“That’s a great song, Billy Lad. I wish I could write a song That Good.” (Joe Elliott, 100 million album-selling songwriter)

This was Big Joseph’s reaction to me playing him a song which would be included on my 3rd and final solo album: Shake.

Tom & Joe
Tom ‘Teabagger’ Russell and his victim

From anyone else, it could be taken as a condescending comment from a comfortably superior songwriter with a proven formula for writing a song ‘That Good,’ but Joe Elliott isn’t one of those. He’s from Sheffield where they call a spade a bloody great shovel. This is the guy who, despite barely knowing me at the time had offered me the keys to his Porsche so I could pick up my wife from the airport during a bomb scare in London. He is also the guy who, along with myself, watched with interest as tight-arsed Radio Clyde DJ (and mutual friend) Tom Russell stuffed dozens of Earl Grey teabags into his pockets backstage at Def Leppard’s concert in Glasgow. Joe collapsed in fits of laughter when Tom’s leaky sweat pants left a trail of evidence all the way from the dressing room to the Marriott hotel. “Why didn’t you steal the Jack Daniels or champagne?” he asked the Beard of Doom later in the hotel bar. “Cos my wife doesn’t buy Earl Grey teabags,” was the response which tugged on Joe’s working-class roots enough to make him laugh all over again.

Joe, I may add, is also an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that got me thinking. How many of them do I know? And by ‘I know’ I mean those with whom I’ve had a connection, however tenuous.
So I’ve made a list. Sounds a bit egotistical, but who doesn’t love a list?

Obviously, we start with Joe himself and his Def Leppard bandmates, guitarist Phil and drummer Rick, all previously mentioned on this site. Now let’s go alphabetically which means AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm, both having propped up a hotel bar with Naz and me somewhere, sometime over the years. We’d always joke together that they were the only band who were actually shorter than us.
Hell Yeah!
During our early ’80’s touring schedules I’d pulled a needle out of Steven Tyler’s arm, mistakenly referred to Joe Perry’s wife as his previous wife and, at the request of our drummer, Darrell Sweet, helped carry his fellow percussionist, Joey Kramer to his bed.

Sudbury Arena, Ontario, Canada advert 24.10.83
Sudbury Arena, Ontario, Canada advert 24th October 1983

Black Sabbath is a given due to us supporting them in ‘83, but I’m also going to include Deep Purple cos Ian Gillan sang with Sabbath during our gigs and also joined Nazareth for that embarrassing Athens performance of Smoke On The Water when Pete didn’t know the fourth chord. (A bassists problem, eh Barry?) ELO? Why not? Bev Bevan was Sabbath’s drummer at the time.
Bob Seger (I played his guitarist’s strat.)
Bon Jovi (I introduced him to Asics Tiger wrestling boots) and even Bruce Springsteen I can include cos our bus driver, in 1981, swapped a guitar pick with Bruce for one wit
h my name and logo on it. I lost Bruce’s. He’s probably still coveting mine.
Cheap Trick’s Rick and Robin can count on me as their friend cos I didn’t sue over that ‘subconscious plagiarism’ event, although Robin was far less worried, he probably still doesn’t give a shit, but he’d remember, and this is my point.
Dire Straits, particularly Mark Knopfler: We
spent 3 days together in Germany where he taught me the Sultans Of Swing licks and Frank Zappa sent his seriously underage, but outrageously talented band to bed just so he could hang out with us.
Genesis I can personally take credit for the association due to an encounter in the bar of the Whitehall Hotel, Chicago when I foolishly told Phil Collins they were better with Peter Gabriel. I can still feel the slap I got.
My connection to Led Zeppelin can be traced back to the wedding of Bad Co’s Simon Kirke (signed to Swan Song Records) which I attended. Jimmy Page’s bodyguard subsequently removed me due to Jimmy’s intake of nitroglycerine based “Who the fuck are You? Get him away from me! syndrome, even after I’d bought him a drink.
Lynyrd Skynyrd are up next, but only be
cause Rickey Medlocke is now playing with them, so technically I’m cheating.
Muddy Waters, if he was still breathing might remember me as he refused my request to say “Hi” and shake his hand after a gig in an all-black Chicago club gig in 1982. I respected that. He was with his own people and, besides, what would I have said to such a legend? “Hey Muddy,” would’ve probably been it.
Neil Diamond? Easy. I fell on him. We were walking, sorry, staggering back to the hotel after he’d sent his limo driver home to hang out with us at LA’s Record Plant Studios in 1981. Neil turned to laugh at something one of us said which he couldn’t understand and, in the confusion, Mr Diamond lost his balance and I fell on him. Laughed? We nearly passed our fags round. Totally made us forget the autograph we’d promised to get for our wives.
Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, not only took me into their control room at Air Studios, London when I was visiting Chris Glen, but they also gave me tea and biscuits.

