Richard Hugh “Ritchie” Blackmore (born 14 April 1945 in Weston-super-Mare, England) is an English guitarist, who was a founding member of hard rock bands Deep Purple and Rainbow. He left Deep Purple in 1993 due to a growing rift between Blackmore and other members in spite of renewed commercial success. His current band is the Renaissance influenced Blackmore’s Night.
Blackmore was ranked #55 in Rolling Stone magazine list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
Childhood and early life
Blackmore was born in Weston-super-Mare, England, but moved to Heston, Middlesex at the age of two. He was 11 when he got his first guitar. His father bought it for him on certain conditions: “He said if I was going to play this thing, he was either going to have someone teach it to me properly, or he was going to smash me across the head with it. So I actually took the lessons for a year ? classical lessons – and it got me on to the right footing, using all the fingers and the right strokes of the plectrum and the nonsense that goes with it.” Whilst at school he did well at sports including the Javelin. Blackmore left school at age 15 and started work as an apprentice radio mechanic at nearby Heathrow Airport. He was given guitar lessons by Big Jim Sullivan.
He was influenced in his youth by early rockers like Hank Marvin and Gene Vincent, and later, country pickers like Chet Atkins. His playing improved and in the early 1960s he started out as a session player for Joe Meek’s music productions and performed in several bands. He was a member of the instrumental combo, The Outlaws, and backed Heinz (playing on his top ten hit “Just Like Eddie”), Screaming Lord Sutch, Glenda Collins and Boz among others. While working for Joe Meek, he got to know engineer Derek Lawrence, who would later produce Deep Purple’s first three albums. With organist Jon Lord he co-founded hard rock group Deep Purple in 1968, and continued to be a member of Deep Purple from 1968-1975 and again from 1984-1993.
(1968-1975) The first Deep Purple years
Blackmore co-founded the hard rock group Roundabout with Wayne Blade in 1968 with Chris Curtis (vocals), Dave Curtis (bass), Jon Lord (keyboards), and Bobby Woodman aka Bobbie Clarke (drums). Later on the name was changed to Deep Purple and vocal, bass and drums were changed to Rod Evans (vocals), Nick Simper (bass) and Ian Paice (drums). It was Blackmore’s idea to call the band Deep Purple, after his grandmother’s favorite song. The band had a hit US single with its remake of the Joe South song “Hush”. After three albums Evans and Simper were replaced by Ian Gillan (vocals) and Roger Glover (bass).
The second line-up’s first studio album, In Rock, changed the band’s style, turning it in a hard rock direction. Blackmore’s guitar riffs, Jon Lord’s distorted Hammond organ, and Ian Paice’s jazz-influenced drums were enhanced by the vocals of Ian Gillan, who Blackmore has described as being “a screamer with depth and a blues feel.”
The next release was titled Fireball and continued in the same hard rock style established on the previous release, with Blackmore’s guitar remaining a prominent feature of the band’s style.
Deep Purple’s next album was titled Machine Head. The band originally intended to record the album at a casino in Montreux, but the night before recording was to begin the casino hosted a Frank Zappa concert (with members of Deep Purple in attendance) at which an audience member fired a flare gun which ignited a fire inside the building and the casino burned down. The entire tragedy is documented in the lyrics of what was to become Deep Purple’s historic anthem “Smoke on the Water”.
In 1973, shortly after the release of the album Who Do We Think We Are, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left Deep Purple.
They were replaced by former Trapeze bassist Glenn Hughes and an unknown singer named David Coverdale. The album recorded by the new line-up was entitled Burn.
Deep Purple continued to perform concerts worldwide, including an appearance at the 1974 ‘California Jam’, a televised concert festival that also included many other prominent bands. At the moment Deep Purple were due to appear, Blackmore locked himself in his dressing room and refused to go onstage. Previous performers had finished early, and it was still not sundown, the time at which the band had originally been scheduled to start. Blackmore felt this would dull the effect of the band’s light show. After ABC brought in a sheriff to arrest him, Blackmore agreed to perform. At the culmination of the performance he destroyed several of his guitars and threw one of his amplifier stacks off the edge of the stage. He also struck one of the ABC cameras with a guitar, and in recorded footage can be seen arranging for his road crew to set off a pyrotechnic device in one of his amplifiers, creating a large fireball that was quickly extinguished. The band quickly exited the venue by helicopter, avoiding fire marshals, police officers and ABC executives.
