© Kimmo Tattari


Nazareth frontman visits the Steel Mill

Interview By Ville Krannila & Kimmo Tattari / August 2008

Who could ever forget Nazareth? The originator of such heavy rock milestones as “Razamanaz” and “Hair Of The Dog”, the Scottish band are on tour as very special guests to Deep Purple and back stronger than ever having just recently released their first studio recording in 10 years. Nowadays, Nazareth have two original members, vocalist Dan McCafferty and bassist Pete Agnew, the band is augmented by Pete’s son Lee on drums and Jimmy Murrison on guitar. Dan McCafferty sat down with the Steel Mill in Helsinki and gave us an extensive interview on the legendary group’s past, their current album “The Newz” and other interesting issues such as the state of record business, drinking culture, whisky and live albums.

How’s the tour been going so far?

It’s been really great! We started off in January and at the end of this week we’ll do one show in Scotland. Then we’ll take a month off. And that’s the only time off the whole of this year. So it’s bit of a heavy schedule.

Do you play full shows on this tour?

Well, now we are opening for Deep Purple so we’re only doing one hour, but otherwise yes, full shows.

After 10 years of waiting we finally get to enjoy your new album “The Newz”. How was it to go back to the studio after such a long break?

Oh it was great! It was lots of fun because we had a bunch of great new material. The reason why we had such a long break was that record companies wanted us to make albums, but they just weren’t going to do anything with it. So we came across the Edel guys, and they said right off they wanted to promote the stuff. And you know, it’s not a case of money, it’s a case of wanting people to know about the album. It’s funny, I was talking to the Deep Purple guys, and they have the same problem, as big as they are. They are losing the albums somewhere. When you have released your album, you have to tell about it to the people, otherwise what’s the point?

Uriah Heep also released a new album recently after a 10-year break, they apparently also faced some problems with the record company…

Oh yes, I know. What happened to them was terrible. They are good pals of ours. They made the album (“Wake The Sleeper”) for our record company, and then it got bought over by another company. The original company was really keen on releasing it but this other one came along, and it just became difficult. So it’s taken them about year and a half to sort it out. It was horrible. You get stuck in these situations and it’s not anyone’s fault…so they were very frustrated. But these things happen.

How’s “The Newz” been doing so far?

Pretty good actually. It has sold really well. We are not a sort of band who’s suddenly just going to shoot straight up to the charts, you know. But the albums are selling well and that’s good. And it’s getting released at different times. It came out in Europe late spring, early summer. And it just came out in Canada and the States a few weeks ago. And around this time, by the way, would be our 40th anniversary tour so we are trying to play every place. It’s hard to go all around the world but we try. It takes a while.

© Kimmo Tattari

The band has been active during the 10 year break though, am I right?

Oh yeah, we did lots of shows. But you have to realize that very few people actually get to hear your stuff, mainstream radio today doesn’t really play rock’n’roll. There are very few classic rock stations in Europe. So it’s down to actually website people like you and maybe an odd rock show that’s on at 3 o’clock in the morning. Music for dopers…(laughs)

There’s been somewhat revived interest in classic rock bands during the last few years though…

I think what’s happened is “what goes around, comes around.” What you have now are all these boy bands, arctic monkeys or whatever, and it’s basically pop music that’s guitar driven.

And traditional bands like Priest and Deep Purple, people have been listening to that and developed their own thing. So it’s brought back interest. The same with Judas Priest, I mean when was the last time you heard a Priest song on the radio?

What kills me is that year after year Metallica wins the MTV heavy rock award, yet you never see Metallica on MTV! So it comes and goes.

We noticed that the whole band is credited for all songs. How was the writing process? Did you all jam together and create the songs that way?

On some of the songs yes, but on lot of others someone would come in with an idea, Jimmy or Pete or myself or the two of us. And we’d take it further, see where it goes. Everybody liked that way of working and it turned out really well. The young producer Yann Rouiller was very helpful too. It was a very happy album to make, really fun. Everyone liked all the songs.

How long did it take to record the whole thing?

Six weeks actually from start to finish. Yann did have to do couple of remixes afterwards but nowadays that’s very easy, you can go in and retune something through computer and do it very quickly.

I don’t understand these bands who take years to record albums when the songs are there, because all you have to do is get the feel on the record. Although that’s the hardest part. I mean you can play the songs but to get the feeling on it, that’s a bit difficult.

I understand that there were a bunch of songs that you left out from the album. Will they be heard as B-sides on the singles?

Well, there’s more ideas but we didn’t really finish them off. Besides there’s no such thing as a “b-side” anymore..