Lausanne Rock Festival flyer 14.10.83
Lausanne Rock Festival flyer 14/15 October 1983

Peter Gabriel, I met backstage at the Eisstadion, Graz, Austria in May 1983 before his gig there. We were only present cos Naz were playing the same venue the following evening. Peter was a true gent even when he overheard me trying to poach his drummer Jerry Marotta and bassist Tony Levin for my soon to be recorded Growing Up Too Fast album.
Queen’s Roger Taylor may not remember me to talk to, but will probably never forget Mick Woodmansey’s impression of me at the Mick Ronson gig in London.
Rod Stewart, while having actually talked to me on the phone at Frankie Miller’s house, wouldn’t admit to it cos he thought I was someone else. (More details to follow.)
Rush is another given as I’m probably still barred from going out drinking with Geddy Lee, and Stevie Ray Vaughan for the totally opposite reason if he was still with us.
The Kinks’ Ray Davies not only met me at a phone box in London 1978, but graciously spoke to my friend, John Burnett, who I’d been on the line to at the time and made his life as a Kinks fan, if not complete, then certainly enhanced.
The Police, as previously covered on this site, shared rehearsal facilities with The Mirrors during which times Andy Summers repeatedly gubbed me on the pinball machine.
As for The Rolling Stones. Bassist Bill Wyman can never forget, surely, that fateful night after the Ronson Memorial gig, when some drunken, big-nosed Scotsman pushed him aside at the bar in his own restaurant, Sticky Fingers, with the explicit command, “Haw! Make way Arsehole! Ah need a drink!”
The Who can be included here for numerous reasons. Firstly, tour manager, and I mean both Nazareth’s and my solo tour manager, Harry Williams, was Pete Townsend’s personal assistant during the band’s early ’70s high points. Roger Daltrey, apart from sharing the Hammersmith Odeon’s stage with a fellow Mick Ronson fan, also once had a memorable conversation with Dan McCafferty in Heathrow’s departure lounge bar about Zep’s Robert Plant. “I mean, we all cheat a bit Danny Boy, but fuck’s sake, he’s ripping the pish, ain’t he?”
Oh, and Keith Moon’s replacement Kenney Jones’ wife appeared in our video for Love Leads To Madness as Dan’s ‘love Interest’ which resulted in me being smacked in the face with a billiard ball.
Now, to the last band alphabetically in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inductees. I’d like to draw your attention to a venue in the Texan city of Austin where, in 1984, I was playing a solo gig. I became aware of a certain cowboy hat-wearing sharp-dressed man in the audience whom I recognised. With no words exchanged, just a nod, he accepted my offer of joining the show and proceeded to trade licks with me on the most bizarre version of Baby Come Back we ever played. Billy Gibbons, you didn’t have to shake it like you did, but you did, but you did, and I Thank You.

As for the song I played for Joe Elliott which earned his respect and guaranteed its inclusion on Shake, it’s not what you or I would have expected.

