ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 28, 1997
By Steve Newton
Back in the late ’60s, British blues-rock crooner Paul Rodgers wrapped his gravel ’n’ honey vocals around a simple, bludgeoning Paul Kossoff guitar riff and rock history was made. Twenty-seven years after its release, Free’s “All Right Now” has joined an elite club of records to be recognized by ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) for receiving more than one million radio plays. Estimates say that the song is heard on radio or TV, somewhere in the world, every 45 seconds.
“Isn’t that amazing?” said Rodgers, calling from L.A. recently. “I do find it incredible, because in the last four years, since I made the blues album [Muddy Water Blues], I’ve been to Russia, right through Europe, Japan, Brazil, Argentina—we’ve just been everywhere—and you can walk into a bar in almost any town and hear ‘All Right Now’. It’s quite astounding.”
If he’d wanted to, Rodgers could have retired from music around 1971 and lived quite nicely off the royalties from “All Right Now”—though considering his passion for rock ’n’ roll, the chances of that were zilch to none. After Free broke up in ’73, Rodgers took drummer Simon Kirke with him and joined ex-members of Mott the Hoople and King Crimson in the instant supergroup Bad Company.
Huge in the States from the get-go, that band went on to release six multiplatinum albums and win a Grammy for the lusty sing-along fave “Feel Like Makin’ Love”. According to Rodgers—who confirms that the band’s back catalogue is still “flyin’ high”—Bad Company was the classic rock ’n’ roll excess story. Considering Free’s unkempt image and well-known vices—Kossoff’s drug-racked body succumbed to heart failure on a plane above the Atlantic in ’76—you might expect it to have been the bigger party band of the two.
“Fancily enough, Free was a very mellow band,” revealed Rodgers. “We were strongly influenced by Alexis Korner, the granddaddy of blues in England, and he was a very cool dude. We used to smoke a lot of weed, and we were very laid-back and mellow. I mean, sometimes we were extremely stoned, but it wasn’t particularly an excess story. With Bad Company, somehow we were plunged into private jets and limousines waitin’ for you on the tarmac—terribly spoiled, you know—and of course a young man in that position is likely to go slightly haywire, which we did.”
Having survived the decade of excess, Rodgers went on to garner a few more hits in the ’80s with the Firm, alongside guitarist Jimmy Page. His current solo career sees him opening for ’70s tourmates Lynyrd Skynyrd on Thursday (August 28) at the Pacific Coliseum. That’s the same place where yours truly saw Bad Company perform back in ’76—with Kansas opening! So is it kinda freaky for Rodgers to be returning to those old haunts some 20 years later?
“A venue is just a place to stage the show,” he said, “and the important thing for me is the audience itself, and the energy that we exchange. Playing live is what it’s all about for me, and I think everything stems from that—even songwriting. I write for the stage and I think in terms of live performance. That’s the lifeblood of rock ’n’ roll.”
This time around Rodgers is joined by the same band that played on his new CD, Now. It includes an awesome but relatively unknown guitarist named Geoff Whitehorn, whose credits include Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, and Procol Harum. As well as former bandmates Paul Kossoff, Mick Ralphs, and Jimmy Page, Rodgers has recorded with such notable stringbenders as Jeff Beck, Neil Schon, Buddy Guy, Brian Setzer, and David Gilmour. He’s always managed to surround himself with exemplary pickers, so is he just lucky that way?
“Well, I’m careful that way,” he replied with a laugh. “Coming from the blues, there’s always a question-and-answer going on between the guitar and the singer, and I’ve always liked that rapport. It’s come to be part of the way I think of songs when I’m structuring, so I always like to have as blinding a guitar player as I can find, you know.”
As well as a hot band and some strong new tunes, Rodgers still boasts the rugged voice that powered “All Right Now” way back when. He’s still as bluesy as a white guy can get, while many other rock howlers from his era have had to pack it in.
“I feel for them,” he said. “I really do, because I think it’s a god-given gift. It enables me to fly extremely high in terms of personal satisfaction, and I’m very grateful for it. It’s something I love to do, and I think that’s part of why I still have it, you know.”