The "Fabulous" Mr. Rodgers
A Conversation With "The Voice" of Bad Company
"I think you have to have passion," reckons Paul Rodgers in explaining how he's managed to maintain the motivation and staying power to remain in the top echelons of the Rock world for more than 35 years. "I am very passionate about what I do. And, if I ever lost that -- if I ever became less than passionate -- I would stop doing it, and go and do the garden or something, you know."
Indeed, "passionate" could be Rodgers’ middle name. It is one of the many (inadequate) adjectives most often used to describe his unique vocal hybrid of powerhouse rock 'n soul since his earliest days with the legendary blues-rock icons, Free, and on through his years with The Firm (formed with Jimmy Page), and the illustrious Bad Company both in its past and present forms. (With those bands and in his six solo projects, Rodgers has been "The Voice" -- and often the songwriter -- behind a huge cache of rock classics, and records sales of over 125 million.)
Certainly, the fact that he still somehow manages to retain a refreshingly unjaded, down-to-earth enthusiasm and unrestrained energy (no doubt an important element of his ongoing mass appeal and stage presence/charisma), is also palpable as he speaks on the line from LA where he and Bad Company were readying for their extensive "Joe Fabulous" World Tour 2002.
As he details it, the new tour actually came about to support the band's excellent new Live CD and DVD called "Bad Company in Concert: Merchants of Cool.”
"It was just released on the 21st (May 2002). It was recorded this year in January,” Rogers said. "We did a very small tour specifically so we could record the DVD, and we recorded a lot of what they call "B Roll," which is backstage footage of interviews and things like that. And we had guests come down: Slash, Neil Schon, Mick Jones from Foreigner, Glen Hughes, Howard Leese from Heart, and Tommy Shaw from Styx came down. So, a couple of the guys jammed... They always think to bring their guitars, but Slash, he and I have jammed on a number of occasions. Actually, Slash and Neil Schon were with me when I had Andy Fraser [legendary bassist with Rodgers in the original Free line up] and Jason Bonham when we did the appearance at Woodstock! Revisited back in '94."
The guest appearances on the CD & DVD include energized and improvisational versions of many of Bad Company's voluminous international hits (especially effective live are "Silver, Blue, and Gold," "Ready for Love," and "Bad Company"), as well as some of Rodgers' best-known work with Free ("All Right Now" and "Wishing Well"), and experimental things he's done in his solo projects (such as The Beatles medley at the end of "Rock And Roll Fantasy"). It was actually was initiated at the behest of Bad Company's label, Sanctuary.
As Rogers elaborates, "The record company said, 'We loved the show you did in 2001, and we want to just record the show and make a DVD.' And I said, 'What does that mean, the DVD?' I wasn't all that sure! They said, 'Well, it's the show, and it's backstage footage...and if you want to invite some guests down, maybe we'll interview them.' And Mike Drum, the DVD producer, suggested that I invite as many people as I like, and he'd see if he could get them in front of the camera. Well! They were all happy doing that, which was great, you know!”
Sanctuary also loved the new Rodgers-penned single, "Joe Fabulous" [the entrancingly eastern-influenced but tongue-in-cheek critique of the current state of the music biz], currently at #3 on the mainstream charts. Consequently, studio versions of that song and "Saving Grace" are also included along with the CD's live tunes.
Still, the whole project and the current support tour, which includes dates in the US throughout June and July, and which hits England and Europe in September and Japan in October, is admittedly a daunting one, even for a road veteran like Rodgers.
"I have been busier than I really wanted to be," he laughs, "because I hadn't realized...well, when they said, 'Do the DVD and a small tour,' I thought, 'Oh, good -- that sounds nice, in January, to do a small tour of California...' But, there's a lot of work involved with putting it all together. But I'm happy with the result, though. It's good quality, I'm sure... and it's very nice for me to have a new single out there. Something really current that I've written that's being played on the radio. It's always a thrill, that, you know? It's like the first time, when I first wrote a song and Free recorded it and it went on the radio. I mean, it's terrific feeling."