Deep Purple’s next album, Stormbringer, was publicly denounced by Blackmore himself, who disliked the funky soul influences that Hughes and Coverdale injected into the band. Following its release, he departed Deep Purple to front a new group, Rainbow, which was originally thought to be a one-off collaboration by Blackmore and the Ronnie James Dio-fronted band Elf, but was later revealed to be a new band project.
(1975-1984) The first Rainbow years
Blackmore, right, with Rainbow in 1977
After Deep Purple, Blackmore formed the hard rock band Rainbow. The name of the band Rainbow was inspired by a Hollywood bar and grill called the Rainbow that catered to rock stars, groupies and rock enthusiasts. It was here that Blackmore spent his off time from Deep Purple and met vocalist Ronnie James Dio, whose band Elf had toured regularly as an opening act for Deep Purple.
The band’s debut album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, was released in 1975. The band’s musical style differed from Blackmore’s previous band and much of Blackmore’s inspiration came from his love of classical music which matched nicely with Dio’s lyrics about medieval themes.
Blackmore fired every original band member except Dio shortly after the first album was recorded, and recruited a new lineup to record the album Rainbow Rising.
For the next album, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, Blackmore kept the drummer Cozy Powell and Dio but replaced the rest of the band. Blackmore had difficulty finding a bass player for this record so he handled all the bass duties himself, except on three songs: “Gates of Babylon”, “Kill the King”, and “Sensitive To Light” (the bass on these songs was performed by Bob Daisley.) After the album’s release and supporting tour, Ronnie James Dio left Rainbow due to “creative differences” with Blackmore.
Blackmore continued with Rainbow and the band released a new album entitled Down To Earth, which featured his ex-Deep Purple bandmate Roger Glover on bass. The album contained Blackmore’s first chart successes since leaving Deep Purple, as the Graham Bonnet-fronted single “Since You Been Gone” (a cover of the Russ Ballard penned tune) became a smash hit. In 1980 Blackmore’s Rainbow headlined the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in England. Bonnet and Cozy Powell would leave after this, Powell would go on to join former Deep Purple members in Whitesnake.
The band’s next album, Difficult to Cure, introduced vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. The title track from this album was an arrangement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a personal favourite of Blackmore’s.
Rainbow’s next studio album was Straight Between the Eyes and included the hit single “Stone Cold.” It would be followed by the album Bent Out of Shape, which featured the single “Street Of Dreams”. The song’s video was banned by MTV for its supposedly controversial hypnotic video clip. The resulting tour saw Rainbow return to the UK and also to Japan where the band performed with a full orchestra.
By the mid-1980s, Blackmore and his former Deep Purple bandmates had reconciled past differences and a reunion of the successful “Mark II” lineup took place. A final Rainbow album, Finyl Vinyl, was patched together from live tracks and “b” sides of singles.
(1984-1993) The second Deep Purple years
In April 1984, it was announced on BBC Radio’s Friday Rock Show that the “Mark Two” line-up of Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, and Paice was reforming and recording new material. The band signed a deal with Polydor in Europe and Mercury in North America. The album Perfect Strangers was released in October 1984. A tour followed, starting in Perth, Australia and wound its way across the world and into Europe by the following summer. It was the highest-grossing group tour of the year. The UK homecoming proved mixed as they elected to play just one festival, ‘The Return of the Knebworth Fayre’, at Knebworth Park on 22 June, 1985. Despite poor weather conditions, an audience of 80,000 attended the show that also featured Scorpions, Mama’s Boys and Meat Loaf amongst others. BBC Radio One broadcasted the set.
In 1987, the line-up recorded and toured in support of the album, The House of Blue Light. A live album, Nobody’s Perfect was released in 1988. A new version of “Hush” (sung by Gillan, who had not yet joined the band when the original recording was made), was also released to mark the band’s twentieth anniversary. In 1989, Ian Gillan was fired from the band because of a poor working relationship with Blackmore. His replacement was former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. This lineup recorded one album titled Slaves & Masters (1990). Though the album was a favorite of Blackmore’s, his bandmates were disappointed with the efforts of the album and tours.
