June 22, 2018 Interview – Paul Rodgers
Known for his powerful bluesy singing voice, Paul Rodgers is one of the most definitive Rock-n-Roll vocalists around. Sustaining a career in music over 50 years, Rodgers has found success with his well-known bands Free and Bad Company, embarked on a solo career, and even joined up with Queen for some time. To put it mildly, and without hesitation, he is a Rock legend.
Influencing generations of singers along the way, he continues to perform live with Bad Company, and more recently, celebrated the music of Free with special shows around the UK in 2017. Eager to keep the good vibes flowing, and with plenty of material at this disposal, Rodgers is preparing for a fantastic US tour, along with Jeff Beck and Heart’s Ann Wilson, kicking off July 18th. He is ready to rock but the question is, are you? Excited about it all, Rodgers took the time to chat about his career in music, celebrating 50 years of Free, plans for the US tour, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Sustaining a long career in Rock-n-Roll, you have achieved a mass of success with Free, Bad Company, as well as a solo artist. Now over 5 decades along, what has this life in music been like for you?
Paul Rodgers – Actually, when I left home at about 17, I left with stars in my eyes. I think I had three things I wanted to achieve: one was to obviously survive, as we all do; another was to find piece of mind; and the third was to make music while I was doing that. I think in many ways that is what I have been doing and what I am still doing.
CrypticRock.com – Well, it has certainly been a great run of success, and you have done a lot throughout the years.
Paul Rodgers – Well, it’s definitely been up and down. I have learned a lot. I have learned you have to get back up and dust yourself off, that’s the way to do it. The thing one has to have is persistence; you have to stay focused on what it is you want to achieve. It’s always been about the music for me, it’s never really been about show biz. I understand show biz has attraction I suppose, but it has never really been for me; I have always wants to focus on the music.
When I heard people like John Lee Hooker, Albert King, and Otis Redding, when I heard them sing and play, it touched something deep inside me that still remains. I can listen to those records again and still be touched in the same way. The genuineness and authenticity really of the need to express an emotion and get it across; to reach an audience and touch them in the way they feel moved themselves. That has always been part of something. I think probably all singers may say this, that’s what the drive actually is.
CrypticRock.com – That genuine feeling is where the best music derives from. It was in the late 1960s that Free came together and the band is considered by many as pioneers of Hard Rock music. Tell us, what was the philosophy of Free when it all began?
Paul Rodgers – Well I think we learned as we went. It seems to me we came together and we had the same sense of direction. We’d listened to a lot of the same people, the ones I mentioned, plus more – B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, etc. We listened to Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles too.
All their interests interested us. All those influences came to fruition when we met; it was an understanding between us that this was real or that wasn’t real. When we tried a thing, we knew if it was working or not pretty much straight away – it was almost instinct.
When we first got together, we were pretty much strangers. I knew Paul Kossoff because it was he and I that wanted to put a band together. We were really auditioning a drummer and a bass player, and in their mind, they are auditioning us; we were all auditioning each other. We got together and were strangers when we first set our gear up – we started knocking around, jamming, etc. By the end of the day, we were a band and I felt, “This is it! This is a band, and we’ll take it from here.”
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. Free would release six albums in a very short span of time. Through the ups and downs of the band, would you say that gave you a good foundation of knowledge moving forward with Bad Company?
Paul Rodgers – Definitely, yes! The major thing I learned was, we couldn’t really manage ourselves; we took on too much trying to manage ourselves. You need a buffer between a band and the record company. The record company, bless them, their sole thing is commerciality and selling records. You have to pull back from that a bit because our main focus was making music. If it was commercial, that’s good and great for you, because it keeps the record company off your back. The main thing was to make music that touched people, that reached out and meant something on an everyday level. The way that music really had hit us, we wanted to hit people too. We wanted to do that.
CrypticRock.com – Understood completely. Interestingly, in 2017 you embarked on a UK tour celebrating the music of Free. Capturing that special tour, you have released a CD and DVD, under the title Free Spirit – Celebrating The Music Of Free. What was it like for you to relive the music of Free?
Paul Rodgers – It was very heartwarming actually. The union of the band began when we played a couple of charity shows together in the UK for Willows Animal Sanctuary, an assisted therapy unit. Their motto is people helping animals, helping children. Our guitarist and his wife, Deborah Bonham, who is the sister of John Bonham, are patrons, as well as my wife Cynthia and I.
The show’s setlist was very Free heavy, because Free is very much loved in England. I can feel that and I can understand that. They were sort of private shows, and we did them every year for about 3 years. I always promised the guys that nail this stuff so good, that one day we will tour with it. The club that we were using was called The Venue and it closed down. I said, “Now is the time to tour, and we will focus entirely on Free and see how we go with that.”
