Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Interview -- Pete Agnew (Nazareth)

"...if you were prone
to stage fright...
then you were in
the wrong occupation."
~ Pete Agnew ~

    “Heartbreaker, soul shaker.”  Nazareth's classic hard rock album “Hair Of The Dog” (1975) has just celebrated its 45th anniversary.  Filled with blistering rock gems and a definitive power ballad, “Hair Of The Dog” is a no-filler must-own square.   Dan McCafferty's scorching vocals. Manny Charlton's guitar burns.  The drumming of Darrell Sweet.  The tight, low-down bass runs from Pete Agnew.  Together...they made a little rock and roll magic.  Nazareth has been rollin' the ball since their self-titled debut album in 1971.  After 24 albums, (the last being their 2018 barnburner "Tattooed On My Brain")...Pete Agnew is the only member to have played on every single one.  But it is “Hair Of The Dog” that has cemented Nazarerth's place on shelves of rock and roll ass-kickery.  A son of a bitch, indeed.   Go get you some.

Pete Agnew Interview -- January 2021
Pete Agnew

Casey Chambers:  This is the 45th anniversary of Nazareth's classic rock album..."Hair Of The Dog." (1975)  I'd like to ask about that "crank it up" title track.  I'll take all the cowbell ya got!  How did the title track come about?

Pete Agnew:  Well, obviously it's not really called, "Hair Of The Dog."  It's called "Son Of A Bitch." (laughs)  That's what the album was supposed to be called.  Us being Scottish, the phrase 'son of a bitch' didn't mean that much to us.  It was just an Americanism.  We used to hear people saying it in the movies. I mean, hey, John Wayne said 'son of a bitch!' (laughs)  But you've got to remember what it was like in those days compared to now.  We were with A&M records at the time, and they wouldn't let us call the album that.  They told us, 'Sears won't sell it.  It's a big swearword and sure it makes ya laugh, but you can't have that on records.' (laughs)  And of course, it meant nothing to us back here. (laughs)

No one uses it in our country.  I mean, nobody in Europe uses that expression.  So it was just an Americanism.  We wanted to call the song, "Son Of A Bitch" obviously, but we couldn't.  So we started getting smartass and called it "Heir Of The Dog"... as in H-E-I-R. (laughs)   But then we thought, well, that's just too clever.  So of course, us being clever...and Scottish, we went...'Oh, hair of the dog...for after you've been drunk.'  Sort of a subtle son of a bitch. (laughs)  But anyway, that was a big deal.  See the big, big hit from that album was "Love Hurts" and it got played everywhere.  It was a massive hit for us.  But what happened was...when people bought the album, they realized that ya know, Nazareth was a rock band!  And this was not an album full of ballads.  This was a rock album.  "Hair Of The Dog"...the AM radio stations wouldn't play it.  They couldn't play it.  But the college stations and the FM stations...they wielded a lot of power.  And they did play it.  They weren't just playing "Love Hurts"...they were playing, "Son Of A Bitch."  And that was the reason that the album was so huge.  Everyone got to hear it and it quickly became a favorite track and so, there ya go.

"Hair Of The Dog" - Nazareth / "Hair Of The Dog" (1975)

Casey Chambers:  "Hair Of The Dog" lives and spins in every jukebox bar you walk into to this very day.  Just killer.  And you mentioned, "Love Hurts."  That's another song that lives in jukeboxes everywhere.  One of the first really great power ballads.  You guys recorded the definitive version of that classic.  What made Nazareth decide to dust off that gem?

Pete Agnew:  When we were traveling in vans through the nights around Europe back in the old days, we'd play cassette tapes.  Just stuff when guys were all dozing and sleeping.  We were very diverse in Nazareth.  We listened to everything from Frank Zappa to Joni Mitchell.  It didn't matter to us.  We all liked so many different things.  We played the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris album "Grievous Angel" for years.  And one of our favorite tracks was "Love Hurts."   They had done that song.  So we were in the studio doing the album "Hair Of The Dog" and decided we needed some B-sides for when a single was released.  Used to...if you took two singles off an album, then you would have to take four songs off the album because you needed B-sides. So what bands started doing was to record just B-sides.  Just throwaway tracks that they didn't necessarily spend a lot of time on.  So we decided that we would do "Love Hurts."

