Official website the ex Nazareth guitarist and Rock Radio host

Biography

Rock Radio

At the end of 2007 Billy gets a call from Real Radio boss Jay Crawford, who got his number from ex-Clyde DJ Tom Russell. Billy thinks he’s going to get a long-loaned tenner back, but it’s worse: Jay wants him to become a presenter on Rock Radio.

Starting with an evening show he graduates quickly to the brekafast show, first with co-host Willie Docherty then flying solo. For the next four years rock fans across Scotland wake up to Billy’s choice (sometimes) of songs, banter and spoof tracks.

In October 2011 the station’s owners decide to rebrand Rock Radio, and rebrand Billy at the same time to “ex DJ”.

That leads to the November publication of Billy Rankin’s School of Rock, his first book, based on anecdotes of his own and of others he discussed with listeners on air.

Part 1: Early days | Part 2: Nazareth | Part 3: Solo | Part 4: Nazareth again

Advertisements

Nazareth (again)

Nazareth's No Jive lineupA phone call from Pete out of the blue: “Manny’s oot, we want you back!” After phoning Manny, who confirmed he was indeed “Oot” adding “Best of luck Bill, you’ll fuckin’ need it!” Billy rejoined the band as sole guitarist for the first time. They toured the States with Ten years After & Blackfoot, Europe with Kansas, Saga, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, all those old guys, the word, Revival, was used a lot! Then they did No Jive!

Before rejoining Naz, Billy had written Cover Your Heart, Every Time It Rains and Right Between The Eyes whilst playing with La Paz, demos featured on Radio Clyde Rock Show. A fourth track, Johnny Don’t Dance, was also intended for No Jive but Dan felt he didn’t do it justice despite his liking for the song. Cry Wolf was “Iffy.” Demo time in Coatbridge studio was taken and rough versions of Rains and Eyes recorded. However, versions done on Billy’s 4-track at home were deemed superior and the project moved to Dunfermline. Cry Wolf also demoed.

No Jive was written and arranged at Shorties Rehearsal Studios, Elgin Street, Dunfermline just prior to departure to St Ingbert, Germany to do album proper. The 4-track was used after agreeing keys/harmonies and structure thus a regular tape recorder was also set up which recorded the entire time spent thrashing out each song. Pete’s Tell Me That You Love Me evolvement is particularly interesting. The idea was to have everything demoed to save time in Germany including transferring drum machine patterns to samplers etc. Band members met at nearby Jinty’s Bar and Billy would eventually depart to Shorties, either to lay down drums and guitars for Dan & Pete to play to or with either of them if required. A short list of songs (Definite/Possible/Naff) was compiled which featured future Boogaloo tracks Open Up Woman, Lights Go Down, The Robber & The Roadie, The South and Kremlin Party. Excepting Cover Your Heart (see By Jove feature) the track listing was set and approved by all. Open Up Woman to be included if they could knock it into shape in St Ingbert.

Ian Remmer’s credit of Engineer on No Jive was possibly unexpected by the man himself. “Most lucky to be alive” was his true and agreed position within the first week’s recording. From then on, he would set up the required mics and patches for the day’s schedule (vocals/overdubs etc.) and leave. In return, they spared his life. Billy controlled the desk and Pete took on the role of co-producer for Dan, Billy or Darrell’s dubs. Billy and Pete took two days solid, alone and the bass guitar tracks were completed. After a hard day (pints of Champagne and orange all round!) everyone wanted a ‘playback.’ Normally, the engineer would have to realign the desk, change reels and generally cater for the wants of the client but fear of Nazareth and fear of wiping the tape prevented both sides from risking it. Instead a DAT machine was linked up from where rough mixes could be blasted through the monitors safely. A second pair of 100-watt speakers and DAT etc. was installed upstairs in the TV room in case anyone couldn’t make it off the couch.

Although released through a duff record company, response to No Jive was a major boost to the band. In particular it took care of the “Where’s Manny?” sections of fans and promoters and Billy no longer felt as if he were in his shadow as he, quite rightly, was in the 80’s line-up. Manny himself was also complimentary. For the first time in years, they were getting airplay and MTV coverage as a band with something new to offer. (Danny Bonnaducci’s Chicago radio show is well worth trying to get hold of). Billy threw himself into the next batch of writing and Move Me was ready to record a few months later. All they needed was a deal. David Krebs (of Aerosmith’s Lieber & Krebs) flew to Scotland and, following much backslapping, gave the go-ahead to record Move Me. He never asked to hear any of the songs. “Billy’s wrote ’em? That’s good enough for me!” Once in Germany, Krebs backed down and the band were stuck in a studio they couldn’t pay for, recording an album with no deal. In stepped old friends from Polygram GMB, Karin and Astrid, who’d been impressed with the reaction to No Jive in Germany. Deal done, album saved and to be released on a real label again.

