BERNIE TORMÉ – Dublin Cowboy
The innovative and hugely talented Irish guitarist Bernie Tormé recently released an all-out brilliant triple album entitled «Dublin Cowboy» consisting of a hard and edgy blues album, a mellow and moody acoustic album, and a highly energetic and atmospheric live album. Needless to say, Eternal Terror Live had to have a chat with the great man to discuss his latest musical endeavors, his past with Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne, the importance of Jimi Hendrix, the romantic idealization of the punk scene, and why he is not so keen on writing an autobiography. Apart from having fronted his own solo outfit for years and playing on the three classic Gillan albums that are "Mr. Universe", "Glory Road", and "Future Shock" not to mention that he has toured the world extensively, he helped Ozzy Osbourne out on the road following the tragic loss of Randy Rhoads, he joined the band Desperado with Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider in the late eighties, and he toured and recorded with the G.M.T. band later on. Those were just a few examples. Bernie’s story is both inspiring and fascinating. Nowadays he is more active than ever, writing and touring as well as recording new material on a regular basis, running his own record label and recording studio, and being one hell of a cool guy. Conducting this interview with him on the phone was truly a pleasure and something that I will always treasure. A class act all the way! Once you have read this feature, head on over to the Bernie Tormé Bandcamp profile and check out some of the albums there.
Bernie, how are you?
BT: Hi Jens, I am fine. How are you doing?
All is well over here, thanks for asking. How did the short UK tour go?
BT: Well, you say short, but eight gigs in a row…That nearly killed me, ha-ha. It was great. I had never done eight shows in a row before. Not even in the days when I was with Ian (Gillan) and all of that. It was always like three or four gigs in a row and then a day off. It was a new experience and I was a bit scared beforehand. Time is getting on in my life and I am not as young as I used to be, so it was like "God, am I going to survive this?," but it was great. It was a blast. I really enjoyed it.
I am really glad to hear that. We would have loved to attend the gig in London, but we could not get time off work.
BT: That gig was packed out. I really enjoyed it. It was also a bit of a worry for me because the tour was starting on a Saturday and the weekend is okay, but then there would be Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I was thinking "Shit!," but they were okay. They were not packed, but there was a decent amount of people at all of them, so I was really pleased.
If a band plays here in Bergen on a Monday or a Tuesday, you are lucky if twenty people show up.
BT: Yeah, that is exactly it. We did Grimsby on a Tuesday and Grimsby is not exactly the hub of the universe. It is not a big town, but we had about sixty people in and they really enjoyed it.
That is a pretty good turnout for a Tuesday night, I think. Overall, how did the audience react and respond to the new songs?
BT: Great! Really, I do not think they noticed that they were new songs. They probably thought that they sounded just like the old songs, ha-ha. It was cool. All the new tracks we played went down great.
I love the new album. I have probably told you this already, but I think it is the most memorable one yet.
BT: Thanks. I do have to say that regarding the acoustic album, the tracks that I heard of your tracks (i.e. Sagntid and Picture Ann) definitely affected how I planned the acoustic record, because your stuff is awfully atmospheric and moody and all of that, so I was trying to do that, you know. I kind of thought "I like what Jens is doing, I can try that too."
I am blushing. I am actually lost for words. That is a big compliment, Bernie. I do not know what to say.
BT: That is great, ha-ha.
You are one of the reasons why I picked up a guitar in the first place. This is kind of a surreal moment for me.
BT: That is cool. You know, if you play rock you end up in kind of a bubble, I think. You do vaguely the same thing on every album or every kind of couple of albums. You break out occasionally with one track or two tracks, but the acoustic album to me was a real change. I was thinking, "How am I going to do this?" I was thinking about how you did your tracks and how they are long and dramatic. That appealed to me.
That is brilliant. I am really glad to hear that. That is amazing. I was listening to the acoustic album just last night through the headphones. It is an amazing record and a surprise as well, because when most people think of Bernie Torme they probably think raw, wild, imaginative hard rock blues, you know what I mean?