When we first released the album in Europe and the rest of the world, there was a track on it called, "Guilty."  It was a Randy Newman track.  It was a slow one on the album.  But "Hair Of The Dog" didn't get released in America until about a month later.  And Jerry Moss from A&M records...he was the boss there...when he heard "Love Hurts" he said, 'Oh God, this thing's amazing. Take "Guilty" off the album and put "Love Hurts" on it...'cause I want that on the album in America.' And of course, thank God he did, because that became the biggest hit we ever had.  And like I say, that was just supposed to be a B-side, ya know?  Funny how things turn out like that.

Casey Chambers:  A good song is a good song.  But Nazareth's arrangement gave it some balls, no doubt.

Pete Agnew:  Thank you and yeah, it's incredible because I'll tell you what happened.  When the band was recording the album in England, a friend of ours was getting married up in Edinburgh, Scotland.  So Dan (McCafferty) and me...we flew up to the wedding on a Friday night and didn't get back 'til Sunday.  While we were away, Manny (Charlton), our guitar player, and Darrell (Sweet), our drummer had already laid down the guitar and drums for that song.  And of course, these guys weren't singers.  We were originally going to do the song in the same way as Gram Parsons and like the Everly Brothers.  Singing harmony, you know.  Like it was always done.  But they had recorded the song in the same key as Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons and, of course, when Dan started to sing the song, it was far too low. (laughs)  I was trying to sing the harmony and we thought, 'No, that's not going to work.  It just didn't sound good.'   If we would've been there, we would have done it in a different key.  But anyway Dan said, 'I'll tell you what...let me try singing it on the octave.'  And that's what he did.  He sang it an octave higher.  And of course, Dan came away with just a completely, incredible vocal.  It makes your hair stand on end.  That amazing vocal came about because the guys had accidentally got the wrong key.  It was very, very late. (laughs)

"Love Hurts" - Nazareth / "Hair Of The Dog" (1975)

Casey Chambers:  The song stands the test.  And not just on the radio.  "Love Hurts" has been featured in everything from Rob Zombies' "Halloween" to "Joe Dirt 2."  Is it a coffee-spitter when that happens?

Pete Agnew:  Well, if you were over in Britain at the moment, you would be hearing it getting used in a kitchen towel advert. (laughs)  As I say, it could have been worse. (laughs)  But yeah, I mean, "Love Hurts" has been used a lot in films and stuff.  Another song of ours that is used a lot is "Dream On." (1982)  It was a huge song for us in Europe and in the rest of the world.  "Dream On" is probably just as big as "Love Hurts"...North America excepted.  And in some places, it's bigger.  If you're in Germany or Austria or Switzerland and you watch daytime soap operas, you'll hear "Dream On" at least two or three times a day.  So it's good.  Your music's being heard.  But ya know, there are limits.  Johnny Cash's family had to stop Preparation H from using his "Ring Of Fire" song. (laughs)  Nothing like that's happened to us.  Nothing objectionable.  So far it's been okay.

Casey Chambers:  Nazareth played several times at "The Old Grey Whistle Test."  There's a lot of cool footage from those shows. What do you remember about that place?

Pete Agnew:  Well, ya know, it was the show because it was on very, very late at night. That was the only way you could see a lot of rock acts and stuff that wasn't Top 40.  And it was all really good bands that would appear on that show.  Bob Harris was the guy who introduced it and I mean, it was where you saw bands for the first time on TV.  You had bands like Little Feat.  People like James Taylor.  People like Frank ZappaThe Alex Harvey Band.  Just all the bands that weren't pop groups.  And we got to do the show, too.  And we were very fortunate because the producer of the show really liked Nazareth.  And when the show got a last-minute cancellation....usually if an American band got held up when they were coming across, ya know.  Or if their flights were delayed and they couldn't get to the show.  Held up at customs or whatever.  They'd get in touch with us when we were at home and ask us, 'Can you do the show again for us tonight?'  (laughs).  So I think we ended up doing "The Whistle Test" maybe four times or something like that.

"Bad Bad Boy" - Nazareth (at The Old Grey Whistle Test 1973)

When you see us, we were playing at the original "Whistle Test" studio.  What you see is the width of the studio!  It was like. . .like a big living room.  Unbelievable.  No space.  Nothing.  The show was done on a shoestring budget.  After a few years, they got a much bigger stage, which I would love to have done.  It was very cramped where we did it.  "The Whistle Test" was built like The Cavern in Liverpool.  It was dainty.  But a lot of the real great sessions I remember were at that original place.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned the Alex Harvey Band playing there.  He was from your neck of the woods.  Did your paths ever cross in those days?