For those who haven't kept up with the evolution of Bad Company, the band first disbanded back in the early '80s at the height of their success (Paul was said to have a compelling need at the time to "get my feet on solid ground"). Later, Bad Company went on for a stint without Rodgers before reuniting with the original lineup in the late '90s. The Man himself offers a "brief synopsis" in explanation:
"In '99, it was suggested that we put an anthology together, which, of course, was pretty much very comprehensive -- you know, it covered all the tracks and different versions of different things. We recorded four new songs for that; two of those songs were released as singles. The first one, 'Hey, Hey,' was number one on the radio charts, and the second one, 'Hammer of Love,' reached number two. This was the original band, and it was a very successful tour and it was a great reunion. But, at the end of that tour, Mick [Ralphs] and Boz [Burrell] decided they didn't want to do the big tours anymore. Mick doesn't like flying and Boz really wants to play jazz in his little clubs and stuff. So that was fine; we understood that. That was in '99. In 2000, I released my sixth solo CD (Electric) and I was fine with that. I toured with that, and Simon [Kirke] went off and did something with Ringo Starr.”
Rogers continues, "We kept getting a lot of requests: Can Bad Company tour with Journey, can they tour with Styx, can they tour with various different people? So, in 2001 we put a lineup together with myself and Simon, and we went out and toured as Bad Company. We toured with Styx and it was great. We had a lovely time. At the end of that is when Sanctuary approached us about the DVD and CD...and here we are. But it has been more work, more time-consuming than I really thought it would be. (laughs) So, I really had to put my solo thing to the side, because I've been running myself ragged just trying to keep up with the one thing, you know..."
Despite all that, Rodgers, who does anticipate doing more solo work in the future ("I love my solo band; what I do with them is much more experimental"), also continues to be so prolific as a songwriter that he has a "backlog" that he's currently in urgent need of "downloading" it (preferably "on a beach in Mexico," he laughs).
He adds, "I have songs on the boil most of the time! And I just felt that 'Joe Fabulous' was something that would lift Bad Company into more of a contemporary thing. Whilst we've got a lot of classic, signature songs, I don't want to get stuck in a 'classic rock' rut -- if I can say that! So, I've always tried -- down through years -- pushing forward to do new things...And it's hard, really, I think, because people, to some extent, are a little bit reluctant. They want all the old stuff, so I have to mix and match it, you know...I find that that works best."
Interestingly, despite his collaborations and jams over the years with many other English classic rock legends and blues greats, Paul Rodgers still hasn't lost a bit of that wide-eyed wonder for his own mentors (mainly the blues and soul pioneers, along with The Beatles) as becomes poignantly evident when he relates an incident occurring earlier in the day:
"We were doing a video thing today, and the chap that was interviewing me was going on to interview Ray Charles, and he asked me if I'd like to ask a question by video to Ray Charles! So, I said, 'Wow! Ray, I'm a big fan of yours. When I was thirteen years old, I was really moved by your voice on 'Cryin' Time.' A lot of people ask me this question, so I want to ask you: How do you take care of your voice after so many years, and how do you keep it?' So, I might get an answer back in video, which will blow my mind, if he does! I would be completely humbled ... because the guy is just incredible! He's almost a God!' (Of course, the irony of that anecdote is that there are many who say the same about Paul Rodgers, including plenty of his musical peers and contemporaries.)
But certainly, when it comes to his own stamina and voice "preservation" tactics, Rodgers is very evidently doing something right himself. Alluding in part to the fringe benefits of his own long-term interest in meditation and other spiritual philosophies, he sums up other important keys to his vitality and longevity on the career front:
"Well, I thought about it a while back, and I thought, if I want to be like Johnny Lee Hooker and Ray Charles and still have that thing forever -- until I drop as it were -- then I've gotta take care of myself. I think if you wreck yourself, I don't know how you can expect to sing very well! (laughs) I definitely think you need balance in your life. I find that the voice is not just the voice box; it's the head, it's the heart, the body and the soul. So, I try to keep all those things in harmony."
For more information on Bad Company's new tour and DVD/CD (featuring Rodgers, Simon Kirke, Dave "Bucket" Colwell, and Jaz Lochrie), visit www.badcompany.com or www.paulrodgers.com
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