Although sadly overshadowed in the media by the Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary Tour hoopla, a concert event no less enthralling, equally relevant and most likely better sounding, takes place tonight in Hammond.
In one of only 25 reunion dates to celebrate their own landmark anniversary of 40 years – Bad Company’s three surviving co-founders vocalist Paul Rodgers, drummer Simon Kirk and guitarist Mick Ralphs (original bassist Boz Burrell died of a heart attack in 2006) – will take the stage tonight at The Venue and treat region music fans to a plethora of chart hits – “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Running With The Pack, “ Can’t Get Enough,” “Ready For Love,” “Shooting Star” – and a few hand-picked deep cuts.
According to Rodgers, fans will hear all the tunes they come expecting to hear, along with the rarely performed “Electricland” and “a few nice surprises that I don’t want to ruin by saying too much here.”
“My agent called and said if you go by when you and Mick started putting the band together in 1973, this year marks Bad Company’s 40th anniversary. Do you want to do something to celebrate it? And I said, yes. So here we are doing this short-run tour,” explained Rodgers. “We’re doing some of the dates with Lynyrd Skynyrd and some on our own (like tonight’s casino show).”
Kirk and Rodgers formed Bad Company out of the ashes of their former band FREE, a British blues-rock group known for songs like “All Right Now,” “Fire And Water” and “Wishing Well.”
With the aid of former Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and ex-King Crimson drummer Boz Burrell, things came together quickly and Bad Company’s debut album was in record stores in less than a year (June 26, 1974) via Swan Song Records, making this week the 39th anniversary of the first album’s release.
As for why FREE enjoyed only modest success while Bad Company soared to great heights for fame and had many million-sellers to their credit, despite the similar sound of the two groups coupled with sharing key members, Rodgers believes it was due in part to Bad Company keeping “good company” which helped put the young band on the radar in a big way.
The benefit of being signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label during the height of Zep’s popularity is not lost on Rodgers. “If gave us the opportunity to be heard, to give us a listen,” he said. “Sometimes a young band just needs someone to give them a listen.”
Having Zep and their manager Peter Grant endorsing Bad Company got people to open their ears to the earthy R&B meets rock sound of the fledgling group. “Once people listen you have to deliver. You have to have the goods,” continued Rodgers. “Once people listened, we did deliver. We had the songs and we were making music we passionately believed in and loved, and to our good fortune the songs appealed to people.”
Rock legend has it that Bad Company’s name was inspired by a western movie, but that is only part of the story. Rodgers sets the story straight for The Times' readers.
“There is some truth to that because when I saw the Jeff Bridges (1972 “Bad Company”) movie advertised, Mick and I were at the point of trying to think of a band name,” reflected Rodgers. “That ad for the movie reminded me of an old Victorian book I had seen. On its cover was a sort of Victorian street punk, dressed like a gentleman but in rags, leaning on a gas lamp post with legs crossed and hands on hips. This innocent little choir boy is looking up at him with this angelic face and underneath it said, ‘Beware of bad company.’ So the two things connected – the movie ad and the book cover – so I was never quite sure which one of those things gave us the name.”
For a dozen years, the four original members made music, landed hits on radio and took home gold and platinum records, ultimately becoming one of the most popular and successful rock bands of the classic rock era.
This anniversary tour is special because it gives Bad Company fans a (final?) chance to hear their favorite songs delivered by the trademark voice of Rodgers, who many rock scribes and historians have hailed as “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer of all time.” Rodgers parted ways with the group in the early-1980s to pursue other musical projects while the rest of the group carried on with other singers with his blessing.
Over the years, Rodgers joined ranks with long-time friend and fellow British rock legend Jimmy Page to form The Firm and release two albums (scoring a Top 10 radio hit with “Radioactive”). He dabbled with a few other band projects like The Law with Who drummer Kenny Jones, recorded some “tribute albums” to his musical heroes Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix, and released some tasty solo albums, including the critically acclaimed, career-spanning 2006 CD, “Paul Rodgers: Live in Glasgow.”
Rodgers famously stepped up to the microphone to tour and record with the surviving members of Queen with that union – billed as Paul Rodgers & Queen – resulting in a powerful concert CD/DVD that blended songs from both the Rodgers and Queen catalogs, followed by a new collaborative studio album anchored by a minor radio hit, “C-Lebrity.”
“It was most enjoyable,” said Rodgers of the Queen project. “There’s nothing planned right now, but we’ve left the door open for possible future things.”
Rodgers most recently toured Europe with a full orchestra and just before hitting the road for the Bad Company anniversary tour, had spent time in Memphis communing with ghosts of R&B greats like Willie Mitchell and Solomon Burke at the historic Royal Studios.
Rodgers expects to release songs he recorded there later this year and describes his forthcoming solo album as a return to the kind of music that grabbed his soul during the 1960s British Blues Explosion, the era inspiring the formation of The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Blues Breakers and others, while also lighting a passion in teenage Rodgers that still burns hot.
“I listened to Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and all the pop music of the time and loved it, but when I heard the blues it was different,” said Rodgers.
“We last got together as Bad Company for a short tour in 2009 and that was only 25 dates as well,” he said. “So this doesn’t happen very often, but it’s always a lot of fun when it does.” Rodgers said because they don’t perform together often, these reunion dates have “a real spark and energy because it’s fresh again.”