Ritchie Blackmore is a guitar-playing God. An incredibly dextrous musician, he’s cut from the same cloth as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, and when it comes to tricks on the six-string, he’s mastered them all. This has allowed him to reinvent himself across his career, moving from the hard rock of Deep Purple and Rainbow to the more bucolic sounds of Blackmore’s Night.
The guitarist is aware of the fact that he has created a sound that is so unmistakable that attempts to mimic the swirling notes and slides invariably fail. He created a new form of expression on the guitar that remains as influential as it was during his heyday in the 1970s and ’80s. He uses his guitar as his voice and creates a plethora of otherworldly sounds.
Famously, he quit both Rainbow and Deep Purple, wanting a change of scenery, showing that Blackmore is a man not afraid to make significant changes in his life in order to reach his ultimate goal, creative enlightenment. This should give you a good measure of his character.
It’s a testament to his work that everyone from Brian May to Eddie Van Halen have heaped praise on him over the years.
Whilst we could spend hours praising Blackmore for being one of the most authentic guitarists of all time, we need to highlight one thing. He hasn’t always been totally original. This should not come as a surprise as he’s had a long career, and that music is inherently reliant on borrowing ideas. It’s not something Blackmore is scared of discussing either, and once, during a TV interview, he revealed that he “stole” some of his best-loved works in Deep Purple from other heroes.
Join us then, as we list the riffs that Ritchie Blackmore “stole”.
The Deep Purple riffs Ritchie Blackmore said he “stole”:
‘Black Night’ – Deep Purple in Rock (1970)
I can already hear them. The shocked gasps from the gallery, as everyone thinks, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe one of Ritchie Blackmore’s best riffs was actually… stolen’. It’s not one of his most complex riffs, but it certainly is one of his most important.
It was one of the songs that took the foundations of hard rock that were laid by the likes of Iron Butterfly in the ’60s — it made them heavier and darker. His solo on the track is exquisite, and his use of the dive bomb helped lay the foundations for heavy metal guitar playing in the future.
Blackmore revealed how he got the riff, saying: “‘Black Night’ it’s a very simple riff. That was a part of a song that I heard from Ricky Nelson who did it in 1962, I think as ‘Summertime’. That’s where I got the idea for the riff. He is saying ‘Summertime’ over that (the riff), so it was not entirely original, I stole it.”
‘Speed King’ – Deep Purple in Rock (1970)
The preceding single to ‘Black Night’, since release, ‘Speed King’ has been a fan favourite of Deep Purple fans. That thunderous opening is just unmatched in their discography, and you can only imagine what it must have been like to have heard it for the first time when it was released in 1970, as Blackmore’s dissonant playing pierces the speakers before that slightly haunting organ line fades in.
It was here that Deep Purple and Blackmore really went stratospheric. His playing on the track is astounding. It so transpires that Blackmore took his cues from the most famous guitarist of the era, and it makes sense when you note the amped-up, blues-inspired central riff. Blackmore revealed: “‘Speed King’ was based on ‘Stone Free’ by Jimi Hendrix. I really liked his stuff at the time. And there is a little bit of ‘Fire’, do you remember ‘Fire’ by Jimi Hendrix?”
‘Lazy’ – Machine Head (1972)
One of the longest tracks Deep Purple ever wrote, clocking in at nearly seven and a half minutes long, the track is taken from what is ostensibly hailed as their masterpiece, Machine Head. Starting off with some noisy, slightly wonky organ performed by the master John Lord, Blackmore teases us with his guitar as Lord gets funky with the rhythm and the beat of the cymbal counts the rest of the band in.
Marvellously bluesy, Blackmore’s busy guitar work on the track has long been hailed as one of the best examples of his ability. There are flecks of Duane Allman in his work, but it was a collaborator of Allman’s who actually inspired the track, Old Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton.
Blackmore revealed: “‘Lazy’ was inspired by Eric Clapton. There was a thing by Eric Clapton called…called… I don’t know what it is but it went like this (Blackmore plays the tiff of Cream’s ‘Steppin’ Out’ on his guitar)”.
‘Highway Star’ – Machine Head (1972)
Remembered as the fastest song on Machine Head, ‘Highway Star’ does not mess about. One of the ultimate ’70s anthems, it makes you want to get in a muscle car and speed down the highways whilst huffing on your favourite brand of cigarettes. Blackmore‘s guitar-playing is off the chain here, and his chugging really was ahead of its time, and the person who inspired it may surprise you.
The guitar hero explained: “We wrote that in Switzerland and the middle part was like arpeggios. It’s like a Mozart piece. I was impressed by Mozart in those days. I knew him quite well, he wasn’t at all well when I knew him, he didn’t look like he was full of life. In fact, I think he was dead but nobody could tell him that, because it would upset him. But that were the middle part came from. The rest of it was just a straightforward rock song. Ian Gillan did an excellent job on vocals, screaming. He could sing at that point.”