HANGIN' WITH THE MASTER OF COOL
Shelly Harris lives in the
"The Now" with Bad Company's legendary frontman
Passion, power, and soul
- distilled to perfection - are some of the many superlatives your mind might conjure up when you hear Paul Rodgers
sing. But salt-of-the-earth charm and easy, fluid conversation - also part of his charismatic stage presence
- is something he exudes with an equal level of effortlessness as he takes time out to discuss Bad
Company's latest release (the "Merchants of Cool Live" DVD/CD), the tour, and the
newest chart-climbing single, "Joe Fabulous."
Hmmm ... there must really be something to that yoga/body chakra/meditation philosophy that he has long espoused! Certainly beyond all the benefits of balanced energy in any person's life, Rodgers has added to his already potent musical and vocal gifts by - seemingly - completely mastering what is called the "Mercury Chakra," the energy center in the throat that is said to be responsible not only for the voice itself, but also the ability to communicate with creative, divine, and inspirational simplicity.
But really, "inspirational" and "otherworldly" have been adjectives used to describe Rodgers' bluesy, "fire and water" vocals since the beginning of his career more than 35 years ago. And, although his unique talents (which also include world-class songwriting and instrumental skills) and accomplishments hardly require a hard sell by anyone, it is still irresistible to ponder what a truly amazing career it has been by anybody's standards.
Indeed, even beyond his place amongst the creme de la creme of blues-influenced rock vocalists, or his contributions to rock history as a founding member of not only Bad Company, but also Free (the legendary English blues/hard rock trailblazers) and The Firm (along with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page), one of the most stunning and impossible-to-sweep-under-the-carpet accolades related to Paul Rodgers is that he is literally "The Voice" that launched sales of over 125 million records to date. (For other equally mind-blowing data, check out the "Fact Sheet" on his website at www.paulrodgers.com.)
Nevertheless, Rodgers, always one who has aspired to keep his "feet on solid ground" (even in the eye of the hurricane of rock'n'roll stardom), is consummately unassuming, full of easygoing good humor, and seemingly oblivious to all such kudos. But don't take my word for it; see for yourself as he gives the detailed lowdown on the new live DVD/CD, the "Joe Fabulous" World Tour 2002, and other insightful miscellanies:
Rough Edge: Since you're in LA right now, that must mean you're busy at the moment
fine tuning for the new tour ...
Paul Rodgers: Yes, we are. And we've got the live CD and DVD out right now - have you gotten a copy of it?
Rough Edge: Yes, I have - I've actually just been listening to it, and I do think it sounds great!
Paul Rodgers: Oh, good! I'm glad you like it.
Rough Edge: Oh, yeah, I really do. And, to my ears, the live versions are even better than the studio versions of some of the older numbers because of the great vocal improvisations and the energy some of the songs have live - which might be another surprise for some of the people who haven't yet heard you play live ...
Paul Rodgers: Wow, cool! That's really great; there is some good energy there. It was just released on the 21st (May 2002]. It was recorded this year in January. We did a very small tour specifically so we could record the DVD, and we recorded a lot of what they call "B Roll," which is backstage footage of interviews and things like that. And we had guests come down: Slash, Neil Schon, Mick Jones from Foreigner, Glen Hughes, Howard Leese from Heart, and Tommy Shaw from Styx came down. So, a couple of the guys jammed ... But you probably noticed!
Rough Edge: Yeah, I did notice that. (laughs) And I was going to ask you about that, too! Because I know you've actually done things with a couple of those guys in the past.
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I have! It's funny how that sort of panned out, you know. They always think to bring their guitars, but Slash, he and I have jammed on a number of occasions. Actually, Slash and Neil Schon were with me when I had Andy Fraser [bass player with Rodgers in the original Free line up] and Jason Bonham when we did the appearance at Woodstock Revisited back in '94, I think.
Rough Edge: Yes, and did Slash and the others just step in now for the new DVD and CD on invitation?
