aNewDomain music — As I sit listening with joy to the Blackmore’s Night Winter Carols album here at Christmas time, I have a recurring question coming back to me again. Why don’t more people regard Ritchie Blackmore as the supreme rock guitar god, as the maestro of maestros?
Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Peter Green are among Blackmore’s peers. But only rarely is Blackmore mentioned in the same breath as any of them.
I know I’m far from alone in thinking that Richard Hugh Blackmore, born April 14, 1945 in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, England, ought to be at the start of that list every time. Another rock guitar icon, Queen’s Brian May, has said:
You know, people don’t talk about Ritchie Blackmore enough. I don’t know why (that is) … but (Blackmore) was such a trailblazer and technically incredible — unpredictable in every possible way. It’s great. That’s what you love, isn’t it? You go to a gig and you want to see something which is not predictable, which is not like just reproducing. So you never knew what you were gonna see when you went to see Purple, when Blackmore was in it, but also Rainbow. You know, this was his own thing and it was wild and dangerous.”
It’s not as if Blackmore is hurting, personally or economically.
And there was a time when he was, indeed, celebrated. When the neoclassical heavy metal craze swept through the 1980s, Blackmore’s name was meantioned all the time. And the long haired metal bands and guitar players who were successful during that most-popular time for metal were so often obviously modeled on Deep Purple or Rainbow.
Today, Blackmore’s net worth is typically quoted at being around $275 million, and the man is married to an astoundingly gorgeous woman — Candice Night, lead singer for and namesake of Blackmore’s Night — with whom he has a couple of young children. (And at his age!)
But … where are the accolades? Why are we covered in Hendrix hype (yes) and Page platitudes (yes) but not Blackmore adulation?
I took a long look into this matter.
Master of Metal
It was Blackmore who, with Deep Purple, created heavy metal. (Yes, that band was ever so slightly ahead of Black Sabbath.) It was Blackmore who was the great rock guitar pioneer in a number of crucial ways: fast playing with all four fret-hand fingers, incorporation of classical music scales, scalloping the fretboard to get subtle intonations, heavy feedback, white noise and manic, over-the-top whammy barring.
And don’t forget that Blackmore — who never did like his bands’ music to be called “heavy metal” — has forever been the great metal god of improvisation. With respect to coming up with an awesome guitar solo or passage instantaneously in a live setting, Blackmore remains untouched.
The only guitar solo of his that Blackmore has ever committed to memory is the one on “Highway Star.”
Here’s the maestro to show you how it’s properly done when playing that most famous of all rock guitar riffs, so simple and yet usually played the wrong way — “Smoke on the Water”:
What, you never knew that the riff (which is built of parallel fourths) to “Smoke on the Water” is the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in disguise? Indeed, there have been some music historians who don’t want to consider that symphony as truly “great” because it is too simple.
No, the bespoke origin of “Smoke on the Water” isn’t one of Blackmore’s jokes. But he is a known joker, and that may well be part of the reason why he’s not more beloved in the music world.
The Practical Joker
Despite his bad reputation, Blackmore does give credit where credit is due. And one fellow rock musician whom he calls simply “genius” is Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. But in 2006, Anderson had this to say about Blackmore’s popular image:
Ritchie is a practical joker and I think his reputation is probably at least partly deserved, although I’d always find him to be a pleasant and thoughtful and intelligent person and I didn’t have any personal bad experiences [with him]. He’s not a great personal friend[, although he’s]someone whose music I admire. But in forty years of playing music he’s upset a lot of people along the way.”
In fact, those notorious practical jokes of Blackmore’s could also flow into another aspect of his bad reputation: his bad temper.
Lemmy Kilmister of the band Motorhead relates an incredible story about one of the maestro’s most “thorough” practical jokes, the victim of which was Blackmore’s own tour manager …
Blackmore Doesn’t Tolerate Fools
Beyond practical jokes and a bad temper when angered, Blackmore has not helped his own reputation any when he has dared to say what he really thinks about some other big names in the music business. Among those whom Blackmore has smacked down through the years:
The Rolling Stones: After Mick Jagger called him “the greatest guitar player I’ve ever heard.”
On Fleetwood Mac (with Lindsay & Stevie): “There’s no drama, no intensity to their music.”
On B.B. King: “You can’t say it all with just four notes.”
On Jimi Hendrix: (Paraphrasing) With the exception of his whammy bar use, Hendrix was not a great player. But he did always look great with the way he dressed and carried himself.
On Stevie Ray Vaughan: (Paraphrasing) His death was a tragedy, but what’s the big deal?
On Eddie Van Halen: (Paraphrasing) He’s merely “unorthodox” and I’m glad that all that two-handed tapping craziness has stopped being popular.
As I said earlier, Blackmore also gives credit where credit is due, such as when he’ll say, “Jeff Beck has notes on his guitar that I don’t have on mine,” or “Without [keyboard player] Jon Lord there was no Deep Purple.”
Nevertheless, it’s his “dissing” that people — especially the rock music journalists whom Blackmore has always been cynical about, even though they usually find him, to their surprise, to be an amiable gentleman — love to focus on and remember.
Maybe, in the end, it’s the sullen side of the notoriously moody Blackmore who is, unfortunately, right: “The fans don’t really want to hear the truth … After all, honesty does not pay.”
And Blackmore never dressed like Page or Hendrix.
Brant David McLaughlin — aka Brant David — is a Milford, NJ-based senior writer for us here at aNewDomain. He’s on the music beat. Follow him at his +BrantDavid Google+ page. Email him at Brant@aNewDomain.net.