November 13, 2022

When Dan McCafferty, founder member and lead vocalist with Nazareth for 45 years, passed away on 8 November 2022 aged 76 following a lengthy battle with the respiratory condition COPD, there were few headline announcements in the mainstream media. There were no TV clips of contemporaries sharing their memories of their friendship or working relationships with him, and if you weren’t a fan, or a reader of the online music press, you could have been forgiven for missing it. This is, and was, a great shame, and a situation which demonstrably failed to pay respect to the vocal ability, charisma, stagecraft, songwriting and just plain good rock-and-rolling life of Dan McCafferty and, by extension, the brilliance which was Nazareth at their peak.

This piece seeks to redress that balance and recognise the talent which the world of rock music lost on that day in early November.

Nazareth pictured on the Loud N Proud album. Top image – Getty Images.

Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, in October 1946, Dan McCafferty first joined forces with what would become his Nazareth bandmates in the early 1960s, under the name of The Shadettes. In 1968, with that band dissolving, the remaining four members (McCafferty, guitarist Manny Charlton, bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet) changed their name and their musical direction, taking the title of Nazareth from the town of that name in Pennsylvania, referenced in the song The Weight by The Band – not, as many assume, from a biblical inspiration. They moved to London two years later in search of greater opportunities, and in 1971 released their self-titled debut. A second album, Exercises, saw them experimenting uncertainly with different musical directions, before their third release, the Roger Glover-produced Razamanaz, gave them their big break. The barnstorming title track became an instant classic, while the singles Broken Down Angel and Bad Bad Boy saw them reach the UK Top Ten in 1973. Loud ‘n’ Proud, with its striking peacock cover design, followed, and put them in the charts once again with their version of Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight, which was so distinctive and definitive that, as Pete Agnew once proudly explained to me, when he went to see Joni perform in concert the next year, she introduced her performance of the track as something she now regarded as ‘a Nazareth song’. Following 1974’s Rampant, the band hit the big-time in the USA with their massive selling 1975 album Hair Of The Dog and another defining cover version, the huge hit Love Hurts.

The band made their first change of line-up in over a decade when ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band guitarist Zal Cleminson (also a Scotsman, naturally) joined the band as second guitarist in 1978 for two albums, including the widely praised No Mean City. Another Scot, Billy Rankin, replaced him as second guitarist before the band returned to their original four-piece line-up in 1983, ploughing a furrow which led to somewhat decreasing returns in the 1980s. 1990 saw the first member leave, as Manny Charlton departed, with Rankin returning, followed by Jimmy Murrison, who remains with the band to the present day. Tragedy struck in 1999 when drummer Darrell Sweet died suddenly and unexpectedly, leading the shocked band to ponder their future, though fortune lent a perfect solution with Pete Agnew’s son Lee working as Sweet’s drum technician at the time, and he stepped in providing the ‘family’ feel which made the decision to continue easier.

Fast forward to 2013, with the band refusing to bow to falling sales and decreasing public profile, as they continued, as they always had, to produce new recordings and continue to be a highly rated live band. Dan McCafferty had begun to struggle with the onset of the progressive respiratory disease COPD, with his breathing affected, at first intermittently. Following a show in Switzerland in August 2013, when he had to leave the stage after only three songs, McCafferty took the difficult decision to step down as the band’s frontman, explaining that, while he may sometimes be fine to perform, the fact that he could be rendered unable to sing at any time was unfair to the band’s audience. He left the band on 28 August, though did appear on one final album as lead vocalist, 2014’s Rock And Roll Telephone.

It is difficult to overstate the effect that Dan’s performances and recordings had on myself, as a teenager in the 1970s, and as a huge fan of Nazareth his voice remains imprinted on my brain as a defining soundtrack of my youth. Many cite his tremendous rendition of Love Hurts as his crowning moment, but while that was extremely powerful, displaying a soulfulness absent in all but a select few hard rock singers, there were so many more great performances which he has bequeathed to us. He could deliver a powerful rock song as well as anyone, with examples such as Bad Bad Boy, Hair Of The Dog, Expect No Mercy and Just To Get Into It only a few examples. He could turn his hand to almost any genre with instantly recognisable aplomb, however, as the country-rock influence of Broken Down Angel, the ringing pop of Carry Out Feelings or the beautifully nuanced Holy Roller bear witness to. His interpretations of other people’s songs was almost unmatched – the power and emotion he invests in the band’s show-stoppingly intense cover of Bob Dylan’s The Ballad Of Hollis Brown ranks – to these ears at least – as one of the finest of the decade. This Flight Tonight and the band’s own Telegram saw him deliver a story in such a unique and personable way that you almost forgot you were listening to a rock song, and became invested in the mental picture he was laying before you. Even a hard and heavy rocker such as Razamanaz saw him imbue the words with an almost conversational quality which few others have managed to do, outside of perhaps fellow Scot Alex Harvey and one or two others.

Tragically, Dan’s demise came only a few short months after Manny Charlton’s own passing in July 2022, leaving Pete Agnew now as not only the sole remaining original member of the band, but suddenly the only surviving member. It can only be imagined how this can have affected him, and he has, I am certain, the good wishes and support of the band’s fans worldwide. Charlton himself was a gifted and hugely underrated guitarist and, despite well-publicised disagreements between him and the rest of the band since his departure, his passing also leaves a considerable hole in the history of this great band.

To me, however, the overriding memory of those heady Nazareth days of their 1970s ‘golden age’ will always be of Dan McCafferty. Long, curly hair thrown back as he performed onstage, with a humorous glint always easy to imagine in his eye. I never met Dan, sadly, though I would have loved to. I did, however, have the pleasure to speak about him when interviewing Pete Agnew (a friendly and highly personable man himself), and he had nothing but good things to say about his – at the time still – longtime bandmate.

Dan McCafferty may have been forgotten by some and undervalued by many, but never by myself, and nor by countless listeners worldwide who have derived such pleasure from his, and the band’s recordings.

Daniel William McCafferty, 14 October 1946 – 8 November 2022. A rare and unique talent.

Sadly missed.