For more than 45 years, Paul Rodgers has been one of the most powerful voices in all of rock music.
The front man of Bad Company has also fronted Free and The Firm; he can also say that he’s performed with the members of Queen. He’ll be stopping by Spotlight 29 for a Valentine’s Day performance on Saturday, Feb. 14.
Paul Rodgers is originally from Middlesbrough, a large industrial town in the northeast region of England.
“It was heavy industry,” Rodgers said during a recent phone interview. “It was shipbuilding, steelwork and chemicals. It was very bridge-y as I remember it. It’s changed an awful lot now, because a lot of the shipbuilding went to Japan, and the steelworks went to other places—but chemicals are still there, actually. We had the most amazing sunsets because there are so many chemicals in the air.”
Rodgers credited the atmosphere in Middlesbrough for helping him to become a musician.
“I have happy memories as a child, because there were parks where we would go to play, and strangely, there was a great deal of interest in music. By the time I was of the age to go to clubs when I was 13 and 14, there was a lot of great music around.”
Those club visits led to Rodgers taking up singing.
“I started out singing when I was 14,” Rodgers said. “My strong influence was Otis Redding and a lot of the blues guys like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker—but I really discovered those people through the Rolling Stones. The power of that music reached out to me and really made a strong connection. What I loved about it was the passion that these singers had for the music. When I heard (soul/R&B duo) Sam and Dave singing, I thought, ‘Wow! I would love to be able to sing like that.’ I’ve been trying ever since.”
One of the first bands Rodgers was in was Free, a blues-rock band that also included bassist Andy Fraser, Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke. The band was reportedly an incredible live act, but sales of Free’s albums were slow—at first. The group eventually went on to sell more 20 million albums and were later named “British Hard-Rock Pioneers” by Rolling Stone.
After Free dissolved, Rodgers and Kirke formed Bad Company with Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. The rest is history: Bad Company became one of the most successful bands of the ’70s.
“We were into the stadiums in the U.S. very quickly, and we loved it. When I first came to America with Free, we were definitely not ready. We didn’t have the equipment or the organization to play very well in these huge arenas. Eventually, when I came back with Bad Company, we were much more prepared for that kind of venue. We had the management; we had the songs; we had the equipment. We had a private airplane that could take us from one show to the next, and we really could cover a lot of ground. We were doing six to nine nights in a row. We loved it, and we were flying high—but it got to be a bit much toward the end. In my opinion, theaters provide the best of the arena and club attributes. There’s a kind of intimacy there that doesn’t get too big.”
In the mid-’80s, Rodgers formed The Firm, which also included Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, Uriah Heep drummer Chris Slade and session bassist Tony Franklin. However, the band was short-lived.
“At that time, I had left Bad Company because I had come off the road and wanted to spend more time at home, and I had built a studio in my house,” Rodgers explained. “There was a very sad demise of Led Zeppelin as a result of John Bonham’s death. Jimmy and I were with the same record company and management, but Jimmy started coming around to my studio, and we started to write songs together. Jimmy really wanted to go on the road, and he was very keen to take the band out to do the whole thing, but I was less keen, and we came to a compromise to where we would do only two albums, and that would be it. That’s really what we did and why we didn’t continue, but we are still really good friends.”
Through the years, Bad Company became one of history’s most influential rock bands. Many bands covered the group’s title song—and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” was famously covered by electrolarynx-using Ned during the infamous “Chef Aid” episode of South Park.
“I thought it was a vast improvement, I must say,” Rodgers said with a laugh. “I laughed and thought it was great.”
During the ’90s into the early 2000s, Rodgers focused on his solo career before eventually reuniting with Bad Company for a couple of years. In 2004, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen approached Rodgers with the idea of a collaboration—and the band Queen + Paul Rodgers was born. The group performed Queen songs as well as Bad Company songs.
“It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” Rodgers said. “You have to remember in my history that I don’t join bands; I form them. This was the first band that I actually joined forces with. They did play my songs as well and did a beautiful job, so it was kind of a deal that we would play my songs, and I would sing theirs. In the end, after four years, they felt they were up and running, and I didn’t really feel that it was happening, and I returned to my life and my music. I was happy to have had a hand in resurrecting Queen, and their fans were fantastic. They really were great. ”
It’s been said that the members of the Doors tried to replace Jim Morrison with Paul Rodgers after Morrison’s death.
“It was way back in the ’70s, and I didn’t find out about it until years and years later when I bumped into Robby Krieger. … He told me, ‘We got on a plane; we went to England, and we were looking for you,’” Rodgers said. “I said, ‘Really? Why?’ Robbie said, ‘We wanted you to join, but we couldn’t find you. So we got in the plane and went home.’ I was completely amazed by that, and it wouldn’t have been possible, because I was forming Bad Company at that time. But it was a huge compliment—and who doesn’t love The Doors? But Jim Morrison was such a huge part of who they were, and I don’t know if it would have worked.”
Rodgers most recent album, The Royal Sessions, was released last year, and consists of songs that inspired Rodgers when he was growing up; works by Isaac Hayes, Albert King, Burt Bacharach and others are included. The Royal Sessions was recorded in Memphis with some of the city’s most legendary session players.
“All the session players are from Memphis, and are all from the Royal Studios, which is where they played with people like Isaac Hayes, Albert King and Al Green. My producer, Perry Margouleff, called me and said, ‘You’ve always told me you had a dream about coming to Memphis and to play with the musicians who played on all these great records that you used to listen to. Here’s your chance.’”
Rodgers said he has no plans to retire. However, he is taking time to stop and smell the figurative roses.
“This year, I’m only playing a limited number of shows—just nine in North America,” he said. “Elvis Presley sent me a note back in the ’70s that said, ‘Take time to live.’ I never understood what that meant, but I do now. I want to keep each show very special, and so I’m taking time to live.”
Rodgers recently became a Canadian citizen and is living in his adopted home of Vancouver.
“I met a beautiful woman, and she stole my heart away. I’m very happy to live there. She’s Canadian, of course, and that’s why,” Rodgers said. “I was commuting back and forth from London to Vancouver, and I began staying longer and longer, and I said to her, ‘You know, I think I live here.’ She said, ‘Yep, I think you do; let’s get married.’ It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Paul Rodgers will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14, at Spotlight 29, 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella. Tickets are $45 to $75. For tickets or more information, call (760) 775-5566, or visit www.spotlight29.com.