TERRY NAILS INTERVIEW:
August 5, 2007
As a session musician, bassist Terry Nails’ career has run the gamut from Ozzy Osbourne and Steve Jones to Tommy Tutone and the Pointer Sisters. He was convinced to pick up the bass guitar in the late 60s by a member Of Janis Joplin’s Big Brother band and never looked back. Today he continues to record and work on his new website (www.tomorrowsmusictoday.com) and in this exclusive interview recalls his varied past.
Sleaze Roxx: What are you working on these days?
Terry Nails: My tan mostly, Florida isn’t called the sunshine state for nothin’. Been writing and recording, doing some stuff for Nashville (Yee-Haw!), working on a music services website – www.tomorrowsmusictoday.com – surfing as much as possible and doing a motorcycle project with Matt Fhuere from Nebraska Custom Cycles. Other than that not a lot…
Sleaze Roxx: What sort of music are you writing and recording at the moment?
Terry Nails: A bit of everything really. What ever presents itself at the time. Some of it is real funk oriented and some of it is really simple straight ahead slide guitar stuff, other stuff is more orchestrated with big string and horn sections. The Nashville stuff I’m doing with my friend Steve Wrench is more country commercial oriented. I’m not into any one type of music per se.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve played all types of music throughout your career, is there any one genre that you prefer over the others?
Terry Nails: Just as long as it’s got a good groove and some sort of a sense of fun about it, it works for me.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you first get involved in the music business?
Terry Nails: My Dad is a professional musician and worked with Woody Herman, Billy Eckstein and was one of the Four Freshmen so I guess you could say it’s really ever the only thing I considered doing. I started out playing piano at age 6 then switched to drums in the 5th grade and quickly switched to guitar shortly after that. I left home at a very early age and ended up in San Francisco in ’67. I somehow wound up working at the Family Dog, helping out with a couple light show companies, living on one of the Grateful Dead ranches and half assedly doing equipment for Big Brother & the Holding Company. For awhile I lived across the street from one of the guitar players in Big brother, James Gurley and I used to baby-sit his son Ongo from time to time.
It was there at the house that I would sometimes jam with Sam Andrew, the other guitarist from Big Brother and James. One day James told me that guitar players where a dime a dozen but everybody needed a bass player and he thought I should be a bass player. One day when I came over to jam he took my guitar and gave me this beautiful bass and that was it. I’ve played bass in every band I’ve ever been in or recorded with since.
Sleaze Roxx: Was Janis Joplin still with the band at that time?
Terry Nails: Yep, she was there. She left in December ’68 I believe, right after a benefit at the Family Dog.
Sleaze Roxx: What were Janis and the guys from Big Brother like? Being the late 60s people would automatically think they were crazy and out of control.
Terry Nails: I really didn’t get close to Janis, she didn’t hang with the band guys much. Being very young at that time she seemed much too much of a star for me to approach. I was kind of intimidated by the whole thing.
The closest I ever got to her and the most singular amount of time I spent with her was shortly before she died. This was way after she left the band. James and Sam and I and a few other friends went to her house in Larkspur for a party one night. She had the party as a sort of celebration because she was getting ready to go down to L.A. to finish up her new album. I don’t remember a lot of what went on or who was there because she and I and a dealer named Thadeous spent most of the night in one of the bathrooms doing massive amounts of really stupid shit. This was a time when hard drugs were starting to take a serious toll on the whole scene, so although I was really bummed when she died, I wasn’t at all surprised. I remember how people were saying she was clean at the time she died and that some of them thought she had been murdered because they knew she had quit doing drugs and couldn’t possibly have OD’d. I guess none of them were at that party.
I don’t know if could say that the people were crazy, but the times certainly were and things definitely got out of control from time to time.
Sleaze Roxx: When did the free-flowing drug culture of the late 60s get old for you personally?
