Paul Rodgers talks Bad Company
The iron-lunged frontman on the new Bad Company reissues, the elixir of youth and why he put down Led Zeppelin’s black dog…
The muscle vest. The microphone twirl. The megaphone vocal. Watch Paul Rodgers in modern times and all evidence suggests the singer is impervious to the passage of time. The truth is that it’s four decades since John Paul Jones caught the most fortuitous dose of flu in rock history, delaying Led Zeppelin’s sessions and freeing up Headley Grange for the ten days it took to track Bad Company’s planet-straddling debut. “You know the story,” grins the 65-year-old. “We set up because the Zeps were delayed. And we walloped it down.”
In 2015, as Jimmy Page cleans out Zeppelin’s closet with the ongoing remasters campaign, Rodgers has likewise been closely involved in the Deluxe Edition reissues of 1974’s Bad Company and 1975’s Straight Shooter, made available on April 6th as double-CD and LP sets, comprising revelatory sleevenotes, prototypes of the final material, studio banter and two unheard tracks. “It’s the inside story of the creative process we went through,” explains Rodgers. “So, if you’re interested, it gives you an inside scoop.”
**Tell me about Paul Rodgers in 1974. What were you like back then?
“Very headstrong. I was a perfectionist, very focused. I didn’t want to waste any time. I wanted to be getting on. I was a hard worker, too, and I still am. I have a very strong work ethic. I don’t like any nonsense, actually. So, yeah, I was driven. We were really working hard to make this work.”
After Free’s meltdown, was there a sense that you had to make Bad Company fly?
“For me, I think, yes. I’d had my band Peace, and I loved what we did, and it brought me and Mick [Ralphs] together. But I did think, ‘OK, roll up the sleeves, it’s time to get to business’. And that’s exactly what we did. We started writing the songs. We got some heavy-duty management, no pun intended [chuckles]. We really went for making the album that we wanted to make – and to hell with the consequences. I think all this was unspoken. It was what we all felt without even saying it.”
How did it make you feel to revisit those first two albums and that mid-’70s period?
“Well, it’s a mixed feeling, really. It’s kind of like going back in time. But at this point in my life, it’s not unhappy. They were great days. When we first went to Headley Grange, it was a very organic way of recording, with Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio outside this big old mansion that was full of amazing treasures, everywhere you went. And it was completely deserted. There were all these cars in the garage and everything, with a layer of dust over them.”
The official verdict, then: was Headley Grange haunted?
“Well, there was an old dog that hung around there. I told Jimmy Page about this dog, years later, and he said, ‘Oh yeah, we named Black Dog after that’. It was kind of like the house dog. We’d give it food. But then, one day, I found it lying in the lobby, very distressed. And I called the vet in, and he said to me, ‘Y’know, he’s got a twisted bowel, and you can spend five grand trying to get him fixed, or we can do the merciful thing and put him down right now’. So in the end, the two of us decided, y’know, ‘I think we should put him down, bless him’. From that moment on, we had some very strange dog experiences.”
**Recording your vocals on the lawn at midnight was pretty inventive…
“Yeah. We don’t do that sort of thing enough. I think I should do more of that. It’s funny about atmosphere. That’s what you’re really trying to create with any song. So for the title track, we set the mics up in a field, two hundred yards away in the back garden, with the cans on a long lead. Waited until the full moon, then went out there with a candle and did the track. It does lend an incredible atmosphere. And I mean, with Seagull, I really did sit on a beach with a guitar. There’s nothing like actually sitting on a beach if you want that feeling. And there’s nothing like being in a field at midnight with a full moon shining down to create a genuine atmosphere.”
**How do you think that debut album has aged?
“Well, one of the things I find fascinating is that we took so much from the old blues and soul albums. Y’know, the way that Otis Redding and the Stax label would record things pretty much live on the floor, with a pilot vocal, and very often, the pilot vocal became the master vocal. Often, it was like, I could maybe get it better, but there was a thing about being in the moment with the band, and it’s kind of electric and it’s happening. We went for that over [correcting] any bloopers. Because there are some bloopers on there.”
**By contrast, most music these days is all quantised and Auto-Tuned…
“Oh God, yeah. But we always dreamed of that. We had Pro Tools in mind, I guess. But then, Pro Tools was invented and it just went mad, y’know? They sort of Pro Tooled the reality right out of it. It’s natural for human beings to try and do that, to try and reach perfection. But with hindsight, when you look back, we actually had something going on that was really good. Because you’ve only got that one shot at it. So you were on a tightrope. Everybody had to get it right, right now, in the moment. That gave the music an edge. And I think that edge has stayed, and is still powerful after all this time.”
