MR: Andy, How the heck are you?
AS: I'm absolutely fine, how's the weather?
MR: Well, today it's a little rainy.
AS: What you think of rain, we've had here...real rain, you know?
MR: Oh, then you're calling from Britain?
AS: Yes, definitely.
MR: You're always on tour with The Sweet, aren't you.
AS: Yeah, we tend to have hit into a sea of work that basically spans Thursdays through Sundays, the odd Wednesday too. Not much happens on a Monday or Tuesday, and it's very easy now with the amount of air traffic to lob into Europe for three or four shows and then come back for two or three days, then go back over again, rather than constantly be on the back of a bus, in and out of a hotel, like the old days of touring. It has changed somewhat and equipment is easily sourced in most European countries now.
MR: Talking about the old days and the new days, has The Sweet participated in or tried to ramp up any kind of social networking, like with Facebook, Twitter, etc.?
AS: I've always maintained if you see me on Facebook it isn't me, only because I come from an era where I'll pick the telephone up if I want to talk to somebody. I've even heard and seen it happen at my local pub where kids are texting each other from one side of the bar to the other.
MR: It's a bizarre etiquette, and everyone think's it's cool. And personally, I dislike it when someone is texting someone else if I'm talking or spending time with them.
AS: It's ridiculous. I'm afraid I'm a slightly different network. I go to the pub for a nice little social chat, a couple of pints, and then I come home. However, The Sweet is definitely on Facebook and have what I think is a fantastic web site. We do tweet a few things sometimes, if I like it. My son and others who are in the background tell me, "Oh something's happened, you have to tell me something," so I tell him something, and next thing you know, he's Tweeted it.
MR: Earlier, off-mic, we were talking about touring, especially within Iowa. You remembered coming through Des Moines because you were a regular opener for Bob Seger's band.
AS: Yeah, it's a funny story, this one. We came over in '75, '76, and one of our opening acts in Florida and Texas was Bob Seger. A year later, we're up in the north of the country, coming down the West Coast and cutting through the Midwest. We're now the opening act for Bob Seger. It's amazing, it's such a huge country. I guess Bob was such a huge star in Detroit and areas like that long before he took over the whole of the States. Coming down to somewhere like Florida to be one of the bands on the bill with The Sweet was, I suppose from my point of view, quite exhilarating.
MR: Andy, you have many hits such as "Fox On The Run," "Ballroom Blitz," "Little Willy," "Love Is Like Oxygen"... What do you think of The Sweet's place in pop history?
AS: It's a strange one. We seem a little bit out of kilter in our own land here in the UK, even though we are and will always be a British band. We sound British, we are British. Our mainstay is places like mainland Europe, and the new eastern territories like Russia. We're going back to Japan this year. Australia and New Zealand are good territories. But in the UK there are still seems to be a cloaking of nostalgia. They seem to push forward far too much. You only have to look at any TV show.
MR: What do you think about shows like American Idol, The Voice, and what is you take on promoting talent and elevating talent in that way?
AS: I'm not sure it does the right thing for the audience and the artists themselves, I'm just not convinced. I come from an era where there were probably less... although having said that in the '60s there were a lot of bands brought through, especially in America. You come from a network where you have to have a little bit of talent in order to have the balls to get up on stage when you're fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen... when you're first kicking off in front of an audience and you find a fan following. Now, you've got the internet, which has its good and its bad points, which automatically springboards you into some kind of limelight which is why we're in the era of the fifteen-minute celebrity. Anything can happen within a matter of hours, never mind a week or days. So I find it really, really difficult when you have a lot of good singers and bands out there all touring. I know everybody wants their moments but we now seem to be actively seeking more and it's forced. We have a saying that it's like trying to put a quart into a pint pot. There is always an overflow and spillage, and I think that's where we are, mate.
MR: It is interesting, the whole 15 minutes of fame for everybody, and I agree. But I think it's more like three minutes of fame.
AS: I suppose if you make a sex tape, it's three minutes of fame.
MR: (laughs) Okay, The Sweet was considered glam-pop or something like that when you first started out. Wait, let's first catch everybody up. How did The Sweet get together?