Pete Agnew:  Oh, yeah.  Yeah.  Alex was an old friend.  When I was a kid, he was a big Scottish star, but he never got really very famous.  He was playing in a pit band near the orchestra in the show "Hair" in London.  In the West End.  And what happened was. . .we went to London with our manager who was a big friend of Alex from the old days.  Alex was up there with his guitar.  And he'd usually play with one of those stomping boards, ya know, stamp his feet to keep in time and play the guitar and all these crazy songs.  He was an incredible presence on stage.  And so we helped to get Alex and that band together.

One night when we went to this club together in London, Alex was saying that he needed to get a band.  How he really, really needs to get a band.  And we were all talking.  And there was a band up in Scotland called Tear Gas.  A really brilliant band, but they'd had enough, ya know?  They were just playing around in Scotland.  They weren't really doing anything nationally or internationally.  Their singer left and they were thinking about packing it in.  So we flew Alex up to Scotland and he went in and rehearsed with us and Tear Gas.  And they went on to become the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.  We were all pals, we was.  They were absolutely amazing.  Alex knocked them into shape and made them a real performance.  It was one of the best live bands, ya know, and it was great because they were all mates of mine. (laughs)  I saw them blow off a lot of big, big names in the early days.  We had the same management for years and years. And when that management company went bust, we actually took it over and were their managers for about a year.

"Midnight Moses" (live) - Sensational Alex Harvey Band (1974)

Casey Chambers:  Wow, I didn't know that.

Pete Agnew:  Well, at the time, neither did they! (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Alex Harvey Band never blew up here in the states like they did over there...but I've always enjoyed their stuff.  Any particular songs or favorites?

Pete Agnew:  I loved the album "Next"...the one when they did "Faith Healer."  And "Next" was a big one.  And "Framed."  Seeing them do "Framed" live was incredible.  "Midnight Moses."  We were gonna cover that song one time. "Isobel Goudie."  I liked all their stuff they did. "Gang Bang."  If we ever had a night off, and they were playing in the area. . .we would go and see them.  An excellent, excellent, band.

Casey Chambers:  When did Nazareth first come to America?  Was that an eye-opener for you guys?

Pete Agnew:  Oh, it was different.  The very first tour we did in America, we did with Deep Purple.  They were pals of ours and they took us there as their opening band.  The first gig was at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.  And that was in 1972 on St. Patrick's Day.  I'll never forget.  It was the 17th of March, 1972.  And yeah, the was an eye-opener.  I mean, the cops had guns for God's sake!  We'd never seen people wandering around with guns and that kind of thing.  And McDonald's! (laughs)  And other Americany stuff.   I mean we knew about it, but we'd never really experienced it.

And we thought America was lovely.  We thought it was wonderful.  It's funny actually...when our first album came out, and this is a thing that a lot of people don't know...but when our very first album came out..."Nazareth" it was called.  Very imaginative. (laughs)  It was released in 1971 and it did nothing really.  Our first album had just come out and it was hardly getting noticed.  It was being played in Europe a little bit here and there,   But I remember finding out it went to number one in Wichita, Kansas.  We'll never forget that.  Some radio station in Wichita, Kansas liked the album and for some unknown reason, they played that album upside down!  And somebody told me about it being #1 in Wichita, and I went, 'What?!' (laughs)  We couldn't believe this because we were hardly being played anywhere else.  So we kinda got a soft spot for Wichita because of that.  And I'm telling you because you're there, ya know?

"Nazareth" 1971 debut album

Casey Chambers:  Very cool.  Thanks for sharing that.  When Nazareth began headlining large, who were some opening acts you guys enjoyed touring with?

Pete Agnew:  Oh, aye!  When we came to the States, we brought Thin Lizzy with us as a guest band.  They did a whole tour with us in the States.  It was a big, long tour we did over there.  And that Thin Lizzy lineup was a great lineup.  "The Boys Are Back In Town" was out at the time.  It was a lot of fun.  One night we ran into Slade who was actually huge in Britain for years.  We ran into them along the way and did three or four gigs together.  It was Slade opening, Thin Lizzy in the middle, and Nazareth headlining.  So that was quite a bill.  We had a lot of fun with Thin Lizzy because we were all pals. We knew Phil (Lynott) from way, way, way back.  Back before either of the two of us...well, it was just when we did our first albums.  And we played together up in Glasgow.  In that Devil's Gate roundabout.  Just clubs.  We'd always try to get friends of ours to tour with us.  It's always good when ya got an opening band that's going to be there for ya.  If you're on a tour for six weeks, it might as well be with someone that ya like. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Oh, no doubt. (laughs)  I often wondered if stage anxiety ever entered into the picture for artists playing the big, big shows.  Did any of you guys ever experience any of that when you started playing the larger shows?

