This past summer, guitar icon Ritchie Blackmore made his return to rock and roll by reactivating Rainbow with a brand new lineup, featuring vocalist Ronnie Romero (Lords of Black), drummer David Keith (Blackmore’s Night), keyboardist Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) and bassist Bob Nouveau (ex-Blackmore’s Night). The band performed just three festival shows — two in Germany and one in England — giving fans a rare chance to witness Rainbow classics, like “Catch the Rainbow,” “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” and “Difficult to Cure (Beethoven’s Ninth),” which haven’t been performed live in quite some time, along with a handful of Deep Purple tunes.
Bass Player caught up with Bob post performances, in August, to get his insight into the October issue’s transcription of Craig Gruber’s sterling bass line on the Rainbow classic “Snake Charmer.” In addition to offering his invaluable assessment of Gruber’s performance, he also took some time to discuss what it’s like to work with Blackmore, what his approach to the material was and how his surname went from Curiano to Nouveau. He also asked, “Did my friends in the mafia put a gun to your head and say, ‘Give this guy an interview?’” It was an extremely modest comment, illuminating his personality, which seems to be a great complement to the public perception of Blackmore’s moroseness.
In the interim, Rainbow announced that Memories in Rock – Live in Germany will be released via Eagle Rock on November 18th. Featuring stellar musicianship and Romero’s otherworldly vocals, Memories was culled from both Monsters of Rock festival performances on July 17th and 18th and will be available in a variety of formats including CD, Blu-ray, DVD and vinyl.
So, first things first, what’s with the name change from Curiano to Nouveau?
That’s a Blackmore prank at its best. He said, “You need a stage name.” I’m thinking to myself, “I have to be a ‘new’ Bob?” So I went with the French. When they announced the band, the reaction was, “Who the fuck is Bob Nouveau?” So I started the Facebook page to clarify what happened.
You originally played with Ritchie Blackmore in Blackmore’s Night. How did that come about?
I was just playing around Long Island and their manager saw me and asked if I would like to play with Ritchie Blackmore and I thought, “That Ritchie Blackmore?” I said “Uh, okay.” So she said, “He likes Bach send him a little tape.” I play guitar too. So, I sent him a little guitar thing and finally met him and all we did was sit around at a table one night playing guitar together. I said, “Don’t you want to hear me play bass? I’m going to be the bass player, right? Where’s the drummer?” And he said, “That’s all right, keep playing guitar.” I played very little bass that night and his assessment was that I knew music, I knew harmonies and I knew how to play rhythms. He took for granted, I guess, that bass was in that bag. That’s how it went. It was a strange one. I’ve never done a bass audition like that, ever.
Were there any expectations about what you might play on bass?
He let me do whatever I wanted on bass. I’ve never seen anything like it. When I first joined the band, the guys were very tense around Ritchie – like, he’s this iconic guitar God - and it created a tense, quiet atmosphere. I said to myself, “I can’t play music like this.” So I related to him like, “You’re the guitar player in the band and we’re mates,” and that broke the ice right away—the atmosphere got much better. And that’s pretty much how my relationship with him is now. It’s not as a fan that idolizes him as much as it is a band mate.
For a guitarist playing bass you certainly have a very bass-centric approach to the instrument.
I understand the job of bass. I was a little Italian kid accordion player when I was five years old. It was handed down to me. I had the bass in my left hand and everything else in my right. So I understood bass patterns from then on. When I became an adolescent I didn’t want to play accordion anymore; I wanted to have fun with bands, so I picked up both bass and guitar at the same time. It’s weird. At one period I was just known to people as just a guitarist and then in another stretch of years I was only known as a bass player. I lived on both of those instruments equally, which I think is a big difference than if you focus on one and the other is secondary. They were both primary instruments for me.
You sing too.
That bags me into another category of bass players, which is yet another animal: that singing bass player. Back in the old days, bands were four-piece and everybody had to sing. It was the ‘60s Beatles-era and singing was important.
