Cozy Powell talks to Chris Simmonds
Rainbow has risen as it was ordained. 1975 saw one of the Deep Purple fragments settling into a band sold to the world as Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, fronted by the Man in Black and powered along by one of the few heavy rock drummers who could take the pace - Cozy Powell. Blackmore, true to his reputation for total professionalism (wicked practical jokes a sideline outside office hours) made it clear from the start that the band were not to rest on their laurels, and that once they had archieved a solid footing the Ritchie Blackmore tag would go.
The groundwork of bonecrushing tour schedules across the globe began. Japan, predictably, took the band to its heart - they go for heavy metal in a big way- and Europe, Australia and New Zealand immediately accorded them superstar status. The mighty U.S. of A. was a rather harder nut to crack - as Bad Company discovered you've got to deliver whoever you are in order to win the richest prize, and Rainbow haven't yet been able to string together a full coast to coast tour to bring it home.
On the album front (now look fellers, if the history's getting you down you can always skip a couple of paras) the same divide dictated the band's success. The first album, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, was a disappointment in view of Blackmore's avowal that he wished to avoid recycling the latterday Purple riffs. "Second rate Purple, if you don't mind my saying", decreed his old companion Jon Lord, "but the next one could be a killer." The follow up, Rainbow Rising, was more epic all round, a warlord fist clenching the rainbow on the cover while the album contained a couple of marathons that were to become high points of the stage act. The third album, On Stage, was a live double which went the way of many live doubles - great for the fans but not a revelation.
Long Live Rock & Roll is the new album; twenty minutes spent huddling over a rusty cassette player convinced me that it's the best to date. To coincide with the album, the band are planning the big American tour assault that should put their status beyond doubt.
Cozy Powell drove his racer into town to give an interview about the band's progress, the new album, and -of course- drumming. A silver jacket with Ferrari emblazoned on the front indicated that his second love -racing and fast wheels in general- is still very much in evidence.
That new album, first of all, and welcome back to the readers who sat out the preamble. "It's a lot more commercial than anything we've done," he began. "The first album I wasn't on, of course - that was Ritchie's solo album and all the rest of it. Rainbow Rising was the first band effort, which possibly a little self indulgent. That was exactly what we were into at the time, and while it sold well over here it suffered in the States because the tracks were too long and the short tracks that were on the album were neither one thing or the other. No-one in the band really wanted the live album to come out at all; that was a political move by Polydor as they needed something to come out then.
"I don't think live albums are a good idea for a new band, which Rainbow still is. It was also overpriced -six pounds or something- and we were a little shocked when we discovered that. Anyway, that's past now. The new one, as I said, is more commercial, a lot stronger and the songs are more to the point. It's a hard, driving album, probably one of the few straight rock & roll album out this year."
Cozy naturally appreciates that the album's chances for America improve with shorter tracks but agreed that basically it was dfown to touring, something Rainbow take very seriously indeed. "We've done two 20 date tours of the States, nowhere near enough," he admitted, "so obviously it'll still take some time to crack it over there. We plan about four months of this year solely on America. We had to concentrate all our efforts first of all on the countries that were buying the records -England, Australia, Japan- which is why we didn't hit the States first as most bands do."
The band descended on the Chateau to record the album, a departure from their funky sort of a place", as Cozy described it. "Not the best studio in the world, but its's fun. We were there a long time; changing personnel halfway through didn't help matters. It ended up with Ritchie and myself doing most of the backing tracks with Ritchie playing bass. Musicland is totally different, much more clinical", he continued, comparing the studios. "The Chateau's maybe not so good technically, but it's got a better feel. As we had Martin Birch with us, engineering and producing, he was able to correct most of the problems... I'd like to go back there again."
The new arrivals or course were Canadian David Stone on keyboards and ex-Widowmaker Bob Daisley, representing the other side of the globe - Australia. Cozy had a few words to say about the role of a keyboard player in a heavy rock & roll band. "It's difficult for a keyboard player in this band - I wouldn't want to be Rainbow's keyboard player. The band is based around what Ritchie writes which is very riff and guitar orientated, so a keyboard player has to providechords under that and also be able to take a solo when needed. It's down to laying a good foundation for Ritchie to solo on. They're hard to come by these days - they either want to be like Kelth Emerson or Chick Corea." The alternative of installing a rhythm guitarist didn't crop up; apart from the possibility of detracting from Ritchie's performance there was always the consideration that a guitar simply can't match the colour and sound range of the well chosen bank of keyboards. "You need those colours," Cozy went on, even in a rock & roll band." And Rainbow. if nothing else, is a rock & roll band, as Cozy likes to remind anyone within earshot.
"Ritchie must have two or three hundred riffs on tape which we haven't even used yet," he remarked. "Of course a riff isn't enough, it has to be arranged, so he usually comes to me with an idea and we play it through, working out a middle eight, whatever, to polish it into a proper song."
Cozy Powell as spokeswoman for Rainbow had more or less said his piece. Cozy Powell as one of Britain's foremost heavy metal drummers, hadn't yet. At the last count, Cozy was battling it out with a massive Ludwig kit incorporating those two massive 26" bass drums. Ludwig being pretty well the state of the art as far as heavy drumming goes, it came as quite a surprise to discover that Cozy has axed the Ludwig in favour of a Yamaha outfit.
"I told them to build me a kit which was bigger and louder than anything they'd ever heard before" he grinned. "They came to our last Japanese gig in Tokyo with this monster kit which they'd managed to build for me - fantastic, so loud it wasn't true. The bass drums (two, naturally) are the same size, 26", tom toms are 14" and 15" for the top, l6" and l8" for the floor.
