Tony Carey (ex-Rainbow): The 70’s man

Tony Carey is a real legend and he recorded one of the best hard rock albums of all time with Rainbow. After that he strated very successful solo career playing softer music, experimenting with electronic stuff and playing prog with Planet P Project. He is going to play in Moscow with Tony Carey’s Rainbow Project soon, so we contacted Tony to ask him about this upcoming show and his time with Rainbow and some more. 

РУССКАЯ ВЕРСИЯ

Hi, Tony! I’m really proud to do this interview and feel privileged. I grew up listening to “Rising” and “On Stage”. I still consider the latest as the one of the best live albums of all time!

“On Stage” album was the way Rainbow really sounded. In studio – not so much. But in 1975, 1976 what we were doing live that was what the band was. We had really good line-up. Everything we played was improvisation and we never played anything twice ever. We had incredible energy and everyone wanted to blow the place down every night. We were never terrible and sometimes we were really good. That’s really hard or even impossible to get on a record. Some bands are better on record and not that good live, and I think we were better live. We could play song for 15 or 20 minutes.

To me both studio and live albums you recorded with Rainbow are classics. But the first ever Rainbow I heard was “Down To Earth”. I was like “Eh, why do people keep telling me I have to check this band out”? But “Rising” really changed my attitude.

Who sang on that album?

Graham Bonnet. I loved his voice but not the songs.

Graham is my friend. With that album Ritchie wanted to be on American radio. It was “All Night Long” on that. I don’t like that song – it’s really sexist and with a terrible lyric with line “I don’t care about your brain but you look all right”. When I heard that I said “Ok, great”. I’m not criticizing because Ritchie can do anything he wants, of course. But after “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll”, after Ronnie left everything went pop. And you had Foreigner and Journey and Rainbow – everybody gone to the same type of the same 80’s pop sound. To me hard rock was not hard rock anymore in the 80’s. Hard rock was the 70’s – Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Sabbath, Purple, especially Purple, us – that was hard rock to me.

I have plenty of questions about Rainbow but let’s talk about Tony Carey’s Rainbow Project first. This is your second attempt to play Rainbow’s songs – the first one was Over The Rainbow.

That was a different thing. Jurgen Blackmore is one of my best friends. I’ve known him since his 10 I think and he’s 50 now. We played some shows in Russia and some shows in Japan – it was OK, but I got sick, I got cancer. But I had to leave anyway before we got to any kind of fight. We had really great musicians with Greg Smith, Bobby Rondinelli and Joe Lynn Turner. They all had really different ideas about what Rainbow was than I did. The first time we rehearsed was in Moscow. We rehearsed about four or five days and everything was about four minutes’ arrangements and me and Jurgen were like “O-o-o-o-k-a-a-a-a-y”. It wasn’t really my approach to the band. I’m a 70’s guy and they are 80’s guys and it’s a real difference. My big influence in that kind of music is Miles Davies with “Bitches Brew”. He put out that double record with four songs on it. That’s pretty much what “On Stage” is. That was my idea of Rainbow because Miles Davies wasn’t hard rock but was fucking heavy and had great line-up and fabulous players who could play songs for 10 minutes or half an hour. In Over The Rainbow we had me – all the way 70’s, Jurgen was kinda same and we had the three 80’s guys and I didn’t think it worked. But like I said before I got to any kind of discussion or whatever I had to leave anyway.

How did you get to know Age Sten Nilsen and other musicians from Tony Carey’s Rainbow Project?

