Pete Agnew Interview
Back in the mid 70s a song called "Love Hurts" really made it's presence felt on both the radio and the charts. The group that had that hit was Nazareth.
Nazareth would go on to rack up 50 Gold and Platinum LPs and singles in the 70s. Here we are in 2008 and Nazareth is celebrating their 40th year in the business. What a long, strange journey it's been! To sort it all out for us, we spoke to Nazareth bassist and original member, Pete Agnew.
Q - Pete, when you started this band way back in 1968, how long did you think you'd be in a band?
A - Well, we never really thought about it. In the 70s, when we starting recording, bands had been going for ten years at that point, like The Stones. You were thinking they had a good run for ten years. Then we saw people like Sinatra and people like that who were still playing to their audience, so we said what's to stop us from doing the same thing? I would never have thought that somebody would tell me I was doing it 40 years later. I would've just laughed at that. Everybody thought they would drop dead at 40. That seemed like that age where you couldn't possibly be thinking about playing Rock 'n Roll. Then, everybody that was doing it then was in cabaret or Elvis. It wasn't Rock 'n' Roll anymore. You couldn't imagine seeing The Who or The Stones in their 40s. And of course now they're in their 60s and they're still the biggest 'live' draw in the world. (The Stones)
Q - Of course we have comedians here who poke fun at the fact that The Stones are still up there performing.
A - I think age has something to do with it. It makes people want it more, because the band has been around that long. They want to see the legends, if you like.
Q - Where does Nazareth perform these days?
A - We're going over to Finland. We're playing with Deep Purple. We're doing two gigs with Deep Purple. Then, we've got gig in Poland and two gigs in Lithuania.
Q - You're playing places most people would think wouldn't have Rock groups.
A - 18 years ago when we first went over to the Soviet Union, it was a bit funkier than it is now. But, we played in Poland in the mid 80s. We played 25 years ago in Poland. There were a lot of good bands over there even then. Eastern Europe, as they call themselves now, is one of the biggest touring areas for bands...your Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Nazareth. That's where they're doing an awful lot of touring over there. It's a huge market. Huge countries.
Q - How is it getting in and out of those countries?
A - It's a lot easier entering than getting into the U.S.A. (laughs) Try getting a Visa for your place. That's something else. That's probably the hardest in the world. I can organize visas for Russia in two weeks. Ukraine's a big touring country as well. We toured there end of last year. (2007) and we usually do (the) Ukraine and Russia at the same time. Sometimes you're over there twice. Russia is a big place. It's the biggest country in the world. We've done it coast to coast in one tour. The traveling...it's absolutely massive. We were in St. Petersburg a few weeks ago, over there in Moscow. You see all the billboards and the acts they're getting. They got more acts going through there than they do in New York.
Q - What type of venues are you performing in over there?
A - The culture houses, as they call them. The one we did in St. Petersburg was an open house. You know how you get the basketball arenas there ?(the United States) Well, they've got a lot of places like that in Russia.
Q - I would guess these open houses probably seat 3,000 to 5,000 people.
A - Yeah, probably that. The arenas are just the same anywhere else.
Q - Are you headlining these venues?
A - Oh yeah. Nazareth is probably one of the biggest bands in Russia. That's probably one of the biggest countries in the world for us.
Q - Who do you bring with you as your opening act?
A - We don't usually bother. It's usually just us. Every once in a while maybe you'll get an opening act, maybe some Russian band. The concerts are early over there. They're usually calling for the concert at seven o'clock, usually half past seven before you get started. Everything's over and done by nine o'clock.
Q - Why are the concerts so early over there?
A - Well, just so the people can go home. There's huge cities in Siberia. They've got three million population and they don't have anything like the transport systems you've got or that we've got in the West. So, it can take people a long, long time to get home. Same thing in Japan. So, you play at six o'clock there. You know, you're finished by half past seven.
Q - How are you being paid in Russia?
A - It used to always be dollars every place. But now nobody wants the dollar. Euros are the biggest pay. Euros or British pounds. It used to always be American dollars even up in Canada, but nobody wants to get paid in American dollars now because the exchange rate is terrible. You would find out if you came over here and changed your dollars into pounds. You wouldn't get many pounds for your dollar.
Q - I recall interviewing one band who told me they couldn't take the money they earned out of the country they played in. They had to put it in a bank in that country.
