These big dogs are still howling.
After 43 years of performing, the ‘lads’ of Nazareth continue to draw large crowds.
And with good reason. The star power shines for these energetic Scottish rockers, who howled Friday night to a full moon and the biggest audience of the five-day Sturgis North Motorcycle Rally and Music Festival.
The magic started as purple smoke emanated across the stage and the sound of a lament from Riverdance flowed on the cool night air.
A split second of silence and cheers erupted as lead vocalist Dan McCafferty launched into Big Dogs Gonna Howl from the group’s new album Big Dogz.
“It’s good to be here at the beginning of something,” McCafferty told the enthusiastic crowd.
Backed up by Pete Agnew on bass, his son Lee on drums and Jimmy Murrison on guitar, McCafferty and crew own the stage.
They may be big dogs on stage, but in their bus, McCafferty and Agnew, both original band members, are affable and approachable.
“We just enjoy it, really, we still get to show off,” says McCafferty with an engaging grin of being 64 and maintaining a tour schedule that would challenge much younger performers.
Asked to explain their longevity, McCafferty explains as young men with families they saw too many casualties of drugs like heroin.
“We were offered it, but it was like, ‘that’s the stuff that kills you right?’ So it was self preservation.”
So, sobriety is the reason for their long run?
“Maybe not after the show,” McCafferty laughs.
“But it’s not like we came all the way through it without anything bad,” adds Agnew with a wry grin.
It’s obvious that music – and producing the best sound possible – is important to Nazareth.
As happy to be singing the old iconic anthems like This Flight Tonight and Love Hurts as he is the newer material, McCafferty says the band has a talented “techy” and there is often lively “discussion” on the tour bus about the value of new technology versus older purer sounds.
Another change McCafferty has seen is the explosion of music now available to the listening public.
“It’s not the biggest thing in many people’s lives now, but it is in mine,” he says. “People go to work and probably listen to the same music all the time. They probably don’t change the station.”
But McCafferty stresses the importance of diversity, something the band embraces.
The music Nazareth creates relates to real life, with song ideas sparked by everyday events, including the death of those close to them. Like a family, the band has seen each other through times of joy and sorrow and a song written by Lee Agnew to honour original Nazareth drummer Darrell Sweet, who died of a heart attack in 1999, is especially meaningful.
“When I’m singing that, I’m thinking about everyone who’s gone,” McCafferty says.
But with a mischievous grin, he agrees Nazareth is very much alive and will continue to perform as long as people invite them and as long as it’s fun.