Speaking about singles, is it true that “Love Hurts” was originally meant to be just a b-side? lovehurts

Yeah that’s true. On the European version of the album (“Hair Of The Dog”), there’s a song called “Guilty” which was the single and “Love Hurts” was going to be a B-side for that. And I think it was Jerry Moss at the A&M who said “No, that’s a hit single, that’s going on the album” – and thank god he did! You see in those days it was about the same as it is today, you couldn’t get any of your songs on the radio. But “Love Hurts” was something they could play, and they did.

You never know these things when you are actually writing and recording them, am I right?

Yes, you never know. You are just making music. And when the record’s coming out, it’s just the case of what tastes best.

Do you ever find it boring or dull to play the “must be played” hit songs such as “Love Hurts” “Hair Of The Dog” or “Razamanaz”? Would you prefer playing songs that aren’t heard so often, a bit more rare material?

No we don’t really, because there are different people in the audience every night. If it was the same crowd every night, then yes, but otherwise no. You know, you got to be sensible about this. Because if we come to Helsinki and we don’t play “Love Hurts” we’re going to piss people off. And you don’t want a bunch of Helsinki people pissed off at you! I mean I’ve seen these people drinking and they get violent..(laughs)

So that’s why people buy the ticket, they buy it because of things like “Love Hurts” and “Razamanaz” and “Hair Of The Dog” and others, so you have to play these songs.

© Kimmo Tattari

And in between those you can also slip in some new and rare material…

Yeah, on this tour we have been playing four new ones from “The Newz” but we are only going to do two tonight, because it’s not a full set.

We really hope “See Me” is included…

Well, it’s not actually. But we’ll probably play that one next year. Again it depends on how the album does, it’s hard sometimes.

You had a film crew in the studio. Can we expect some sort of “making of” documentary some day?

Well, it was a “making of”, yes, but it was this company who was going to do it, and then, like I said, they got bought over by another one. So it’s kind of sitting on the table right now, but hopefully it’ll come out. It’ll be interesting for the fans, I think. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a full DVD or anything but it’ll be interesting for those who care about the studio process.

There are many bands originating from the seventies today, like Blue Öyster Cult and Foreigner, for example, who don’t release new material at all, but just concentrate on touring – when and why did you decide it’s time for a new album?

It was always obvious to us we wanted to do more records. I mean your past is your past, and it’s there anyway. You have to live with it. But we prefer to make new music – I’m a record buyer and I’m not going to buy the new Eagles compilation or whatever everyone else is buying. Because you already have “Hotel California” you’d want some new stuff.

Some bands don’t think anyone wants to hear the new stuff, but I don’t think that’s true at all. It’s like your live show, 50 % of it are the songs you have to play but the other 50 % you can do new stuff or something you haven’t done for a long time. You can mix it up, and it keeps you thinking as well, instead of just going on auto-pilot.

So what do you think about the current state of the record business?

Well, I think the record companies are boring, to be honest. Because they weren’t paying attention to the music at all, they thought it was just a phase or something. The thing that annoys me is that there just aren’t enough of record companies today. There’s just a few huge enterprises that own everything.

And if they got Beyoncé and Blue Öyster Cult, who do you think is going to get the promotion? That is a bit sad. And it’s the accountants who run these things today, it’s got nothing to do with music anymore.

Do you think it’s possible anymore to have a 40-year career like yours?

Well, yes I do. If you are keen enough and prepared to stick together and go through some rough times. Lots of bands do that, obviously you need luck and it’s hard work. You have to work hard and a lot of people don’t like to do that anymore. Once you get to a certain age you don’t bother.

You also need good songs and albums..

Yeah, the whole thing starts and ends with the songs. But with the albums, you see that’s changing as well. When I was a kid and went to buy an album, I wanted to hear the whole thing. Because there usually was a thread that ran through the whole record, an atmosphere. But nowadays, it’s “track one” or “track four” and they don’t care about the album. So it kind of messes it up somewhere. But that’s how it is.

In the future, you and Pete can be heard on Roger Glover’s solo album as well. Could you tell us something about that?

They sent us this song (“The Dream I Had”) and Roger produced three of our albums back in the day so he knows we can sing together and it creates a different sound. It’s a good song actually. So hopefully we’ll get to do it by the end of this summer. If there’s time and place to do it. Because it’s one of these things where we’ll be over there and he’ll be on tour in Japan or something. So we’ll have to send our cut to him and so forth. But the song’s really good and interesting.

