Richard Hugh "Ritchie" Blackmore (born 14 April 1945) is an English guitarist and songwriter, who began his professional career as a session musician as a member of the instrumental band The Outlaws and as a backing musician of pop singers such as Glenda Collins, Heinz, Screaming Lord Sutch and Neil Christian. Blackmore was also one of the original members of Deep Purple, playing jam-style rock music which mixed simple guitar riffs and organ sounds. During his solo career, he established a neoclassical metal band called Rainbow which fused baroque music influences and elements of hard rock. Rainbow gradually progressed to catchy pop style hard rock. Later in life, he formed the traditional folk rock project Blackmore's Night transitioning to vocalist-centred sounds. Their latest album, Dancer & the Moon, was released on June 2013, which entered at # 189 on USA's Billboard Album Charts.
Blackmore was born at Allendale Nursing Home in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset as second son to Lewis J. Blackmore and Violet (née Short). The family moved to Heston, Middlesex when Blackmore was two. Though the surname Blackmore is of English origin and most commonly found in Somerset, Devon and London, his father was Welsh and his mother was English. His father was born in Cardiff and his paternal grandfather was born in Swansea, Wales. He was 11 when he was given his first guitar from his father on certain conditions, including learning how to play properly, so he took classical guitar lessons for one year.
While at school, Blackmore participated in sports including the javelin. Blackmore left school at age 15 and started work as an apprentice radio mechanic at nearby Heathrow Airport. He took electric guitar lessons from session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan.
In 1963 he began to work as a session player for Joe Meek's music productions and performed in several bands. He was initially a member of the instrumental band The Outlaws, who played in both studio recordings and live concerts. Otherwise, in mainly studio recordings, he backed female singer Glenda Collins, German-born pop singer Heinz (playing on his top ten hit "Just Like Eddie"), and others. Thereafter, in mainly live concerts, he backed horror-themed singer Screaming Lord Sutch, beat singer Neil Christian, and others.
Blackmore joined Deep Purple in 1968 after receiving an invitation from Chris Curtis who originated the concept of the band (though Curtis would be forced out before the band fully formed). Purple's early sound leaned on psychedelic and progressive rock, but also included generic 1960s pop songs. This "Mark One" line-up featuring singer Rod Evans lasted until mid-1969 and produced three studio albums. During this period, organist Jon Lord appeared to be the leader of the band, and wrote much of their original material.
The first studio album from Purple's second line-up, In Rock (1970), signalled a transition in the band's sound from progressive rock to hard rock, with Blackmore being impressed at the time by the King Crimson's first album. This "Mark Two" line-up featuring rock singer Ian Gillan lasted until mid-1973, producing four studio albums, and two live albums. During this period, the band's songs primarily came out of their jam sessions, so songwriting credits were shared by the five members. Blackmore later stated, "I didn't give a damn about song construction. I just wanted to make as much noise and play as fast and as loud as possible."
The third line-up featured blues-rock singer, David Coverdale. This "Mark Three" line-up lasted until mid-1975 and produced two studio albums. Blackmore quit the band to front a new group, Rainbow. In 1974, Blackmore took cello lessons from Hugh McDowell of (ELO). Blackmore later stated that when playing a different musical instrument, he found it refreshing because there’s a sense of adventure not knowing exactly what chord he's playing or what key he's in.
Blackmore originally planned to make a solo album, but instead in 1975 formed his own band, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, later shortened to Rainbow. Featuring vocalist Ronnie James Dio and his blues rock backing band Elf as studio musicians, this first line-up never performed live. The band's debut album, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, was released in 1975. Rainbow was originally thought to be a one-off collaboration, but endured as an ongoing band project with a series of album releases and tours. Rainbow's music was partly inspired by elements of medieval and baroque music since Blackmore started to play cello for musical composition. During this period, Blackmore wrote a lot of Dio's vocal melodies, particularly in their debut album. Shortly after the first album was recorded, Blackmore recruited new backing musicians to record the second album Rising (1976), and the following live album, On Stage (1977). Rising was originally billed as "Blackmore's Rainbow" in the US. After the next studio album's release and supporting tour in 1978, Dio left Rainbow due to "creative differences" with Blackmore, who disliked Dio's fantasy oriented lyric style.
Blackmore continued with Rainbow, and in 1979 the band released a new album entitled Down To Earth, which featured R&B singer Graham Bonnet. During song composition, Bonnet made his vocal melodies though it was uncredited contributions. The album marked the commercialisation of the band's sound, and 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.
