Many years back I had written to John Verity (ex Argent, Phoenix, Charlie). I really dug that first Phoenix album, and had picked up one of his solo albums, his albums with Argent, and Charlie. But I still had a lot to get, so many of my questions were a bit of ‘fishing’ as I wasn’t familiar with a number of projects. We also didn’t have youtube back then or Discogs to research on…. Anyway, I tried to get a good account of John’s career, and he replied with lots of information and stories. With the recent news of a new release – the ‘lost’ Phoenix album, I decided to re-post this (w/ a few edits), and links and tracks put in.
John Verity has been in the rock business since the late ’60s, but his name came to prominence in 1975 when he replaced Russ Ballard in ARGENT. After 2 albums with Argent, Verity formed the band PHOENIX – who released 2 albums, before releasing a few solo albums, recording an album with US aor band CHARLIE, and getting into production work. John Verity still records and gigs to this day, and is currently readying a new album as well as re-releasing some things from his own catalogue. For more on the man check out>http://www.johnverity.com
What can you tell me about your early days — bands? – people of notoriety you played with? earliest recordings? breaks? etc…
I Started in the 60’s with groups in my home town, Bradford, Yorkshire. Played R&B, Pop & Blues. Got my first real break when I was asked to play guitar for 60’s R&B/ Pop star ‘Dave Berry’ – great experience as we gigged solidly & toured heavily until the band was asked (without DB) to go to the Bahamas for a stint at the ‘Jokers Wild’ club in Freeport, Grand Bahama, in 1968. We stayed for almost a year – I did my first singing then ( I was never allowed to sing before, but we did so many sets, 7 nights a week that our main vocalist needed a break!). In ’69 a promoter from Miami spotted us playing at Jokers Wild and invited us to Florida to do some serious gigs. The band didn’t last long, but I stayed behind & formed the first JV Band with US musicians, gigged with Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mountain, Canned Heat, PG&E, and others before moving back to UK. Got my first record deal with ABC / Dunhill on my return to UK in 1970/71.
What do you remember of this album? who produced it? any ‘name’ people involved? how did it do? read ‘was recorded late ’72 for Probe/ ABC Dunhill’.
Sorry.. No names on the album. Produced by Steve Rowlands who produced the Herd, Family Dogg, and other pop bands in the UK around that time.
Who was in the first Verity Band? any stories from Hendrix , Mountain, or Canned Heat? what kind of music were you doing back then?
The US JV Band was a three piece – Teddy on drums & Mark on bass. No surnames I’m embarrassed to say – its a long time ago! Nothing earthshaking to report on the other bands I’m afraid. Hendrix was kinda unhappy because people were shouting for the old stuff – he was into the Band of Gypsies thing — line-up was Billy Cox & Buddy Miles. The gig was in Miami – I believe it could have his last in the US.
How did you come to join Argent ?
My first album ‘John Verity Band’ was released on Probe/ABC Dunhill late ’74 and I went on the road touring as support to Argent. Russ Ballard decided to leave on that tour, and recommended me as his replacement.
You played on just ‘Circus’ and ‘Counterpoint’ albums? anything else? [live or unreleased?]
There are unreleased tracks, also we ‘reformed’ to do some sessions in ’77 – the line-up was Rod, Russell, Bob Henrit, Jim Rodford & Me. The tracks were never released & and the ‘reformation’ never happened. I ended up spending quite a lot of time in the studio with Russell working on his songwriting projects during that period – ’78 to ’81. Russell was also involved in the final ‘Phoenix’ recordings in 1980. The lineup was me Bob & Ray, plus Dave Wintour on bass and Russell on piano. We recorded two songs that Russell had written – ‘Juliet’ & ‘I Surrender’. The record company Charisma didn’t like ‘I Surrender’ – said it wasn’t a commercial song! & released ‘Juliet’ as a single instead with no success. B side was ‘I’m In Love’ from “In Full View”. Russell used our version of ‘I Surrender’ as a demo, and ‘Rainbow’ picked up on it. The rest is history…
Were you familiar with Argent prior to joining them? what band did you [and John G.] come from?
I wasn’t really familiar with the band prior to the support tour – but the sheer quality of their musicianship just blew me away.. I think I’ve covered my background prior the Argent. John G was much younger with little band experience – he was a truly natural, gifted musician though, but never liked the touring aspect – well, he hated it really!
Did you feel any pressure/criticism having to fill in Russ Ballard’s spot, baring in mind he wrote a lot of the earlier classics? [did you write songs in these days? ]
I did feel pressure – I just wanted to be good, and make my mark. I did write songs (I had written the John Verity Band album), but there was no chance of writing songs for Argent with someone with pedigree of Rod around!