They have all chrome shells, a lot harder and more heavy duty than the Ludwigs (what is this man saying??). The snare drum is literally twice as loud - made from a combination of wood and metal. It's deafening. Ritchie's roadie stands next to me behind his amps and he has to wear earplugs now. That's just from the acoustic volume!
Yamaha have also strengthened all the fillings up; the hardware is the strongest I've ever come across. When they watched me playing in Japan, they look notes about what had to be done, improved and so on, and then went off to the factory, re-tooled some of the machines, and came back with this monster." In other words, for any heavy drummers already booking their long distance calls, Cozy's kit is by no means an off the peg job. The one item he has stuck with are his beloved Remo heads - "always have and always will". Cymbals, too, remain an armoury of Paiste. (Three cases of 30 cymbals each accompany the band on tour.)
There's still the small matter of miking up the drums. "I've got my own PA system behind me," Cozy went on, "comprising a Mavis 16 channel desk with Sennheiser microphones for each drums, two overheads - Shure for the snare and Shure again for the hi hat. This is driven by a Mackintosh 600 amp and a Crown 300. Besides that there's a Urei graphic. Urei crossover, linked to the Mavis and it all goes through four bass bins and four horns. That's just for the drums - what most bands use for their full P.A."
Cozy likes people to hear that the band's got a drummer, then. The Mavis, to get things quite clear, is entirely given over to the drums. "We have to use another for the monitor mix on stage," he added. "The way I play sticks could be a problem, but what I use there are Ludwig 3S military sticks, literally twice as big as normal sticks. They must be 3/4" thick.
People ask me 'how the hell do you play with them?' but I've been used to them for so many years. If I use a smaller stick now I just hit the drums once and it breaks... actually, I saw an inventory the other day. I went through 176 pairs of sticks last year, 14 bass drum pedals, 63 skins, 36 cymbals - ridiculous when you think about it."
Calculating the rest of the band's equipment on t(he strength of Cozy's massive array of drums and amplification (to say nothing of his rising drum platform - yet) indicates a veritable convoy of attics carting the gear from one town to the next. Remember that Rainbow not only play super-loud but carry special effects as well.
The P.A. we hire from Tasco where he have a regular contract and in the States they run out of both New York and Los Angeles. The lighting is done by C Factor, based in New York again," he continued. explaining the breakdown of their gear inventory.
"The Rainbow backdrop of course we take ourselves. No-one else would have much use for a flaming great rainbow, after all! Taking so much out on the road starts to get expensive; it's impossible to show any profit in Britain, for instance. although we might show a little in a country like Japan. But that's not what the band's about. We believe in going out and putting on the best show we can, because it's those audiences who put us where we are. They buy the records, and we feel we owe them 100 per cent effort. That's why we've spent so much money on these effects." These effects, besides the usual blazing light show. include explosions, the Rainbow backdrops and that rising platform during Cochran thunderous solo spot towards the end of tbcir set.
"I thought of that a few years ago," he admitted, "but because it cost so much I never managed to get it done until this year. lt works on two hydraulic winches, one driving forward and the other up, and we had it made by a specialist firm in Hollywood working for the film sets. It compresses into a ten foot cube and the two platforms fold up easily." When the kit goes up, Rainbow furnish explosions and flashes, attached to the front of the platform, and when they've died down Cozy's back in place on terra firma. The microphones in the meantime go up at the same speed above the kit but the monitors stay below - not an important loss as Cozy knows his way around his solo section and can hear it well enough anyway. I'm only up there for a very short space of time, so I don't really need it," he concluded, winding up the guided tour of his hardware.
The next topic, obviously, was Cozy's actual technique and style. For a drummer like Cozy, stamina is just about as important as any special playing style. That suits him fine because he lays off the usual pep-you-ups that accompany most bands on a wearing tour - booze and the rest of it. He keeps himself further refreshed by transporting himself from gig to gig either by car or motorbike - the speed depending on has evaluation of the previous gig. But technique is always important. How much more was there to heavy heavy drumming than using crowbars for sticks and a few tons of amplification? I wondered (although I didn't exactly phrase it that way).
"I don't need as much technique or speed as I used to." he admitted. "It's more from the heart than from my head in this band. In my book drumming's not about going round the kit and up your own bum as fast as you can, it's about driving the band along in the appropriate way. Some drummers seem to forget that the drum is a rhythm instrument after all. Now maybe that sounds like a cop-out from a guy who can't play as fast as the other people, but that's just the way I feel. Flashy stuff in Rainbow would never fit. English drummers who are coming up now seem to be copying the Americans beat for beat, and if that's true it's a shame."
Cozy went on to mention how playing two bass drums worked out and the effect it had on his style. "If you use two bass drums you've got to have a very good inbuilt sense of rhythm, because you're not getting any help from the hi hat. Your feet have got to work completely independently - if you have to think about what they're doing, forget it. The one thing you should never do is merely double your capacity by thumping away alternately.
"You should provide an interesting line, or two interesting lines that go together for the bass guitar to play along with." And to keep your ideas fresh, you've got do be prepared to try new things, attempt something just that little bit beyond you." As far as passing on any tips goes. Cozy reiterated a point of view he's expressed before: "Don't listen to too many different people unless you want to end up a poor copy. Just nick a little bit here and there and then form it into your own style."
As Rainbow mount another heavy tour campaign, they find the old system of keeping separate private lives offstage keeps the band in better spirits. "I like it that way," he grinned, "because I'm a miserable bastard at the best of times. We're all into different things. "I've got my racing, Ritchie's into playing his cello at four in the morning. Ronnie likes watching the telly, whatever. Yeah, Ritchie's even brought his cello round to rehearsals a few times and I've put me boot through it a few times. He's quite a good cello player actually, I think he's having lessons from the fellow in ELO". One final grin, and that was that.
© Chris Simmonds 1978