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.
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.”
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
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.)
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!
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