THE HEAVIEST BAND IN THE LAND?
I HOPE what I've said hasn't put you off," says Cozy Powell, at the end of an interview. "But if it has, that's TOUGH SHIT. On the way out, DON'T KICK MY CAR."
Cozy, who's the drummer with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, says arrogant, aggressive things in a pleasant tone of voice. Which is very confusing and is probably meant to be.
"How's the tape?" he asks of the interviewer's cassette player. "SMAAASH," he says, pretending to bring his fist down on it. It's no great joke really, but Cozy laughs.
Not nastily, though. The guy can't decide whether he wants to be butch or charming. Blackmore's lot have the reputation of being a bunch of heavies. Without giving us a practical demonstration, Cozy, is it just a pose?
"With Ritchie," he says, "If anyone messes around with his stage act, or his press coverage, it's A RIGHT HOOK TO THE JAW. Ronnie (Dio, the singer) will just jump into the audience and SORT PEOPLE OUT, if they're giving him trouble. I'm not so aggressive on stage. IT'S WHEN I WALK OFF ...
"On our last flight from Australia to Japan, there were THREE punch-ups. TEETH flying about. People getting off the plane with BROKEN HANDS. After two or three months on the road, someone says the wrong thing- and WHAAAM. It's dead serious at the time. Later, it's a bit embarrassing.
"I'm not trying to say: 'We're all hard men, look at us'. It's not a-case of that. It's just the way we are. When you play heavy metal, you've got to be like that, if it's gonna be convincing.
Like, I can't see us playing 'Hotel California', or The Eagles doing 'Stargazer'. I mean we'd go "HOTEL CALIFORNIA" - WHAAAM - RIGHT HOOK TO THE JAW. Know what I mean?"
Mr Powell has emerged briefly from tax exile to persuade the world of the merits of Rainbow's new product - a live double album, recorded in Europe and Japan. Diplomacy is not his forte, though.
"I don't like the LP very much," he says quaintly preferring to call it an "LP" rather than an album. "It's not the best I could have played. They caught some of the nights I didn't like. I'm not exactly knocked out by it."
But you were overruled?
"No, I wasn't overruled. It was just a case of having to get the album out. There were a lot of gigs where I personally played better."
Why didn't you play so good on the nights they taped?
"Because I'm a STUPID BASTARD, I suppose. I dunno. It was the end of the tour by which time I was getting more and more knackered as the nights went on and it showed up in the playing."
More and more knackered? This seems a damaging admission by someone so proud of his machismo. The problem is, how to discuss the question politely.
Do you see yourself as being like a professional footballer? After a lot of years in the business, you've acquired a lot of experience and skill, but it's time to move on?
"Well, there will come a point when I knock it on the head. I figure I've got four or five years left. I've had enough of it already."
In what way?
"Well, the business end of it. I love playing music, but the business end screws it up all the time. The press slagging people off. Ritchie's had some very nasty things said about him. There's back-biting all the way along the line."
But what about the business side of the business? There were no problems with that now, were there?
"Well, there might be. You don't have to let on about everything, do you? I just get sick and tired of all the politics. I've had some daft deals over the last five years. If Rainbow ceased to exist, I don't think I'd have the enthusiasm to start again. The business has soured me a bit."
Rainbow are in something of an odd position. Two of the musicians on the new album, Jimmy Bain (bass) and Tony Carey (keyboards), have left the band.
"Jimmy and Ritchie weren't getting on musically. Tony was re-hired and left again. I don't want to say what happened as it would involve a few law suits."
What's it like to work for a man who's always changing his musicians?
"Ritchie? I don't work for him, I work with him. The day I work for him, I'll leave."
You're equal partners, then?
"We weren't when we started. We are now. I worked for Jeff Beck for two years, and got nowhere. I'm not going through that again. Ritchie and Ronnie are both nice, professional people. They're both good to work for."
But didn't you just say you worked with them? Oh, never mind.
"I'd just like to say that the thing I like about the live LP, for Ritchie's sake, is that it's the best guitar playing he's ever done onstage. Deep Purple fans may disagree, but it blows both 'Made In Japan' and 'Made In Europe' into the weeds. For people who like guitarists, this is a winner. Really.
"I just don't know if it's right to put out a live album so early in a band's career. There's a lot going against it."
The way Cozy tells it, Rainbow decided on a live set because of the way the stage act went down on their last world tour. This year, they'll be playing just a few gigs in America, then in September there'll be a more extensive tour of Britain than last year.
"I'm hoping we'll play everywhere but London. I hate London audiences. They've seen everything. You play really well, and NOTHING. Then RUBBISH like Aerosmith or Ted Nugent come along, and go down really well. WHAT'S THAT ABOUT, THEN?"
Before they get back gigging, there's the little matter of finding new musicians. Mark Clarke, veteran guitar temp (shorthand and typing optional), has taken over on bass. But, alas, no keyboardplayer, yet.
Maybe keyboard players don't like punch ups? Damages their hands, and that.
"Well, it would be no good getting some laid-back guy. We'd be LAID OUT at the first rehearsal. I'd hate anyone to come and work for Rainbow if they didn't know what they were in for. It would be KAMIKAZE, really, wouldn't it?"
Bob Edmands, New Musical Express 16 July 1977
photo by Fin Costello