Interview with BERNIE TORMÉ

July 2000
He’s a real thing, Bernie Tormé, a big league hard rock axe grinder who was the pick of such luminaries as Ian Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne, but always had his own, punky way with things. Welcome the man with a mission!

– Bernie, you have academic background having studied Greek. Did it help you in any way in your music career?

Not really, though when I was in GILLAN we once toured Greece! I learnt classical Greek at school, I think I was in the last school in Ireland that taught it. I liked it, it was really interesting but I was never that good at it: I studied it at University really because (since there was only two people in the class) they couldn’t really fail us since that would have put the professor out of a job! It gave me a lot of time to practice guitar and play in bands!

– Listening to your music I suppose your primary influence was great late Rory Gallagher. Is this right? There’s quite an obvious TASTE influence on your “Live” album.

Rory was a great influence, though not the first or the main one: I first really got into guitar having heard Jeff Beck playing on THE YARDBIRDS singles and album around ’64 to ’66. From him I got into Eric Clapton who had been in THE YARDBIRDS and was replaced by Beck in John Mayall’s BLUESBREAKERS. Clapton left THE BLUESBREAKERS to form Cream in late ’66, and was replaced by Peter Green, who was also a big influence. Early 67 I heard Hendrix, who totally blew me away, and was my greatest influence.
I heard Rory sometime after that: he was on a talent show on Irish Radio called Radio Eireann at Sunday lunchtime. I couldn’t believe an Irish guitarist could play like that! I first saw him in 68 or 69 when he returned to Ireland following what I think was TASTE’s first tour in England. He played a club called “The Countdown” in Dublin, and there was ten people in the audience! He was absolutely fantastic. I saw him many times after that, and met him: always brilliant, and a very charming person. We shared a love of three piece bands.

– “Pearls” form your last album “White Trash Guitar” is in vein of many Gallagher’s tracks – for instance, “Out On The Western Plains” – and also is similar to THIN LIZZY’s “Cowboy Song”. Why do Irish musicians love to play country?

“Pearls” definitely owes a bit to those two songs! I can’t tell you why Irish musicians like that vibe: I suppose it’s got something to do with the freedom and the wide open spaces: though personally I’ve more sympathy for the Indians than the cowboys!

– In aforementioned “Pearls” you sing, “Outlaw life is a life for me”. Was this slightly changed quote from “Cowboy Song” intended?

I didn’t notice it, but now that you point it out, yes, I think so, if subconsciously.

– And again on “Pearls”. You sing, “I’ve been through drugs”. Did you really take drugs? What period of your life it was?

I suppose I have to say I did, on and off for quite a long period, though I never really would have considered myself an addictive person. It started during the punk patch, and dragged on until the end of the Eighties, when I got quite ill. Truth is, it’s boring.

– How serious you were – stating you were a punk?

Well… I loved the energy and the “fuck off” attitude. I really liked the way people did things themselves very cheaply, and didn’t wait for the approval and money of the big record companies. I liked the alternative attitude, the fact that for the first time since the late sixties the bands and audiences were in control, not the money machine record companies.

– Was it hard for you to switch from rock ‘n’ roll to punk, to blues and so on? Which style you like the most?

No, not really, I just played the same! The rhythm sections played differently, songs were different, but noisy old me was just the same! Really, though, I’m a rocker with blues influences: I couldn’t call myself a bluesman, though I love it. And I still like punk energy!

– Punks obviously didn’t like art and hard rock bands. Didn’t you feel refusal being invited to play with Ian Gillan?

No, not at the time. The biggest rejection I can remember about that time was when my punk band supported WHITESNAKE, just before I joined GILLAN. WHITESNAKE’s audience hatedus! GILLAN had a very mixed audience, punks and all: probably because we did stuff like “Secret Of The Dance” and “Roller” and “Unchain your Brain”, all fast energy tracks.

– Who invited you, Gillan or John McCoy?

Ian Gillan, though it was because John McCoy had just about forced Ian to watch me play.

– What did you think of Ian at the time?

He was a big hero, I loved PURPLE. Loved his voice. He seemed a very nice guy.

– In GILLAN you auditioned Ian Paice to be the drummer. Did he really need to be auditioned by the man who knew him quite well? Why he didn’t get the job – he wasn’t good enough?

