Roger Taylor on the Queen Extravaganza: ‘These Kids Raise the Bar on Talent’
Queen drummer Roger Taylor has worked with some killer talent since the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991. Axl Rose, Elton John, George Michael and Paul Rodgers have all taken a turn fronting some version of the royal British rocker outfit. But no one person can do Mercury justice.
With this in mind, Taylor — with help from guitarist Brian May — put together the Queen Extravaganza with four lead singers. The first band-sanctioned tribute act was gathered from hundreds of web audition clips. The group is a wealth of talent, but – as Taylor well knows – there’s nothing like the real thing.
Why start your own Queen tribute band? After all, you and Brian May are still playing shows together as Queen +.
I was in my hometown, which is down in the sticks in England, for a visit and saw a poster outside a local hall. It read, “Queen: Appearing Live on Tuesday night.” “Well,” I thought, “That’s putting it a little strong isn’t it?” I traveled down the road ten miles to another town and discovered another poster that promised, “Queen Appearing Live Tonight.” That’s when I got the idea to do something that was a little closer to our production values.
Yeah, these tribute bands are fun but they don’t really do you justice do they?
Exactly. They have somebody dress up like Freddie, it’s like a pantomime. I wanted to do something that was about the music and the show, and not about people pretending to be us.
But why do this when you’re still playing shows? This summer you’re performing with Adam Lambert.
Yes, it is slightly ironic. We are doing six shows this summer with Adam Lambert in Eastern Europe and London. But I’ve had so much fun with the Queen Extravaganza project that I’ve been indulging myself.
The Queen catalog is revered by fans. Were you worried that this would be a disaster, that fans would reject the idea?
The reaction we’ve received at the first few shows has smoothed my worries. To be honest, it’s been a fantastic response. It’s the talent we’ve found. You know, I really wonder if we’d have found this level of talent in Europe. I don’t think we would have.
When it came to picking the drummer did you take a little extra care?
(Laughs) Yes, the drummer was the trickiest. They didn’t have to play exactly like me but they had to play a bit like me, and they had to sing. The guy we found, Tyler Warren, sings with outrageously high voice, it’s great. Plus he’s a phenomenal drummer.
Everyone sings harmony in the group and there are four lead singers. Is this because you couldn’t find someone that could fill Freddie’s shoes on their own?
Freddie had this unbelievable power and stamina. He had range both in his voice and in style. It’s hard to find someone that can do everything he could do. But we also wanted different people to give the show a different look, to spread the vocals around a little. When we were touring we were only four guys so we couldn’t never do all those close, big harmonies. This band can do them.
In addition to the big vocals of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the band is doing all sorts of lesser-known Queen tunes.
I’ve been changing things a little every night trying to find the right set list. They played 32 songs at the last show. I chucked six out and brought different ones in looking for the right mix. I don’t want it to be a jukebox of hits so we’ve included little bits of songs and fan favorites like “Liar,” “March of the Black Queen,” some of “In the Lap of the Gods.” It makes for a much more interesting show.
Speaking of dusting off older Queen tracks, there have been reports that you and Brian are working on reviving old band demos and adding to them. Any truth to this?
I wouldn’t want to do that. Those songs are fixed in my head. I don’t want to change them or revive them. But Brian and I see each other all the time and I’m always working on the odd bit of music.
So you’re still writing but not for Queen?
I’m still writing. I’ve almost completed a new solo album, my first in ten or twelve years. (Editor’s note: It’s been 14 years). Once a musician, always a musician. Once that’s out I’m sure I’ll be flogging you for press (Laughs).
Does watching the Queen Extravaganza play clubs remind you of when you first hit the road?
Absolutely, except they’ve leaped several steps. (Laughs). We did the station wagon thing. They’ve got these big, beautiful buses to ride around in. But touring is still tough work and they’re hard at it.
Any desire to jump on stage when, kick Tyler Warren off the kit and start pounding away with this young group?
Not at all. He’s great. He’s actually worryingly great. When Brian and I get into rehearsal we’ll have to pull our socks a little bit. These kids raise the bar on talent.