Let’s all head-bang along to…

One In A Million home demo 1985

“In the alligator rain, ten seconds on the clock, when your feet’ve caught fire, tellin’ Hell and yellin’ Make it stop!” (Billy Rankin: Nobody Home, 1999)

I’m hoping most of you here are either familiar with Shake or will give it a listen before reading further. Otherwise, it will just become a flurry of song titles and not much else.
Just sayin’.
Okay. Here we go.

Despite really liking trucking as a day job and playing pub gigs by night, my writing and recording continued throughout the late ’90s at a furiously consistent rate. I was shitting songs, and some of them were good. I’d also reestablished an unlikely connection with my old teenage Phase stalwart Kenny Cobain who’d already helped in the Tony Rocker ‘Phase’ previously mentioned. Thanks to his state-of-the-art studio which he used mainly to produce top quality demos for clients with a songwriting deal, but no marketable potential as recording artists (i.e. they were ugly) we did stuff. For example when we re-recorded One In A Million at Kenny’s place. It was on the understanding we were making a professional and polished demo to be submitted to publishing companies in the hope of getting some good-looking recording artist to record it. Hence the new version would not have been Joe Elliott’s choice of songwriting envy. In fact, he wouldn’t have let it get beyond the intro before slapping me hard in the face and, not unlike Mad Jock, calling me a Poof. In hindsight, this was a mistake and I should’ve re-recorded the original demo, just better. The other two tracks made with Kenny: Colour My Love and Hammer Comes Down were more ‘rocky’ but stand out like sore thumbs (with a bandaid and some soothing cream) compared to the rest of Shake. Again, in defence of the bold Kenster (oh, he’ll love that nickname) our intentions were not to make a couple of Rock songs, it was to record commercially acceptable demos for some pretentious, but gorgeous Rock Star to cover. Robbie Williams springs to mind, but the thought will pass.

I don’t remember who suggested it, but it was probably Barry. “You’ve got the makings of an excellent album here,” he possibly said, and he was right. Phonogram’s Karen and Astrid, Joe Elliott and a host of others had said likewise, but couldn’t offer a way forward, so we decided to do it ourselves. Shake was a combination of home demos, polished Kenny productions and Ca-Va recordings which split all reasonable opinions. For example, at my request, Barry willingly took a half-day off work to play a blistering bass part on the song Nobody Home, but point blank refused even to consider lending his talents to Don’t Keep Me Waiting with the frankly disrespectful, after all I’d done for him response: “No. It’s Shite!” The bottom line was, he was right on that first suggestion: We did have the makings of a really good album, so we set about doing it. I’d already incorporated some of the tracks such as Goodbye Miracles, Money And Girls and, ironically, Nobody Home into my live set and they were all well received. Next, it was all down to a mere bass player who also happened to possess the ability to work a PC, so manages to avoid further ridicule by me at this point. Barry took all the recordings, put them through various limiter/compression devices to stop stuff I’d intended to explode in your ears and blow your speakers up, to not do those things. He also worked tirelessly on artwork, sleeve-notes and graphics. All I had to do was supply photos, some text and, lest he gets ahead of himself here, the fuckin’ music itself. It was a mutual, yet at some points strained task, cos neither of us knew what or why we were doing it.

Oh, here’s something I’ve just remembered.
There’s a low bass line just before the last verse on Simon And Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters which, when I listened to it through my parents’ massive Radiogram’s speakers on vinyl back in 1969, rattled through my balls before I even had any. The expression “Grow a Pair!” suddenly makes more sense to me now. That shit doesn’t happen in music anymore.

