Four decades after their debut album, 70s rockers Bad Company are on tour. Duncan Seaman spoke to singer Paul Rodgers.
For denim-clad rockers in the early 1970s, Bad Company were the ultimate supergroup. Comprising former members of Free, Mott the Hoople and King Crimson, they rode the airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic with FM radio staples such as Can’t Get Enough, Feel Like Makin’ Love and Good Lovin’ Gone Bad.
Forty-three years on from their self-titled debut album, singer Paul Rodgers, guitarist Mick Ralphs and drummer Simon Kirke are preparing to reconvene for a tour of UK arenas, including Leeds.
Middlesbrough-born Rodgers, 66, says the latest bout of touring was prompted by the release of two live albums from the 1970s.
“When they first mooted the idea of putting some of the albums out that they’ve been doing I was a little bit uncertain so I asked them to send them to me and I was pleasantly surprised, so I think it did influence this,” he concedes.
“We’ve toured in the US, 32 dates, half of them were with Joe Walsh [of The Eagles]. We flip-flopped – that means we shared top billing – and then we did a bunch of shows by ourselves and it was quite fun, it was great, actually.”
Listening to recordings of concerts that the band played in Houston, Texas in 1977 and at Wembley in 1979 provided a fascinating insight into the band’s past. “One of the things that amazed me was the two sets were very different from each other,” Rodgers says. “You do all the songs that you feel are relevant – Shooting Star, for instance, Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy, Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Rock Steady, but the set does evolve and it is different every time we go out.
“We’re currently doing Electricland which we haven’t done for a while. Crazy Circles is kind of different too – that’s a deep cut – plus the songs that people would expect to hear.”
Rodgers admits that hearing their late bassist Boz Burrell’s playing brought back poignant memories. “I remember when we were auditioning bass players back in the day Boz’s story was that he had been a singer and he took up the bass but he had a really melodic approach to playing it,” he calls. “He almost played lead bass sometimes which was good in a three-piece, he was great.”
Looking back to the early 70s, Rodgers remembers his first encounter with Mick Ralphs was at Island Records’ offices when the singer was fronting Free while Ralphs was playing guitar in Mott the Hoople. They met again when in 1971. “I had a band called Peace, after Free, and I toured with Mott the Hoople and we got together at that point,” he says.
We were trying to create the best music we could possibly make. The only expectation came from ourselves and it was a pleasant surprise to find other people liked it too.Paul Rodgers
“It’s funny how you gravitate to people that you have things in common with. He’s a songwriter too so we talked about song writing, he came round to my house, we started writing songs and all of a sudden we were forming a band.”
The idea of forming a supergroup “was never our intention”, the singer adds. “It wasn’t relevant whether or not someone had been famous prior to [joining the band], it was relevant only ‘can you play?’ That’s all we were looking for.
“[As for] the weight of expectation, no, we were trying to create the best music we could possibly make. The only expectation came from ourselves and it was a pleasant surprise to find other people liked it too.”
Rodgers once said that Free had been a band who really understood the value of simplicity. He feels that applies to Bad Company “and everything I do”.
“The first album that I bought was Otis Blue [by Otis Redding] and I still love that album to pieces. Those guys, the way they played, there was a desire to express emotion, not a desire to express ‘I’m so clever on this instrument’. That’s what I loved about it and I still do. That’s what still drives me, the expression of emotion and people really respond to that – and it’s the same today because people are still feeling emotions.”
It’s a maxim that has stood the singer well in a career that’s also embraced working with several other rock legends including Jimmy Page, Kenney Jones and Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen. In 2011 he was rewarded with an Ivor Novello Award for his outstanding contribution to British music. “It’s a lovely award, it looks very nice on the shelf in my studio,” he says. “Jimmy [Page] came to that and sat with me, and Chris Blackwell, so it was very nice.”
Closer to his roots, he adds he’s equally proud of the Honorary Doctorate of Letters that he received from Teesside University. “It was given to me by now retired Chancellor Graham Henderson,” he says. “To be recognised for my song writing by my home town university touched me deeply.”
Rodgers has recently recorded a new song about his industrial home town of Middlesbrough.
Aptly titled A Place Called Home, it will be released on Friday October 14.
“They’re closing the final steelworks in Middlesbrough and the writer Adam Dennis contacted me and said, ‘There’s nothing we can do to re-open the steelworks but to mark the passage of time. Would you sing this song?’” Rodgers explains. “I sang it with my son Stephen and the proceeds go to Zoe’s Place children’s hospice for terminally ill kids in Middlesbrough.”
Bad Company play at First Direct Arena, Leeds on Saturday October 15. For details visit www.badcompany.com