Terry Nails: It got real old early on. Being strung out is no fun believe me. There’s nothing like being dope sick in the morning to put a little damper on the rest of your day. I was way, way over it by the mid 70’s, but it took me until ’83 to finally get clean and sober.
Sleaze Roxx: How hard was it to get clean in a profession where drugs are so easy to get ahold of?
Terry Nails: By the time I got clean I’d pretty much run myself out of the business. I didn’t start getting really good steady work until I got clean. You have to remember that a lot of the people in the business were in the same boat as me and a lot of them were trying to clean their act up and they certainly didn’t want to have anything to do with someone who was still out there. So I ended up playing with people that were either sober or didn’t have a drug or drinking problem.
Jonesy and I got sober together and I met Ozzy trying to do the same thing at that time as well. I hooked back up with the Pointer Sisters through the same connection and did some studio work with them all because I was clean and could be trusted to show up on time and wasn’t too fucked up to play. I’d met the girls years earlier when we all did some work together in S.F. with a mutual friend of ours named Sylvester who had some early disco hits. So staying clean in the business was more of a help than anything else because there was this great support system available. Hell, on some of the big tours the opening bands weren’t even allowed to have any alcohol any where at the gigs including their own dressing rooms.
Sleaze Roxx: I assume Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309 was the first big hit you were involved with, what is it like that first time seeing your work become so popular?
Terry Nails: Actually no, ‘Angel Say No’ made the top 40 I believe which was on the first album. It is a bit weird the first time you hear yourself on the radio though. I remember I was driving in my old ’51 Chevy the first time I heard one of our songs on the radio. I just wanted to stop people and say “hey we’re on the radio! We actually made it on the radio!” It was a pretty trippy feeling.
Sleaze Roxx: What are the differences between being part of a band like Tommy Tutone and doing session work for people like the Pointer Sisters and Eddie Money?
Terry Nails: Well being in Tommy Tutone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. At least for the drummer Mickey Shine and I. While I had been in the band since the early days, way, way before we ever had a record contract, when it came down to signing a contract I found that I wasn’t a full member of the band even though I’d been in the band for years. You have to understand that I considered these guys to be almost family, so I trusted them completely. We went through a lot of shit together so I never thought twice about anything I signed. Well as many of us found out too late, you can’t trust anything or anyone in the music business. What I signed was a production deal with Tommy, not a record deal with the company. In other words I went from being a band member to being a side man with the introduction of big money to the equation. I have to say though that I’m probably very lucky that I didn’t get much money back then because I most likely wouldn’t be around to be doing this interview if I had. To put it mildly, I wasn’t in the greatest shape at the time.
The Eddie Money thing was a bit weird. From what I remember, I’d gotten a call from Wolfgang Productions (Bill Graham’s management co.) who told me that Eddie was getting ready to record an album and that he had a record deal and they wanted to know if I was interested in doing the album. I was fairly well acquainted with Eddie because my band Killerwatt had done several gigs with him. I always though he was an incredible singer and musician but he was always hard to work with. He was always very demanding of everybody in his band as well as the local stage people and sound men. One night we did a gig with him at the Mabuhay Gardens in S.F. and in the middle of the set he fired his whole band right in front of the audience on stage. These guys were great musicians and a couple of them were in Boz Skagg’s band so they weren’t no slouches as the saying goes. At that point I sorta lost respect for the guy. I loved his music but I definitely wouldn’t want to work with him, so I told them no thanks. I wish I’d have thought about it a little more before I turned it down but such is life. Besides I was in Tommy Tutone at the time and we were working on our own record deal.
I did however go in and do some of the demo stuff for his 2nd or 3rd album a couple years later. Working with the Pointer Sisters was a lot better because I was sober by that time and things just seemed more fun to me being sober. If I have a choice (and I do) I’ll take studio work everytime over being in a band. You get to have a life and you get to stay home and there isn’t so much stupid drama involved as there is in a band setting.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you get hooked up with the Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones?
