STATESIDE TOURING WITH RITCHIE'S RAINBOW
Not too many weeks back stories were appearing in the press about Cozy Powell, sometime drummer with Jeff Beck and a maker of a couple of hit 'pop drumming' singles, quitting the music business. Reports were that Cozy was disenchanted with the whole situation of music and was about to take up an alternative career as a racing driver. However, little in rock runs according to schedule and so the next thing we saw was that Cozy had teamed up with mad axe-man Ritchie Blackmore in Ritchie's Rainbow, a band who, despite a slightly disappointing first album, look set to break big.
As with most bands who are certain of some sort of following immediately, Rainbow zoomed off over to the States to start a touring programme that should run right through to the summer with one break while a new album is completed.
Although they have yet to appear in Britain, Rainbow have aroused considerable interest especially now that they have two strong and well known musicians in the band. As an appetite whetter we decided to track Powell down in the States during the current U. S. tour. Eventually we got through via the band's office and a call was made from Chicago on a cold snowy day.
Being polite (!) we naturally enquired about how the tour was going down in the States and how the music scene was faring over there.
"The band's going down surprisingly well for a new outfit. I've been over here quite a few times now with various outfits and this one is going down really very well. Every date except one so far has been a sell-out which can't be too bad can it? What we've decided to do is try to go out there and really put on a show. It's very important these days that the kids get their money's worth. I think that if people are going to have to spend so much to go and see concerts then I'm sure that they'd rather see a show put on than watch a bunch of people who walk on, plug in, play and then walk off again.
"That's especially important at the moment because the scene over here really isn't very good at all. A lot of bands are having a lot of trouble selling out gigs. Probably the only bands who are really pulling massive crowds at the moment are people like the Who, Zeppelin, the Stones and maybe Jethro Tull. Anybody else who tells you that things are going brilliantly on a massive scale just isn't telling the truth."
Cozy's belief in putting on a show to make certain that the punters get their money's worth is a deep philosophy for both him and Ritchie.
Both of them are total showmen and they've carried this desire to impress to such an extent that they're currently carrying a forty foot electronic flashing rainbow around the States with them. The machine, built in California, is built-up with 2,000 lights and is so complex that it requires a portable computer at the side of the stage to handle it!
There are other effects too, but Cozy was understandably reluctant to divulge too much before the band hits Britain, a treat which he hopes will be in store for some time in the early summer.
But Rainbow is more than just a show. You can count on the musical ability of both Powell and Blackmore to see to that. Cozy's ability is, as it must always be for a drummer who is serious about his playing, the result of a great deal of hard graft. That's a factor which he feels is missing from many younger musician's backgrounds.
"A lot of kids have just missed out of serving the sort of apprenticeship that Ritchie and I went through on the Continent. They were tough years but they certainly taught me a lot about how to work hard and they certainly gave me a lot of stamina which you need to be a drummer."
Working abroad in the bars and clubs of Germany was a hard job for many of our top musicians but Cozy would recommend it to any younger player who wants to make it.
"Over there you've got to work for six hours a night seven days a week. Most of the bands that are big now have been through that scene. If you can learn to entertain G.I.'s on leave in German bars and clubs when they're pissed out of their brains at three in the morning you can learn to entertain anybody."
On the stamina needed to be a drummer, Cozy has adopted an almost uniquely ascetic approach. "I don't drink and I'm not into any kind of dope - which is a bit strange in the rock and roll business. I did that mainly because of my driving because I just can't afford to be slowed-down at all. It's obviously paid off from the drumming point of view. That's been very important to me especially as we're now doing an hour, and a half set which ends up with me doing a drum solo."
Powell is another of the many rock drummers who've thrown their lot in with Ludwig (which seems to be as much the state of the art drum kit today as it's ever been). Currently, Cozy uses two massive 26" Ludwig bass drums custom built for him by Ludwig with extra thick shells to give the thump which is so much a part of heavy drumming. Allied to these two beasts he has two 14 x 10" top tom toms, two 16 x 16" side torn toms and a metal military snare. Cymbals are a massive range of Paiste. Where he differs though from many drummers is that with Rainbow he is using a rather large monitor system which he reckons he is using for effects along with a multitude of lighting systems which he is loathe to talk about before people over here get a chance to see and hear them for themselves.
Advice from Cozy to younger wouldbe drummers is quite simple. 'Any kid who wants to make it has got to be fit. He's also got to work his balls off. Another thing you've got to do is watch other drummers. Go see as many as you can and learn all the little tricks they've got. Then, when you've learned your technique you can go about developing your own style." That latter point, of course, raises the question about who Cozy watches himself.
"I'm not really impressed by a lot these days but, personally, I like John Bonham. There's a long gap between him and all the others as far as I'm concerned. Some people may like Carl Palmer and some may like Billy Cobham but I'm talking about rock and roll drummers and he's the best. It's not that he does much that's particularly flash, he's just always there keeping the whole thing going."
If you imagine a grin being transmitted across an international telephone line, then that's what Cozy delivers with his next remark.
"John and I are good friends. anyway but I'm after his crown!"
Touring in the States at present, as we've already learned from Cozy is a precarious business. He admits that the main reason people are running to see Rainbow is on the strength of Blackmore's Purple reputation plus his own image in the States built up by two massive selling albums with Jeff Beck.
For that reason they are well aware that they have a lot to live up to and need desperately to make the right impression on American audiences.
Currently, Rainbow are investing heavily in their tour. Two artics carry their equipment from gig to gig. So extensive is the equipment that their road crew need seven hours to set up before the show can begin.
That in itself necessitates a one night on, one night off tour which is still a hard grind. It's also expensive. Powell admits that however many tickets they were selling at the moment they must still expect to lose money until they can tour larger venues next year.
Plans are already afoot for that tour. As soon as the current trek across the States ends in Tampa, Florida, the band take a two week break before moving over to Musicland studios in Munich to cut their next album (the first which Cozy will have made since joining the band). After that they head across Europe for a tour here and then almost immediately hit Britain (with luck) before moving back to the States for a major tour there.
As a parting shot, Cozy explains why he's still drumming after his stint of twelve years in the business. "I just wanted to be at the top. Drummers are almost always hidden away at the back just pounding out a rhythm. I didn't want it to be like that. I suppose that all I'm really trying to do is help put drumming on the map. Most people are drummers if you think about it. They're always tapping away on tables and chairs, I just want drummers to be noticed.
Beat Instrumental, January 1976