- Deep Purple
- Blackmore's Night
Watch Ritchie Blackmore in Action at the bottom of this page!
Famous / Infamous for
Ha! Where does one begin? Kick back and get comfortable, this could take a while!
Famous for: Countless classic guitar riffs. Introducing classical elements into rock music. Ritchie Blackmore is, along with Tony Iommi, and Jimmy Page, one of the founding fathers of Heavy Metal, and THE founding father of the Neo-Classical guitar school. Ritchie has also discovered some of the best rock singers on the planet including: Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Ronnie James Dio, along with somewhat less-legendary rock mainstays Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnett.
Infamous for: Being moody, sullen, incredibly stubborn, and difficult to work with. He delights in, and nurtures this reputation while poking fun at it at the same time. Almost as much Strat abuse as Townshend and Hendrix. Ritchie has probably destroyed hundreds of crappy Strats and copies during performances. Feuding with Ian Gillan. Directing Rainbow stage performances like a traffic cop. Changing his band's lineup more frequently than most of us change our socks. Having the loudest amplifiers ever built and "pointing them at the singer." Dressing in black in the 70s and 80s. Dressing like Errol Flynn (of Sherwood Forest) these days. Having a gorgeous blonde wife who's about the same age as his son. Having significantly more and thicker hair at age 55 than he did an age 25. Legendary Blackmore stories abound: During Purple's performance at the California Jam in 1974, Ritchie beat the snot out of a $70,000 television camera with his Strat (because it got too close to him) He then doused his amplifiers in gasoline and and set them ablaze. Eventually they blew up, setting the stage on fire in the process. As the authorities descended on the conflagration, Ritchie jumped in a helicopter and took off.
Obvious: Ritchie has readily admitted he lifted a few ideas from Hendrix and has stated that hearing Zeppelin's first album showed him the way (to turn Deep Purple from a second rate psychedelic band into a hard rock monster). Other influences are clearly classical and medieval music.
But as far as I'm concerned, as a guitarist, Ritchie is a true original. His style is unique, distinctive, and instantly recognizable. While other players often sound like Ritchie, Ritchie sounds like no one else.
Not-so-obvious: Ritchie has listed Big Jim Sullivan, Duane Eddy, Hank B. Marvin, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, James Burton, Les Paul among his guitar influences.
Riffs. For a guy who doesn't consider himself much of a composer, Ritchie has created a staggering number of classic guitar riffs: Speed King, Strange Kind Of Women, Smoke on the Water, Highway Star, Lazy, Space Truckin', Woman From Tokyo, Burn, Lay Down Stay Down, Mistreated, Man on the Silver Mountain, Kill The King, Long Live Rock 'N'Roll. The list goes on.
Classical influence. Ritchie brought Bach to Rock. It was Ritchie who first injected rock guitar with the classical scales and chord progressions that inspired future legions of rock guitarists. He also brought medieval, baroque influences to his music. These influences particularly color Ritchie's terrific melodic sense.
Blues influence. Added to the classical influence is a strong and very unique blues sense that sets him apart from a pure Neo-Classical style.
Great chops. Sure, there are guys who can outshred him now, but who was playing as fast and as clean as Ritchie back 1970? Not many. If you don't believe me, get a copy of Deep Purple In Concert 1970-72 and check out the blistering playing on Wring that Neck. In many ways Ritchie was really the first true shredder, and certainly the founding father of the Neo-Classical guitar style. And unlike some of his contemporaries, he hasn't lost his chops with age.
Brilliant improvisationalist. Unique, original, instantly-recognizable lead style. Described in more detail in the Guitar Style section below.
Perhaps his biggest strength is that he's Ritchie Blackmore and the rest of us aren't.
Ritchie only runs into trouble when he loses interest in something. On those occasions, he's prone to mailing it in — be it a live or studio performance. He's also been known to let his mood adversely effect his performance.
Ritchie is also a disinterested rhythm guitar player: In a 1978 Guitar Player interview He said: "I hate to do rhythm tracks, they bore me silly." And though this comment was made in the context of laying tracks in the studio, the same can be said of Ritchie's live rhythm playing. In the same interview, he also states: "I love to have that freedom of just going onstage and playing whatever I want to play at the time. I'll play the numbers which I'm supposed to play, but in the in-between parts if I'm feeling good I'll play something completely off the wall that I've never ever played in my life. In other words, I just lay back for the vocal and then I do my bit when it comes to the solo. I don't like to do intricate things in the backgrounds; I don't like to clutter. I like the foundation to be simple." Details of Ritchie's rhythm approach appear in the Guitar Style section below.
You also rarely hear Ritchie play the same guitar solo twice. Wanna know why? He says: "I have a very bad technical memory, so I can't remember, if I write a tune, exactly what the notes are. It's really exasperating, 'cause I'll write one and that's great, I'll play it again and record it. And I'll play it again and, oh dear, I've forgotten it. What did I play? It's really annoying." (from Trouser Press, July 1978)
The most unfortunate aspect of this trend is that Ritchie seems completely uninterested in returning to rock music. Ritchie's acoustic medieval music project Blackmore's Night, showcases some intricate playing and nice melodies, but in my opinion, it's entirely too nice — and a great cure for insomnia! It lacks the fire and brimstone of his rock work. By comparison, I find a lot more fire, passion, and excitement in Michael Schenker's acoustic/electric compositions.