Pete Agnew:  Not really.  Not really.  We were always looking forward to playing.  We tried not to take ourselves too seriously.  We were there to entertain.  Have a few beers and go have a laugh, ya know?  We always came away with a happy vibe after a gig.  One of the bands we toured with a lot was The FacesRod Stewart and The Faces.  When you were playing with them, their stage show was just an extension of what they did in the dressing room. (laughs)  And we did a long tour with Aerosmith.  It was like a party, really.   I remember doing the Superdome in New Orleans.  RFK Stadium in Washington.  And we did that one with Alice Cooper.  All these huge places.  Back then in the '70s, we used to do these summer gigs.  And it had bands like Van HalenBostonSammy HagarHeartTed Nugent.  And  Nazareth, of course.  They would get all these bands on the same bill.  All these stadium gigs playing for 70,000 or 80,000 people a show.  So, if you were prone to stage fright, then you were in the wrong occupation. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  My deep cut favorite from the  "Hair Of The Dog" album is "Beggar's Day" / "Rose In Heather" which opens side two.  I'm cherry-picking.

"Beggar's Day" (live in London) - Nazareth  (1985)

Pete Agnew:  Well, the song "Beggar's Day" came from one of our favorite bands at the time...Crazy Horse.  They were the same band that used to back up Neil YoungDanny Whitten was the singer and Jack Nitzsche...he was their keyboard player and one of the writers.  They were just amazing.  They did an album just called, "Crazy Horse" (1971) and it was incredible.  The guy who wrote "Beggar's Day" was Nils Lofgren.  He's played with Bruce Springsteen for years and years, ya know, but Nils Lofgren was in Crazy Horse as well and wrote that song.  We all loved it.

When we cover songs, we like to change them up a that it makes it ours.  There's no point in doing the song if you're just going to do their version.  We knew we could really do something with that song...and we did.  Nils Lofgren later said our version of "Beggar's Day" was fabulous and one of his favorite tracks.  So that was good to hear. (laughs)  "Rose In Heather" was a B instrumental we had recorded earlier and we stuck it on the end of "Beggar's Day."

Another song we did from that Crazy Horse album was "Gone Dead Train."  Our version of it was on "Expect No Mercy." (1977)  Randy Newman covered it as well.   Another song from "Crazy Horse" that everybody recognizes is "I Don't Want To Talk About It."  We were gonna do that one next, but then Rod (Stewart) came along.  He always had excellent taste in music. (laughs)  "Crazy Horse" was a very influential album.  We listened to that album a lot.  In fact, I still do.

Casey Chambers:  Besides Crazy Horse's self-titled square...what's another album or two you'd recommend?

Pete Agnew:  Well, for me...the first three Little Feat albums are all excellent.  There was "Little Feat."  "Sailin' Shoes."  And "Dixie Chicken."  All just incredible.  They are one of my favorite bands of all time.  And one of the bands I came to very late is Rival Sons.  I must've been sleeping because they are absolutely incredible.  We did a festival in France a couple of years like a huge castle...fountains on the grounds  And before we did that gig, I asked, 'Who is this band?'  I'd never really heard them.  And one of the guys said, 'Oh, you'll like them.'  And he played me a record and I thought, 'My God! Who's the singer?  The guy is absolutely unbelievable!'  And it was Jay Buchanan.

I normally go to the side of the stage to watch part of a show.  Watch a band do a song.  Maybe a half a song.  Most people do that.  So I went up to see Rival Sons for their first song at the festival and I was still there when they did their encore.  Those guys were absolutely unbelievable.  I think Jay Buchanan is one of the best rock singers on the planet at the moment.  So if anybody's not listening to them already...definitely listen to Rival Sons.

Casey Chambers:  Excellent.  Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today.  And thank you for all the great music you've given us with Nazareth.  It's been a real pleasure.  Be safe out there and thank you.

Pete Agnew:  Well, the pleasure was all mine, Casey. Thanks very much.

"Hair Of The Dog" (live) - Nazareth (1985)

Good stuff.

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