By Ken Sharp
Signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records label, Bad Company were a veritable supergroup in the making, boasting an impressive musical pedigree, its members earning their stripes in such respected outfits as Free, Mott the Hoople and King Crimson. Bad Company — Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs, Boz Burrell and Simon Kirke — exploded onto the early ’70s music scene, their mighty musical arsenal built on swagger and muscular grooves, a bruising musicality and Rodgers’ soulful vocals.
In 1974, America welcomed Bad Company like conquering heroes. It was a musical love affair at first sight. Success was swift and immediate. The album’s debut single, “Can’t Get Enough” skyrocketed to No. 5 on the U.S. charts while the album topped the Billboard charts and became one of the year’s top sellers. Reaction to this band from fans and press alike on their first U.S. tour was so extraordinary that Bad Company made the leap from support act to headliner in record time. Between 1974-79, Bad Company could do no wrong. Their albums, “Bad Company,” “Straight Shooter,” “Run with the Pack,” “Burning Sky” and “Desolation Angels” burned up the charts and were all Platinum sellers, while on the concert trail they routinely sold out arenas nationwide. One thing was clear, both audience and band were truly living out their own rock ‘n’ roll fantasies.
And the fantasy lives on in 2015 – the band released two souped-up 2-CD Deluxe Editions of the band’s first two albums, “Bad Company” and “Straight Shooter,” each accompanied by a revelatory bonus disc with outtakes, alternate tracks and B-sides. We sat down with the band’s legendary lead singer Paul Rodgers for a look back at a life in good company.
Goldmine: I understand you were initially reticent about doing Deluxe Editions of the first two Bad Company albums, why?
Paul Rodgers: When they first mooted this idea I said, “What we released in the studio was what we wanted released. Everything else really was the working tapes to get to the point of the master. How could it be of any interest to anyone?” But I said, “Send me the tapes.” So I listened to the tapes and I found myself quite fascinated because you forget; I mean, it’s 40 years ago. But here was some of the working tapes and material with some very dodgy lyrics. (laughs) But you were trying things out. I found it all rather interesting. There were a couple of songs I’d completely forgotten that we recorded during the session for Straight Shooter, “See the Sunlight” and “All Night Long.” I thought, “What the heck is this? Wow!” It sort of unfolds as a memory. Have you ever had that happen?
Gm: They’re both really strong tracks and would have fit quite well on “Straight Shooter.”
PR: I know; the only reason I can think we didn’t put them on is we were limited being vinyl to 18 minutes a side. We never liked to go over 18 minutes a side because the overall sound suffered; the grooves got tighter and you lost a bit of quality of sound. So we may have just pulled them so we were able to stay under 18 minutes a side.
Gm: There’s a tape reel reproduced in the Deluxe Edition package of the first Bad Company album which lists Paul Rodgers as the artist. Was this project initially intended as a solo project?
PR: No, that must have been a mistake. That can happen; you’ve gotta watch what people write down on tape boxes. It can end up being the title of the song. I can go back to when I wrote “Mourning Sad Morning” for Free. I think the tape op said, “It would be really good to spell morning as mourning.” And I said, “No, it’s ‘Morning Sad Morning’ but somehow it got written down and somehow that’s how it appeared on the album. That happened with Bad Company for the song “Downhill Ryder.” If I’m not mistaken, somebody said, “Yeah, ‘Downhill Rider’ but spell it ‘Ryder’.” And I was like, “No, that’s a company that delivers goods. (laughs) It’s r-i-d-e-r.” I think it ended up as ‘Downhill Ryder” on the “Rough Diamonds” album, proving you’ve gotta watch what’s written on those tape boxes.
Gm: Both Deluxe Editions are out on vinyl.
PR: I have to say, all vinyl is not created equal. It needs to be copied from the tape, not digital to get the full range of sound. What some people are doing now is they’re jumping on the vinyl bandwagon and they’re taking from digital and putting in on vinyl.
