Ritchie Blackmore – Biography, Guitarist, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Dio, Coverdale
Richard Hugh Blackmore, known as Ritchie throughout his professional career, is an English rock guitarist born April 14th, 1945 in Weston-super-Mare, England. Blackmore is known for his work in Deep Purple, as well as founding Rainbow, and is considered among the most influential rock guitarists of all time. Blackmore’s family moved to Heston, Middlesex, England shortly after he was born. His father gave him his first guitar when he was eleven, stipulating that Ritchie take classical guitar lessons, which he did for about a year.
Blackmore would drop out of high school at the age of 15 to take a job as and apprentice radio mechanic at Heathrow Airport. He took guitar lessons from well-known British session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, and was influenced in his youth by Hank B. Marvin from The Shadows. He began playing in minor local bands when he left school, and his playing improved rapidly until, in 1963, he was noticed by producer Joe Meek, who brought Ritchie in as a session player. His association with Meek would lead to a string of minor bands that Blackmore joined, and Blackmore would meet engineer Derek Lawrence during this time, who would later produce Deep Purple’s first three albums.
Blackmore co-founded Deep Purple, originally called Roundabout, with keyboardist Jon Lords and several other musicians, in 1968. The name Deep Purple was reportedly taken from Blackmore’s grandmother’s favorite song. Featuring vocalist Rod Evans, the first Deep Purple lineup produced a variety of original and cover material, scoring a hit in the US with a remake of Joe South’s “Hush.” The lineup would produce three studio albums and achieve moderate global success.
The band then brought in singer Ian Gillan, releasing “In Rock” in 1970. This lineup would last until 1973 and would produce the band’s biggest hit, “Smoke on the Water.” The band’s sound got decidedly harder during this period and evolved into Deep Purple’s signature sound. This lineup is considered the classic lineup by the band’s fans and would later reunite in the mid-1980s. The band’s next lineup included bassist Glenn Hughes and eventual Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale. Blackmore publicly disliked the funky soul influences that Hughes and Coverdale brought in, and left the band after two albums with this lineup.
After leaving Deep Purple, Blackmore formed the band Rainbow with singer Ronnie James Dio, who he met while touring with the band Elf, whom Dio fronted. The band released its debut album, “Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow,” in 1975. The band’s lineup would rotate considerably through its first three albums, other than Blackmore and Dio. After 1978’s “Long Live Rock n’ Roll,” and the supporting tour, Dio would leave the band citing creative differences with Blackmore.
Vocalist Graham Bonnet was brought in to replace Dio, as was bassist Roger Glover, who had formerly played with Blackmore in Deep Purple. The band released “Down to Earth” in 1979, which included the band’s first hit single, the Russ Ballard cover, “Since You Been Gone.” Bonnet and Powell would leave the band after the ensuing tour.
Blackmore continued with Rainbow and the band released a new album entitled Down To Earth (1979), which featured Graham Bonnet on vocals and recruiting then former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover. The album contained Rainbow’s first chart successes, as the single “Since You Been Gone” (a cover of the Russ Ballard penned tune) became a smash hit. Bonnet and Cozy Powell would leave after this support tour. The band next brought in Joe Lynn Turner to handle vocals and headed in a slightly more commercial direction, releasing “Difficult to Cure” in 1981. The album’s title track was an arrangement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, one of Blackmore’s favorite pieces of music. The band went on to release “Straight Between the Eyes” in 1982, featuring the hit song “Stone Cold,” and “Bent Out of Shape” in 1983, featuring the hit “Street of Dreams.” The band enjoyed considerable commercial success and toured throughout the world during the early to mid 1980s. Blackmore was also nominated for a Grammy in 1983 for an instrumental song titled “Anybody There.”
Ritchie disbanded Rainbow in 1984 and rejoined Deep Purple. The band released an album which was supposed to be their last entitled “Final Vinyl,” compiled from live recordings and b-sides which had never been released on album. The reunion consisted of the band’s classic early 1970s lineup of Blackmore, Gillan, Lord, Glover, and Ian Paice. The success of “Finyl Vinyl” led to a deal with PolyGram Records, and the 1984 release of Perfect Strangers. The album reached #17 on the Billboard 200 and #5 on UK charts. A lucrative reunion tour followed.
The classic lineup would remain together until 1989, releasing “The House of Blue Light” in 1987 and the live album “Nobody’s Perfect” in 1988, before musical differences and a strained personal relationship led to Gillan’s firing. The band initially wanted to bring in Survivor’s Jim Jamison, but complications with Jamison’s label prevented it. The band then turned to Blackmore’s Rainbow bandmate Joe Lynn Turner, and the lineup would record one album, “1990s “Slaves and Masters.”
After Turner was forced out, Blackmore would begrudgingly accept Gillan back into the band, something PolyGram, Lord, Paice and Glover fought for with the band’s 25th anniversary approaching. Blackmore was reportedly paid $250,000 to allow Gillan back in. The band released the moderately successful “The Battle Rages On” in July 1993, and followed with a hugely successful European tour, but the tension between Gillan and Blackmore led to Ritchie leaving the band for good in November 1993, in the middle of the tour. The band brought in Joe Satriani to complete the tour, and wanted him to join permanently, but contract obligations with his label prevented it. Steve Morse would go on to permanently replace Blackmore in Deep Purple.
After his second run with Deep Purple, Blackmore reformed Rainbow with all-new members including vocalist Doogie White. The lineup would last until 1997 and produce only one album (1995’s “Stranger In Us All.” The album failed to garner the attention of fans or critics, partly due to the rise of grunge music at this time, and Rainbow would perform for this last time with this lineup in Denmark in 1997. This would essentially be the end of Ritchie Blackmore’s career in rock and roll.
After Rainbow disbanded, Blackmore and his then-girlfriend (the two were married in 2008) Candice Night formed the Renaissance-themed folk-rock duo Blackmore’s Night with Blackmore playing mostly acoustic guitar and Night singing. The group has released eight studio albums, two live albums, and three compilations.
Ritchie Blackmore was one of the first rock guitarists to use a “scalloped” fretboard. In his leads, he often incorporated blues scales and phrasing with dominant minor scales and hints of classical European music. Onstage, he would often place his pick in his mouth and pick with his fingers on solos. Guitar World magazine ranked two of Blackmore’s solos (“Highway Star” at #19 and “Lazy” at #74) in its “Top 100 Greatest Guitar Solos” and Rolling Stone ranks Blackmore #55 on its “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list. The many guitarists who cite Blackmore as a major influence on their careers include Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, Yngwie Malmsteen, Axel Rudi Pell, John Sykes, Adrian Smith, Craig Goldy and many more.