Ritchie Blackmore: This Is How I Play “Smoke on the Water”

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PHOTO: Brian Rasic | Getty Images

Way back in May 2016, we sat down with Ritchie Blackmore to talk about his then-upcoming Rainbow gigs in Europe, where the British guitar icon made his long-awaited return to rock music.

In our interview, we talked with Blackmore about the upcoming gigs as well as his guitar technique, greatest riffs, gear, guitar modifications—including his self-scalloped fretboards—musical inspirations, and of course Deep Purple, Rainbow Blackmore’s Night.

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In this excerpt from the issue, Blackmore tells us the stories behind three of his greatest Deep Purple riffs. Along the way, he reveals the right way to play “Smoke on the Water.”

Could you please detail what you remember about recording some of your famous Deep Purple riffs? The obvious one is, of course, “Smoke on the Water.”
I wrote the riff during a jam while we were recording Machine Head at a theater in Montreux, Switzerland. I asked [Deep Purple drummer] Ian Paice to come up with something new—a rhythm we haven’t played before—and I basically played along. It wasn’t worked out. But I was aware—mentally—of trying to write something very, very simple and straightforward.

We were in this big ballroom, and Paice and I started playing the riff and a chord progression. Then, the police arrived to tell us to stop, because we were playing so loud that there were complaints. We kept the door locked so that we could keep recording that particular take. The police were hammering on the door during the final take in the last three minutes of the recording session. Had the Montreux police had their way, we never would’ve recorded “Smoke on the Water—so, no thanks to them!

As iconic as the “Smoke on the Water” riff is, most people don’t play it correctly. You pluck the stacked fourths with your fingers, right? And do you play it in the third position, starting on the A and D strings, or at the eighth position, starting on the E and A strings?
It’s third position, and plucked. Never with a pick.

What about “Woman from Tokyo”?
I think I wrote the riff for that in Rome while we were recording there. In fact, maybe at the back of my mind was “Cat Squirrel” by Cream. There are similar notes, but done in a different timing. Recording it was a disaster. We had the Rolling Stones’ [mobile recording] unit, and we stopped recording within a week. We left, went to Frankfurt, and carried on.

And “Highway Star”?

That was one of the only solos that I worked out completely at home. Most of my solos were improved on the spot, but that one was arranged before I went into the studio.

Check out Ritchie’s “Highway Star” isolated guitar parts in the video below.