Best known for the gargantuan riff at the heart of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," Ritchie Blackmore helped define heavy-metal guitar by mixing intricate classical composition with raw-knuckled blues rock. "I found the blues too limiting, and classical was too disciplined," he said. "I was always stuck in a musical no man's land." Blackmore made waves on 1972's Machine Head; his solos on the boogie rocker "Highway Star" and "Lazy" remain models of metal pyrotechnics. He looked back toward early European music with his next band, Rainbow – even learning cello to write 1976's stomping "Stargazer" – and now explores Renaissance-style fingerpicking with Blackmore's Night. But it's his Deep Purple work that influenced a generation of handbangers. "Blackmore epitomized this fascination I had with the bare essence of rock & roll, this element of danger," says Metallica's Lars Ulrich. "Deep Purple, in their finest moments, were more unpredictable than Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin."
Key Tracks: "Smoke on the Water," "Highway Star," "Speed King"