RAINBOW (1975–84). Classic lineup: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Jimmy Bain (bass), Cozy Powell (drums), Tony Carey (keyboards).
Formed in 1975 by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, Rainbow was a vehicle that let him explore his musical ideas outside of the democratic confines of his former band. Along with main collaborator vocalist Ronnie James Dio from the band Elf—whose penchant for medieval and mythical imagery seemed to match his own—Blackmore developed Rainbow into a successful rock group whose reputation and success were only overshadowed by his former group.
The first Rainbow album featured the entire Elf lineup minus guitarist David Feinstein (who would go on to front the heavy metal power trio The Rods). Quickly a hit in Europe, the album featured the classic “Man on the Silver Mountain,” and established the band’s—and Dio’s—reputation. Dio was a fundamentally different kind of vocalist than Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan or David Coverdale, with an extended range and an operatic style, albeit with the edge required by heavy rock.
Revamping the lineup for 1976, Rainbow’s Rising album fulfilled Dio and Blackmore’s potential and found both at the peak of their powers, with Blackmore’s neoclassical innovations and Dio’s fantasy lyrics complementing each other. The band supported the album with a world tour, during which the live On Stage, released in 1977, was recorded.
By 1978, tensions and musical difference between Dio and Blackmore led to Dio’s leaving the band to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. Pursuing a more mainstream approach on 1979’s Down to Earth, Rainbow now featured the leather-lunged Graham Bonnet, but despite two hit singles, the album performed poorly and Bonnet was sacked after a single gig at the Donnington festival.
The next version of Rainbow was even more mainstream and featured American vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. Thanks to the single “I Surrender,” the 1981 album Difficult to Cure was a success, even charting in the U.S., where Rainbow had been trying to make progress. Blackmore’s bid for U.S. acceptance, however, contributed to generally weaker albums, and two more albums failed to generate much excitement, and when a Deep Purple reunion was in the offing in 1984, Blackmore pulled the plug on the band, later founding the medieval folk group Blackmore’s Night after ending his run with Purple.
Discography: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (Polydor, 1975); Rising (Polydor, 1976); On Stage (Polydor, 1977); Long Live Rock ’n’ Roll (Polydor, 1978); Down to Earth (Polydor, 1979); Difficult to Cure (Polydor, 1981); Straight Between the Eyes (Mercury, 1982); Bent Out of Shape (Mercury, 1983); Live in Munich 1977 (Eagle, 2006); Rainbow Rising/Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (Polydor, 1980); The Best of Rainbow (Polydor, 1981); Final Vinyl [live] (Mercury, 1986); Live Between the Eyes (Pony Canyon, 1996); All Night Long: An Introduction (Polydor, 2002); Catch the Rainbow: The Anthology (Polydor, 2003); Rainbow Box (Universal, 2007).