BT: Yes, that is right. I mean, again, the kind of plan that I initially had to do this album was not really a plan at all. I wanted to do an acoustic album, but I thought if I do an acoustic album, no one is going to buy it. No one is even going to listen to it, because everybody expects, as you said, wild hard rock blues, the screams, the dive bombs, and all of that. I thought the only way I can get it to happen was to make "Dublin Cowboy" a double album. Then a guy turned up and he had a live recording of us from a gig at the beginning of 2016 and it was great. I thought, "Okay, triple album." It was a complete accident. Not a part of the plan or a strategic part of the plan at all.
That is what I love about it. It feels like everything came together. You get the blues album, you get the acoustic album (which to me is the real surprise), and then there is the live album. To me, your songs are begging to be played live. I have always felt that you were at your best when performing live.
BT: Yes, I think that is true. Now I kind of take the Rory Gallagher approach; it has to be able to be played live because that is what it is all about.
Right. I think you once told me that some of the tracks off "Flowers and Dirt" were somewhat difficult to reproduce live.
BT: That is true. "Good Man Down" was actually really hard to play because it has so many dynamics in it and every time we played it, everyone in the band kept forgetting the bits, pieces, stops, and so on. If I had been James Brown, I would have sacked them on the spot, ha-ha…but then I am not James Brown! It was not that it was entirely impossible to play, but it always appeared a tad untidy when we played it in rehearsals, so we never played it live.
You have so many different songs to choose from. Nowadays, it must be difficult to compile a set list. Like, what goes in and what goes out.
BT: Yeah, it is. To be honest, by now, if I am thinking about old tracks, I actually have to put the old record on in order to remember those old songs because I do not retain how I played them. "Oh, so that how is that one went," ha-ha. That was even true in Gillan of the whole band. We would have a break and then a tour coming up. Ian would go "Let us try this song" and we would all be scratching our heads going "Eh, how does that one go?"…and we only did three albums, ha-ha. I do not have a problem relearning them and once I have done so they are locked in there, but to be honest with you, the songs that I hate are the tracks I have been playing just about continuously since 1980-1981. It is incredibly hard to concentrate on them or to give them any emotional genuineness because you tend to kind of play them on autopilot, and that is bad. We just about always play "Turn Out the Lights" because the audience has always wanted that. It is a great audience track
It is a classic song.
BT: I am asleep by the time we reach the end of it, ha-ha. It just passes by.
I see what you mean. When my wife and I watched Black Sabbath perform in London a few months ago, I was kind of thinking to myself "Wow, Tony Iommi has been playing ‘Paranoid’ for nearly fifty years now. There is only so much he can do with it," if you know what I mean.
BT: Exactly, but it is kind of those types of tracks that the audience has to hear, but for the people playing them it is kind of ball-and-chain. You cannot complain about it, because it is those tracks that bring people in. I mean, I always do "New Orleans", "Trouble", "No Easy Way", and I usually also do "Smoke on the Water". Ian Gillan had been playing that for nigh on ten years before I joined the band, you know. I suppose some of those tracks have a different aspect that you kind of hit on. A track like "Smoke on the Water" or "Paranoid" is always enjoyable because it is a classic track. I nearly always play "Wild West" off the "Electric Gypsies" album and it never bores me, but "Turn Out the Lights" does. It is a strange thing.
That makes sense. The thing with "Turn Out the Lights" is that it is a crowd pleaser. People love it.
BT: Right. When I played with Ozzy, he always did "Paranoid", "Children of the Grave", and "Iron Man". I was happy to play them, but Tommy Aldridge, Rudy Sarzo, and Don Airey absolutely bloody hated them, ha-ha. They were like "Oh no, not this again."
Ha-ha, you know, I met Rudy once. He was so cool to me. He did tell me that he hated playing those. He thought that…like for instance the Black Sabbath title track and those three notes (humming the infamous riff to "Black Sabbath")…he thought that the whole track was just plodding along, ha-ha.
BT: Ha-ha, yeah. There were many arguments at that time. I was only there for a brief amount of time, but the amount of arguments surrounding those three tracks was like, "Wow." I stayed out of it and was more like, "Yeah, whatever you want," ha-ha.
Just the fact that you learned all of that Ozzy and Sabbath material in such a short span of time is mind-blowing. I do not even know how you managed to do that.
