Whether it’s music, sports, or any other entity consisting of individuals who combine to form an ensemble, raking their place is history is often a challenge, particularly when trying to figure out when one version ends and a new one begins. Take basketball’s Boston Celtics, for instance – the 1984 version. The starting five consisted of Larry Bird and Cedrix Maxwell at forward, Robert Parish at center, Dennis Johnson and Gerald Henderson in the backcourt, and top man off the bench Kevin McHale. They won the championship that year. A quick two years later, they won it again: same lineup, except Maxwell and Henderson were gone, replaced by McHale and Danny Ainge, respectively. And the top man off the bench in ’86 was Bill Walton. Two teams, similar yet different, both great. Yet some historians feel limited in ranking both – thinking they are restricted to choosing only one version from “that era.”
Turning now to rock and roll, the same dilemma exists with the bands Deep Purple and Rainbow. The former, one of the most influential groups in the history of rock music, and along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath the bona fide founders of the hard rock genre, during their most glorious peak consisted of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, lead singer Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, organist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice. When Blackmore left the band (the first time, that is – tallying all the lineup changes here would distract from the main point), he formed Rainbow. Eventually, Glover would join the band, too – and so much like the Celtics, the question remained: can Rainbow be considered a standalone band – or will they forever be characterized a Deep Purple offshoot? In attempting to answer that question, comparing Rainbow to Deep Purple head on, and concluding – as most would – that Deep Purple prevails in that comparison, is not helpful. Rather, a better way to look at it might be: what if Deep Purple never existed? How would Rainbow rank among some of the all-time rock bands of the 70s and 80s? Answer: pretty high. And for that reason, we should take note when one of its former members begins to clamor about a Rainbow reunion at a more-than-occasional rate.
STEVE MORSE IS NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…
And Ritchie Blackmore is over Rainbow…Rainbow…Rainbow…and has been, for a very long time. Or is he? After leaving Deep Purple for good in 1993, replaced by Kansas guitarist Steve Morse, he reformed Rainbow, this time with Doogie White on lead vocals. The band’s first three singers were Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnett, and Joe Lynn Turner. The next thing you know, Blackmore’s longtime girlfriend (now wife) Candice Night is singing backup vocals with the band, and suddenly Rainbow is no more, and Ritchie and Candice have a new group called, appropriately enough, Blackmore’s Night. Enter the new generation of Blackmores – Ritchie’s son, Jurgen “JR” Blackmore, who purportedly with Dad’s blessing, joined Turner and a gaggle of former Rainbow members to form Over the Rainbow.
But now, Turner has been making news lately, that a Rainbow reunion just might be in the works – and he has the inside track for the lead vocal slot. Dio tragically succumbed to cancer in 2010. Bonnett – who only appeared on one Rainbow album – but a brilliant one it was – Down to Earth, never quite meshed with Blackmore. The logical choice would be Turner or White, and Turner has the better track record with Blackmore. When Gillan left Deep Purple (the second time…I told you, LOTS of lineup changes…), Blackmore quickly brought in Turner, who had a tough time handling the Herculean task of replacing the quintessential voice of the band. But Ritchie brought Turner in again, in 2006, as a guest vocalist for Blackmore’s Night’s cover of the Rainbow song “Street of Dreams,” which Turner sang originally. The other member of that vocal duet? Candice Night, of course.
SAY IT AIN’T JOE, SO?
Which is why if there is a Rainbow reunion, Turner looks like he’d be the odds-on favorite – with ample time on vocals for Candice, too. Doogie White, though, would be the better fit.
Don’t get me wrong – enthusiasm counts for a lot, and it seems that no one is more excited about this happening than Turner. And for that alone, he deserves to be standing at the mic. His music was good, too. Very good. It’s hard to imagine any other Rainbow singer handling “Can’t Happen Here,” “Stone Cold,” and “Can’t Let You Go” like Turner. But those pop 80s tunes, good though they were, do not exemplify the best of Rainbow. That was mostly in the Dio years, and with that one great album with Bonnett. White’s voice is more versatile than Turner’s. It has more depth for songs like “Temple of the King,” “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves,” “Stargazer,” “Gates of Babylon,” and “A Light in the Black.”
Unfortunately, the real odds-on favorite remains: no reunion at all. Ritchie continues to make delightful medieval minstrel music with Candice, and Gillan and the boys over in Purpleville zero in on their 50th anniversary, happy to be in their post-Blackmore golden years. But, as Turner says, with Ritchie, who knows?
And maybe the band can really live up to its name, and invite a Rainbow of singers to join the fun. Why not have Bonnett, Turner, and White all share the stage with Candice Night in round robin fashion? Less wear and tear on their voices in the long run.
Finally, speaking of comparisons, the longest of all longshots is Blackmore and Purple ever sharing the same stage again. Compared to that, a Rainbow reunion is as good as in the bag.