AS: The two guys who are no longer with us, by the way -- Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker -- were the guys who were in a band together. Brian found out that they were going to try and replace Mick as a drummer because Brian had just taken the place of Ian Gillan who was leaving the band that they were in. He eventually joined Deep Purple, but went to another band first. So Brian took his place and within less than a year, he found out something, that they were looking at putting another drummer in place of Mick who had only just joined the band when Brian joined. As it happened, Brian and Mick got on really well and Brian said to Mick, "Let's form a band." Mick knew nothing about the fact that he might be replaced, so he and Brian left the band and set out to find other musicians. They recruited Steve Priest locally and they had a couple of guitar players before me. One was the school friend of Mick's, and the other one was a guy who was on the scene, he'd been in several bands. I think he also knew Brian or Mick and he was only in the band for about six months. The band had basically been signed to EMI records but only being used mainly for their vocals on records and things like this. They hadn't been doing a lot of live work, and the next thing you know, they bumped into the original record producer that they knew, a new set of songwriters -- Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. They needed a guitar player pronto and from one little advert, I showed up and realized that I'd met these guys before. I'd met The Sweet on some BBC Radio 1 shows where my other band, The Elastic Band, had been performing. When we saw each other and I plugged the guitar in, it was almost as if it was meant to be. Within six months of me joining the band, we were off and running, had our hit record, and we didn't look back after that. MR: "Funny Funny" was your first hit?
AS: Yeah, it's a real leftover late-'60s piece. It could have been recorded by somebody like the 1910 Fruitgum Company, I think. That kind of an instant pop hit.
MR: Yeah, Nicky Chin and Mike Chapman were responsible for presenting Suzi Quatro to the world. Did you guys ever team up with them as far as writing, or would they just send you the songs? What was the procedure?
AS: We used to get together fairly regularly because Mike would do they these rather primitive home demos on a Revox tape machine, which usually had a lot of echo on them, and bang it into the mic to give a drum effect, which, quite frankly, captured the moment. The energy from within his demos gave us the vibe. It was almost that if you want something on here, we'd listen to songs like "Hell Raiser" and "Ballroom Blitz" and "Teenage Rampage," things like that. It was cult before its time, and his demos were very much edgy on a punk rock edge. What we did was slightly commercialize them.
MR: And later on, Mike Chapman was associated with Blondie and The Knack.
AS: I was actually with Mike in LA when he was asked to go look at The Knack, and he dragged me down to Santa Monica where they used to play in one of the clubs there. I thought it sounded really, really good until I heard "My Sharona" and then I said, "This band is fabulous." Up until that point, they were a very good band. But then I heard why he was going to be producing them, that was the song. Brilliant.
MR: As I mentioned earlier, you had many hits, but it was "Little Willy" that broke you in the States, right?
AS: When "Little Willy" was being successful in America, it was more than a year later than it had been in England. We had slightly moved on, we'd recorded "Blockbuster" and had a hit with it and we knew that tracks like "Hell Raiser" and "Ballroom Blitz" were in the pipeline. It was a very conscious and very difficult effort not to get on a plane and come over there and then. Our record company at the time wanted us to come over, but we held our resolve, stepped back and said, "Wait until we release 'Blockbuster' at least, please." As we now know, "Blockbuster" barely made the top fifty, and we thought that our chance had gone, until, of course, "Ballroom Blitz" got released and we got a second chance.
MR: You had a comeback when The Sweet changed its sound up a bit, and you had "Love Is Like Oxygen," another huge hit in the States.
AS: The weird thing is, by the time we hit America and started to come over in '75 we were no longer attached to Nicky Chinn or Mike Chapman or the record producer Phil Wainman. We were now the songwriters and the producers and things changed dramatically in that two-year period since "Little Willy" through to "Fox On The Run." "Fox On The Run" was actually our first production and A-side single that we had written and done the production on. So now we were definitely flying by the seat of our pants. By the time "Love Is Like Oxygen" came around in '78, we were "old hands" at it now.
MR: With "Love is Like Oxygen," did you guys consciously move into album-oriented rock?
AS: In the early years, we desperately wanted to make an album, but the kind that we would have made was not the kind that Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman saw at that time. The only album that got released in those years was a greatest hits package that involved a few of our songs and a hell of a lot of Nicky and Mike's extra, periphery songs, which eventually got covered. In other words, most of that album got covered by other people, so we basically acted as a demo-ing facility. By the time we got to "Little Willy" and "Wig Wam Bam," at least the sound of the record was changing to sound more like the band. Instead of having help from session men here and there, we were allowed to show that we could actually play on our singles. You can hear the definitive sound difference when you start to hear later records. Of course, with it came much more success, so I think them holding us back a little by basically saying, "I'm sorry it's the way records are made," to basically letting us have our moments, everybody won in the end. The thing went from a medium-sized tennis ball to a damn big basketball. It was a dramatic change and from that, it also showed that the bubble gum side of the career turned into the glam rock side of the career. By the time "Love Is Like Oxygen" came along, we were more of a progressive rock type of band. There's already been three cycles and it didn't exactly stop there. The only way I can ever describe The Sweet to people now is to just listen to the records, because I couldn't tell you one genre that is definitive of what The Sweet is about.
MR: When Brian Connolly passed away in 1997 obviously that affected everything. That had to have been very hard on the group.
