By 1973, Blackmore had steered Deep Purple through a significant personnel change, with Ian Gillan and Roger Glover being replaced by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes. However, the new members were keen to add musical styles and Blackmore found his request to record the Steve Hammond-penned "Black Sheep of the Family" with "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" turned down by the band. He decided to record the song with Dio instead, using Dio's band Elf as musicians. He enjoyed the results, and a full album, billed as Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow was recorded between February and March 1975 at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. The band name was inspired by the Rainbow Bar and Grill in West Hollywood, California.
Rainbow's music was partly inspired by classical music since Blackmore started playing cello to help him construct interesting chord progressions, and Dio wrote lyrics about medieval themes. Dio possessed a powerful and versatile vocal range that encompassed hard rock and lighter ballads. Blackmore reported, "I felt shivers down my spine." Although Dio never played a musical instrument on any Rainbow album, he is credited with writing and arranging the music with Blackmore, in addition to writing all the lyrics. Blackmore and Dio also found a common ground in their sense of humour. Rainbow, said the singer, "was my opportunity to show my wares. I thank Ritchie for that all the time. Ritchie Blackmore is the one who gave me my opportunity to show what I was worth."
Following the positive experience of recording with Dio, Blackmore decided to leave Deep Purple, playing his last show with them in Paris in April. The album met a positive critical reception and was a top 20 UK and top 30 US hit. Blackmore's departure from Purple was announced on 21 June.
First world tour and initial success (1975–1978)
Blackmore was unhappy about carrying the Elf line-up along for live performances, and so he fired everybody except Dio shortly after the album was recorded, due to Driscoll's style of drumming and the funky bass playing of Gruber. Blackmore would continue to dictate personnel for the remainder of the band's lifetime, with drummer and former bandmate Ricky Munro remarking "he was very difficult to get on with because you never knew when he would turn around and say 'You're sacked'." Blackmore recruited bassist Jimmy Bain, American keyboard player Tony Carey and drummer Cozy Powell, who had previously worked with Jeff Beck and had some solo success. Powell also greatly appealed to Blackmore in their mutual fondness for practical jokes.
This line-up also commenced the first world tour for the band, with the first date in Montreal on 10 November 1975. The centrepiece of the band's live performance was a computer-controlled rainbow including 3,000 lightbulbs, which stretched 40 feet across the stage. A second album, Rising, was recorded in February at Musicland. By the time of the European dates in the summer of 1976, Rainbow's reputation as a blistering live act had been established. The band added Deep Purple's "Mistreated" to their setlist, and song lengths were stretched to include improvisation. Carey recalls rehearsing the material was fairly straightforward, saying "We didn't work anything out, except the structure, the ending ... very free-form, really progressive rock." The album art was designed by American fantasy artist Ken Kelly, who had drawn Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian.
In August 1976, following a gig at Newcastle City Hall, Blackmore decided to fire Carey, believing his playing style to be too complicated for the band. Unable to find a suitable replacement quickly, Carey was quickly reinstated, but as the world tour progressed onto Japan, he found himself regularly being the recipient of Blackmore's pranks and humour. Blackmore subsequently decided that Bain was substandard and fired him in January 1977. The same fate befell Carey shortly after. Blackmore, however, had difficulty finding replacements he liked. On keyboards, after auditioning several high-profile artists, including Vanilla Fudge's Mark Stein, Procol Harum's Matthew Fisher and ex-Curved Air and Roxy Music man Eddie Jobson, Blackmore finally selected Canadian David Stone, from the little-known band Symphonic Slam. For a bass player, Blackmore originally chose Mark Clarke, formerly of Jon Hiseman's Colosseum, Uriah Heep and Tempest, but once in the studio for the next album, Long Live Rock 'n' Roll, Blackmore disliked Clarke's fingerstyle method of playing so much that he fired him on the spot and played bass himself on all but four songs: the album's title track, "Gates of Babylon", "Kill the King", and "Sensitive to Light". Former Widowmaker bassist Bob Daisley was hired to record these tracks, completing the band's next line-up.
After the release and extensive world tour in 1977–78, Blackmore decided that he wanted to take the band in a new commercial direction away from the "sword and sorcery" theme. Dio did not agree with this change and left Rainbow.
