The Guitarist Magazine Interview

One musician who's familiar with the frantic phone call from the depths of a studio somewhere is bass player and rock band stalwart, Bob Daisley…Interview by Gibson Keddie.

Considering the pressure which prevails upon any band ensconced in the studio, it's not surprising that Filofaxes can get torn apart in a mad search for a helping musical hand should things go awry in an unforeseen manner. If the bass player falls off the edge of the mixing desk and breaks both wrists, or the rhythm guitarist goes out for an ice cream never to return, what do you, do?

Bob Daisley's no stranger either to the frantic phone call or to an impressive list of fret-wizards, and as such is blessed with the ability and experience to stand in with a minimum of fuss when called. "I've actually just returned from the result of one of those phone calls," he told me. "I got a telephone call from Ozzy Osbourne's office just over five weeks ago. The first thing they said was. 'Bob, Sharon wants to know if you can out tomorrow to LA." I hadn't a clue what they were talking about, but I was then informed that Ozzy wanted me to come out and play on the songs for the new album now!"

The Osbourne/Daisley partnership goes back a long way. "Back in '79 I had just come out of Rainbow and Ozzy had just split with Sabbath," recalls Bob. "I met him in a club in London where I'd gone to see a band called Girl - they were on the same label, Jet, as Sabbath and the band I was with at the time, Widowmaker. However, when Ozzy found himself out of the band, instead of getting rid of Ozzy and keeping Sabbath, the record company got rid of Sabbath and kept old Oz."

Oz and Bob were introduced at that gig, compliments were paid and the proposition of a band was put forward.

"Ozzy invited me up to his house for a jam, with some local musicians filling in," he says, "and that went well. He told me he knew this kid in LA that would be really hot for the guitar side of it… some kid called Randy Rhoads!"

Ozzy's original ambition had been to get an essentially English band together, but it didn't work out that way.

Bob: "In typical Osbourne fashion, he was changing his mind all the time. So he flew Randy over and the three of us hit it off really well. But then we had to find a drummer. Believe me, we went through drummer after drummer… we must've auditioned about forty or fifty! We had one guy left to try, and we were being pressurised to start recording the album. We'd decided that if this guy didn't work out, then we'd have to get a session guy in, since the material was written and ready."

The last drummer to try out was Lee Kerslake, who'd been with Uriah Heep, and Kerslake turned out to be the one. "We were so relieved," tells Bob. "So we all went out to celebrate in the traditional rock and roll fashion — a drink and a Chinese!

"That was when I really got into writing lyrics," he goes on, "while we were rehearsing for the first tour and album. You see, Randy wasn't a lyricist and neither is Ozzy really — he comes up with ideas for songs, whether it's a melody line or an actual idea for a title — so necessity being the mother of invention, I had to do it because no-one else was…"

You weren't in at the start of his new album this time?

No. Ozzy had decided he wanted a change, as usual. Geezer Butler was working with him again, but for more than one reason that didn't work out, and Ozzy got himself a new guy, a young player called Mike Jenkins. The guy was probably a little inexperienced, and whatever Ozzy wanted to happen in the studio wasn't happening. It was getting late in the day in terms of completing the album, and Ozzy knows he can rely on me — hence the urgent phone call. Fortunately, I wasn't doing anything else, and I do like working with Ozzy — I've done all the studio albums except 'The Ultimate Sin'. I wrote and played on the first album 'Blizzard of Oz' and on 'Diary of a Madman', although on 'Diary…' the bass credit goes to Rudy Sarzo, and the drums credit to Tommy Aldridge, both of whom didn't play a note — it was down to Lee Kerslake and myself. Mind you, they were touring with Ozzy immediately before the recording, and it's their pics that appear on the sleeve, for whatever reason.

Next up was 'Bark at the Moon'; I only wrote for 'Ultimate Sin' because Ozzy decided he wanted a change again. He used Phil Soussan, who lasted for one record and one tour, then he got me back to do 'No Rest For The Wicked', writing and playing… then this phone call out of the blue.

He's done thirteen or fourteen tracks this time, so I guess that's nine or ten for the album, plus some extra for the CD and tape. Having said that, I think they're all good — there's more variety on this album, with a more melodic feel. He's in great voice too, singing better than I've heard him sing for a while. His voice on this album reminded me of the way he sang on the first two albums with Randy — he was in great form then, and it sounds fresh again now. Maybe he's more excited about this project than he has been about others, or the pressure of this album being so late has pushed him a bit more. Or maybe he's looking after himself a bit better…

I believe the new album was scheduled to be produced by Bob Rock, but as Ozzy was less than impressed with his demand to rewrite all the material, I understand you ended up with a different arrangement…

Yes, Ozzy ended up with two producers on this album, Duane Baron and John Purdell, and they've been great, helping me with the bass sound. I was using the old '56 Precision, and my favourite salmon pink '63, plus a fretless which we'd hired, played through the Ampeg or an old Fender Bassman — fifty watts of sheer power!