The chemistry between you still sounds incredible…
“At Headley Grange, everybody was in a different room, for separation. But we didn’t really need to see each other. We just plugged in and used our ears. You come to a point where you find your groove between you four, the band, and you try out different tempos until it fits in the groove, where everybody feels, ‘Yeah, this is where the song belongs’. And you take it from there. We listened a lot to Cream, and that idea of how much you could achieve, and how complex you could get, just with that simple amount of instruments.”
**How do you think Straight Shooter holds up?
“There were some great songs on there. I think, when you have a smash-hit album, you come back in the studio and say, ‘Now, what did we do again?’ With Straight Shooter, we thought, let’s recreate a similar situation. So we went to Clearwell Castle. Anyway, the follow-up had to be as strong as the one that you had already put out – and I think we pulled it off, actually. Good Lovin’ Gone Bad was ginormous. Feel Like Makin’ Love. I still do Shooting Star in my solo band now. Wild Fire Woman: when I listen to that chorus now, I think, ‘How in the hell did I get up there?’”
**Do you recognise your voice on those first two albums?
“Yeah, I think I sound like me. I think I am blessed with a recognisable voice. I’m very grateful for that and I respect it.”
**What did you think of the reviews at the time?
“Well, everybody’s a critic. I don’t look at reviews unless they’re really good. The thing is, reviews don’t stand forever. But the music will either stand up or it will fall down. It’s the test of time. And actually, funnily enough, this music has stood the test of time. It still has a power, down through the years.”
**So what’s new with this year’s reissues?
“Well, it’s a lot of things. There are different versions of the songs, and [demos] that give the inside story of the creative process we went through. So, if you’re interested, it gives you an inside scoop of how we got to that point. I kind of like the early version of Weep No More. It’s a slower version, and I thought the strings were amazing. There’s also a slightly different version of Can’t Get Enough that Mick had. I don’t think there are any where I thought we ought to have used that version instead. But who am I to say?”
What else is included in the package?
“There are also two booklets that tell the tale in text. I must admit, it was very interesting. I learned a lot from it, some things I didn’t know. Like, I actually didn’t realise that Movin’ On had been given to another band. Also, there are two unheard tracks, See The Sunlight and All Night Long. I’d completely forgotten about those. And it’s very strange to hear a song that you wrote all those years ago, and it’s a whole entity, a whole new world, right there.”
**Where have they been all these years?
“Well, buried. I have to say, they’re kind of rough and ready, those two tracks, because they didn’t go on the album, so we didn’t do a fully fledged, polished mix. But you do get the idea. I guess there wasn’t enough room on the album at the time for those tracks. With vinyl, you have a finite amount of time. You’re limited because of the grooves. So if you put too much information on, you start to tighten those grooves up and you get less of a deep sound. So we would actually sacrifice a song, rather than sacrifice the sound of the whole album. So probably that’s what we did.”
**How would you describe those unheard tracks?
“I was very pleased. I think they’re gems, in their way. Y’know, actually, I’d like to hear more vocal on All Night Long, but you can’t have everything. All Night Long is a groove thing, it’s a bit of an All Right Now. See The Sunlight is a ballad. It’s interesting, actually, listening to it, how many ballads we did. We didn’t really do a lot onstage, but we got very ballady in the studio. But when we rocked out, I mean, there’s no question. Y’know, Deal With The Preacher, Good Lovin’ Gone Bad… I mean, hell, we sounded scary, actually.”
You seem to have come through your career with remarkably few demons…
“Y’know, it’s funny. When I set out in life, I set out, first of all, to survive, and also, to find peace of mind through music. That’s what I’ve kind of been doing. I’ve sort of been at war with myself over the years, trying to find peace of mind. And I think I’ve found it now. I have a lovely wife, Cynthia, and she is a huge part of my whole view of myself nowadays.”
Tom Jones is also nicknamed ‘the voice’. Have you ever considered a shootout for ownership of the title?
“Well, you’ve got to hand it to Tom, actually. He’s fantastic. What can I say? I was at school when Tom was singing, ‘The old home town looks the same, as I step down from the train’. All that, y’know? I think he’s fantastic.”
**Adam Lambert is getting a lot of stick for fronting Queen. Do you sympathise?
“Well, it’s not the easiest gig in the world, shall we say. I had a ball. We had a great thing together, and I really enjoyed it. The thing with me, though, was that I never really planned to stay as long as I did. I sort of turned around and four years had gone by, and we’d toured the world twice.”
**At 65, you look incredible – what’s your secret?
“The elixir of life [laughs]. I think it’s love, actually. Love of music. I think it keeps you young. Actually, I have to say, we were watching the Grammys, and I saw AC/DC, and I was just blown away. They were absolutely awesome. Anyway, that’s another story…”