Paul Rodgers: ‘I can still swagger at 62′
Paul Rodgers: "I actually enjoy playing the older material, because to me it feels fresh every night"
A bona-fide classic rock legend, with over 90 million album sales to his name, at age 62 Paul Rodgers shows little inclination to leave rock’n’roll to the young guns.
The voice of Free, Bad Company and The Firm, the Middlesbrough-born singer is currently duking it out with Bruce Springsteen and The Black Keys on the upper reaches of America’s Classic Rock radio airplay charts with his solo single With Our Love, and ahead of the re-formed Bad Company’s first tour of mainland Europe in 37 years, he recently announced his sole UK show of 2012, a charity gig at The Venue in Chichester this coming Thursday (May 31).
“I still feel that swagger when I walk onstage that I felt as a teenager,” Rodgers admits. “I’m always up for a show.”
Interview: Paul Brannigan
Tell us more about this one-off UK gig.
I’m a patron of the Racehorse Sanctuary charity, which provides care for ex-racehorses, and it’s a concert to raise funds. I got interested in the Sanctuary when my wife Cynthia invited me down to meet the horses and I was just blown away by the fact that, were it not for the Sanctuary, these amazing creatures would have been slaughtered. Generally when they come to the end of their racing career that’s what happens, because they’ve stopped earning money. So I said, “Can I help here?” and the answer was, “Yes, you can”. They recently rescued five horses that were starving, dehydrated and full of infections and the money to rescue those horses came from the proceeds of With Our Love. Last year we played a benefit gig in Chichester with Debbie Bonham’s band and it was unbelievable – I played a lot of Free material and we had an absolute blast – so we’re going to do a repeat.
Will the show lean heavily on Free material again?
Well, when I’m in England and in Europe I lean more towards the material I wrote with Free, and when I’m in the States or Canada it tends to be more towards the material I wrote with Bad Company or The Firm. Chichester was a Free-fest last year, doing stuff I hadn’t done in years, like Soon I Will Be Gone and My Brother Jake, and it was great. I really enjoyed digging back into that whole catalogue.
Speaking of that catalogue, we’ve heard whispers of an 18-CD Free box set in the works, compiling studio albums, live tracks and rarities.
Yes, the record company are talking about doing exactly that, and we are in discussion with them. One of the things that every band will shrink back in horror from is the idea that someone can go through everything you did in the studio, because not everything you do is something you want under the spotlight. So we want to be able to critique it, because in the past some songs have got out that were just rough demos, and you know, everyone likes to have their best performances released.
But sometimes you can find the real soul of a band in their imperfections…
Yeah, I understand how avid fans are interested in the little quirks. I went to see The Beatles Love at the Cirque Du Soleil and I was amazed at that: it was really beautifully done. You’d have John Lennon going [adopts Scouse accent] “Is everyone ready then? Paul, is that guitar in tune?” and all of a sudden they count ‘…3, 4…’ and go into I Am The Walrus and you think, “Fuck! That was the actual take!” So there are cases where showing the bare bones is fascinating.
Can you give us an idea of what might be on the box set?
We’re still talking to the record company really, we haven’t got to the point where we can go into the studio to listen to the old tapes.
There are rumours that we might see Free re-form for a one-off show too…
I don’t see that coming together now, actually. There was talk, possibly something connected with the Olympics, but I don’t see that coming together. One of the things that is difficult in my mind is that without Paul Kossoff… I mean, he was really the soul of the band in many respects, and I hesitate to mess with that. But we’ll see how things go.
There was a suggestion that you’d spoken to Jimmy Page about sitting in…
Was there really? Hmmmm. I would hesitate to put someone really, really famous in Paul’s place, and then have the attention switch to that. Obviously you think of Jimmy or Jeff Beck and other guitarists that could do it, but it would slightly change the focus. If I was going to even think about it, it would mean getting someone who had a really great feel for that particular way in which Paul Kossoff played. The person I think who’s come closest to that is actually Peter Bullick from Debbie Bonham’s band. But as I said, there are no actual plans right now. (Free thought about Paul Kossoff hologram: click here for the full story.)
Meanwhile, the Bad Company reunion is still going strong.
Yeah, it is extraordinary. We played in the US first with the reunion and then the UK and when Germany and Sweden asked us for shows this summer we just thought, “Yeah, let’s do this.” It’s been fun. The reaction in the UK was absolutely fantastic, it was so heart-warming to be received that way.
Might you consider making a new Bad Company album?
No, that’s not on the horizon. I’m writing all the time, but I’m moving in a different direction.
What are you working on at present?
Well, I’m working with [US producer/guitarist] Perry Margouleff. We wrote the track With Our Love together, and that was a toe in the water for what we’ll be doing. Perry has an analogue studio in New York and it has a beautiful vibe: we’ve written a lot of songs and I love the depth and roundness of the sounds you get there. It feels very creative and fresh and new: it’s going to have a touch of classic rock to it because that’s where I come from, but it’s today.
You’re 62 now, what drives you on? The quest for one more great song?
I just love writing songs, there’s nothing like the excitement of sitting with an acoustic guitar or a piano and just coming up with a riff and some lyrics and then hearing this thing that has created itself almost. So that’s the buzz for me. And I still love playing live. I actually enjoy playing the older material, because to me it feels fresh every night, with a new stage, a new audience and a new exchange of energy. There’s something incredible about starting a song and having that instant recognition; people love it, so I guess I’ll keep doing it.
* Paul Rodgers (with support from the Debbie Bonham Band) plays Chichester The Venue on Thursday (May 31). It’s a benefit gig for the Racehorse Sanctuary. Go here for all the details. Tickets are limited and available only by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for booking information.