Interview With PAUL RODGERS

Paul Rodgers

Paul Rodgers is blessed with one of the finest voices in the history of Rock and has fronted some of the most influential bands of all time. Metal Express Radio chatted with Paul about his new career-encompassing Live CD and DVD … and his future plans.

You have a new Live CD and your debut solo DVD, Live In Glasgow, coming out very soon, was recorded during the 2006 UK tour in Glasgow. Did you record several shows and then selected Glasgow as the best recording … or was it always planned for Glasgow?

We selected Glasgow beforehand because the hall itself was more amenable to filming the show, as we used 13 cameras. We had considered doing it in Newcastle, but I think it would have got in the way of the show too much. We wanted to make it a memorable night and not have cameras in everyone’s faces all the time, so it worked better for us to record it in the Clyde Auditorium. We captured a great night; we’re very pleased with it. The Scots like their music, no strings attached, they just get right into it.

There’s going to be a good spread of songs from your whole career … from your Free and Bad Company days through The Firm to your own solo work. How did you go about picking the songs to perform?

I do feel that you should play for your fans and not just yourself, that’s why I think it’s important to include the favorites. Particularly in England and Scotland, Free was very much loved so I leaned that way a little bit in the set. If I went to see The Stones or, in an imaginary world, The Beatles, and they didn’t play some of my favorites, I’d feel a bit disappointed so I look at it from that point of view and include the hits, but also some new songs.

What can you say about the new song called “Warboys (A Prayer for Peace),” which is making its first appearance on your album.

Yes, “Warboys” is a prayer for peace. I put “Prayer For Peace” in brackets because I didn’t want anyone to think that it was in anyway a celebration of war. I wrote that one and it had been sitting in my mind for quite a while, but I needed a middle eight for it. I was playing it to a friend of mine and I said “I really like the song, but I just needed a middle eight section — something like this …”, and I started to sing “Children And Their Toys,” and I thought, oh, that’s it!” We decided to play it in the show and there’s also another new song, “Far Distant Shore,” which is on the DVD only. Howard Leese, my guitar player, plays the mandolin and I play acoustic guitar. We shot that performance during rehearsals.

I also revisited a song called “I Just Want To See You Smile” as well. I was in Jamaica with Chris Blackwell many years ago and wrote the song sitting on the beach. I liked the sentiment of the song … I liked the message “I just want to see you smile,” and he said why don’t you go and record it with The Maytals, who were in the studio at the time, and I thought that sounds like fun, so I did. It was absolutely amazing to do and it was released in the Jamaican Islands. It did see the light of day on one of the Free discographies, Island Years. I took a different approach with that, a sort of a more Bluesy feel, and I’m very pleased with that too.

The DVD will be your first solo DVD. Why has it taken so long to put one out?

We’ve been talking about it for years, but the time just hasn’t been there until now. We were going to do it earlier, but I hooked up with my good friends in Queen and went off on a world tour which took 2 years. We toured all around the world from Japan through Europe and all over America and Canada. That actually started out as a bit of a jam session for a TV show, but it was great. That sort of delayed things a little bit, but now I’m proceeding on both fronts at the moment. The DVD is out on May 28th and the CD is out on April 16th 2007.

What will be included on the DVD?

My son Steven is performing one of his original songs called “Sunshine.” He’s supported us on the last tour. We’ve got interviews with myself, the band, and the fans too, plus the booklets in the CD and DVD are different. They both have different photos and quotes from the band, myself, and friends like Jimmy Page, Brian May, Bob Hendrix, and others. In fact, we used a quote from Metal Express Radio!

Then you’ve kept things in the family on your tour?

That’s right. I’ve had my son Steven and my daughter Jasmine out on the road with me in the past. I have three kids, actually, but Steven and Jasmine are the musical ones. They played with me a couple of years back when we did a show for Fender Guitars 50th Anniversary. They played a couple of their songs, so that was nice too. My kids were brought up with music surrounding them, they didn’t know anything else. They were writing songs when they were 2 or 3 years old. It was great actually. Music is a great gift, something you can have for the whole of your life and it’ll always be there for you. We also had Deborah Bonham and her band opening for us for the majority of the dates. She is a wonderful person and a very good singer/songwriter — definitely another talented Bonham.