Sweden and Norway are not places where I just go to play but I also go fishing. I love Norwegian people and the country, it’s always emptied and it’s all water and mountains. We played there at Hammerfest and Kirkiness and it’s almost North Pole, you can’t get any farther. So I was friend with some Norwegian musicians. Anyway I played in Sweden a few times with German band with me – I’ve been in Germany for 40 years. But in Norway I met Jon Holders, my bass player. He is a big name in Norway, but he plays completely different style, he plays funk. And I met Jostien Svarstad, my guitar player, and he can play anything. And I met the drummer Per Ole Iversson, and he also can play anything. He plays in Norwegian military marching band with a uniform and he plays this bass drum and snare drum and he loves it. But he can play anything from hardest rock to gentlest folk. This is what I look for in musicians. They have to play right for the song. When I hear a guitar player I don’t care how fast he can play. He needs to play the song right. Right for me – it’s just personal. We did a lot of shows as my band and that was absolutely fantastic, because they knew the songs and we rehearsed so little but had no idea what was coming. We could play a song for five minutes or fifteen minutes and I directed like an orchestra. It was so much fun and so relaxed, just as Miles Davies’ band actually. I met Age because my bass player knew him. At the time Age was doing Queen tribute. I think he is a good singer. So in 2015 was 40th anniversary of «Rising» and I wanted to do a Rainbow show. A tried three or four singers and there are big names but I won’t mention them because why? But Age just killed it, he was just perfect, and he is a star. There is a video of «Tarot Woman» with Age. That was my show at Sweden Rock festival and in the middle of the show I had to fight for this ’cause they gave me 60 minutes and I said I need 75 ’cause I wanna do a couple of Rainbow songs and that was the first time Age sang with us. Nobody knew that was going to happen, that was a secret. And people went crazy and we all had a great time so I said OK. So we did there and did a couple of rock cruises from Stockholm to Helsinki and from Malaga to Majorca, we played three or four Norwegian festivals but not much else. I’m not going to make a record with this band, this is like a hobby for me. My music is different, it’s not hard rock. But hard rock was what I did when I was younger and it’s a lot of fun. I only do the songs that I originally played. In Moscow we are going to play all of «Rising» and all «On Stage» and some of « Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll» ’cause I played about a half on that record. I don’t do any covers, don’t do «Stone Cold» – i don’t care about it, I just care about that 70’s vibe with no safety net when anything can happen and anything does happen. At one of our shows I put the drum solo at the second song. The drummer thought I was crazy but he did it. It wasn’t arranged. And that’s the story of Tony Carey’s Rainbow project. We don’t do many shows. I think we are playing one show in Norway in January and one in Russia in January, three in June at big festivals and one big festival in July at that’s all. That’s just a fun thing for me.

In one interview 10 years ago you said that Ritchie wouldn’t play hard rock again but here he is.

Did you see the band? Did you hear them?

No. I’m afraid it might be disappointing and I want to remember Rainbow in its glory.

It’s not Rainbow. Go on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. OK, Ritchie is the master and anything he wants to do is fine but it’s different energy. His wife is singing back vocals.

Don’t you want to play at least a few selected shows with Ritchie?

He will never ask me, ever. I left for a reason. We did not get along. He fired me twice and hired back three times and on forth time I just left ’cause it got too weird. He is very difficult person or he was – i haven’t seen him in 40 years. Believe me I’m the last person he would call.

That’s sad because your musical collaboration was perfect.

See, musically I had no problems with Ritchie – it was personal thing. He was a difficult man in the 70’s. I can promise you he would never call me. But I don’t care. It was a long time ago. You weren’t even born when I left Rainbow.

Speaking about Rainbow, I read somewhere that your band rehearsed in the same building with them and you played so loud that Ritchie sent Jimmy Bain to tell you to shut down.

No, no, no, that’s not the story! We are taking about S.I.R. Studios in Los Angeles. Led Zeppelin were rehearsing there, my band at the time was rehearsing there, Ritchie was doing auditions there. It wasn’t his building, so he couldn’t send somebody to say to turn down. This was professional studio and my record label paid for the rehearsals, so Ritchie couldn’t say «Hey, you are too loud». But I played loud and he heard me and sent Jimmy to invite me for audition. My first band had a huge record deal with ABC Records and it wasn’t working. Our producer was Gary Katz, who produced Steely Dan. We spent 18 months and probably a million dollars but could not get a record. I was ready to leave. So that was a perfect time to do the Rainbow thing. The next day Ritchie was at another rehearsal place and I went there, played and got the job.

That line-up of Rainbow was like an all-star team. How was it to play with them? Did you just jam during rehearsals or did you work on Ritchie’ ideas?

It was all improvisation. Ritchie showed us a song and then we played it like we played it. In Deep Purple Jon Lord played what Ritchie was playing, exactly the same part as Ritchie. I didn’t do that. I refused to do that «Grrrrrrrrhhhhhhh» and the whole big chords which I think are more exciting but just not my style. I don’t remember any kind of argument, or fight, or discussion about the music. The music was the easiest part. Cozy was gigantic, he was very powerful and dynamic. Jimmy was perfect. Ronnie was an angel and Ritchie was a devil and I was somewhere in the middle.

Do you recall how your solo in «Tarot Woman» was created?

We were in Germany, in Munich, in Musicland Studio, and Martin Birch was producing. I did two intros. I did one for «Stargazer» and one for «Tarot Woman» and I knew we had to keep one because they were the same thing – two Minimoogs. I just played something and it took about an hour. Martin said it’s good, and then Ritchie came in and said it’s good. Ritchie never was there when I was recording and I was never there when he recorded his solos. It’s his band and if he didn’t like it, I’d do it again, of course. But I didn’t want someone over my shoulder and he didn’t want anybody over his shoulder. So what I did was really, really simple and it took about an hour.