Paul Rodgers: Yeah ... Well, the record company [Sanctuary] said, "We loved the show you did in 2001, and we want to just record the show and make a DVD." And I said, "What does that mean, the DVD?" (laughs) I wasn't all that sure! They said, "Well, it's the show, and it's backstage footage ... and if you want to invite some guests down, maybe we'll interview them." And Mike Drum, the DVD producer, suggested that I invite as many people as I like, and he'd see if he could get them in front of the camera. Well! They were all happy doing that, which was great, you know!
Rough Edge: Uh-Huh! Well, you've already answered several of the things I intended to ask you about, because I had gotten wind of the DVD coming out late last year, and I was looking forward to it. I hadn't seen you perform live for many years - since back in The Firm days - when I caught your show at the Volunteers for America thing in Atlanta. That show was so great!
Paul Rodgers: Yes! It was a great show, wasn't it?! It was such an "up" feeling.
Rough Edge: Yes, and I must say that you guys,
especially ... Well, honestly ... I was really stunned; I was actually blown away!
Paul Rodgers: Awwww ... Thank you.
Rough Edge: Well, you're welcome! So, that really piqued my interest when I heard the DVD was going to be taped, but I wasn't sure how that all happened to come about right now ...
Paul Rodgers: Well, the record company said they loved the set, and the new single, "Joe Fabulous" [also included on the "Merchants of Cool" CD], and they wanted to do two studio tracks for this, and a new studio album next year, so that's something else we'll be doing. We'll be touring this year in June and July in America, and in England and Europe in September, and in October we'll be in Japan. It's an international release and an international tour.
Rough Edge: Well, at this stage of your career, how do you feel about being that busy? I mean, that
sounds like a pretty intense schedule you've got going for the next year or
Paul Rodgers: Well, I'll tell you, it's been really, really busy, Shelly. I just got back from a promotional tour of Europe, and I went to England, Spain, Germany, and France in five days - that was a little wild! And I did all kinds of TV and press and promotion, and the response has been terrific out there, too. And also, over here in the States, the single, "Joe Fabulous, Merchants of Cool" has been the # 3 most added song on mainstream radio.
Rough Edge: I was going to ask you about that too, because I saw that statistic on Billboard
- just in the last couple of weeks - and that's really excellent, isn't it?
Paul Rodgers: Oh, Yeah - It really bodes well. But to answer your question ... (laughs) ... Yeah, I have been busier than I really wanted to be, because I hadn't realized ... Well, when they said, "Do the DVD and a small tour," I thought, "Oh, good - that sounds nice, in January, to do a small tour of California ... " But, there's a lot of work involved with putting it all together. But I'm happy with the result, though. It's good quality, I'm sure ...
Rough Edge: Oh, yes - it is. And I know almost all of the songs have been out in other CDs or sets at some point before, but the selection of the songs that you did put on there was excellent. And, actually, some of the ones that came off the best live, might be the ones you'd necessarily expect to ...
Paul Rodgers: Well, they are pretty much what we were doing onstage, and it's all the signature tunes, really, that Bad Company is known for, but I tried to stretch the envelope a little bit by including some things from the band before, the precursor to Bad Company, that was Free. So, "Wishing Well" and "All Right Now" are on the DVD. And also, there's a couple of Beatles' songs on there at the end of "Rock And Roll Fantasy" ["Ticket to Ride" and "I Feel Fine"], because they are a part of my rock and roll fantasy, too.
Rough Edge: Yes, part of your history growing up, your background ...
Paul Rodgers: Yes.
Rough Edge: And I'm glad you mentioned Free. Over the 20 or more years that I've been writing about music, Free seemed to be the number one biggest influence on many of the bands that came out of England, especially. But I'm sure you know all that ... don't you?
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I know that Free is a much loved band, particularly in Europe ... yeah.
Rough Edge: And even amongst the guys that are your "contemporaries." And, for a related
example, some of the guys on the bill with you at the Volunteers for America thing commented how
they were a big fan of yours since the Free days ... and, I don't know if you were aware of it, but
some of them were actually very excited about hearing you sing that night! (laughs)
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I know ... And it was really, really nice, actually, because I'd be out onstage and look and see this whole crowd on the side of the stage ... and it was all the other acts, you know. It was, really, really sweet - fantastic! Yeah ...