AS: It was. Things had changed in the later part of the '70s as well. Brian effectively had left the band in '79, and we limped along for another two or three years before Steve Priest moved to the States. He now lives in LA. And Mick had a very tragic accident where his wife was found dead over the bath during the Christmas period. I didn't think that the band would ever work again. I was doing lots of record production at that time and it came to a point where I was getting up on stage all in sundry in London whenever bands came through, a little bit of guest spot from The Sweet. I'd get up and play with all kinds of bands because I missed it. It wasn't until the mid '80s when I met someone who said, "You should get back on the road, this is madness." By '85, Mick Tucker and I reformed the band and we were off and running again. It's a crazy business.
MR: Then Mick passed away in 2002 from leukemia.
AS: In the early '90s he had a dramatic incident on a tour. I had to get a drummer to complete the tour. He wasn't exactly overly happy about that, but his wife immediately saw that he was in no state to be continuing. Within a year of that, he'd been diagnosed with pancreatitis and epilepsy. Within another couple of years of that, the leukemia was diagnosed. I just remember thinking to myself, "I wonder whether all of this is related to the incident in the early '90s." I guess it was. Having had all the treatments, he and I started to spend a little bit more time together. I said to him, "Now we know what it is, maybe we can start something again." But he said to me once, "I'm never ever going to be strong enough to drum behind a band like The Sweet ever again."
MR: I'm sorry, Andy. Let's take it to these days. You have a new project you're working on a cover of the classic "New York Groove." Can you go into what this latest project is?
AS: We released The Who's "Join Together" last year. It came about with my son playing a couple of drum loops and filtering some things on the top of it. He played me and separated some lyrics that I'd joined together and floated it on the top of this drum loop with some kind of bass line. I thought, "That's really got something!" So we set about recording it in our own way. We got our drummer to play lots of different rhythms, and then cut them about to create lots of interesting drum patterns as if it was a loop of some description. We then laid all the other stuff on top and it was received very well in Europe, so we thought we might as well now continue. Let's not let the flow finish. We set out to find a whole pile of cover versions to see which one would fit. All of a sudden, we realized we had an album's worth, and there were certain things, a connection to New York, whether with the artist, or with the song. Eighty percent of the songs have some kind of connection, so to finish the album, we then went, "Let's put a Lou Reed song on there. Let's do Patti Smith. Let's do a Ramones track, 'Blitzkrieg Bop.'" That's how the album got completed. It was the most fun and the quickest album that I've made in my whole life.
MR: I always loved "New York Groove." I grew up in New York and remember the Ace Freely version...
AS: Ace Freely did a really good version, but the original version was by Russ Ballard who was in the band Argent. It was then covered by another band, which was basically a one-hit wonder band called Hello. Their version? Not bad, but pretty weak. The real version that you need to listen to is the Russ Ballard version because at least that way, you get the picture of the backing vocals that we picked up on and elaborated a lot more. Having said that, I do realize from New York, Ace Freely would mean more than any of the other versions.
MR: Yeah, that was my first exposure to it. What guitar are you playing these days?
AS: At the moment, stage-wise, it's usually a Stratocaster, because they don't break so easily. I tend not to take any of my vintage stuff anywhere anymore. I just think that the world has become a very strange place and flying some vintage guitars around the world, you just never know what's going to happen. I've got a whole pile of Fenders that are really good Fenders -- some Squires from the early '90s when they were started to be made in Japan. But they're all doctored up with my tremolo systems and Seymour Duncan pickups and things like that. But they're basically Fender guitars with modifications.
MR: Nice, it's almost like we just had a Guitar Magazine moment. Andy, what advice might you have for new artists?
AS: I've been asked this so many times. Right at the moment, I guess we're definitely in the era of "do not take as read the first thing that people say to you." If you do believe in yourself, you stand as good a chance as anybody of getting somewhere in this day and age. I would also say don't get yourself a lawyer and a manger before you learn how to play and sing. It's that extra mile that you go with, your development within yourself, that will hold you in good stead to maybe sort out the good and the bad before you get there, because I can see it so much happening now that people start to talk dollars before they have the hit record. I find that very strange.
MR: You'll be touring in the states for the album NYC?
AS: It would be lovely. We're certainly talking to a couple of people, but I have nothing in my date sheet that says that unless you know better.
MR: (laughs) Any words of wisdom?
AS: No, not really. It's just that when I heard that this interview might end up in something like The Huffington Post, I had a certain reservation thinking I remember that that paper as being something almost like the entertainment world's National Inquirer. I thought we need to find out a bit more about this. But as this happens, it's been one of the most intelligent and rather nice interviews that I've done in a while, so I thank you for that. Let's hope that something comes of this.
MR: Of course, and Andy, I appreciate your time, kind words, and your having such good stories. Thank you.
AS: Thank you!
(C) Copyright Mike Ragogna.