This is insane! It seems that modern musicians are less creative.

That’s not true that musicians are less creative. It’s just musicians you hear. And you don’t hear creative musicians. Do you know who Cory Henry is?

No.

He is a keyboard player and he has two Grammys. He plays fusion/jazz and he is the best keyboard player I’ve ever heard in my life. We were on the same tour together here in Germany. He is about 30 and he is fabulous and creative but you don’t hear him on a radio and it’s not the style that gets a lot of promotion. People don’t buy records anymore, people stream and they stream what iTunes tells them they should have. Musicians are just as good now as they ever were. Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong – those guys were great, and the people today they are great but you might not hear them, and that’s the whole different story. About me – I’m not really hard rock player. If you listen to “Tarot Woman”… I was listening to Rick Wakeman a lot, Keith Emerson and Rod Argent – that’s not hard rock, that’s prog. And I’m a prog player really, much, much, much more than a rock player. “Tarot Woman” is a classical melody and I don’t see it as rock at all. But that’s a stupid thing because why put things in boxes – it’s just music. But if you ask me on a good day, I’ll admit that I’m actually not a keyboard player, I’m a singer/songwriter, producer, bass player. On my records I do everything and keyboards are just one of the things I can do. In 1975 I was 21 and I played with the best guitar player in the world. Ritchie needed somebody who wasn’t afraid of him and I’m not afraid of anybody. Remember I said that my bass player and guitar player can play anything? So if you want hard rock, they will blow the walls down and do that. Most of my concerts are me at the piano alone – I just sing. I play at churches and theaters in Europe. It’s very quiet and people come for the songs and the words. There are no drums, no bass. No guitars, just me. A real good musician can play anything, any style.

Of course I know your solo records and love them but they deserve separate interview. So If you don’t mind let’s get back to the Rainbow stuff. What was it to play live in support of “Rising”? You played part of “Starstruck” on every show, played “Stargazer” and “Do You Close Your Eyes” often, played “A Light In The Black” at some selected shows but never played the rest of the album. Why was that?

“A Light In The Black” killed Cozy. “Stargazer” and “A Light In The Black” are the same song – part one and part two. We did it in Miami for sure, in New York City, in Japan – just a very few times, and it was too much for Cozy. “Stargazer” was difficult to play because of its intensity and “A Light In The Black” is just that double bass drum during 12 or 14 minutes – nobody can do that. And plus that was the end of a concert and we were like tired. The reason we didn’t play it that much because it kinda killed Cozy. We did “Do You Close Your Eyes” basically because it was good for Ritchie to smash a guitar. He didn’t smash guitars like all the time but if he wanted to smash a guitar the encore would be “Do You Close Your Eyes” – it was perfect for that. So what it was like to play with Rainbow – it was energy all the time, that’s what it was like, very intense.

I really love your keyboard solo in “Still I’m Sad” which sounds very much like a classical piece, something like Bach’s melody.

It’s just bluff, it’s just me fucking around. Like I said – any style! And it was never the same twice, not even close. I don’t play Bach, that’s for sure. But I agree, that solo reminds loud, fast church music. I studied classical music with string bass, that was my first instrument. So I played all the big symphonies and big orchestra pieces in school, but not keyboards. I read an interview from Cozy who didn’t know Bach, and he said “Tony Carey played some Bach and Ritchie said ‘Great’”. It wasn’t fucking Bach, it’s just bullshit. I can do that bullshit all day long.

“On Stage” was recorded during the tour in support of “Rising” but there was almost nothing from it aside from a piece of “Starstruck”. Why was that?

We didn’t play “Rising”.

But you did play “Kill The King” which wasn’t even recorded at the time!

Yeah, no rules! Ritchie always wanted to have fast opener. It was “Speed King”, “Highway Star” and later it was “Spotlight Kid”. For us it was “Kill The King”, very great opener, really fast, not too long but really pushy. Ritchie definitely was “No rules” guy.

Yeah, I heard a lot of stories that if Ritchie wasn’t satisfied with a crowd he didn’t do encores.

