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Complete circle

Don Airey in Kingston, Canada, February 9, 2012; photo © Nick Soveiko CC-BY-NC-SA

Don Airey was interviewed for the Rolling Stone Unknown Legends series. It’s a long form interview, with a lot of ground covered — from the humble beginnings in a cruise ship house band to the next Purple gigs, once again on a cruise ship. And everything in between.

So how did the Rainbow period start?

I got a phone call from Cozy Powell. They’d phoned me twice before and I was always leaving on a tour or something. I could never go and audition. But Cozy said, “Airey, get your ass over to New York tomorrow.” And when the boss speaks, you do what you’re told. He met me when I got off the plane at JFK and took me to a hotel in Connecticut. Next day, they took me to meet Ritchie [Blackmore].

He said to me, “Do you like Bach?” I said, “Yeah.” He gave me a piece of Bach to read, which I kind of knew, but I pretended I’d never seen it before, so he thought I was sight-reading it. We played it together. I forget what piece of Bach it was, but we kind of rocked it up together. And then he said to me, “Do you know Beethoven’s Ninth?” I said I did. We worked on the song that became “Difficult to Cure.” That was kind of my audition with the band. And then I went into rehearsals with them. It was just me and Cozy and Ritchie, just the three of us, in the middle of winter.

Read more in Rolling Stone.

24 Comments to “Complete circle”:

  1. 1
    MacGregor says:

    A good interview with the ‘Don’. Some of it I have read somewhere before, maybe here no doubt. Good drummers don’t grow on trees, love it & it is true of any quality musician. Gee that Cozy guy sounds like a standover sort of fellow. The story Uwe mentioned a little while ago in regards to Whitesnake & Colin Hodgkinson ‘you might have heard of me, I am the drummer’ incredibly funny that although he had worked with Cozy before in 1981 so it was probably a joke no doubt. Also ‘Airey get your ass over to New York tomorrow’! Sheesh, drummers eh, a bit edgy perhaps. No not really, they just like to get on with it. He did have that ‘The Drums are Back’ energy & Cozy as Airey says, is under rated etc.
    Bless him. Cheers.

  2. 2
    Uwe Hornung says:


    “The next morning at breakfast, Ian Gillan came up to me and said, “You know the intro to ‘Lady [Double Dealer]’?” I had done a couple-minutes intro to it. And when you’re a keyboard player, and a member of the band comes up to you and asks about something you’re playing, it’s usually, “Can you just cut it down a bit? It’s too long.” That’s what I was expecting Ian to say. But he said, “You know that bit you do at the start of ‘Lady’? Make it longer. We want more of that.””

    Ian Gillan asking for Lady Double Dealer to be extended? Don’t think so … : – ) The Rolling Stone meant well second-guessing what song Don meant with ‘Lady’ (they could have also come up with ‘Our Lady’ from WDWTWA, that would at least have been an Mk II track though never played live), but they of course misheard “Lazy” probably due to the fact that the interview was conducted as a video conference in this day and age. Or it was Don’s Northern accent to those yanks!

    Superb interview though. And I’m really looking forward to Ian’s rendition of Lady Double Dealer on the next tour – Don’s lengthy intro and all!

  3. 3
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I’m reading your good countryman’s/Bob Daisley’s bio, Herr MacGregor, and his comments on Cozy are interesting. He says he liked playing with Cozy, but he also says that it took some adjustment as Cozy had “the habit of speeding up in certain parts of a song and of ‘cutting corners’ after drum breaks”. That made it exciting to play with him (Ritchie liked those aspects of Cozy’s playing), but it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea (Gary Moore, ever the perfectionist, didn’t like it, hence Cozy’s impromptu replacement by Chris Slade ahead of Gary’s After The War tour, the parting was amicable because Cozy didn’t want to drum metronomically like Gary wanted him to either).

    Bob recounts a great incident: On tour with Gary Moore some time later, he met Black Sabbath with Cozy, both bands were by chance staying at the same hotel. So Cozy wants to say hi to Gary, but Gary is already in his hotel room. Cozy asks Bob for Gary’s room number to visit him. And Bob gives it to him, but with the cautioning comment: “But if you knock on his door, do try not to speed up, will you?” : – )

    Bob writes that he really liked Cozy as a person too and that he was in contact with him for a Rainbow reunion in the later 90ies – both Dio and Blackmore seemed to be up for it (with Daisley as the bassist), but Cozy’s tragic death curtailed all plans for this to go forward.

  4. 4
    Grg says:

    Is anyone able to read the full interview without that pricey subscription thing at RS?