Rough Edge: Paul, in doing some research for this, I came across a couple of articles from about three years ago when you had a solo album out, and Bad Company had that first reunion tour with you the year before that, but, at the time, you didn't sound like you thought Bad Company would ever tour again. What exactly happened to change that?
Paul Rodgers: Well, I'll give you a brief synopsis of the chain of events that have led us ... here. In '99 it was suggested that we put an anthology together, which, of course, was pretty much very comprehensive - you know, it covered all the tracks, and different versions of different things, and we recorded four new songs for that, two of those songs were released as singles. The first one, "Hey, Hey" was number one on the radio charts, and the second one, "Hammer of Love," reached number two. This was the original band, and it was a very successful tour and it was a great reunion. But, at the end of that tour, Mick [Ralphs] and Boz [Burrell] decided they didn't want to do the big tours anymore. Mick doesn't like flying and Boz really wants to play jazz, in his little clubs and stuff. So, that was fine; we understood that. So, that was in '99, but in 2000, I released my sixth solo CD ("Electric"), and I was fine with that and I toured with that, and Simon [Kirke] went off and did something with Ringo Starr. But we kept getting a lot of requests: Can Bad Company tour with Journey, can they tour with Styx, can they tour with various different people ... ? So, in 2001, we put a lineup together with myself and Simon, and we went out and toured as Bad Company - we toured with Styx. And it was great. We had a lovely time, and, at the end of that, is when Sanctuary approached us about the DVD and CD... and here we are. So, that is the kind of chain of events, but it has been more work - more time-consuming - than I really thought it would be. (laughs) So, I really had to put my solo thing to the side, because I've been running myself ragged just trying to keep up with the one thing, you know ...
Rough Edge: Yeah! So now that you're deep in it, I guess you just have to go with the flow at this point, right? (laughs)
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I definitely do. (laughs) Uh-huh, yeah. But it's pretty nice, you know, because it is very nice for me to have a new single out there. Something really current that I've written that's being played on the radio. It's always a thrill, that, you know? It's like the first time, when I first wrote a song and Free recorded it and it went on the radio. I mean, it's a terrific feeling.
Rough Edge: I understand what you mean, to have something new and contemporary out, and they're playing it ... and to have it still feel great as it did at the start! But, speaking of your songwriting, do you still do as much of that these days as you used to? [Rodgers wrote or co-wrote the bulk of the songs for all of the bands he's been involved with] Or do you write just when you're working on an album, mainly?
Paul Rodgers: No, I write just for myself, really. I twiddle on the guitar, and I just write songs; it's a thing I do ... (laughs) ... it's a pastime I have. And I do it all the time, and I have a lot of songs - most of the time - on the boil, you know. And I just felt that "Joe Fabulous: Merchants of Cool" was something that would lift Bad Company into more of a contemporary thing. Whilst we've got a lot of classic, signature songs, I don't want to get stuck in a "classic rock" rut - if I can say that. (laughs) So, I've always tried - down through years - pushing forward to do new things ... And it's hard, really, I think, because people, to some extent, are a little bit reluctant. They want all the old stuff, so I have to mix and match it, you know ... I find that that works best.
Rough Edge: Yeah, it really is a fine balance ...
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, it is.
Rough Edge: And what about the other studio song, "Saving Grace" - the one you wrote with Neil Schon?
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, that actually came out on my solo CD, "Now and Live." Uh-huh. And it got revisited, because when Neil came down, we were talking about jamming, and we wanted to jam on that one, and we did. The only problem was, I couldn't use that track because we had technical problems - sometimes that happens when you record live. And, actually, there were three priorities when choosing the tracks: One, that the performance was good, and two, that it was as technically perfect as it could be for live, and three, that it looked fairly good. And so I didn't use the live version for that. But the guys in the band loved it, you know, they said, "Oh!" So we re-recorded that and it became the second studio track.
Rough Edge: That really answers my question about that one. But as prolific as you still are with the songwriting, it sounds like you might have loads of songs that you haven't ever recorded yet, right?!
Paul Rodgers: I do, actually! I actually have so many that I have a backlog. (laughs) One of the
reasons I want to get off the road - which doesn't look like happening for a while!
