Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night (photo by Michael Keel)
A legendary rock star finally finds his muse, and together the two find love, family and musical collaboration.
By Steve Houk
It’s a story that’s as familiar and common in the history of rock bands as a drum solo, at least the beginning of the story is.
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A rich, legendary British rock star meets a young, beautiful girl in a crowd, summons a roadie to find out who she is and they meet up for a drink, but then, the story often goes awry, it’s just a night or two together or if she’s lucky a handful, and then he’s on to the next city and she’s the what’s-your-name girl.
But that last part is not what happened with Hall of Fame guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, the leader of hard rock gods Deep Purple, and his wife of 10 years, Candice Night.
Sure, he met her at a local radio DJs vs Deep Purple soccer game where she was an intern (yes Purple won), then had a roadie find her and they went out for a drink and then started a whirlwind romance, all that part’s true. But over time, they somehow, some way, found what appears to be true love and bigtime staying power, and have been together ever since. They courted for fifteen years, married in 2008, have two children together, and for ten years, Night has sung lead in Blackmore’s second-coming band after Deep Purple and Rainbow called Blackmore’s Night. Happy endings seem to abound with this particular rock star couple.
“It started out normal, as friendship, just like a normal relationship,” Night told me on a break before the next leg of the current Blackmore’s Night tour which stops at DC’s Lincoln Theater on July 24th. “We would talk on the phone for hours and hours. Everything was so natural and when I met him, we had so much in common. He honestly says that it was like meeting an old friend again when I walked in, a sense of comfort. You can’t get a better compliment than that.”
No you can’t, and despite their age difference, Blackmore, 73, and Night, 47, seem to compliment each other. It could be said that he helped her break out of a relatively stagnant Long Island life of uncertain aspirations, and on the flip side, she has given him the love he always needed but couldn’t keep (he’s been married three times before Night) and also may have saved him from overdoing the many excesses that a lonely life as an aging rock idol can bear, especially one with a propensity for it. However they mesh, Blackmore and Night’s tale of finding each other is one for the positive storybooks of rock.
“What happened with Ritchie and myself was a very natural evolution, and a natural progression of everything that has happened in our lives. I’m twenty-six years younger than him, he’s from England, I’m from Long Island, nothing would have paired us together except for fate, which just kind of made our paths cross. He comes from a completely different background, he left school at the age of sixteen, and went on the road, he’s very worldly. I had basically never left Long Island.”
After Blackmore sought out Night at that infamous soccer game, the two seemed to connect beyond where most do, and a relationship between one of the world’s greatest guitar masters and a young woman from Hauppauge, L.I. began. If you want to get corny about it, the story is a bit reminiscent of alot of the music they play together now that has that medieval minstrel-esque feel, where a dark knight of rock courts his beautiful princess from afar. Or something like that.
“When I first met him, I think he was recording Slaves and Masters, he was still in Deep Purple, and then when he was on the road with them, he would call me from German castles, or I’d get postcards from Israel, and then from England, I’d hear from him all over the world. And when he would come back to Connecticut, he’d ask me to come up and visit him, or he’d come to Long Island.”
It was at that point in their early life together when Night witnessed firsthand the end of an era in rock and roll, as the great Purple began to drift apart, leaving decades of history in their wake.
“I actually went on the road with him in 1993, and that was the last time he was in that lineup with Deep Purple. I really got to see what was going on on the road with him. At that point, the guys were all traveling separately, everybody had their own limos to get to the show, they stayed in different places. I’m sure it was worlds’ different when he first started, and they were like a little bit green and new and excited about the prospect and were old friends and banded together, and then, after a while, friction happens and egos happen, and everybody pulls in different directions and it was really sad to see them clock in and clock out and only be together on stage. It was sad to see all that going on.”
It’s one thing to fall in love and have a relationship, it’s another to become co-writers and bandmates. Sure, Night remembers growing up and being the one who was off listening to her music when others were doing their thing, music had always been her companion, but she wasn’t a true musician. But it was Blackmore who first gave Night a chance to actually write songs, and that generosity as well as her innate abilities changed their lives together.
“When I started writing with Ritchie, he had left Deep Purple but was still contractually obligated to do one more album for BMG,” the affable and sweet Night said. “He was backed into a corner, like, ‘Okay, obviously I’m not with Purple anymore,’ and he really didn’t know where else he would be going, so he reformed Rainbow. So he’s trying to write this new album that became Stranger in Us All, and I had always sang around the house or the hotel room if we were traveling, just to myself, and he also knew that I was always pen to paper, very old school, writing in my journals, writing poetry, so he knew that I could write. So they were having a hard time coming up with lyrics for the album, and he called me up and said, ‘Look, I’ve got this backing track, we’re going to play it for you, you got an hour and fifteen minutes on the ferry tomorrow. I’m going to basically fly a professional lyric writer in if I can’t get this done tonight, so no worries, no pressure, I got somebody else hanging out in the wings there, so…’ So I had an hour and fifteen minutes on the ferry and I just kind of absorbed myself, locked myself in the music, looked out at the water and came up with fourteen verses. I got to the other side, drove to Massachusetts, handed them my notebook, and said, ‘Alright, this is what I came up with,’ and the producer looked at it and circled four of the verses and said, ‘This, this, this, this. We’ll piece these two together, here’s your chorus, thanks.’ Can you imagine? I was just like, ‘Wow. That was great!’ And then anytime they needed lyrics, they would come to me. They were like, ‘Alright. Whatcha got? Here’s the backing track”. I’m like, ‘Alright. Give me a little bit, I’ll go in a corner.” See what happened? I was a closet poet and it had honed my skills. Who knew?”