Terry Nails: I first met Jonesy at the Winterland in S.F. when the Pistols played there. I was there with the Nuns and the Avengers because they were using my bass rig. Neither band had a bass amp that could handle a large venue like that and I did and since they were friends and they needed help I went along. I was pretty much on stage trying to make sure that everything went smoothly the whole night. It was kinda bizarre.
The first person I met from the Sex Pistols that night was Sid who walked up, looked me up and down a few times, stood there for a minute or 2 not saying anything then stuck out his hand and said “hi, I’m Sid. Nice to meet you.” I wasn’t sure what to expect when he first started giving me the eye ball. I mean, I’d heard stories, you know…that he was a complete mad man and all and that you never knew what he was going to do. He turned out to be a very nice guy when he was half way sober, I’m very glad I got to me him before…well, you know.
Anyway, things got pretty crazy as the evening progressed and I ended up taking Paul Cook back to my house to stay for a couple days till things cooled down a bit. As you know things cooled off completely because that was the last gig they did until they reformed a few years ago. It wasn’t till a few years after that Winterland gig that Jonesy and I actually hooked up and started playing together though. And that was the most fun I ever had playing with anyone in my life.
Sleaze Roxx: What made your time with Steve Jones so special?
Terry Nails: Because he’s the one of the most real, unpretentious, funny, caring, heartfelt people I’ve ever met in my life. Not to mention the fact that he’s a great guitar player. He was my closest friend for many years and while I don’t see him as much any more, because I live on the east coast, I still feel the same way.
Sleaze Roxx: Nikki Sixx, Axl Rose and members of the Cult all had a part of Fire & Gasoline. Was the recording process of that album as outrageous as those names would lead one to believe?
Terry Nails: No, we were all just friends hanging out and doing a bit of recording and having fun. For the most part it was just me, Steve and Mickey Curry in the studio. The 3 of us had a great time together. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in my life. I really hated to leave the studio at night because we were having so much fun. Steve has a great sense of humor and Mickey is such a fantastic drummer and just a great guy to be around. He’s just amazing and has such a great feel in his playing. We all just clicked in the studio, musically and personality wise. Ian was one of my closest friends and he and I and Steve hung out a lot so it was sort of natural for him to be involved. Axl use to come to a lot of our gigs and he always did a couple songs with us whenever he showed up. So we asked if he wanted to come in and do something on the Fire and Gasoline album and he said sure. Nikki was a different story. He and I had a close relationship based on us both staying sober and us being friends. I was his sponsor, if you know what that means. Anyway, we used to talk pretty much everyday and I told him about a song idea that Steve and I were working on and I asked him if he was interested in writing something with us and that’s how that happened.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you tour much in support of Fire & Gasoline? If so, who did you hit the road with and how did the shows go?
Terry Nails: We went out with the Cult for a while and we also when out with Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter. We were out for a couple months but it was sort of a drag because MCA had totally dropped the ball with the album. We had at one point the most radio adds and the most requested video on MTV and there wasn’t a single product available anywhere at the time. Nothing, not a CD, tape, album. By the time they got it together enough to do something with the album it was too late to capitalize on the success of the already released material and they decided not to release a second single for some unknown reason.
Sleaze Roxx: That seems to have happened to every MCA rock band. Was hard rock not much of a priority for them?
Terry Nails: They made their fortune – so to speak – doing R&B acts which they did really well with, I think they just had no clue what to do with rock acts.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you get hooked up with Ozzy Osbourne?
Terry Nails: I originally met Ozzy at a guy named Mickey Bush’s house in ’83 or ’84. The way I ended up playing with him was because of Randy Castillo. Randy and I and our friends George and Hughie used to ride together all the time and one night I was going into a club dragging along my 12 year old daughter and Randy was leaving the club at about the same time. I hadn’t seen him for awhile and we said hello and started talking. He asked me what I was doing tomorrow and I said I didn’t have anything planned and he said “you wanna come play with us tomorrow?” I said sure, who’s us? He said me and Zakk and Ozzy. That was it, I started the next day.