Have you thought about including some of your promo videos in the extras?

Not on this DVD. It’s fairly current as regards to what’s going on with my current solo outfit, and for me it’s a great opportunity to bring all those songs that I’ve written together with some new songs. It’s like a snapshot of my musical life in a way.

Turning to your recent tour, you had a particularly potent band backing you, including Howard Leese from Heart and Ryan Hoyle from Collective Soul. How did you put the band together?

I’ve been working with Howard for something like 9 years now, so we have a lot of shows under our belt and a lot of music that we can draw upon. We have Lynn Sorensen on bass who’s been with me for 5 years now. I borrowed Collective Soul’s drummer, Ryan Hoyle, because I watched their DVD and thought “Wow, what a great drummer.” He had quite a learning curve; he had a lot of songs to learn in a short space of time. It was amazing how he picked up on things. He’s a crisp drummer and a solid time keeper and I definitely want to play with him again.

Kurt Dengler, who shared guitar duties with Howard, is incredibly only 17. Where did you discover him?

He’s the same age as I was when Koss and I started Free, which is cool. I didn’t actually think we were that young at the time, but I guess we were. My manager actually came and said “Listen to this kid, he’s pretty darned good.” So I said to bring him along so that I could see what he could to do, and he played in a very creative way. He didn’t just hit the notes, he played them with feel and that’s a big difference. It wasn’t just painting by numbers, he was really getting into it. I asked him if he fancied coming on a tour of England and he said he’d have to get a note for his teacher, so his parents had to write a note for his teacher and out he came.

He’s done his homework too … he knows about the Blues. He knows all about Chester Burnett, you know, Howlin’ Wolf, and he’s really got his stuff down.

I’ve got about 10 shows coming up in the States this Spring, so he’ll be coming out with me there as well, so we’ll have to get another note to his teacher!

Most 17-year olds are gearing up to their A Levels at this point in their lives. How did Kurt cope with the rigors of the road?

When we played at the Albert Hall, he came up to me and said “Let me get this right. We are going to be playing songs written by you and Jimmy Page and he’s going to be out in the audience? So is Brian May and Roger Taylor?” So he said “OK, no pressure then!!” I said he’d be alright and he was alright; he handled it really well. He was very cool and level-headed. He was a bit nervous at first when we jammed together, but he didn’t let that bother him.

The feedback from the shows was excellent. How did you feel the tour went?

I think it was a lovely, warm tour. It was like going back and seeing old friends again. I love touring England, and I try to do it every two years, but it’s been 5 years since my last solo tour. It’s always great to touch base with everyone again and see everyone smiling and see how they’re doing. It’s just a very warm thing.

The crowd at the show in Newcastle seemed particularly enthusiastic. Do you approach your local show differently than other shows?

Newcastle is always going to be very special as so much has happened on those boards. The audience and I have been together so long that I sometimes feel like going out and saying “I’m not playing tonight, let’s just talk!” It was great to see everyone. There’s some of the songs in the set that I hadn’t played in 35 years, and that amazed me when I thought about it because time just flies. I hadn’t done “I’ll Be Creepin’” for a long time or “I’m a Mover;” that’s a pretty powerful tune. It was great to see the surprised faces when I went out and played those.

Did you have many of your family there?

Oh, yes. Well my family is spread over the country, so when I play I get to see everybody when they come to the shows. I’ve got quite a large family and they all bring their kids, so it’s a family affair. It gets quite busy back stage!!

Does that make you feel a little more nervous, or does it give you more of an edge?

It’s a joyful feeling, I have to say. It’s a great feeling knowing they are there.

Do you have any plans to record with this band?

