FN: Is it true that when your father bought you your first guitar at age 11 it was on the condition that he was going to have someone teach it to you properly or smash you across the head with it?
RB: Yes, that is true. He did say that. I think he was used to me, again, getting bored very easily and that it was a passing phase — that I wouldn’t carry on playing the instrument. I initially wanted to be a trumpet player, but they were too expensive. Then a drummer, but they were too expensive. So my dad bought me a guitar. It was cheaper. I wanted to be Eddie Calvert; he was a trumpet player, when I was 8.
FN: Could you talk about your evolution as a guitar player, from those early classical lessons to Deep Purple and Rainbow bassist and producer Roger Glover helping you to recognize that while playing with speed can look flashy, that slowing down and holding a note is also a true art?
RB: I realized when I first started playing the guitar I wanted to be very fast. Then I realized, when that wore off, that playing slower and with more feeling and emoting was much harder. It took me a few years to get used to playing slowly. Now I find it harder to play fast.
FN: You’ve been a longtime Fender Stratocaster® player and have your own signature Stratocaster model, which features a graduated scalloped rosewood fingerboard. What made you originally decide to use a scalloped fingerboard?
RB: I had a classical guitar way back when I was 19 or 20. It had a pitted fingerboard, worn out from excessive use so the wood in between the frets was almost concave. It felt right. Then when I went to playing the electric guitar and I wanted to bend a note, I always felt that the fingerboard should be scalloped so one could grip the string easier. I first did this, as far as I remember, back in 1971.
FN: After playing in Germany this summer, Blackmore’s Night is about to kick off a U.S. “Secret Voyage Autumn Nights Tour.” Can you share any details about what you have planned for these shows since your performances are known for creating an all-encompassing medieval/Renaissance experience?
RB: We encourage people to come dressed in garb and try to give them an incentive to do so whether it’s preferential seating or merchandise discounts if they are in costume. It adds to the event and makes the concert an experience for all of us. We have a 3-dimensional backdrop that will visually transport you to another time, as well as screens behind us that are projecting animated images of the ideas of the songs. We will be playing old as well as new instruments with our seven-piece band and if we’re enjoying ourselves, we’ve been known to play for over three hours, barring a venue curfew. We play songs from all of our CDs since 1997 and also go back a little further than that with songs from my old bands occasionally.
FN: You and Candice both also insist that ticket prices be kept affordable for families, and you’ve been known to play shows after the shows at local pubs when this isn’t the case. Why is that so important to you?
RB: I am from the old school and I remember the old prices. That’s why I am always shocked when I go to the grocery stores and see the prices. Expenses from every direction have gone up to ridiculous levels. But salaries haven’t. It’s just not right to take advantage of fans financially like so many agents or venues or bands do. We’d rather the normal man in the street be able to come see the show and enjoy himself rather than mortgage his house to be able to afford to buy tickets for hi
m and his family.
FN: What’s on the horizon? It seems like you’ve put out new albums annually for the past several years. Is new music already in the works?
RB: Yes, we are already half finished with the new CD. We’ll be doing the rest over the winter.