He definitely was good enough! He had not been playing for about a year, and felt he was out of practice. He came and auditioned, and was totally brilliant, though he had some difficulty after playing “Secret Of The Dance” due to his only having one lung, and being a bit out of practice. He played it brilliantly but he had to lie down on the floor for five minutes afterwards. He did not want to join because of our fast tracks, he said he no longer wanted to play stuff like that. I think the fact that he had been offered to join WHITESNAKE with his old friend Jon Lord made a big difference.

– Don’t you think that GILLAN was mostly keyboards-dominated band, not guitar-driven – at least, in the studio?

Yes, indeed: this was always a source of argument, and was one of the causes of my eventually leaving.

– I guess almost all of the “Mr. Universe” material was written before you joined the band and that is the reason that you credited just for “Puget Sound”?

Yes, that’s true, though “Roller” had far more changes and bits put in by me than “Puget Sound” had. The reason for crediting “Puget Sound” and not “Roller” was politics.

– Whose idea it was to use the pun and say that “Future Shock” was produced by “Wan-Kin”?

Ian’s. John McCoy had done mixes that were not approved of by the band. Ian and Chas Watkins remixed it, with very bad feeling from McCoy. Ian’s mixes were used, but he didn’t want his name credited. And so, Wan-Kin was credited.

– The most successful GILLAN singles were “Trouble” and “New Orleans” with your excellent work. Whose idea it was to record old rock’n’roll standards?

Actually mine I think: we were having a lot of problems finding singles, and Virgin, our record company, were starting to lose interest. Our first single for Virgin, “Sleeping On The Job”, had charted around number 33, but the only TV program to go on to promote it was on strike so we never got on TV, and it dropped out due to no airplay. The next single “No Easy Way” did nothing at all. I said about a rock ‘n’ roll cover to Mick [Underwood], he liked it, we both said it to Ian who, being a big Elvis fan, suggested “Trouble”. “New Orleans” happened because at the time McCoy was producing Janick Gers band, and Ian suggested that they do it to get a hit. They turned it down, and we did it instead.

– Janick Gers was your replacement in the band. Having seen your photographs with him I guess you’re friends. So was it you who pulled him in?

No, it was McCoy, though I still see Janick occasionally, and count him as a friend.

– Are you still in touch with Gillan?

No, not at present, last time I saw him was about 1990 or 91.

– What are your connections with IRON MAIDEN?

Friendly with Bruce Dickinson, though I haven’t seen him for a long time, Janick, and of course Clive Burr who I played with in Dee Snider’s DESPERADO, was MAIDEN’s drummer for a long time. In fact Ron Rebel, who played on my “Live” album, was MAIDEN’s drummer even longer ago!

Bernie with Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan

Bernie with Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan

– You recorded your “Turn Out The Lights” while still in GILLAN. You wanted to go in another direction or there were some songs rejected by the band?

No songs rejected, though “Turn Out The Lights” is a rework of the “Tobacco Road” riff also used on “No Laughing In Heaven”. It was really to let off steam and enjoy myself doing something different. It was never intended to be the album I released having left GILLAN!

– You called your band ELECTRIC GYPSIES. It makes me think you thought of Hendrix giving the name: “Electric Ladyland” plus “Band Of Gypsies”, right?

Yes, and Hendrix always called himself an electric gypsy. I like the image.

– How did it come to Blackmore’s appearance on the stage with GILLAN? What do you think of Ritchie?

Ritchie was trying to get Ian to join a reformed Purple. That’s why he came down: it was a great experience playing with him. He is one of the greats.

– How did you get involved with Ozzy Osbourne? Why this stint didn’t last long?

Ozzy’s record company called me and asked me to go out to the US and help him out to finish a tour since his guitarist, Randy, had been tragically killed. I didn’t want to do it, having just left Ian and having a solo tour starting in a matter of days, and “Turn Out The Lights” about to come out. But they talked me into it. I was first told that Ozzy’s tour would end in a month, then three months, then six months. I didn’t want to stay that long, I was pretty mentally cracked up at the time due to leaving GILLAN, and losing my friends in that band… The GILLAN band members never spoke to me for two years after I left. My marriage was also breaking up, all in all I was in a bad state. I just wanted to calm down and get back to reality and play some music I enjoyed again. I didn’t think that touring stadiums in the US for six months would benefit my mental stability! So I waited until they found a good replacement and came home to London. A lot of people misunderstand that: I love Ozzy, very nice man, but that particular tour didn’t have much to do with music – you couldn’t hear what anyone else was playing on stage. It wasn’t much fun, though I’m very glad to have helped Ozzy and the band out.

