By Martin Popoff
Could Bad Company be the most American British band ever? There were a few of them plying their trades a couple generations on from the British blues boom, but none were more successful than Bad Company. The band’s music plays with almost comic frequency on classic rock radio stations to this day.
That popularity is evidenced by Rhino’s 2014 reissues of the band’s first two albums, “Bad Company” and “Straight Shooter” on 180-gram vinyl. Guitarist Mick Ralphs talks about living life large next to Led Zeppelin and both bands’ big man, Peter Grant.
GOLDMINE: To start off, Mick, why do you think those first two Bad Company records endure? Why do you think there’s still an interest in Bad Company’s early material?
MICK RALPHS: It’s fantastic really, because we didn’t anticipate it. It just happened to strike the right chord with people. I think there was some fatigue with the so-called progressive rock, with it all getting a bit namby-pamby, with bands going in and spending seven months in the studio and coming out with sort of concept albums. It was all getting a bit — what’s the word? — it wasn’t straightforward enough. What we were playing was based on the blues, and it cut through all that sort of crap, really, because it was straightforward, plain and simple. It was a good alternative at the time, and people latched onto it. It was simplistic, it was raw, it was bluesy and it was soulful.
GM: And yet, how did your bassist Boz Burrell [1946-2006] feel, coming into something like that out of King Crimson? Did he feel at all out of step?
MR: He didn’t, actually. He was a bass player and he was a singer, and he was a great sort of blues singer, soul singer, before he took up the bass. So he took up the bass when he got the job with King Crimson. He applied for the job, and they wanted a bass player who could sing pretty well. He could sing, but he couldn’t play bass, but he applied for the job anyway (laughs). They took him on, but I think he did it just to get his foot in the door, you know, get in a band and play bass. When he came to us, he’d been working with people like Steve Marriott and Alexis Korner, so his roots were in the same spot as ours, really.
GM: In forming Bad Company, was it a specific plan to work with Paul Rodgers, or were there actually other people that potentially could’ve wound up the lead singer of this new group?
MR: Well, Mott The Hoople was on tour with Paul. He was supporting Mott The Hoople in a band he had called Peace, which was a three-piece band. We got to talking, as you do when you’re on the road, about songs and music, and I said, “I’ve got a load of songs that we’re not doing in Mott.” And Ian was very fair. He said, “Look, they’re great songs, but I can’t sing them with my voice, but they need to be out.” And so I put it to Paul and he said, “Well, I can sing that; I can sing that.” “Can’t Get Enough.” “Movin’ On.” “Ready For Love.” So we decided to do some writing together, before we had the idea to form a band, which is what we did. And Paul and I were sitting around — you know, I was doing Mott at the time — but we were sitting down, going through songs and writing songs, and then (drummer) Simon (Kirke) turned up out of the blue to visit Paul. And I said to Paul, “Well, all we need is a bass player and we’ve got a group.” (Laughs). So it came together in a sort of accidental way. We took a while to find the right bass player, and we ended up with Boz. So I finished a tour with Mott The Hoople in ’73, and then after that I got together with Paul and Simon, and we started rehearsing what became the first album.
GM: What did engineer Ron Nevison do for your sound?
MR: Well, we recorded the first two on a mobile studio, which was Ronnie Lane’s mobile. It was in an Airstream caravan, it was 16-track, and he was the engineer that came with the mobile. So we went to record the first album, because Peter Grant had said to us, “Look, I’ve got this studio booked.” Well, it was actually an empty house with a mobile. And Zeppelin had cancelled, for whatever reason. “Would you like to go in there?” So we said yes, and Ron was already there working with the truck. So we just used him because he was, you know, the guy that came in the truck. He was very good and got the band’s sound pretty much right away, and used it again on the second album, “Straight Shooter,” on the same setup, but at a different location.
GM: And now, all these years later, these records are back on vinyl …
MR: Yes! It’s a big thing, especially in this country, about vinyl. Which, obviously, in the day, the record was what we played — it was a vinyl album, with an A-side and a B-side, and you’d string the songs together. My youngest son is in a band, and he’s very much into vinyl, and they put out a vinyl album, which … it sounds a lot better, really. And I remember the excitement in the early days, getting a new album and putting it on. People would come around and you’d go listen to it, like a social event. It’s a shame people don’t do that anymore. It’s not social thing to do, because it’s available anywhere. In the early days of rock, before Bad Company, we used to live in a flat together and people would suddenly come around with “Abbey Road” or Neil Young or something, and you’d sit around and read the album notes and listen to the record. It was a very tactile thing, great experience. So hopefully, people will be able to experience some of that when they get the vinyl versions of the first two albums.
GM: What do you think manager Peter Grant contributed to your success?
MR: Well, he contributed a lot. Because he saw the potential in us, especially in our early days. He put us in that studio where Zeppelin was supposed to be. He never actually told us what to do musically; he just pointed us in the right direction. But I think he got it as well. He could see the strength and the potential in the band, at an early, early stage, and he always said, “Look, I know nothing about music. All I can do is open doors for you, and you’ll have to do the rest.” So he left it up to us, really, to play what we play. But he had a great belief in what we were doing, as he did with Zeppelin, which, in a manager, is fantastic to have that on your side, where he’s actually personally involved in the band and the people.
GM: Any anecdotes to sort of demonstrate what kind of person he was?
MR: Well, he was bloody hilarious, but he was also very intimidating if you got on the wrong side of him. I remember one of the first big gigs we did in London, a big festival at a place called Charlton, which was a football ground. We were due to go on quite early in the day, and a band called Lindisfarne was going to go on, who were quite big at the time. And it was getting dusk, which obviously, you know, that’s the best time to go on, when it’s getting dark and the lights come on. That’s the most impact you can get, on a festival situation, rather than closing it. When it goes from day to night, that’s the peak time to make the most impact. So he suddenly said, “Oh, Mick, your car’s broken down, isn’t it?” And I said, “What?” And he said, “Yeah, you’re gonna be late, aren’t you?” So he basically told me to come in late to the gig. And then when we got there — we all arrived from different places — he was pretending to be furious with us. “You bloody musicians! You make me look stupid. You turn up late, and now the main band has had to go on in your slot!” So it was a trick, really, to get us the best spot. He was waving his finger, but all the time he was winking at me. (Laughs). GM