With one of the most soulful and distinctive voices in rock history, Paul Rodgers has fronted not one but two of the genre’s great bands in Free and Bad Company. He also helmed a short-lived collaboration with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page as the Firm.
But when it was announced a few years back that he would join guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor for something called “Queen + Paul Rodgers,” multiple heads were scratched as visions of the tough-sounding, blue collar Rodgers taking over the flamboyant Freddie Mercury’s role – much less his harlequin tights or yellow military jacket – seemed downright… odd.
However, the end result (both onstage and a live album) proved not an abomination, but a surprisingly worthy classic-rock mash-up. In addition to further work with Queen, Rodgers has been touring solo, and recently released the CD/DVD Live in Glasgow, featuring tunes from across his entire career.
Sunday at the Woodlands, he’ll soon be headlining the 93.7 FM’s annual Arrowfest show, along with the current lineups of Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult, the Marshall Tucker Band, Loverboy, the Knack and Starship with Mickey Thomas. Houstoned Rocks recently talked with the leather-lunged power singer about old days, new days and what his real motivation for keeping in shape is. - Bob Ruggiero
Houstoned Rocks: Here in Houston, you’re the final act on an all-day outdoor festival bill. Will you approach picking your material any different from, say, a solo gig indoors at night?
Paul Rodgers: Not really. This is my opportunity to put all of the material from my bands together, plus some blues and new songs. Wherever we are, when we open up with the chords to, say, “Shooting Star” or “All Right Now” they’re recognized immediately and that’s great. And I do like the audience participation.
HR: What made you decide to put together Live at Glasgow?
PR: I’ve put out various DVDs over the years with the bands, but never one that was just me. It was only close to 40 years in the making! (laughs) It was also a great venue. We had 13 cameras at the shoot.
HR: The new song on Glasgow is the very timely “Warboys (A Prayer for Peace).” Explain that a bit.
PR: I hope that people would understand the song doesn’t condone the idea of war. Although sometimes we have to fight fire with fire and can’t let people roll over us, I do wish mankind could transcend the need to destroy each other. It seems such a senseless waste, especially with what’s going on now. I do question the decision at the top for us to even be [in Iraq]. And I’m not the only one. The soldiers I have every respect for because they’re going out there thinking they’re doing their job. But I wonder if we’ve all been misled. And a mistake has been made in that it’s almost seen that to be against the war is to be anti-American, and that’s not the case.
HR: When I first heard you were teaming up with Queen, I thought it was nuts. It just didn’t seem like your two styles would mesh. But when I saw you perform on VH-1’s Rock Honors for Queen, I got it. You’re not trying to emulate or replace Freddie Mercury’s style at all. It’s a Paul Rodgers take on their songs.
PR: It is a unique combination. When I first got together with those guys, I found out that Freddie was a fan of mine. That surprised me since we seemed to be worlds apart in our material. They told me that the Free album Fire and Water was like their Bible when they were starting out. And [today] they do play my songs exceptionally well. It was a great blending of our catalogues.
HR: What’s the status on the proposed new studio record?
PR: We’ve been in the studio a couple of times, and it’s been great. So far, we’ve mostly just played our hits on stage, except for one new song on the American leg of the tour, “Take Love,” which I wrote. But we’re now doing other new songs. There was an intensity and raising of each other’s game during the tour. Who knows where it will take us?
HR: Did [Queen bassist] John Deacon not want to be part of the project? He wasn’t on the tour.
PR: The door is still open for John, and I’ve mentioned it recently. The bass sound was always a very big part of Queen’s music. I think he’s pretty much retired from touring and out of the loop, but I understand he completely condones what we’re doing.
HR: Sure. He gets plenty of royalties from the songs.
PR: Right! (laughs)
HR: “All Right Now” is not only Free’s biggest hit, but it has become one of the really huge classic rock anthems. When did you realize this song had kind of transcended itself into something bigger?
PR: Yeah, it hasn’t gone away! But I didn’t play the song all through the Bad Company years and up until 1992. I was playing a Muddy Waters blues tribute tour and had Jason Bonham in the band. Every night, the band would beg me, “Let’s do ‘All Right Now!’” And I said, “No, this is a blues tour.” The audience picked up on this one night and started chanting for it. So I’m stuck between the band and the crowd, and I’m the only one who doesn’t want to do it! So we did it, and it kind of blew the doors off. That’s when I realized it’s got a life of its own, and it’s stayed in the set since then.
HR: Bad Company was on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label. You even shared the same manager, Peter Grant. Did you ever feel like you were looked at like Zep’s “baby brother” band the way Badfinger was seen as a mini-Beatles?
RP: No. Zeppelin has massive credibility in their music. They taught us a lot because they didn’t just rock wall to wall. They understood dynamics where they could do an intimate, acoustic set in the middle of an audience of 20-30,000 people. We tried to manage ourselves with Free and that didn’t work, so I approached Peter Grant with Bad Company. I called him up, and it was sort of like calling up God.
HR: He was about the size of God.
PR: Yeah! But they had just formed the label and they were scouting talent. We were auditioning bass players at some town hall in England and invited him, but he wasn’t there. So we said “Oh, this big fat booger didn’t show,” and were peeved off. Then about five minutes before we were done, he came in. He had been listening outside the door the whole time so he could get the real deal! He said he liked what we were doing and signed us. And we loved Zeppelin. They would come to rehearsals and gigs and we’d just jam with both bands on stage. It was all hell breaking loose!
HR: Any truth to the story that you were asked to be the lead singer of Deep Purple after Ian Gillan left?
PR: Yes. Free had played with Deep Purple in Australia and it was our very last show. I got along really well with [Purple] keyboardist Jon Lord and we exchanged numbers. Later, I got a call to [join], but I was forming Bad Company at the time, so it wasn’t possible.
HR: And my last question. Your voice has really held up amazingly well, which is obvious on Live in Glasgow. And you’re in great physical shape as well – all your current photos are of you in tank tops. What’s your health and exercise regimen?
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PR: My secret is Cynthia. I just got married last month, and she’s a fitness expert and a former Miss Canada! When we first met, she went down to the gym every day, and I asked what it was like. She told me to come see for myself and I sort of followed her. Now I [work out] all the time. I also do meditation, yoga, and stretching. It keeps you elastic and young.
HR: Of course. You’ve got a younger former Miss Canada to keep satisfied!
PR: (Laughs) Yes! I have to stay in shape!
Paul Rodgers headlines Arrowfest Sunday, October 14 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands. Gates open at noon. Tickets at 713-629-3700 or www.ticketmaster.com.