They play with a great deal of authenticity, they just have it in spades; they dig deep. Their sound is very authentic; it’s not digital, it’s not through boxes, it’s all the real gear equipment-wise. It was heartwarming, as I said. There were people who were crying sometimes; this music just runs so deep, I was very touched and moved.
I had planned for the last show to be the Albert Hall, because it’s a beautiful venue with great acoustics. It was an idea of opportunity really. I felt we really should have it all together by then, because the set will evolve as you go through a tour. I felt it would be a fitting climax if we could record that, and it happens to be the best gig of the tour. (Laughs) It’s all a roll of the dice a little bit, but it was a really good show and a really good crowd. We captured it on this DVD, which you always try to do, I guess.
CrypticRock.com – The music sounds fantastic and your band, The Free Spirit Band, do a sensational job. Is this the band that will be out on tour with you in the USA this summer?
Paul Rodgers – Absolutely. Based upon that, I said, “Let’s take this out of England, and let’s go to America!” I was just really going to do the same thing in terms of smallish theaters – 4,000 to 5,000, things like that. Since the addition of the great Jeff Beck, Ann Wilson, and Deborah Bonham is opening the show, it has grown; we are doing bigger venues now. It is all for the good. I think it will translate really well, and yes, it is definitely the same band.
On the thing about the sound, we used an analog desk for the entire tour. People aren’t doing that now, they are using the digital desks because it’s much easier and convenient. I do find digital is an exact simulation of analog, but it is a simulation. I think on some level Ian (Rowley) knows this, and that’s why I use the word authentic again, because it is, it sounds real.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, there is an authenticity that comes with an analog recording that just cannot be replaced.
Paul Rodgers – I know! We have footage of this enormous thing – of course the digital is really small, and you can just about carry it in your pocket. This desk was huge! We had to have a crane to lift it over the front seats, into the back of the auditorium and into position. It’s great!
CrypticRock.com – That is awesome. We mentioned you will now be touring the US with Jeff Beck and Heart’s Ann Wilson. A really great lineup, can fans expect some surprise collaborations?
Paul Rodgers – You never do know. I know when we flew to New York a couple of weeks ago, all of us were there, Jeff Beck and Ann Wilson, we did interviews. Jeff said, “We are not a supergroup, we are all doing our separate things on stage,” which is fair enough, because we are. I have worked with Jeff in the past and I love his work, I love that Truth (1968) album. Jeff is in his own kind of league, really.
You never know, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. We will be focusing on our separate sets. We will be flip-flopping; Jeff and I will headline one night each, as it goes. We’re musicians and we will be playing up there with our gear, but you never know. Actually, I sort of hope it happens in a secret way. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It should be a great show to see! Keeping busy performing live, whether it be with Bad Company or with your own band, it has been a few years since we have heard some new Paul Rodgers music. Is there a possibility for some new music in the near future?
Paul Rodgers – Yes, actually, there definitely is. I needed to find a band that could play new music. It’s not always possible because there is so much music in the past catalogues that I need to play to keep people satisfied. My manager came to me and said, “It’s good that you are playing the Free music, but people will look for you to play some of the songs you wrote with Bad Company too.”
I like to see a happy crowd, I do. So you think of things. Well, they might expect to hear “Feel Like Making Love,” “Rock n Roll Fantasy,” “Shooting Star,” “Ready for Love,” the list goes on. I am working on a set list now that will amalgamate some of the songs I did with Bad Company. They merge very well actually.
New material – I hope so. We will see where we go with that. The guys are very in tune with what we were are doing, they play the things very close to how they were for the original; which is all for the good.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent. You have certainly kept your voice in great shape through the years, so it would be great hear new music from you.
Paul Rodgers – Yea, it would be great. I am ready for it too.
CrypticRock.com – Fantastic to hear. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Paul Rodgers – I like Anthony Hopkins, I must say. He is a deadly killer of an actor. His delivery is so good, he is very much like a singer in many ways. He delivers to the audience and you can almost feel a shiver down your spine. (Laughs) He can also play humor as well, can’t he?
CrypticRock.com – Yes, he is really a magnificent actor. His portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was amazing. Any new films that are of interest to you?
Paul Rodgers – I saw a poster for the new Gotti film. John Travolta is portraying him and I saw the poster, and I thought it was a picture of John Gotti. I said, “Wow, that guy has killer eyes.” That is a movie I want to see. I think he may well have nailed the soullessness of a killer like that.
I like a good story. When I look a lot of the things that come out of Hollywood, it’s all about special effects. For me, it is, “Yeah, it’s clever, but where’s the story?” I want to be drawn in emotionally too, like I do with music; so that you go on a journey and you forget yourself. It’s not about, for me, being impressed by super technical effects. It’s about the story and how you can deliver that, that is what gets me.
It’s going back a bit, but I do think they pulled that off with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), it was very moving. You actually identify with E.T.. It was hard not to shed a tear during the film. I know this is going back a million years, but it was moving. I think that’s the quality you want.