Perceptions of Nazareth and their music have shifted greatly during the Scottish group’s five-decade lifetime.
“We’ve been a rock band, we’ve been pop stars, and then suddenly we became dinosaurs,” bassist Pete Agnew told Classic Rock, adding with typical modesty: “But if you can live through the dinosaur period, you become a legend.”
The reasons behind Nazareth’s longevity are numerous. Agnew and original vocalist vocalist Dan McCafferty met aged five on their very first day at primary school. They were later both in dance hall cabaret act The Shadettes, which morphed into Nazareth in 1968. When the band took off with such hits as Broken Down Angel and Bad Bad Boy, both were married and opposed to drugs, which helped them to remain grounded.
Musically, Nazareth – the classic line-up of which was completed by moustachioed guitarist Manny Charlton and drummer Darryl Sweet – always stayed true to their bluesbased, working-class roots. Agnew once quipped: “We were just like Deep Purple, only with choruses.”
And it’s beyond coincidence that Purple bassist Roger Glover produced three of Nazareth’s most important albums – Razamanaz, Loud ‘N’ Proud and Rampant – helping them to make inroads into the albums market.
A willingness to record covers of other people’s songs also characterises Nazareth’s catalogue; their own compositions have been covered by the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Michael Monroe, Blackfoot and Britny Fox. Indeed, McCafferty’s vocal rasp was such an influence upon Axl Rose that he begged Dan to sing Love Hurts at his wedding to Erin Everley (McCafferty declined).
Nazareth’s career path has hardly been a completely smooth one. Following the death of Darryl Sweet in 1999, Lee Agnew, Pete’s son, became their drummer. And in 2013 the band announced Dan McCafferty's retirement from the band due to ill health. Replacement Linton Osborne lasted less than a year before Carl Sentance, formerly singer of Persian Risk, the Geezer Butler Band, and Krokus, took up the role.
Continuing to enjoy playing music, Nazareth's most recent album, Tattooed On My Brain, released in 2018. They tour Europe later this year.
Following two relatively unfocused and poor-selling albums (1971’s self-titled debut and the following year’s Exercises), Razamanaz, recorded with Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, was their most consistent release.
As producer, Glover honed in upon the band’s dirty, blues-laden hard rock edge, suggesting they revisit the previous album’s Woke Up This Morning, a tune with real swagger that sizzles with sumptuous slide guitar. The arena rock of the title song remains a fixture of their set even now, while Broken Down Angel and Bad Bad Boy became the hits Nazareth needed to attain some career stability
Nazareth had wanted to name this, their their sixth album, Son Of A Bitch but the censors wouldn’t let them. Instead they settled for Heir (later Hair) Of The Dog, which they felt was close enough.
Though the album peaks with its cowbell-infused, GN’R-approved title song (cower as Dan McCafferty sneers: ‘Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch’), Miss Misery, the Nils Lofgren-penned Beggars Day and Please Don’t Judas Me are shining highlights. A 2001 reissue adds the cover of Love Hurts – a song popularised by the Everly Brothers – which gave Nazareth a big-selling US single.
That Nazareth elected to cover material written by Lowell George (Teenage Nervous Breakdown), Joni Mitchell (This Flight Tonight, a toughened-up worldwide hit that Mitchell herself later agreed the band had made their own) and Bob Dylan (The Ballad Of Hollis Brown) confirms that they thought less about royalty cheques and more of the quality of the songs they recorded.
However, it speaks volumes that the Glover-produced Loud ‘N’ Proud also features some exquisite originals, notably Turn On Your Receiver, Go Down Fighting and Not Fakin’ It – the latter later revamped by Hanoi Rocks singer Michael Monroe.
As Roger Glover prepared to vacate the producer’s chair, Deep Purple’s Jon Lord added piano to the feisty 12-bar boogie Glad When You’re Gone and another typical slice of Nazareth barroom bonhomie, its first single, Shanghai’d In Shanghai.
Proving himself far more than a stereotypical nuts-in-the-vice screamer, McCafferty croons Sunshine, one of the band’s most beautiful compositions, with genuine compassion. Rampant was, for once, an almost all self-originated album, save for Shapes Of Things (the Yardbirds) which became the finalé of their live show for many a year afterwards.
As you’d expect after nine albums with the same line-up, Nazareth had found what might loosely be termed a ‘formula’ sound. Still, they refused to stagnate.
A cover of Crazy’s Horse’s Gone Dead Train was the album’s only hit single but, opting to save its token ballad All The King’s Horses until the end, the band projected a fired-up fury, surpassing itself with an above-par mixture of blues-infused, high-energy hard rockers (Expect No Mercy, Revenge Is Sweet and Gimme What’s Mine) and slower-paced though equally insidious tracks like Shot Me Down and Kentucky Fried Blues.
Expanding to a five-piece with the addition of ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band guitarist Zal Cleminson made Nazareth heavier than ever. No Mean City brought the band two further hit singles – the Velcro-sticky May The Sunshine and a superb ballad titled Star – and although Cleminson’s tenure was disappointingly short (two albums) it transformed them into a musical tour-de-force.
McCafferty sounded gruffer than ever on the likes of Just Get Into It and What’s In It For Me, and groove-wise the band are right on the money until the final, stomping chords of No Mean City, Parts 1 & 2.
With its cover artwork of fans’ faces pressed against the windows of a limousine, and a four-part song, Telegram, that included So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star, Soundcheck and Here We Are Again, the Close Enough For Rock ‘N’ Roll album was intended as Nazareth’s comment on the supposedly glamorous showbiz fishbowl they inhabited.
A little more subdued and world-weary than was usual for them, it’s been called a rock opera, but the band only really set out to tell the story of a tour. “What’s more, the humour was missed by just about everyone,” rued bassist Pete Agnew.
Despite having been slickly produced by Doobie Brothers/ Steely Dan guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter (a hero of the band), Malice In Wonderland was a commercial disaster. It was this failure, accompanied by “commitment” issues and a more AOR-inclined direction – a jarring change of style after the previous year’s No Mean City – that prompted Zal Cleminson to quit the band.
The departing guitarist at least offered the stirring ballad Heart’s Grown Cold as a sublime parting gift. Elsewhere, Showdown At The Border, Big Boy and Fallen Angel display a lighter touch, but the craftsmanship is undeniable.
If it’s true that every rock‘n’roll band of significance has its definitive double live album, then this is Nazareth’s. Recorded in Vancouver with the four-piece expanded by the addition of guitarist Billy Rankin and former Spirit keyboard player John Locke, ’Snaz crackles with raucous excitement from the fade-out of the intro tape (Pete Townshend’s Rough Boys) to a final encore of Tim Rose’s Morning Dew.
Nazareth have always been – and remain – a banker as a live act. And despite being recorded during a campaign for 1981’s mediocre The Fool Circle album, ’Snaz distils their gritty, blue-collar essence with ease.