Australian bassist and songwriter Bob Daisley has been around.
A professional musician since the late ’60s, he has written and performed on some of the most iconic songs in Hard Rock and Metal. Perhaps best known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne (which included his considerable songwriting contributions to the vast majority of the singer’s ’80s/’90s output), Daisley has worked with a who’s who of musical giants, including Rainbow, Gary Moore, Black Sabbath, Yngwie Malmsteen and many others. Now, he enters the next era of his storied career with the recently released eponymous debut from his latest project, The Upstarts.
A collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Rob Grosser, The Upstarts is unlike any band Daisley has ever graced, producing what may best be described as Psychedelic-tinged Surf music. Much closer to The Shadows than Black Sabbath, The Upstarts represents an intriguing full-circle experience for a bassist most affiliated with considerably heavier sounds.
“When I was 13, I cut my musical teeth on Surfing music. That was popular music in those days – The Shadows, The Ventures, The Chantays and all that sort of thing. All the young lads were learning guitar and would have little bands that played parties and barbeques and things like that. It was always Surfing music.”
Daisley’s history with Grosser dates back to the early 2000s, when the two played in the Australian Blues band The Hoochie Coochie Men alongside guitarist/singer Tim Gaze (who previously played with Daisley circa 1970-71 in the band Kahvas Jute) and a string of special guests that included Deep Purple’s Jon Lord and Ian Gillan. The two later worked together on Moore Blues for Gary, Daisley’s 2018 star-studded tribute album to the late Gary Moore.
“When Rob and I had finished doing the Gary Moore tribute album, Rob said, ‘I’ve got a couple of ideas. Will you play on one or two of them for me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, go on; let’s have a listen.’ It wasn’t strictly Surfing music as such; it was just kind of in that vein. We did more and more, and I was really enjoying it. It wasn’t really planned or premeditated; it just sort of happened. I think the spontaneity of it helped the general vibe of it, and you can hear that we’re enjoying it. Enjoyment always comes out in music when you’re having fun.”
With Grosser on guitar and drums and Daisley delivering another bulletproof performance on bass, The Upstarts presents 13 instrumentals that provide the perfect summer soundtrack. In fact, many of the album’s song titles were inspired by Daisley’s time relaxing by the sea. Eagle-eyed fans will spot some nice tongue-in-cheek wordplay – and more than a passing nod to the great Monty Python – with titles like “Seabird Flavour” (which features a guest bottleneck solo by guitarist Illya Szwec) and “Life of Brine,” while the album itself is sure to put them in a chilled-out mood.
“It’s very easy and pleasant listening, and some it’s a bit meditative. You can almost see the joint being passed.” (laughs)
So far, the Upstarts project has already yielded three albums’ worth of recorded material.
“Some of the stuff sounds like TV themes; I’ve heard that comment many times. If any of this stuff that we’ve already released gets used for a TV theme or music in a movie or whatever, they’re bound to say, ‘What else have you got?’ So, we want to have more stuff ready.”
Last month’s release of The Upstarts coincided with the 50th anniversary of Daisley’s 1971 arrival in London, an event that kickstarted a journey that began with stints in Chicken Shack and Mungo Jerry (perhaps best known for their 1970 hit “In The Summetime”) and eventually took him to contribute to some of the biggest albums in Metal history. However, he certainly had no clue what he was getting himself into when he packed up and moved thousands of miles away at just 21 years old. Originally, the plan was for him to relocate to London to rejoin his former bandmates in Kahvas Jute, who had moved there earlier but were having trouble finding a suitable bassist. Two days before he was about to leave, they phoned and said they had found someone else.
“I didn’t know what I was going to; I was shit scared, really.” (laughs) I was at the airport, and my mom and dad, sister and some of my friends were there. It was all sort of, ‘Have a nice time! Don’t forget to write!’ I got on the plane, it started going down the runway and I thought, ‘Oh, fuck! What have I done?!’ I was going 12,000 miles to the other side of the world.”
With 50 years and 40-plus albums album under his belt, Daisley has enjoyed longevity in an industry that isn’t known for producing many survivors.
“Some people have one band and do very well. They have a couple of albums or some singles that do very well, and that’s the highlight of their career. It seems to me that I’ve had about 20 highlights! (laughs) It’s just gone from one thing to another. Each time, it’s a step up or something of note, which I’m really pleased about. I think a lot of it came from my attitude of being professional and reliable, being into it all for the love of the music. You’ve got to get on with things, and you’ve got to be trustworthy and honest. I’ve always tried to be all those things. In the mid ’70s, I got involved with Buddhism, and I think that helped a lot to keep my feet on the ground and keep focused.”
