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The Six-string Interrogation: Mick Ralphs

Bad Company and Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs on long wizard coats, high-heeled boots and expensive Les Pauls

When Bad Company announced earlier this year that Rich Robinson would replace Mick Ralphs for the band’s US tour, fans were concerned over the Mott The Hoople founder’s future.

It seems that rumours of Ralphs’s retirement were grossly exaggerated. Not only does he continue to write and perform with his solo blues band, but he is joining back up with Bad Company ahead of the band’s October UK arena tour.

When Classic Rock speaks with the 72-year-old guitarist he is taking a break from refreshing his memory by listening to Bad Co’s latest setlist. We take the opportunity to give Mick Ralphs the six-string interrogation.


The song that made me want to pick up the guitar was…

It was Green Onions by Booker T and the M.G’s. Up to that point I wasn’t that into music. The music of the day when I was growing up was syrupy pop like Cliff and the Shadows. It was all very white sounding. I listened to Radio Luxembourg and I heard this song that turned out to be Green Onions. I loved the nasty guitar of it and the groove. I had never heard anything like it before and that inspired me to want to play guitar like that. It basically got me into blues and soul music and people like Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry. That was the trigger, I heard it and thought, ‘Yes, I like that.’”

The first guitar I owned was…

It was horrible. I was lucky to have this benevolent auntie who, if I went shopping with her she bought me a present, that was the deal. This one time I saw this guitar, it was a Rosetti Lucky Seven. In those days you couldn’t get American guitars in England. I think the trade law changed in 66 or 67, but before then you could only get guitars made in Europe and they were pretty horrible. Hofner was quite good, but I couldn’t afford a Hofner so I had this Rosetti. I’m fond of it because it was a present from my auntie and it was the first guitar I got to grips with but it had a terrible action on it. That’s probably given me strong fingers learning to play on that thing!

The most underrated guitarist in history is…

There’s a lot of great guitar players out there. It doesn’t matter how great you are its where and how you apply your music to catch the public’s ear. My favourite guitar player is Robben Ford. He’s great but he’s not very well known outside of guitar players, he isn’t a household name. A lot of it depends on the material that you write and whether that hits a chord with the public and that isn’t easy. I’ve seen a million guitar players in bars all over the world who haven’t really achieved anything and I think, ‘Christ, he’s good.'

If I hadn’t been a musician I would have been…

God, that’s a good question, I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it. I was an electrician for a while but I hated it. I would have done something but god knows what. I gave up my job to go abroad with my local band for a month and luckily enough I have been doing that ever since.

On a scale of one to ten I would rate myself as a guitarist…

Minus 20. I never think about things like that. I like to be an all-round guitar player who can play rhythm and lead breaks. That’s because I’m a songwriter and songwriting is all about doing what the song dictates and not what you want to do for the song.

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The most I’ve spent on a guitar is…

I stopped buying guitars years ago because the prices were getting so ridiculous. I am a big fan of the old 59 Les Paul. They are so ridiculously overpriced these days. The most I paid for a Les Paul was one I bought from Gary Grainger who used to play with Rod Stewart and I paid £14,000 for it. I thought, ‘Oh god, what have I done?’ It’s worth more than that nowadays but that was an extravagant amount of money. I have some vintage guitars but I tend to play the reissues, you can get some of those that are great.

The worst thing about singers is…

That they can sing better than you can. Let’s leave that one there [laughs].”

The album I want to be buried with is…

That’s a bit morbid. I’d probably try and flog the record before I went so it didn’t go to waste! As important as music is to me and other people I would never put it on a pedestal like that. It is a joy to a lot of people but it is also a job at the end of the day. Saying that, I am most proud of the first Bad Company so if I had to take one I would take that.

The guitarist I’d most like to do battle with at The Crossroads is…

I admire a lot of players like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Joe Walsh, but I don’t think I’d like to do battle with any of them! I would love to play alongside them.

The silliest I’ve ever looked onstage was when…

In the Mott The Hoople days of the glam rock era, I’ve seen some pictures of me from that era that I’m a bit embarrassed about. You know, the ones with the flares on and the long wizard coats and high-heeled boots. That was par for the course back then. I’ve still got a pair of those platform boots. They seem pretty silly now, but it was just the fashion.

My favourite musician joke is…

How many singers does it take to change a light bulb? One, because he holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.

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