BT: It was incredibly hard. It was incredibly hard to take in the chord progressions and accents and arrangements in that I did not know any of the material at all. Obviously, stuff like "Paranoid" I did know, but the Ozzy stuff I did not know. It was a matter of learning the songs and putting something approximately close to what Randy played and the bits he did in there. There was no chance that I was going to be able to play exactly what he played. To be honest, I had no interest in playing exactly what he played. If I had died and he had joined the Gillan band, he would have played it his way. I felt that in terms of treating him with respect, it was better not to try to be him. I think it would have been a tad disrespectful.
I could not agree more. I think you did the right thing. That Madison Square Garden gig that was released as a bootleg sounded great. It sounds as if you are improvising here and there, but it totally works for me.
BT: I was absolutely 200 % improvising in quite a few places, ha-ha.
Speaking of improvising, do you still do that nowadays; say for instance when rehearsing or working up new material or recording in the studio? Do you love doing stuff on the spur of the moment and experimenting?
BT: Yes, absolutely. I do not like planning what I will play. I kind of treat it as if it is a jam because out of jams comes ideas. It is somewhat different on a gig. An awful lot of the tracks have a plot and you have to touch the roundabouts and the corners of those along the way, but I always try to play things differently every night. I have to. I suppose we have about three or four tracks that I stretch out on where I definitely improvise. Those are to me the most enjoyable tracks. I love playing off the top of my head.
Yeah, just going with the flow and seeing where it takes you. Now that you mention it, I was watching a clip on YouTube last night from a recent gig with Doogie White jamming "Smoke on the Water" with you guys on stage.
BT: Yes, that is right. He turned up in Edinburgh.
It sounded great.
BT: He was great. He was absolutely fantastic. Lovely guy. He is a complete gent. He is not egotistical or anything.
He is a big fan of the whole Deep Purple/Rainbow family. I am pretty sure that he worships everything related to Deep Purple.
BT: Ha-ha, well, he did say afterwards that "The next time you play up here and if I am here we should do ‘New Orleans’, ‘Trouble’, ‘Smoke on the Water’," and a load of other tracks.
He knows all of that stuff intimately, ha-ha.
BT: He probably knows it even better than I do, ha-ha.
Was singing something that came natural to you?
BT: In the days that I toured with Ian, he would have to have a day off to kind of save his voice, but my voice is kind of fucked anyway, ha-ha. In the bands that I was in as a teenager, I sang. I do not have a heavy metal voice. I have a blues voice. I do not have a problem with that, but in the past, some people did have a problem with that. Because I had been in Ian’s band everybody expected me to sing like Ian, but I am not trying to sing like Ian. He is astronomical. I am not even going to attempt to that because I cannot. I have always enjoyed singing. Maybe not everyone in the press has enjoyed it, but usually the audience enjoys it. It is a part of it. To an awful lot of guitar players who grew up after me, it became a thing where you had to play just the guitar, or you had to play just the keyboards, or you had to be only a singer. I grew up in the sixties and started playing at that point in time, and back then Rory Gallagher was around, Hendrix was around, Cream was around, and everybody sang. Even if they did not have really great voices, it was just a part of the package, you know. It has not ever been an issue to me. An awful lot of people have a problem timing-wise if they are playing and singing at the same time, but then I am probably hyperactive, ha-ha. I do not know if that was an answer, really.
Yeah, it was. I sometimes ask that question and I get so many interesting albeit different answers. Some people definitely want to sing and others are like "No, I only sing because nobody else wants to do it" and so on. With the trio format in the old days, everybody sang.
BT: Right. I was never really that conscious about it. In most of the bands I was in early on, the bass player would sing half of it and I would sing the other half. It was a Beatles-type thing in those days.
Speaking of the Beatles, were they an influence on you when a teenager or a young man growing up?
BT: Yes, I think for anyone who grew up around that time, the Beatles were a huge thing. The fact that they played guitars and the fact that they did riff-y tracks like "Daytripper" or "I Feel Fine" almost created the constant of a track that had a riff. That and the early Rolling Stones tracks. They had an enormous influence also because they were kind of recycling the rock ‘n’ roll tracks that were around early on like the Everly Brothers with the harmonies and all of that. It kind of reattached people of my generation to rock ‘n’ roll. For a year or two, it was crap pop and then Beatles took us back to quality rock ‘n’ roll in a sense. I do not think that it was possible to ignore them. Funnily, everybody talks about "Sgt. Pepper" being the most important album ever, but I did not really like it as much and still do not. A track like "A Day in the Life" is astronomical, but an awful lot of the album is not really my thing.