- is just so that I can download all the songs in my head ... Yeah! .. yeah
Rough Edge: And I've also read somewhere that you said you are one of those people who is able to write even when on the road, but I can't imagine that that's an easy thing to do, since it's hard to have an environment there that's necessary for most "creative" introspection ... right? (laughs)
Paul Rodgers: Yeah ... yeah. Well, it is a different kind of thing, because I find that when I'm traveling, I am absorbing a lot of different influences, because, you know, the world's moving in front of you, and you're meeting a lot of different people and you're experiencing a lot of different cities and places, and ... stimulation, actually. So, I'm taking it all in, and absorbing it all, and songs come to me very often. Although, to really get them organized, I like to sit down on, say, a beach in Mexico, or something like that. That's my excuse, anyway! (laughs)
Rough Edge: So, it does sound like you foresee doing more solo work ... eventually.
Paul Rodgers: Oh, yeah! Yeah, I'm completely open to that; I love my solo band, and what I do with my solo band is much more experimental. With Bad Company, things that I do like the Beatle things at the end of "Rock And Roll Fantasy" comes from my solo work and with that, I include songs with all the bands I've been with, pretty much, like you'll find "Radioactive" from The Firm days and maybe "Satisfaction Guaranteed," and "Muddy Water Blues," so there's all kinds of different things going on. Some of which, though, that kind of opening the envelope, is kind of widening the scope with Bad Company.
Rough Edge: I know who a lot of your favorite people are
- and you've played with so many great people over the years, but one person that you said you always had wanted to play with in the past
was George Harrison, and now he's recently passed away ...
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I know. It's sad, isn't it ...
Rough Edge: Yeah - it really is ... And were you able to ever get the chance to play with him?
Paul Rodgers: No, no, I didn't, unfortunately. So, I'll have to wait until I get to paradise now ... But, interestingly, we were doing a video thing today, and the chap that was interviewing me was going on to interview Ray Charles. And he asked me if I'd like to ask a question by video to Ray Charles, you know. (laughs) So, I said, "Wow! Ray, I'm a big fan of yours. And, when I was thirteen years old I was really moved by your voice on 'Cryin' Time.' And a lot of people ask me this question, so I want to ask you: How do you take care of your voice after so many years, and how do you keep it?" You know?
Rough Edge: Yeah ...
Paul Rodgers: So, I might get an answer back in video, which will blow my mind, if he does! (laughs)
Rough Edge: Well, he might get as much of a kick out of hearing your question as you would be in getting his answer!
Paul Rodgers: Well, you know, I would be completely humbled ... because the guy is just incredible! He's almost a God!
Rough Edge: Yes, yes! But now that begs the question: What do you do to take care of your voice?
Paul Rodgers: Well, I thought about it awhile back, and I thought, if I want to be like Johnny Lee Hooker, and Ray Charles and still have that thing forever - until I drop as it were - then I've gotta take care of myself. So, I find that the voice is not just the voice box; it's the head, it's the heart, the body and the soul. So, I try to keep all those things in harmony, you know?
Rough Edge: You know, I'm very glad you brought that up because
- besides your voice - to have longevity and staying power in the music business for as long as you have, you do have to have a
certain mindset, I think, to stay at the same level that you have been this whole
Paul Rodgers: Yeah. I think you have to have passion, you know?
Rough Edge: Uh-huh, definitely. And there's no faking that ...
Paul Rodgers: Yes, and I am very passionate about what I do. And, if I ever lost that - if I ever became less than passionate - I would stop doing it, and go and do the garden or something, you know?
Rough Edge: Uh-Huh! Well, also ... the stamina it takes, for example, with this upcoming
tour. Well, as you know, that can get the best of people, just keeping up with that, no matter what the age or
energy level ... But you, well, you're into meditation and that sort of
Paul Rodgers: I do. I do meditate, and I find that it helps center me. And there's this book out right now called "The Power of Now" by a guy named Eckhart Tolle, which I really recommend. It's a wonderful book, about living in the present moment. His theory is that most of us, actually, spend most of our time either worrying about the future, or debating what we should have done in the past, and, as a result, we miss what is happening right now. We've got to keep telling ourselves, "How is this moment for you right now?! Right now, do you have any problem as you sit here or stand here?" And, most of the time, you can say, "Actually, no, I don't!" It's only looking forward or back that gives me any problem - know what I mean? It's really an interesting book. It will change your life!
