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Original Nazareth Vocalist Dan McCafferty Dies Aged 76

McCafferty sang with the widely-acclaimed Scottish rockers from 1968 to 2014 when he retired from touring due to ailing health.

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Dan McCafferty - Photo: Erica Echenberg/Redferns

Scottish hard rock legend Dan McCafferty has died at the age of 76. He was best known as the lead singer of the band Nazareth, of whom he was a member from 1968 until 2014, when he retired from touring for health reasons. No cause of death has been revealed at the time of writing.

Bassist Pete Agnew paid tribute to McCafferty on the band’s Facebook page. He wrote: “Dan died at 12.40. This is the saddest announcement I have ever had to make. Maryann and the family have lost a wonderful loving husband and father, I have lost my best friend and the world has lost one of the greatest singers who ever lived. Too upset to say anything more at this time.”

Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on October 14, 1946, McCafferty was involved with Nazareth from 1968, but the core members – McCafferty, Agnew, Manny Charlton (guitar) and Darrell Sweet (drums) – all cut their teeth in a covers band called The Shadettes, who dressed in matching yellow suits and played venues around Dunfermline in the mid-60s. McCafferty had joined the band in much the same way that Bon Scott later joined AC/DC.

From roadie to frontman

“I was the band’s roadie,” he told Classic Rock magazine. “When one of their singers decided he was leaving on the day of a gig, the boys decided to give me a try. It was a case of straight in, and with no rehearsal. The yellow suit of Des, the guy who’d left, almost fitted me.”

By 1970, the band had tired of covers and decided to pursue a career as a rock band in their own right. To make it official, they quit their day jobs and moved to London, bankrolled by bingo hall millionaire Bill Fehilly, another Dunfermline native, who had agreed to manage the group. After months of gigging around the capital, McCafferty’s livewire performances caught the attention of Pegasus Records, who signed the band in 1971.

The band found success in the UK with their 1973 third LP, Razamanaz, produced by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover. It reached No.11, and spawned a pair of Top 10 singles in Great Britain, “Broken Down Angel” and “Bad Bad Boy” — both of which McCafferty co-wrote. Its follow-up disc, Loud and Proud, arrived that same year and hit the Top 10, spurred by another hit single,  Nazareth’s version of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight.”

But both of those album stalled in the 150s on the Billboard 200 chart in the US, as did the band’s 1974 disc, Rampant, though it reached No. 13 in the UK. Yet, as it turned out, Stateside success happened in a big way the next year.

A radical remake

Hair of the Dog, the group’s six studio disc, featured a radical reworking of “Love Hurts,” originally recorded by the Everly Brothers. Gone was the Kentucky duo’s country-flecked arrangement, replaced by Charlton’s feedback-fueled guitar hook, which fed into a signature solo. Charlton died in July this year, at the age of 80.

The song hit No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 100, driving Hair of the Dog into the US Top 20 and proving to be its biggest American success. It was later featured on several TV series, including That ’70s Show, King of the Hill, Supernatural, and Scrubs and the 2005 skateboarding pic, Lords of Dogtown. The song remains a staple on classic rock outlets.

“Love Hurts” went gold in 1976, and Hair of the Dog was certified platinum in 1992 for sales of 1 million units. The album also spawned the moderate UK hit single, “My White Bicycle,” but the LP wasn’t a hit there.

Nazareth’s 1976 album Close Enough for Rock ‘n’ Roll peaked at No.24 in the US, the last time the group made the Top 40 stateside. It won them a minor US hit with the 1980 single “Holiday” and got some FM play for “Love Leads to Madness” in 1982. The group toured North America in 1981 with Krokus and opened for Deep Purple in 2008.

’70s heyday

The band continued to record successful albums for the remainder of the 1970s, and featured heavily on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test program – where, thanks to a friendship with producer Mike Appleton, they became the standby act for anyone that pulled out of the show at the last minute.

Although their chart run dried up in the 1980s and 90s, Nazareth remained a popular touring act in Europe, especially Germany. The band’s reputation never dimmed, however, with Guns N’ Roses citing Nazareth as a key influence, and covering “Hair Of The Dog” on their 1993 album The Spaghetti Incident?

McCafferty was forced to leave in 2014 after developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “I can’t sing on tour like I used to anymore,” he told Classic Rock. “I figure if you can’t do the job then you really shouldn’t be there. I’m sad about it but I just can’t sing a whole set live anymore.” However, McCafferty continued to record in the studio, and released his final solo album Last Testament in 2019.

In 1973, he told the New Musical Express: “Basically what we‘re like is rock’n’roll. “We didn’t want to be a revival band, so what we tried to do was write basic, simple rock songs – which is very hard. Now that’s what Nazareth are.

“We have millions of influences. We listen to every kind of music. I don’t think we consciously pick things up, but we must do. Because we sometimes do songs which sound like somebody else, and then we have to throw them away. We try not to sound like other people. And that’s quite hard, because a rock band’s a rock band.”

 

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