The next Rainbow album, Difficult to Cure (1981), introduced melodic vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. The instrumental title track from this album was an arrangement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with additional music. Blackmore once said, "I found the blues too limiting, and classical was too disciplined. I was always stuck in a musical no man's land." The album marked the further commercialisation of the band's sound with Blackmore describing at the time a liking for the AOR band, Foreigner. The music was consciously radio-targeted in a more AOR style, resulting in some degree of alienation with many of Rainbow's earlier fans. Rainbow's next studio album was Straight Between the Eyes (1982) and included the hit single "Stone Cold." It would be followed by the album Bent Out of Shape (1983), which featured the single "Street of Dreams". In 1983 Rainbow was also nominated for a Grammy Award for his work on an instrumental ballad track, "Anybody There". Rainbow disbanded in 1984. A then-final Rainbow album, Finyl Vinyl, was patched together from live tracks and the B-sides of various singles.
In 1984, Blackmore joined a reunion of the former Deep Purple "Mark Two" line-up and recorded new material. This reunion line-up lasted until 1989, producing two studio albums and one live album. However, the reunion's second studio album The House of Blue Light (1987) displayed a sound that is closer to Rainbow's music. The album's musical style differed from the traditional Purple sound due to his Rainbow background that distinguished him from other members. During the 1987–1988 tour, Blackmore was repeatedly reluctant to play "Smoke on the Water." Also the screaming singer Ian Gillan was forced to apologise for his vocal range had become weaker than audiences expected.
The next line-up recorded one album entitled Slaves & Masters (1990), which featured former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. During song composition, Turner wrote his vocal melodies. Subsequently the "Mark Two" line-up reunited for a second time in late 1992 and produced one studio album. Overall, the traditional Purple sound returned, but the guitar riffs sometimes sounded like generic Def Leppard. During the follow-up promotional tour, Blackmore quit the band for good in November 1993. Prominent guitarist Joe Satriani was brought in to complete the remaining tour dates.
Blackmore reformed Rainbow with new members in 1994. This Rainbow line-up, featuring hard rock singer Doogie White, lasted until 1997 and produced one album entitled Stranger in Us All in 1995. It was originally intended to be a solo album but due to the record company pressures the record was billed as Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. Though Doogie White wasn't as distinctive as its previous Rainbow's singers, it had a sound dissimilar to any Rainbow of old. This was Rainbow's eighth studio album made after the blank of 12 years since Bent Out of Shape and is regarded as Blackmore's last hard rock album. A world tour including South America followed. Rainbow was disbanded once again after playing its final concert in 1997. Blackmore later said, "I didn't want to tour very much."
Over the years Rainbow went through many personnel changes with no two studio albums featuring the same line-up: Blackmore was the sole constant band member. Rainbow achieved modest success, the band's worldwide sales estimated at more than 28 million album copies, including 4 million in album sales in the US
In 1997 Blackmore, with his girlfriend Candice Night as vocalist, formed the traditional folk rock duo Blackmore's Night. From about 1995, they were already working on their debut album Shadow of the Moon (1997). Blackmore once portrayed at the time their artistic characteristics as "Mike Oldfield plus Enya". Blackmore mostly used acoustic guitar, to back Night's delicate vocals. During song composition, Blackmore directly wrote her vocal melodies. Night said, "When he sings, he sings only for me, in private". As a result, his musical approach shifted to vocalist-centered sounds. They recorded a mixture of original and cover materials. The band's musical style is inspired by medieval music and it blended with Night's lyrics about love's themes. The second release, entitled Under a Violet Moon (1999) continued in the same folk-rock style, with Night's vocals remaining a prominent feature of the band's style. The title track's lyrics were partly written by Blackmore. "Violet" was his mother's first name and "Moon" was his grandmother's surname.
In subsequent albums, particularly Fires at Midnight (2001) which featured the Bob Dylan cover "The Times They Are a Changin'", there was occasionally an increased incorporation of electric guitar into the music, whilst maintaining a folk rock direction. A live album, Past Times with Good Company was released in 2002. After the next studio album's release, an official compilation album Beyond the Sunset: The Romantic Collection was released in 2004, featuring music from the four studio albums. A Christmas-themed holiday album, Winter Carols was released in 2006. Through numerous personnel changes, the backing musicians have totalled 26 persons. Blackmore sometimes played drums in recording studio. They choose to avoid typical rock concert tours, instead limiting their appearances to small intimate venues. In 2011, Night said, "We have actually turned down a lot of (touring) opportunities." Blackmore continued to write her vocal melodies. To date they have released eight studio albums.
