The first thing the band changed was their name. Having tired of their cheesy Shadettes moniker, the quartet were discussing possible new names in a local hotel bar one day in 1970, when The Band’s song ‘The Weight’ began playing on the in-house sound system. The song’s first line features the lyric, “I pulled into Nazareth, feelin’ ’bout half past dead,” and it immediately struck Pete Agnew, who suggested “Nazareth” as the band’s new name. His comrades agreed and, from then on, Nazareth they became.
Unlike most young bands seeking fame and fortune, however, Nazareth were already married men with wives and children, and, while they were ready to go to London and build their reputation, they needed to make a living from the word go. Yet they did have a secret weapon – in the shape of their original manager Bill Fehilly. Another Dunfermline native (who later sadly perished in a plane crash), Fehilly had made his fortune through bingo halls and was prepared to bankroll the band while they got off the ground.
With true believer Fehilly’s help and guidance, Nazareth gigged solidly and signed with Pegasus Records, who released their self-titled debut LP in November 1971. Though not a big seller, Nazareth was nonetheless a fine – if diverse – debut which featured country-tinged ballads (‘Country Girl’; ‘I Had A Dream’) as well more traditional heavy rockers such as ‘Witchdoctor Woman’ and an eerily effective cover of Tim Rose’s folk classic, ‘Morning Dew’. Edited down to three and a half minutes, the latter became a cult hit in Germany, while another of the LP’s highlights, ‘Dear John’, went to No.3 in France.
The band consolidated on this early success, touring heavily in Europe in 1972 and releasing a second LP, Exercises. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker (who later worked with Queen, Foreigner and Alice Cooper), the LP was quite a radical, folk-flavoured departure from Nazareth’s normal crowd-pleasing, blues-rock sound, proffering songs featuring acoustic instrumentation, string arrangements and even Badfinger-esque soft pop ballads such as ‘Madeleine’ and ‘In My Time’.
Exercises again missed the charts, but the band’s fortunes changed rapidly with their third LP, May 1973’s Razamanaz! Produced by Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover, the LP was an unashamed hard rock record full of heavy, hook-stuffed anthems such as ‘Night Woman’ and ‘Alcatraz’. The band’s first LP to make serious commercial headway, Razamanaz! climbed to No.11 in the UK Top 40, cracked the Canadian Top 40 (where it was eventually certified platinum) and also spawned two UK Top 10 hits in ‘Bad Bad Boy’ and the country-flavoured ‘Broken Down Angel’.
Released by Charisma Records subsidiary Mooncrest, Nazareth’s fourth LP, Loud’ N’ Proud followed a mere six months later. The title might suggest a cash-in live LP on the back of the successful Razamanaz! But, in reality, Loud ’N’ Proud was another fully fledged studio LP produced by Roger Glover.
Harder and more aggressive than ever before, this LP featured furious self-penned rockers such as the adrenalised ‘Go Down Fighting’, along with several dramatic covers including Little Feat’s ‘Teenage Nervous Breakdown’, a feedback-drenched reworking of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ and – perhaps most memorably – a stunning, metallic recasting of ‘This Flight Tonight’ (originally a wistful folk-flecked song from Joni Mitchell’s 1971 LP Blue). With help from ‘This Flight Tonight’ – which went to No.1 in Germany and entered the UK Top 10 as a single – Loud ’N’ Proud also performed admirably in the marketplace, reaching the British Top 10 and earning the band a second platinum disc in Canada.
Another finely wrought collection of tough, ballsy rockers (‘Silver Dollar Forger’; near-hit ‘Shanghai’d In Shanghai’) and country-tinged ballads (‘Glad When You’re Gone’), Nazareth’s next LP, May 1974’s Rampant, notched up another UK Top 20 hit and a further gold disc in Canada. However, it was 1975’s Hair Of The Dog that brokered their promotion to rock’s premier league.
