Cozy Powell opens up his heart and his mouth to Steve Gett about MSG, Rainbow, cars, money-and when he's going to pack it up.
Cozy Powell wanders into the room, a toothpick hanging from the side of his mouth, and offers his usual cordial greeting - "Hello squire!" - in his gruff street voice. It's curious, but despite the fact he's become a 'superstar' skinbeater Cozy's still remained an honest down-to-earth sort of chap, not letting his status in the music world go to his head. Indeed, as far as his playing is concerned, the man is incredibly modest. Let's face it, he is basically the world's finest living hard rock drummer - John Henry Bonham, rest in peace.
The purpose of this encounter with CP is to put the record straight on the current affairs within the Michael Schenker Group, who he's been drumming with for the past 18 months. In the last issue of Kerrang! ex-MSG members Paul Raymond and Gary Barden told of their departures from the outfit and the problems suffered during the recording of their last album with producer Ron Nevison. To dwell further on MSG's past traumas seems futile and so conversation with Cozy commences with the arrival of Graham Bonnet to the line-up. Cozy gave his services to aid Bonnet's solo career last year and one wondered if it was his idea to bring Graham into MSG.
CP: "Believe it or not it wasn't my idea. I didn't suggest Graham because I thought people would draw too many conclusions. We had a few singers on the shortlist before Graham was ever discussed. In the end Michael said he was writing songs with someone like Graham in mind. So I said 'If you're writing with his voice in mind let's get him over. There's no harm in trying it.' I didn't know if he was going to carry on with his solo career or not but he came over and is still with us, so hopefully it'll work out OK."
"Who's been writing the new material?"
CP: "Michael's written the bulk of the material as he has done most of the time. There's been a lot written about Graham not being able to write lyrics and melodies. That's not strictly true. In fact he wrote most of 'All Night Long'. What's happening is that we're all working together and if the lyrics don't work out, then we'll get a lyricist in. Or somebody we know within our sphere of writing friends to help us out. It's not the end of the world, anyone who can write lyrics like...well 'All Night Long' aren't exactly the most inspired lyrics you're ever gonna hear. 'Her brain's all right but her...' I can't even remember it was so naff. But that was a hit, so I think the lyrics we've got so far don't sound too bad. If we can't come up with as good a set of lyrics as Roger Glover did with Rainbow it's a poor show."
"One wonders whether MSG will end up doing any Russ Ballard songs?"
CP: "Ha! Ha! I don't mind doing Russ Ballard songs - the reason I didn't want to do 'Since You Been Gone' with Rainbow was because I didn't think it was a Rainbow song. 'All Night Long' was written before I heard 'Since You Been Gone', which was a great single. I like the way it was structured but 'Since You Been Gone' was a bit lightweight. When I joined Rainbow it was a very hard-rocking band. We did 'Rainbow Rising', which I still think is the best album Rainbow's ever done. But then it started to get lighter and lighter. I was asked to do this song by a South African girl group called Clout - 'Since You Been Gone?' and I went 'f--king no way, leave it out, this is a bloody rock band, not a bunch of poofs.' Anyway, we did it and that's another reason I left. Look at the state of the band now. That's being a little unfair but..."
"Are you adverse to doing Russ Ballad songs?"
CP: "I've done a couple of Russ Ballad things with Graham and a couple with other people on sessions. I'm not saying I don't like Russ Ballad but 'Since You Been Gone' was a bit too commercial and wasn't right for Rainbow, who'd done stuff like 'Stargazer'."
"Surely the music business has changed in the past five years or so and you can't just do two songs on a side like Rainbow did on 'Rising'?"
CP: "That's right. Obviously we are gonna change. I just change a lot slower than everybody else. I'm old fashioned if you like. I'm not saying a band should an album of 15 minute tracks per side. It was just the whole idea of Rainbow when I joined was not to be a pop band. If I'd wanted to join a pop band I could have joined Suzi Quatro or something like that. MSG is a hard rocking or heavy metal band - I don't know what you want to call it. The way I see my role in MSG is to harden it up and not let it get too soft. That's just my personal opinion."
"You've stuck with MSG - was there a period when you felt disillusioned?"
CP: "I was getting disenchanted around Christmas time. I was working with Percy (Robert Plant to you squire!), and I thought is it worth carrying on? Then Michael and I had a couple of barneys after Gary and Paul left, Michael said we had to pull together if we were going to make it. So I thought 'alright, let's give the band a bit of time, let me drop all my solo projects and I'll concentrate solely on MSG. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, at least I've given it my best shot'. That's what I'm doing now. I've knocked everything else on the head and so the band is a three-piece unit backing Graham. It's either going to work or it isn't."
