BACK IN the late Sixties and early Seventies, rock groups could build a following through constant gigging. Nazareth, whose drummer and founder member Darrell Sweet suffered a fatal heart attack while on tour in America, proved that hard work could pay off. In a 30-year career, the Scottish group had seven Top Forty hits, most notably with muscular cover versions of "My White Bicycle" and "Love Hurts", while their own brand of gutsy, bluesy, no-frills rock found a ready audience around the world.
Nazareth evolved out of the Sixties Scottish beat scene which also spawned Alex Harvey, The Poets, Stone the Crows and the Average White Band. As the semi-pro cover band the Shadettes, the vocalist Dan McCafferty, bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet had played every dive around Fife without really getting anywhere. "We were still called the Shadettes in 1968 and this was like an anchor round our necks," recalls Agnew in Brian Hogg's 1993 History of Scottish Rock and Pop. "We were all in the foyer of Dunfermline's Belville Hotel and they were playing `The Weight' by The Band which had the line: `just pulled into Nazareth'. We thought `That sounds all right as a name' and stuck it on the drum."
Adding the local guitarist Manuel "Manny" Charlton to their line-up, the group switched to a harder sound and immediately made an impact around the dance halls of Glasgow and the west coast of Scotland. On the advice of the bingo entrepreneur and manager Bill Fehilly, who began to look after their affairs, the quartet jacked in their various jobs - Sweet was an accountant - and moved down to London.
However, even though they could sell out the Marquee club in London and get gigs across Europe, that recording deal remained elusive until 1971 when Fehilly took a gamble and financed their debut album, simply entitled Nazareth. It was engineered by Roy Thomas Baker (later to produce Queen) and eventually issued on the B&C/Pegasus label. The band's breakthrough came two years later when the Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover oversaw the recording of Razamanaz in an old warehouse near their home town.
"The mobile studio was held together with bits of sticky tape, a prayer or two and the amazing engineers who operated it," remembered Darrell Sweet. "By the time it came to recording, we knew all the songs inside out because we had toured for a year playing them live and we had found that identity we were looking for. We were a rock band, no messing and Razamanaz was hailed at the time as one of the best rock albums of the year. At least our jobs were safe for a while."
Blending a more commercial approach with their natural heavy rock leanings, Nazareth scored consecutive Top Ten hits with two of their own compositions, "Broken Down Angel" and "Bad Bad Boy", the latter famously criticised on air by the DJ Tony Blackburn, who claimed that his Radio 1 producers had forced him to play the track.
Nazareth then reverted to their cover band grounding and adapted Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight" (which reached No 11 in 1973) and Tomorrow's "My White Bicycle" (No 14 in 1975) while the albums Loud 'n' Proud, Rampant and Hair of the Dog also made the charts. Appropriately enough, "Turn On Your Receiver", a track from Loud 'n' Proud, became the theme tune for the Sounds of the Seventies show on Radio 1.
Nazareth's emotional version of Boudleaux Bryant's "Love Hurts" (which had already been a hit for the Everly Brothers and Jim Capaldi and was revived by Cher in 1991), as featured on their Greatest Hits collection, enabled Nazareth to crack the lucrative American market in 1976. It reached No 8 there and was featured on the EP Hot Tracks, which entered the UK Top Twenty the following year. "You just don't cover a song," Agnew reflected. "`Love Hurts' and `This Flight Tonight' are so removed from the original versions, if anyone cares to listen, that we felt we'd done something to make them our own. We stayed interested and that's what kept the band going for so long."
Nazareth kept experimenting, at various times adding the guitarist Zal Cleminson, of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, or Spirit keyboardist John Locke, and getting Jeff "Skunk" Baxter - of Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan fame - to produce Malice In Wonderland (1980) and The Fool Circle (1981, which saw them switch from Mountain to NEMS). However, the manager who replaced Bill Fehilly took the money and ran.
Nazareth floundered for a while. In the late Eighties Dan McCafferty, who had already released a solo album, branched out on his own again and Manny Charlton quit after the 1989 album Snakes 'n' Ladders. Two years later, having drafted in the guitarist Billy Rankin, who had already played with them in the past, Nazareth was back with the excellent album No Jive, on the Mainstream label. In 1995, following Rankin's departure, the guitarist Jimmy Murrison joined and the group added the veteran Stone the Crows keyboard-player Ronnie Leahy to flesh out their sound.
UK audiences may have tired of Nazareth, but in continental Europe, Germany especially, in Scandinavia, in Russia, in Japan, in Brazil, in the Unites States and Canada (where their classic "Shanghai'd in Shanghai" was for a time the most popular song to walk down the aisle and get married to), Nazareth remained a popular concert attraction. Since 1996 Castle Communications have repackaged most of the group's back catalogue (numbering over 20 albums).
Last year, Snapper Records released At the Beeb, a collection of classic live recordings from Nazareth's vintage 1972-77 period while SPV issued Boogaloo, the group's last studio album, which they were promoting on their current tour. "May your rocks always roll!" was one of Sweet's favourite quips; he always said he was still doing it for the fans.
Darrell Sweet, drummer and songwriter: born Bournemouth, Hampshire 16 May 1947; married (two children); died New Albany, Indiana 30 April 1999.
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