Official website the ex Nazareth guitarist and Rock Radio host

The stardom, the solo tour, the shite

Jacobs Studios, Farnham, suggested by Alan McGee at A&M UK (which was ironic as they eventually withdrew release of Growin’ Up in the UK saying it was “too American”), being residential meant Billy’s growing family (Billy jr appears on the back sleeve of the album and baby, Anna, on the promo postcards for Baby Come Back) joined him, thus no tales of Sound Elixir’s magnitude exist.

John Ryan was chosen as producer after Billy held court at Le Park, Hollywood earlier in the year interrogating a dozen producers including Mack (Queen/Stones), Ken Scott (Bowie/Supertramp) and other noted millionaires, some of which, when asked why they wanted the job looked at Billy curiously and said “For the money, asshole!” Mack was just too “out there” and first choice Ken phoned the next day to say he was unable to fit the job in. This problem recurred on Crankin’ remixes which were done eventually by Steve Nye. John was the only one who didn’t want to change the demos, “Just record ’em better,” and his work with Santana & The Doobie Brothers was impressive enough although not as impressive as his Santana stories, of course!

One noteworthy incident involves the arrival of Zal Cleminson in the studio. John couldn’t understand why Billy wanted another guitarist for a few solos when, after all, he could have done them himself. “You’ll see,” replied Billy. Zal unpacked his gear and listened to the backing track for Rip It Up as Billy pointed out the chords etc. He then sat on a stool looking like a librarian. John reclined on the couch, fat cigar in mouth and suggested a dry run. Billy told Ken (engineer) to record it and John shook his head in disgust, his face still saying, “What’s he doing here?”…….. then the solo part came up. Without warning, Zal leapt from the stool and adopted the spread-legged stance, his whole body shook, face contorted, he yelled and growled, threw his guitar up and down, John Ryan bit his cigar in half and said “Holy Shit!” Solo section finished and the tape rewound to listen. Zal sat back down and scratched his nose. It had taken 15 seconds. The solo was done, Ryan’s face was shut! Alistair Cleminson is a one-off, no competition.

Baby Come Back was a US Top 40 hit and Billy got to be an MTV celebrity for a month. TV shows followed and the first solo tour was booked. Asked on Thick Of The Night to reveal his most and least favourite places to play, Billy revealed Detroit as the most. Least should’ve been Singapore or something equally non-US but he stupidly said Buffalo, NY. 3 weeks later he headlined an outdoor festival in Buffalo, NY. The promoter praised his guts for getting through one song, then helped him get away alive! Memorable gigs included (surprise!) Detroit’s 3 night sell-out at Harpo’s, LA Palladium with Stevie Ray Vaughan & upstaging Molly Hatchet and Pat Travers by actually going on during a hurricane thanks to his radio mic and non conductive footwear. 38 Special were kind enough to inform Rolling Stone magazine that “Rankin’s too awesome!” by way of his removal from their Michigan dates after 2 nights as support. Billy says “I think they were being genuine enough, closing my half hour set by leading 18000 voices thru Baby Come Back was maybe too much of a ‘Follow that ya Bastards’ for Donnie & Co to deem acceptable.”

A&M were so pleased with the success of Growin’ Up Too Fast that they requested a second solo album to capitalise on his newfound popularity. Billy turned down 4 top US studios in favour of using Glasgow’s Ca-va, a decision he still stands by. He is proud to be noted as Ca-va’s 1st Major Label project and even prouder that they’ve gone on to become a “Hit Factory” for so many top acts worldwide. Grudgingly included are Wet Wet Wet, Glasgow’s answer to Milli Vanilli. Things were not well with A&M however. After the LA Palladium gig, a big party was thrown in his honour at Le Dome. Everything was great ’til Billy was tipped off about a minor disturbance in the car park. A ‘Charlie Minor’ (A&M Executive) disturbance. Billy’s manager had him over the bonnet of his Rolls Royce and it took 6 people to drag him off. As they returned inside, Charlie yelled, “Rankin, you’re finished on this label.” And he was! Things dragged on for a year or so, there were remixes, re-covers, re-titles etc before Billy’s calls started to be ignored. His final call with Jordan Harris (A&R, mentor, now at Virgin) was to the point. He wasn’t to speak to Billy anymore on Company orders.

The rest of the 80’s were spent signed to various ‘production’ deals, John Ryan, Doug Banker (Ted Nugent’s manager) and even Uncle Pete Agnew all tried and failed to get him out of whatever mess he had created. Doug even made it into Jordan’s Virgin office, said Billy’s name and was removed by security guards.

Part 1: Early days | Part 2: NazarethPart 4: Nazareth again | Part 5: Rock Radio


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