Interview by Teresa Hopkins
When Graham Oliver (former guitarist of SAXON and currently with Oliver-Dawson SAXON) was asked to share his thoughts on Ritchie Blackmore, he was happy to do so and promised a few interesting stories. In his reply to my questions, he got right to it! Following are his own accounts of meeting and later touring with the celebrated guitar master.
“In 1976, I saw RAINBOW in Manchester. At that time, Steve Dawson and I had just invited Biff Byford to sing with our Band SOB. He brought in Paul Quinn to the band too, and later SOB was changed to SON OF A BITCH for a couple of years, then to SAXON.
“We were recording Wheels of Steel when on a night off, the band went to see GIRL at the Marquee in London (as we were in Ramport Studio, owned by The Who). The place was packed and I ended up standing right next to Ritchie Blackmore. I summed up the courage to say hello and shook hands with him, just as he was asked to the stage to jam with GIRL on the song “Born To Be Wild”.
“Next thing we were offered a tour with RAINBOW, and the first gig was at Deeside Leisure Centre [in Wales]. At this point, SAXON had just done the MÖTÖRHEAD tour to great reviews… The first gig went great, but we had no contact with the band. The second gig was Bingley Hall Stafford. Ritchie had his own dressing room next to ours… We found a hole in the wall and spied on him getting ready for his show. We did our set and killed ‘em. When we returned to the dressing room, Ritchie had a ritual of music played just before he went on stage playing: Jethro Tull, Hendrix, and the film music from the movie “Chariots of Fire”. Then, BAM!—they hit the stage. RAINBOW were fantastic, and Cozy‘s solo was awesome (Steve and I had played a gig in ’74 and met Cozy before, but he did not remember). We met the band, minus Ritchie, after the show. But the day after, we got canned from the tour. SAMSON replaced us as I recall.
“Donington came next… I took a shuttle bus to backstage to watch JUDAS PRIEST with Joe Elliott, who was there ligging. As I walked to the stage, a Mercedes car with black windows was parked nearby, and the window came down to a shout of “GRAHAM! GRAHAM!” I turned to look and I thought, “It’s fucking Ritchie Blackmore! He knew my name!” He called me over to the car and greeted me like a old mate. I was blown away! We talked about guitar, and he said he’d seen Hendrix at the IOW fest. He thanked me for a comment about him in a music mag, where I’d stated that he was a great influence, and I told him that the intro I wrote for “See The Light Shining” was inspired by the intro to the Live in Japan version of “Highway Star”. Ritchie laughed… “ripped me off,” I bet he said…
“We did the full tour in the USA with RAINBOW for Straight Between the Eyes. The first night I was playing “Strong Arm Of The Law”, and noticed Ritchie watching our band. After the show, he came in to our dressing room for a chat. He apologized for the UK shows that were canceled and said that it wasn’t personal—the management wanted another band, so it was a political [issue]. He then asked to see my left hand (I have a Tony Iommi injury and am missing part of my first finger). He poked my finger and said “I would never have known from watching you play!” WOW! What a compliment from the master!
“But Ritchie put his crew and band through it sometimes, demanding the whole back line be moved two inches, and then we were told NO WATER on stage at anytime. If you were in the dressing room when RAINBOW went on stage, you stayed in to the end—and if you were out, you stayed out to the end. Strange requests… One day at the hotel, we all went swimming, and out came Ritchie in his costume. Fergie, his tour manager and guitar tech, lowered him in to the pool where he swam about with us, but we were instructed not to splash him. Then they lifted him out. He never wet his hair.
“The next gig was in Lubbock, Texas. We played our show, and then I watched RAINBOW from the wings. Ritchie just walked of after 3 songs! He said to me, “Someone threw something, and I could lose an eye if it hit me.” He got straight in the car and was driven off while the band were still playing and knew nothing of his departure! Bobby Rondanelli gallantly played a solo, then quit as the audience were getting mad. We split in fear of a riot.
“After that the film crew came, and the concert movie was made of RAINBOW‘s show (they filmed SAXON too, but it never surfaced). We left the tour in Dallas and flew to the UK for the second Monsters of Rock in 1982, arriving the morning of the show, and returned to USA the day after to play in New York with Frank Marino.
“Ritchie is a stunning guitar player and songwriter. Rainbow Rising is just epic!”
So what’s new with Graham Oliver these days? For starters, he’s been doing a few shows with Uli Jon Roth, whom he emphasized “is a HUGE Blackmore fan!” Last year they performed Jimi Hendrix Night in Rome. Graham continues to perform and record along with Steve Dawson (Motorbiker, released in 2012, was their latest studio album). He said, “…we’ve had a real struggle to survive, but the music keeps our band focused as we love to perform the music we wrote. When I see forums of Top Ten SAXON songs, 8 out of 10 riffs are my riffs and songs.”
In January 2014, Oliver-Dawson SAXON performed in The Great British Rock and Blues Festival at Butlin’s in Skegness, UK, which Graham calls “a great indoor weekend bash”. He also mentioned that they have festival dates booked through the summer in Germany and in the UK. Due for release “with the best sounding band ever!” is Blood and Thunder Live with new vocalist Bri Shaughnessy and Paul Oliver on drums. It will feature some classic songs and new ones too. To all rock fans, Graham says, “Have a listen to ODS—and PLAY IT LOUD!”
Graham‘s Signature Vintage VS6 and V60 guitars are still available in signed limited edition at Ivor Mairants Musicenter: http://www.ivormairants.co.uk/vintage-vs6-graham-oliver-signature-electric-guitar-signed.html
Keep an eye out too for Saxon, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll: The Real Spinal Tap by Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson, soon to be released by Tomahawk Press.
Here are a few links that you can check from time to time to get any news about Graham and the gang. I asked him to keep us posted here at Metal Shock Finland as well.