When we chatted about [original Rainbow bassist] Craig Gruber’s bass line in “Snake Charmer” for the October issue of Bass Player you marveled at how funky he was. Do you think you apply the same touch to the material?
After I did these shows with Rainbow I started to read comments online and got stuck in a rabbit hole. One of the negative comments about me from one of those hard rock fans was that I played too funky. But I just smile and say, “I love that. Thank you.��� Someone should tell this guy that bass players from some of the most iconic rock bands were funky, starting with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin and John Deacon from Queen.
“Another One Bites the Dust?” Are you kidding me? That was funky.
But in terms of having fun playing bass it doesn’t get any better than playing funky. You know the bass line to “Good Times” by Chic? It’s not that much different than John Deacon playing “Another One Bites the Dust” when you really look at, in essence, what those things are. On the other side, if you take a disco riff like “Jungle Boogie” from Kool and the Gang and crank it up that could be a metal riff. Guys sometimes get stuck in a genre and don’t hear outside the box. So I’m thankful for learning accordion, clarinet, etc. I got exposed to a lot of different things and it helped me.
Do you think anything has changed about the Rainbow material between the time it was recorded and how it’s performed now?
All of these songs have been changed over the years from playing them live. “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” in no way resembles the original form now. All of the riffs that were in the song in the beginning were cut out by Ritchie. What you have now is a paired down version of “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” and, in essence, what he paired it down to is just the basic groove minus all the riffs. Some people object to that and say he watered it down. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but we simplified that song. “Man on the Silver Mountain” changed throughout the years too. And although Craig’s [Gruber] lines are still the basis of it, other people expanded on that. And the tempos, I have to say, over the years, generally got faster. Now he’s back to playing them slower again.
It seems that historically Blackmore has preferred pick players, but I notice in some of the live footage you are mostly playing with your fingers.
That was another [online] comment by somebody. They get anal, saying if only I used a pick. I find that fingers give me more variety of sound and roundness of tone than the pick. I would use a pick if I felt it was necessary, but Blackmore never gave me any indication that it was necessary at all. If you want to play with a pick you have to work at it, especially if you want to play all downstrokes on uptempo songs. Roger Glover [Deep Purple] didn’t do all downstrokes. Neither did Ritchie. “Highway Star” is down and up. It’s a different sound. It softens the attack on the upstroke. Playing all downstrokes is like a hard-edged sword. With up and down it takes the edge off and changes the way it pulses.
What was the rehearsal process like for the three summer gigs?
There were two segments of rehearsal and they were not rigorous. We hung out, played a little, ate dinner and played a little more. It just followed suit with Ritchie—he set the mood like, “I just want to have fun and that’s what it’s going to be.” There were people who were happy to see him come back after so many years and there were other people looking to scrutinize this from top to bottom.
Was it daunting to go from such a loose rehearsal atmosphere to big festival shows?
We walked onto those stages not having done one show—this band was put together on paper. We walked onto a festival stage with no soundcheck, there were frequencies cascading all over the stage and I had to play bass through that. It takes a little grounding. Luckily I have enough years of experience to be able to play through it with a smile on my face. Those are the distractions that can affect your playing and performance and it did affect mine a little bit, but I concentrated. Otherwise I would’ve been jumping around the stage a bit more.
Were you expected to learn the Rainbow and Deep Purple tunes note-for-note or were you able to inject some of your own personality?
If you hear what I was playing, I covered the basics and put myself into the songs. Ritchie comes from that camp. His legacy goes back to when bands changed the rules on songwriting. Songs emerged out of a band jamming for a long time together. They jammed on songs for a long time at those early shows. There were songs that went on for 15 minutes, like “Catch the Rainbow.” That changed the rules in the late ‘60s and ‘70s for what was happening in pop music. He was the grandfather of all that stuff.
What do you think he likes in a bass player?
A good sense of time and rhythm are first, but he wrote some complicated stuff, so you have to be able to execute that too. And I would say you better know the song and all its parts because [even though arrangements changed over the years] he may say, “We’re going to put that back in.” Don’t overlook anything. But feel loose about playing. Time and feel are probably most important to him.