What was the plan or direction / aim of the new line-up when you joined?
The band was getting into Fusion/ Jazz Rock which I didn’t really like, and anyway they were such a great rock band. I think we lost our way really… musically.
Was Rod the musical ‘director that lead the band away from more rock stuff?
Kind of. The rest of the band seemed happy enough at the time, to go along with this ‘new’ direction. I suspect Robert was a little unhappy at the change but probably I was the only one who felt really uncomfortable with it. I was quite shocked when the new songs were first presented to me, but I didn’t have the confidence to speak out at the time…
How do you feel the 2 Argent LPs you were on compared to previous Argent LP? Were there any successful singles? Why did the band split?
I didn’t feel that the later albums were as successful musically as the earlier albums, though they had their moments. There were singles, but no success. The band split because (a) we weren’t making any money! (b) Rod & John G were sick of touring. (c) Rod wanted to move in a different direction musically (I was agitating to move back to Rock & Roll) (d) I wanted to form a straight ahead power trio with Bob & Jim – ‘Phoenix’.
How much of the drums did Phil Collins play on Counterpoints?
About half. Some tracks are half Bob & half Phil!.
Were you happy with this radical shift away from the anthemic early 70s heavy rock in the Free vein towards spacey jazz-rock, and if so, were you instrumental in this switch?
No, hated it!
How did The John Verity Band  come about, who were the members, where from (which bands)?
All the members of the JV Band were from local bands in my home town (Bradford). We met when I returned from US early ’70’s. The earliest sessions for the album in ’72 were done with session musicians, but I wasn’t happy & formed a ‘normal’ band line-up with Geoff Lyth (guitar & keyboards). We had various bass players & drummers, and the line-up finally settled at Jerry Smith (bass), & Ron Kelly (drums) in time for the album sessions which began at Advision studios in London late ’73. Album produced by Steve Rowlands.
Any singles released? much success, tours, breaks…? How did that one album do on the market?
Lots of gigs – toured with Argent, the line-up changed. New line-up included Biff Byford (Saxon) on bass, and guitarist Paul Quinn (Saxon). I produced the first Saxon album a couple of years later.
What happened afterwards – why did it break up? [anything recorded after the 1974 album that didn’t get released?]
We were rehearsing for a new album when the Argent gig was firmed up. Biff, Paul & the guys gigged as the John Verity Band without me! before forming ‘SonOfABitch’ which became Saxon.
You formed Phoenix with Jim Rodford and Rob Henrit [from Argent days]. How did this band begin? Was it intentional to make it a heavier sounding band than Argent?
Yup. [See above] – during the final Argent US tour, I had the feeling that we should be moving into a more straight ahead direction. I knew that there was a niche for us & Bob & Jim agreed. We signed to CBS though, and it took too long to get product out, by which time the UK music scene was being swamped by New Wave/ Punk. We were Dinosaurs in the UK by then.
You all contributed to the first Phoenix album, which was a classic LP IMO. What happened with the first album — much success, etc… ?
We did well in some areas. Lots of great response to gigs – we toured UK/ Europe & Scandinavia with Aerosmith, but I decided to get into Production.
Who else did you produce of note?
Saxon, Tank, Motorhead, Searchers, Marseille, BlackSlate, Brian Connelly (Sweet) – plus lots of bands’ ‘first albums’.
Can you explain the change prior to the 2nd Phoenix LP in which Jim left and was replaced by Ray Minhinnett – who played guitar, while you doubled on bass [guitars, vox…], and also added Ronnie Lee Cunningham on keys?? [where did Ray and Ronnie come from?]
Ray was/ is a buddy of mine. He was with Frankie Millers Full House. Fantastic guitar player, and we wrote songs together. Jim was offered the gig with the Kinks & went with our blessing, but we decided not to replace him – I played the bass parts & then added my guitars later. The other guys were brought in as session players by our American producer. Great musicians but I didn’t feel the album worked – no ‘Band’ vibe.
In Full View also featured a few outside penned tracks — “I Don’t Mind” [Walden] – where did this come from? as well it included Russ Ballard’s “Just Another Day” – why did you do this song?
I’m always open to good outside material and we felt ‘I Don’t Mind’ was a strong song (sent to us by the Publisher). I had engineered & played/ sung on Russell’s demo of ‘Just Another Day’ and asked him if we could do it for Phoenix.
What happened on the 2nd LP that would explain the change from the debut? Was there outside interference, recording company, etc.. ?? How well did this LP do?
The record company was responsible for the change of direction which I felt was a disaster. It didn’t do well.
Any examples or stories pertaining to this?