Are you ever annoyed by Ozzy's habit of chopping and changing his line-ups, bearing in mind the fact that you seem to be his failsafe option?

Well, that's just his way. He won't change; he's almost predictable in his unpredictability! But he knows I've never let him down over the years. Right at the start, after we'd sorted the band's line-up out, we got the first album done, did a mini-tour, then straight back into the studio to write and record the second 'Diary…' album. So, within the year we'd done two albums and a tour! After that though, Lee and I were out, and in came Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge to promote those albums with a tour. I think that Rudy went back to Quiet Riot, whom he'd left to join up with Ozzy, because they were having some success by then, and Ozzy got me back again. Never a dull moment!

His phenomenal popularity in the USA, along with this continual changing of personnel, must mean that all the young guns have an eye on the Ozzy gig.

Definitely. He's regarded almost as the godfather of that type of music over there, and the queues stretch down the street when the word gets round that he's looking for players!

The drumming gig came up again, too, while we were down in Palm Springs; Tommy Aldridge had left, and we had a queue of drummers for the gig. If anyone phoned up for an audition they'd get told the three songs they had to learn; Ozzy would just sit there while Jake E Lee and myself played the same three songs again and again. At the beginning, we'd give someone another chance if the first song hadn't sounded too good, but it soon became a case of, 'Next…' as soon as we felt that it wasn't working out.

In a recent interview for Guitarist, George Lynch said that he had tried out with Ozzy, figuring after a few gigs with the band that the job was his, only to find out that wasn't the case…

It's never easy, but even so, putting episodes like that to the side, he sure can find them — first Randy, followed by Brad Gillis, then Jake, now Zakk Wylde, who's sounding just terrific on this album.

In your playing career so far you've worked with a good few of the more venerable members of the rock scene, some of them more notoriously difficult to get along with than others. How did you get on?

Yeah. I've played with a few, but I presume you mean Ritchie Blackmore in particular? It's funny, people say to me, 'You worked with Ritchie: he's a bit weird to work with, isn't he?' But the truth is I never had any problems at all with the guy. Maybe it's an attitude thing, I don't know, but I just got on with the job, really. I regarded that position as such a good personal opportunity — I knew what the breaks could be from it, and I was learning from him, too. That was back in 1977, remember, and Ronnie James Dio was singing, Cozy Powell was on drums and a guy called David Stone played the keyboards. Around then we were doing such a lot of gigs; we did a world tour that went on for about nine months, and in '78 we got the 'Best Live Band' award…

Had you worked with Cozy before that time?

No, we hadn't met at all. As I said, I was playing with Widowmaker at the time, when a friend of mine, an English guy who lived in LA, told me that Blackmore's outfit were looking for a bass player and, unknown to me, had auditioned loads of guys for it. They wanted someone who played with a pick, who could be precise, and so I was introduced to Ritchie, who had a listen to the Widowmaker album and thought it was good. I got an audition where he put me through my paces — lots of downstrokes in sixteens without the right hand seizing up! — and I got the gig. I must admit that I was apprehensive about the reputation of the other three, the 'unholy trinity' of Dio, Cozy and Ritchie, and the rate that they seemed to get through sidemen. But I held up okay.

After Rainbow I was at a bit of a loose end and did a couple of nondescript sessions. But Ronnie Dio wanted to put a band together which included me, and he was always phoning me from America, saying, 'It's almost sorted out; just hang on a little longer and don't do anything else,' and so on. Well, one day I picked up a music paper and read, 'Dio joins Black Sabbath!' I thought, 'Thanks a lot, pal. Thanks for letting me know!' So I start out wanting to form a band with Ronnie Dio, he ends up joining Sabbath and I end up playing for Ozzy!

As far as working with other 'guitar heroes' goes, I played with Stan Webb in Chicken Shack in '72, just after I'd arrived in Britain, and he turned me on to so many blues things that I hadn't previously been aware of — actually listening to the original black inspiration for the white guys that I liked so much. And that's when the penny really dropped for me. In fact I suggested to Gary Moore that he should do Albert King's Oh Pretty Woman on his blues album, and if you listen to the way the original song goes, the intro especially, you can tell where Clapton got Strange Brew from. The solos start with exactly the same notes…

I actually played a lot of stuff to Gary where he'd only heard the 'white' version, and he was saying, 'Wow, this is great — I've never heard this version!' Actually, his 'Still Got The Blues' album was partly my suggestion: I was on tour with him, in Germany somewhere, and we were playing some blues in the tune-up room. Gary was doing his Clapton licks from the Bluesbreakers album, when the idea to make an album of it came up, and I mentioned it to him a few times after that. I actually thought I'd get to play on it all, but in the end I did three tracks. What was disappointing was that after suggesting Pretty Woman in particular, he went for it, got Albert King to play on it, and I didn't get to do the bass! But that's showbusiness I suppose…

How did you meet up with Gary?