  5. 5
    MacGregor says:

    Interesting comments from Don Airey regarding his tenure in Jethro Tull. Not easy coming into a situation as a replacement for a tour playing that complex music. Especially as that period of Tull was difficult in many ways from what we have read over the years. Coming off that drum machine & keyboard programmed disaster album Under Wraps & Ian Anderson blowing his voice out in 1984. There were other issues also in getting a decent drummer to fit in, thankfully by the late 80’s Doane Perry had gelled into that position nicely. Still, Tull won ‘that’ Grammy, enough said there. I have some live songs from the Airey stint, they sound great, powerful as ever & dramatic of course. I was actually hoping back then that Airey was going to be Tull’s keyboardist permanently, but I suppose you have to fit in in many aspects to ‘get it’ over time. From what we read Anderson can be difficult, especially during that mid to late 80’s period. Cheers.

  6. 6
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I find much of Tull an acquired taste too and can understand Don’s decision: Very angular band groove (the earliest line ups excluded, Glenn Cornick and Clive Bunker flowed as a rhythm section) and sometimes needlessly complex just for the sake of it, Ian Anderson’s vocals even in their prime very mannered.

    Doesn’t change that they wrote rock history and that Ian Anderson is a special talent as a songwriter and flute player. And I’m an avid collector of all those Steven Wilson stereo remix CD box sets they put out. My favorite album of theirs is an odd one for all Tull fans: War Child. It had a nicely decadent vibe – bit like Roxy Music even.

  7. 7
    MacGregor says:

    Uwe @ 3 – For Facts Sake, yes I will have to purchase that one day, thanks for the insights into a little bit here & there. Daisley telling Cozy not to speed up knocking on Moore’s door, classic. It is interesting that certain artists want that metronomic drumming, others like a little looser drummer, so to speak. When Robert Fripp reignited King Crimson in the early 90’s, he wanted new drummer Pat Mastelotto for that metronomic beat & Bill Bruford for the looser improvising feel. Now Crimson have Mastelotto playing the Bruford role & Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) being the beat master. Incidentally I don’t think Harrison is suited at all to the Crimson feel, I would have thought the other way around would have worked better, but what would I know. I remember Ian Anderson getting Gerry Conway (ex Cat Stevens among others) into Tull in 1982 for that metronomic beat. He said Conway was brilliant at it for about 90% of the time but absolutely awful the other 10% of the time, all over the place apparently. Drummers have their set place & there often is a problem with bands changing drummers, so important to keep that feel in my book. DP have been very fortunate to still have Ian Paice, reliable & knows the required feel for the appropriate songs & improvising etc, no matter what the situation. Cozy did play for too little a time with many artists, for whatever reason. I think his longest job was in Rainbow. Alan White in Yes & Neil Peart in Rush are another 2 important examples of drummers staying put. There are others also, Roger Taylor for Queen is another. Nick Mason for Floyd, Barrymore Barlow 70’s Tull & Doane Perry post 1984 Tull, examples of a drummer getting it right in a band.. Very important to keep that certain feel in a steady band. Cheers.

  8. 8
    MacGregor says:

    @ 3- In regards to the Rainbow reunion in the late 90’s. I remember reading bits about this, I think from Daisley perhaps, possibly somewhere else. It was more Daisley & Powell pushing for it I think from my memory. From what I have read Dio still had not talked at all with Blackmore since the late 70’s. He was approached via Daisley perhaps, I could be wrong. Maybe someone else. I still think Blackmore wouldn’t have gone that way as he was already into his so called medieval thing. Plus the Dio & Blackmore ego thing would have been a stumbling block I would think. As you stated, Cozy’s death put an end to something that may or may not have occurred. Does Daisley talk more about it in his book? Cheers.

  9. 9
    James Steven Gemmell says:

    @Uwe. Us “Yanks” have no problem with the northern British accent (unless it’s Ozzy’s). That was just old-fashioned lazy/sloppy journalism.

  10. 10
    Georgivs says:

    @4 It seems that if you read it on a mobile device, first time it may work without a subscription.

  11. 11
    Uwe Hornung says:

    His book (Daisley’s) is very well-written, lots of details about people (he doesn’t pan anyone, not even Sharon, and has a real fondness for Ozzy like some demented little brother). Yes, he speaks about the Rainbow reunion that never was and also how Dio had him penciled in for his solo career only to first end up with Sabbath and then to feature Jimmy Bain in the first Dio line up. He reveals how he played pretty much (credited or uncredited) on every Ozzy album up to and including No More Tears (Ultimate Sin being an exception though he was scheduled to play there too).

    And his departure from Rainbow is also clarified: He was on a retainer for two years and that just ran out while Rainbow were in limbo in the phase after they stopped the LLRnR tours and before Roger Glover was invited to salvage the sessions to what became Down To Earth – Daisley was at that point anyhow hoping to do something with RJD and not much later met Ozzy and Sharon.