Like you said, Roger produced a few albums for you back in the 70’s…

Yeah, he was up to see us recently in Switzerland and came to visit. He’s a nice lad, a good friend of mine. He’s also a great producer, he gets the best out of you.

Roger also produced Judas Priest’s “Sin After Sin”- album around the same time. Did you meet the Priest guys at any point?

Well, we crossed paths with boys on airports and things. But we never actually played with them. They were a nice bunch of lads though.

Gibson recently presented their Jimmy Murrison Les Paul guitar. Do you know how many guitars they have made and where they can be bought?

I don’t know, it just came out this summer. I don’t even know if it’s on sale yet. Gibson are doing student models, based on the same ideas. But I know Jimmy’s very pleased with it. And why shouldn’t he, hey a guitar named after you! Getting a signature guitar especially from Gibson, that’s really something.

© Ville Krannila

Nazareth also now contains two generations of players with Pete’s son Lee Agnew on drums, how’s that been working out?

It’s been good, you know Lee’s played with a lot of bands and at the time he wasn’t working so it was a natural thing. Bands have a tendency to come together because you have to eat, and pay the rent…(laughs) So first Lee would work with us as the drum tech for Darrel (Sweet) and when he died, Lee was a natural choice. I mean we couldn’t have stood for auditions or things like that, it would have been strange somehow.

And Lee was one of Darrel’s favourite drummers anyway. Lee’s young and listens to every drummer in the world, he keeps learning new things all the time. Which is great because it’s good for us, it gets us off our asses as well. So at the moment we are a very happy band. We are getting along well and everybody’s up for the band. I mean if you’re playing rock’n’roll you got to have an ego anyway, but with us no one’s ego is getting in the way of each other.

Dan, what’s the secret behind your voice? You still sound exactly the same you’ve always sounded, how do you do it?

Well, I don’t have any secret, I just don’t worry about it. I think too many singers are paranoid with their voices – “it’s too smoky,” “it’s too cold” or whatever. But I’ve just been lucky I guess. I just don’t worry about it, if it goes tomorrow it goes. So why worry about it?

A while ago in “Whisky Magazine” Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep) told that they are friends of Scotch Single Malt whisky. What is your relationship with this widely know Scottish product?

I can’t drink whisky. I mean I love the taste of it but it gives me some strange Scottish blister! It just don’t agree with me at all. I can’t drink it. It’s funny because my oldest son has a wife who is a manager in a whisky company so I could get all the free whisky in the world! (laughs).

In the same magazine, Ian and Bernie were telling about the drinking culture in the rock business; earlier people used to get wasted whenever they could but now they tend to take it easier…have you noticed the change during these 40 years?

Well there is a drinking culture in this business. It’s not as wild for us anymore because we aren’t youngsters! (laughs) Hangovers have gotten worse, in the old days you used to have them and that was it, but nowadays you just try to avoid them. What’s weird about the rock business is that you really can’t drink before you go on stage. You can have a couple of drinks but that’s it. So when you come off, that’s when you turn off. That’s when you relax, but you see it’s usually 1 o’clock in the morning so you sit up and have a few drinks.

And when you come off stage you are so pumped up with adrenaline, you really cannot just go straight to bed. But we were never the sort of band that used to have wild after-show parties, we just kind hung around ourselves and with bands that we played with. I mean there are lots of myths, lots of things I got accused of but didn’t do. And fortunately didn’t, because I’d be dead!

Did you ever play with the wild man Ozzy Osbourne?

No but we played with Black Sabbath many, many years ago. And the last time I played with anyone from Sabbath was with Tony Iommi, we did a thing in Russia, with a Russian band. We did “Hair Of The Dog” with them and Tony did “Iron Man”, I think. So that was the last time I’ve seen Tony. But he’s still looking good and playing great.

Guns’n’Roses did a great version of “Hair Of The Dog” on their covers album (“The Spaghetti Incident” 1993)…

Yeah, I think it was a great version too. I was really pleased with that.

These cover versions also bring positive attention towards Nazareth..

Yes of course it does because all the Guns’n’Roses fans go “Oh what is this, I think I’ll go and check these guys out too.” It didn’t hurt us at all.

Are there many new young fans in the Nazareth audience these days?

Yes, there are. I never sort of realized that during the last five, six, seven years maybe there’s a lot of young people coming along. I think it’s a case of great music is great music. And there’s so much MTV going on, so much bling-bling, everybody’s beautiful – even the guys are beautiful. And the ordinary bloke in the street is going: “That’s not me, I don’t know anyone who looks like that!” So they are looking for something they can relate to, something that’s ugly and sweaty (laughs). A bit more rock’n’roll. So I think that’s what’s happening, youngsters are just looking for something real. Real music as opposed to whatever’s on air these days.

