Nazareth still keeping it raw

Formed in Scotland in the late 1960s, hard rock band Nazareth still shows no signs of slowing down.

Just seven years shy of rocking audiences world-wide for half a century, Nazareth has notched a more than respectable number of hits, including their cover of Love Hurts, arguably one of the group’s biggest hits on this side of the ocean while many hard rock fans would also be well acquainted with their 1975 hit Hair of The Dog.

Currently comprised of vocalist Dan McCafferty, bass player Pete Agnew, guitarist Jimmy Murrison and drummer Lee Agnew, Nazareth has undergone a number of line-up changes over the past four-plus decades. The coming and going of various band members has done little to affect the group’s sound or resolve, however.

Formed by McCafferty, Pete Agnew, former guitarist Manny Charlton and drummer Darrell Sweet in 1968, the original incarnation of Nazareth remained intact until approximately mid-1990, when Charlton left the band. Sweet passed away while on tour with the band in the United States in 1999.

Current guitarist Murrison joined Nazareth in 1994 while Lee Agnew, the son of bassist Pete, was a road tech for Sweet prior to assuming drumming duties on a full-time basis. Despite the line-up changes and the losses that they have endured as a group, McCafferty insists there was never really any question as to whether they would continue to perform.

“We continue performing because we like it,” McCafferty tells The Times & Transcript from a tour stop in Southwestern Ontario last week. “We love to play live and get so many offers to play, I am sure we could be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week if we wanted to do so.”

Acknowledging that they have never considered themselves to be press darlings, McCafferty says that touring has been more of a necessity than a luxury when it comes to keeping the Nazareth name alive and current.

“We were never a band that the press tended to write about,” he says. “We were never involved in any big scandals or anything like that so I think that we were seen as being a little boring. But really, we just play music and are fortunate that we are able to sell tickets wherever we play.”

While most bands of their age and ilk tend to scale back their tour schedule to anywhere between 75 and 100 shows per year, McCafferty says that Nazareth has maintained a regular schedule of 200 or so shows each year.

So far this year, Nazareth has performed all over the world, including shows in Brazil, Russia, Germany, Switzerland and Austria to name but a handful of locations. In addition to their show in Moncton tomorrow night at Casino New Brunswick, Nazareth is slated to perform shows in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland before returning to Central Canada for a few shows.

As bands get older, both individually and collectively, a significant number of acts will soften their sound accordingly, but that has not been the case for these Scottish hard rockers. Their newest record, Big Dogz, continues the band’s tradition of crafting raw rock’n’roll songs. Released this past April, and according to McCafferty, the band succeeded at making it so.

Saying that he feels as though too many bands these days tend to rely upon technology to help them create their perfect record, Nazareth took an almost opposite approach, recording their new album live off the floor to capture the essence of their live show.

“There is no substitute for experience,” he says. “Too many bands rely on computer programs to help them create a technically perfect record and while they leave the studio with a perfect album, it doesn’t necessarily have the same soul.

“With this new album, Jimmy wanted to go for a much more raw sound so to achieve that, we did little in the way of overdubs. At the end of the day, it is hard to beat a live off the floor sound; we want our records to sound like we do in concert because you cannot necessarily fake what you do when you are on stage.”

Though many classic rock bands often forego writing new music, Nazareth is determined not to fall into the trap of riding the coattails of their past work.

“I understand the reluctance of bands like us to write new material; we get terrific support from classic rock radio but it is for our older material. We have always felt that for a band to continue, you have to want to evolve; it can be a very exciting thing to see your band change and evolve as time passes. That has always been a crucial part of what makes Nazareth tick.”

Article published in August 3, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript