20 Years Ago: Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore Has Onstage Meltdown
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What Deep Purple fans saw at the NEC Arena in Birmingham, England, wasn’t anything like a promised 25th anniversary celebration of the band. It was, instead, one of the final nights with founding member Ritchie Blackmore.
Blackmore didn’t take the stage with the rest of his bandmates as the concert began, forcing Ian Gillan and co. to begin an opening rendition of ‘Highway Star’ without him. The guitarist finally joined them midway through, unleashing a snarky, distinterested solo, but when a cameraman filming the concert for future release got too close, a clearly peeved Blackmore threw a drink toward him. The next shot, of Gillan, finds the lens dripping with water.
It was a turning point in an ever-worsening relationship. Four shows later, Blackmore officially quit — forcing Deep Purple to bring in Joe Satriani to finish a series of dates in Japan booked for that December. Steve Morse would ultimately take over in 1994, and remains.
So do plenty of hard feelings.
“This situation ended, and we’re all glad it ended, and we had to rebuild,” Gillan said earlier this year. “If Ritchie had stayed in the band, it would have been the end of Deep Purple. The shows were getting shorter and shorter, the audiences were getting smaller and smaller. We were playing in small halls, and they weren’t even full — they were half empty — and Ritchie was walking off stage every night.”
Despite the dust up in Birmingham, Sony eventually released the concert footage anyway — forcing Gillan into the position of asking Deep Purple fans not to buy it. “It was one of the lowest points of my life — all our lives, actually,” he said. “There is no nostalgia involved.”