The story of Nazareth
The band’s extensive gig schedule brought them to the attention of Pegasus Records, who released the bands debut album in late 1971.Nazareth, The Album was warmly received by the critics, it also had two singles taken from it ‘Dear John’ and ‘Morning Dew’ a brilliant song written by the lovely Bonnie Dobson (Canadian) although the American, Tim Rose is now well known to have stolen the writing credit and to Nazareth’s disgust continues to be credited on sleeve notes for their own recording of the song ‘Dear John’ made the top three in France whilst Morning Dew (although it never had a chance of being a hit single at 7 minutes long) became an instant cult hit in Germany – and this was enough to provide the band with a hectic European touring schedule throughout 1972. In America Warner Brothers picked up on ‘Morning Dew’ and its potential given that the song was written by respected American artist Tim Rose. But sales were poor and at the time Pete Agnew had a sneaking suspicion that this might have been something to do with some hatchet work done by Warners whose good intention was to make the single more radio-friendly: Pete: “It was a seven minute track and they cut it to three. I think Warner Brothers had someone editing for them who we thought must have been a deaf mute – they must have run the tape past him and at three-and-a- half second intervals he would hit it with an axe.”
Close Enough For Rock’n’Roll, Naz’s seventh album, came out in early 1976 and was their first on the Mountain label, as well as the first to be recorded in Canada. The opener ‘Telegram’ is a musical diary entry by a successful hard rock band who are growing a tad weary forever slogging it out on the road. The album achieved little in Britain – no big surprise there – but helped to consolidate Nazareth’s hold on Canada where they became one of the biggest British acts ever, notching up no less than fifty gold and platinum albums there during the 1970s. America also beckoned, big time, as their U.S. label A&M Records increasingly regarded them as a priority act. Mountain had the rights to the old material and naturally was determined to milk it for what it was worth. The Greatest Hits album was out in the shops in time for Christmas ’75 but didn’t chart. Play ‘N’ The Game was album number eight (not counting Greatest Hits) and was released in November 1976. It continued the pattern of doing next to nothing sales-wise in England (where, for a couple of years to come, punk rock’s cut-throat irreverence eclipsed most acts who dared to take their own music seriously) and yet sold shed-loads abroad, breaking Nazareth in South America. Sadly, it was around this time that the band lost their manager Bill Fehilly, who was killed in a plane crash. Bill, a Scottish bingo millionaire, was never a music-biz mentor and hustler in the Andrew Loog Oldham/Peter Grant mould, but from their 1971 debut album Nazareth onwards he kept on coming up with the readies – and even during the band’s tricky Exercises phase Bill remained unfazed. Pete and Dan are the first to acknowledge that without Bill Fehilly Nazareth would never have crossed the border to England, never mind the world. A year later in November 1977 came album number nine, Expect No Mercy, and a definite shift by Nazareth to the AOR market. Adult Oriented Rock was newly created around that time mainly by two bands – the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac with their monster Rumours album – and on songs like Manny Charlton’s ‘Shot Me Down’ you can hear a big Mac influence. Typical of eclectic Nazareth is a funky 12-bar version of the Ray Charles’ classic ‘Busted’, and an equally strong cover of Randy Newman’s ‘Gone Dead Train’ from the album reached number 49 in the singles charts. The other single ‘Place In Your Heart’ got no further than a bubbling under #70. It was high time for a change.
