Arms And The Man

His solo LP 'Octopuss' out of the way, Cozy Powell lays plans for Donington.

A searing blast of flame and a thunder of drums-Cozy Powell is back! After his bust up with the Michael Schenker Group, the mercurial Mr. Powell, one of rock's greatest showmen, might have decided to go back to his other love - motor racing.

But the call of Whitesnake and the lure of the drums have been enough to keep Cozy where he belongs, in the driving seat of a big drum kit. And now, as well as his highly acclaimed work with David Coverdale and friends, he has a new solo album 'Octopuss' released, which should delight fans who have followed his career since the days when he got to number three in the chart with 'Dance With The Devil'.

Cozy, who plays hard and talks straight, once said he was sick of the rock business and wanted to retire. He couldn't stand all the business hassles and petty squabbles that go on behind the scenes. But last year he and David Coverdale went off onto the wilderness of Dartmoor to clear their minds and face up to the future. It seemed to work.

Both came back revitalized and Cozy in particular is full of energy, which he needs to play his famous drum solos on '633 Squadron' and the '1812 Overture'. It's not surprising some of the roadies on tour call him 'Napoleon Blown Apart', as the bangs and flashes during his solo seem to get louder and hotter. And Cozy promises something more devastating than his flame throwers when Whitesnake play at Castle Donington this year.

In the meantime, he's excited about his new album, recorded at Britannia Row in London last Autumn with friends like Gary Moore on guitar and Don Airey on keyboards. Says Cozy: "It's and instrumental album that features the drums but there are lots of interesting songs on it. So maybe it will appeal... to three people!"

He should worry. His last solo album went gold in Japan...

"The reason I do solos is because the kids like them. Mine is short, sweet and has lots of effects. It's very spectacular. I'm not trying to sell my drumming, though. I do it in the show, but most of the time I act as the bands driver. I try to keep the band together and, in fact, I wanted to drop the solo when I joined Whitesnake, but David said I had to do one production number. I can only play one way. Flat out."

The talked about plans for Whitesnake when David and Cozy set off for Dartmoor.

"I wanted to get myself fit again so we went on a sort of Commando course. It did us a lot of good. When you're sleeping rough in tents, you tend to come down to earth rather sharpish. I did most of the cooking. I had to do everything, actually. David is not the most outdoor person I've ever met!"

Once back on the road, Cozy began to put his new stage routine together.

"I used some pyrotechnics on the last Schenker tour and that was the first time I'd used so much gunpowder - it nearly burnt me every night. All I'm trying to do is frighten the audience! And attempt to blow up the stage. I will, eventually, blow the stage up."

"Although the flames look pretty devastating, it's fairly safe. It's all in a metal box and kept under control. The flame jets go up to ten feet in the air and we have three of them. I did have four, but got a bit burnt. The audience not only sees the effect, it feels the heat (dangerous if you wear contact lenses, incidentally). And if you think it's hot out front, imagine what it's like on the drum kit."

In fact, Cozy now uses an air-conditioning unit behind his kit, which keeps down his body temperature, already pushed up by the spotlights, let alone the flame jets. With a spinning mirror above his head reflecting the lights into your eyes, the whole effect is enough to send an audience into a state of delirium.

At the moment Cozy is gearing up for recording a new Whitesnake album in Munich, Germany, and, he says : "The tracks are already sounding good, a bit like the stuff on the 'Come And Get It' album. We've been rehearsing at John Lord's place and we're all very happy with things."

Cozy seems more content in Whitesnake than any previous band from Rainbow onwards...

"Yes, very much so. It's nice for me. For the first time in seven years I can just play drums instead of having to try and run the show. David is such a positive person - he knows exactly what he wants. I just go in and play and don't have to worry about things happening."

"Right now we're working on a few surprises for Donington because that's going to be a very big gig for us. I want to make sure we have a few spectacular surprises because this will be the first time I've been there since headlining with Rainbow. We want to make it a show to remember. People wearing pace makers will be advised not to attend."

Since Cozy was at Donington last, he's had two years with Michael Schenker.

"Yes, that's right. It started off good, then dwindled away."

What did he think about all the rows that happened within MSG after he left?

"I thought it was all a bit sad actually. I knew it was coming. I left - or rather was asked to leave. And then Graham Bonnet left rather quickly... it was all in the winds. But of course you can't say too much. It's all behind-the-scenes stuff. You don't want to air dirty washing in public."