In a 1979 interview with Sounds (magazine), Blackmore said:
"If they were good enough, they'd still be in the band. I'm not putting down the other members who were in the band, but no-one has ever left Rainbow. It's a fact. Not a confrontation just, well you didn't quite make it, you'll have to do other things.
"Ronnie is a very good singer- I still like him- but he was becoming very lackadaisical. I'm sure if he were here now he would argue the point, but the fact is, Ronnie was not contributing what he should have done, and he knows that. For the last two years I would put down the riff, the progressions, give him the basic melody and he would write the lyrics. I found that in the past year he wasn't really doing that. He was bitching about the fact that it was Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. And I'm going, look, I've tried after three years to make it just Rainbow, not my Rainbow.
"When people leave the band we don't give too many reasons because we don't want to hinder their career. But if someone's not pulling their weight then I will not put up with someone who's second rate. I'm not going to jump onstage and say 'it's alright ladies and gentlemen, I know they're not very good but they are my friends' like most bands do.
"A couple of people in the band were taking quite a few drugs and consequently were falling asleep while they were playing because they'd been partying all night. I gave them the sack. It's incredible how those people react. They say 'how dare he do that to me?' But what have they got to offer other than looking the part?"
Commercial success (1978–1984)
Blackmore asked Ian Gillan, also formerly of Deep Purple, to replace Dio, but Gillan turned him down. After a series of auditions, Graham Bonnet, former singer/guitarist of The Marbles, was recruited. Powell stayed, but Daisley was fired, and David Stone quit the band to be replaced by keyboardist Don Airey. At first the band auditioned bass players, but at Cozy Powell's suggestion Blackmore hired another former Deep Purple member, Roger Glover, as a producer, bassist and lyricist. The first album from the new line-up, Down to Earth, featured the band's first major singles chart successes, "All Night Long" and the Russ Ballard-penned "Since You Been Gone". In 1980, the band headlined the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in England. However, this was Powell's last Rainbow gig: he had already given his notice to quit, disliking Blackmore's increasingly pop rock direction. Then Bonnet resigned to pursue a solo project.
For the next album, Bonnet and Powell were replaced by Americans Joe Lynn Turner and Bobby Rondinelli, respectively. The title track from Difficult to Cure was a version of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The album spawned their most successful UK single, "I Surrender" (another Ballard song), which reached No.3. After the supporting tour, Don Airey quit over musical differences and was replaced by David Rosenthal.
The band attained significant airplay on Album-oriented rock radio stations in the US with the track "Jealous Lover", reaching No. 13 on Billboard Magazine's Rock Tracks chart. Originally issued as the B-side to "Can't Happen Here", "Jealous Lover" subsequently became the title track to an EP issued in the US that featured similar cover art to Difficult to Cure.
Rainbow's next full-length studio album was Straight Between the Eyes. The album was more cohesive than Difficult to Cure, and had more success in the United States. The band, however, was alienating some of its earlier fans with its more AOR sound. The single "Stone Cold" was a ballad that had some chart success (No. 1 on Billboard Magazine's Rock Tracks chart) and its video received heavy airplay on MTV. The successful supporting tour skipped the UK completely and focused on the American market. A date in San Antonio, Texas, on this tour was filmed, and the resulting "Live Between the Eyes" also received repeated showings on MTV.
Bent Out of Shape saw drummer Rondinelli fired in favour of former Balance drummer Chuck Burgi. The album featured the single "Street of Dreams". Blackmore claims on his website that the song's video was banned by MTV for its supposedly controversial hypnotic video clip, but Dr. Thomas Radecki of the National Coalition on Television Violence criticised MTV for airing the video, contradicting Blackmore's claim. The resulting tour saw Rainbow return to the UK, and also to Japan in March 1984 where the band performed "Difficult to Cure" with a full orchestra. The concert was also filmed.
Dissolution and temporary revival (1984–1997)
Rainbow's management Thames Talent co-ordinated attempts to successfully reform Deep Purple MK. II. By April 1984, Rainbow was disbanded. A then-final Rainbow album, Finyl Vinyl, was pieced together from live tracks and B-sides of singles, including the instrumental "Weiss Heim" (All Night Long B-side), "Bad Girl" (Since You Been Gone B-side), and "Jealous Lover" (Can't Happen Here B-side).
In 1988, after joining the band Impelliteri, Graham Bonnet covered "Since You Been Gone" on the group's debut album, Stand In Line.
