Rock 'n Roll Roulette
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Shooting Star to Constellation: Soulful Paul Rodgers Talks Music
A few years ago I heard Paul Rodgers perform in Fort Lauderdale at the Hard Rock Casino. I couldn’t take my ears or eyes off of him. To say he has a great singing voice is putting it mildly. A recognizable sound, with the tones of Blues singers past, soul like Elvis and Hendrix, is more accurate a description of the legendary singer/songwriter. To hear him sing “Alright Now,” or any of his songs, is to feel the soul found in an old Blues hall or Gospel revival, along with the passion of a Rock anthem. He is that captivating.
As I listened, I thought of the first time I had heard and loved his sound, through my older brothers, playing Free or Bad Company on their vinyl records, or their car speakers (the songs were always on radio stations). It occurred to me how so many of us have grown up hearing Free, Bad Company, and the Firm.
My life flashed before me in moments per song, which is usually how a legendary songwriter/singer affects any fan. Second, as a vocalist, his range and tone seeps of clarity and sheer soul. As audience members held up their hands, fists, phones, Paul served up Blues Rock seedlings within fierce, catchy, legendary tunes. His smile didn’t fade.
British-Canadian, Paul Rodgers was born in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, England. In 1968 Rodgers joined Free as the lead singer/songwriter, and their hit song, “All Right Now,” (which he wrote with bassist Andy Fraser) was an instant hit. At that time, Free was a one of the highest grossing bands, alongside Led Zeppelin, on the British Rock scene.
In the 70’s Rodgers formed Bad Company, with Mick Ralphs (of Mott the Hoople) and drummer of Free, Simon Kirke, and Boz Burrell, bassist of King Crimson. Bad Company was the first act signed to Led Zeppelin’s new record label, Swan Song. Bad Company toured from 1973 to 1982 with hits like, “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Can’t Get Enough (of Your Love),” “Shooting Star,” “Bad Company,” and “Run with the Pack.” Rodgers played piano on “Bad Company” and “Run With the Pack,” and guitar on “Rock and Roll Fantasy.” He also played all instruments on the tune, “Seagull.” He left Bad Company in 1982 to spend time with his wife and kids.
By the 90’s his Grammy-nominated solo album, Muddy Waters Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters featured his own title track, along with the stellar music contributions of: Brian May, Gary Moore, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Steve Miller, Buddy Guy, Richie Sambora, Brian Setzer, Slash, Neal Schon and Trevor Rabin.
Paul's charity is extensive such as the 1983 Rocks’ First Charity Tour, US ARMS Tour on behalf of Ronnie Lane’s then battle with MS. Rodgers performed at that charity with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Joe Cocker and more. In the 80's he also performed with Queen in South Africa at Nelson Mandela’s Aids Awareness Benefit Concert.
He has donated proceeds from many shows and concerts to Willows Animal Sanctuary in Scotland and Mount Noddy Animal Centre. Additionally, he has performed with Joe Perry, Jason Bonham, Michael Anthony (Van Halen, Chickenfoot), Peter Frampton and others at KLOS Radio’s Mark and Brian’s Christmas Benefit Concert in LA., with proceeds given to The Eisner Pediatric Foundation. Thus, it is no surprise that he is only one of the 8 people to ever receive a Proclamation from the US Congress-for his musical achievements and philanthropy for the Fender Center’s “Kids Rock Free” Music Education Program.
Paul has also performed with Nils Lofgren, Charlie Watts, Bryan Adams, The Four Tops, Bonnie Raitt, Hubert Sumlin, Levon Helm, Roger Daltrey, Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, Joe Bonamassa, and the list goes on.
Addtionally, he has recorded and produced albums to pay homage to his own idols, Elvis, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, and many other Blues legends.
He is recognized as one of the biggest selling British Rock bands in history ("British Hard Rock Pioneers" by Rolling Stone Magazine). Paul's decades in Rock music also includes his producing over 125 million records, and his having sold over 90 million records.
It was an honor to ask Paul some questions about his life and career:
By Abbe Davis, February 2022
AD: Thanks for your time today, an honor, and please, take us back to the debut of Bad Company being backed by the new Swan Song label of also Led Zeppelin. You then had proper management, what was the first show like for you in 1974, do you remember at all at Newcastle Hall City? What was different about being managed well – in your view?
PR: It was a thrill performing at Newcastle. We were originally scheduled to do only one show but it sold out very quickly so we added a second show almost immediately, which also sold out quickly. The new management obviously gave us quite a kick start and really launched the career of Bad Company. When you have management who really takes a keen interest, not only in your music, but as a band, it makes all the difference in the world.
AD: Sounds like an exciting time. Recording back in the 70’s, how was it to record at Headley Grange?
PR: Our first album, "Bad Company" was recorded at Headley Grange, which was an old three -story building that was actually built to house poor or indigent people. It was cool to record there because, not only did we record the album there, we lived there during the entire recording, so, we didn't have to travel back and forth all the time to record. That was a first for all of us in the band. Just getting up each day, having some breakfast, and then walking into the recording studio, was pretty convenient and the place was pretty cool. No heat there, it was cool. LOL. We recorded "Straight Shooter" there. It was a very medieval-type setting. Very old but very calm, for me, anyway. The place was rumored to be haunted, which it probably was, probably still is. LOL. We had a great time recording there though.