The other thing worth mentioning here is a cheap multi-instrumental device I’d acquired while I was still with Nazareth. The model’s name escapes me now, but it was manufactured by Korg and could be programmed to produced cheap-sounding electric/acoustic guitars/bass/keyboards/drums/brass/strings/woodwind/Bolivian Penis Flutes, the lot. What appealed to me most was that it was portable and I could operate it from anywhere. Actually, the most appealing thing about it was I could operate it. I used it on several songs on Shake such as Friend, Money And Girls and Nobody Calls Me That, but usually, after getting the device onto tape, I’d replace the cheap-sounding instruments with my real playing, with one notable and very mind-blowing exception.
I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Once we’d agreed on a running order for Shake, i.e. separating the “Call Me a Poof” tracks from the out-and-out Rockers, interspersed with Korg-inspired middle ground, the big question was, “What are we gonna do with it?”
Punt it to a record company?
That ship had sailed.
Instead, Barry hit on the idea of launching a website celebrating its release and offering an actual physical CD for sale. Yes, I know this is firmly a thing of the past nowadays since the advent of streaming and downloads but, at the time, it was still doable. To add to the exclusive nature, we decided that I’d sign a personal message to every one of the purchasers which we agreed would be a lyric from one of the songs on Shake. If you’re reading this and own a signed copy of the album, well done you. The individual quote on your CD was, and never will be repeated. Incidentally, my friend Bill Nelson once gave me an insight which we subsequently used on the Shake album sleeve notes. It involved Be Bop Deluxe’s first album, Axe Victim, where Bill concealed a hidden message within the lyrics. I am not about to reveal what he disclosed to Barry and me at the Lorne Hotel in Glasgow that night, but for the more curious readers here, take a good look at the song titles of Shake: That’s a capital idea.

Do It draft lyrics 1999
Nobody Calls Me That draft lyrics 1999
Shake front cover without text 1999
Shake rear cover pre-ageing effect 1999
Shake rear cover with age effect 1999
Shake rear cover 1999
Shake inner cover original photo 1999
Shake inner cover notes Version 1 1999
Shake inner cover notes Version 2 1999
Shake inner cover notes Version 3 1999
Do It draft lyrics 99

Financially we did okay, but a few years after its release in October 1999, Barry got a message from the head of the Meat Loaf UK fan club. The guy asked if I could give a brief outlining of the story behind my song, Burning Down, which Meat had covered on his 1986 album, Blind Before I Stop. I did, and Barry sent it, importantly with two copies of Shake, as requested by the fan club head as a prize for some competition they were running. Instead of giving both CD’s out to the probably bemused winners who’d never heard of me, he gave one (unsigned, sucker!) to a Meat Loaf fan and sent the other copy to Big Marvin’s management in the US. They, in turn, sent it to Meat himself with, I’m guessing here, an advisory note saying something like, “Remember the song Burning Down? You did it on an album somewhere between Bat Out Of Hell and Bat Out Of Hell II. This guy wrote it.” I’m guessing again here, but Meat probably looked at my CD of Shake and thought “Who?” End of the story here is that Marv’s management locked into a song on Shake I’d done with the cheap Korg device called Do It which the Fat Man decided to sing. He contacted me via Barry and, before I knew it, we’d signed an agreement which, for the first time in my career stood up to the paper it was emailed on. I kept 100% of the songwriting and split the publishing with Meat Loaf 50-50.
“Is it okay for me to do Do It?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Great! We did it last night!”

I made actual money from Do It appearing on Meat Loaf’s album and, to quote Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, “Got me a pocket full of change.” (4 grand and counting, last time I looked.) I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that a songwriter can spend a fortune hiring a high-tech studio and a brilliant musician (Kenny is both) just to get a quality product some overrated, but successful, Artist will record. I achieved it with a cheap electronic device, and the bastard still managed to make it sound worse. Don’t take my word for it, judge for yourselves. “Oh, you ungrateful little Asshole!” I can hear him scream, but that’s another story, and actually did happen. The original Shake website was a precursor to what you’re reading now, but can still be accessed here. My favourite part of it was a section allowing folk to send abusive messages directly to me.
“I hated you when you joined Nazareth. It really fucked the band up!”
That came from Barry himself, but others were not so forgiving.
Its title was thought up by (surprise, surprise) Barry and was, and still is, if you check it out, “Badmouthing Billy.”
The best retort to it can never be beaten and comes from my darling wife of now 40 years.

“Badmouthing Billy?” asked Mary. “Is that your new nickname?”