It was all studio stuff, pretty cool really. Like I said before, I like studio work better than anything and I was doing the Johnny Crash album at the same time for my friend Chris Neelly and I was still playing with Jonesy. It was a good time for me.
Sleaze Roxx: What studio stuff did you do with Ozzy?
Terry Nails: “Momma I’m comin’ Home”, “Same Old Desire”, “I Don’t want to Change the World”, “Zombie Stomp”, “Hell Raiser” some other stuff…
Sleaze Roxx: How come you didn’t appear on the No More Tears album?
Terry Nails: You didn’t here anything about Bob Daisley either. It says Mike Inez played on that album. He didn’t.
Sleaze Roxx: What is your take on Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake’s lawsuit with Ozzy? It seems petty to me to reissue the discs without their contributions.
Terry Nails: Yeah, I guess you could say that they just see things a bit differently than other people. I think that’s carrying things a bit far myself but I don’t know the whole story. On the personal side I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get mentioned or credit on the ‘No More Tears’ album. In my case I don’t think it was done on purpose. I think by the time they finally got around to putting it out, almost 2 years later, they just forgot about it.
Sleaze Roxx: While working with Ozzy did you ever get the urge to smash your bass into Sharon’s mouth?
Terry Nails: Hell No, never. I love Sharon. I think she’s a hoot and a half. She’s got more guts than almost anyone that I know. They definitely broke the mold when they made her. She always treated me very, very well, like family really. She’s a very smart and strong lady. I’d really hate to be on her bad side though, she can be extremely tough. I’m really very fond of her.
Sleaze Roxx: What are some of your best memories of working with Ozzy?
Terry Nails: There’s several. One of the wackiest things happened when we were rehearsing at ‘Joe’s Garage’ which was owned by Frank Zappa. One day we had been working pretty hard for several hours and Ozzy said let’s take a break and get out of here for a little bit. Tony Dennis, Ozzy’s right hand man at the time, drove us and we ended up at a topless place that was in the neighborhood. It was the middle of the afternoon sometime, probably a Friday because there were a good amount of people in there. Zakk and Randy ordered a couple beers and since I don’t drink and neither did Ozzy at the time we ordered club sodas I think. Anyway, not to long after we ordered the drinks Ozzy got up and went to find the bathroom. About 2 minutes later he comes back to the table and says, “come on lets get out of here”. We hadn’t even gotten our drinks yet so I thought it was a bit odd and I noticed he had this sort of mischievous little kid look on his face. We asked him what was going on but he just started heading for the door. That’s when we noticed this horrible smell coming from the direction of the bathroom. It was like a really, really bad rotten egg smell. Needless to say we bolted out of there as fast as we could along with everybody else in the club. When we got in the car I asked Ozzy what the hell happened and he pulled out a small box with German writing on it that had 2 small breakable glass vials in it and handed it to me. They turned out to be from a German joke shop and he had gone into the bathroom and let one off. He said you can keep that one if you want it.
Another time we showed up at rehearsal and Ozzy said he didn’t feel like working and said let’s go to Magic Mountain instead. And that’s what we did. We went to Magic Mountain and rode the biggest scariest roller coaster I’d ever been on in my life. I’m not a roller coaster person by any stretch of the imagination so I’m not one of those throw your hands in the air, whee we’re falling to our doom sort of passengers. So, as you know they always take a picture of everybody at the most critical drop on the ride and try to sell it to you afterwards. Well they showed me the picture and in it there’s Zakk and Randy, hands in the air with big smiles on their faces, Ozzy holding on with one hand and looking fairly composed and then there’s me, clutching the safety bar in total terror, holding on for dear life with my eyes closed. Needless to say I didn’t buy the picture. I was already traumatized enough at the time without being reminded about it. Now though, I really wish I had a copy of that picture.