It’s not a crowd. If Ritchie didn’t play an encore, he wasn’t upset about a crowd, he was upset about himself. That’s really important to know. We also had a lot of problems with this big stupid electric rainbow – it made guitar and Hammond so much buzz, sometimes it was louder than the band and was really hard to fix. So Ritchie was really frustrated. So I wouldn’t say that Ritchie didn’t do an encore ‘cause he didn’t like an audience, he didn’t do it because there were other reasons. And usually he was really critical but he’s mostly critical of himself. He is a real musician, he is not just a showbiz guy. And all great musicians are crazy! Liam Gallagher is crazy, Miles Davies was fucking crazy, I’m probably crazy.

It’s strange that Ritchie and Ronnie were such different persons but they still were a good writing team. It seems that no one can say a bad word about Ronnie while a lot of people criticize Ritchie.

I saw a couple of videos of Ronnie on YouTube where he was drunk in a tour bus and not that nice, but two words about why Ronnie Dio is so nice – he’s American. Big difference. Really big, big difference. When I got into the band Ronnie was like my uncle. He was 14 years older than me and we never had a problem. I loved him and I loved Wendy who was his manager and wife. Ronnie was fabulous.  He was always positive, never gave me any trouble.

You weren’t credited in the original edition of the album “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” while you did play on three songs there. Did it hurt you?

No, I didn’t care. I went to Germany and never thought about Rainbow again. In 1981 I had my first hit single in America, in 1983 Planet P Project came out, and “Why Me” was huge in America, and in 1984 “Fine, Fine Day” was number one in rock video in America, so no, I didn’t care.

It seems that you had that commercial success which Ritchie wanted badly with “Down To Earth”.

It’s true. By the way, I really like Blackmore’s Night, I think they are great. If you asked me in 1975 what Ritchie’s favorite music was, it was this Renaissance stuff. He never changed. He came out of Deep Purple and he wanted to show that he can do hard rock without them and he did. But his first love was that music from the forest. Now Blackmore’s Night have been together for 20 years, their fans love them, they play in castles. I’ve never been to their shows but I’ve seen DVDs and think they are fantastic.

After Rainbow you started solo career which has been very successful but were you approached by any hard rock band which wanted to have a stellar keyboard player?

I didn’t really give them a chance – I disappeared. But I remember a talk with Sweet, they are not hard rock but they asked me. Also Gary Wright. If I wanted to, I probably could play in any band, but I didn’t want to. I was still very young when I came to Germany, I was 24. I got a studio when I just learned in. I didn’t even sing on my first five records, they were like Kraftwerk with drum machine. So I did five instrumental albums for that small German label before I even started singing. I was learning. I don’t know if that was good enough but that was what I was doing. I really didn’t wanna play fast anymore, I’m not impressed by that. I can do it but I think it’s unnecessary. I think presentation is everything. There is one Swedish guitar player that plays very, very fast. He is good but after a couple of songs you heard it all. There is no mystery. Ritchie didn’t play fast either by the way. Ritchie was good on slide guitar. His solo in “Stargazer” is amazing and it’s not fast at all. In the 80’s there were really fast guys like Eddie Van Halen, and Yngwie and all the shredders, and I wasn’t interested in that at all. I was more influenced by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan.

As far as I’m aware your favorite writer is John Steinbeck. What is the best thing about him for you?

I grew up in a place which was one hour from the place a lot of his books were about. I read everything from him. I still read a lot. I’m very into literature. I read every “New York Times Bestseller” except the girl books. Steinbeck was huge inspiration to me but so was Hemmingway.  I spent 20 years in deep sea fishing because Hemmingway did and Steinbeck did. I still do fishing but not in deep sea.

I like Steinbeck a lot. I really like his “Tortilla Flat”.

Did you read “Cannery Row”?

Yes. This book taught me that poor people have their pride.

Pride is not even the right word. They still have value. The best book for that is of course “The Grapes Of Wrath”. That’s probably the only book the Soviet Union ever published from John Steinbeck. Americans thought he was a communist. He wasn’t a communist but he was definitely for the little guy. “The Grapes Of Wrath” changed my life. When I read it for the first time I was 12. I was just a baby.

Am I right thinking that your song “Tinseltown” was influenced by Steinbeck?

“Tinsletown” was about Hollywood, it’s a nickname about Hollywood. It’s about drugs, cheap women and how Hollywood chew you up and spit you out. But there is one song from my album “Cold War Kids” which is called “Dust” and it’s absolutely “The Grapes Of Wrath”.

Thank you, Tony. That was it for today and if you want to say something to your Russian fans – you are welcome.

Hello, Moscow! Hold on to your heads and scrap yourselves into your seats because we are going to blow the fucking walls down!

Rowdy McGuire