Former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, Rudolf Schenker of the Scorpions and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest. They are three of the primary movers and shakers who helped define metal in the Seventies and early Eighties, shaping it into a subgenre known as Euro-metal.
We asked the three icons to join us in raising the lid on the genre’s greatest classic tunes to shed some light and share their personal insights on the development of this unique and evocative brand of rock.
“SMOKE ON THE WATER”
Machine Head (1972)
Truly the riff heard round the world. This the quintessential 4ths-dyad guitar hook that started it all.
Ritchie Blackmore “ ‘Smoke on the Water’ was recorded in a ballroom, partially. It was a great sound in that ballroom. We had just played the backing track when the police showed up and told us we had to move on. It was midnight, and we had apparently awakened the entire neighborhood of this very small town [in Montreux, Switzerland]. In fact, they were banging on the door and sounding the sirens while we were trying to finish a second take!
“The rest of Machine Head was recorded in a vacant hotel in Montreux. We took the backing track and finished it in the hotel corridor. Had the police had their way, we would never have recorded ‘Smoke on the Water.’ I find it ironic that we thanked them on the back of the album.
“The main riff was all in 4ths, which was uncommon for the time. I was influenced by Graham Bond’s organ playing in the Graham Bond Organization. Have a listen to his instrumental ‘Wade in the Water.’ He would play a lot of patterns, riffs and melodies in 4ths, and I liked it—it had that mysterious and evil sort of sound.
“I never looked at it as inversions of a root-5th power chord but rather as a sound and texture that was thicker on the guitar than single notes. And it worked better than barre chords for heavy rock at loud volumes. The 4ths became one of my stamps because of ‘Smoke on the Water,’ but the very first time I used them was in 1968 on ‘Mandrake Root’ from the first album, Shades of Deep Purple.”
Machine Head (1972)
The roots of shred and one of the earliest Blackmore “go-for-the-jugular” guitar-blowing pieces. Blackmore’s high-energy triplet licks and flashy legato technique—peppered with quirky modal note choices and ethnic melody-placed into a progressive-rock context—bred a generation of monster players in the Eighties.
Ritchie Blackmore “ ‘Lazy’ came from Eric Clapton’s version of ‘Steppin’ Out’ [on John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and Live Cream], which in turn was based on a traditional blues tune by Memphis Slim. I just took what Clapton was doing with Cream live and moved it along a step further. It’s still in the 12-bar form for solos, but the guitar playing is maybe a little more technical as far as the speed factor and the kinds of ideas I used when improvising.
“In those days, maybe because I was high strung and nervous, I tended to put an emphasis on speed and would overplay in my solos—though not to the extent of what happened in the Eighties. I wasn’t comfortable just sitting on one note. I practiced a lot back then, working on my speed when I practiced scales and improvising.”
The prototypical Deep Purple, classicalrock fusion piece, and it once again set a precedent for the future. Would we have had the neoclassical metal of Uli Jon Roth, Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen without it? ·
Glenn Tipton “Deep Purple were an important progressive metal band, particularly in the way they added classical sounds to their music. They made me realize that I too could put my classical influences into metal.”
Ritchie Blackmore “I got the single-string idea in the solo from the guitar player of Johnny Burnette’s Rock and Roll Trio, Paul Burlison. He showed me that descending run back in 1962. Played on the first string, it was the pattern of ‘open E-high, A-open, E-high, Ab,’ and so on, down the neck. I liked the sound and came to use it seven years later in ‘Highway Star.’
“The scale runs in the solo are to me a typically Mozart type of approach, like a string part from one of his symphonies or a keyboard line. I took a couple of hours out one day before we went in to record and structured the entire solo. That wasn’t spontaneous.”
Physical Graffiti (1975)
A major Zeppelin epic of the Seventies. Heavy and exotic, “Kashmir” flaunted a powerful, ethnically tinged, droning-D riff that was even more crushing than their previous efforts—which were considerable.
Rudolf Schenker “When I first heard it, I couldn’t believe it! It was overwhelming. After Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin had come back with a whole new concept! Zeppelin songs like this were pivotal in Euro-metal, and Jimmy Page was always a big influence on me, especially in composing and arranging.
“CATCH YOUR TRAIN”
Virgin Killer (1976)
“Catch Your Train” is a Euro-metal milestone and a definitive Uli Jon Roth moment. A transcendent outing, It was one of the first solos to flaunt the “sheets of sound” sequential scale lines that would become such a pervasive feature in the high-tech leads of the Eighties and beyond.
