It's a classic rock and roll fantasy come true.
For the first time in 15 years, the original
lineup of Bad Company is back.
Reprinted with permission from Guitar
World, April '99 issue.
Their straight-up rock style blasted from FM radios across America day and night. But
their music still sounds remarkably current today, and is as solid a staple of album rock
radio now as it was 20 years ago.
So it's fitting that the original Bad Company lineup -- Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs, Boz
Burrell and Simon Kirke -- have come together once again. They've recorded four brand-new
tunes for the recently released Original Bad Co. Anthology (Elektra) double-disc
archival set, which will also include greatest hits and previously unreleased tracks. A
string of live dates is on tap as well. (This is the first time Rodgers has performed with
Bad Company since the original lineup split in 1982.)
"It was very much like the old days in many ways," says the husky-voiced
singer, describing the band's reunion, in an English recording studio. "It was a
little tricky at first, but then I counted off 'Can't Get Enough,' and the band suddenly
locked in. Everyone remembered, 'Ah, this is what it feels like to be Bad Company."'
The Bad Company formula is a simple yet winning one, composed in equal parts of Ralphs'
big-shouldered power chording, Rodgers' soul-inflected vocals and the thudding rhythms
generated by Kirke's drumming and Burrell's bass work. All four players were seasoned vets
by the time Bad Company formed in 1973. Ralphs had been with the superb Mott the Hoople,
who'd landed David Bowie as their producer and racked up a big hit with 'All the Young
Dudes," but whose latter day Bowie-inspired glam direction wasn't quite to Ralphs'
taste. Rodgers and Kirke were veterans of Free, who scored big with the classic "All
Right Now" only to disintegrate in a druggy tailspin. Last to join the group, Burrell
had been a member of King Crimson, playing alongside oblique guitar strategist Robert
Fripp. Shortly after Bad Company got together, they formed an alliance with Led Zeppelin
manager Peter Grant and signed with Zeppelin's then-brand-new label, Swan Song.
Bad Company's 1974 self-titled album debut (Swan Song/Atlantic) was an auspicious one,
to say the least, yielding no less than than four tracks that went into perpetual rock
radio rotation: "Can't Get Enough," "Movin' On," "Bad
Company" and "Ready for Love." The album also burnt in the group's image,
which was based not so much on band members' personalities or looks as on the desperado
imagery of Rodgers' lyrics and the records' Wild-West cover art. This struck a deep chord
in the American heartlands, and Bad Company's dice logo came to adorn many a giant belt
buckle and pickup-truck window.
Straight Shooter (Atlantic, 1975) -- the album with the dice cover --
delivered three more all-time classics: "Feel Like Makin' Love," "Good
Lovin' Gone Bad" and "Shooting Star." Run with the Pack (Atlantic,
1976) and Burnin' Sky (Atlantic, 1977) met with less commercial success but were
solid efforts nonetheless. Bad Company rallied with the 1979 hit "Rock and Roll
Fantasy" from Desolation Angels (Atlantic, 1979). By the time they came
apart, shortly after 1982's Electricland (Atlantic), they'd had a great run and
left an indelible mark on the classic rock canon.
Ralphs and Kirke soldiered on in different Bad Company lineups without Burrell or
Rodgers. But the original, as Dobie Gray once said, is still the greatest. On the eve of
their reunion tour, Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke took time to talk to Guitar
World about Bad Company's illustrious past and happy reunion.
GUITAR WORLD You first hooked up with Paul when you were still in Mott
the Hoople, didn't you, Mick?
MICK RALPHS Yeah. Mott the Hoople toured with this solo project band
that Paul had called Peace. We all knew him from Free, of course. We were on the same
label. I got to talking to him on the tour and played him some of the songs I'd written
that we weren't using in Mott, like "Can't Get Enough," "Movin' On"
and "Ready for Love." He loved them.
PAUL RODGERS Mick was very frustrated with Mott the Hoople, although he loved
the band. When he played me "Can't Get Enough," I remember saying to him,
"I can sing that. And it's a hit." He said, "Do you really think so?"
I said, "I'm absolutely certain."
GW Was Bad Company the first outside band signed to Swan Song, Led Zeppelin's
SIMON KIRKE Yeah. There were separate parties in New York, LA and London to
launch the label. The English one was pretty incredible. It was held in this string of
caves down in the south of England. I've never really gotten over it. There were strippers
dessed as nuns doing things with candles and crucifixes, and people lying in coffins.
There were all sorts of drink and goodies. I don't think anyone slept properly for three
months afterward. I think it was after that that we sort of shakily signed a contract. Now
I understand what it was all about: it was to lull us into a false sense of security. And
it certainly worked, because we had a great time for many years after.
GW Did the members of Led Zeppelin have an oar in the actual running of the
KIRKE I think they did, initially. I remember getting a pep talk from John
Bonham when we were in New York. He summoned us to a board meeting in the hotel and said,
"Now listen you guys, we got a lot of money invested in this label. Don't you go ****
it up. You behave yourself. This is from John Bonham. I felt like saying,
"Excuse me, Bonzo. Do you remember 1969 in Detroit?" But I didn't, because I was
the rookie and I deferred to his authority. It was always absolute mayhem whenever they
showed up at our gigs. You must remember, in the mid-Seventies Led Zeppelin was
phenomenally big. Jimmy Page would just come to a show when he had nothing else to do. I
remember he came to the Texas Jam in Austin, and the place went crazy when he came
unannounced on the stage. We did "Rock Me, Baby." The whole crowd surged
forward. I've never seen anything else like it.
GW The first Bad Company album was recorded in just 10 days?
KIRKE Yeah. Amazing, isn't it? It takes people 10 days to get a snare drum sound
GW How did you come up with the idea for the harmony leads on "Can't Get
RALPHS I'd figured that out long before we recorded it -- both the melody and
harmony part. Paul liked it, and I taught him the harmony part on guitar: We did it
together live on the record. That's why it's a little bit shaky toward the end! 'Cause he
was getting excited playing it. We did it in this old haunted house, standing in front of
this open fire with a couple of Marshalls outside the fireplace. We had the headphones on,
blasting along to the track. It was about two in the morning.
GW That was at Headley Grange [an old English country house that Led
Zeppelin had set up for recording]?
RALPHS Right. That was good fun. First album experience.
GW Was it really haunted?
RALPHS Well, is anything really haunted in England? It was a spooky sort of
house, I must admit. I think old houses do have atmosphere, depending on what happened in
them. It was an empty house, too, which felt a little weird. But it was okay, really. We
made enough noise to scare any would-be ghosts away. We had Ronnie Lane's mobile truck
parked outside and recorded it on that. I remember Paul sang the vocals outside. Simon had
the drums set up in a hallway.
GW The first album also features the group's signature song, "Bad
RODGERS At the time I wrote the song with Simon, there was no plan to call the
band Bad Company. It was just another song. Simon was around my house. I have a cottage in
the country in England that's about 200 years old. It's surrounded by woodland and is
very, very quiet. There are no street lights, so if you step outside you've only got the
moon and starlight. So it's very conducive to songwriting. I had a piano there at the time
-- a great big grand piano which completely filled one of the rooms. And I would work on
that. I think we were the first band to have a theme song around our own name. And that
set the mood for any kind of image we may have developed, which was along the lines of a
cowboy pioneer -- vast spaces, lawlessness. The kind of thing Europeans would have
experienced upon arriving in the old American West. KIRK. At that time -- l973 -- Clint
Eastwood was huge: all the spaghetti westerns; Fistful of Dollars and riders
riding through dry ice and all that stuff. The actual name came from an old Jeff Bridges
movie called Bad Company. We asked Warner Bros. if we could use the title of
their film as the name of our group. Copyrighting and trademarking weren't as big as they
are nowadays. We were just very polite and said, "We are an English rock band and
we'd like to use the name of your movie, Bad Company, for our rock group. Can
we?" They said yes. Twenty-five years later, it's still around.
RODGERS At first, we got a lot of opposition to the name from our record label
and management. They felt it was too strong. Dangerously strong. Now it seems quite
quaint. But back then, we had to fight for it.
GW One of the many cool things about the song is the way the guitar comes in at
the chorus. It sounds so low, like it was tuned down or something.
RALPHS That's because it's in a key you don't usually play guitars in: E flat.
Paul wrote the song on the piano, and he wasn't that good a piano player in those days. So
in E flat, you can just play on all the black notes, which is easier for novice pianists.
It's like "Chopsticks." You can pretty much play "Bad Company" on the
piano just using the black keys. If you put it into a different key it just doesn't sound
the same. So the first chord in the chorus would be D flat. It does sound low, but it was
done in regular tuning at concert pitch. On a Les Paul Junior, as I recall.
GW When Paul sings the line "six gun sound," you do a guitar effect.
What is that, exactly?
RALPHS I was trying to create a ricochet sound and didn't quite make it. I had
an echo unit and a volume pedal. I figured if I hit the note and then pulled the volume
back as I hit it, the echo would continue but the note would die away quickly. Something
like that, anyway.
GW Paul, you have something of a reputation as a one-take vocalist in the
studio. Not many takes, anyway. Is that true?
RODGERS Yeah, it is. But I have to be careful when I say that, because I don't
like to give the impression that I don't take a lot of time and care to do what I do. I
don't just walk in, sing it and drive off in a limo. Rather than spending a lot of time
repeating a song in a studio, I prefer to do the work in rehearsal -- get the right feel
going. And I try to get the band thinking along the same lines, so that when we set up in
the studio and hit it, it's just like we're on stage. In a recording studio, you're
necessarily in a very sterile environment because you want to get clean sounds on tape. To
get the right feel, you have to close your eyes and imagine you're doing a show that the
audience is watching. And that just doesn't work if you repeat a song a hundred times in
the studio, even with the best will in the world. Something goes out of it. It becomes a
GW Bad Company came up in the era of prog rock and glam. Yet you decided to
sidestep both those styles.
KIRKE It wasn't so much a sidestepping as a reply -- an attitude. We were sort
of anti-glam rock, the Bowie/Gary Glitter/Alice Cooper, slightly dubious gender, "is
he or isn't he" rock. Also Mott the Hoople, too, those bastards. They were
responsible for a lot of those six-inch heels and dresses. Really, if the truth be known,
we were more an extension of Free than of Mott or King Crimson. Free were a straight-ahead
bluesy rock band. And I think Bad Company really just carried on in that tradition. I
think having two of the primary members of Free in Bad Company insured that.
GW "Shooting Star" is another one of Paul's great narrative son -- a
classic rock story line.
RODGERS I wrote that one at my cottage in England, too. I was walking down the
garden path and started to sing it -- Johnny was a schoolboy when he heard his first
Beatles song." And I thought, "Where have I heard that before?" And then I
thought, "You know what, I haven't heard that before." I grabbed a guitar and
started to work on it, and the story just unfolded before me. I almost watched myself
write that one. It all wrote itself, really. I had been thinking, "Man, there's been
a lot of casualties in this business." At that particular time, you had Jimi Hendrix,
Janis Joplin ... just a catalog of people who didn't make it, who overdosed in their beds.
It got to them, one way or another -- the pressure, really, of trying to maintain your
standards in this business. That was the germ of the song. It's a story, and it's almost a
GW Many people were unaware of Paul's guitar contributions to Bad Company.
RODGERS I do play quite a bit, but I don't make a big song and dance out of it.
It's actually kind of accidental. I write on a lot of different instruments: piano,
electric guitar, acoustic guitar, even bass. And I'd often take a guitar along to
rehearsal and play along as a guide, with the intention of putting the guitar away once
everyone had learned the song. But sometimes it becomes integral to the arrangement, so
I'd keep playing it.
GW Is that how it was with the deep, flangy lead guitar lick for "Rock and
Roll Fantasy" you wrote and played on the record?
RODGERS Yeah. I had one of the very first synth guitars, a Roland. It actually
was alit-tie bit unreliable, to be perfectly honest. But sitting in your living room with
it, it did awesome things. You could flick a switch and it would become a six-string bass,
or a harpsichord or a raunchy guitar. So I thought, "Let's put everything in and see
what it sounds like." And this amazing sound came out. I thought to myself,
"This is like a rock and roll fantasy right here. Oh, let's just work on that for a
minute." And the combination of that idea and the sound really produced the song.
GW So how does it feel, Paul, to have been called "the white Ray
RODGERS Well, that is a compliment. I used to listen to Ray Charles when I was
about 12 or 13 and I was very moved by his "Crying Time" and "It's No Use
Crying," both of which are on the same album [Sweet & Sour Tears, 1964].
I dug it because here was a guy that was much older than me telling me what life was all
about. And it was a really great message. Otis Redding was somebody else I listened to. I
still do, with great reverence. I particularly love "A Change Is Gonna Come."
That was another song that really helped me as I grew up. There was a really powerful and
passionate message that, however bad things get, a change is gonna come. Because nothing
stays the same. I would like to carry that torch on in a way. At least try.
RALPHS I didn't start playing guitar until I was 18. What started me was hearing
Booker T and the MGs' "Green Onions." With Steve Cropper. I just heard that
guitar and said, "What's that?" When Bad Company first came together,
what we all shared was a love of American r&b and blues. At rehearsals, we'd do
"Knock on Wood," "In the Midnight Hour," "Smokestack
Lightning" ... anything but what we were supposed to be doing.
GW So why did the original Bad Company fall apart?
RODGERS It was all flying a little too high for me. I had to stop. I wanted to
face reality. I needed to spend some time with my family which I did.
RALPHS It was probably the right thing to stop when we did. If we'd carried on,
the touring and madness probably would have gotten out of hand. We weren't as big as the
Stones or Zeppelin, but it was all pretty hairy for us. We'd get home and think,
"Wow, that was a wild tour." You'd sit there and get the horrors thinking what
you did and what you didn't do. We were glad to still be in one piece, and Paul said,
"Let's leave it at that." In a way, he did us all a favor.
GW And this current reunion arose out of discussions over the new anthology set?
RODGERS Right. The label basically said, "Why don't you guys put some new
tracks on there?" Nobody saw a problem with that, so we did.
KIRKE Mick and Paul submitted songs to record. We had a listen and chose the
ones we liked -- two from Mick ['Ain't It Good" and "Hey, Hey"] and two
from Paul ["Tracking Down a Runaway" and "Hammer of Love"]. We went
into the studio in October, early November. It was a strange feeling for the first few
hours. Then everybody sort of assumed their roles from the old days. It was like picking
up where we left off.
GW It sounds like you're using a Strat on the new stuff, Mick. RALPHS I am. I've
gone totally Fender. I always used to play Gibsons, but I've finally come to grips with a
Strat after all this time. I've been playing Strats for the past year or so and that's all
I play now, just straight into a Marshall. They're all reissue Strats. No old ones.
They're all either Japanese or Mexican, and I've got one U.S. custom-shop Strat. I've got
about six in all and I swap all the parts. I still pick up a Les Paul occasionally. But I
feel like they're too easy to play after a Fender.
GW Now that the original Bad Company lineup is back together, would you like to
see it go on and on?
RALPHS At the moment we're just looking at 30 dates in America, and that's it. I
think it's foolish to look beyond that, because then everyone feels tied down.
KIRKE This is more to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of the
first album and to promote the Anthology set. Paul has a solo career. I have
other interests in songwriting and producing, so I don't foresee this as being by any
means permanent. It's just a nice way of touching base, recognizing each other's existence
and acknowledging what we did for seven or eight years. I look back with pride on those
years. We influenced a lot of people.