It depends on the time factor as I’m also working in the studio with Queen, with Brian and Roger, and that’s fairly full on. We’ve had two recording sessions so far, one after the solo tour and I’ve just actually come back from three weeks in the studio with them. It’s been very productive. Howard Leese also has a solo album that he’s working on, and we’ve written a song together and recorded it, so there’s a lot going on, but anything’s possible.

So, then, you won’t be sitting around much with your feet up watching TV?

I tell you what, I do wish sometimes I could, as much as I love it though; it’s amazing how busy we get. A tour involves so much in terms of organization and rehearsal, travel and interviews, there’s just so much to do. I do love it and that’s why I do it.

As you mentioned earlier, you recently teamed up with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen and played a hugely successful World Tour. What did you make of the reaction to the shows?

Oh, it was great. The fans were incredible. I mean everyone, Brian, Roger, the band, the crew and all the fans really pulled together to make it happen and I think even the critics were impressed. You know it’s great being able to do something that you love doing. The whole thing was a happy accident in many respects, as we were both doing this TV show in the UK and we both wanted to play live. I was in the UK without a band, and, of course, they don’t have Freddie and we arranged to swap. They are such good musicians and you can throw anything at them as they are so creative. We bounced ideas off each other and it was lovely. We’ve now done the World Tour playing all of our hits, if you like, and my new song “Take Love” on the North American leg of the tour. I think now we need to find out who we are as a musical entity and move forward with that. If we do tour again, it would be a combination of the big songs from both our catalogs and something new … that’s very important to do something new.

When the collaboration was first announced, it took many people by surprise, however, the fact that you are so different vocally to Freddie is exactly the reason why the shows worked so well. You weren’t trying to copy Freddie, instead reinterpreting his material with your own style. Would you agree with this?

Yes, I think so. Freddie is irreplaceable. He was a very special one-off. Originally, Brian wanted to do 50% of my material and 50% of theirs, but I actually felt that as they hadn’t toured in years that we should make it more Queen orientated, which meant a lot more work for me, but it was the right thing to do. The fans loved it and were very welcoming to me.

How difficult was it to sing those songs? Did you have to change the key to suit your voice?

It’s funny, as a lot of people have asked me that question, but none of the keys I have been singing in are any different. We didn’t change any of the keys, although I do have a different type of voice; it’s a more earthy, Bluesy approach. We’re different personalities, there’s no doubt about that. The way I had to approach it was to just be myself.

How did you go about choosing the songs? There’s obviously certain Queen songs and certain Free/Bad Company songs that would have to be played, but what about the rest of the set? Did you all chip in with ideas?

That’s pretty much how we did it. We did most of it over the phone. It was a real sweat, actually, as we were talking about 40 or 50 songs as possibilities, and before rehearsals I needed to have at least a smattering of how they went. Their songs can be pretty complex. Even the choruses aren’t exactly the same, so you don’t have that safety net where you can head to the chorus as you know you’ll be all right when you get there. Ha!! It was almost like learning another language pretty quickly.

The songs almost chose themselves, really, in that when we played them we kind of went “OK, that’s it.” The first songs that we played after “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions,” they are my cup of tea as well. “Tie Your Mother Down” almost blew the doors off the studio when we played that together! We thought “OK, let’s open with that one!”

Were there any that you tried which didn’t really work out?

You know, I don’t think there was. I don’t think we attempted anything that we couldn’t have a good crack at. Pretty much everything we attempted in one form or another we pulled off. There was one song where Brian said “I think I’m going to let the audience sing this one,” and that was “Love Of My Life.” They sang it so strongly, so I thought I’d take a break on that one! Every night they took up that baton as it were. It was wonderful.

Did you consider singing “Who Wants To Live Forever” or “Spread Your Wings?”

Those two songs were mooted as they are ones that I do like. We didn’t quite get to them as there was so much other material in the pipeline.

One of your best solo releases was your Muddy Waters Blues album where you had a fantastic cast of guitarists with Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Buddy Guy, Gary Moore, Slash, and Neal Schon, amongst others playing. How did you get so many great players to take part?