And that change came in 1978, with the addition of ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band guitarist Zal Cleminson. Zal brought a lot of energy and ideas with him, and joined the band in time to record No Mean City, which was released in January 1979. Naz as a twin-guitar quintet worked wonders even in Britain where ‘May The Sun Shine’ almost nudged the top twenty, reaching number 22 in the UK charts. “However,” Pete remembers “after 4 albums with no hit singles, the all important American record company suggested we try a new producer and get Jeff (Skunk) Baxter of Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers fame to record Malice In Wonderland, our eleventh album.” Pete goes on, “You can imagine, we were a bit sceptical about this as Nazareth’s music had nothing in common with the music of these two bands, but at the time we met him, Jeff was also playing session guitar on 18 hits that were in the Billboard top 40 that month so we figured he must know a thing or two about making records.”Although the track ‘Holiday’ got widespread airplay on stations in the U.S., the same record company who had been desperate for hit singles botched the distribution of the record badly and the common complaint at the time was punters couldn’t buy it in stores. To this day ‘Holiday’ is one of the most requested songs at concerts and the band will always feel it was robbed of a chart hit. After a long American tour to promote the new album the band returned home to find that their management company, ‘Mountain’, was heavily in debt and about to go bust. So for weeks on end, instead of rehearsing, Pete and Darrell were on the telephone full-time talking to moneymen and just desperately trying to pick themselves off the floor. Zal just wanted to play – day and night – and couldn’t deal with all the financial hassles getting in the way of rehearsals so he left to form his own band, Tandoori Cassette, which never took off.
Completing the dozen, The Fool Circle was out in February 1981 – Naz’s first release on NEMS – and made the album charts but only at number 60. The band once more recorded as a 4-piece, with ex-Spirit keyboardist John Locke filling out the sound on a few tracks, and the music veered away from the commercial, sometimes American-rock of Malice In Wonderland, and instead was a mixed bag of rock, reggae and blues, with some socially aware political lyrics thrown in as well. Pete now reflects “The Fool Circle was a different kind of turn for us I guess. We wrote that kind of separately – Dan and I wrote half of it and Manny did the rest.”After The Fool Circle a respected young guitar slinger and songwriter from Glasgow who had played in Cleminson’s band Zal was recruited. His name was Billy Rankin and around the same time John Locke was keen to join up, and so the next album release, the very high energy live double-album ‘Snaz recorded in Vancouver in May 1981, featured what Dan and Pete now call the Nazareth 6-piece orchestra. As before, it was Naz’s take on rock classics such as J.J. Cale’s ‘Cocaine’ and Z.Z. Top’s ‘Tush’ that helped to make the album a massive international seller. The band also recorded a live video in Houston, Texas on the tour, a great live show with added interviews from the band. In 1982 the band released 2XS featuring ‘Dream on’, which sold very well in the States and Europe, extending the band’s already extensive touring schedule even further. Although ‘Dream On’ was as big a hit as ‘Love Hurts’ in Germany and mainland Europe generally,2XS amazingly wasn’t even released in Britain thanks to legal hassles with their new label NEMS. With Locke leaving because he couldn’t stand the guy (Jim White) who was now managing the band, the 5-piece produced Sound Elixer in 1983, another interesting album taking in soul, funk, country…you name it… Nazareth have experimented with it. After the tour to promote the album, Billy decided to leave the band to pursue a solo career; he released two solo albums Growing Up Too Fast, featuring the U.S. top forty single ‘Baby Come Back’, and ‘Crankin’’ Nazareth was now back to their original 4-piece line-up. In 1984 they landed a UK record deal with Vertigo and released The Catch. A full UK tour followed, including a support slot at the Milton Keynes bowl with Status Quo. In 1985 the band’s by now ex-manager Jim White attempted to release Sound Elixir in England on his Sahara label until a court ruling went against him. In 1986 Nazareth put out there rockiest album in years Cinema, a welcome return to form for the band. But it wasn’t to last. The controversial Snakes and Ladders Album (1989) went out on Vertigo in Europe but not released in England. Events and weird scenes that surrounded the production of that album eventually led to Manny Charlton and the rest of the band parting company after 22 years (20 in Nazareth) of playing together. For the first time in Nazareth’s 22-year career, the band’s 4 original members were no longer together.