I agree, that one does not really appeal to me. I never listen to it, actually.
BT: It does not have enough guitars on it either, ha-ha.
What initially turned you on to the guitar? Any artist or band in particular, or a record perhaps?
BT: I suppose it is hard to place it exactly, but when I was a child, I really loved Chuck Berry. I loved music that was dirty and driven, you know. Keith Richards was a huge influence early on. The Yardbirds and Jeff Beck. "Heartful of Soul" and "Shapes of Things" were astronomical. I was always more attracted to the sounds than if the people were great players. I loved that dirty sound. Then I suppose I got into the Blues Breakers (John Mayall’s band) with Peter Green and the album "A Hard Road", and the "Beano" album with Eric Clapton. I think every one of my generation was like "Wow." Then Hendrix arrived and it was like "For fuck’s sake!"
That is really interesting. I am 33 years old and I think it is impossible for people of my generation to comprehend how revolutionary Hendrix was.
BT: I first saw Hendrix on Top of the Pops at the beginning of 1967 and I was fourteen at the time. I had never heard of him. We did not have television so I went inside the house next door and there were two old ladies living there. I sat there with them while they were knitting watching Top of the Pops. I had heard that Cream were going to be on it. I think it was with "I Feel Free". I had never seen Clapton play prior to that. In those days, TOTP was actually partly live. They said, "This guy has just charted and you have never heard of him." It was Hendrix who had just charted with "Hey Joe". It was such a mind-blowing experience. Sitting there with two 65-year old ladies knitting watching this guy laughing and enjoying it and playing incredibly while also kind of taking the piss out of his own playing at the same time. That was such a different experience because all of the blues players like Clapton and Green and so on took themselves very serious. Hendrix thought that it was just funny, and that was like "Wow, this guy is just unthinkably different" and playing those crazy Steve Cropper-ish things on "Hey Joe" and playing with his teeth and all of that. It was like "No one does that," especially on Top of the Pops.
It was just incredibly iconoclastic. It was almost like everything that went before had vanished. Thinking back on it is interesting.
That must have been a mesmerizing experience, seeing that for the first time.
BT: Absolutely. It was incomparable. It was unlike anything that had come before. Up until that point, it had been the beat groups and all of that. Here was a guy who was in complete command of his instrument and laughing about it and ridiculing himself at the same time in a gentle way. What a personality.
He definitely had charisma. I read a story that every famous guitarist in London went to the clubs to check him out and as they were standing there in the audience, they all kind of went "I think we are in trouble."
BT: Apparently, Cream had played a gig at Central London Polytechnic, which was a gig I played later on. Not enormous, just a few hundred people. Hendrix went there with Chas Chandler. This was literally a couple of days after he came to London. Chas knew Clapton and asked if Jimi could jam, so Hendrix went up and jammed and did all of his things. Afterwards Clapton went "I think I had better go home and practice," ha-ha.
Ha-ha, that is a great story. It really is. It also puts things into perspective. You grew up in Dublin, right? What was the club scene like there? Was there a good scene around Grafton Street? You had Skid Row and Thin Lizzy and so on…
BT: Thin Lizzy only arrived a little later on. The same with Skid Row. Around 1967 you had a lot of beat groups that turned into psychedelic beat groups. Skid Row began around 1968, I think. Initially it was a four piece.
BT: They actually had Phil Lynott on singing only. He was the lead singer. I saw them at two school dances. The band were the local heroes. They played covers and probably one or two of their own tracks. When I saw them, Gary (Moore) had just joined and he was just incredible. At that point in time (i.e. 1968), he was as good as he was ever going to be and he was only eighteen years old. He was just phenomenal. Then I kind of followed them around because he was THE guitarist in Ireland and in Dublin. I wanted to see how he played everything. I would go to gigs and must have seen them ten or fifteen times between 1968 and 1969. Then I saw Rory (Gallagher). He hardly ever played in Dublin. He played in Belfast a lot. I saw him on his first UK tour with Taste. It was at a club called the Countdown in Dublin and there were five people in the audience. Rory came out, did the show, and he was magnificent. He never acknowledged the fact that there was nobody there. He just did the show and he was stunning. I thought, "Wow, he is a pro."