Rudolf Schenker “Uli Roth, the second lead guitarist in the Scorpions, was very much inspired by Jimi Hendrix. I think his playing concepts were based on what Hendrix would have done if he were alive. In the Scorpions, he had to leave behind some of the Hendrix influence to fit the kind of songs that Klaus [Meine] and I were writing—more in a Deep Purple and Zeppelin mode—and he became a very tasteful, classy guitarist. This solo is a hundred percent Uli—everybody mentions this solo. I’ve spoken to both Jerry Cantrell and Eddie Van Halen, and they both agreed it was an influence.
“There’s a funny story behind it, though. When I originally wrote the song, I wanted to use a different chord progression for the solo, different from the verse or chorus. Uli hated the chords and didn’t want to play on them. I asked him to try it; I knew it would be good. He kept resisting, and I kept insisting.
“Anyway, one day he came in with a beautiful solo worked out to those chords, and I said, ‘That’s it!’ The different chord changes had forced him to work out some unusual lead lines that were recognizable and melodic, and gave him one of his best solos—a real signature.”
“THE SAILS OF CHARON”
Taken by Force (1977)
In the Seventies Euro-metal setting of the Scorpions, Uli Jon Roth, the direct progenitor of the neoclassical metal style of the Eighties, made an opening move in the genre with “The Sails of Charon,” a complex and elegant, mythologically inspired opus.
Rudolf Schenker “ ‘The Sails of Charon’ was very much Uli’s new thing. It represented the early direction he had to move in to get to Electric Sun. It was commercial somehow, understandable for regular listeners, and it was different—far from Hendrix. It was very strong rhythmically, metrically—extremely melodic, and classically influenced.
“In the Scorpions, we restrained Uli a little bit, and I think this helped him make his music more accessible. He created themes and didn’t get lost in all the notes.”
“ONLY YOU CAN ROCK ME”
When Michael Schenker left the Scorpions in the early Seventies, he hooked up with the British-based UFO and blended his unique Germanic sensibilities to their distinctive brand of hard rock, upping the ante in the Euro-metal stakes. Case in point is this definitive and memorable solo from “Only You Can Rock Me.”
Rudolf Schenker “Michael was the original lead guitarist in the Scorpions. We grew up together, worked together—and we both played Flying Vs. Michael has a wonderful feel for melody and uses technique to make his melodies more interesting. His licks are unusual. He’s very fast and powerful but can also be lyrical and sensitive. His vibrato, which was inspired by Leslie West, is very smooth, controlled, and recognizable.”
“LIVING AFTER MIDNIGHT”
British Steel (1980)
One of the all-time greatest crossover tunes in the Euro-metal genre, Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight” features a driving power-chord riff as well as a very accessible and melodic Glenn Tipton solo.
Glenn Tipton “We wrote this one in John Lennon’s old house—in the room where he played ‘Imagine’ for his video. It was a contrast, though: In his film, all the walls were white and the place looked celestial. By the time we got there, the room was back to dark wood and jammed with Marshall stacks!
“Judas Priest wrote for audiences—for live audiences. People tend to forget that. This was our power-chord basher—a son of AC/DC-inspired, good-time, metal-rock song. There’s nothing like the feeling of stopping in the tune and hearing everyone in the auditorium sing the chorus, ‘Living after midnight.’ I used to shiver with emotion. The song may seem dated now, but it definitely reflected what was happening in the early Eighties.
“DIFFICULT TO CURE”
Difficult to Cure (1981)
The formal beginnings of the neoclassical metal instrumental style. Ritchie Blackmore laid out the template with this supercharged rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Fourth Movement “Ode to Joy” theme). He played the immortal melody with a slide, using a distorted Strat tone.
Ritchie Blackmore “I challenged myself by asking, ‘Could I do actual classical music with the power of a rock band?’ I’ve always loved classical melodies and chord progressions, but not the rigidity or limitations. In working out ‘Difficult to Cure’ or any piece like it from the classical literature, I would sit down with the written music—I read a bit—and play through it very slowly until I got the basics down. Then I would throw in some of my own stuff.”
“DEATH ALLEY DRIVER”
Straight Between the Eyes (1982)
Euro-metal came of age in the early Eighties, and this is one of the reasons why. Blackmore unleashed new levels of virtuosity with this crushing eighth-note groove and his neoclassical soloing. Note the trademark 4th-dyads neatly worked into the charging rhythm guitar figure, and the undeniable presence of the harmonic minor scale in the interlude riff. The latter would endure to become a staple of not only Euro-metal and neoclassical schools but also their thrash and death metal spin-offs.
Ritchie Blackmore “I noticed back in the Seventies that most bands wouldn’t go near anything that was really fast. Most of Zeppelin’s stuff was medium tempo or slower. In Rainbow, we enjoyed playing things at very fast speeds, like ‘Death Alley Driver.’ It was guaranteed not to get any radio play, but it was great to play onstage.