"How much new material has been written?"
CP: "We've written 17 tracks for the new album of which we'll pick the best. Michael's obviously come up with the basic ideas and Chris and I have done our bit. Being a drummer I don't contribute much to the writing. I just add more to the arranging than the writing. But I've come up with a few bits and pieces here and there. Graham has now got to go and put his lyrics and melodies on. Then we'll get together in a week or 10 days and get on with it. I'm sick and tired of sitting on my arse."
"Are you doing any cover numbers?"
CP: "Not at the moment."
"Alright, let's not beat around the bush, are you doing any Russ Ballad songs?"
CP: (Guffaws of laughter). "What is this thing with Russ Ballad for Christ's sake? I don't know, I mean Russ Ballad's written some great songs."
"The reason I ask is Graham did a few."
CP: "Yes he did, didn't he. The track 'SOS' is great but they didn't put it out as a single. They put out 'That's The Way That It Is' - that's a nice song but it's not a single. 'SOS' was written as one. Next thing you know... oh dear... then they released 'Liar', that's a bit old hat for a single. I often wonder who makes the decisions in record companies to put out singles. Maybe they ask the tea lady what she likes. At the moment no, we're not going to do a Russ Ballad song but if Russ writes us one then we might - how's that?"
"So what about a keyboard player?"
CP: "No, there's no plans to get another keyboard player. I don't think we need a keyboard player, we can get away with Michael and Chris using Moog pedals to give us all the colours we need. This band is a lot stronger and harder. Keyboards tend to knock the edge off and smooth it out. I want to go the other way and get it a bit nastier than it's been. So at the moment, unless we really need one, we won't...and no, it won't be Don Airey. I mean we might as well get Ritchie on second guitar if that was to happen!"
"How do you think the music will vary from past MSG material?"
CP: "The material on the last MSG was a lot better than people made out, but the production didn't bring out the best of the material. The best track probably turned out to be Paul's 'Never Trust A Stranger'. It's more of an LA sort of thing and Nevison did a very good job on that. But the harder tracks had a lot more balls. 'Mad Axeman', 'Let Sleeping Dogs Lie' sounded a bit too clean for my liking, it wasn't really nasty enough. So the material on the new album will be a lot nastier. MSG go Motorhead or whatever!!!"
"When do you start recording?"
CP: "In about three weeks. We're doing it in the Chateau in France where I did 'Long Live Rock 'n' Roll' with Rainbow. So that'll be good because we liked the drum sound there. If we start in the middle of April, it should be out in the summer. There are no plans for live gigs at the moment but I imagine September, either here or Japan. We'll concentrate on the two markets that have helped us."
"Did you find it frustrating when people kept linking your name with other bands while you were still a member of MSG?"
CP: "There was a time, towards the end of last year, when I was working with Robert Plant when everybody was asking 'Is he joining Led Zep, The Who, Status Quo?' All these bands you sort of dream about. I haven't heard from any of them. Maybe there were a lot of drummers' vacancies last year and my name, because I was supposedly dissatisfied with MSG, was linked. That's nice and it doesn't hurt to have your name in the papers every week. At the same time it was a bit disconcerting for Michael, cos every week he'd ring up and go 'are you joining Status Quo?' and I'd have to tell him 'not as far as I know' and the next week it would be 'what is this I see about The Who?' Also working with Robert people naturally put two and two together and came up with Zeppelin. I don't know what the situation with Zeppelin is, I don't even know if they do." "How much work did you do with Robert Plant?"
CP: "Initially I was going to do the whole album and then it became impossible to do that and MSG. I had to make a choice, and since MSG are paying my wages it would be unfair to go 'shove it lads, I'm going to work on this solo thing so I can make some money'. Although people seem to have given me a terrible reputation of being mercenary and only doing things for money, I actually turned all that down and said to Robert I'd do a couple of tracks and spend the rest of my time working with MSG. So I ended up doing two tracks."
"So what's the material like?"
CP: "ZEPPELIN - very much. We had a playback the other day and the tracks sounded extremely impressive."
"Who else is involved?"
CP: "I'm not going to tell you, that's down to Robert. I'm delighted with the way it turned out and the material."
"Who's written the material?"
CP: "Robert and a few others. It's no good trying to ask me who else is on it coz until Robert does the interview it's his baby and I want him to tell you as opposed to me blowing all the goods. A lot of people have asked me and I haven't told anybody and I don't intend to tell anybody until Robert comes out with it."
"Has it bothered you when you've got the tag of being a mercenary?"