Oh man, that is amazing. I love stories like that, Bernie.
BT: To be honest, I often think that it must have been so hard for him to do that. He played incredibly, but there was nobody in the audience and it was a big club. You could have easily gotten 500 people in and there were five.
Yeah, you kind of feel bad for the guy, but he was the consummate pro.
BT: I was cringing for him the whole time, so I made loads of noise, ha-ha.
Nowadays it is a great story. Do you ever miss those days? The early days?
BT: Yeah, I do. Even when I came to London in 1974, there were loads of places to play. Everything is just really closed now and there is hardly any places left to play here. It has changed. The whole kind of vibe of it all has changed. If you are a young band, it is a hell of a lot harder now. In my day, it was fairly easy, you know.
It is a shame. Bands do not even sell CDs anymore.
BT: That is the truth. Impossible. Five years ago everybody was selling downloads, but you do not even sell downloads anymore because it is all streaming. While it is really hard on bands, if you want to make music, you are going to. It will change. It has to change. I do not think that it will ever go back to the large record company financing a band, because now all the large companies just seem to be interested in the catalogues of old artists and are just kind of spewing that out endlessly. They are not investing anything in young bands. The promotion is crap. There is no real way of raising a band like there was in the 70s and 80s where you had large tours and where you were able to get your band on those tours. It has all changed.
I remember you once told me that back in the day with Gillan you could do thirty dates in the UK.
BT: That is right, we did. Every night would be packed out. The smallest audience would be 1000 or 2000 people. That is not possible now. An awful lot of it is the availability of music online and that lack of cohesion that society has now. In the past, the people would pass the word on. In terms of social media. if you have 40000 people all passing different stuff on, it is difficult to see ANYTHING.
It is so disheartening. If you do not update your Twitter every 5 minutes people will forget about you.
BT: You are right about that. To be honest, I do not have the patience. If I have an album or a tour coming up I will post stuff as often as I can, but after the tour is over I can hardly be bothered opening that shit up, ha-ha. You know how it is. It is just too impersonal to me.
I could not agree more. Even with the cell phones and all of that. If I am at home and immersed in a good book or something, I want to be in the here and now. I do not want to look at Facebook, Twitter, or whatever.
BT: Exactly, that is it. I was thinking of some of the tours I did in the past like for instance in the US. You did not have a telephone. You would occasionally have a chance to call out of a hotel. It would be once every two or three days or maybe even four days. If it was the US or Canada the time zones would be off, so you could not always call home, you know. Often you would buy a postcard and stick a stamp on it. That was it. Now everybody is in touch all the time. Who needs that? It is just stupid.
It is just plain unhealthy and sickening.
BT: Yeah, let people have space.
I am sitting here and looking at "Dublin Cowboy" now. I was ecstatic when it came out. You get three albums in one package, but knowing how the youth of today operate they might stream one or two songs from it and add them to their own playlist and then that is it, which is a damn shame. Music has become something that people consume. It is no longer considered art.
BT: That is true. It has changed. In the past, if you heard a track you just had to get that track. If it were on an album, you would buy the whole album and check that out. That does not happen now. I believe that between 1965 and up until the millennium, the album was an art form. It started going bad around the time that it became a CD. With vinyl albums, you were only able to have 22 minutes per side or thereabout, so there had to have a cohesion and an artistic kind of cohesion to it all. When it became a CD, it was suddenly seventy minutes and it is so hard to have something with that length be cohesive. That changed it and then downloads spoiled the whole thing completely. It was no longer an art form. I am sounding like an old codger here, ha-ha.
I keep thinking back to the days before the internet. I started buying CDs when I was 9 or 10 years old. You had to buy the music magazines in order to find out when the albums would be out. You would ride your bicycle down to the local record store and ask them questions like "When will the album be in?" You had to put an effort in and I miss that.
BT: There are hardly any record shops around anymore. If you want to buy an object, you need to go on Amazon.
You played with Generation X for a while, did you not?
BT: I toured with them and supported them, but I was never actually in the band. I am still in touch with the guitar player, Bob Andrews. He lives in Joshua Tree in the US now. I hear from Billy Idol occasionally. I send him a message and he sends me a message and so on.