Neither the album nor the tour were critically or commercially successful. Following its conclusion, Turner was fired from the band. Both Jon Lord and Ian Paice argued that Deep Purple needed Ian Gillan as the band’s frontman. Blackmore relented and Gillan returned prior to recording The Battle Rages On in 1993. During the support tour in late 1993, tensions between Gillan and Blackmore reached a climax and Blackmore left the band permanently. His last show with the band was in Helsinki, Finland on 17 November, 1993.
Gillan said: “Joe Satriani came in at the last minute. Blackmore walked out and the tour was taking off to Japan… it was all very dramatic. He said: ‘Alright, that’s the end of the band,’ and assumed because he left that we were going to fold up.” Satriani was asked to join full time but had to decline as he was tied into a long recording contract. A permanent replacement for Blackmore was eventually found in another guitar legend, Steve Morse of Dixie Dregs, who joined the band in 1994.
Ian Gillan, who had been Ritchie Blackmore’s roommate during the early days of the band, stated in a 2006 interview that Blackmore had “turned into a weird guy and the day he walked out of the tour was the day the clouds disappeared and the day the sunshine came out and we haven’t looked back since.” Gillan noted that after Blackmore “walked out, things picked up and recovered unbelievably, remarkably well and the band’s in great shape now”. He added that “there are certain personal issues that I have with Ritchie, which means that I will never speak to him again. Nothing I’m going to discuss publicly, but deeply personal stuff.”
(1993-1997) The second Rainbow years
Ritchie Blackmore reformed Rainbow after leaving Deep Purple a second time in 1993. This Rainbow line up with singer Doogie White lasted until 1997 and produced the album Stranger in Us All. In the years Rainbow was together, Blackmore was the only consistent member. Stranger In Us All failed to measure up to the critical and commercial acclaim of previous releases, possibly due to the popularity of grunge rock at the time and the fact it was not particularly well publicised. In 1996, he appeared on the tribute album to Hank Marvin and The Shadows “Twang” on Sting’s Pangea label with a rendition of Gerry Lordan’s Apache.
(1997-present) The Blackmore’s Night years
Ritchie performing with Candice Night
In 1997, Blackmore and his (now) wife Candice Night formed the Renaissance-inspired pop group Blackmore’s Night. They have also performed the music for MagiQuest, a live simulation game located in Myrtle Beach, SC. Their debut album Shadow of the Moon (1997) went gold in Japan and enjoyed some success in Europe. In subsequent albums, particularly Fires at Midnight (2001), there was an increased incorporation of rock guitar into the music, whilst maintaining a folk rock direction.
With Deep Purple and Rainbow, Blackmore almost exclusively played a Fender Stratocaster. He is also one of the first rock guitarists to use a “scalloped” fretboard where the wood is shaved down between the frets.
One of Blackmore’s best-known guitar riffs is from the song “Smoke on the Water”. He plays the riff without a pick, using two fingers to pluck the D and G strings in fourths.
In his soloing, Blackmore combines blues scales and phrases with minor scales and ideas from European classical music. While playing he would often put the pick in his mouth to play with his fingers.
He has two guitar solos ranked on Guitar World magazine’s “Top 100 Greatest Guitar Solos” (“Highway Star” at #19 and “Lazy” at #74, both from the album Machine Head).
During the 1960s Blackmore played a Gibson ES-335 but switched to a Fender Stratocaster after buying a second hand Stratocaster from Eric Clapton’s roadie. However, the guitar was deemed unplayable by Blackmore due to the fact that the intonation was too off to be fixed. Since then and right up until his Blackmore’s Night project Blackmore has used Stratocasters almost exclusively. The middle pickup is screwed down and not used, with only the bass and treble pickup selector set. Blackmore has also occasionally used a Fender Telecaster Thinline during recording sessions.