A - They used to have it that way, way back in Eastern Europe. The Band ABBA started an import / export company instead of being paid. But that's what they chose to do. At one time you couldn't take rubles out of Russia and who wanted to? You couldn't change them any place. Nobody would take them from you and give you proper money. So, any time you'd play in any of these countries you'd get paid in American dollars. Nowadays you get paid in Euros or preferably pounds, British pounds. Well, I don't mind what I get paid in, as long as there's plenty of them. (laughs)
Q - According to Rolling Stones Encyclopedia of Rock 'n' Roll, your first two albums were ignored. Is that true?
A - They weren't big albums. The first album, "Nazareth", that was the name of it, it did OK in Germany. So, the first album was a bit of a cult album in Germany, but everywhere else in the world, no. I don't think most people would know it was even out. The second album, we didn't know what we were supposed to be at that point, if we were gonna be a Rock band or what we were gonna be. We did a thing called "Exercises" and it was a very strange conglomeration of Soft-Rock and a bit of orchestra. As far as I'm concerned, it was a complete disaster. I think my mother had a copy of it. It was not a popular album. It was "Razamanaz". When the third one came out, we knew what we were doing by then. We knew this was our kind of music. We had a hit on our hands before we even recorded it 'cause we were playing the stuff. We were going out and touring with Deep Purple and playing the stuff from the album. That's when we sort of found our way, and that was the first album to become a hit. Back in those days, you were very lucky because all the record companies, they would sign a band and you would get three albums to make it, if you like. If you didn't do it after that, it was good-bye. So we did it on the third album and after that...well, it's history.
Q - What album did "Love Hurts" appear on?
A - The sixth (album). "Love Hurts" is on "Hair Of The Dog", which is the big hit in America. That's the only album it's on, on the American copy of "Hair Of The Dog". All over the world on "Hair Of The Dog", the song that's on there instead of "Love Hurts" is "Guilty", the one written by Randy Newman. We did "Love Hurts" as a "B" side for a single. Every time you're in a studio and you finish your recording on an album, you could do a couple of "B" sides. You didn't want to release two singles of your album on a single. You're cutting an album down. So, you'd always take a track off an album and stick it on one of the "B" sides you'd recorded in the studio. We recorded that as a "B" side. We never intended that to be a single. It's when we brought the album over to Jerry Moss at A&M records. Jerry heard "Love Hurts" first and said "I'd like to take "Guilty" off that album and put that on." Thank God for Jerry Moss! That was the one that broke it in America for us. With "Love Hurts" back in Europe on "Razamanaz", "Loud And Proud" and "Rampant", these albums eventually became big after "Hair Of The Dog" was big in America. People went back to look at these albums. That's when it happened for us in the States. The only other albums you see "Love Hurts" on is like greatest hits compilation type things. But, it was never on any other album except the American copy of "Hair Of The Dog".
Q - Your lead singer Dan McCafferty does a great job on that song. You actually believe he is hurting.
A - (laughs) Yeah. He was.
Q - So, after recording the song, you didn't think too much of it?
A - No, no, no. We all loved the song. We had a massive hit up in Canada and all over the world, except America with Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight", the version we did of it. It was number one in Canada. It was number one all over Europe. For a couple of months it was number one in Germany, Denmark, Holland. For some reason or another, America just did not take to it. We couldn't get it off the ground there. We often covered songs that we liked that we used to listen to on tape when we were a full-time professional band. And every now and then, we'd just go back and try to do something with one of these things. If you could change it and make it yours, we'd do it in the studio and see if we could do something about it. When we did, "Love Hurts", I believe there were 42 different versions recorded of it. Everyone from the Everlys to...and the one we used to listen to was Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, off the "Grievous Angel" album. We used to have that in our van. We used to listen to "Love Hurts". We loved the song. So, we always intended to do it. As I said, we would only do 'em if we could change 'em radically, to make 'em sound as if it's your song. We recorded "Love Hurts" as a B-side and that's how we saw it. Of course, when I hear it now, it's probably one of the best Rock ballads of all time and definitely the vocal is in the top three.
Q - You laughed when I said Dan McCafferty sounds like he was hurting when he sang "Love Hurts". Had he just broken up with a girlfriend?
A - No. Just physically painful, the actual range of the song. There's a story behind that. Dan and I went to this wedding. We were recording down in England and we came up to Scotland to a wedding of a friend of ours. We left the drummer and the guitar player in the studio. They decided they would start the backing tracks of "Love Hurts". So, when we came down the next day, they recorded it and recorded it in exactly the same key as Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Of course in the octave they were singing, it's too low, far too low. Then you have to take that up an octave. So that's how it ended up being sung in that key. If we had been in the studio when they did that, it probably would never have been a hit 'cause we would have never have done it in that key.
