Scottish hard rock legends Nazareth have been around for a long, long time, but they refuse to just follow the nostalgia circuit and just play the hits, instead opting to keep pumping out new material and tour non-stop. The band has recently released the solid Big Dogz on Eagle Rock, another fine collection of bluesy hard rock that will certainly please their longtime fans. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo had a chance to speak to drummer Lee Agnew and guitarist Jimmy Murrison about the new album, upcoming live shows, and some of the reasons why Nazareth have had such a successful and enduring career.
SoT: Big Dogz is a great follow-up to The Newz, which in itself was a true return to form for Nazareth. How has reaction been from fans & critics to the latest CD so far?
Jimmy: Thanks very much. For the most part, 'Big Dogz' seems to have had a positive response as far as I can tell.
Lee: Yeah. People seem to be enjoying it. It can be tough to get people to accept new material from a band that's been going this long. So far so good with this one.
SoT: The new CD features a solid mix of heavy rockers, more bluesy material, and ballads, which was always the successful formula for Nazareth. How important was it to mix things up this way when writing songs for the album?
Lee: I'm not sure if we made a conscious effort to do that. It's just the way it worked out. I'd say most of the album is blues based, which has always been a factor in the Nazareth sound as far as I'm concerned.
Jimmy: Nazareth through the years have never really followed any kind of formula. Some things have been successful and some not so much. But the band have never been afraid to try things. Some would say this has worked against them in the past, and some would say it's the thing they like most about the band. 'Big Dogz" has certainly got that bluesy vein running through it which I think gives it some common ground with the bands more successful releases.
SoT: Lee-what's it like playing in the band with Pete?
Lee: Oh. It's a nightmare! Not really! To be honest, we don't really overdo the whole Father and Son thing when we're working. We try and treat each other the way you would anyone else in the band. I'll admit it was a little strange at first. But it's been years now and it's not something I really think about anymore. As for playing together….I love it! He's a hell of a rock bassist. Great to jam with. And a damn fine singer as well.
SoT: Jimmy-can you tell us how you came to be in the band?
Jimmy: I'd been playing in bands since I was a kid. Eventually I was playing in a band with Lee. So Pete, Dan and Darrell saw that band a few times and when they were looking for a guitarist decided to give me a try. And happily for me it worked out nicely!
Lee: Yeah. He lived nearby and he's not expensive!
Jimmy: Cheers mate.
SoT: Can both of you talk a little bit about your backgrounds, influences, etc.?
Lee: I would jam with my brothers a lot when I was a kid. Eventually we had a band with some local guys and played youth clubs and gala days. Stuff like that. I wasn't so much into individual drummers back then. More bands and songs. We were into stuff that we thought we might be able to play! Eventually I got more serious about the drums as an instrument. And I'd listen to all kinds of music and try to cop what the drummer was doing. When I was 17 I went to college where I met Jimmy. From that point on it was all about meeting other players, and taking any gig you could.
Jimmy: I was in bands all through school. All the usual suspects were influential. I remember VanHalen coming out and thinking… "What the fuck"! There were so many great guitarists. I was really into Micheal Schenker. Still am! And as Lee just said, there was college and just gigging as much as possible.
SoT: With so many albums released in their 40+ year history, it must be tough to come up with a set list for each tour. Besides for the 'hits' that the fans expect, how does the band go about selecting songs, both new & old, when getting set to hit the road?
Jimmy: There is a hard core of stuff that we have to play or risk being lynched! At the moment we'll also include 2 or 3 new ones 'cause we're promoting the new album after all. Then there are certain songs that must go in depending on what country we are in.
Lee: For instance we have to play 'Dream On' in Europe where it was a hit. In Canada it's 'Turn on your receiver'. In Russia, they love 'We are animals", because it was one of the first tracks to be rotated on Russian MTV. So everyone knows it. If you played that anywhere else people would just look at you funny!
Jimmy: The rest of the set we try to vary from year to year. But with the bands back catalogue someone will always be disappointed that you didn't play 'their' song.
Lee: Every year it's "What new old ones are we going to try"!
SoT: Dan's voice is still in great shape-how does he keep that gravelly roar going so well after all these years?
Lee: Plenty of exercise. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Early to bed……
Jimmy: Dan's just one of those guys, you know? It's not as if you can learn to sing like that. It's a gift.
Lee: And to be fair to Dan, he gives it his all, even when he's hurting. The mans a rock and roll hero!
Jimmy: Yeah. Someone will say "He sounded a bit rough tonight". I'm thinking "He couldn't even talk in the dressing room…how is he doing this"?!!
SoT: Can you talk about some of your favorite tunes off the new CD, and what you like most about them?
Lee: 'When Jesus comes to save the world again' worked out great. To me, it's got all the elements of a 'Classic Naz' track. I love the vibe. I love the vocal. It's working well as a live number as well. I also love the vibe and vocal on 'Butterfly'.
