Growing up in northwest England, Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers felt an uncanny kinship with the bluesmen of the Mississippi Delta.
“I really identified with the blues,” explained Rodgers, who now calls British Columbia home. “A lot of working class kids in England did. We identified with their passion for freedom.”
Over the past four decades, the legendary singer-songwriter has secured his place in rock ’n’ roll history, first finding fame with the blues-rock band Free, best known for the song “All Right Now,” in the late 1960s.
He achieved further success as lead singer of rock supergroup Bad Company in the ’70s and early ’80s, dominating the charts with the hit singles “Can’t Get Enough,” “Feel Like Making Love” and “Shooting Star.” The following decades brought collaborations with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page (The Firm), The Who drummer Kenney Jones (The Law) and remaining Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor (Queen + Paul Rodgers).
Rodgers will perform tonight with co-headliner Joan Jett and the Blackhearts at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. The Grammy nominee describes his solo show as “a walk through my musical life.”
“Music really did keep me off the streets,” Rodgers said, at a time when “a lot of my friends were running wild. Music gave me a focus and a discipline, an expression and an outlet.”
Q: You have one of the most recognizable voices in rock history. What shaped your personal sound?
A: I think it’s a God-given gift, initially. I’ve worked very hard listening to great people.
When I was a kid, I was attracted to a lot of soul and blues greats: Ray Charles, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Elmo James, BB King
I owe the Rolling Stones a bit (for) that. I used to listen to their music. They covered a lot of blues and a lot of soul. I thought, “Where does this come from? It feels like it comes from a whole different world.”
Q: You’re English, yet you sing with an American accent. Why?
A: I sing with the accent of rock ’n’ roll, I think. I grew up somehow in the Delta, spiritually, listening to these guys.
I like singing authentically. The people I listen to are very authentic. John Lee Hooker lived the life. He really understood what went down for a man growing up in those times.
Q: Over the decades, you’ve formed and led some awesome bands. What’s the secret to putting together the perfect group?
A: For me, it’s the chemistry. It’s not a matter of putting famous people together. I look for people with ability, but who have a real energy and an enthusiasm for what they’re doing. In my current band, we’re very enthusiastic about what we do.
Q: You’ve recorded so many songs over the years. Are there certain hits you don’t play any more?
A: “All Right Now,” I sort of have to play now. A lot of people don’t realize I did not play (that song) for 20 years. When I was with Bad Company or The Firm, each band had its own repertoire.
I’m in a great position now where I’m playing solo (so) I feel justified to lift songs from each band.
Q: Speaking of Bad Company, not many bands have their own theme song.
A: I actually came up with that song long before thinking of using it for the name for the band. (Guitarist) Mick Ralphs and I were looking for names. We’d call each other and try them out. It’d be the first thing we said.
I called him up one day and I said, “Bad Company.” That’s all I said. There was a sort of shuffling sound. I said, “Mick are, you there?” “Yeah, I dropped the phone. That’s it. That’s the name of the band.”
Q: What was the inspiration behind the name?
A: There was a movie out (at the time) called “Bad Company.” I thought, “That’s a great combination of words.” I started to picture a story around that name. I visualized a vast wide-open desert with the very early settlers, (when) the only law was the morals you carried in your heart.
I was also inspired by a picture I saw when I was a kid, in a book on Victorian morals.
It had a picture of this really scruffy Dickensian guy, dressed as a toff — that’s a gentleman—with a top hat and shoes. Everything was raggedy. He had his thumb hooked in his vest and he was smoking his pipe. There’s this innocent choirboy kid looking up with awe and admiration. Then it said, “Beware of bad company.”
Q: Let’s talk about your stint with Queen + Paul Rodgers.
A: That’s the only band I’ve ever not actually formed or joined forces with. I formed Free with Paul Kossoff, Bad Company with Mick Ralphs, The Firm and the Law with Jimmy Page.
We did a TV program together in the UK for Island Records. We both wanted to play live.
(Queen guitarist) Brian (May) made me a deal: “If you’ll come up and be our singer for ‘We Are the Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You,’ we’ll be your backing band on ‘All Right Now.’ ” I thought, “That sounds pretty good.”
In my mind, we were only going to do a few shows for fun.We did two world tours.
Q: You’ve described the experience as “very challenging.”
A: They’d have a lot of attempts to find a singer that they could go on tour with. A lot of people had tried. . I found it hugely challenging to be the final cog in that wheel so they could be Queen again.
Their music is very different from mine. Their lyrics I’ve found are very wordy.
My lyrics are very simple. I like to leave a lot of space for adlibbing and movement. I’m a little restricted if there are a lot of words.
Q: Is there any other band you’d like to sing with? I understand Aerosmith approached you at one point to replace Steven Tyler during “American Idol.”
A: I never really considered that seriously. I sat down and thought, “I think it’d be nice to join the band, but it’s really good what Steve’s doing. It’s going to highlight their whole career. It will completely revitalize them.”
I was also asked (to join) The Doors. Apparently — I heard this many years later — they came over to England but couldn’t find me. I was in the countryside putting Bad Company together.
Most of the bands are complete within themselves. I’m quite happy with what I’m doing.
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.