Rough Edge: Ahhh! Yes, I definitely see what you
mean ... In fact, it is so coincidental that you brought this up, because I just had an intense conversation with someone about this very subject
yesterday, and how difficult it is sometimes to really focus on life as it is happening, and just live in
the day and in the minute, because that is really the essence of being
Paul Rodgers: Wow, you see! This book is really spreading by word of mouth. A lot of people are getting on to it, you know?
Rough Edge: Uh-huh! But also, you obviously do keep yourself in good physical shape, and that
helps with the performance stamina too ...
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I do think that's important. It's all a part of that head, heart, body and soul thing ... because, I think if you wreck yourself, I don't know how you can expect to sing very well - you know what I mean? (laughs)
Rough Edge: Yeah! (laughs)
Paul Rodgers: So, I thought - it occurred to me - I'm just gonna take care here! (laughs) So, yeah ...
Rough Edge: But also, you have had a very extraordinary life and career, and yet - from what I've been able to gather - you've really stayed very much just a "regular" type guy. But I suppose that must be because you've still managed to keep a balance in your life, as we've sort of been discussing ...
Paul Rodgers: Yes. Yeah, I definitely think you need a balance in your life. That's part of the meditation thing, that there's seven chakras thoughout your body. I could actually go on for a long time about that! [Here he details the seven chakras, or energy centers, of the body, and where they are located, and what part of the human existence they are said to govern.] If you go to one of those alternative-type book shops, you can find a lot of information on that. Actually, a really good person to read is Deepak Chopra.
Rough Edge: I thought you might mention him!
Paul Rodgers: Ahhh, yes! Just outtasight! (laughs)
Rough Edge: And you also mentioned him on the new album [CD] sleeve ...
Paul Rodgers: Oh, that's right! I did, yeah! (laughs)
Rough Edge: Uh-huh! (laughs) And, that's all very interesting to know ... And it sounds like you do quite a bit a reading then, don't you?
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I do. Actually, I love a good story. I mean, I love books on spirituality and that kind of thing, but sure, I love a good story, too. Wilbur Smith is very good, too. (laughs)
Rough Edge: Well, I've heard of him ["Warlock," "Seventh Scroll," "Eye of the Tiger,"etc.], but I hadn't read any of his books - yet ... But I'll check that out, too! (laughs). And tell me Paul, aren't a couple of your kids involved in music now too?
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, well I have three kids. One of them lives in my home town in England, and the other two kids live in London, and they have their own band. It's called the BOA band.
Rough Edge: It's your son and daughter ... right?
Paul Rodgers: That's right, yeah! And they write their own songs and they sing and play guitars ... and I love 'em ...
Rough Edge: Well, how do you feel about all of that? (laughs)
Paul Rodgers: Oh, I feel ... good. You know, I feel good .I'm very proud of them. Actually, they're going to be opening up the show for us when we play in England.
Rough Edge: Oh, really! That will be a very neat thing! But do you still live in England yourself these days, or have you relocated?
Paul Rodgers: Well, I still have my house in England, but I'm very rarely there, unfortunately - not as much as I'd like to be - because it's such a great place in the country. But I spend a lot of time in Canada, so for the last four years I more or less live in Canada - if I live anywhere! (laughs) I spend so much time traveling and touring.
Rough Edge: Yes, yes, I can see ... But Paul, speaking of which, I'd better not hold you up any longer here, either, with all you've got on your plate right now!
Paul Rodgers: Oh, that's okay - I was very interested in talking with you Shelly.
Rough Edge: Well, it's been a pleasure talking with you; thank you.
Paul Rodgers: Well, thank you.
For more information on Bad Company's new tour and DVD/CD (featuring Rodgers, Simon Kirke, Dave "Bucket" Colwell, and Jaz Lochrie), visit www.badcompany.com, www.paulrodgers.com, or www.allrightnow.com.
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Copyright © 2002 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:12 -0400.