The most exhaustive rundown of Ritchie's gear I've ever seen is here. To summarize, in the early Purple days (and prior) Ritchie used a Gibson ES-335 and a Vox AC-30. However the Blackmore sound that would become famous centered around mostly-stock Strats and very modded Marshalls. From very early on, Ritchie scalloped the necks on his Strats. He uses stock Fender tremolos, and he eventually settled on rosewood necks exclusively.
Ritchie played a variety of different CBS-era Strats in the Deep Purple days. But by the late 70s, he had found a white 1974 rosewood-necked Strat that he particularly liked, and that guitar became his main guitar longer than any other. Through most of the 80s with Rainbow, this Strat contained Schecter 500Ts (big magnets) in the bridge and neck positions (the middle pickup on Ritchie's Strats are always either removed or disconnected and lowered flush with the pickguard). Later on, these were replaced by some stacked humbuckers and a variety of other pups Ritchie tried in efforts to achieve his sound, but kill the hum. This guitar was later ruined by an over zealous guitar tech who planed the scallops out of the fingerboard. Ritchie's current number 1 is a similar, white 70s Strat fitted with a Roland GK-1 synth pickup in addition to normal guitar pickups.
Ritchie never liked the sound of stock Marshalls, and through most of the late Purple and Rainbow years Ritchie used modified 200 watt Marshall Majors with two extra tubes built into an extra output stage. These 280 watt beasts are purportedly the loudest guitar amps ever made, and Ritchie ran them full-out, both live and in the studio. I saw Rainbow in the 80s — these amps were positively earsplitting! Fortunately he only used one at a time and the extra stacks on stage were just reserves. These days, Ritchie uses and endorses ENGL amps. The company even makes a Ritchie Blackmore Signature model amplifier.
Also integral to Ritchie's sound for years, has been an old reel-to-reel tape recorder modified into an echo unit. He runs it between the guitar and the amp and it also preamps and boosts the signal going to the amp. And while people don't usually associate Ritchie with specific effects (other than the echo), in the glory days of Dio-era Rainbow, Ritchie used a lot of phase shifter. He also had a set of Moog Tarus bass pedals (though these are not a guitar effect).
Tech details aside, suffice it to say that Ritchie's tone is a very Hard Rock Strat tone. And despite the lethal levels of wattage and volume involved, it's not a very gainy sound. It's certainly got more crunch and bite than say the Knopfler and Gilmour Strat tones. But it's less gainy, and thinner-sounding than Gary Moore's Strat tone of the 80s. It's closer to Jeff Beck's Strat tone, but cleaner and slightly thinner.
Ritchie's rhythm style is very sparse and part of what makes him sound unique. Instead of a traditional, chordal, rhythm guitar part, Ritchie frequently plays single notes that mimic the bass line — for example, a root-octave figure, or a root-5th-octave figure. In these cases, he frequently employs ascending and descending chromatic turnarounds at the end of a verse.
You won't ever hear the standard root 6 bar chord out of Ritchie, you'll hear a root 1 instead, and occasionally two-note 5th power chords. This approach would sound extremely thin if Ritchie didn't always have a keyboard player in the band to thicken up the sound.
Other rhythmical Blackmoreisms include the use of pedal points and arpeggiated triads over a classical chord progression. These are techniques Ritchie borrowed from Bach. But what Ritchie is most famous for is songs based on two-note (diad) 4th-based riffs — the kind used in Smoke on the Water, Burn, Man on the Silver Mountain, and Kill the King.
Ritchie's staccato lead style is perhaps the most distinctive and recognizable element of his playing. He's often quite heavy-handed, but is also capable of being beautifully delicate. Ritchie moves between the fast and flashy, and the slow and melodic with magnificent grace and ease. He's an alternate picker on speed runs but also uses a lot of legato and open string pulloffs too. Ritchie was also one of the first players to employ sweep picking — usually in the form of quick, muted, raked arpeggios. He does a fair amount of finger picking with his thumb and index finger.
Scale wise, Ritchie's licks often mix the Blues scale the with the Dorian and chromatics. He was the first rock player to make extensive use of Aeolian minor, and he sometimes throws in some Middle Eastern flavored licks from what has become known as Blackmore's snake-charmer scale (a variation of the Hungarian Minor).
When you think of Ritchie Blackmore, slide player isn't the first thing that comes to mind — for me anyway — but when you look at his body of work and start adding things up, he actually plays quite a bit of slide and uses it quite effectively to enhance his melodies. Once he's finished playing his slide part, Ritchie likes to throw the slide — often at the one of his bandmates.
He's got a few. A medium speed, medium width one, and a faster frantic, heavy-handed one. He also has a rather heavy-handed Hendrix-like whammy bar technique that he uses more in the live setting as a flash effect rather than as an integrated part of his playing style.
Ritchie Blackmore in Action
Profile by Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved.