Paul Rodgers – Journeyman

If you’re a music aficionado, the name Paul Rodgers is likely well-known to you. But if not, well, you should know more about this singer. Not a household name by any means but you know his voice. It’s literally impossible for me to list all the band configurations he’s been involved in. Just some highlights here. 

“The best rock singer ever would have to be Paul Rodgers.” – John Mellencamp in an interview in 1991.

Paul Rodgers, born in 1949, is part of that seemingly endless generation of British post-WWII musicians who were steeped in blues and R&B. He started gigging around in the early ’60’s,  considering singers like Rod Stewart and Muddy Waters as role models.

He went on to join an R&B band in London called Brown Sugar. (I wish I had a buck for every R&B band in England in that time period.) One fateful night in 1967, the band was playing in a blues club when a bloke named Paul Kossoff wandered in. Rodgers tells the next part in an interview:

“The first official time I met [Paul Kossoff]I was playing in a blues club called the Fickle Pickle in Finsbury Park,” Rodgers told Premier Guitar in an interview. “I had a blues band at the time called Brown Sugar. We used to do two 45-minute spots with a break in between.

Koss came up for the second set and said, ‘I’d like to come for a jam.’ I said, ‘Have you got a guitar with you?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got my Les Paul in the car.’

The blues jam was so intense that they realized they had to form a band. And so, bound by a love of the Kings Albert and B.B., the group Free* was born. Kossoff was 17, Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke were 18, and bassist Andy Fraser was 15.

Free put out a couple of good bluesy albums in 1969 starting with Tons of Sobs. But it was their 1970 album Fire and Water that put them on the map. The song “All Right Now” is still a staple of classic rock radio. (Rodgers is also a songwriter and co-wrote this song.)

Love Kossoff’s solo in this. And that moment when the chord comes crashing back in after the solo? (3:35). Classic.

Spotify link

Free went through the usual drugs/fights/breakup routine that just about every band endures. Kossoff’s addiction did not help and in 1973 Free broke up. (Kossoff died of a pulmonary embolism in 1975 at the age of 25.)

Rodgers and Kirke formed Bad Company in 1973, a supergroup of sorts with bassist Boz Burrell of King Crimson, and guitarist Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople. Bad Company had some bluesy roots but leaned more in a hard rock direction.

They did a bunch of great stuff (“Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Movin’ On, “Bad Company,” “Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy,” Can’t Get Enough,” etc.) but my inner teenager still very much feels like hearing “Rock Steady.”

Spotify link

Where Free were big, Bad Company were (and are) a monster. It’s fair to say that with artists like Bad Company, Robin Trower, and Savoy Brown, this blues-based sound was one of the cornerstones of rock in the early Seventies. You hear it now for a new generation with acts like Black Keys, Record Company and Jack White.

This version of Bad Company lasted till 1982. By that time they had played to over 10 million people worldwide and sold 30 million albums. Now recall that Led Zeppelin had by now broken up. And in 1983, mates Jimmy Page and Rodgers played at one of the ARMS benefits developed in response to Ronnie Lane’s MS.

Those two events led to the highly-in-demand Rodgers joining Pagey in a relatively short-lived band called The Firm. The band struck me as kind of generic arena-rock, somewhat disappointing given its pedigree. “Radioactive” isn’t a bad MTV-type song. But it sure ain’t Zeppelin V2.0

Spotify link

Rodgers went on to form another “don’t know much about ’em” band called The Law in the early Nineties with Who/Faces drummer Kenney Jones. In 1993, he released a solo album called Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters. 

“Solo” is a bit of a misnomer as he had combined with a variety of guitarists (Buddy Guy, Brian Setzer, Trevor Rabin, Jeff Beck, etc.) to do honors to Muddy. Here he is with Steve Miller doing “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

(Miller is not just a classic rock dude. His father was an amateur musician and recording engineer. Regular house guests were Les Paul and T-Bone Walker, the latter of whom showed the young midnight toker his first blues licks.)

Spotify link (live at Montreux 1994)

In 2004, after a live TV collaboration, members of Queen approached Rodgers to tour with them.** It was never intended that Rodgers replace Freddie Mercury (who really can?) so they toured as Queen + Paul Rodgers. This unit stayed together for five years and broke up amicably.

The band’s drummer Roger Taylor said, “We never thought we would tour again, Paul came along by chance and we seemed to have a chemistry. Paul is just such a great singer. He’s not trying to be Freddie.”

Here are the lads doing “Fat Bottomed Girls” live. Get on your bikes and ride, bitches!

Spotify link

Since 2009, Rodgers has been doing his solo thing and occasionally touring with a reformed Bad Company. In fact according to Wikipedia, “In 2017 Paul Rodgers embarked on a Free Spirit UK Tour in May 2017 (only) to celebrate the music of Free by performing songs strictly from the Free catalogue.”

In 2014, Rodgers released an album called The Royal Sessions which leans more towards soul and R&B.

According to his website, Rodgers is playing a handful of US dates late this year into next. It goes on to say the 67-year-old Rodgers plays 20 – 30 dates per year. I think the bloke deserves a bit of a rest after such a great career, eh?

A poll in Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 55 on its list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”. In 2011 Rodgers received the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.

Other notable singers that claimed him as a significant influence include Lou Gramm, David Coverdale, Joe Bonamassa, Ronnie Van Zant and, ironically, Freddie Mercury.

*They got the name ‘Free’ from the ubiquitous Alexis Korner who seemingly had some level of involvement with every British R&B and blues band of the Sixties. Reportedly he also helped them get a deal with Island records.

**Per Wikipedia, “It was revealed in April 2011 that after Jim Morrison’s death in 1971, the rest of The Doors wanted Rodgers to replace him. Rodgers has said that he was unreachably rural at the time, and the moment passed

 

31 thoughts on “Paul Rodgers – Journeyman

  1. “unreachably rural” is one of the best phrases I’ve heard in a while. I might have to set that as my next out-of-office email.
    Always enjoyed a bit of Free / Bad Company but was never really taken by anything from The Firm. No faulting Mr Rodgers’ vocals but I think Page was perhaps trying very hard to distance himself from Zep. Now that he’s done with the most recent reissue/remastering campaign for that untouchable band he’s talking of doing more solo stuff too but – much in the same way as Pete Townshend never really manages to distance himself from The Who – I think people will really be looking for *that* sound in his material and old Rob ain’t interested.
    Mr Rodgers may have one of the most impressive cvs in music

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    1. Yes, one wonders why he didn’t want to sing with the Doors. Maybe he didn’t want to deal with the comparison to Morrison. Or he just didn’t like their music? Yeah, the Firm had maybe that one hit. I was going to dig deeper into their catalog but I figured it’d be more fun to post all well-known songs for that casual reader/music fan who might say “I know all those songs. You mean that’s the same guy?”

      As to Mr. Page, are you sure he’s not going to (again) re-re-re-master and re-release Zep stuff? Because that’s all he seems to do. I love Zep as much as anybody and so it’s painful to say that maybe Pagey ran out of ideas a long time ago. The evidence seems to prove it. Hell, if that’s the case, maybe he outta grab a couple of good musicians and put out a blues album. That would partially satisfy the Zep crowd and make him seem at least semi-viable again.

      Back to Rodgers and yes, he’s “been there/done that.” Consider that he and Kossoff met in 1967 so it’s 50 years just from that point. I saw an interview of him on YouTube on a rock cruise from a year or two ago. Seems like a really nice guy, always has that smile on his face. I probably would too if I had his royalties. Anyway, he deserves a blogosphere salute. Couldn’t find one so now he’s got one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Jim – not that you need my seal of approval!😜

    Paul Rodgers is one hell of a rock singer. I knew about his integral role in Bad Company (awesome band!) and his touring with Queen. While I agree Freddie Mercury had a one of a kind voice that’s irreplaceable, I thought Rodgers did a great job!

    I was not aware about Rodgers’ association with Free. I’m also not sure I know much more than “All Right Now.” But that’s already enough to tell me I should probably go and further explore them.

    “All Right Now” has one of these magic simple guitar riffs where you only need to hear a few notes to recognize the song. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” (finally saw these guys Mon night – so cool!) and The Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” are other examples that come to mind in this context.

    I also like the Muddy Waters cover you highlighted. It goes to show Rodgers is a versatile singer!

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    1. Strictly speaking, I may not need your seal of approval but it doesn’t hurt! 🙂 As mentioned in the post, Free was out there in the mix with a million other bands but that album (and song) kicked them to a new level. As mentioned in my reply to Tony, I intentionally posted what I believed to be his most popular songs, reasoning that some may not have made the Free-Queen connection. I can’t think of any other singer that’s quite had that trajectory.

      I bet Deep Purple didn’t suck. If Steve Morse is with them, I’m sure he more than capably handled Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar work. As to the blues, yeah that’s where Rodgers and so many of his peers started. Witness the Stones’ fine recent all-blues album.

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      1. Morse was great, as were Ian Paice (still hitting these drums with plenty of mojo!) and keyboarder Don Airey. Only Gillan could have been a bit more dynamic – but singing some of their stuff ain’t easy, especially at age 72. BTW, Edgar Winter was the opener – holy smoke!

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        1. My son is working the Boston show in some fashion (usher?) and so will see both bands free. I’m curious as to what his reaction will be as neither of those bands is anywhere near his cup of tea. The blues-rock thing, alas, does not run in his veins.

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        2. So cool! Assuming your son may be able to get you a good seat not too far from the stage, get ear plugs!

          I was in a cheap seat all the way in the back. For a change, I was happy about not being too close to the action.

          As for your son, there is always hope he may come to dig this shit!😜

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        3. Good start!😀

          Maybe he’d dig Edgar Winter. I’d try his third studio album “They Only Come Out At Night,” which isn’t hardcore blues. It includes “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein,” which I understand are the best-known tunes from the Edgar Winter Group.

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        4. For the record, the Boston Deep Purple show was the other night and he couldn’t do the volunteering due to schedule conflicts. It occurs to me I once made up a CD mix for him which he wasn’t really crazy about. First song? Highway Star. Oh, well.

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        5. Ha, reminds me a bit of my 15-year-old who knows everything better. He is still trying to convince me that some of the music in his video games is really cool. I’m like, ‘what music?’ It’s all computer-generated stuff – no real instruments here, no real vocals!

          Oh, well, at least he likes The Beatles and enjoyed two related concerts I took him to – Paul McCartney and RAIN.

          We must never give up hope!

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  3. I think Rodgers is a good frontman, and vocalist, but never cared much for any of his bands or their songs. This is the first I heard of the Doors offer. I can’t imagine a Brit singing for that very “American” band. I do know that Iggy Pop was offered the job, and I think he would’ve been a better choice (not that you could ever replace Jim Morrison).

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    1. I pretty much dug Free and Bad Company but I wasn’t a slavish fan. I do like that first BC album but now I pretty much only listen to either band when I catch them on the radio. But I was (and remain) a big blues-rock fan so I gravitate in that direction. Yes, Morrison is hard to replace and it is, I think, not just because of his voice but because as a frontman he oozed sexuality. For all his gifts, I don’t think Rodgers has that. Iggy is more in-your-face for sure.

      I got to wondering whether the remaining Doors had ever tried to replace Morrison. Turns out that in 2002 a (British!) singer named Ian Astbury from a band called The Cult did this for a while. I remember exactly one song by them. If you listen, it sounds more Rodgers than Morrison.

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      1. Ah yes, Ian Astbury. But he wasn’t with “The Doors.” It was “The Doors of the 21st Century.” Very interesting story behind all that (which I wrote about on my own blog a while back). Thank God for people like John Densmore! 🙂

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        1. Yes, you are correct. Although I’ve often wondered why the other guys didn’t move on to other things instead of milking the Doors forever. Stupid question I suppose. $$$. I’ll have to go read your post. I know little about this particular iteration. This will probably sound totally heretical but while I like the Doors and will certainly write about them, I am not as big a fan of them as many others are. Don’t misunderstand that. They were great in a lot of ways but not one of my Top Ten bands.

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  4. Prompted by your previous post I very nearly added Paul Rodgers to my personal list of favourite singers … and the next thing I know you’re blogging about him. Coincidence or telepathy?

    (Fat Bottomed Girls doesn’t work here either on YouTube or Spotify 😦 )

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  5. Rodgers is on my second “destined-to-be-controversial” list of 25 favorite singers which will appear on these pages one day. I thought of him and wanted to somewhat celebrate him as he seems to be one of these under-the-radar types. Musos know him but the great masses may or may not know his name. (My wife knows every one of those songs but never heard of Rodgers. I would argue that’s your average listener’s response.) As to coincidence vs. telepathy, even two people whose tastes can be as diverse as yours and mine must sometimes intersect, eh?

    Boy that really pisses me off about those versions not playing. Is it a rights thing? I mean, Queen is an English band! I wonder if you went directly into Spotify and did a search. That’s how I found it. Just searching on that song name and then about a half dozen or so down, I found it as Live, Queen + Paul Rogers. I tell you I’ve never really been a gigantic fan of that song. But it sounds great live and it shows how powerful rock is when it’s done well. As quoted in my piece, Rodgers does not try to be Mercury but he acquits himself rather well.

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    1. Yep, the search box does work. The link you gave takes me to a single (Reaching Out/Tie Your Mother Down – Fat Bottomed Girls (Sampler), whatever that is). Both tracks are greyed out and unplayable. The search box method takes you to the album Return of the Champions and those tracks play just fine. (shrug)

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      1. Interesting. Well, at least now you have a Plan B (or perhaps a Plan A.) Something occurred to me. When I do a post, I always now use both YouTube and Spotify links and I always test them before posting. But I’ve noticed that for whatever reason, when I try the Spotify links from my laptop, it goes to some web version that gives me something like the weird results you describe. But my tablet (Kindle) hits every song perfectly every time. Not sure about my Android. So I think different devices are calling up Spotify differently but I don’t know how or why. If you have other devices, I’d be curious of the results of any experiment.

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        1. No way! I just had that stupid joke stored up to use with you and basically shoehorned it in when I saw a chance. Boy that guy gets around. I saw him being interviewed by Alice Cooper with whom he’s “old friends.” If he shows up on the next Kendrick Lamar album, I won’t be surprised.

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        2. The reason I put that together is i saw Rogers on a local TV show with His wife who had a fitness spot on the show. He keeps himself fit. The BTO guys are fixtures, up here so it fits. I think they are all pretty decent guys. So you are right they “Took care of business”. That’s funny!

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  6. Again, great post! I’ve shared it with a friend of mine who has excellent taste in music and digs him immensely. Saw him on the tour with Queen (more accurately, Brian and Roger) and he was great; they got a lot of flack for that but they should all get credit for trying something new, and Rodgers was by no means attempting to be Freddie. Back when the tour was announced I sent a welcoming message on his website, which he answered–it was my first online response from a “star” and I was quite flustered. (I was also flustered last year when Sir Bob like a Facebook comment of mine). Bad Co. should definitely be considered for the HOF. And to give you the ladies’ perspective, he is one hell of a sharp dresser and one fine rock and roll geezer.

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  7. That is very cool. I have never seen Rodgers, Bad Company or Queen. I may never as, while I haven’t quite hung up my rock and roll shoes, it’s more of an effort both financially and otherwise to get to the arena. I’ve been going to the smaller clubs and still seeing really good artists (Savoy Brown, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rickie Lee Jones.) However, were Queen, AC/DC or ZZTop to come this way, I may have to dust off those shoes.

    For the record, the ladies should also know that Paul seems like a hell of a nice guy. I mentioned to another commenter that I watched a video of him being interviewed on a rock cruise. If that floats your boat, just go over to YouTube and type in Paul Rodgers interview.

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  8. Great post about one of rocks best singers. I was lucky enough to see him twice. Once with BC which happened to be the first concert I ever went to and at The Cow Palace when they did the Arms Benefit concert out here.

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