Ritchie Blackmore Talks Yngwie Malmsteen, Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple in 1991 Interview
Is that why your relationship has lasted so long?
Yes, because we don't tread on each other's toes.
Let's go back to the beginning of Deep Purple. How did you and Jon meet?
I met him in a transvestite bar in '68, in Hamburg, Germany. [laughs] Back in the late Sixties, there were few organists who could play like Jon. We shared the same taste in music. We loved Vanilla Fudge—they were our heroes. They used to play London's Speakeasy and all the hippies used to go there to hang out—Clapton, the Beatles—everybody went there to pose. According to legend, the talk of the town during that period was Jimi Hendrix, but that's not true. It was Vanilla Fudge.
They played eight-minute songs, with dynamics. People said, "What the hell's going on here? How come it's not three minutes?" Timmy Bogert, their bassist, was amazing. The whole group was way ahead of its time. So, initially we wanted to be a Vanilla Fudge clone. But our singer, Ian, wanted to be Edgar Winter. He'd say, "I want to scream like that, like Edgar Winter." So that's what we were—Vanilla Fudge with Edgar Winter!
After your breakthrough record, Concerto for Group and Orchestra  with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, your playing took a more aggressive turn. In Rock  almost became the blueprint for all subsequent Purple records.
I became tired of playing with orchestras. In Rock was my way of rebelling against a certain classical element in the band. Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and I wanted to be a hard rock band—we wanted to play rock and roll only. So off we went in that direction.
I felt that the whole orchestra thing was a bit tame. I mean, you're playing in the Royal Albert Hall, and the audience sits there with folded arms, and you're standing there playing next to a violinist who holds his ears every time you take a solo. It doesn't make you feel particularly inspired.
You started using the vibrato bar extensively on In Rock.
Yes, that's right. I'd seen the James Cotton Blues Band at the Fillmore East, and the guitarist in the band played with the vibrato bar. He got the most amazing sounds. Right after seeing him, I started using the bar. Hendrix inspired me, too.
You used to give the whammy bar a real workout.
I went crazy with it. I used to have quarter-inch bars made for me because I'd keep snapping the normal kind. My repairman would look at me strangely and say, "What are you doing to these tremolo bars?" Finally, he gave me this gigantic tremolo arm made of half-an-inch of solid iron and said, "Here. If you break this thing, I don't wanna know about it!" About three weeks later I went back to the shop. He looked at me and said, "No—you haven't." And I said, "Yes, I have." In graphic detail, I explained to him how I would twirl the guitar around by the bar, throw it to the floor, put my foot on it and pull the bar off with two hands. He was a bit of a purist, so he wasn't amused.
There is a lot of unusual noise during the final solo of "Hard Lovin' Man" [In Rock]. Is that you, throwing your guitar around in the studio?
If I remember right, I was knocking my guitar up and down against a door in the control room. The engineer looked at me oddly. He was one of your typical, old-school engineers. Like my repairman, he wasn't amused, either.
Did you ever try a locking-nut tremolo system?
No. I don't use the twang bar anymore. It's become too popular.
Between In Rock and Fireball , you switched from Gibsons to Fender Strats. How did that affect your playing style?
It was difficult, because it's much easier to flow across the strings on a Gibson. Fenders have more tension, so you have to fight them a little bit. I had a hell of a time. But I stuck with the Fenders because I was so taken with their sound, especially when they were paired with a wah-wah.
Around Fireball and Machine Head , your playing took on a blues and funk edge. Did Hendrix have anything to do with that?
I was impressed by Hendrix. Not so much by his playing, as his attitude—he wasn't a great player, but everything else about him was brilliant. Even the way he walked was amazing. His guitar playing, though, was always a little bit weird. Hendrix inspired me, but I was still more into Wes Montgomery. I was also into the Allman Brothers around the time of those albums.
What do you think of Stevie Ray Vaughan?
I knew that question was coming. His death was very tragic, but I'm surprised everybody thinks he was such a brilliant player when there are people like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Peter Green and Mick Taylor; Johnny Winter, who is one of the best blues players in the world, is also very underrated. His vibrato is incredible. Stevie Ray Vaughan was very intense. Maybe that's what caught everybody's attention. As a player, he didn't do anything amazing.
How did you develop your own unique finger vibrato style?
In my early days, I never used finger vibrato at all. I originally carved my reputation as one of the "fast" guitar players. Than I heard Eric Clapton. I remember saying to him, "You have a strange style. Do you play with that vibrato stuff?" Really an idiotic question. But he was a nice guy about it. Right after that I started working on my vibrato. It took about two or three years for me to develop any technique. Around '68 or '69 you suddenly hear it in my playing.
I've noticed that your rhythm parts aren't always played with a pick.
That's from being lazy. It's like Jeff Beck—when he can't find a pick, he just plays with his fingers. You know how it is. You're watching television and you can't find a pick, so you just play with your fingers. Even on something as simple as the riff to "Smoke on the Water," you'd be surprised at how many people play that with down strokes, as though it were chords. I pluck the riff, which makes a world of difference. Otherwise, you're just hitting the tonic before the fifth.
Why do you think that, of all your work, "Smoke on the Water" is so enduring? The riff is the rock equivalent to the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
Simplicity is the key. And it is simple—you can still hear people playing it at music stores. I never had the courage to write until I heard "I Can't Explain" and "My Generation." Those riffs were so straightforward that I thought, "All right, if Pete Townshend can get away with that, then I can, too!"
What did you think of Tommy Bolin when he took your place in Deep Purple, following your '74 departure?
I originally heard him on Billy Cobham's Spectrum album, and thought, "Who is this guy?" Then I saw him on television and he looked incredible—like Elvis Presley. I knew he was gonna be big. When I heard that Purple hired him I thought it was great. He was always so humble.
I remember he would always invite me out to his house in Hollywood to see his guitar. One day I went to his place. I walked in and tried to find him, but no one was around. There were no furnishings—nothing. I stayed there for 10 minutes before he finally appeared. He showed me his guitar, and the strings must have had a quarter-inch of grime on them, as though he hadn't changed them in four years. I asked him when was the last time he'd changed strings, and he said very seriously, "Gee, I don't know. Do you think I should change them?"