First thing’s first, if the name Ritchie Blackmore only conjures up vague reminders of rock music, if the vision of his Fender Strat being delicately placed upon his shoulders doesn’t excite you, and if the only riff of Deep Purple’s you know is ‘Smoke on the Water’ then we implore you to revisit some of the iconic and enigmatic guitarist’s finest work. Blackmore is, without a doubt, one of the most overlooked players of his generation.
What the performer couldn’t do with a whammy bar wasn’t worth knowing and his performances always delicately toed the line between delivering the song for the audience and indulging in his own virtuosos style of playing. It’s a balance that he developed all on his own as one of the foremost players of his generation, but that’s not to say he didn’t have his inspirations too. Below, we’re looking at one 1991 interview in which the acclaimed axeman gave a list of his favourite guitarists of all time.
“I owe him a lot of money,” said Blackmore when speaking about Ludwig Van Beethoven’s influence over his iconic ‘Smoke on the Water’ riff. Inspired by Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No.5’, Blackmore constructed one of the most replicated riffs of all time, allowing the simplicity of the music to trump any notion of ego-driven pomp. It has since become Deep Purple’s trademark number and a song which is now known across the globe. However, searching for the list of the performer’s favourite guitarists was a little harder to find.
You name your favourite guitarist and we’ll bet they’ve provided a robust list that names some of their contemporaries as well as some inspirational figures as the finest players around. It’s almost a rite of passage. Everyone from David Gilmour to Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix to Slash, have all offered up their own lists in one form or another across interviews and appearances. For Blackmore, however, it all comes down to one 1991 interview.
Appearing in Guitar World, Blackmore sits down to his cover interview with a hefty degree of confidence as Deep Purple lined up for another iteration of the band and a new release Slaves and Masters under their belt. Blackmore is in fine form as he provides a few japes for his interviewer, namely joking that his dictaphone wasn’t working, and also opens up about his own style of playing. It’s a question which provides us a list of his favourite players. Asked if his playing on the band’s 1972 album Machine Head was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Blackmore provides an unusual revelation: “I was impressed by Hendrix. Not so much by his playing, as his attitude—he wasn’t a great player, but everything else about him was brilliant.”
Coupled with his earlier sentiment that around 1968, “According to legend, the talk of the town during that period was Jimi Hendrix, but that’s not true. It was Vanilla Fudge,” it could paint a picture that Blackmore wasn’t a fan. However, after sharing that “Hendrix inspired me too” when talking about the use of the vibrato bar, Blackmore confirms: “Even the way he walked was amazing. His guitar playing, though, was always a little bit weird. Hendrix inspired me, but I was still more into Wes Montgomery. I was also into the Allman Brothers around the time of those albums.”
It opens up the conversation of the greats of the instrument and, considering the timing of the interview, the name next up for discussion was Stevie Ray Vaughan. “I knew that question was coming,” Blackmore answers. “His death was very tragic, but I’m surprised everybody thinks he was such a brilliant player when there are people like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Peter Green and Mick Taylor; Johnny Winter, who is one of the best blues players in the world, is also very underrated. His vibrato is incredible. Stevie Ray Vaughan was very intense. Maybe that’s what caught everybody’s attention. As a player, he didn’t do anything amazing.”
It’s a bold claim that would likely find Blackmore off some Christmas cards lists but it does give us a keen indication of the guitarists that thought were the best. Later on in the interview, he also notes that Eric Clapton helped him to develop his own unique fingerstyle, but doesn’t offer much more than that, suggesting that even Slowhand doesn’t make the exclusive list. But the names included are truly impressive.
Buddy Guy and Albert Collins are players that every rock fan should be aware of, largely credited as developing an R&B style that countless artists would replicate over the following decades. Likewise, Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green was also a proficient player though largely overlooked when brought in for consideration of the “best”. There’s also no doubt that when Mick Taylor joined The Rolling Stones he provided a sense of dynamism that the band had always lacked. Considering we can just about squeeze Hendrix onto Blackmore’s list alongside Duane Allman and Wes Montgomery means it is one of the most robust roll calls we’ve witnessed.
The reality is that, with a bit more time and a clear directive, Blackmore may have provided a full list of his favourite guitarists that included many of his contemporaries. Hell, if he provided the list today, he may have a different list from 1991 or even a different list from the day before. The fact is that few people can impress Blackmore because the Deep Purple man has most definitely seen, and more than likely done, it all before.
Below, we’ve pulled together a perfect playlist that should hopefully provide an education in the guitar players that Ritchie Blackmore thought were the greatest.
Ritchie Blackmore’s 8 favourite guitarists:
- Jimi Hendrix
- Duane Allman
- Johnny Winter
- Mick Taylor
- Albert Collins
- Buddy Guy
- Peter Green
- Wes Montgomery