"People assumed I'd left the group and now they ask how long I'm going to stay with Whitesnake. But look at Aynsley Dunbar. He's been in eight bands in five years. If I join a band it's because I enjoy the music. If, eventually, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes friction the position changes."

"I stayed with Rainbow until Ritchie and I fell out over a number of points, then I thought it best to leave. It was a mutual decision and he and I are still good friends."

"I then joined Michael who went through a rather hard time for a few months and didn't know if he was coming or going. I left but there's no animosity. The good thing about Whitesnake is that we've all been around for a long time so we don't need arguments. There's constructive criticism, but not punch ups."

Did he get involved in punch ups?

"In Rainbow - yeah. There was fisticuffs on a couple of occasions, I remember. But you know, music is music and it gets very personal. I'm not the quietest of people and tend to say my piece which has got me into a lot of trouble in the past. But I've got more freedom in this band than any other."

Why did Cozy get involved in the business side of the other bands?

"I found I HAD to get involved because they were looking to me to get things together. Ritchie just doesn't want to know. All he wants to do is play his guitar."

"When I joined Michael, he asked me what I thought about things then put me in charge. "You sort it out". Fine. Up until the point where we disagree. Then I'd tell him: "Alright, you run the band. It's your band anyway.". In the end it got to the point where we couldn't play together any longer."

"The amount of rehearsing finally did me in. We spent three months rehearsing - every day. Now to me rehearsals are a very important part of the show, but you don't spend three months in a rehearsal studio. My job is to play onstage, and that's where I play best. If it's all too perfect, it becomes sterile."

"Anyway, it wasn't a jazz-rock group but an out-and-out Heave Metal band. You don't REHEARSE Heavy Metal. It's very much off the cuff. That's the basic reason I left Michael. You see he's a bit slow and has to work out every note and go over it time and time again. I said: 'Look, I can't stand all this rehearsing any longer. It's just getting stupid'. I could have taken the money and shut up, but that's not my way. Off I went."

He didn't seem too upset by all these traumas...

"You have to learn to live with it. I've been in so many controversial bands, particularly Rainbow and MSG, so it's nice to be with a stable group like Whitesnake. It's a pleasure to play with them. There's a lot of energy there and that's what this kind of music is all about. Energy and spontaneity. Some bands spend months in the studio going through it bar by bar. But that's NOT what it's all about!"

What has been the reaction to the revamped Whitesnake?

"I've been delighted. I expected a rough ride because there'd been a lot of adverse press about what I'd been doing. But I went down fabulously well and it was very touching to hear the number of kids who gave me a round of applause. I thought I was going to get a lot of flak from them, but it was the journalists, not the kids, who really put the knife in and started twisting. When I won the Kerrang! poll it made me feel much better."

Cozy's next gigs after recording the album will be some festivals in Europe, so the band won't have to turn up at Castle Donington (late August) feeling cold and rusty. Then they tour America until Christmas and an English tour is planned for the New Year.

"I don't mind touring, I'm a workaholic, like Phil Collins," says Cozy. "Though I don't do as many sessions as I used to. Phil Collins has done the new album with Robert Plant, and I would like to have done that, but the time available meant it wasn't possible. Phil's done a great job, anyway, and I think he's going to do some more work with Robert in the future."

Cozy was very much in demand - it must be the big sound...

"I don't know what it is. Perhaps it's because they like the cigars I smoke or the bottle of gin I bring with me to sessions."

In between recording albums with Robert Plant and Michael Schenker last year, Cozy finally managed to squeeze in four weeks for 'Octopuss' working with John Lord, Mel Galley, Colin Hodgkinson, Don Airey, and Gary Moore. He also used the Philharmonia to record '633 Squadron' and 'The Big Country'.

"I played my drums along to the track they recorded. If I'd played drums with the orchestra, it would have taken a lot longer, and would have cost a fortune. They didn't have that much free time either."

"I always thought '633 Squadron' would be a good track for a drum solo and I've used that track for a couple of years now, and as for 'The Big Country' - I just love the tune."

Why is the album called 'Octopuss'?

"Why not?"

Why does Cozy feature two bass drums in his kit?

"To give me more power and bottom to the sound. Normally you keep time with your left foot, but if you use two bass drums you have to keep time in your head. I've been using two bass drums for 15 years now, so I think I've just about got the hang of it."

Chris Welch, Kerrang! No. 43 - June 3, 1983