Arguably one of the 70s hard rock albums, Hair Of The Dog included stellar highlights such as the doomy, Black Sabbath-esque ‘Miss Misery’s the pulverising titular song and the epic, synth-assisted ‘Please Don’t Judas Me’, while the American edition on A&M (now part of Universal Music) also featured the band’s memorable power ballad-style version of The Everly Brothers’ ‘Love Hurts’. This latter sold by the truckload as a standalone single, reaching No.15 in the UK, topping the charts in Canada and even reaching No.8 on the US singles chart. Hair Of The Dog then continued on where ‘Love Hurts’ left off, reaching the UK and US Billboard 200 Top 20s and selling over two million copies worldwide.
The band earned a further UK silver disc for 1975’s self-explanatory, rush-released Greatest Hits, but, after punk began to break through in 1976, their domestic popularity temporarily declined somewhat. No matter, though, for Nazareth were becoming very big news on the North American continent, where ’76’s Close Enough For Rock’n’Roll cruised up to No.24 on the US Billboard chart and again went gold in Canada: a trend that continued with November 1976’s Play ’N’ The Game, which also helped break the band in South America for the first time.
Though released at the height of punk, 1977’s Expect No Mercy was an unashamed, old-skool hard rock LP featuring edgy anthems such as ‘Revenge Is Sweet’ and ‘Gimme What’s Mine’, as well as a full-blooded, rocked-up remake of Harlan Howard’s country standard ‘Busted’ and Manny Charlton’s Fleetwood Mac-esque ‘Shot Me Down’.
During 1978, ex-Sensational Alex Harvey guitarist Zal Cleminson joined Nazareth as their second guitarist. His arrival immediately brought about a reversal of fortune for the band back home, where 1979’s No Mean City – a gutsy, straight-ahead rock LP featuring the infectious Top 30 single ‘May The Sunshine’ – cracked the Top 40 LP chart, as well as chalking up another gold disc in Canada.
The band’s 11th studio album, February 1980’s Malice In Wonderland, however, was a more mainstream-sounding rock album produced by Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, whose credits also included The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Among the LP’s best moments were the reggae-tinged ‘Big Boys’ as well as two radio-friendly singles, ‘Hearts Grown Cold’ and ‘Holiday’ – the second of which reached the Canadian Top 30 and secured significant airplay for the band in the US.
Cleminson departed to form a new band, Tandoori Cassette, before Nazareth recorded 1981’s The Fool Circle, their first LP for Patrick Meehan’s NEMS label. Another respectable seller, it made the Top 75 in both the US and UK, and again earned the band a gold certification in Canada. Stylistically adventurous, both the sinewy ‘Let Me Be Your Leader’ and a choice cover of JJ Cale’s ‘Cocaine’ flirted with reggae, while Dan McCafferty even threw a little unlikely social commentary into the pot on the then topical nuclear disaster scenario, ‘Pop The Silo’.
Young Glaswegian guitarist Billy Rankin was recruited alongside keyboardist John Locke to tour The Fool Circle; both appear on the exuberant live LP ’Snaz!, recorded in Vancouver in May 1981, and the following year’s 2XS. This album featured the rock radio hit ‘Love Leads To Madness’ and the popular ‘Dream On’, which charted in several European Top 20s including Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Nazareth then cut another consistently strong collection, 1983’s MCA debut, Sound Elixir, before Locke and Rankin departed (the latter pursuing a solo career that yielded two solo LPs, Crankin’ and Growing Up Too Fast, the latter of which included the US Top 40 single ‘Baby Come Back’).
Having slimmed down to their original line-up, Nazareth signed a new deal with Vertigo saw out the 80s with several highly respectable LPs. 1986’s Cinema was arguably their hardest rocking set since No Mean City, while 1989’s Snakes And Ladders again brimmed over with quality. Original lead guitarist Manny Charlton, however, bowed out after Snakes And Ladders, and Billy Rankin returned for a second stint, in time for extensive touring in Europe, America and the late Glasnost-era Soviet Union.