1994 also saw Billy, Pete and Dan undertake 2 short unplugged UK tours where songs like Simple Solution and Shapes Of Things were given the acoustic treatment. These shows are particularly memorable for their intimate nature and humour content. (Get a tape of one of these shows; you’ll know what we mean.)

At this time, Billy was also a member of two ‘fun’ bands who played many weekend gigs in pubs and clubs around Glasgow. The Broons featuring Pete Agnew on bass and his son, Lee (now with Nazareth) on drums and yet another line-up of The Party Boys with Zal, Ted McKenna and bassist Nick Clark.

Initial response to the album was good and a major tour (backed by Polygram) of Europe scheduled for Feb/March ’95 sent the band into rehearsals in optimistic mood….then…. The colour, texture or adhesive quality of shit which flew, let’s leave it! Billy says, “I have no intention of bad-mouthing any of my former band mates or stirring things up. My expulsion from Nazareth (I was fired) occurred due to circumstances identical to Manny’s dismissal in 1990 and, like Manny, I wish them all the best. We last got together for Darrell’s funeral and shared many happy memories together. I’m never likely to forget, hopefully we’ll do it again sometime in less tragic circumstances.”

Part 1: Early days | Part 2: Nazareth | Part 3: SoloPart 5: Rock Radio


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


Nazareth

The Naz lineup who recorded 2XS

1980

CBS/Delta disagreement causes Billy to be dropped but Delta’s Colin Robertson agreed to keep him on retainer of £60 per week if he returned to Scotland. In November, Eddie asked him to call Pete Agnew (Zal had quit) who asked what type of guitar he played.

“Gibson 335.”

“You’re in, son,” was the extent of his Nazareth audition.

In December the STV In Concert at The Gateway in Edinburgh and a solo Buddy Holly tribute on the Hear Hear show meant two TV appearances on consecutive nights.

1981

US tours from January to May promoting The Fool Circle LP. Gigs were recorded with The Record Plant mobile resulting in the S’Naz album. Billy’s first Naz studio recordings, Crazy for the Heavy Metal Soundtrack then Morning Dew/Morgentau/Juicy Lucy for the S’Naz bonus single. S’Naz mixed at The Manor and live video mixed at Air London with John Punter. Began writing (with Darrell) for next album in December.

1982

Recorded 2XS in Monserrat then toured S’Naz album in Europe. A & M records financed solo demos at Ca-Va in Glasgow having been impressed by Billy’s writing contributions to 2XS. Four tracks were delivered and a solo deal was offered. John Locke left the band prior to Euro dates with Rush. Writing for solo and band albums (again with Darrell).

AIR Studios, Montserrat, owned by George Martin, was the tropical island location for Fool Circle and 2XS. Work on the second record began on departure of Sheena Easton and band prompting one member of staff to declare, “You guys spilled more drink than Sheena’s entire entourage drank during their stay.” The bill for liquor was ‘queried’ by their manager and George Martin wrote to each member personally asking, “Own up (band member’s name), you KNOW you drank it!”

1983

January saw Nazareth recording demos in Pencaitland. February & March brought recording of the Sound Elixir album at Little Mountain in Vancouver where Billy became pals with Bryan Adams who had also signed a solo deal with A&M.

Sound Elixir was recorded at Little Mountain studios in Vancouver. It’s not regarded as one of the best Naz albums but, nevertheless, an eventful time was had by all. Friendship struck with Bryan Adams who was getting Billy shit-faced as his daughter, Anna, was being born back in Scotland. Darrell broke the news to him next morning by replacing the milk with Scotch in the cornflakes at breakfast. Neither of them made it to the studio ’til late evening when a crate of Champagne arrived (from A & M).