Lately, I have received all these books on the punk movement and sometimes I get the impression that the whole punk movement is somewhat idealized and that people have these strange misconceptions about the whole thing, almost as if it was too good to be true.
BT: The thing is that it was not like it is portrayed. Even on that Generation X tour, the hardcore punks hated the band. There was always this weird split in the punk movement. There were lots of skinheads who were quite right wing and then you had the Pistols and Generation X who were basically the bands that broke, and there were two or three gigs on that tour that had to be stopped because skinheads jumped on stage and wanted to kill Billy Idol. We played a gig in Birmingham and there was a riot. I had a microphone stand that was smashed into my mouth. The tour manager was knifed. It was not quite as enjoyable as it was made out to be. Nevertheless, it was an experience, ha-ha. It was great in that it was exciting; there were some exciting bands around, but it is not as gracious as people portray it now.
Right, and that is the thing. When I read those books, it feels as if people are idealizing the past.
BT: Yeah, I think they do.
Funny thing, last week I reviewed a book on Motorhead and Fast Eddie mentions you in that book in relation to Bronze Records, but were you not only approached by that label? You never signed with Bronze, did you?
BT: No, we never signed to them, they only approached us. We recorded at their studios. I knew Eddie, actually. He was a bit crazy, really. I always wondered why he was called Fast Eddie but then he gave me a lift home once and my god, I found out why he was called Fast Eddie! Jesus Christ, I have never been that scared in a car. He was a lunatic driver (laughs). I liked him a lot, a good guy.
The whole thing with Bronze records made me think of Phil Lewis. That was in the early eighties.
BT: Yes, it was at that point in time that Bronze asked us to sign. The reason we did not sign with Bronze was that Gerry Bron said to me "We really want the band and think it will go far but you have to sack Phil Lewis."
You are kidding.
BT: I told him that I would not sack Phil, so Gerry had a bit of a tantrum.
He was a good front man. Phil moved to the US, right?
BT: Yeah he did, about a month after that, so maybe we should have sacked him and got that record deal, ha-ha.
Ha-ha, it is funny how that works.
BT: Ha-ha, yeah, well, it is all part of life. When I look back on it, it is a bit of a laugh. I am glad the bad things happened too, you know.
Yeah, and they make for great stories. I have been cracking up for an hour now. I love listening to your stories. You know what, you should write a book or a biography at some point.
BT: You know, I keep on thinking about it and an awful lot of people have told me that I ought to write one, but sitting down and doing it is kind of…Also, I do not want to say anything nasty about anyone. At times, you have got to, because it is a part of the story, but…
I see what you mean and I think that is noble, you not wanting to say anything bad about people, but if it is the truth then…
BT: I just do not want to do that. Even people I had a problem with at the time or had arguments with back then is all in the past. I was not exactly an angel either. If there was a balance it would be okay, but I do not know if I am that clever really, ha-ha.
We all make mistakes. I guess that is part of being human.
BT: Yeah, it is part of life.
Look at you now; you have a great band together with Ian and Chris and you are more productive than ever before.
BT: In an awful lot of ways for someone like me, it is better for me now. In the past you always had an A&R and the problem with the record labels in the past is that they wanted a piece of plastic that they could promote until it was not selling anymore.
Do you ever feel like it is sometimes easier to express oneself though music and lyrics than in actual conversation? I know I do. Sometimes I feel more comfortable expressing myself through music than anywhere else.
BT: Yes, I do feel that music is a much more emotionally satisfying way of communicating.
Conversation is great for explanations, details, opinions, and disagreements, but for me music and lyrics too are a much more satisfying way of painting a picture and getting across some things that I just cannot get across in conversation.
Would you consider performing an all-acoustic set at some point, maybe like an intimate show somewhere? I think that would be a really atmospheric and moody experience
BT: I would love to do that sometime, I hope I get a chance to! It may be difficult because people, promoters, and venues tend to see me in a certain way, and it would be hard to shift that image, but I do hope I get a chance.
One of the things that I find inspiring about you is that you are running your own show now; Bandcamp, your own record label, your own recording studio, etc.
BT: I am lucky that I have been able to. I know an awful lot of people who have not been able to do that, so I am extremely lucky and I appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do that.