Despite grunge holding sway commercially, 1991’s No Jive was another well-executed hard rock set that still sold well and benefitted from the band’s first bout of UK gigs in eight years. During 1994, McCafferty, Agnew and Rankin played two well-received MTV Unplugged-style UK tours, performing stripped-back versions of Nazareth’s hits, though Rankin left for a second time before the band recorded their next LP, 1995’s solid Move Me, which featured contributions from new guitarist Jimmy Murrison. Also picking up new keyboardist Ronnie Leahy, Nazareth undertook one of their most extensive tours in order to promote Move Me, playing in the US, Canada, Brazil and Europe, while also touching down twice in Russia.
Their first LP for new their label, SPV, the band’s critically acclaimed 20th release, Boogaloo, was issued in 1998, but what should have been another triumphant world tour to promote it ended in tragedy when drummer Darrell Sweet died suddenly from a major heart attack while the band were just starting out on the dates. Devastated, the remaining band members cancelled the tour and returned home, but, after much soul-searching, decided to carry on, with Pete Agnew’s eldest son Lee (who had previously been Darrell’s drum tech on occasion) settling in behind the kit.
Happily, the band’s staunch supporters took to Lee straight away – yet while no new records would appear for the next eight years, Nazareth toured regularly, releasing a live LP and DVD (Homecoming), which was filmed and recorded in front of a sold-out crowd at Glasgow’s Garage, in October 2001, and spending most of 2004 and ’05 on tour, playing to packed houses in territories such as Israel, Russia, the US and Europe.
When the band did finally re-emerge on record, they did so with one of their strongest sets for years, 2008’s The Newz. A fresh and vibrant record featuring exhilarating new tracks such as ‘Warning’, ‘Road Trip’ and the ‘Nutbush City Limits’-esque ‘Keep On Travellin’, the album recalled the band at their vintage 70s best, but it also burned with a contemporary energy. The record sold well in Europe and received a batch of critical plaudits – a cycle that has continued with Nazareth’s two most recent LPs, 2011 Big Dogz and 2014’s Rock’n’Roll Telephone.
Sadly, this latter set proved to Dan McCafferty’s final LP with the band, as he was diagnosed with COPD during 2013: an affliction which made it increasingly hard for him to breathe onstage. Despite these difficulties, Dan nonetheless turned in some truly faultless vocal performances on Rock’n’Roll Telephone. Though he has since retired from live performance, he will always be revered as one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock.
He’s recently been replaced in Nazareth by Carl Sentance, a highly respected frontman in his own right, who previously served his apprenticeship fronting the solo bands for Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler and Deep Purple’s Don Airey’s. Undaunted by stepping into such big shoes, Sentance has proved a live hit with the band’s long-term fans. With a new album in the works for 2016, it seems that Nazareth’s remarkable renaissance can only continue apace.
After slowly but surely building a fanbase around the world with albums like Razamanaz and Loud 'N' Proud, Nazareth finally hit the big time in 1975 with Hair of the Dog. The title track sets the mood for this stark album of hard rock with its combination of relentless guitar riffs, a throbbing, cowbell-driven beat, and an angry vocal from Dan McCafferty that denounces a "heart-breaker, soul-shaker." The end result is a memorably ferocious rocker that has become a staple of hard rock radio stations. The remainder of the album divides its time between similarly pulverizing hard rock fare and some intriguing experiments with the group's sound. In the rocker category, notable tracks include "Miss Misery," a bad romance lament driven by a doomy riff worthy of Black Sabbath, and "Changin' Times," a throbbing hard rock tune driven by a hypnotic, circular-sounding guitar riff. In the experimental category, the big highlight is "Please Don't Judas Me," an epic tune about paranoia that trades heavy metal riffs for a spooky, synthesizer-dominated atmosphere that is further enhanced by some light, Pink Floyd-styled slide guitar work. The American edition of this album also included a surprise hit for the group with their power ballad reinterpretation of the Everly Brothers classic "Love Hurts." However, the album's surprise highlight is a song that bridges the gap between the straight hard rock and experimental songs, "Beggars Day/Rose in Heather"; it starts out as a stomping rocker but smoothly transforms itself midway through into a gentle and spacey instrumental where soaring synthesizer lines support some moody guitar work. All in all, Hair of the Dog is the finest album in the Nazareth catalog. It is a necessity for both the group's fans and anyone who loves 1970s hard rock.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