Sleaze Roxx: You and Randy Castillo then hooked up with Frank C. Starr and formed Bone Angel. How did this project come together?
Terry Nails: Actually it started with me and Frankie. We wanted to do something that was pretty much straight ahead and fun, so we started looking around for other players. The first person we got was drummer Mark “Moke” Bistany who has been a very close friend of mine for years. Mark has played with Chris Impellitteri, Cellophane, Otep and HED p.e. and many others. The next person we got was Craig Goldie, the guitarist for Dio, and I think a friend of ours named Tim Propiercy came in and played rhythm for a while. We started doing gigs under the name HardLuck with bands like Body Count, Pantera, White Zombie and Danzig. Mark got busy with his band Cellophane so we had to find another drummer so I asked Randy if he was interested and he said yeah. It was about that time that we changed the name to “Bone Angel”.
Shortly afterwards Craig got involved in another project and we had to get another guitarist. Zakk recommended this friend from Jersey – Karl Cochran – who had studied under Dave DiPietro, the same guitar teacher that he had studied under. Karl was great but it didn’t work out for one reason or another. Then Randy said he knew this young kid named John Lowery that he thought might work out. And thus begins the legend of John 5. John was just amazing. Not only as a great guitar player but as a really great guy. I know he probably doesn’t want anyone to know this but Frankie nicknamed him Sunshine because he was so positive and so much fun to be around. The cool thing was that he had never drank, had never smoked and had never done any drugs at all. He had a way of looking on the bright side of things and could always put you in good mood. Lovely chap, really. I love John. I loved all those guys.
Unfortunately Frankie was hit by a drunk driver on his motorcycle one night on Sunset Blvd. and lapsed into a coma shortly afterwards. He lasted 4 years before he finally passed away having never come out of the coma. Randy also passed away in March of 2002 from a rare form of stomach cancer, I guess it wasn’t stomach cancer, though the illness did begin with his stomach. I miss both of them very much.
Sleaze Roxx: Did the band ever enter the studio and record any material?
Terry Nails: Yes, we did 3 songs: “Down on the Line” “Cruel Devices” and “This Time”. Pretty good stuff though I think it was a little too ahead of it’s time.
Sleaze Roxx: From someone who knew Randy Castillo and Frank C. Starr past their stage personas, what were the guys really like? And what are your most memorable thoughts about them?
Terry Nails: Just normal guys really. Frankie was a tough Irish-Italian brawler with a temper who didn’t take shit from anybody but had a heart of gold. Randy was a straight ahead down to earth no nonsense guy who liked to hang out and party. Our friend Georgie V. nicknamed him ‘Randy of the Rainbow’ because he hung out at the Rainbow Bar & Grill so much. We all did though. Anybody you can think of in the music industry has hung out at the Rainbow at one time or another. As far as most memorable thoughts it’s hard to pinpoint any particular thing, there was so much going on all the time. It was like being brothers where you love each other but you don’t always agree about everything…
Sleaze Roxx: What led to Bone Angel’s demise?
Terry Nails: Well first off we became Ozzy’s band for about a week or two until he straightened things out with Zakk. I think there was some sort of business about credits on the album and Ozzy decided to just go ahead and start the whole thing over again from scratch. When they finally got things settled they started rehearsing in preparation for one of Ozzy’s many farewell tours, the “No More Tours” tour is what it was called. Which meant we were out of the picture as a band with Ozzy. So, Randy was kept pretty busy with Ozzy which meant we couldn’t rehearse much and we weren’t having as much luck as we hoped we would trying to shop a record deal. Well, one thing led to another and the thing just sort of dissipated. Later, after Frankie was in the accident Randy and John started their project “Red Square Black” which didn’t last too long I don’t think. Interestingly, it looks like there is some strong interest in releasing the stuff we recorded after all this time.