Gm: That’s so backwards.
PR: Yeah, I know, it’s crazy. It’s gotta come from tape. But these vinyl Deluxe Editions come from the tape. You get two LPs; one of the original album and one all of the outtakes, so if anybody had worn the original out they can have the vinyl again. I’m pleased with the record company and the way they’ve handled everything. It’s been very, very good.
Gm: “Little Miss Fortune” was another strong B-side from the first album sessions that deserved a place on the album.
PR: We played that song on the first tour. I learned a lesson from Jimi Hendrix when he released the single “Hey Joe,” and on the other side was “Stone Free.” Up until that point, every single that I bought there was a real throwaway on the other side and it wasn’t very good. I was really impressed that Hendrix would include a completely new track as a B-side that was really good. You could have almost turned the thing over and made the other side the single. I always took that to heart. We wouldn’t just put any old crap thing on the B-side; we’d try to put something good on it and that’s certainly the case with “Little Miss Fortune.”
GM: The unreleased track “Superstar Woman,” later released on a Bad Co. anthology in 1999, was recut for your debut solo LP “Cut Loose.”
PR: We were staying at Headley Grange, this big old haunted mansion, and we had the mobile studio outside and all the gear was set up for rehearsal in this very large living room with a fireplace at the end of it. It was great because we’d have a log fire going. My wife at the time or one of the girls got on the drums while I was playing piano and I started singing, (sings) “Well, my baby she’s a superstar…” I wrote the song around that. I think there’s some quite nice changes in that one. (sings) “When I see you burning down the highway.” As for recutting the song, when I did my first solo album, “Cut Loose,” I did an awful lot of things and I still have loads of tapes form those days. I came to a point of deciding what should I put on the album and I quite liked “Superstar Woman,” so I included my version of it on the album.
GM: In listening back to the generous array of outtakes, alternate cuts and demos on the “Bad Company” and “Straight Shooter” Deluxe Editions, were there some takes you deemed better than what was released on the finished record?
PR: Yeah, there are takes that I didn’t know we didn’t use on the albums. There’s a take of “Shooting Star” which is a little bit more up in the tempo and it’s shorter and that’s really good. But who knows? It’s a spontaneous thing and you have to listen to how you feel in the moment at the time. I really like the previously unreleased early slow version of “Weep No More.” I thought the strings were gorgeous on that.
GM: With the overwhelming success of the first album, No. 1 in the States with a Top 5 single in “Can’t Get Enough,” knowing you now had an audience anxiously anticipating this new album, did that add a layer of pressure?
PR: It was a nice kind of pressure because now people were looking to hear what we had proved. We liked it and they liked it and it was a really nice combination coming back into the studio after that first successful album. When we recorded that first album it was just songs that we liked, and we kept our fingers crossed that other people would like it. Well, hey, they loved it. So when we got back in the studio, we wanted to recreate what we’d done in a way and that meant holding on to the values that we’d had going into the first album. Those values were, “Do we like it?” We weren’t just recording it for a certain market or to try and fit in what‘s going on out there in the world. We wanted to keep our integrity and hold on to the idea of, this is what we believe in.
GM: Listening to the new Deluxe Editions of “Bad Company” and “Straight Shooter,” do you have an increased appreciation of their merits?
PR: It’s all part of the story. I have affection for each album because it reflects what we were going through at that time and what I was going through personally and what the band were going through. So it reflects the moment in time and captures it. I have an affection for all of the albums and the tracks. If you start with the first one, there we were a fledgling band, just four guys with a bunch of material with this amazing opportunity to be in the studio and just lay it all down, which we did and people liked it. We didn’t know what the word organic meant at the time but it was very natural and we did it from the heart. Then the next album, “Straight Shooter,” was the story of the success ‘cause in a way, yes, we were much more confident as a band. We had been on stage in arenas and seen the reaction of people. We had jelled more. You’ve got to realize, there might be 20,000 people in an arena, but it’s just the four of you on that stage. Sometimes people forget but it’s only four of us. It was an amazing journey and an amazing trip.
