Ritchie Blackmore Talks Yngwie Malmsteen, Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple in 1991 Interview
Following your departure from Purple, you drifted back to a slightly classical direction in Rainbow.
I was never sure what I wanted to be. I found the blues too limiting, too confining. I'd always thought—with all due respect to B.B. King—that you couldn't just play four notes. Classical, on the other hand, was always too disciplined. I was always playing between the two, stuck in a musical no-man's land.
Did you ever toy with the idea of playing strictly classical music?
Yes. I would love to go back to the 1520s, the time of my favorite music. A few of my friends in Germany have a very authentic four-piece, and they play medieval music. I've always wanted to play with them, but it hasn't panned out yet. But in general, I'm not good enough, technically, to be a classical musician. I lack discipline. When you're dealing with classical music, you have to be rigid. I'm not a rigid player. I like to improvise.
The song "Stargazer," from the second Rainbow album [Rainbows Rising, 1976], has a strong classical feel. How did you come up with that one?
That was a good tune. I wrote that on the cello. I had given up on the guitar between '75 and '78. I completely lost interest. I was sick of hearing other guitar players and I was tired of my tunes. What I really wanted to be was Jacqueline DuPrey on cello. So I started playing cello.
Did you ever record with a cello?
Yes, just on a small backing track—I can't remember on what. But you have to give your whole life to a cello. When I realized that, I went back to the guitar and just turned the volume up a bit louder.
Was there anything you learned from the cello that you applied to the guitar?
Not really. The cello is such a melancholy instrument, such an isolated, miserable instrument.... But it was an appropriate choice for me at the time, because my girlfriend had left me and I was going through this miserable phase.
What do you think of Yngwie Malmsteen? He's often credited you as an influence.
He's always been very nice to me, and I always get on very well with him. I don't understand him, though—his playing, what he wears. His movements are also a bit creepy. Normally you say, "Well, the guy's just an idiot." But, when you hear him play you think, "This guy's no idiot. He knows what he's doing." He's got to calm down. He's not Paganini—though he thinks he is. When Yngwie can break all of his strings but one, and play the same piece on one string, then I'll be impressed. In three or four years, we'll probably hear some good stuff from him.
What do you think of tapping?
Thank goodness it's come to an end. The first person I saw doing that hammer-on stuff was Harvey Mandel, at the Whisky A Go-Go in '68. I thought "What the hell is he doing?" It was so funny [laughs], Jim Morrison was carried out because he was shouting abuse at the band. Jimi Hendrix was there. We were all getting drunk. Then Harvey Mandel starts doing this stuff [mimes tapping]. "What's he doing?" everybody was saying. Even the audience stopped dancing.
Obviously, Eddie Van Halen must have picked up a few of those things. What do you think of him?
It depends on my mood. He is probably the most influential player in the last 15 years 'cause everybody's gone out and bought one of those, what does he play, Charvel, Carvel ... Kramer, with the locking nut. Yes, with the locking nut! And everyone's gone hammer-on crazy! So he's obviously done something. He's a great guitar player, but I'm more impressed by his recent songwriting and keyboard work. I think he's going to be remembered—he could be the next Cole Porter.
How do you feel about your own guitar hero status?
It's funny to find myself in that position, because when I first came to America I thought, "Why go to America when they have these fantastic players?" I was brought up on [pedal steel great] Speedy West and [country guitarist] Jimmy Bryant, people like that. When I was 13 years old, I couldn't believe how good they were. I thought, "When I go to America, I'm going to get killed." Everything changed when we had a hit with "Hush." I found people saying, "Oh, you play guitar really well." I'd say, "How can you say that when you've got these guys in Nashville who just tear me apart?" I still say it. If you tune into Hee Haw you'll see these guys who are absolutely amazing.
Jeff Beck once told me that he went to Nashville to do a record. While he was in the studio, this guy who was sweeping up asked him, "Can I borrow your guitar for a second?" Jeff said, "Oh, of course." The guy started playing and completely blew Jeff away. He left soon after that. Thank goodness all those amazing players stay in Nashville!
Has your approach to sound processing changed? Have you checked out any of these multi-effects racks?
I don't put myself on Jeff Beck's level, but I can relate to him when he says he'd rather be working on his car collection than playing the guitar. I'm enjoying other things in life, but when I do pick up the guitar, I want to simply plug into a loud amplifier, and that's it. Maybe if I were 20, I'd pay more attention to equipment trends; at 45, you start to go in other directions. I get turned on by soccer shoes; I listen to Renaissance music—those are the things that really stir my soul. There are so many effects and new guitar players. I can't comprehend it all. When you hear them, you suddenly realize that they all sound the same—like Eddie Van Halen, speeded up.
Do you have a home studio?
No, I don't. It's gotten out of hand—everybody has their own studio. I'd rather write something on the spur of the moment, while doing a formal recording. I believe in inspiration.
What does the future hold for you?
I'm very moved by Renaissance music, but I still love to play hard rock—though only if it's sophisticated and has some thought behind it. I don't want to throw myself on a stage and act silly, 'cause I see so many bands doing that today. There's a lot going on today that disturbs me—so much derivative music. Where are the progressive bands like Cream, Procul Harum, Jethro Tull or the Experience? I could go on, but we have to live with it.