Paul Rodgers Talks About Bad Company Reissues and Possible New Music: Exclusive Interview
Bad Company recently announced plans to release reissues of their first two albums, 1974's Bad Company and the following year's Straight Shooter. The newly expanded versions -- each adding a heaping bonus disc full of previously unreleased material -- are a dream come true for longtime fans of the group.
When Paul Rodgers spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock in 2013, he admitted that he had “deep reservations” about the idea of expanding the existing albums, saying that “I think we’ve culled the best of Bad Company from the masters that we’ve put out.”
At the time, it was clear that he had a special affection for what had been created with the band on those original albums, beginning with Bad Company.
“Well, it was special," he said. "It was so organic. It was amazing because at the time, with the demise of Free, it was really sad, with Koss [Free guitarist Paul Kossoff] and everything that went down with that, so I wanted to put something together that was really together and very well organized. So musically, it was very organic. We wrote songs and we recorded them.
“We were very fortunate that Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin were interested in getting behind the band and signing us," he continued. "Because there were so many opportunities. They were so understanding of what it took to put together the kind of music that you really feel from the soul. They had this Headley Grange [mansion] with a mobile studio outside ready to roll, and they were going to make their album. They were delayed, and Peter Grant said to me, 'That studio time is available. You can go in there and use Ronnie Lane’s mobile and this old mansion to record whatever you can record.' We steamed in there and recorded everything that we had at that point — in fact, we recorded that [whole] album. So it was organic in that sense, and it was very real. It was very rough around the edges but very real, and we were very gung ho to get it all down.”
In a new conversation with Rodgers, he says that when it came to writing and recording the material that wound up on those early Bad Company albums, “We tried to touch the spirits.” And indeed, it is the spirits within those songs that have continued to resonate with music fans for more than 40 years. For Rodgers, it was an interesting experience revisiting the music that had been recorded for those first two albums, as they were working to find things that could be used as bonus material.
“The record company approached the surviving members of the band and asked if we would like to consider the idea of releasing all of these tracks. I must admit, when they first mentioned this idea to me, I was very skeptical,” Rodgers says. “Because when we go in the studio, we go to record 'the one,' you know? We get to the point where everybody agrees that that’s the track we’re going to use. Everything else is really shelved as far as we’re concerned. It no longer exists. We only think about the one. So I was very hesitant as to what the heck I was going to be listening to.
“But they sent me all of this material and I listened, and there’s two songs, ‘See The Sunlight’ and ‘All Night Long,’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I haven’t heard those in 40 years!’ Because they didn’t go on the albums. So it was quite interesting and I thought, well, if it’s interesting to me, perhaps it is interesting to the fans. So we went ahead with it.”
Rodgers went on to share his thoughts on the new reissues, about working with legendary manager Peter Grant and on the possibilities of a new Bad Company album.
You can see that Bad Company moved ahead and didn’t really look back, because if you look at the track or two that didn’t make the first record or a track that didn’t make Straight Shooter, whatever it was that didn’t make that first album, didn’t pop up on the second album. So it does show how you guys really were focused on the present at the time.
Well, that’s a good point, actually. I never thought of that, but we actually were. The yardstick that we always have, whenever I do anything, is, Do we like it? Are we proud of this? That’s what we do and it’s definitely not an exact science. Because one of the things that tickles me to death actually is that “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” they [recently] released the take before the master [as a single], which was the one we didn’t choose, right? It’s got no harmonies on it and no guitar solo, but it’s doing very well on the classic-rock charts. So there’s no accounting for taste -- I don’t know anymore, it’s weird!
Listening to these alternate versions of the songs that we now know so well, it seems like even in the early stages, you all had a pretty good idea of where you were going with things, even though there was plenty of room left in to try things, as the alternate versions demonstrate. How much debate was there when it came to capturing versions of the songs that everybody was happy with?
I think the same as with any band. You know, I think the basic principle that we have is that I think we tried to touch the spirit. When you can touch the spirit, whatever that is and when you can feel the love and you can feel the song is cooking and it’s in the pocket, you know, everybody knows that’s the one that’s grooving. We work toward that feeling, and if there’s something that’s stopping us getting there, like in the arrangement, or maybe we should be doing two choruses there instead of one, maybe we should extend the solo ... maybe we should do this or do that -- that’s all kind of thrown into the mix until we all feel really comfortable with where we are with the song. So it’s a very harmonic discussion really that we have.