In the 70s, Blackmore used a number of different Stratocasters. However, around the time of the Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll album, Blackmore found one particular Strat that was his main guitar up until Blackmore’s Night. Like most of Blackmore’s guitars, this Strat had its fingerboard scalloped. The pickups in it have been changed quite a few times, as described below. Blackmore added a strap lock to the headstock of this guitar as a conversation piece.
His amplifers were originally 200W Marshall Major stacks which were modified by Marshall with an additional output stage (generated approximately 278W) to make them sound more like Blackmore’s favourite Vox AC-30 amp, cranked to full volume. Since 1994 he has used Engl valve amps. One of the reasons he cited was that the Marshall heads did not sound as good as the Engls at low volume.
Blackmore frequently used effects during his time with Deep Purple and Rainbow, (despite claims to the opposite). He used a Hornby Skewes Treble Booster in the early days. Around the time of the Burn sessions he experimented with an EMS Synthi Hi Fli guitar synthesizer. He would sometimes use a wah-wah pedal and a variable control treble-booster for sustain. Moog Taurus bass pedals were used during solo parts of concerts. He also had a modified Aiwa TP-1011 tape machine built to supply echo and delay effects. The tape deck was also used as a pre-amp. Other effects that Blackmore used were a Schulte Compact Phasing A, a Unicord Univibe, a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and an Octave Divider. In the mid 80s he also experimented with Roland guitar synths. A Roland GR-700 was seen on stage as late as 1995-96, later replaced with the GR-50. Guitar synths are also used quite a bit in Blackmore’s Night. As an example, Blackmore plays with a slide over what is probably an organ patch in the beginning of Way to Mandalay.
His strings used during his tenures with Deep Purple and Rainbow were Picato brand (.010, .011, .014, .026, .038, .048) Blackmore has experimented with many different pickups in his Strats. In the early Rainbow era they were still stock Fenders, later Dawk installed overwound, dipped, Fender pickups. He has also used Schecter F-500-Ts, Velvet Hammer “Red Rhodes”, DiMarzio “HS-2”, OBL “Black Label”, Bill Lawrence L-450, XL-250 (bridge), L-250 (neck). He used Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Flat SSL-4 for several years and since the late 80s he has used Lace Sensor (Gold) “noiseless” pickups. Blackmore’s gear was modified by John “Dawk” Stillwell of Dawk Sound Limited Dawk modified his Marshall Majors as well as his Fender Stratocasters. Dawk designed the Master Tone Circuit that was installed in all the guitarist’s guitars. Dawk worked for Elf with Ronnie James Dio when Elf toured with Deep Purple.
Nick Simper, the bassist with DP Mk I, claims that he showed Ritchie Blackmore the riff from Ricky Nelson’s “Summertime” and that it was the basis for the first Mk II Deep Purple single “Black Night.” Roger Glover agrees in an interview with Rumba Magazine, November 1993 and says that he (Glover) insisted that they write new words and put it out as the single the record company wanted them to make. In mitigation he claims that they were all drunk. Nick Simper also identifies It’s a Beautiful Day’s Bombay Calling as a tune “which Mark II borrowed, and turned it into Child in Time“; Ian Gillan confirmed this in several interviews. It’s a Beautiful Day in return borrowed Purple’s “Wring that Neck” and turned it into “Don And Dewey” on their album Marrying Maiden. Blackmore also confirmed some of these claims in a Japanese TV interview.
Blackmore has a son, Jorgen R. Blackmore (b. 1964), from his first marriage to a German woman named Margrit. Their marriage ended in 1969. He married another German woman, named Borbel Hardie in September 1969. His third marriage, in May 1981, to Amy Rothman, ended after divorce in 1987 (they separated in 1983). He and bandmate Candice Night have been living together since 1991 (they first met in 1989). The couple currently resides in Mount Sinai, Long Island, New York, USA. On Oct. 5, 2008, Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night married at the Castle on the Hudson. According to Ian Gillan, Blackmore is known to be a very difficult person. Gillan states, “He’s very difficult, he wants everything done his own way, he won’t listen to anyone else, and he doesn’t want anyone else to make any contributions to the music, as well as canceling tours at the last minute.” Ian Paice has also described him as being difficult, and Jon Lord has commented that he can be childish.