Q - When I think of Scotland, I think of two groups, Nazareth and The Bay City Rollers. Who am I leaving out?
A - Actually, they're (Bay City Rollers) are from very close by. They're from Edinburgh. They actually came from our side of the country. But when they came out, we used to tell everybody they were Welsh. (laughs)
Q - I take it you were embarrassed by them.
A - Yes, extremely. That was a way back then. Since then, the number of bands that have come out of Scotland is phenomenal. There's hundreds of 'em now and having hits all over the world. At that time there was just us. We were the first ones out of here to get an international hit, if you like. The first Scottish Rock band to do that. Hundreds of 'em followed us.
Q - Did you ever meet Paul McCartney? I believe he has a farm in Scotland, doesn't he?
A - Yeah. He was way over on the West coast. We live on the East coast. I don't know if he spends that much time up here. I don't think he's got that place anymore, anyway. I've met him, but in a studio in London.
Q - Nazareth had a financial backer, a bingo millionaire name of Bill Fehilly. Did it take much convincing to have him back your band?
A - No. He wanted to manage an artist. He wanted to start a management company. The guy who was managing us in Scotland, he wanted him to manage this guy, an Engelbert Humperdinck type of guy. He took him to see him in Birmingham. Our manager saw him and said "Well, why don't you have a listen to a Rock band?" So he came along and heard us and went "Oh, yeah. I'd like to get these guys a new recording studio." And it happened just like that. He really enjoyed the band and said "Yeah, let's do it."
Q - As a financial backer, what did he do for the band? Did he buy you equipment, clothes?
A - No, basically as any manager did at the time. I think there was a lot of noise made about that. It was no different from any other band at that time that was at home here that had a management company. It was just the beginning of his management company. Yeah, we got equipment. See, we were all married at the time. We weren't about to start living in the back of a van. We had good jobs. We didn't even want to go full-time, as they say. We were quite happy playing at night, doing our day jobs during the day. But they said "Well, do it for a year." And basically that was it. Basically it was the promise of you'd get the same wages that you'd get at your work. That's what the financial backing was, to make sure you got a weekly wage the same as you had when you were at your work. And that was all that was. It's because of the guy's position. He was a big character. He was a well-known character over here, not in the music business, not until he got in the music business with us.
Q - Your new CD is on Edel Records?
A - It's Demolition in America. Edel is in Europe. America and Canada is Demolition. We've got a separate deal in America and Canada.
Q - You knew Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in the early days of Led Zeppelin?
A - Well, it was Robert Plant and Jon Bonham. They used to play in Robert Plant's band, Band Of Joy. They used to tour in their old van all over Britain, playing for 30, 40 quid a night. Same as we all did.
Q - How much is that in American dollars?
A - These days it's $60.
Q - That wasn't a lot of money.
A - You were cover bands. You didn't do your own material. You were a human jukebox. You were playing to people who were dancing. They weren't sitting around listening to you. They were dancing. That was the scene then.
Q - At one point, a ballroom manager didn't like your buckskin jacket and tried to prevent you from going onstage wearing that jacket. What was wrong with a buckskin jacket?
A - It was because we weren't wearing uniforms. Bands here used to wear uniforms. Same as they did back in the early 60s. Everybody wore the same. They all looked the same. Maybe the lead singer had a different colored jacket. We were one of the first lads to say "We're not going to do this anymore. We're just gonna go in and choose what we want to wear." It had never been done, at least not in a ballroom. That's our local ballroom. It's still here. In our band, The Red Tops, you had red suits. We used to wear different things, but it was always a band uniform. That's what it was. He was a very old-fashioned guy. (laughs) "You can't go on like that." OK, then we just won't bother going on then."
Q - Is that the way the night ended? Did you go on?
A - We went on. He wasn't happy, but he wasn't stupid. After that, it changed things. That changed things big time.
Q - What year would that have been?
A - '66.
Q - Buffalo Springfield was around in this country back then and if I remember correctly, David Crosby wore a buckskin jacket.
A - Oh yeah, yeah. I'm talking about bands that played in a ballroom. If you were a resident band; we were a resident band in there. There was two stages in there. We used to play before and after the guest band. The guest band was a famous band that would come up. So for instance, we played before The Who when they first performed "Tommy". So we went on before them and after them. Deep Purple came up. We played before and after them. If you were in this particular ballroom, you were in uniform. (laughs) That was the rules of the place. Well, we broke the rules.
Official Website: Nazareth.co.uk
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