Bernie Torme


This festival is a real goldmine! It’s not only the perfect treatment towards the media and all the professionals being there. You also have the opportunity to see countless bands that you don’t see often, even individually. As for the press, you have the opportunity to approach excellent musicians with illustrious history, with whom the great mass media don’t deal with lately, for a million reasons. We are at the Hard Rock Hell festival in distant Wales and we have a conversation with a musician who belongs to the above category. Bernie Torme talks with Dimitris Kazantzis for everything! His solo career, the projects he has participated and of course his great collaborations with Ian Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne and Dee Snider. For me, this is one of the best and more substantial interviews I have ever made. Bernie would you like to tell me what are you doing this period? Are you preparing something new and with which band?
At the moment I am doing a couple of occasional gigs…I did one in Spain and I am gonna do a couple more in UK. But, I am also recording a new album which is about half ready. It is basically a Bernie Torme record and I am hoping to have it out later this year and prepare a tour on the back of it. That’s the plan because I really wanna go out and tour…you know, as I get older I want to tour more (laughs). Do you have any update about GMT?
No…not at the moment. Last I heard John (McCoy) had some health issues and he also had a project he wanted to do on his own. The thing is that GMT is a really hard band to organize and plan out because everyone lives far apart and we see each other that often…so, there are no plans at the moment. I am sure though that something will happen eventually. It’s just a matter of time and when someone say “hey, let’s do something more with GMT”, then the ball will roll. Your career includes many and very significant collaborations. You are well – known from the period with Gillan. What does Bernie Torme feel for this period among all the other collaborations of his career?
Well…pride! When I joined the Gillan band I was unknown and by the time I left Ian I was a name in the industry. It was definitely a great band to be in. Ian was a fantastic guy to be in a band and I vividly remember our smooth collaboration. Ian never told anyone how to play and what to play. He let complete freedom to the musician and that’s evident to all the Gillan releases. It was an extremely democratic band…possibly quite anarchistic band (laughs)! In the end, there were a lot of arguments about…everything really but all these things belong in the past and I’d be more than happy to have a drink with all the guys from that band…great guys, indeed! I don’t think, though, that we will work professionally again as anyone has moved to different paths. I think that with you as a partner, Ian Gillan released his best projects, after Deep Purple. “Mr. Universe “,” Glory Road “,” Future Shock “,” Double Trouble” are all amazing albums written within a period of three years. Do you believe that it was a period of inspiration for you or was it the good chemistry between you two?
It was definitely chemistry. There were mainly three members who worked on the songs. Ian never really completed a track…he wrote the lyrics, the melody lines but he needed to have the “bones”, the structure of the song and how the thing was primarily organized. Colin (Towns) was a very organized writer…he came out of a jazz background so he had, most of the times, a complete piece of music ready. John (McCoy) and I collaborated a lot…at that moment in time, I hadn’t really written for anyone else. I always wrote my own stuff and I didn’t have the experience of writing for anyone else, especially for a great singer like Ian. It was just a creative explosion! Gillan, the band, it was a fun and important period in my life. Everyone really enjoyed being in the studio and on the same stage together. By the end, it was really the end of an era…the end of the 70s, early 80s. We used to work spontaneously. When we were going into the studio, we literally had three or four ideas. Then we would work together, record everything and mix the whole thing in three weeks! It was the way we used to work and it was the way most bands of the late 70s used to work either way. That’s why it was the end of an era. Later on, the album I did with Dee (Snider) – I loved that album, by the way- that took six fucking months… I mean, it just killed me! I didn’t have the attention span after six months of preparing the same album. The great thing about Ian was that he trusted everyone in the band and he never really checked what we did. He believed in us, in our abilities and we believed in him. Everyone had faith in each other and that was a nice experience. I notice a similarity between Ian’s and your personal bands. He started as Ian Gillan Band, then he changed it to Gillan and his last personal releases were under the name of Ian Gillan. The same happened with you … Bernie Torme Band, Torme and Bernie Torme. Is it a coincidence?
(laughs) There was also Bernie Torme’s Electric Gypsies along the way. Yeah…I don’t know to be honest because I always felt uncomfortable of having my name as a band name…I was never happy about it. The reason it happened is because originally I came to England; formed a band called Scrapyard and I was playing around in clubs. We kept on changing bass players and then John McCoy came up and he was great…I loved him! John is a bit of a politician, you know…once, he said to me -right before a show- that we should have a band meeting. I said “OK”…so, we have the band meeting and he says that we could get more gigs if we called the band McCoy (laughs)! Even the drummer said that we should be called McCoys. I said, I am not gonna have someone sack me from my own band (laughs). So, if I called the band with my name that could never happen. However, among your personal bands, you had also some other great collaborations. In 1982 you replaced Randy Rhoads just after his death, in the band of Ozzy Osbourne. How did you feel this period? It was a very peculiar period for everyone, wasn’t it?