The differences are striking. If you listen to the released version of “Bad Company” vs. the evolving versions, when you listen to that final mixed version, I don’t know how much trickery was required in the mixing stages, but there’s no question why that version’s on the record.
Well, good, I’m glad you agree. There’s a lot of trickery that can go on in the studio and there’s a lot that one can do. None of which I am interested in even slightly. I mean, you can actually tune vocals and stuff like that, but it’s so hideous, I can’t believe it. I don’t like metronomes -- I refuse to have anything like that or any gimmicks or trickery in the studio, because the intention really as always, is to be able to record something that we can step out onstage and pretty much recreate as good as or if not better [than the recorded version] just between the four of us.
Bad Company worked with Ron Nevison on those first three albums. What did Ron bring to the table that was helpful for the band?
Well, Ron was a guy that came from Led Zeppelin, really. It was Jimmy [Page]’s recommendation, or Peter’s, I guess. He was very good. He knew how to work the knobs and he was very much present.
Those records do say very specifically, “Produced by Bad Company.” Was that really his presence and involvement, working in more of an engineering capacity? Was there anybody involved in the process, whether it was Ron or whoever it was, that was a kind of mediator in the process where necessary?
I don’t think so. No, there was no mediating from anybody. We were a band. As long as we had somebody competent in the studio to translate what we were playing on to that tape, that’s really all they were required to do.
Was that something that was pretty easy to get past Peter Grant and other folks who might have felt that a producer was needed? Because that’s a big step, being able to get that creative control like that.
Yeah, well, looking back and given what’s going on now, that’s probably true. But that was definitely the trend at that time. Because the record companies had had so much power in the past over what the band did in the studio and the problem that you have with that is that they aren’t out there at street level. Sometimes I think they’re in another world, whereas we know what we like and we know what we would like to project on the stage. We were fiercely adamant that we would be doing that. We would be putting onto that tape what we wanted to play on the stage. It was that or it wasn’t going to be anything. So we were very committed to that. That’s the only way that it could be. I think that there was a lot of that going on. Led Zeppelin probably paved the way in many respects for that kind of approach. I think that after that, record companies kind of clawed back the power a little bit and said, “Okay, we want you to do this.”
It’s a seesaw act, really. You go through periods of times where bands are calling the shots and then sometimes you’ve got the record companies calling the shots. I think it has to be a bit of both to make the thing work. But with those, it was a little bit take it or leave it. This is what we do, if you like it, let’s go. As it happened, [record company head] Ahmet Ertegun was fantastic, I must say. Because he was very understanding about what we were doing and about the spirit of what we were doing. He was a soul and blues guy and he was connected to soul and blues the same way that I was, so he was very supportive of what we were doing.
Where did Peter Grant come into the picture? You brought him in, if I understand correctly.
Yeah, when we were forming the band, Mick [Ralphs] and I, out at my cottage in the country, it was great, actually. Because we’d noodle on and we’d just be playing songs and birds were twittering around and stuff. We’d be up all night just working on songs. We got to the stage of thinking about management and I had a friend who used to be a road manager for Free named Clive Coulson and he went on from there to work with Led Zeppelin. He came out to my house and he said, “Wow, you guys, why don’t you give Peter a call?” I said, “I don’t know, is he going to be interested? He’s managing Led Zeppelin.” He said, “Well, I think you should give him a call and I think you will find that he is interested.” So lo and behold, I called him and he was. They had just formed Swan Song, he and Led Zeppelin, so they were talent scouting and Peter was interested. He came around and the rest is history, as they say.
But Peter did not take any part really in the music at all. He left that entirely to us. It was like he put an umbrella over us and took care of any business that needed to be taken care of. Any organization as far as studio time or hotels, contracts --- anything at all that needed organization, Peter was there for that. He was great.
What would it take to make a new Bad Company studio album happen?
Well, you know, the immediate problem with that is that we don’t have [late Bad Company bassist] Boz [Burrell]. Boz was a good part of what we did. It’s hard to realize it, [but] you take one member out and, yeah, you can limp along and you can do something similar, but I don’t know. That would be one aspect, [we would need] the right bass player, actually, that’s probably what I’m trying to say. And the right material and the will to do it. We’d have to see if that was there. I’m not sure. But I keep an open mind.
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