Billy also became friends with Brian (too loud) McCloud from Headpins who unwittingly gave Billy’s second solo album its title. After a jam on stage, Brian said he’d finally met his match in the ‘volume stakes’ and said to the deafened crowd “Too loud McCloud?, this is Crankin’ Rankin!” All Nite Radio’s intro is actually the pinball machine at the studio which Billy and Pete recorded and then went back to the rented condo and wrote a song around it.

Guitar Tech, Davie Horner, and Billy had to flee a downtown bar after buying onyx totem poles from an Eskimo who proceeded to fondle Billy’s leg under the table. The following week the local paper listed the bar as Vancouver’s No. 1 gay venue. (Suddenly it all made sense).

This, however, is topped by the Vancouver Police Pipe Band who arrived next door to record their new album. Armed only with 4 crates of Johnny Walker Red Label, they took Naz to their ‘club’ and, for once, trounce the Nazareth entourage in drinking prowess. Billy & Pete got so wasted they left and attempted the short walk home. Suddenly, sirens surrounded them and the officer, using a megaphone, said, “Nice try boys but we’re takin’ you in, we ain’t done with you yet!” They were taken back to the party and placed under arrest until more drinking had taken place. All of the above goes some way towards explaining the patchiness of the album.
Part 1: Early days | Part 3: Solo | Part 4: Nazareth again | Part 5: Rock Radio


Early days

Mirrors promo shot

Mirrors promo shot

1959

Born on 25 April in Lennoxtown, Scotland.

Studied cello and piano to “teaching” level and awarded Scottish Region Music Scholarship 1971 (2 weeks orchestral experience in residential Manor and £10 record token). Choice of record was Dvorak’s Cello concerto, which he already had as the board wouldn’t have approved of Led Zep III & Deep Purple In Rock which he really bought. He was given the lead tenor part in the school opera, Iolanthe, which required the following of him. “I am Iolanthe, from the waist up I am man. From the waist down, I am fairy.” 2 week’s suspension followed his walking out of rehearsals. ‘A’ Level Music in 1975 followed by scholarship to Glasgow College Of Music & Drama in 1976 which he turned down due to recording commitments with Phase. His teacher, John Seggie, called him an arse, though 7 years later said in the local paper “I always knew William would do well.” Seggie hasn’t been quoted further since a chance meeting in the chip shop with Billy’s mum.

1972

Phase formed by Billy and school pals Allan Hendry (drums), Mick McAuley (bass) & John Burnett (guitar). Their first gig was at the High School dance.

1975

Signed to MAC, top Glasgow Agency by Eddie Tobin who also worked with Nazareth, SAHB and Billy Connolly as road manager.

1976

Phase signed to Black Gold records (only demos recorded) & take up Saturday residency at the famous Burns Howff in Glasgow.

1977

Phase now No. 1 band in Glasgow. They support Marmalade, Slik, Dead End Kids & Dougie Donnelly Roadshow. Kenny Cobain Replaces John. A Student Rag review gave them the No. 1 title and praised them on their ‘original’ material like Stranglehold (Ted Nugent), Sister Seagull (Be Bop Deluxe), Red Eyes (Spiders From Mars) & even She Said (Lone Star version of a Beatles track)

1978

In January Phase split amid rumours of Billy joining Thin Lizzy. Instead, Eddie Tobin takes him to London to join Zal Band. No audition was ever held. They completed brief tours of Sweden and the UK before Zal decided to leave. The last gig at The Marquee in London featured Billy’s first contribution “Jump Out The Window.” Billy was put on retainer with Mountain Records and spent three months rehearsing with Chris and Ted. All three were ‘let go.’ He successfully auditioned for The Scorpions but language barriers made the band think again. Formed the The Mirrors with drummer Paul Simon and secured a deal with EMI. The first single was to have been Preservation, later to appear on Nazareth’s 2XS album but Billy opted for a solo offer from CBS as the EMI deal was only for 2 singles. Love Leads To Madness was also premiered at a showcase gig for E.M.I.

1979

Billy signed to April Music (now CBS Songs) & Delta/CBS Records and formed writing partnership with Peter Shelley (Alvin Stardust) and recorded 2 singles (I Wanna Spend My Life With You & Can’t Stop Now – both backed by Jump Out The Window) using Chris Glen and Tommy Eyre (SAHB) and Pete Phips (Glitter Band). Using April’s ‘in-house’ writing rooms, over 40 songs were written in 4 months including Dream On.

Part 2: Nazareth | Part 3: Solo | Part 4: Nazareth again | Part 5: Rock Radio