Friday, December 12, 2014
Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow – A Personal Appreciation
This started out as a review of the first Rainbow album, then I remembered how much I loved “Long Live Rock and Roll”, but it was the Live album that changed everything.....
I'm going to show my age here but I don't care – I'm an old cow. The year was 1989 when I discovered Deep Purple and Rainbow. I was a chubby, short-haired uni-browed wannabe rock chick. This was eons before smart phones and the internet. Kids today have it easy, they discover a new band and ten minutes later have their entire catalog in their pocket. The first time I heard “Highway Star” by Deep Purple on classic rock radio – I was hooked on the band – and in particular Ritchie Blackmore's guitar playing. It was a lot harder to research a band back then. I still remember sitting on the floor of Barnes and Noble in the West Village, New York City, with stacks of “encyclopedia of rock” volumes, cross referencing band members and album titles.
I built up my music collection slowly, buying cassettes weekly at the Wiz on Avenue U in Brooklyn. While my friends were buying t-shirts and posters of Def Leppard and Cinderella and went “Ewwwww” when I showed them photos of Deep Purple from the 1970's. I was the only 11th grader with a photo of Ritchie Blackmore in her wallet, when everyone else had Joe Elliot or “cringe” Bon Jovi. It wasn't like now where I have my music friends who totally get me. The girls I surrounded myself with back then listened to either hair metal or Top 40. Listening to the heavier side of classic rock made me an outcast in even my own circle. The rockers in my school didn't give me the time of day because I didn't dress cool enough. I wasn't allowed to wear band t-shirts, being only relegated to a few band pins on my denim jacket. That's why, more than 20 years later when I crookedly but triumphantly sewed a huge Motörhead back-patch on my denim battle vest it was with no small satisfaction.
One of the local radio stations was doing some sort of Deep Purple and family retrospective and that was the first time I heard Rainbow. The first time I heard “Man On The Silver Mountain” my blue foam headphones went flying off in amazement and I ran around the house screaming 'OH MY GOD I NEED TO HEAR THAT AGAIN!!!” Fortunately I had the foresight to record the program on my double cassette boombox. (The more I type, the more I realize how foreign some of these concepts must seem to our younger readers!)
I bought “Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow” and just stared at the cover – a guitar/castle coming out of the clouds. Holy fuck who thinks of this! I literally wore the tape out – I listened to it every day on the way to/from school. Sometimes in school, during class I had my Walkman taken from me more than once I'm proud to say!! (there was a joke that I would be wearing my little Aiwa ear-buds in my yearbook photo). It's a well documented fact that Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple in 1974 because he didn't like the less rocky, more “soulful” direction the band were taking with David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes. It's no surprise that the first Rainbow album was a complete 180' turn from that.
I already mentioned I was blown away by the lead track, “Man On The Silver Mountain”. Next was “Self-Portrait" which showed just how powerful little Ronnie James Dio's voice was. “Black Sheep Of The Family” (which is a cover of a song by Quatermass) - to this day – has me bopping around and grinning like an idiot. “Catch The Rainbow” is another slower song which reminds me a little of a Jimi Hendrix song (you know, that one...that you can't quite name...maybe little wing?). Again a fantastic showcase for Dio, and the rest of the band – but wait two bluesy tracks already – isn't that what Ritchie wanted to escape from when he quit Purple? Or could it be that he just wanted to be in complete control. No judgment here – just postulating. “Snake Charmer" is a funky groove-laden rocker. Craig Gruber (who along with the rest of the musicians on this album, came from the American band Elf) really shines here. “The Temple Of The King” is what would become known as typical Dio lyrical fare – a good song. “If You Don't Like Rock And Roll” - is just what it says – a rocking track that will get your toes tapping and...er...it's too late now... “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” is one of Rainbow's “signature songs”. Solid 4/4 with amazing vocals and above-average playing.
The album closes with the instrumental “Still I'm Sad” - as if Ritchie felt the listener hadn't already been assured of his impeccable playing throughout the album. His tone, phrasing and feel are untouchable even almost 30 years later. There aren't enough adjectives to describe how highly I regard this man's playing – and I'm not normally that crazy about guitarists.
As a side note, a few years ago I had a chance to actually meet Blackmore – but it wasn't to be (for reasons best not mentioned here). Maybe it was for the best because I'm sure he has no patience for gooey eyed fans like me. What could I possibly say to him without coming across like a complete dope? So I wrote this article. Hope you all enjoyed it.