After putting themselves on the hard rock map with Razamanaz, Nazareth took their new, forceful style even further the next year on Loud & Proud. With Roger Glover once again at the controls, the group added even higher levels of distortion and energy to create one of the hardest rocking items in their catalog: "Go Down Fighting" starts the album with a sonic boom thanks to its blend of furious riffing with a breathless tempo, and the group's cover of "Teenage Nervous Breakdown" transforms this Little Feat into a runaway locomotive of hard rock riffing. However, the album's definitive moment of heaviness is their extended reworking of Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of Hollis Brown," which drenches the tune in ungodly levels of feedback to create an ominous, horror movie-style feel. Loud & Proud also produced another hit single for the group with a cover of Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight," which transforms the wistful original into a throbbing rock song. The end result of this ultra-heavy approach is that the album lacks the accessibility and high level of experimentation that characterized Razamanaz. That said, the album does retain a few stylistic curve balls to keep listeners on their toes: "Turn on Your Receiver" is a mid-tempo slice of country rock (complete with an exaggerated Southern accent in the vocal) and "Child in the Sun," a stately ballad dominated by acoustic guitars. In the end, Loud & Proud lacks the crossover appeal of Razamanaz but remains a bracing collection of rockers that will entertain Nazareth fans and anyone else with a yen for 1970s hard rock.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
Often times, when a veteran classic rock band tries to keep pace with the young pups and attempts a "stylistic makeover," it spells disaster. Thankfully, rowdy Scottish rockers Nazareth know exactly what their fans want on their 22nd album overall, 2011's Big Dogz. In other words, you get a healthy helping of unapologetic, in-your-face, amped-up blues-rock. Singer Dan McCafferty still possesses the most whiskey-soaked voice this side of Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, while musically, it's not all about plowing full-steam ahead. In fact, you have to give the lads some credit on such tracks as "Big Dog's Gonna Howl," "Time and Tide," and "Butterfly," as quite a lot of restraint is utilized to great effect. But let's face it, when most rock fans pick up a Nazareth album, they're not looking for dainty ditties, and the lads don't disappoint with such swaggering standouts as "Claimed," "Lifeboat," and "Watch Your Back." Not all of the tracks are winners (the clichéd lyrics of "Radio" result in a bit of a clunker), but this late in the game, for Nazareth to still be capable of penning rockers comparable to their earlier work is certainly an accomplishment. And that's exactly what McCafferty and company offer up bit time with Big Dogz.
Words: Greg Prato
As the 1980s began, Nazareth decided to return to the AOR experimentation they had toyed with during the 1970s on albums like Close Enough for Rock & Roll and Play 'N the Game. They also made a play for AOR viability by hiring West Coast session legend Jeff "Skunk" Baxter to produce the album. However, they managed to retain their identity as a hard rocking group this time out by tempering their pop experimentation with a tougher sound that took advantage of their new dual-guitar lineup. The end result is an album that effectively blends the energy and firepower that fueled Nazareth's best hard rock recordings with a slick, radio-friendly soundscape that is easy on the ears. A good example of this careful balance is the album opener "Holiday," a witty send-up of rich rock & rollers that effectively layers a sing-along chorus done in a mock-calypso style and some slick harmonies over its boogie beat and fat power chords. Other experimental highlights include "Big Boy," a mid-tempo rocker with a reggae chorus, and "Ship of Dreams," an acoustic rocker with a Spanish-inspired flamenco melody. Meanwhile, the group satisfies their hard rock fanbase with tracks like "Talkin to One of the Boys," a lightning-speed rocker built on a blinding dual-guitar riff, and "Showdown at the Border," an insistent guitar showcase with riffs and solos to spare. Malice in Wonderland also produced a notable hit for Nazareth in "Heart's Grown Cold," a kiss-off ballad that starts with a delicate acoustic melody and builds into an all-stops-out production where bombastic guitars support a group of backup singers wailing the song's chorus. All in all, Malice in Wonderland is one of the high points in Nazareth's career and the best-ever fusion of their hard rock and AOR tendencies. In short, it's required listening for the group's fans and also an album likely to please hard rock lovers and AOR fanatics alike.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
