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Manny Charlton, Nazareth guitarist and co-founder, dies at 80

Manny Charlton performs with Nazareth on stage at City Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne, England on May 15, 1974
(Image credit: Ian Dickson/Redferns)

Manny Charlton, the co-founder and longtime guitarist for Scottish hard-rock legends Nazareth, has died at the age of 80.

Born in Andalusia, Spain in 1941, Charlton moved with his family to Dunfermline, Scotland as a young child. It was there that in 1968, he would co-found the band Nazareth with vocalist Dan McCafferty, bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet. 

The band's no-frills hard-rock sound, steady touring and their close relationship with Deep Purple (Purple bassist Roger Glover produced three of the band's albums), helped grow the band's fanbase through the first half of the '70s, culminating in their most successful album, 1975's Hair of the Dog.

With its cowbell-powered, riff-tastic hit title track, Hair of the Dog made the band stars in their own right, and served as a banner display of Charlton's talents as a guitarist and producer.

"I wanted the song [Hair of the Dog] to have a groove," Charlton explained to Vintage Guitar (opens in new tab) in 2021. "I wouldn’t worry too much about the solo until the actual solo part in the song. You’ll notice I didn’t really play a lot of guitar fills. I played a pretty tight, heavy, rhythm part. And I continued that, and played the solo over the top. That was the method.”

Hair of the Dog also marked the beginning of Charlton's tenure as the band's producer, a position he would retain throughout the band's heyday. 

The muscular sound of the album and its hit title track would lead a young Axl Rose to declare (opens in new tab) “Get me the guy who produced Hair Of The Dog," when his band, Guns N' Roses, were attempting to demo the songs that would make up their first album, Appetite For Destruction.

Mike Clink would ultimately produce Appetite but Charlton's demos were released in the 2018 reissue. Charlton then got to work on Nazareth's Snakes 'n' Ladders, the band's seventeenth album and his last with them before retiring in 1990. It was perhaps no surprise that he would call it quits; making Snakes 'n' Ladders was not a happy experience. Charlton said it was a “disaster”.

“There were just too many personal problems in the band during that time,” he told Legendary Rock Interviews (opens in new tab). “We should never have been in the studio at that point and I’ll take my share of the blame for all the bullshit that went down.”

That said, Nazareth were still game enough to tour the album before Charlton stepped away. He returned to the studio, releasing his first solo album, Drool, in 1999. More followed in quick succession: Bravado in 2000, Stonkin' in 2002, Klone This in 2003. Charlton was releasing one a year until 2008's Then There’s This.

In 2012, Charlton decamped to LA to record Hellacious. Released the following year, Hellacious featured guest spots from former Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler and Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell, who played on Stone Crazy and Bringing Me Down. His final solo album, Solo, arrived in 2016.

Pete Agnew said that Charlton changed the whole mindset of the band, steering them towards writing their own songs, and ultimately carving out a sound that would prove hugely influential – as Guns N' Roses can attest to.

“When Manny joined, he was the first guy to suggest writing songs of our own,” Agnew told Classic Rock (opens in new tab). “We’d never even thought of it ’til then, because they employed you as human jukebox. Then suddenly Zeppelin, Purple and Spooky Tooth started to appear, and a whole range of possibilities opened up."

Charlton's cause of death has yet to be confirmed.

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Jackson Maxwell
Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player (opens in new tab). Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder (opens in new tab) and Unrecorded (opens in new tab). Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

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