“The middle [interlude] melodic riff reminds me of J.S. Bach. I was totally caught up in Bach from 1967 through 1985. I was impressed with the power of the music and strove to place some of that power in a rock context. I also loved what he did with minor keys and the involved fugal melodies. Listening to Bach inspired much of what is reflected in ‘Death Alley Driver.’ ”
Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
This is one of the great, mature Euro-metal tunes of the Eighties, featuring a strong minor-mode riff—made stronger by the two-prong guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. “Electric Eye” also contains a colorful Tipton solo. Check out the quirky entrance lick, which moves pentatonic shapes up the fingerboard in a manner reminiscent of Randy Rhoads. Chromatic riffs like this one have become mainstays of the Euro-metal lead guitar approach.
Glenn Tipton “As a guitar player, I’ve built my technique in bits and pieces, and I’ve always liked modernizing my style to make it very contemporary. I consciously work on that and gain inspiration from across the board—young players as well as old. I always felt like I could learn a lot from the younger players. But I don’t dwell on a particular lick—I try to play it my own way.
“The first important lesson for me was that I had to create my own style and evolve gradually. I would listen to an idea and play something like it in my own style. Without knowing it, that little bit would expand my style, even if it was just a couple of new notes. You have to be patient, but through the years those little accumulations pay off. Similarly, in Priest, we’ve always updated the band and moved forward with the times.”
“YOU’VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMIN’”
Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
Another indispensable Priest classic, sporting a multifaceted riff with thudding, palm-muted eighth-note rhythms, sustained chords, and some Blackmore-inspired 4th dyads. A bluesy Tipton solo complements this track admirably. Here, he transplants the spirit and angular rhythm of Albert King (in the first two measures) into a chunky metal setting.
Glenn Tipton “About my tone back then: What you hear on tracks like ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ ’—guitar-wise, it was either a Gibson SG or a Fender Strat with humbucking pickups. In those days, the backbone of my sound was from an old Rangemaster Treble Booster, which I originally used with a Vox AC-30 amplifier. I got to depend on the sound of that box so much that I had it copied, component for component into a Pete Cornish pedal board, a switching device with very reliable contacts that was perfect for the road. From there I would add effects—various choruses, Cry Baby wah-wahs, or what have you—and go into two 50-watt Marshall heads and G12H cabs with Celestion speakers.”
“NO ONE LIKE YOU”
The quintessential twin-guitar harmony riff of the Euro-metal genre. Over a crashing rhythm figure that is unmistakable Scorpions, it is the sound of Eurometal crossing over into the pop arena.
Rudolf Schenker “Matthias Jabs had a hard time following Uli Roth and Michael Schenker in the Scorpions—both were such strong musical personalities. He had a different attitude and understood from the beginning that Klaus and I were the composing team, and that he had to support our songs melodically.
“When he joined, we finally began to work as a guitar team. The guitar work on ‘No One like You’ is an example and one of my favorite Matthias lead riffs—it’s a signature. In the studio, he overdubbed the harmony guitar parts over my rhythm guitar riff. The twin-guitar idea was inspired by Wishbone Ash, one of the all-time great guitar harmony rock bands, who were also a big influence on me and Michael. Live, he uses an intelligent harmonizer to recreate the solo.”
“ROCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE”
Love at First Sting (1984)
“Rock You Like a Hurricane” delivers what it promises in the form of a definitive Rudolf Schenker rhythm riff. Built of a few power chords and a ton of attitude, it’s solid, simple, and irresistible. Rudolf’s rhythm riffs are one of Euro-metal’s most overlooked assets. Here, he fashions a serious minimal hook that features space, dynamics and overt syncopation not unlike that of Jimmy Page and Zeppelin.
Rudolf Schenker “My influences included Zeppelin and Jimmy Page—especially for his composing and creative ideas. I love the way he used the blues element in heavy metal, rock, and pop. ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ is one of my favorite rhythm riffs. It’s also a good example of my sound at this time, from Lovedrive through Love at First Sting. I had a definite set-up—a Gibson Flying V, my favorite guitar, into old 50-watt Marshalls.”
“WIND OF CHANGE”
Crazy World (1990)
The Scorpions had four great lead guitarists: Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, Matthias Jabs, and Rudolf Schenker, as he so ably proved on this monster hit.
Rudolf Schenker “We got a reputation as a ballad band because of songs like ‘No One Like You’ and ‘Wind of Change,’ which were in the worldwide Top 10. We gained a new audience, and our old audience was unhappy—they thought we were selling out. But we’re still the Scorpions; we just have a melodic side.
“I play the solo on ‘Wind of Change.’ That’s usually decided as I write the song—whether it will be Matthias or me. This solo is one of my favorites because it’s a more structured, melodic solo. It was played on a Gibson Flying V, naturally—a 1988 or 1989 model, I think, with completely white finish and no pickguard—straight into an Engl amp.”