In 1993 Blackmore left Deep Purple permanently due to "creative differences" with other members, and reformed Rainbow with all-new members featuring Scottish singer Doogie White. The band released Stranger in Us All in 1995, and embarked on a lengthy world tour.
The tour proved successful, and the show in Düsseldorf, Germany, was professionally filmed for the Rockpalast TV show. This show, initially heavily bootlegged (and considered by many collectors to be the best Rainbow bootleg of the era), was officially released by Eagle Records on CD and DVD as Black Masquerade in 2013. The live shows featured frequent changes in set lists, and musical improvisations that proved popular with bootleggers and many shows are still traded over a decade later.
However, Blackmore turned his attention to his long-time musical passion, Renaissance and medieval music. Rainbow was put on hold once again after playing its final concert in Esbjerg, Denmark in 1997. Blackmore, together with his partner Candice Night as vocalist then formed the Renaissance-influenced Blackmore's Night. Around the same time as production of Stranger in Us All (1995), they were already gearing up their debut album Shadow of the Moon (1997).
Many Rainbow songs have been performed live by former members of the band since the group's split in 1984 and then in 1997, particularly former frontmen Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner in recent years. Also, Don Airey often plays 1979-1981 era songs during his solo shows. Blackmore's Night occasionally performs one or two Rainbow songs live, namely "Ariel", "Rainbow Eyes", "Street of Dreams" and "Temple of the King". The latter three were also re-recorded by Blackmore's Night in studio.
In 2002–2004 the Hughes Turner Project played a number of Rainbow songs at their concerts. On 9 August 2007 Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnet played a tribute to Rainbow show in Helsinki, Finland. The concert consisted of songs from the 1979-1983 era.
In 2009, Joe Lynn Turner, Bobby Rondinelli, Greg Smith and Tony Carey created the touring tribute band Over The Rainbow with Jürgen Blackmore (Ritchie's son) as the guitarist. Over The Rainbow performed songs from every era of the band's history. After the first tour Tony Carey had to leave the band due to health concerns; he was replaced by another former Rainbow member, Paul Morris.
In 2015, Blackmore announced that he would play "all rock" concerts in the summer of 2016 under the banner of "Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow", his first rock shows since 1997. The new Rainbow line-up was announced on 6 November 2015. It featured Lords of Black singer Ronnie Romero, Stratovarius keyboardist Jens Johansson, Blackmore's Night drummer David Keith and bassist Bob Nouveau (Bob Curiano).
The band headlined German edition of the "Monsters of Rock" festival. They debuted on 17 June 2016 at Loreley Freilichtbuhne, an open-air show in front of an audience of estimated 15,000. On 18 June they played another open-air gig for 30,000 fans in Bietigheim-Bissingen (Festplatz am Viadukt). The third and final show took place at the Birmingham Genting Arena in England.
Asked if Rainbow were planning to record a new album, bassist Bob Curiano replied, "I'd love to go into the studio with this Rainbow. All we need is Ritchie to say, 'Let's go!' I think all of us feel under pressure, because of the fans' expectations. For me, the pressure makes me work harder and get better results." However, Blackmore said that they had no plans for a new album or world tour, and that the reunion was "just a few dates for fun." Blackmore also said that Rainbow have received many offers to do "few more shows again" in the future.
Despite an earlier decision not to release new music, Blackmore revealed in a May 2017 interview with Burrn! magazine that Rainbow have been in the studio recording two new tracks. Blackmore stated, "I wrote one new song, and also recorded one of the old ones. Ronnie, who is in Madrid now, added his vocals and sent it back. Rather than make an album, we may release as singles."
Rainbow embarked on a four-date UK tour in June 2017. It kicked off with the band's first show in London since 1995 at the second annual Stone Free Festival at The O2, followed by shows in Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham.
Rainbow released the live album Memories in Rock II (Live) in 2018, which chronicles a live show in Germany. However, the final track, "Waiting For A Sign," is a studio track recorded with the current band lineup. This recording marks Rainbow's first new studio recording in 23 years.
The band played five dates in April 2018, at Moscow, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Berlin, and Prague. The shows were well-attended, with Helsinki a sell-out. The set-list again varied from night-to-night, with an almost 50/50 selection of Rainbow and Deep Purple songs.