I didn’t really set out to have so many guitar players, it just kind of snowballed. It just started off as a couple of guests. Jason Bonham brought Slash in. Then we started to think that certain songs would be great for certain guitarists. I started thinking that this would be great for Brian May, so I called Brian and he was up for it. Everyone I called wanted to do it. There’s Dave Gilmour, Gary Moore, Buddy Guy. It was great, great, great all down the line. Gary Moore is such an exciting guitar player. He actually came up on stage on this tour and jammed with me at the Albert Hall and he was just fabulous. We did “Louisiana Blues” and “Standing Around Crying,” then he came back out for “The Hunter.”

Did you work with each of them in the studio or did they ship their parts in from the four corners of the world to you?

We had to ship the parts, actually, on a lot of tracks. It was quite a big task as this was pre-digital. We had 48-track machines and we had to double up the machines in order to duplicate the masters. So, we sent the duplicate masters over and they recorded their parts and sent them back. It was quite exciting; a bit like Christmas. So we were like “Wow, here’s the tape from Dave Gilmour, let’s put it on!” It was great listening to those to see how they turned out. We did have some of them come into the studio … those that were in town and available, but not everybody could make it.

How was it working with Buddy Guy?

Buddy Guy is one of my all-time heroes. He’s such a showman. It was such a great thing recording that track with Buddy. I got a call from Scott Cameron, who is Buddy Guy’s manager. He was also Muddy Waters manager and now looks after his estate. He is very cagey about people using Muddy’s music. So I got this call, “I hear you’re recording a tribute to Muddy Waters?” he said. I said that I was and it was going great. He then said “You understand that you’ll have to clear that with me?” At that time, we were half way through it and had spent a fortune in the studio, so I asked if he’d like to come round. So, we had him round and I told the guys that if his foot starts tapping, we’re OK. We sat him down in the studio and gave him a coffee or whatever, and played him a track and everybody is looking at him watching his foot! Then all of a sudden his foot goes up and we were all “Yes, yes!” He was OK with it, and said “It sounds good, it’s going to be a true tribute to Muddy and that’s OK.” I said to him “While you’re here, you manage Buddy Guy don’t you? If you approve of this, why don’t you ask Buddy to come along?” He said he’d have a word with him and the next day down comes Buddy Guy and he was just fantastic. There was one condition though, that I had to play on his album. So I said “Well, twist my arm then!” So I played on his album, but strangely enough that album was the one that beat Muddy Waters Blues to The Grammy. We were both Grammy nominated, and he won it. At least I was on the album, though.

Jeff Wayne, the creator of The War Of The Worlds, said you were involved in the project at a very early stage. Do you recall what you did?

Well I was asked to be a part of that project, but unfortunately I had a really busy schedule at the time, and unfortunately I simply just couldn’t fit it in.

Ritchie Blackmore has gone on record as saying that he tried and tried to get you into Deep Purple when Ian Gillan left, but you turned him down. Why did you turn his offers down?

I played with those guys in Australia and it was actually the last gig that Free did out there in Australia. We flew back on the same plane and I got on really well with them. When they called, I was just setting up Bad Company, so it was just the wrong time, really.

Apparently Glenn Hughes only took up the offer as he thought you were going to be the lead singer. Now THAT would have been a great line up!

Ahhh, bless him! Rock and Roll history, eh?

You’ve obviously got many interesting options lined up, but what does 2007 hold for you?

I have 10 shows in The States and one in Holland in July. I like to keep my shows to a minimum to keep them exclusive, so as a result I only play 10-20 shows a year. I want to do a lot of writing. I have a place way out in the sticks in Canada overlooking a lake. I want to sit and play my piano and look at the lake and write lots of material. Of course, I’ll be moving forward with Brian and Roger. There’s also a show in Holland with my solo band in July.

I’ll probably get back to the UK hopefully next year, or maybe the year after, but 2007 is shaping up to be another busy year.

Paul Rodgers’ new album, Live in Glasgow, is out now on CD and available on DVD on the 28th of May (2007).


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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