GM: What gave the band the confidence to self-produce your albums?
PR: We didn’t want our sound to be interpreted through anybody. We wanted to be able to play it in the studio and get the best version we could and then walk out on stage and repeat that and possibly even do it better. We did play around with strings a little bit on some of the things but that was just a matter of being different I guess.
GM: Was there a mass consensus within the band that “Can’t Get Enough” would be the obvious first single?
PR: Mick was very shy about the song, strangely enough. Mott the Hoople weren’t interested in it because it wasn’t really their style. But as soon as I heard it I always championed the song right from the start. Right when Peter (Grant) called me up and said, “Now are you sure you want ‘Can’t Get Enough’ to be the first single?” and I said, “Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt!” To me it was such a no-brainer. I didn’t even consider the song “Bad Company” as a single. I always thought of it as an album track and a big-stage track. But strangely enough, I was proven entirely wrong by the hit that Five Finger Death Punch had with it. But anyhow, “Can’t Get Enough” went straight to No. 1, so thankfully I was right about that one.
GM: In terms of the space, soul and economy of sound, “Can’t Get Enough” could be a hard rock Booker T. & the M.G.’s track.
PR: (laughs) Interesting. When I made my solo album, “The Royal Sessions,” down in Memphis, we did a version of “Can’t Get Enough” and it did fit right into that groove with the brass. We recorded live at the Albert Hall and we have footage of that and we did a version of “Can’t Get Enough.” In due course we’ll get that out.
GM: You and Mick both wrote hits for Bad Company on your own but you often teamed up as well with songs like “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Deal with the Preacher,” for example. What made the songwriting partnership with Mick Ralphs click?
PR: We were both very much on the same wave length. When we first met, he was with Mott the Hoople and I was with Peace and we were touring together. We got together a lot in the band room and we’d play around. We had a lot in common. The songs he wrote were very much the kind of songs I could sing like “Ready for Love,” “Can’t Get Enough” and songs like that. He understood what I liked to sing and I understood where he was coming from when he writes. Like I said, we had a lot in common. With “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” for instance, we sat down and said, “What do you got? We need some songs for the album.” I played him the idea of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” (sings) “Baby, when I think about you…” I told him I hadn’t finished it yet and Mick listened to that and said, “You might want to try this?” (imitates power chord in song) And then I went, “Yeah, that sounds good” and started singing (sings) “Feel like Makin Love” over the top of that. Then we went to the end of the chorus and looked to each other and said, “How are we gonna get out of this?” (laughs) Then I started singing, “Feel like Makin’ love to you…” and Mick just followed that. It was pretty magical when things that like happened.
GM: As a singer, did your approach change from the way you sang with Free to Bad Company?
PR: For me, it was a continuation of where I left off with Free. We had a good writing team with myself and Andy (Fraser). I was really just continuing on. Bad Company were a heavier band and more stadium-oriented in a way because we’d been out and seen Blind Faith and seen Edgar Winter hitting the big stadiums and we sort of understood that you need big spacey chords in a big spacey environment and lots of little twiddling doesn’t really come across, so you need (imitates power chords). I think there was an understanding and a desire in us to get across to the very back of the room.
GM: As a vocalist, you favor singing as few takes of a song in the studio so you can capture the essence and spontaneity of a song. Was that your approach back then with Bad Company?
PR: That was my modus operandi. I tried to capture a spontaneous feeling of being in the moment, not like we’d done it 400 times and here we go again. So it had to have that sport of sparkle. If I had to sing something too many times you’d kind of lose the feel, so I’d move on and then come back to it fresh. So I wouldn’t necessarily sing three takes and then walk away. It would be, OK, let’s leave this and come back to it when we’ve been somewhere else, mentally and musically. With Bad Company, when laying down vocals I was able to find the essence pretty quickly because I like to do a lot of the actual leg work in the rehearsal room. I don’t like to be rehearsing on studio time because it’s so darn expensive. With rehearsals you can go through a song a million times and make sure everybody’s got the arrangement and it gives you the opportunity to change lyrics and to change or add a chorus. You’re still doing that a little bit when you get into the studio; things are still subject to change. Everybody gets in the studio and feels a little bit different. You capture what we feel at that moment.
