When I was asked to present an award at Classic Rock’s annual shindig at the Roundhouse in November, 2012, I found myself sat next to Amy Lord, daughter of Deep Purple’s keyboard player Jon, and her husband, and elsewhere on the table were other members of the Lord family, all there to watch Jon’s sister-in-law collect his posthumous award. Jon’s wife Vicki, it was explained to me, was too overcome to attend so it was left to Jackie, her twin and wife of Purple drummer Ian Paice, to do the honours.
I was able to tell Amy that, in the early eighties when she was a toddler, I’d spent a night at their family’s house near Henley while researching my now out of print biography of Deep Purple. Her dad was a most generous host and I recall that he and Vicki took me to a Chinese restaurant in Henley where we were joined by Ian and Jackie. Afterwards, back at the house, Jon and I settled down to long interview that stretched way into the night, all punctuated by bottles of champagne from Jon’s wine cellar. Somewhere in amongst that interview was the revelation that one of the partners in the original management of the group had been jailed for receiving stolen goods, leading to the conclusion that the group’s first set of stage gear was bought from the proceeds of crime. It was almost dawn when I switched off my recorder and Jon stumbled over to the white grand piano in his living room and played a bit of Beethoven before we retired. Or was it Bach? Or Chopin?
I’d travelled around with Deep Purple a lot in the seventies, wrote some complimentary reviews for MM when they were at their best, and came to like them as people. This was the Mark II band – Lord, Paice, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Glover and Ian Gillan – which is generally regarded as the best. I lost touch with them when this line-up fragmented, so I didn’t witness the group’s decline. Then, in the early eighties, I wrote that book about the group and was pleasantly surprised that most of them (Blackmore was a notable exception) co-operated with me and were all remarkably candid about their relationships with each other and the reasons why the group came together and fell apart. I have had no dealings with them since that book came out, but I was given to understand that although most of them were happy with it, Blackmore was not. It’s his own fault. Had he co-operated then perhaps the book would have portrayed him in a manner more to his liking. When Omnibus published a biography of Ritchie by Jerry Bloom in 2006 there was some sabre rattling from his lawyers but nothing happened in the end, but it all points to the conclusion that he evidently doesn’t like books written about him.
In the seventies I got on quite well with Ritchie Blackmore, and recall spending time with him socially, but he could be a bit of a moody old bugger, and one wrong word was enough to bring on a meltdown. I think he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t spoken of in the same terms as other great British guitarists of the era, the Clapton-Beck-Page axis, and Harrison and Townshend, not to mention Hendrix, his great hero. It’s perfectly true that as far as technique and skills go, Blackmore was on a par with them all – barring Hendrix, of course – and he’d certainly paid his dues, taking lessons from ‘Big’ Jim Sullivan and playing with The Outlaws and Sutch’s Savages before The Beatles’ breakthrough in 1963. The problem was the manner in which he chose to employ those skills, the hard rock/heavy metal material that was unlikely to appeal to critics, with lyrics that didn’t really say very much, not to mention his subsequent drift into medieval folk music.
I have no doubt that Blackmore considered himself a more skilled player than Pete Townshend, and he was probably right (certainly when The Who started out) but Pete could write great songs and this drew attention to him and his group while Blackmore was unknown (to the public, anyway). No doubt this pissed him off mightily. Later, with Purple, Blackmore became the second musician after Pete to abuse guitars on stage but to me this was just an act – the guitars he smashed were cheap replicas anyway – while with Pete it was more of an artistic statement and he didn’t give a toss about destroying expensive Gibsons and Fenders.
At the beginning of December 1972, I found myself in the US with Deep Purple, and on a (commercial) plane flight from Des Moines to Indianapolis sat next to Ritchie. At one point in the journey he produced from his hand luggage a pornographic magazine, a fearsomely offensive example of the genre with women doing obscene things with animals. Realising that it was of the same dimensions as the in-flight magazine published by Braniff Airways, Ritchie systematically substituted pages from one to the other, carefully replacing the staples before tucking the reconstructed flight brochure into the pocket provided at the rear of the seat in front of him. “Shame we won’t be here to see what happens when the next person picks that up,” he said when the mischief was complete.
That wasn’t the only mischief I was caught up in with Ritchie. The following year I was in Paris with them and after the show he and I ended up at a club called the Rock’n’Roll Circus, allegedly the same place where Jim Morrison spent the last night of his life. Somehow Ritchie and I became attached to two Spanish girls and I opted to leave first, bringing one back to the hotel. Unfortunately the night porter, knowing I had but a single room, refused to allow her to enter, so after a bit of hanky-panky by the trees on the nearby Champs Elysees (it was a warm night) I headed back to the hotel alone, only to bump into Ritchie arriving back with his Spanish maiden. I explained to Ritchie what had happened to me and we agreed that he would distract the hall porter asking for his key while I rushed through the lobby with his girl, and we would meet on the first floor where I would ‘hand her over’. The plan seemed to work, but when I got to my room the phone rang. It was the porter. “Ou est la fille?” he demanded. “No idea mate.” Five minutes later there was a knock on my door. “Ou est la fille?” He came in and, of course, no girl was to be found. Desperate to get rid of him, I said, “Try Mr Coletta’s room,” John Coletta being DP’s manager. And off he went.Next morning Mr Coletta and his girlfriend were none too pleased to have been awoken from their slumbers in the double room they’d booked. But he never found out who was responsible.