Not really – the business was in real upheaval at that time, and the UK scene was particularly screwed up, so Charisma decided we should go to America to record. I was thinking New York – they were thinking LA. We went to LA. WRONG!
I presume Phoenix split after the 2nd LP!? what were the highlights of this band for you? what happened in the end?
The highlight was the early period when we first came off the road with Argent. We were all match fit and playing well. Bob, Jim & I have great respect for each other as musicians & people. I loved that band, but it should never have been allowed to change direction musically, or be interfered with by outside producers & record company personnel!. Bob & Jim are good friends to this day and often form the current JV Band line-up for gigs & recording. I love them both like brothers.
What did you do in the years following Phoenix and the first “Verity” LP? any other bands, recordings, ..?
Mostly production & writing/ session playing. Russ Ballard, Ringo Starr, Colin Blunstone, Bowowow, Tank, Motorhead, Saxon etc.
You auditioned for Uriah Heep. were you disappointed this didn’t pan out ? What do you recall of the auditions? Have you had any other contact or association with an Heep guys?
Not too disappointed as it was only intended that I fill in until the band found someone permanent – which they did with Pete Goalby. All good players – Mick’s an excellent guitar player. Pete G’s a fantastic singer & good friend today.
What’s Pete up to these days? Ever worked with him?
Never worked with Pete – just jammed at a gig one time, but we’re buddies – been through a lot of the same music biz bullshit. He’s well, but having a break from it for a while.
Interrupted Journey was a very classy ’80s HR album, and still stands up pretty good today. You produced and engineered the album, as well as guitar & vocals, and had a long list of guest players,..Was it really a solo album? and who exactly was in the band? Who toured with you, etc.?
Yes, it was a solo album initially, which I began recording in ‘down time’ at Livingston Studios in between production projects. As recording progressed I began to ask my friends to sing & play on it. The touring band had Steve Rodford (son of Jim!) on drums, and my old mate Terry Uttley (Smokie) on bass, who became my partner in crime for some time until Smokie re-formed.
What can you tell me about how the guest-list became on this album > Rutherford, Argent, Ballard, Terry Uttley… ?
Mike Rutherford contacted me because he’d heard that I was doing a solo album. He wanted to produce or participate in some way. I went to Genesis’ studio where we recorded 3 songs with just me, Bob Henrit, & Mike playing. I added all the extra stuff at my own studio. Dave Wintour was doing lots of bass sessions around that time, including Russ Ballard & Leo Sayer.
Why did you re-do “Just Another Day” – the Ballard song that you had recorded with Phoenix? and what can you tell me about some of the other outside penned tracks, such as the Mike Rutherford song, “Love Is Blind”, “Stay With me Baby”, “Chippin Away At The Stone”… ?
I re-recorded ‘Just Another Day’ because I felt that we had screwed it up on the Phoenix album. The other songs were just great pieces that I wanted to do my own version of. Mike wrote some stuff especially for me which was nice. ‘Stay With Me’ is my favorite song (I’m re-doing it on my new album!)
What were your favorite tracks on that album? Any singles? much success, etc.. ?
I don’t have a favorite track. It’s my best work to date, with the exception of the first ‘Phoenix’ album.
What can you tell me about your association with CHARLIE? Did you only play on the 1 album? What happened with this gig?
I was brought in to ‘rough up’ Charlie’s sound in a production sense, and Terry was going to get involved in the production of a new Phoenix album. In the event, I ended up singing & playing on the Charlie album, and I brought in Bob Henrit on drums. The Phoenix album was abandoned. I thought the Charlie album was good, but I didn’t enjoy the ‘painting by numbers’ approach so I left to start ‘Interrupted Journey’.
What can you tell me about the 3rd Verity album Rock Solid? [who played on it? how well did this LP do?]
Rock Solid was done in my own studio. I did a lot of the work myself, with my usual guests dropping by. Unfortunately the label went broke soon after release, but I hope to get it re-released soon.
What have you done since the last Verity album? Recordings? Bands? [what can you tell me about such albums as Hold Your Head Up, etc…?]
Hold Your Head is a compilation of various JV Band stuff. The title track is an un-released track which I originally recorded for Interrupted Journey. I’ve continued to gig & record/ do production & try to help young musicians develop their careers. I’m currently working on a new album & preparing older material for re-release.
What are you involved in outside of music? hobbies, interests… ?
Music Music Music – boring old rock fart!
Can you give me a few of your favorite guitar players, influences, singers, songwriters, ? What do you listen to these days?
My influences are wide – Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, Aretha, BB King, Beatles, Dylan. I listen to whatever takes me.
Interview – Kevin J. 2000. / *top photo from Johnverity.com