GM: Take us back to Bad Company’s first U.S. tour, which found the group opening for the Edgar Winter Group. Was there a pivotal moment when you realized the band had broken through in a big way?
PR: I think the moment for me was coming off stage and Peter (Grant) invited us offstage into a separate band room in the back of the arena. We thought, “Oh dear, what’s up now? It’s one of those meetings.” We thought that maybe somebody had done something and gone over the top and now we’re all gonna get in trouble. Anyway, so he had these things covered up against the chairs and he said, “Lads, you’ve worked really hard and I want to show you what you’ve achieved.” And he pulled the wrapping off these things and there were four Gold albums and we were No. in America. That was the moment where it hit us at that point that things had changed for the better.
GM: The members of the band had previous success with Free, Mott the Hoople and King Crimson. With Bad Company enjoying massive success out of the gate, did the onset of that kind of unprecedented success make it easier to navigate with past experience?
Paul: Yeah, I think so. It was a fresh start for all of us and we brought that to it. It was like a brand new marriage in a way. We loved each other and we loved what we each did and what we each brought to the band. Everybody was very supportive of everybody else. If I’d bring in a song, Mick, Boz and Simon would be there and into it. That was a thing that got stronger and stronger as the band went on. But I think in the end, ultimately, we sort of burned out a little bit and that’s probably why I left the band really. I had to get that break and take that rest. But I still had an affection for the band.
GM: When was the band at its peak, as a live act in the ‘70s?
PR: That’s a big question. You have to go back so many years because there was a lot of excitement. One of the things that did happen with us, with Clive, our tour manager, he was forever putting an extra month on the tour. I mean three months was great and then he’d say, “Well, we’ve got these fantastic shows…” and we’d all look at each other and go, “Well, we were kind of getting ready to go home.” But he said, “Yeah, but it’ll be great, well go here we’ll go there!” That’s when it could get a little overwhelming. I remember Peter (Grant) stepping in at one point and going, “C’mon Clivey, you’re killing the boys; they’ve gotta have a break.” So he cut it down to two weeks of extra shows. (laughs) I suppose it was a touch overwhelming at times, but we never really lost it and kept our feet on the ground.
GM: It’s pretty amazing when you look at the band’s output in the ‘70s, how prolific you were; the band issued four albums in a five-year period and also embarking on world tours as well.
PR: I think we burned it a little bit. The ball was rolling and the feeling was, “Let’s keep going, let’s keep going” but I think we did burn it a little bit. We singed ourselves around the edges a little bit with our enthusiasm because we did want to keep going and you can only keep going at that level so much without some sort of break. I remember getting to the point of doing the “Burnin’ Sky” album and feeling, Wow, I don’t know if we can keep this up. We need to slow down a bit. But the thing had a momentum of its own and you just kept going. I remember being in a hotel room in Paris writing the title track the night before we recorded it. I actually went into the studio without the lyrics. I only had the music for it and the chorus, (sings) “the sky is burning…” So I taught the band the song and they thought I had all the lyrics but I had no lyrics at all. Push the red button and I made the entire thing up. (sings) “Waiting for the van to arrive…” and all of that; I just totally made it up on the spot. Talk about pressure. (laughs)
GM: Any plans for solo shows this year?
PR: I only play about 15 to 20 concerts each year. I travel less now, so that’s’ why I try to do the DVDs so the fans can have the concert experience. I’m still working very hard even though it doesn’t sound like a lot of shows. Each one of them is very special to me. GM