    However, of greatest interest to our male readership here is that the age-old riddle “How did Ritchie regrow his hair in the late 70ies – hair weave or transplant?” is finally resolved: hair weave! Bob reports that Ritchie was terribly self-conscious about his receding hairline at already an early age, but it was all in good humor and not nasty. There is a snapshot in the book of a (freshly hair-woven) Ritchie pulling faces before a wig shop as photographed by Daisley. He also reports several Blackmore tantrums when the Rainbow custom-made lighting rig interfered with Ritchie’s souped up Marshalls and guitar pups – that ended quite a few Rainbow gigs early. And the smashed Strats were all Tokais (a Japanese brand that was good at emulating the original), it got to Ritchie though that from a certain point on his guitar smashing on stage became the expected ultimate event orgasm for the fans and that Rainbow gigs without guitar smashing were perceived as somehow lesser gigs by the audience. (Personally, I found it boring after having witnessed it once at the Munich 1977 gig, from then on it always had the stale taste of a rerun.)

    Daisley’s deadpans are lovely. He comments on Ritchie’s bass playing on LLRnR thus: “When Ritchie plays guitar he is a great lead guitarist and when he plays bass … he’s a great lead guitarist!”

    His book is one of the best rock reads ever – as regards people, music, the machinations of the business, his gear and his concept of bass playing plus all these humorous anecdotes. A treasure trove.

  12. 12
    Ivica says:

    “He was very impressed with Lou Gramm and Foreigner and Journey. He loved all that stuff ”
    Oh my God… 79/80 … and Ronnie went to BS (with another dissident Martin Birch) recorded a masterpiece of heavy metal music “Heaven and Hell” saved stumbled Black Sabbath .

  13. 13
    Jet Auto Jerry says:

    @#4 – I had the same problem on an I-Pad, only made it to the OZZY years before it cut off. I ended up using the work ‘puter on Incognito Mode and it went all the way through.

    Also, I was at the US83 Festival for Heavy Metal Sunday and saw Ozzy. Almost 40 years ago now and memories of Ozzy are fuzzy at best after the pretty much all-nighter after getting there Saturday afternoon. Most of the daytime shows are fuzzy but from Triumph to Scorps (Best set of the day IMO, but being on at Sunset helped) to the disaster that DLR was in Van Halen that night the memories are good. (We left half way through VH, but it had been a long 36+ hours from the start of the adventure)

  14. 14
    Andrew M says:

    Don mentions playing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Variations” at the Wigmore Hall in London. It was the first time I saw Don, or any rock musician, play. They were excellent, especially Julian Lloyd Webber on the cello. (But how can one brother be so cool and the other one so uncool?)

  15. 15
    MacGregor says:

    @ 11 – thanks again for the FFS info, I will definitely have to purchase that as I am a sucker for the rock ‘n roll stories from artists who I have a fondness for. Blackmore’s supposed hair transplant. I remember reading about that back in the late 70’s. I just looked up hair weave as I didn’t know about that procedure. It looks like none of those attempts worked though. Surely Blackmore has had a wig since the early 1980’s & it also looks like Ian Paice may have also around the 1993 CHOHW era. I do remember reading somewhere that Daisley said that Dio left him hanging, (for want of a better description) in regards to that possibility of forming a new band at the 1979 era.
    I have not long finished Roger Daltrey’s book, a thoroughly extensive read, humorous also & a smaller book of Greg Lake’s, written whilst facing the end of his life. So it is time to check out Mr Daisley & his rock ‘n roll life. In regards to the wonderful Tokai guitars. A few friends of mine owned both Stratocaster & Les Paul copies & they swore by them. They certainly looked very well made & they did sound very good indeed.. Robert Fripp still has his ‘les paul’ copy I think it is. He used it in the early to mid 80’s for live playing & I think he replaced it with a Fernandez. Joe Walsh also apparently owned a Tokai (I cannot remember if a Strat or Paul copy). I remember hearing a conversation about Tokai’s factory burning down back in the 80’s or 90’s. Not sure if they still exist. I always read back in the 70’s era that Blackmore trashed factory rejects,
    I am not sure which company supplied him those ‘rejects’ If Daisley says Tokai it would be correct, at least for that time. Cheers.

  16. 16
    Uwe Hornung says:

    @guitar geek: There are two distinct Tokai eras, Herr MacGregor, the early one in the latish 70ies when their copies surpassed everything Fender and Gibson produced at the time, Tokai stuff was talk of the town then. However, they overdid it (even writing Tokai on the headstocks in variations made to closely ape the Fender and Gibson logos from a distance), so they got cease & desist orders slapped on them internationally and that was that. But those early “pre-lawsuit” era Tokais are legendary.