With the departure of Manny the band agreed there was only one logical choice to fill Manny’s post Billy Rankin. Billy accepted and rejoined Nazareth as lead guitarist, and after rehearsals and a few warm up gigs in Scotland the Band were back on the road, with tours in America, Russia and Europe. Soon after they entered the studio and began writing new material for the new album that was to become No Jive. Touring throughout 1992 to promote the album, including their first UK dates for 8 years, the album sold well with virtually no airplay. Naz was back and stronger than ever, 1994 saw them once again back in the studio to record Move Me, and with a new deal with Polydor things were looking good.
On October the 20th 2001 Nazareth played to a sold out crowd at the Garage in Glasgow, and the show was recorded for a live album and DVD titled Homecoming. 002 was a busy year for the band, with extensive tours of the States and Europe and ending up with a triumphant show in Dunfermline at Christmas when they topped the bill at their annual charity concert. Sadly, this was the last time keyboardist Ronnie Leahy appeared with the band, as he had decided to hang up his road shoes and retire from touring after the next Russian tour in 2003.Back to being a four piece again, and taking hold of the challenge that change brings. They filled 2003 with an extensive live schedule, which would leave many new bands gasping. 2004 saw the band head out to the U.S., Russia, Israel and Europe, as well as a welcome return to the UK for shows at the end of the year. 2005 saw the band on the road for most of the year again, but during the summer they did found time to record a new DVD at Shepperton Studios, titled Live from Classic T Stage which included footage of the band on the road. In October 2007 the band returned to the studio to record their first album since 1998’s Boogaloo. Recorded in Switzerland, the resulting record was titled The Newz and proved to be the first in a run of new recordings that have been universally acclaimed as a renaissance period in the band’s career Released in 2008, The Newz coincided with the bands 40th anniversary (Again, that 1968 thing.) Nazareth embarked on a lengthy world tour in celebration of this event, playing many fan favorites and showcasing material from the new record. Encouraged by the positive reaction to the new material, Nazareth set about working on a new album in 2010. Jimmy co-produced this one with Yann Rouiller who produced ‘The Newz’. Recorded in the Czech Republic, the album, titled Big Dogz was released in 2011 and as with The Newz, was very well received. Soon the band was back on the road again, promoting Big Dogz throughout 2011/2012. Additionally, the band was followed throughout the sessions and some live tour dates from the Big Dogz project by a Czech film crew, who made a documentary about the band. Called Until We Drop, the band attended the official theatrical release for the documentary in Prague in the spring of 2013. 2012 saw the band record a high-energy rocker called ‘God of The Mountain’. The track was used as the official song of the Austrian Ski-Team for the 2012/2013-ski season. Nazareth performed the song live in 2013 during a special gig at the skiing World Championships in Austria. This was an outdoor gig, in the winter, with temperatures around minus 8 degrees; it’s amazing where the music can take you sometimes! However, 2013 was to be a bittersweet year for the band. Kicking the year off with a Greatest Hits Tour, it started to become apparent that Dan was suffering health problems. He had been diagnosed with COPD, which was making it increasingly difficult for him onstage.This, however, didn’t deter him in the making of the new album (Rock’n’Roll Telephone) which was recorded in Scotland that year. As Pete has said, “This album is one of Dan’s greatest career performances and anyone listening to it would never guess the guy was having difficulty breathing.” Ever the ‘road warrior’, Dan soldiered on for as long as he could, but by the autumn of 2013 Dan was forced to bow out from live work with the band. He graciously gave the rest of the band his blessing to carry on touring without him.
He fronted Nazareth for 43 years and giving it his all every night and his legacy as one of the all time great rock vocalists is assured. Pete says about the feelings of the remaining guys at the time, “We had Dan’s blessing but had no idea where to go next or even sure we had the inclination to go anywhere!” After a few weeks went by and they got used to the fact that Dan was really gone from the band they started looking for a replacement. They had a few auditions and decided to try out with a local guy named Linton Osborne. Linton was fine singer but as the year went on it became obvious that it wasn’t working out as everyone had hoped so both parties decided to finish it and go their separate ways.”