During the 1960s, Blackmore played a Gibson ES-335 but from 1968 he mainly played a Fender Stratocaster until he formed Blackmore's Night in 1997. The middle pick-up on his Stratocaster is screwed down and not used. Blackmore occasionally used a Fender Telecaster Thinline during recording sessions. He is also one of the first rock guitarist to use a "scalloped" fretboard which has "U" shape between the frets.
In his soloing, Blackmore combines blues scales and phrasing with dominant minor scales and ideas from European classical music. While playing he would often put the pick in his mouth, playing with his fingers. He occasionally uses the diatonic scale, with rapidly changing tonality.
In the 1970s, Blackmore used a number of different Stratocasters; one of his main guitars was an Olympic white 1974 model with a rosewood fingerboard that was scalloped. Blackmore added a strap lock to the headstock of this guitar as a conversation piece to annoy and confuse people.
His amplifiers were originally 200-Watt 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.
Effects he used from 1970 to 1997, besides his usual tape echo, included a Hornby Skewes treble booster in the early days. Around late-1973, he experimented with an EMS Synthi Hi Fli guitar synthesizer. He sometimes used a wah-wah pedal and a variable control treble-booster for sustain, and Moog Taurus bass pedals were used in solo parts during 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 Unicord Univibe, a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and an Octave Divider.
In the mid-1980s he experimented with Roland guitar synthesizers. A Roland GR-700 was seen on stage as late as 1995–96, later replaced with the GR-50.
Blackmore has experimented with many different pick-ups in his Strats. In the early Rainbow era, they were still stock Fenders, later Dawk installed over wound, dipped, Fender pick-ups. 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" pick-ups.
On May 1964, Blackmore married Margit Volkmar (b. 1945) from Germany. They lived in Hamburg during the late 1960s. Their son, Jürgen (b. 1964), played guitar in touring tribute band Over the Rainbow. Following their divorce, Blackmore married Bärbel, a former German dancer, in September 1969 until their divorce in early 1970s. As a result, he is a fluent German speaker.
For tax reasons, he moved to the USA in 1974. Initially he lived in Oxnard, California, with opera singer Shoshana Feinstein for one year, She provided backing vocals on two songs in Rainbow's first album. During this period, he listened to early European classical music and light music a lot, for about three-quarters of his private time. Blackmore once said, "It's hard to relate that to rock. I listen very carefully to the patterns that Bach plays. I like direct, dramatic music." After having an affair with another girlfriend Christine, Blackmore met Amy Rothman in 1978, and moved to Connecticut. He married Rothman in 1981, but they divorced in 1983. Following its conclusion, he began a relationship with Tammi Williams. In early 1984 Blackmore met Williams in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she was working as a hotel employee. In the same year, he purchased his first car, having learnt to drive at 39 years of age.
Blackmore and then-fashion model Candice Night began living together in 1991. They moved to her native Long Island in 1993. Being engaged for nearly fifteen years, the couple married in 2008. Night said, "he's making me younger and I'm aging him rapidly." Their daughter, Autumn was born in 2010, and their son, Rory, in 2012. Also they keep two cats. Blackmore is a heavy drinker, plays football once a week, always watches German language television on the satellite dish when he stays at his home. He has a collection of approximately 2,000 CDs of Renaissance music.
In Popular Culture
Despite completely retiring from hard rock, Blackmore was ranked number 16 on Guitar World's "100 Greatest Metal Guitarists of All Time" in 2004, and number 50 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" in 2011. If Deep Purple is chosen as one of its inductees of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they can't count on Blackmore being there. In 2012, he told Billboard magazine, "I would never go. I'm not really a fan of that stuff".
In 1993, Musicologist Robert Walser defined him "the most important musician of the emerging metal/classical fusion". He is also credited as a precursor of the so-called "guitar shredders" that emerged in the mid-1980s.
Blackmore has been an influence on various guitarists such as Fredrik Åkesson, Brett Garsed, Janick Gers, Paul Gilbert, Scott Henderson, Dave Meniketti, Randy Rhoads, Michael Romeo, Yngwie Malmsteen.
Also he was portrayed by Mathew Baynton in the 2009 film Telstar.
- Davies, Roy (2002). Rainbow Rising. The Story of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. Helter Skelter.
- Popoff, Martin (2005). Rainbow – English Castle Magic. Metal Blade.
- Bloom, Jerry (2006). Black Knight – The Ritchie Blackmore Story. Omnibus Press.