By Mike Greenblatt
Simon Kirke has rocked stages for decades as drummer for Free and Bad Company. On his new solo album, “Filling The Void,” he plays piano, bass, guitar and drums. He also sings his own songs (quite nicely, thank you) — songs filled with regret and humor, blunt honesty and wistful ruminations of the lessons he’s learned. Don’t expect any macho blustering. He doesn’t ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love.’ Not right now, anyway.
The last time I saw you was at Yankee Stadium when you and I went with [musician] Ricky Byrd. It was your first baseball game!
Simon Kirke: Yeah, I remember that. I play a lot of golf, but that was my first and only time seeing baseball. I seem to remember yelling at the umpire a lot that night.
“Filling The Void” is beautiful. There’s blues, jazz and rock ’n’ roll, but a majority of it is in the serious singer-songwriter confessional zone. When did you turn into Joni Mitchell?
Kirke: Hey, Duke Ellington said there’s only two types of music: good and bad. I like all styles. I’ve been singing and playing guitar for 45 years and have always written songs. It’s just something most people don’t associate with me. I’ve contributed the odd song with Free and Bad Company. I co-wrote the song “Bad Company” with Paul Rodgers, in fact. A lot of my songs were not suited to that style, and they’d get put on the back burner. I love James Taylor. I love Joni. Dylan, too. I love Jackson Browne and Leonard Cohen. I’ve accumulated over 30 songs.
This album has exorcized some of your demons, hasn’t it? Lyrically, you’ve dug deep and personal. The title track, about your addiction, is quite profound.
Kirke: Well, yeah, I don’t mind saying I’ve been in several rehabs. I’ve had trouble with substance abuse over the years. One of the counselors recommended I write songs about it as part of my therapy. It’s not meant to be embarrassing or make people squirm. It’s just telling it like it is. Addiction doesn’t carry the stigma that it used to. If I can help someone by telling them about it, then all well and good.
You’re right in line with many recovering addicts and alcoholics who want to take the anonymous part away from people in recovery. They say disclosure will do more good.
Kirke: I agree. Look, the guy who started me and a lot of other people down the road to sobriety is Eric Clapton, whether he knows it or not. He was one of the first guys to go public. Elton John and Alice Cooper, too. Alice, actually, might’ve been the very first guy in our business who threw up his hands and said, “I’m a drunk and I’m trying to get better.” Had they kept it secret, I think a lot of people might not have realized it about themselves.
Wasn’t it, ultimately, the rock-star lifestyle? Or is that too simplistic?
Kirke: It’s a case of growing up. Some people have addictive personalities, and they cannot stop. There are friends of mine who shall remain nameless who gave it all up. They had their 10 years of frolicking and carousing, and now they lead normal lives. Others don’t make it. They can’t stop. They die. Period. My drug use and drinking was highest when Bad Company was at its highest. We could do no wrong! When you bathe yourself in that applause night after night, and women are hurling themselves at you, and men are offering you all sorts of substances, and you’re getting first-class treatment wherever you go, you develop a false sense of grandiosity and self-worth. It’s a dream/nightmare. You never want it to end. I’m lucky to be alive.
“Message From The Lost” recounts your experiences as a driver for the Red Cross in New York City for six weeks after 9/11.
Kirke: You never forget. I saw relatives of those who were killed, and those images stayed with me ever since.
I had no idea you were such a good singer.
Kirke: When you’re in a band with Paul Rodgers, you don’t really have much of a chance. He’s so wonderful. The whole Bad Company sound was based around his singing, so the limited vocals I did were back-up harmony. I’ve always loved to sing. Now, I do shows where I play piano and guitar and get to sing for an hour and a half and I love it!