42 years later, Nazareth is still working hard

On Monday, rockers Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty did what they’ve done every July 1 for the past 42 years.

They discussed whether to keep their band, Nazareth, going for another 12 months. The verdict (happily for those holding tickets to Saturday’s show) was yes.

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Agnew, who plays bass, says Nazareth officially went professional on July 1, 1971. Back then, members of the Scottish band were unsure how long their rock career would last. Sure, they’d given up their day jobs, but their employers kept their positions open.

“They kept thinking we’d be coming back to work, thinking, ‘Och, give them a year to have some fun, blow off some steam.’ And we thought the same thing,” Agnew said this week.

The band’s 1972 album, Exercises, stirred up some interest. The following year, Nazareth got its big break. Their album Razamanaz charted strongly with such singles as Bad Bad Boy, Broken Down Angel and the furiously rocking title track. In 1974, the band scored again with a rockified version of Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight.

“It just became a way of life after that,” Agnew said.

Many ’70s bands continue today; however, Nazareth is among the few who’ve continued without a break. The group’s fortunes have dipped and bobbed over the years. By the 1980s, the palate-cleansing roar of punk had left Nazareth — and McCafferty’s demonic vocal style — sounding dated. Today, Nazareth, which typically plays soft-seat theatres and casinos, seems to have achieved classic-rocker status.

Agnew — who phoned from Scottsdale, Ariz., on a sweltering morning (“Every day’s been 120 degrees, you know?”) — said he and McCafferty have been pals since they were five-year-olds, sharing the same double desk in school.

Agnew still lives in his native Dunfermline, just outside Edinburgh. His music career started half a century ago. He played in a band, the Shadettes, that capitalized on the 1960s soul craze in the U.K., covering songs by the likes of Otis Redding, the Temptations and Sam and Dave.

McCafferty used to hang out with the Shadettes, helping out with the equipment. When the group’s singer quit, McCafferty was asked to join — solely on the strength of his participation in the band’s impromptu singing sessions in the tour van. Back then, McCafferty’s singing didn’t have its trademark scabrous timbre.

“He always had that edge to his voice,” Agnew said, “but he wasn’t singing the kind of material he’s singing now.”

Like any rock band that achieved fame, Nazareth has its share of war stories. One of Agnew’s is about the time the band was offered a ride on a charter plane with Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1977. The Convair CV-300 ended up crashing in Mississippi, killing three band members.

Agnew said Nazareth shared a bill in New York City last month with Artimus Pyle, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s former drummer, who survived the infamous crash. The two men, who reminisced, hadn’t spoken since the accident 36 years ago.

“We’d told [Lynyrd Skynyrd] no thanks. For a start, I didn’t like the look of the plane,” Agnew recalled.

The bassist said the only physical injury he’s suffered from a lifetime in rock is hearing loss. Agnew, who uses no hearing protection on stage, now wears in-ear hearing aids at some social events such as weddings.

“My hearing’s affected, of course it is,” he said. “What you do, you lose the top end of your hearing.”

Agnew says changes in the band’s lineup over the years help keep it interesting. His son, Lee Agnew, took over from the late drummer Darryl Sweet in 1999, making Nazareth a family affair.

“I still like to play,” Agnew said, noting the band will record a new album this year. “I like to perform.”


What: Nazareth (opening act The Headpins)

Where: Royal Theatre

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (Nanaimo’s Port Theatre on Friday)

Tickets: $62; 250-386-6121

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