    Much later the brand name was resurrected, but the new line of instruments was just ok, not spectacular like that first run. I don’t even know whether old and new Tokai were related other than through sharing the name. They might have come from totally different production facilities.

    Back around LLRnR, a brand like Tokai would have probably given Blackmore – revered as he was in the Land of the Rising Sun – their products for free, never mind how he, uhum, kamikaze(d) them on stage! Certainly, due to Tokai’s initial rip-off logos there was no need to change the logos. From an audience to stage perspective, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, they were that close.

  17. 17
    MacGregor says:

    I have been reading about Tokai & the earlier & ‘lawsuit’ models etc. That is what I remember friends talking about back in the 80’s. I also remember them comparing the Fender Strat to the Tokai ‘Strat’ & Gibson Les Paul to the Tokai ‘Les Paul’, all the similarities, a very close design.
    After a while it all became a bit too technical & I did a Cozy, ‘listen, I am a drummer; let’s play, that is what we are here for’ ha, ha, oh & changing a light bulb or two. Seriously though all this comparing of headstocks, bridges, nuts, pickups, etc. I can understand the passion & I like very good quality in any manufacturing. I have watched & listened to a lot of guitarists talk about the quality of guitars etc over the years & it was interesting. Some guitarists ridicule copies from lesser known companies, the traditional brand only sort of guitarists they were. Regarding the Joe Walsh Tokai story, he used to visit Australia often back in the 80’s & played with a band called The Party Boys. Alan Lancaster was a regular in that band along with a few other known Australian guitarists. Apparently Walsh was in a store somewhere checking out guitars & came across the Tokais & after playing a few, he purchased one. Not sure if he still has it these days. Cheers.

  18. 18
    Anthony says:

    Don brought out the best in Ritchie similar to what Cozy did. Just a shame they didnt make another album with Graham as Down to Earth is a great album albeit with a couple of dud songs

  19. 19
    AndreA says:

    Bob Daisley has written the words of the most famous OzzY’s songs.

  20. 20
    George in Ohio says:

    I sometimes think that not enough credit and attention is given to how both Jon and Don worked through the transition when Jon left Purple. True, I was not there to observe it first hand. But everything I’ve read and interviews I’ve seen on youtube indicate that everyone involved handled it in an above board and positive manner. Interesting to hear Don say that he thought Jon had grown introspective in his last years in Purple. That’s not surprising for a person mulling over a potential change that is life altering. I am impressed how courageously Jon made such a hard decision, but I am equally impressed how Don stepped in so respectfully of Jon. It’s also to Don’s credit that he quickly figured out that he needed to be himself instead of trying to be Jon Lord MK II. I will forever be a fanatic of Jon’s work and legacy in Purple, but I am also a gigantic fan of Don and how the band has capitalized on his unique style to push Purple into new musical discoveries. It’s great to see that Jon and Don not only share amazing musical gifts but amazing humanity as well.

  21. 21
    MacGregor says:

    @ 20 – Musically speaking Jon Lord would have been bored with being in a rock band I would think at that time in his life. He wasn’t ever that involved in the songwriting as much as the other guys from what we fans have perceived over time. The incessant touring was mentioned as another reason he retired, as it can be with other musicians also. Jon Lord was always much more classical in his music, composition, arranging etc. I was surprised that he didn’t make that call earlier. Kudos to him for doing it though as he achieved a lot more musically in his final 10 years of life. Don Airey is a very good replacement as you said, both musically & as an individual. Cheers.

  22. 22
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Don is these days DP’s main creative force and their battery cell live. He has really given the band a new lease of life. He’s never going to have Jon’s idiosyncratic slapdash elegance when playing the Hammond, but he’s carved a niche of his own within the band. It was a huge task replacing someone like Jon, but they chose well and Don rose to the occasion admirably.

  23. 23
    Ivica says:

    Eurovision 1997 United Kingdom ….Winner Don


  24. 24
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Basically a Slade ballad that was, it reminded me stylistically of My Oh My and I mean that as a compliment, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea were one great songwriting partnership.

    Don didn’t write or co-write that song, but he had a hand in the arrangement, the production and of course conducted the orchestra (orchestral arrangement was also his).

    The number has a fascinating history


    though it is not entirely clear whether at the end of the day Katrina and her boys were happy with their Eurovision win – inter alia and miraculously, the actual songwriter of the number, namely Katarina’s lead guitarist, Kimberley Rew, refused to take part in the Eurovision process and skipped the performance! (Which to me seems a bit ‘I’m a serious musician’-silly and vain: Sure you can’t take the Eurovision Song Contest seriously, but it’s a cult event of guilty pleasure cheesiness that does no one any harm and has had its cringeworthily entertaining and even occasionally inspiring moments throughout its history.)

    Anyway, another proof of Don’s all round versatility as a musician.

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