William Daniel McCafferty (14 October 1946 – 8 November 2022) was born in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland where he attended St Margaret’s school. He had no formal musical training, but in 1965 he joined the Shadettes, who dressed in matching yellow suits and played cover versions of Top 30 pop hits in local venues such as the Belleville Hotel and Kinema Ballroom. Every week the band had to add three new songs from the charts to their repertoire, learning them on Sunday afternoon to perform that night.
The Shadettes had been in existence since 1961, and when McCafferty joined, its members included bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet. In 1968 Manny Charlton, who passed away earlier in May of this year (2022), joined as lead guitarist, and in December that year the foursome changed their name to Nazareth, inspired by the Band’s song The Weight and its line about pulling into Nazareth “feelin’ ’bout half past dead”. The reference was to the Pennsylvania town, rather than any Biblical connotation.
With financial backing and management from a local bingo-halls millionaire, Bill Fehilly, the band moved to London in 1970. Their energetic performing schedule brought them a deal with Pegasus Records, which released their debut album, Nazareth, in late 1971. It made little impression, though the band’s seven-minute version of the folk standard Morning Dew allowed McCafferty to demonstrate a vocal range stretching from quiet introspection to heavy-metal howling. The follow-up album Exercises (1972) likewise failed to chart.
The total breakthrough with Hair of the Dog however, which included their eponymous version of Love Hurts kicked off a streak of albums that hit the US charts (including a No 24 placing for Close Enough for Rock’n’Roll and 41 for Malice in Wonderland), though Stateside success coincided with their albums failing to register on the British charts.
A shorthand description of the musical style of Nazareth would be hard rock, but it Love Hurts was a cover of a slow ballad with its roots in country music, that became the trigger to the band winning international acceptance. Love Hurts had originally been recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1960, but Nazareth preferred the version from the Gram Parsons album Grievous Angel (1974).
“We had always liked Love Hurts as done by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, so we thought we would have a go at that one,” recalled Dan McCafferty. “We recorded it and thought it was great.”
It was hardly a typical Nazareth song, but it was a stunning showcase for McCafferty’s anguished vocal performance. His face framed by a tangle of black curls, he projected the lyrics with the power of a heavy-metal frontman, while managing to keep the heartbreaking melody intact. “I think too many singers are paranoid with their voices – ‘it’s too smoky’, ‘it’s too cold’ or whatever,” he said. “I just don’t worry about it.”
They had only intended to use the track as the B-side to a single, but their US record label A&M instantly grasped its hit potential and released it as an A-side. It reached the US Top 10 and was a hit around the world. Included on the album Hair of the Dog (1975) in the US, though not on the UK release, it propelled the album into the US Top 20 and helped it sell 2 million copies, making it the most successful of Nazareth’s career.
It is however fair to say that in the hands of Roger Glover, Nazareth’s success had been building since their third album, Razamanaz (1973), the first of three discs produced by Roger Glover from Deep Purple, whom Nazareth had supported on tour.
It was an accurate representation of the band’s rugged, blues-based repertoire, with McCafferty’s imposing vocal presence announcing that he had what it took to stand alongside such other illustrious frontmen as Free’s Paul Rodgers or Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. The album reached No 11 in the UK and even pierced the US Top 200, while Bad Bad Boy and the romping, stomping Broken Down Angel were both UK Top 10 singles.
They were back among the hits with Loud’n’Proud (1973), their fourth album, which reached No 10 in the UK. It also gave them a hit single with their version of Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight, utterly transformed from the original’s acoustic guitar and fluttery vocals by Nazareth’s hard-rock throb, with Dan McCafferty’s sandpapery rasp soaring to operatic heights. Mitchell was amazed and delighted when she heard it. The song was also a major hit in Canada, where Nazareth became an enduringly popular act throughout their career.
The band’s expertise in cover versions gained during their earlier incarnation as the Dunfermline band the Shadettes paid off handsomely as they proceeded to record a boldly eclectic range of other people’s songs alongside their original material. Loud’n’Proud also included versions of Bob Dylan’s Ballad of Hollis Brown and Little Feat’s Teenage Nervous Breakdown, while on Rampant (1974) they unleashed an apocalyptic retread of The Yardbirds’ Shapes of Things.
They took it further on Hair of the Dog (1975), pairing a soulful take on Randy Newman’s Guilty, featuring a Rod Stewart-like performance by McCafferty, with a rowdy update of Nils Lofgren’s Beggars Day. The swashbuckling strut of the album’s title track also became a Nazareth classic, and one which inspired the future Guns N’ Roses frontman, Axl Rose, whose own vocals would bear a McCafferty-like timbre.
Also in 1975 Nazareth reached the UK Top 20 with their version of the underground classic My White Bicycle, originally recorded by Tomorrow. 2XS (1982) was their last album to reach the US Top 200 listing.
The band kept on touring the world for another 3 decades, with several album releases that were mostly bought by the band’s loyal fans. McCafferty kept fronting the band until 2013 when his COPD got the best of him and 90 minutes shows were simply becoming too exhausting. McCafferty features on all Nazareth’s albums up to Rock’n’Roll Telephone (2014), though his COPD meant that he had had to give up live performances in 2013. Also that year, he collapsed on stage at a gig in Cranbrook, British Columbia, because of a burst stomach ulcer.
“I’m sad about it but I just can’t sing a whole set live any more,” he said in 2014. He was replaced as vocalist by Carl Sentance, though was subsequently able to record his third solo album, Last Testament (2019), following on from Dan McCafferty (1975) and Into the Ring (1987).
Dan McCafferty passed away from COPD on November 8, 2022 at the age of 76.
Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” was the highest-charting version of the tune — also famously covered by Cher as the title track of her 1991 album of the same name — and it has become a go-to power ballad in dozens of movies, including Wayne’s World, This is Spinal Tap, Dazed and Confused, Rock Star, Empire Records, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and many more.