© Kimmo Tattari

If you had to choose, what would be your favourite Nazareth album and why? Bands usually say their new one is the best…

Well, of course they do because it’s the last thing you did. I don’t know really. I’ve liked them all at the time, to be honest. I would have never put them out if I didn’t like them.

“Malice In Wonderland” is one of our favourites…

Yeah I love that album. That’s one of the things we kind of prided ourselves on, we didn’t do “son of Razamanaz” or “son of Loud ‘n’Proud” you know. We did that so we wanted to do something else. But you like them all at the time, it’s easy 20 years later to look back and go “oh that was a bit rough.” That’s 20 years along and technology has moved on, sound has moved along. When I listen to our old albums, which is not often, actually, there’s something wonderfully naive about them. Something really raw, that’s really hard to get. And that’s what we were trying to get with “The Newz” – we were trying to achieve that sort of rawness.

Some of those classic albums sound better than the ones made today because they are simpler.

Yes, you don’t need eight million overdubs on them. That’s what we did with “The Newz” as well. OK, there’s a couple of guitar overdubs but that’s it. Instead of layers and layers of stuff. I remember someone like Lenny Kravitz used to go for that 1970’s sound and get 42 guitar tracks on it! He managed to make it sound good but it was weird.

And live albums receive their share of unnecessary overdubs as well..

It’s like we did that “Live In Brazil” thing last year and it went to number one in Brazil – and that was because it was a genuine live album. That was the show, as it was. And I think that was it, because you can’t fool people.

Will that album be out in Europe as well?

Yeah, I suppose it’s coming out. You can get it from the website or Amazon or any of those places. It’s a good album. I mean we did that record and the next thing we hear it was out, they sent us a mix of it and there were about seven things where we went “well, that’s a mistake” because it was a genuine bunk.

Thanks a lot, Dan!

Nazareth on the web:

Where from: Scotland
Active: Late 60’s ->
Style: classsic hard rock
Discography (studio albums): Nazareth (1971), Excercises (1972), Razamanaz (1973), Loud ‘n’ Proud (1974), Rampant (1974), Hair Of The Dog (1975), Close Enough For Rock ‘n’ Roll (1976), Play ‘n’ The Game (1976), Expect No Mercy (1977), No Mean City (1979), Malice In Wonderland (1980), The Fool Circle (1981), 2XS (1982), Sound Elixir (1983), The Catch (1984), Cinema (1986), Snakes ‘n’ Ladders (1989), No Jive (1991), Move Me (1994), Boogaloo (1998), The Newz (2008)
Essential releases (top5):
Razamanaz (1973)

Nazareth’s 3rd album, released in 1973, produced by Roger Glover, finally paved their way to a big success. ‘Broken Down Angel’ and ‘Bad, Bad Boy’ made their way to UK Top Ten for weeks, and the title track ‘Razamanaz’ has been in Nazareth’s setlist for years. Also check excellent ‘Sold My Soul’.

Hair Of The Dog (1975)

There’s not a single weak track on this album, maybe Nazareth’s best releaseever. Along the brutal title, track two excellent covers ‘Guilty’ (Randy Newman) and ‘Beggar’s Day’ (Nils Lofgren) are included. In the US version, a 3rd cover ‘Love Hurts’ replaced ‘Guilty, and it soon became a massive hit worldwide. ‘Love Hurts’ is also one of the first powerballads in the history of hard rock.

Malice In Wonderland (1980)

The second album from Nazareth featuring two guitarists as Zal Cleminson from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band had joined the classical McCafferty-Charlton-Agnew-Sweet lineup a couple of years earlier. Produced by Jeff Baxter (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan) in the Bahamas, this great album is a step towards AOR, especially compared to the bands earlier works.

The Fool Circle (1981)

Released in early 1981, Nazareth was again a 4-man-band as Zal Cleminson had left the band. This album is packed with catchy tunes like ‘Dressed To Kill’, ‘Pop The Silo’ and ‘Let Me Be Your Leader’. It also contains a great live version of J.J. Cale’s ‘Cocaine’.

No Jive (1991)

Here the original lineup was broken as guitarist Billy Rankin replaced Manny Charlton. After a ‘drier season’ of some 5 albums, this one can be considered as a really strong comeback. ‘Every Time It Rains’ is a great example of Rankin’s songwriting, and ‘Tell Me That You Love Me’ is, again, good old quality Nazareth.