Although Daisley’s body of work boasts plenty of undisputed heavy hitters, not every release to feature his name succeeded in capturing widespread attention. When asked to name one release that he felt deserved more listens, he was quick to point to Abominog, his excellent yet tragically overlooked 1982 album with Uriah Heep.
"It was released in England, and then it was released in America through Bronze Records. Abominog had started to make waves in America; we had a song on that album, ‘That’s The Way That It Is,’ that was getting airplay on MTV. It was getting recognition, and the album was starting to get some airplay. Geffen Records became very interested in it. David Geffen went to [Bronze Records owner] Gerry Bron and asked if he would release the Abominog album through Geffen Records. David loved the album, but Gerry Bron said, ‘Well, yeah, you can have Uriah Heep if you take Motörhead and Girlschool, too.’ David said, ‘No, I don’t want Motörhead and Girlschool. I want Uriah Heep; I want this album.’ Jerry said no, and that blew it for us, because David Geffen at that time had just had a huge hit with the John Lennon album [Double Fantasy]. Geffen Records was huge. He could have done all sorts of things for that album, but Gerry Bron blew that for us. A lot of people love that album, but it really didn’t get to see the bright light of day like it could have and should have.”
This lost momentum plagued Uriah Heep’s fortunes going into 1983’s Head First, after which Daisley left the band to return to the Osbourne camp in time to appear on Bark At The Moon later that year.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t really want to go back to Ozzy, but I kind of had to. Things weren’t taking off like I had hoped for with Uriah Heep, and it was down to really getting the record company behind it and doing something with it, which they didn’t. We passed them a really good ball, and they wouldn’t run with it.”
Although Daisley’s tenure in the band was short-lived, it gave him another chance to play alongside Blizzard Of Ozz/Diary Of A Madman-era Ozzy drummer Lee Kerslake, who had originally played with Uriah Heep from 1971 to 1979 and returned after his dismissal from the Osbourne camp in 1981. The two remained friends in the ensuing decades, even reuniting a third time in the mid-2000s as part of the supergroup Living Loud with singer Jimmy Barnes and Deep Purple/Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse. Sadly, Kerslake died last year at 73 after a year-long cancer battle. The months that followed saw the posthumous release of the drummer’s first-ever solo album, the fantastic Eleventeen, and a 50th anniversary reissue of Orgasm, his sole album with the band Head Machine. Daisley finds comfort in knowing his old friend is finally at peace.
“To be honest, I was relieved when he went, because he was not having a good time. He was suffering; he was in pain – but what a soldier. What a brave man he was, because he was going through all that and still did a good album. That’s amazing, you know. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to leave and I’m going through shit, but I’m going to leave this for the world to have a listen to after I’m gone.’ That’s what he did, and it was great.
“Lee’s heart was in the right place, and he played from heart, too,” he adds. “You can have musicians who are great players and virtuosos, and they can be slick and impressive and all that, but playing from the heart is the most important thing. Lee was like that.”
As for the future, Daisley is looking forward to seeing where his current work with Grosser will lead him next. However, his time as a regularly touring live performer, which began slowing down as early as the mid ’90s, is nonexistent on his list of current career goals.
“There were rumors flying about that I had retired. No, I haven’t retired; I’ll probably never retire. I’ll never give up music; I’ll always write, record and create. I still get people coming to me to saying, ‘Will you play on a track?’ I’ll go to Rob’s studio and do it and send them the audio file. It’s just that I’m not going to do any live or road stuff anymore.”
Naturally, a 50-year run in the music business has put Daisley on stage and in the studio with more than a few people who sadly succumbed – either physically or mentally – to the typical excesses associated with the profession. At 71, he believes his ability to stay sane and move forward after so many years comes down to a commitment to keeping his head together every step of the way.
“Success can be detrimental to you; it can be destructive. People let their egos or self-importance get out of focus. They can get carried away with the fame and the money and whatever else. It’s really good to stay focused on what you’re in it for – and that’s the music and creating it for other people to hear. Always respect the people who are listening to it. Without them, it’s pointless doing it. What’s the use of making great music if no one’s going to listen or no one’s interested? You do it for them.”
The Upstarts is out now digitally on Apple Music via SSK Records. Vinyl and CD versions are in the works; watch Bob Daisley’s Facebook page for news and updates.
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