This first lyrical collaboration became much more, as the two began to write songs together and create a whole new and fulfilling chapter in the approaching twilight of a legendary rock star’s career, and in some senses, the beginning of Night’s.
“They would ask me to sing backup and I’d be on the stage doing back up vocals like way back tucked in the corner. That’s really the beginning of my working with Ritchie, which was the natural evolution. While the rest of the guys were doing all of their backing tracks and the drum tracks which would take forever or the singer would take forever, Ritchie and I would be sitting there watching the snow come down, he’s got his acoustic guitar and we’re sitting in front of big fireplace, and he and I would be writing acoustic stuff just for us. I think for him it was such an escape from the rock and roll that he’d been in for over three decades at that point.”
Learning music from a true song master like Blackmore has clearly not gone unappreciated by Night, and when you hear her speak of his sheer skill and his deep lore, you are hearing someone who is very cognizant of his legend, proud as hell, and in some ways protective over it.
“He started a bunch of different genres, he basically melded classical progressions with hard rock, back in a day where nobody ever heard of that stuff before. Having stood on stage with him for the past couple of decades, he absolutely pulls from somewhere above, somewhere else. And he will improvise different intros, different solos, so when you go and see Ritchie, you have no idea what he’s going to do, what he’s going to play. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do or play. It’s all feel for him. And that blows my mind every single time I see him. Onstage, offstage. He sits in the chair right there, and he’ll just practice. He’ll just noodle along on his guitars. I’ve got two of them on either side of me right now. Not only is he just an incredible musician, but if you see any of the stuff that he’s ever played, even to date, he can’t, like physically cannot play the same song the same way twice. He can’t do it. It’s impossible. He gets frustrated. He’ll say to me, ‘Can we learn this song?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, well it goes like this.’ And I’ll hum it to him, and he’ll play it completely different. And I’m like, ‘Well, that’s awesome. Let’s keep it your way.’ And he’s like, ‘No, no, no, tell me, how is that going, because I’m missing the notes in it.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s doesn’t matter, because you’re making it your own.’ Always working it. He’s just a creature unto himself, really. Whether he’s pulling from medieval modal scales from the 1200’s that have those fourths and fifths in them that make things like “Smoke on the Water” sound so dark and omnitive. That’s where that came from. And it’s just amazing.”
And now, the two tour regularly in the bit-lighter-than-Purple but still powerful Blackmore’s Night, where Blackmore’s medieval-type musical roots are given even more breadth than ever. To date, Blackmore’s Night has several gold records, sells out shows, and has released 10 albums throughout their 20-year career together.
“Anybody who’s followed Ritchie from the beginning, he used to jam in Deep Purple in the early days on ‘Greensleeves.’ Even ‘Smoke on the Water’ has medieval tones. It’s not like the single-note riff, it’s got those medieval scales. There was a lot of that previous time period or eras gone by weaved into the music. And it’s also fun because we don’t only do Renaissance, I think people who haven’t heard us think that we’re a duo that’s like a medieval band that just uses lutes and things. But we have so much variety to our music. The cool thing about being in Blackmore’s Night is you have the creative freedom to take down the walls of any box, of any genre, and play whatever the hell you want. And I think that’s what he loves about being in this band, is the creative freedom. So he can play ‘Smoke on the Water’ onstage if he wants to, but he’s not locked into playing it every single night. And honestly, he changes up the set list on us all the time. So you’ll see the look of fear in the rest of the band’s eyes, ‘What’s he going to do next? We don’t know. Okay, just hang in there.’ And half the time, he’ll tell the rest of the band to just leave the stage, and he and I will just take requests from the audience. But we pull a lot of things inspirationally from the music of the 12th medieval time period to the 15th Century Renaissance period. People get dressed up, it’s amazing.”
Blackmore and Night are a rare breed, a longstanding rock star couple that could have easily become just another tale of a one night stand and a wave from the back of the bus. Far from it, this has been a decades-long bond that has only seemed to grow closer over time. Nothing’s perfect, but Blackmore and his enchanting Night seem damn close, and with their two children Autumn Esmeralda, 7, and Rory D’Artagnan, 6, in tow, they have beaten the odds and survived the perils of rock and roll love with flying colors.
“I feel like every one of our albums has been so strong, but has its own unique identity. And it’s almost like a scrapbook in time, looking back into our lives as to where we were as people, as a couple, as musicians, as writers. It’s really just looking back onto an amazing journey. That’s the thing, you can never plan life. It’s always going to take you in a completely opposite direction.”
Blackmore’s Night with special guest The Wizard’s Consort performs Wednesday July 25th at Lincoln Theater, 1215 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009. For tickets click here.