Sleaze Roxx: Being mostly a session musician, what would be your dream session be?
Terry Nails: There’s hundreds of sessions that I would have liked to at least seen. The early CBS Dizzy Gillespie sessions would have been awesome to see. The Sgt. Pepper’s sessions using only a four track recorder. Cream, Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Steely Dan, early AC/DC, The Surfaris when they recorded Wipe Out for under $6.00, the early Mothers stuff would have been really cool to be involved with. Hell, I could go on forever…
Sleaze Roxx: Have you ever been involved in a session in which you just couldn’t get into the music at all, and the gig became nothing more than a paycheck?
Terry Nails: Yeah, plenty of times, but the challenge is always to try and make what ever it is sound the best that it possibly can.
Sleaze Roxx: I know people like Alice Cooper and Kiss have used uncredited session musicians in the past. Do you usually know before hand if you will get credit for your work or not?
Terry Nails: You like to think you know, but you never really do. You never really know until it’s been released. When I did the Johnny Crash album/CD I was told I would get full credit for the bass work, but the record company obviously didn’t agree with the guys in the band and all it said in the credits was “Thanks to Terry Nails for special help in the studio”. Hell that could have meant anything. I could have been the studio janitor for all anybody could tell from that. It’s better than having nothing at all though.
My dad’s had it worse than I have. My dad was one of the Four Freshmen for over 20 years and was the main solo singer with the group, toured all over the world with them and did several albums with them. Well they did a PBS special on the history of the Freshmen and how they had been a great influence on many other groups like the Beach Boys, the Pointer Sisters, Manhattan Transfer, Chicago etc; and they never even mentioned him once in the entire show, nothing, nada, zip. Who knows, maybe it just runs in the family. More than likely though it’s probably just the way that the music business treats musicians as a whole. There’s a lot of greedy bastards out there trying to make a buck off of you in anyway that they can and the music business seems to be full of them. Fortunately internet downloads are changing the business so much that it’s getting harder and harder for the vultures to swoop in and make a living off of unsuspecting artists. Now for the first time there’s a chance for artists to have full control over their own music and to market it themselves.
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of Johnny Crash, what do you remember about that gig and were you ever offered the full-time bass duties?
Terry Nails: Yeah, they did offer me the gig but I had already been playing with Jonesy for quite awhile and was doing the Ozzy stuff when they asked me. I was pretty tied up then, otherwise I’d have probably done it. They were a really good live band. As far as the sessions went I just remember that things were a bit confusing because no one was sure how to approach the actual recording of the band. It’s always tough the first time a band goes into record. It’s so different from playing live, much more restrictive and they were at heart an all out, go for broke live band.
When we first got into the studio things started off kinda slow and just got slower. I don’t think the drummer had much experience playing with a click track and it just sort of threw everything off. So after several days of not getting what we wanted I suggested that they record the drums first by themselves with just Chris doing a scratch guitar track to show where the changes were. I then left and told them to call me when they were ready for me. I don’t remember how long it took but when they did call me I had the flu pretty bad and tried to get them to put it off for a couple days. They said that they couldn’t wait any longer so I showed up, feeling like hell and did the whole album in about 3 hours.
Sleaze Roxx: What sort of legacy do you hope to leave behind with your music?
Terry Nails: Legacy? I guess the only musicians that really leave a legacy are people like Mozart, Beethoven, Mile Davis, Hendrix, Jaco, you know, musicians that somehow change the face and direction of music. I’m not in that league by any stretch of the imagination. I just hope that music gets back into the hands of people that actually play the instruments that are being recorded and out of the hands of the computer geeks who take other folks musical talent in the form of sound bites and make sound collages out of them. I don’t know, maybe I’m just too old school to appreciate some of the stuff that gets passed off as music nowadays. Who knows, maybe its all for the best. We’ll just have to wait and see…
Thanks to Terry Nails