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Ritchie Blackmore created classic rock in its purest form with Deep Purple and the unjustly underrated Rainbow. He had previously been a session player, which for decades was the ultimate stamp of musicianship. But more than even this, Blackmore is an immensely important innovator.

Hard Rock and Heavy Metal in the 70’s were heavily blue based, in fact, Heavy Metal was created accidentally by Led Zeppelin doing ham-fisted blues covers. Blackmore took his mastery of current guitar techniques and fused it with classic music. Suddenly previously unused scales like natural harmonic minor appeared in rock solos, techniques that included arpeggio sweep picking were now on the board, and 5ths were no longer used for just “power chords.”

Many lists of this type include Yngwie Malmsteen, one of the finest players out there, and one of the most influential for real rock guitarists. The thing is… Blackmore predated and influenced Malmsteen. The neo-classical style, the exclusive use of a Fender Stratocaster and clear, overdriven tone, the scalloped fretboard, the inappropriate black leather and bursts of petulance, yeah, its all Blackmore.

There is no neo-classical movement without him, and the neo-classical direction was one of the few things that wasn’t directly stolen from the blues or soul music. Blackmore sent a lot of guitar players to the woodshed over the years. Here’s his version of the Highway Star solo… and he stops in the middle to throw a bottle at someone.

In his later years, Blackmore veered more and more into folk and Spinal Tap territory, but his playing is undeniable.