Jimmy: I really enjoy 'Time and Tide'. That came together just how I hoped it would. The 'stoner' bit on 'Sleeptalker' is fun! Wasn't sure how that would go down, but the fans seem to like it. It was a fun bit to put together!
Lee: 'No Mean Monster' is another one. And 'Radio' could do well if the 'Radio' would play it!
Jimmy: 'Claimed' has an interesting groove to it. 'Big dogs gonna howl' is a 'proper' rock song….
Lee : What the hell…..we think it's all great!!
SoT: Fans here in the US are pretty starved for some live Nazareth. With some of your contemporaries like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Styx, Yes, Robin Trower, Doobie Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd all making their way through the country over the next few months, can we expect Nazareth to visit us in 2011?
Lee: I wish we'd do more in the US. I really do. It's all down to money really. Unlike a lot of the bands you mentioned we're not based in the US. We've got to get the band and crew over from Scotland. Travel costs, hotels, wages and general tour costs make it very difficult to tour the US.
Jimmy: What we need is a US promoter to make us an offer that makes a US tour viable.
Lee: I know there are a lot of fans in the US that want to see the band play there. We have people say as much on our website all the time. Believe me, it's not that we don't want to.
SoT: What's the summer festival season looking like for the band this year? Do you have any really big shows lined up?
Jimmy: Nope! Well not as far as I know.
Lee: I know. What's up with that?
Jimmy: It's not like we haven't mentioned this to our agent!
Lee: The band tours like crazy. I think maybe we are always already booked to play every time someone from a festival enquires after the band.
Jimmy: Do you want to play our festival? It'll be great exposure for you.
Lee: Nah. We've got a gig in Khabarovsk that night!
Jimmy: And the band is good on a festival stage. We had a good one at the Sweden Rocks festival last year.
Lee: Something must be done!
SoT: How do you think Big Dogz stacks up against classic albums such as Hair of the Dog, Expect No Mercy, No Mean City, Malice in Wonderland, Loud 'n' Proud, etc?
Jimmy: 'Big Dogz' is a good, solid album that you'll hopefully like if you are a fan of the bands 'classic' stuff.
Lee: What he said.
SoT: Jimmy-you have a more varied guitar style than Manny Charlton. What was it like to fill his big shoes, and did you feel it necessary to add more flavors and textures to the mix in addition to the crunchy riffs and bluesy solos?
Jimmy: Technically I didn't replace Manny. I replaced Billy Rankin. Both those guys are guitarists that I have huge respect for. The band also had Zal Cleminson for a while. Another great guitarist. But I am fully aware of Manny's legacy as he was the guitarist in the 'Classic' line up. It's the old adage of the band saying to me "Just play like yourself". So you keep some things, you change some things and you learn some things. I try and be me and I try to keep the spirit of the 'Naz' sound as well. For some die hard 'Manny heads' that'll never be good enough. That's cool. I understand that. Anyone who has walked into an established band will know this. If Manny replaces someone in a band he'd most likely do the same thing. I've been playing in this band for a long time now and I'm comfortable with it.
SoT: Nazareth is one of those bands that just seems to plow through the decades, playing the music they want to play, and pleasing the fans, year in and year out. Can you see the band still doing this, say 5 or 10 years from now?
Lee: I honestly did not expect to still be doing this now. It's coming up for 12 years I've been playing with these guys. That's longer than a lot of bands entire careers! So I just can't say. It's hard to imagine doing this 10 years from now…..but you never know!
Jimmy: That's really a question for Dan and Pete. If they need me I'll be here.
Lee: Me too. Unless I win the lottery. Then you can stick Khabarovsk up your arse!
SoT: Seeing as how strong both Big Dogz and The Newz have been, there's seems to be no shortage of creativity within the band as far as writing new material. Can we hopefully expect another studio release over the next couple of years?
Jimmy: I'd like to think so.
Lee: If the record company gets a decent return on 'Big Dogz' then why not?
Jimmy: 'The Newz' and 'Big Dogz' are part of a trilogy. The albums that end with 'Z' trilogy!
Lee: You see what we did there. It's clever stuff….it really is.
SoT: Lastly, Nazareth have always been known as a great live band. Have you thought about putting out a new live album with this line-up that portrays the entire live set in all its glory?
Lee: We did a live album and DVD in Brazil a few years ago. It's called, funnily enough, 'Live in Brazil'.
Jimmy: There is also a DVD called 'Live at the Classic T stage' which is this line up live. Albeit to some camera men and our road crew!
Lee: It would be good to do a live thing that includes some stuff from 'The Newz' and 'Big Dogz".
Jimmy: Yeah. That would be good. I'll talk to my people…who'll contact your people….
Lee: Let's do lunch!
SoT: Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions, this was fun, and thanks for 40 years of great music!
(Click here to read our review of Big Dogz)