AD: Ha, as long as you don't hear the ghosts in the recording process. Cool, sounds like fun. From “Alright Now,” to “Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy" and then some, which songs were you surprised did well, and then which songs were you surprised didn’t take? Do you know when it will work with songs, or is that hard to gauge (or harder these days)?
PR: "Silver, Blue and Gold" surprised me a bit. That's basically a ballad, not a hard song like the others you mentioned. "All Right Now" and "Fantasy." I knew would do well. I didn't expect "Silver, Blue and Gold" to get much air [radio] play when we put that out there, because it was very different from anything we'd put out before. Personally, I had no idea how it would come across. I really love the song and enjoy singing it. Even if it didn't do well commercially, that wouldn't have changed the way I feel about it.
AD: Interesting how when bands release songs it can be a surprise with how a single does out there. In 2000, tell us about that first one, the Muddy Waters Tribute Concert in Cleveland, Jimmie Vaughan, Levon Helm, Hubert Smith, Johnnie Johnson, James Cotton, what struck you doing that concert, key moments or memories that made you feel how?
PR: There were so many incredible musicians and artists there. Anywhere you looked, "Oh look, that's Jimmie Vaughan, oh look, there's Levon Helm and BB King." It was really amazing. So much talent and love was there. It was an honor to be part of that, and sharing the stage with some of these legends was surreal.
AD: Wow. What a show and experience! In 2005-2006 you toured with Queen as “Queen & Paul Rodgers.” What stories did you learn about the group and about Freddy, anything you hadn’t known before? Key moments and accomplishments touring with them in those years?
PR: It was a lot of fun doing the Queen thing with Brian and the boys. There weren't really any odd stories to tell about Freddy. We pretty much kept things about those days on the quiet side. I was probably the one bringing up Freddy, because he had such an amazing brilliance about him, his persona and that voice! What a voice! I couldn't duplicate that and that was never my intent. I just wanted to sing and do the songs justice and have a lot of fun doing so. It was a great time.
AD: Well, it went over so well. Which encounters with artists that you’ve respected, have struck you as “Wow, I am here, we are legends and I’m on stage with…” it’s been so many by now, which ones still hit you, when you look back at those performances?
PR: Hmm. Good question. Definitely Brian May of Queen, Jimmy Page. I performed "All Right Now" with Brian playing lead guitar and it just clicked, it was pretty incredible. That was before I joined Queen for a bit. We both thought, "Hmm, this actually may work, me being the singer for Queen, and we did it for a bit, and it was a lot of fun."
AD: That's great to after that, get more shows and enjoy that experience repeatedly. What still makes you nervous as a performer before a show, does anything, or is it like you could wake up at 3am and just have it down, after decades of being a pro?
PR: After all these years, I really don't get nervous, just anxious, excited to get out there and be with the audience. The stage is where I'm quite comfortable. Hmm. Waking up at 3am and doing my thing? I don't know about that. LOL.. I'd be tired and my voice would show that, but I get what you're asking. Yeah, I guess I could get up at 3am and after a quick warm up, do my thing. I've been at this a loooong time, don't you think? LOL.
AD: That's great and anytime I hear you live these days, I mean, you've taken good care of your voice, too. Yet, it's still something to hear you sound as strong, if not stronger in vocal power these days. More questions, what do you dislike immensely about how music is heard, what musicians deal with, or how it works in the music industry today? Do you ever think of remedies for what might improve it for those inspired ahead?
PR: Woah, that's a big question. I wish I had the answer for that. In days past, especially the late 70's through the mid 90's, record sales and then CD sales were how the artists, like myself, made our living. And, obviously doing the shows and selling merch. It's a heck of a lot tougher these days with social media. We don't really sell our music anymore. We put it out so the people, the fans, can hear it, and it's how we remain on their minds, remain relevant, I suppose. Artists today don't have that luxury of a big recording contract like we did in the past. Most bands are now dependent on touring and selling merchandise. I don't think it will ever go back to how it was before. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it harder for the artists to thrive in this industry.
AD: Yes, for certain. Thanks for this, because it highlights what it takes for musicians out there now. Do you experience songwriter slumps where music won’t come, or is it and has it always been this steady stream for you, to write a lot and maybe too much at times?
PR: Don't we all? LOL. Yeah, I've had the jimps. That's what I call writer's block. But, when things are really flowing it's just magical. I don't think I write too much. Maybe in the past, but when you're inspired and the words or the music just come to you, you gotta take note and get to work!
AD: The jimps! Never head that before, love it! So now, in your life thus far, you’ve had so many accomplishments, yet in your view, what are your biggest accomplishments in life? In music?
PR: In life, my greatest accomplishment is to be a father to my kids, Steve and Jasmine. They are the soul of my life. In music? That's a tough one. I'd say just being fortunate enough to be able to make music and share it with the world. Music can change the world, don't you think? We just need everyone in the world to listen to at least one song they really appreciate every day, and who knows, maybe that's the answer to world peace.
AD: Thank you so much, Paul, this has been a true gift and so is all you have done, and continue to do, with music.
Abbe Davis, Editor/ Musician
Abbe Davis is the singer/ songwriter of Hard Rock/Alt band, Sordid Fable. She has performed alongside legendary Blues artist, Buddy Guy. Abbe has served as MC of the Tru Rock show for Tru Rock Revival on livesteam. Currently, Abbe and Sordid Fable are in the studio recording their album for release in 2022. www.sordidfable.com