– Was it difficult to step in Randy Rhoads’ shoes? What was the fans’ reaction?

Yes, difficult. Musically it was a steep learning curve to play his parts, because he was a superb guitarist. I think I did a pretty good job, though not at the beginning maybe! I only had three days to learn it all. I have some bootlegs of Madison Square Garden and some other place, and I played pretty well on them. The fans were very nice to me: they gave me a great welcome and reaction. At no point did they ever make me feel uneasy about replacing Randy.

– Could you tell, please, some stories on the time with Gillan and Ozzy? 

GILLAN. I suppose my best memory is of being in a hotel guesthouse in a grim place in the north of England called Carlyle, up by the Scottish border. We had played a gig the night before, gone to this little hotel, got up in the morning to get some breakfast, except there was none: all there was a little instant coffee machine that didn’t work in the hall, which was about the size of two telephone booths put together. We were all cold, hungry, depressed and fed up. Then we had a call from our office in London to say that “Mr. Universe”, our first album, had just gone in the charts at number 11. What a feeling!

Ozzy? There weren’t too many happy stories, it was an unhappy time for Ozzy and the band. One thing I remember was playing Madison Square Garden: backstage and in the loading area was all the animals and gear from the Moscow State Circus from the night before! It was weird having the animals backstage, walking past them before and after the gig.

– For how long had you known former DEEP PURPLE’s bass player Nick Simper when he asked to play with him in QUATERMASS II?

I didn’t know him at all, he was a friend of Mick Underwood’s.

– Some details on this band, please?

It was Mick’s project, he asked me to have a blow. I hadn’t been playing for quite some time. I really enjoyed having a few blows, and Mick asked me to do it permanently. We did some recording, but I lived about 150 kilometers from everyone else, it wasn’t really realistic at that point.

– Your memories of work with ATOMIC ROOSTER?

Great fun, always very challenging, Vincent Crane was a great musician. He used to tell me about the times he jammed with people like Hendrix.

– How was it – to play along with David Gilmour?

I never met him at the time, though I did later on. He had recorded his parts before me, in fact one of my solos was used in place of one of his! The producer, Tom Newman, preferred it: I don’t know what he felt about that.

– How did you get in touch with Dee Snider?

Dee called me, he had heard a tape of my playing and decided he would like to work with me.

– Your last album is called “White Trash Guitar”. “White Trash” in Nineteeth century USA was the name for the poor whites. Why did you choose such a title?

Someone at my distribution company in the UK described my playing as white trash guitar! I liked it. Though all my playing is blues based, I could not claim to be a blues player. And the Irish have often been described in the past as the “niggers of Europe”. Maybe they were closer to the poor whites! I really liked the name so I used it. On another level I’m conscious of the fact that the Ireland I grew up in was a very poor country: when I moved to the UK in ’74, I could not believe the wealth and grandeur of London, though it had poverty, it was overall a very rich place. Though I’ve lived in the UK for most of the intervening patch, and it’s my home now, I still feel a bit separate from it because of my background. You don’t lose that: it is a bit like white trash. Though of course Ireland is very prosperous now too.

– Why there are two versions of “Credibility Joe” on “White Trash”?

So that the record co could use the mini cd as a promo single. I still wanted it on the album. It is a different mix, though you’d hardly notice it.

– I cannot find any details on John McCoy and Colin Towns. Could you tell something on the men you worked with?

Colin Towns works in film and television music now, he is very successful. His great love is and has always been jazz, and he also puts out his own and other people’s stuff on his own label: Provocateur Records. He will not talk to anyone about the GILLAN period, he is quite bitter about it. A very nice man. He is a very busy man, though, and doesn’t like to talk about the past. John McCoy does a lot of work for Angel Air Records, compiling and producing stuff.

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