Classic Rock Corner

Lost Tuneage: Nazareth

Who Dat?

Formed at the end of 1968 out of the ashes of a group called the Shadettes, Nazareth - taking its name from the first line of the Band's "The Weight" - included Dan McCafferty (vocals), Manny Charlton (guitar), Pete Agnew (bass) and Darrell Sweet (drums). As the group was from provincial Dunfermline, Scotland - far away from any musical epicenter - it struggled for gigs and attention before making the move to London, where its aggressive hard-rock sound was more accepted.

Nazareth's self-titled debut came out in 1971, and opening slots for Deep Purple solidified a friendship with DP bassist/songwriter Roger Glover, who took over production duties for several records. 1973's Razamanaz issued a couple of UK hits ("Broken Down Angel," " Bad Bad Boy") and the next release a heavy version of Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight."

Record sales were unimpressive, although the ballsy foursome were making a mark with their live shows. That changed in 1975 with the release of Hair of the Dog, which broke the band in the U.S. and featured their two best-known numbers - the title track, featuring the memorable chorus "Now you're messin' with a son of a bitch," and the unlikely power ballad/Everly Brothers cover "Love Hurts." The latter became Nazareth's only U.S. Top 10 hit.

What Happened?

Nazareth continued to write, record and tour prolifically through the '70s and '80s, releasing records like Expect No Mercy, No Mean City, Malice in Wonderland and Sound Elixir, but greater success eluded them. The band did score another U.S. hit with 1979's "Holiday" ("Mama mama please, no more..."), the same year it briefly added second guitarist Zal Cleminson, then experimented with keyboardists and a more AOR sound. Charlton left the group in 1990. And though there were some periods of lesser activity, Nazareth never broke up, continuing its blue-collar music attack with records and shows.

Why Should I Care?

While some say Nazareth opened doors for later Scottish rock bands like Deacon Blue, Del Amitri, Big Country and Texas, that's a tenuous connection at best. Its biggest influence was on a young man and rabid fan named William Bruce Rose, Jr. Later changing his name to W. Axl Rose, he fronted Guns 'N' Roses with a vocal style modeled on McCafferty's raspy, larynx-shredding style.

G 'N' R would later cover "Hair of the Dog" on The Spaghetti Incident?, and Rose reportedly asked Nazareth to play "Love Hurts" at his wedding, which the group declined. But what Nazareth fans appreciated most was the band's no-frills, hard-partyin' rock and roll that deserved more attention.

Where Are They Now?

Sweet died of a heart attack in 1999 at age 51 while on tour. After leaving the group, Charlton had a low-key career, issuing his first solo record in 1997, forming the Manny Charlton Band, then briefly joined the Swedish group From Behind.

McCafferty and Agnew continue to play as Nazareth, with Jimmy Murrison on guitar and Agnew's son, Lee, on drums. The band's most recent studio release was 2008's The Newz. Nazareth last played Houston in 2001 as part of the Arrowfest package show, where McCafferty also guested with Deep Purple for one song.

Essential Listening, Viewing, Surfing

Hair of the Dog (1975) - Nazareth's best studio record

Greatest Hits (1996) - Single-disc compilation of the best tracks

Live in Texas 1981; Hair of the Dog Live 1981 - The same DVD under two different names, it intercuts clips from a 1981 show at the Sam Houston Coliseum with documentary-style pieces, including the band driving through the city. - Nazareth's official Web site

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero