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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.

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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 boutique label?

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 label?

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 now.

GW How did you come up with the idea for the harmony leads on "Can't Get Enough"?

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 Company."

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.

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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 little clinical.

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 warning.

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 Charles"?

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.

Related Links:

Bad Company
Official Website

Concert Reviews

Interview with
Mick Ralphs (DL)

Interview with
Mick Ralphs (TCG)

Interview with
Paul Rodgers

Mick Ralphs,
Guitar Talk

Paul Rodgers

Paul Cullen,
Bass Player

Run with the Pack


Bad Company Lyrics

Bad Company
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"In Pencil"

Lucy's Photo
Gallery #2

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Lucy's Photo
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Album Covers

Photos from the
Columbia Maryland
Concert, July 1996

Station 2000
Concert in Dallas
Texas, August 1996

Memorabilia from

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    © 2002 Last Modified: 28 June, 2002