It is an interesting bit of cultural exchange that many English teenagers of the early '60s were simply mad for American R&B and blues music -- even moreso than their similarly-aged former colonists. And in a pre-iTunes time, finding said vinyl imports from Across the Pond was not easy.
The more intense of these teens would become obsessed with the music, mostly performed by older black men. Later they would form groups of their own and include many covers of the songs in their sets. Bands with names like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Zombies, Animals, Yardbirds... you may have heard of them.
Young Paul Bernard Rodgers of Middlesborough was one of those teens, slipping in the shoes of his musical heroes as the lead singer for the Roadrunners, Free ("All Right Now"), and later Bad Company.
"There was just something about that music from America. It just leapt out of the speakers and it said something to us. It wasn't just music, but another lifestyle!" Rodgers says today, just before breaking into singing a few lines from Chuck Berry's "Around and Around."
"They say the joint was rockin'/Goin' round and round/Yeah reelin' and a rockin'/What a crazy sound.' That's the song. And then the police bust in!"
Rodgers laughs. "We all thought, 'What is going on over there in America!"
On their current tour, Rodgers is fronting Bad Company once more (with three-fourths of the original lineup) while celebrating the band's 40th anniversary. Also on the bill Thursday at the Woodlands Pavilion is the similarly-vintaged Lynyrd Skynyrd, and younger guns Black Stone Cherry.
Rodgers recalls that he and guitarist Mick Ralphs (ex-Mott the Hoople) started putting together Bad Company in 1973, and began writing material together almost immediately. They would eventually recruit drummer Simon Kirke -- who had played with Rodgers in Free -- and bassist Boz Burrell, who spent time as a vocalist with King Crimson. Burrell died in 2006 of a heart attack.
In a short time, and with the advantage of being on Led Zeppelin's label Swan Song, Bad Company racked up an impressive stream of hits and classic-rock radio staples like "Feel Like Making Love," "Shooting Star," "Ready for Love," "Can't Get Enough," "Run with the Pack," "Rock Steady," and (of course) "Bad Company."
After Rodgers left in 1982, the band continued on with various members and new lead singers (Brian Howe, Robert Hart), before the original foursome regrouped in 1999 to record new material for an anthology and tour. Since then, various incarnations have performed, while Rodgers enjoyed a solo career, joined with Jimmy Page in The Firm ("Radioactive"), and a stint teaming with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen for Queen + Paul Rodgers.
"As Bad Company, we get together once every blue moon, so this was a good time to do this," Rodgers says. "And 40 years has blown by, it's quite amazing."
But with so many hits to pick from, how can the group satisfy both those who want to hear the hits as well as diehards who want deeper cuts?
"I'm very careful about the set list. It's not just a rundown of any old songs, it's the show," he explains. "I try to create a situation where you have all the ingredients: excitement, then a little intimacy, then a connection where the audience sings and becomes part of the show."
As for his current tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd, it's more than just a mutual admiration society. Rodgers credits them with finding love. But that's a tale for Part II...
Coming up in Part II: Paul Rodgers discusses the late Boz Burrell, his thoughts on not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, how he keeps "the old bod" in shape, and why the boys from Skynyrd wrote him a love song of sorts...
Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Stone Cherry play the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Thursday, July 11. Gates open at 6 p.m.
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