YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Blackmore Has Come of New Age

He's Still Rocking, but Former Deep Purple Guitarist Hopes Old Fans Will Accept Acoustic Project


"Beavis and Butt-head" elicited a lot of uproar a few years ago: Was it too accurate for some folks to handle? In these cartoon characters, did people recognize themselves at age 15, in all their obnoxious actuality?

Is there a 35- to 45-year-old American male alive who didn't at one time or another bang his head to "Smoke on the Water?" When you got your first driver's license, did you not speed like a maniac while "Highway Star" throbbed at top volume from the eight-track? When Mom tried to wake you for school, didn't the lyrics to "Lazy" flood your mind?

If you answered no, you were not a normal teenager.

The time has come to admit that "Machine Head," the Deep Purple album with all those songs on it, is one of rock's classic works. It ain't purty, it has no redeeming social value, it's embarrassingly heavy-handed, it reeks of Spinal Tap, but no one can deny that it rocks, dude.

Purple's guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was one of the most prolific purveyors of the heavy metal hook ever to strap on a Strat. Who can argue that "Smoke on the Water" isn't the definitive metal riff: relentlessly, blissfully stupid, achieving a Zen perfection ("dumb-dumb-DUUUMB, dumb-dumb-DA-DUUUMB, dumb-dumb-DUUUMB, dumb-dumb").

Not that Blackmore--who plays the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana on Sunday night--is anyone's fool. Highly intelligent, gifted as a musician, he tapped into the essence of what makes metal heavy.

"I always get the riff first," he said during a recent phone interview. "Then I try to write some vaguely interesting chord sequences to go with the riff. But it's always been about the riff.

"We do try to incorporate melody, not make it all just screaming and yelling. There always has to be a reason why the vocalist is doing what he's doing. I notice that a lot of today's songs have a monotone vocal that sort of goes across the top, and that really kind of disturbs me."

Deep Purple first began to disturb the world in 1968, operating out of London. According to Blackmore, now 51, the group--which also included singer Rod Evans, bassist Nicky Simper, keyboard player Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice--patterned itself after psychedelia-mongers Vanilla Fudge and Leslie West's ear-bleeding Mountain. The Purp scored two hits right out of the gate, with covers of Joe South's "Hush" and Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman" from its first album.


In 1969, Evans and Simper were dumped to clear space for bassist Roger Glover and singer Ian Gillan, coalescing what has come to be known as the "classic" Purple lineup. The bugs weren't all worked out yet, though. Lord, classically trained, became the group's focal point in 1970 with the grandiose "Concerto for Group and Orchestra," an artistic and commercial disaster. After that, Blackmore assumed control.

"When we first started out, we weren't quite sure what we were doing," he now admits. "We were playing with orchestras and things, which was kind of a novelty idea. By the end of 1970 I said, 'Look, I've had enough of playing with orchestras. We're a rock 'n' roll band and we're gonna make a rock 'n' roll record.' Consequently, we recorded 'Deep Purple in Rock,' and that took off. We didn't play with an orchestra ever again."

Then, in 1972 with "Machine Head" and its "Made in Japan" album, Deep Purple made its biggest impact. Along with Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad and Alice Cooper, it helped forge heavy metal and for a time was as popular as any group in the world. By 1974, Deep Purple had sold close to 15 million albums.

But its heyday would be a brief one. Personality clashes and head-butting over musical direction began to blow the band apart. Gillan left in 1973, Lord in '74. In '75, Blackmore split to form the modestly successful Rainbow with singer Ronnie James Dio.

Deep Purple would remain a group for a number of years, but in name only. Original singer Evans could be found fronting lineups on the bar circuit through the early '80s. The "classic" lineup re-formed in '84 but the magic was long gone. More breakups, re-formations and personnel changes occurred on an almost yearly basis (the most recent Purple album was "The Battle Rages On" in 1993).

Blackmore promises he won't take part in any more Purple business--indeed, he now says he always was "dissatisfied" by the music. Plus, he seems battle-weary from years of arguments with Gillan.

"This is it for me, I've had it. I left three years ago because it was all getting too comfortable. Musically, it was boring as hell. I didn't think there was any edge left, no kind of dangerous messing around. I think the older everyone was getting, the more armchairs were coming out. It was too safe and pedantic.

Los Angeles Times Articles