ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 7, 2001
By Steve Newton
Nineteen seventy-three was a wicked year for rock—or maybe it just seemed that way ’cause I was 16. Aerosmith and Blue Oyster Cult released self-titled debuts, ZZ Top and Black Sabbath reached the pinnacles of their recording careers with Tres Hombres and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way From Memphis” was the coolest thing I’d ever heard on the radio.
But a newish quartet from Scotland named Nazareth had it over most bands in ’73, because they managed to release two LPs that year, both produced by Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover. In May, Razamanaz quickly became the 8-track of choice for cruising the Chilliwack strip, and six months later Loud N’ Proud took over. At that point there was no finer noise to be heard in the valley than the Scottish ear-busters’ rampaging remake of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”.
Considering how many radio hits Nazareth scored in the ’70s—including the ’75 pair of “Hair of the Dog” and “Love Hurts”—you’d think the band could just sit back and live comfortably off the royalties from steady airplay on today’s classic-rock stations. But when that thought is put to founding vocalist Dan McCafferty at a Virginia hotel, he says Nazareth doesn’t have much interest in sitting around home waiting for the mail to arrive. The band’s always been about touring, and that hasn’t changed. “I think what’s made the band as popular as we are is because we do play so much,” he concurs, “and people think we’re a good night out.”
Nazareth was formed in Dunfermline, Scotland, in ’69, and up until a couple of years ago, three of its original members—McCafferty, bassist Pete Agnew, and drummer Darryl Sweet—were still hanging in there. But at the age of 53, Sweet—who took the lowly cowbell to new heights of riff-rock splendour on “Hair of the Dog”—died of a massive heart attack when the group was kicking off yet another round of intensive touring. “We were just sittin’ on the bus,” recalls McCafferty, “and one minute he was fine, and the next minute he was dead. It was that quick, you know.”
Not the types to be derailed by death, Nazareth recruited Agnew’s son Lee, who’d been Sweet’s drum tech, to take his place. With guitarist Johnny Murrison and keyboardist Ronny Leahy rounding things out, the current lineup does its best to give die-hard ’70s-rock fans what they want. “Half of our set is spoken for, really,” notes McCafferty. “We have to play ‘Razamanaz’, we have to do ‘Hair of the Dog’, ‘Love Hurts’, ‘Beggar’s Day’—or people would just go ‘Boo!’, you know.”
While still-touring warhorses like Nazareth, April Wine, and Blue Oyster Cult are viewed by some as dinosaurs that would be better off extinct, McCafferty isn’t too concerned about his band’s lack of hipness; neither is he put off by having to play endless small towns, like my old stomping grounds of Chilliwack, where the group performs next Thursday (June 14) at Area 51.
“That’s just a fact of life,” he says, “the flavour of the month comes and goes.” And what does the gravelly-voiced rock veteran think about today’s most popular flavours? “To be honest with ya, there’s not a whole bunch [of bands] out there that I really like. I mean, all the Korns and that kinda thing, it’s all very angry for me, I’m afraid. I don’t know what they’re pissed off about, but they seem to be pissed off about something.”