It was very emotional. I had just left the Gillan band and I was doing a decorating job at the moment. I had just inked a deal for a solo record when the telephone rang…let me tell you that I wasn’t aware of Ozzy’s solo career because Ozzy hadn’t toured England…I mean, I knew that Ozzy had a solo thing after Black Sabbath but that was about it. I haven’t seen Randy on stage and I didn’t have any of those Ozzy records with Randy. I didn’t know Randy’s stuff but when I got there it was so sad…so heartbreaking. I don’t know how Ozzy carried on…I honestly don’t. I was glad to help…it was an incredible band…Tommy Aldridge, Rudy Sarzo, Don Airey…fabulous guys. They were all good to me. Being a totally different guitar player compared to Randy; I had ready a solo album to come out, a tour booked over here…it was a strange thing because not that many people get to have such great chances in their career. How was Ozzy at that time? Was he the way everyone describes him or did you meet a different Ozzy after such a tragic event?
Well, he was kind of crazy sometimes (laughs). I find it hard to talk about it because lots of people have said nasty things about Ozzy and that period. Ozzy was absolutely devastated…he was…I so him crying so many times before and after the gigs. How he held it together, especially on stage when everyone expected to see the “crazy” Ozzy it’s amazing. At the time, there were things I did not understand. For example, I didn’t understand why he didn’t say on stage anything about Randy. I only realized long after that he just wasn’t able to do that. He would end up crying and wouldn’t be able to carry on with the show. I mean, it was a sad, sad period. Randy was so young and so talented. I saw his guitars taken out of the tour bus and it was absolutely heartbreaking. Bands like Atomic Rooster and Electric Gypsies left their mark on music; however I think that they didn’t get the popularity and the commercial they deserve. Do you think that something was missing?
Yeah, definitely…especially with the Electric Gypsies. At the start it was never intended to be a band…it was more like a project of mine. I was collaborating at the time with Nigel Glocker from Saxon. It was never my intention to do this as another chapter in my career. The problem was that we didn’t have a proper management because I have to say honestly that I was a very argumentative guy at the time…having had the experience with Ian’s band I didn’t want to relive the same thing all over again. I had a good deal with the label but at that time, their A&R man had just left and they decided to drop almost every rock and metal band that they had on their catalog. They wanted to keep me but they also published an article in “Music Week” where they wanted to move me in a more pop direction. And I saw this and I said “fuck that”! I spent a year and a half trying to get out of that deal. That was an enormous time gap for my career…by the time I was out again, touring, it was a totally different band because everyone had left. It was really a mix of unlucky career decisions at the moment. “Bloodied But Unbowed” with Desperado seemed at that time like a great new beginning. Why it didn’t continue?
Originally we had been signed to Atlantic…actually, Dee was signed to Atlantic. In the 80s, the labels were spending ridiculous amount of money on their artists. So, Dee had gotten an advance of…I think, 200.000 dollars as a “development deal” which actually meant “you got 200.000 dollars to spend really” (laughs). Then, he went bankrupt because there was an ongoing legal battle between Bill Graham and Twisted Sister…Bill claimed that he had given Twisted Sister a million dollars as a touring advance and the band broke up leaving a huge debt to Graham. This thing kept coming back of course…I mean, legally. Dee declared himself bankrupt and went moving in search of another deal. Personally, I don’t think that it was a wise career move to spend all the advance money that Atlantic had given to you. Just remember that Atlantic was the best label in the States at the moment; quite probably the best rock label at the time. So, then he got a deal with Electra which was not really a rock label despite the fact that they had Motley Crue and Metallica…but that was about it. It just turned into arguments all over again…we tried to get a producer for almost a year…unbelievable. They told us to keep on writing and we ended up with 60 or 70 songs! Well, if you can’t complete a record with so many written songs then, you’d better change jobs (laughs)! They chose 10 songs and we spent 6 months to record them…it was insane. We had Clive Burr and a young bass player called Mark Russell who was 19 or 20 years old at that time. Both Clive and I wanted to record spontaneously the record but Dee thought otherwise…it was the American 80s thing all over again. It had to be hugely expensive and we had to spend many months over the same songs again and again. I think Electra had already invested at the time 500.000 dollars when Dee went bankrupt for the second time (laughs). So when Electra heard the first track, they absolutely hated it and they decided not to release the new material. That was really it…500.000 dollars spent for nothing. Dee tried later to ink a deal with another label and release the Desperado album but unfortunately he didn’t succeed in doing so. He later on did the Widowmaker think which more or less featured rearranged songs written by him and myself. That was basically it. Would you like to describe me Dee Snider both as a musician and as a person?
Dee always saw himself as a performer and not a musician…he always insisted on that distinction. I mean…yeah, he is an amazing performer. He is a lovely, funny guy. I loved working every minute with him. He owns like 30 cars or something…two speed boats (laughs). I must say though -and he doesn’t get credit for it- Dee is a stunning singer. If you listen to the track “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” from the Desperado album you will be amazed! It was a mind-blowing performance on only one or two takes in the studio. It was incredible. Is there anyone with whom you worked with and you would like to work again with him or on the other hand anyone with whom you wouldn’t like to work again with?
Well, I would have loved to collaborate with Ozzy again or even better to have worked with him under different circumstances and a different time. It wasn’t a pleasant period at all. I don’t think that Dee wants to do anything as a musician nowadays. After all, he is more like a celebrity (laughs). If you could turn back time, would you add or would you remove something from your career?
To be honest I don’t have that much interest for the things I did. To me the past is the past and the only thing that matters to me is what I am gonna do next. That’s why I don’t listen very much to my previous records because if I ever listen to them, I point out possible mistakes (laughs).