Nazareth's second album of 1974 finds the group tempering the four-on-the-floor hard rock attack they developed on Loud and Proud by working a surprising and effective Southern rock edge into the songs. The end result is an album that sounds like a crossbreeding of early AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd at their hardest rocking. Some of the country-tinged highlights include "Glad When You're Gone," a funny kissoff to an unwanted lover that pairs hillbilly-styled singing with wah-wah-drenched guitar riffs, and "Jet Lag," a tongue-in-cheek look at life as a touring rock & roller that is driven by some. However, the finest song in this vein is the powerful opener "Silver Dollar Forger"; this hard rocking tale of an outlaw racing home with the cops on his tail has a suprisingly elaborate arrangement and plenty of driving guitar riffs. It feels like the theme song to the great 1970s car chase movie that never was. Rampant also spawned a hit single and radio favorite with "Shanghai'd in Shanghai," a pile-driving rocker that works an effective stomping beat into its shout-along chorus. The downside of this album is that it lacks the experimental edge of Razamanaz; there is little variation in the style or musical elements from song to song. That said, Rampant is a consistently energetic and engaging collection of Southern-tinged hard rock that will please Nazareth's fanbase and may even win over fans of groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet with its effective grasp of Southern boogie.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
Play 'N' the Game found Nazareth continuing in the AOR direction they established with Close Enough for Rock 'n' Roll. Like that album, it trades the driving rock that made the group famous for an experimental sound that toys with several different musical genres. For instance, "Down Home Girl" is a stab at Southern rock, and the group's cover of the Beach Boys classic "Wild Honey" slows down that song's tempo to create an effects-laden psychedelic atmosphere. Elsewhere, the group covers the hard rock bases with "Someone to Roll" and "Born to Love," a pair of energetic, guitar-driven rockers that would have fit in fine on Razamanaz or Loud & Proud. They also cross-breed the energy of these tracks with pop hooks on "L.A. Girls," a nimble bit of pop/rock fusion where speedy guitar riffs duke it out a with handclap-driven pop song beat. However, the undeniable highlights of Play 'N' the Game are its ballads: "I Want to Do Everything for You" is a promise of eternal love built on a swinging and pleasingly earthy bass groove and "I Don't Want to Go on Without You" is a moody tale of lost love that shows off Manny Charlton's ability to craft the soft but powerful guitar riffs necessary for a good power ballad.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
After cornering the hard rock market in 1975 with the international success of Hair of the Dog, Nazareth surprised fans and listeners alike the next year when they traded that style for a softer, more AOR approach on Close Enough for Rock & Roll. The resulting album isn't as successful as their previous one, but is a tuneful affair that offers plenty of highlights for the Nazareth fan. This time out, they go for an across-the-board experimental approach that covers everything from their traditional hard rock to country-rock and even straight pop tunes. The ultimate example of this experimentation is "Telegram," a four-part rock opera about life on tour for a rock band that starts as a frenzied rocker and ends a piano-led sing-along. Other strong tracks include "You're the Violin," a hard rocking love song that includes plenty of inventive guitar work to bring its music as love metaphors to life, and "Carry Out Feelings," a poppy love lament that successfully incorporates a reggae groove into the band's sound. Although hard rock is downplayed in general on this album, Close Enough for Rock & Roll does sport a few sharp rockers: "Born Under the Wrong Side" uses driving voice box guitar riffs to create a menacing atmosphere, and "Lift the Lid" is an effective slice of boogie rock. All in all, Close Enough for Rock & Roll is too unfocused to fully succeed as an album but offers solid tunes and the quality musicianship necessary to back them up. Casual fans may want to pick up the album's radio hits on a compilation, but this album is a worthwhile listen for the hardcore Nazareth addict.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