That was around '84. He was recording 'Victims of the Future' and Neil Murray had been playing bass. Neil had to go off on something else, leaving Gary with three tracks still to do. Gary must've been talking to Sharon Osbourne about it, and she'd said that Ozzy wasn't doing anything at that time, so I was probably available. So we got together and it worked out fine. Immediately following that an accompanying live video had to be shot in Ireland, followed by some more gigs, and I was asked if I could do those as well. I tell you, that was really hard work. I had to learn fourteen songs in five days rehearsal down at John Henry's rehearsal studios. Not just 'almost' know them, either, because Gary's very particular about the way things sound, which is good, but really get them down well. So we did one warm-up gig at the Marquee, then over to do two dates in Belfast, and two in Dublin, taking the best out of them for the live video. It was very nerve-wracking, but very enjoyable, and the gigs went really well. Gary was so pleased, he said that if at any time I wasn't working with Ozzy, then the gig with him was mine. As it happened, I ended up parting company with Ozzy (again!) not long after that, came back to Brighton and met up with Neil Carter from Gary's band, and he was saying that they'd had Glenn Hughes playing bass in the band and it hadn't worked out. So I got in touch with Gary again and ended up playing with his band for the next five years! Great stuff though. I love working with Gary: the music is great and we have some terrific laughs, which is just as important — if it's no fun, then it's not worth doing.

A while back, I also did some work with Mungo Jerry; definitely no guitar heroes there, but Ray Dorset was such a nice guy to work with that it was good fun. Not all of the music was… er… my cup of tea, though!

I did an album with Black Sabbath too, in 1986. That was the result of another of those last minute phone calls. They were in Monserrat studios in the West Indies, so that was two weeks' work… It was wonderful! No distractions, or at least, not the usual kind.

Tony Iommi is such a good riff player. I really like that powerful sound. They asked me to join the band but I'd only gone out because I'd had some time off from playing with Gary. Again, the credits on the album were down to yours truly and Dave Spitz, who hadn't played a note on it! I suppose they were trying to keep it sweet as he was probably going to join them again for the tour. At least I get the variety of playing with different people, even if I don't always get the credits..!

Then I did the 'Odyssey' album with Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Lynn Turner, who's now with Deep Purple — talking about line-ups makes you realise how incestuous this business really is…

Changing the subject to instruments, you've mentioned your old Precisions; are you a serious vintage fan?

I still use the old Ampeg SVT rig from the '60s, but they're getting really hard to find now. I've got a couple of new Ibanez basses which I use a bit, and a couple of Warwicks, but mainly I use a '56 Precision — I went into the Bass Centre and it was just hanging on the wall. 'Gimme that bass..!'

I'm not a vintage snob. I always buy them to play, because vintage instruments feel so inviting, and the best ones feel as if they have songs in them, so that's important from a psychological point of view. Some bass players actually go in to the studio and ask the producer for the same sound that Bob Daisley gets — must be difficult for the producer, because it's my sound and I don't know what it is myself!

Apart from the equipment itself, the way it comes out obviously has a lot to do with my playing influences in the '60s, people who shaped my style. McCartney was a big influence — that driving bass beat on Paperback Writer, and Rain, or the variety of styles on 'Rubber Soul', 'Revolver' and, to an extent, 'Sgt Pepper'. In the earlier days of The Beatles he was playing like a demon, and I think that that may have been down to John Lennon's presence and inspiration, because he doesn't demonstrate it to the same effect later on. Sorry, Paul!

Bill and Charlie in the Stones… I always thought they were a brilliant rhythm section. The way Bill Wyman plays is so distinctive, he can change the feel of the whole song with his bass lines. And Charlie probably couldn't do a drum 'solo' in the accepted sense to save his life, but what a player! Such taste! He can play away on one song, and he'll do one break or fill that just blows you away, and that's it! Plus he always gets such a good sound, and don't tell me that it's all down to the producer or the engineers — that's a man who knows exactly what he's doing. Like guitar, a lot of it is down to equipment, but the rest is in the mind.

Willie Weeks was another influence. Such a funky player. I've got an album he played on with Donnie Hathaway that really grooves!

Is there any rack equipment involved in your sound? Listening to your bass lines, the sound seems straightforward, solid and punchy, the way it should be to build a rock song on.

It's all pretty straight. A little bit of chorus or a bit of flange. In the studio you mess about with the signal to get the best sound for the song, but I like to have that 'growl' in my sound, which is why I prefer to drive the 10" speakers in the Ampeg cab — not so it distorts or breaks up, but just to give that kind of rough edge to the sound. One of my favourite players for that is Jack Bruce. Another would be Ronnie Wood, when he was with Jeff Beck's band on 'Truth' and 'Beckola' (this was Beck's infamous mid-sixties band, with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass and Aynsley Dunbar, now with Starship, on drums). I loved that sound — you should've stuck to bass, Ron!

Interview by Gibson Keddie for The Guitarist Magazine • November 1991