It’s hard to name a guitarist whose influences are as far-ranging as Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore. From Baroque to Tommy Steele to famous classical melodies, Blackmore was always true to his interests, even admitting in 1979, “I like popular music. I like ABBA very much.” All of these influences meshed together with Blackmore’s inherent ability to create a unique sound to gain Blackmore the notoriety that few guitarists can match. His genius can be most easily seen in the five isolated guitar tracks below.
Shuffling in and out bands in the early ’60s, Blackmore finally established himself in pioneering heavy metal band Deep Purple. Along with his revolutionary guitar playing, Mark Two bassist Roger Glover shared Blackmore’s crucial role in developing song ideas for Deep Purple, “Ritchie wasn’t just the guitar player, he was a brilliant innovator.
“Things he wrote defy description. Ritchie was phenomenal in what he was doing in the late 60s and early 70s. He was a magnetic, dynamic writer. I don’t think he could have done it in a vacuum by himself, it did require the rest of us. But I’ll certainly give him his due. He was the motivating character in the band.”
As a member of Deep Purple, Blackmore was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2016 and is cited as one of the most influential guitar players of all time. So to show his astounding ability and impact, here are five isolated guitar tracks that led to Blackmore’s guitar God status, and prove his genius.
Ritchie Blackmore’s best isolated guitar
While on the road in the early ‘70s, Deep Purple used ‘Speed King’ as their go-to opener to get the crowd pumped. But by late 1971, they’d grown sick of the song. This frustration led to the band writing ‘Highway Star’ on their tour bus on the way to a gig at the Portsmouth Guildhall (in the UK) on September 13, 1971, where they debuted the song. It became the new opener and evolved before it was recorded later for their 1972 album Machine Head.
Spawning a sub-genre referred to as “speed metal,” this adrenaline-fuelled rocker is about a man and his love for his high-powered car, which he says can out-race anything else on the road, and features killer guitar playing from Blackmore. In a 2008 Guitar World interview, he spoke of his iconic contribution by saying, “I wrote that out note for note about a week before we recorded it. I wanted it to sound like someone driving in a fast car, for it to be one of those songs you would listen to while speeding. And I wanted a very definite Bach sound, which is why I wrote it out – and why I played those very rigid arpeggios across that very familiar Bach progression – Dm, Gm, Cmaj, Amaj.”
‘Woman From Tokyo’
Being one of the trailblazing rock bands to tour around Japan in the early 1970s, Deep Purple were so affected by their experience that they wrote ‘Woman from Tokyo’ as a tribute. Another inspirational element was the progressive rock sound, which is featured in Blackmore’s dreamy guitar break that occupies a substantial space of the song’s middle section. This break appears only on the album version and is missing from the single, explaining the difference in duration between both versions.
‘Woman from Tokyo’ was one of the last songs lead singer Ian Gillan was featured on due to his departure in 1973 to pursue a solo career. Despite the groups’ general affinity for the song (they didn’t start playing it live until their reformation in 1984), it remains one of their most popular to date.
Much like most of Deep Purple’s hits, ‘Space Truckin’ came from a musical idea that Blackmore introduced to the band. Combining inspiration from the Batman theme song and a finger exercise he would do with his guitar, Blackmore created a powerful riff that elevated the melody.
Like the rest of the Machine Head album, ‘Space Truckin’ was recorded in a hotel due to a fire burning down their original recording venue. The band set up a make-shift studio at Montreaux’s Grand Hotel, running cables through the hotel and playing in the corridors and having to improvise. Under these unfavourable conditions, the band created a ragged selection of tracks that were ultimately overpowered by the vibrance and skill of their playing.
Written alongside the other songs on Machine Head, ‘Burn’ was another song that showcased Blackmore’s unbelievable attention to detail. Although he was the band member primarily fascinated with all things Renaissance, witchcraft, and occult-related, Blackmore enlisted the help of Deep Purple’s most recent edition, vocalist David Coverdale to write the lyrics.
Coverdale recalled to Kerrang! In a 2009 interview, “I was a complete unknown, but I was involved in writing ‘Burn’ from the start. Ritchie was obviously the chief composer, but I was given a cassette tape of the songs-in-progress and sent back to the north of England to work on the lyric with Glenn Hughes.”
Accompanying the tale of an enchanting female, Blackmore crafted an equally captivating composition, which was inspired by the Gershwin brothers’ standard “Fascinating Rhythm.” While on the road for the new couple of years, ‘Burn’ became a staple in the setlist, and rightfully so.
‘Smoke On The Water’
The inspiration for Deep Purple’s most revered song ‘Smoke On The Water’ came from a fire at a Frank Zappa concert in the Casino at Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971. Their plans to record their album in the same venue were soon delayed when a fan fired a flare gun during Zappa’s show, that set the place on fire.
Deep Purple, who were eating at a nearby restaurant, watched the fire spread and smoke pour out onto Lake Geneva. This image gave bass player Roger Glover the idea for a song title: ‘Smoke On The Water,’ and Gillan wrote the lyrics, relaying the strange events that have conspired just a few days before.
Blackmore’s affinity for renaissance music, which spawned from a 1971 BBC program called Wives of Henry VIII, can be heard in the track and the guitarist admitted that there is indeed a trace of Renaissance in the song. “The riff is done in fourths and fifths – a medieval modal scale,” Blackmore explained on MySpace Music. “It makes it appear more dark and foreboding. Not like today’s pop music thirds.” Created alongside the other songs in Montreaux, ‘Smoke On The Water’ rose to stardom above the rest, creating one of the most imitated guitar riffs of all time.