After effectively bridging the gap between hard rock and AOR sounds on Malicein Wonderland, Nazareth tips the scale in the wrong direction with this misguided followup. The biggest problem with The Fool Circle is the overbearing slickness of its production, which saps much of the energy from the proceeding by putting too heavy a focus on the pop elements of each song. For instance, tinkly piano sounds are allowed to overwhelm the guitar on the album's biggest single, "Dressed to Kill." The lyrics also suffer this time out because they strain to make political commentary and come off painfully heavy handed as a result; the obvious example is "Pop the Silo," a cautionary tale about nuclear warfare whose paranoid scenario is so exaggerated that it becomes unintentionally humorous. The group had lost guitarist Zal Cleminson by this time, and his loss is felt in the group's less-than-muscular delivery on this album (however, Cleminson appears briefly on a thrown-in live version of Eric Clapton classic "Cocaine," and the momentary shot of excitement it gives to this album only makes the remaining songs look even more lifeless by comparison). Despite all these problems, The Fool Circle isn't a complete loss: "Let Me Be Your Leader" combines some of the album's better politically-oriented lyrics with a sinuous reggae groove, and the aforementioned "Cocaine" successfully transforms that mid-tempo rocker into an acoustic-styled reggae.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
This 1978 album found Nazareth continuing to mine the combination of stripped-down hard rock and roots rock sounds explored on 1977's Expect No Mercy. No Mean City is also notable because the veteran Scottish rock outfit expanded its lineup for the first time with addition of guitarist Zal Cleminson, formerly of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. He helped the band create a gutsy twin-guitar attack that stamps its authority all over the album: prime example of the group's new firepower include "Just to Get Into It," a blinding speed rocker that provides the album with a fitting opener, and "Simple Solution," a hard-driving slab of boogie rock that sets cynical lyrics against the backdrop of a gritty, hypnotic guitar riff. Another major highlight is "May the Sunshine," which starts as a Celtic-inflected acoustic tune, but soon adds electric guitars and rumbling bassline to become a stomping folk metal tune in the style of Led Zeppelin. However, the album's secret gem is "Star," a power ballad about a love affair broken up by the music biz that is driven by a sweetly harmonized guitar riff almost as heart-tugging as the song's lyrics. The problems with No Mean City is that while all of its rockers are sturdy, some of them pale in comparison to these highlights: an example is "Claim to Fame," a rocker that relies upon endless repetition of its central riff but is saved by a ferocious vocal from Dan McCafferty. Also, the emphasis on heavy twin-guitar means there is less of the experimentation that distinguishes the best Nazareth album. That said, No Mean City remains a bracing and electric set of hard rock tunes that is well worth a listen for both Nazareth fans and anyone addicted to 1970s hard rock.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco
On this 1977 album, Nazareth makes a full-blooded return to the hard rock sound they had neglected since their success with Hair of the Dog. The result is a potent, driving slab of hard rock that will please Nazareth fans and devotees of 1970s hard rock alike. The album sets its frenzied tone right off the bat with its title track, a blistering rocker that features Dan McCafferty spitting out a sharp-edged vocal about life's cruelty over a series of fast and relentless guitar riffs. The remainder of the album prominently features a similarly brutal string of rockers: standouts include "Revenge Is Sweet," a paean to getting even that combines chugging guitar riffs with a stomping beat, and "Gimme What's Mine," a fierce declaration of dominance that layers Southern rock-styled riffs over a churning bassline. Despite this preponderance of hard rocking tunes, Expect No Mercy isn't just a guitar-fest. It also takes time to explore country-rock (there is an excellent, rocked-up cover of the country standard "Busted" as well as a honky tonk-style original called "Place in Your Heart") and even a little bit of funk (a hard-grooving slice of funk-rock fusion called "New York Broken Toy"). The album never takes the daring stylistic chance within the hard rock formula that distinguished Razamanaz or Hair of the Dog, but this is minor quibble in light of the album's high levels of consistency and quality. In short, Expect No Mercy is a treat for Nazareth fans and a solid listen for any hard rock fan who wants a good indication of the group's style.
Words: Donald A. Guarisco