Back in the 1980s you just didn’t get rock music in mainstream media. It was utterly ignored – except for Tommy Vance’s rock show on Radio 1 on Friday nights. in Scotland, rock fans listened to Tommy, then switched to Radio Clyde (the most successful independent station in the UK) for Tom Russell’s show.
He’d only been given a six-week trial period when he started broadcasting, but he remembers: “I just kept going in, doing a show and submitting my invoice.” Tom Russell’s Friday Night Rock Show lasted two decades before Tom became the senior presenter on national network Rock Radio, which ran from 2006 until 2012.
Now the ex-paratrooper, record shop owner and father of two has written a book, Tom Russell: The Godfather Of Rock, recounting his adventures in rock and metal. And if you think there’s only so much a regional DJ can achieve, his story will make you think again. Here’s 10 reasons why.
1. He has the blessing of some of the biggest names in the business
Ozzy Osbourne, who used to invite him to private parties, has called him “the man who rocks Glasgow” by way of introduction. Angus Young says: “Tom puts on a great show… but he should be playing just a little bit more AC/DC.” Eddie Van Halen, Jon Bon Jovi, Slash, David Coverdale and Meat Loaf all have their own say, while Robert Plant adds: “I’ve no objection to Tom playing the odd Zep track on the radio. On the other hand, you could say ‘bollocks.’”
2. His beard is nearly as well-known as he is
Along with being known as “The Godfather of Rock” he’s also commonly referred to as “The Beard of Doom.” Slash says: “Of all the people I know in the world with great beards… Tom is definitely one of them.” Although Tom was once mistaken for Seasick Steve at a festival.
3. He may have named a Metallica album
In 1996 Tom interviewed Metallica, and they enjoyed the chat so much they used the recording as a promo chat across the world. When Kirk Hammett told him they’d already recorded more than half of the follow-up to Load, which was about to be released, Tom said: “Why don’t you call it Reload?” Kirk said, “That’s not a bad idea.” Reload came out a year later. (Soundgarden used their interview with Tom for the B-side of 1996 single Burden In My Hand. He remembers: “The chat just clicked – they were in a good mood, I’d done my homework and it sparked.”)
4. Ozzy Osbourne took his advice to release No More Tears as a single
At one of those private parties in 1991, Ozzy took Tom aside and invited him into his den, where even Sharon wasn’t allowed to go, and played the just-completed master of his new track, No More Tears – all seven minutes of it. Tom recalls: “I told him, ‘That track would make a great single.’ Ozzy wasn’t so sure. He told me the record company had said it was too long. I said, ‘Ozzy, you should know by now – it won’t get any airplay anyway, other than on the specialist rock shows. So just go for it!’ Six months later it came out as the single.”
5. The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson was once his chauffeur
On a trip to Los Angeles to interview Slayer, producer Rick Rubin gave a young man the keys to his 1957 Chevy and sent him to collect Tom from the airport. As they chatted the driver told him: “I sing in a band and we’re actually auditioning for Mr Rubin.” The next time Tom saw Chris Robinson was on the cover of The Black Crowes’ debut album Shake Your Money Maker.
6. Iron Maiden shared their rider with Tom’s mates after their bus broke down
In 1993, Iron Maiden arranged for invited guests to attend their ‘final’ show with Bruce Dickinson. Tom was given an allocation of tickets and took a busload of Radio Clyde listeners to Pinewood Studios for the performance. Their bus broke down before they could begin the journey home. Hearing about it, Steve Harris took Tom to Maiden’s dressing room and handed over two crates of beer. “Maybe that will help a bit,” he said. Tom remembers: “It did!”
7. He got caught stealing tea from Def Leppard’s dressing room
Backstage at Glasgow’s SECC in 2008, Tom had enjoyed a few drinks with the band, who’d just left to begin their show. “I spied a basket full of Earl Grey tea bags. In a bit of a drunken state, I stuffed loads of them into my pockets. When I went back later for a nightcap, one of them pulled me up after seeing the tea bags hanging out of my pockets. I protested: ‘You can’t get Earl Grey in Scotland!’ Nonsense, of course…”
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8. Lars Ulrich performed first aid when Tom cut his head
After a few drinks, Tom cut his head on a taxi door as he went to a Metallica show in Glasgow. “Suddenly there was blood running down my face – but when you’ve had a few you don’t worry about that. Backstage, Lars Ulrich asked, ‘God, what have you done to your head? I’ve got just the cure for that.’ He grabbed a bottle of vodka and poured it all over my head, saying, ‘That will do as an antiseptic.’”
9. The t-shirt he gave Frank Zappa became famous
After interviewing Zappa – who Tom remembers as “a strange character but quite likeable” – Tom gave him a Radio Clyde t-shirt. Soon afterwards a famous poster went into circulation, featuring Zappa wearing the Glasgow station’s logo on stage.
10. He helped Rainbow find their singer, via Robert Plant
Tom’s well-known in Scotland for having championed the careers of bands who started there, including Gun, The Almighty and many others. Vocalist Doogie White was a big name in Glasgow when Robert Plant appeared on Tom’s show. “I said, ‘Do you fancy opening the phone lines? Let’s get the punters to ask questions for a change.’ Robert said, ‘Why not?’ The third person to come on the line said, ‘It’s Doogie White here.’ Doogie asked how to keep his voice in shape while on tour. He still reminds me of the great opportunity he got to talk to one of the greats. Doogie landed a job with Yngwie Malmsteen and surprised everybody by getting the gig with Rainbow.”
Tom Russell: The Godfather Of Rock is published by Beard Books on October 26. Find out more at www.tomrussellrocks.com.