CP: "It bothered me when I saw a couple of letters from kids in the music papers. Whether it was sent by kids or journalists trying to stir the shit, we'll never know. But there were a couple of really nasty things that were totally untrue...I mean, I've been ripped off a bit in my career, a lot more than kids will ever dream about. They got the idea that I was just in it for the money because that was a quote that I made jokingly once that I REGRET NOW. I just said it for a laugh and it was taken seriously. Everybody's in this business to make money, let's not kid ourselves, but at the same time I could have joined a lot of other bands-not necessarily the ones I talked about a minute ago. A lot of other bands offered me a lot more money than MSG paid me. And if I was in it for the money I would have joined them but I didn't and I've stuck it out with MSG cos I believe in the band."
"When you joined MSG did you think it might be time to start making some money from this business?"
CP: "Yes, because contrary to the rumor, I didn't make any money out of Rainbow. For five years I worked very hard and made nothing. I still haven't received any money from the record sales. I'm not bothered by it, but I get really pissed off when people say I'm just doing it for the money. OK, I drive a Ferrari, but I don't live in a mansion cos all the money I get is in that car. My love in life is a flash car. I don't dress flash and I don't go to clubs very often. It just so happens that it's the most expensive car around. But that's just tough shit! I like bikes as well and I'll buy the best bike and that's where the money goes."
"What's the attraction of a flash car?"
CP: "It's not just a flash car. It happens to be the best road car in the world, that's why I bought it. It's the closest thing I can get on the road to a racing car, cause that's my second love. But as soon as they see you in a Ferrari they automatically think of money, which is true. The reason I have a Ferrari is because the car happens to drive very fast, over 100mph, there's not many cars you can throw around corners. Not that I would dream of going 100mph in Britain - I only drive it at 70 - cos that's the law, you know what I mean? And we've got to stick to the law haven't we?"
"Are you actually making more money than you have done now you're with MSG?"
CP: "No, I'm not making more money than I've ever made. I don't get paid badly from MSG - it's not a fortune by any means. I'm OK, I've got enough money to buy my racing cars that's all. I'm not bothered about investing in business or mansions in the country, which most other rock people seem to want to buy. I like my racing cars - that's my only interest in life, that and my bikes. As long as I've got enough money to keep fuel in the car and get a new set of leathers every year that's good enough for me."
"How long will you carry on drumming?"
CP: "Until I get pissed off with it, I mean Buddy Rich is about 63 now and he's still going on."
"But can you see yourself at 63 going on the Johnny Carson show?"
CP: "No, quite frankly. But that's the old cliché, if I don't enjoy it I'll knock it on the head. I'm too old to start racing now, I can still do long distance racing but not Formula One."
"So is it likely that you would like to go back into racing cars?"
CP: "Oh yeah. If I do get pissed off with the business I'll go back into racing in a small way."
"How long have you been interested in bikes and cars?"
CP: "Since I was old enough to hold a bike up. Being in a band is very nice for all the perks you get. The limousines...well actually I don't travel in them...a lot of people like that sort of shit... First class air travel, nice hotels but you get bored. So you have to have another interest in life. Some people like race horses, diamonds...for me it's cars and bikes."
"You had a race horse didn't you?"
CP: "I had an interest in one last year but I lost a fortune. I sold it and the f--cking thing won three weeks after. I don't think me and horses are a very good proposition!"
"If you quit drumming would you want to get involved in any other side of the music business?"
CP: "No, I'd want out, totally. I'm not very proud of the music business although I'm in it. There's too many people that make a lot of money out of having no talent whatsoever. I'm talking about people like managers, not musicians. I've got a lot of respect for musicians. And I've seen quite a few ripped off something rotten. It's bound to leave it's mark - especially the number of years I've been in the game. You see it come and go and I've been very fortunate to do quite well. The kids get ripped off as well. The amount of money they pay for seat prices, records, it's all got out of hand. There's too many stars in this game and it should get back to the grass roots of where it started. I've seen a lot of so called 'stars' treat kids as though they're dirt. I don't believe in that old cliché: the only reason you're where you are is because the kids put you there. It's only when they start knocking you down to size they realize 'Wrong - made a mistake'. But that's me harping on.
"Do you think the business has become too commercialized?"
CP: "No, I just think people are beginning to lose sense of their values a bit, a little too full of themselves."
"How long do you think you'll want to stay a part of it?"
CP: "That's difficult to say...but the years are getting numbered now. Maybe another three or four years and then I shall just go 'Bye' and that'll be that. Every one will probably go 'Thank f--ck he's gone - it's about time.' I still don't think I've reached the top as far as my playing. I'm not by any means a top drummer (modest bastard!) but I'm getting there. I say three or four years but it might be 10. I ain't about to quit at the moment though."
Steve Gett, Kerrang! No. 14 - April 22, 1982