There are singers. There are superstar singers. And then there's Paul Rodgers. For almost 40 years, his instantly recognizable voice has graced records by Free, Bad Company, The Firm, The Law, Queen as well as his own solo efforts. His rough-hewed velvety voice has been heard on hit record after hit record and he is responsible for two of the biggest anthems of all-time, "All Right Now" and "Can't Get Enough".
Paul has recently released an excellent 17-track live CD entitled "Live in Glasgow". An equally outstanding live DVD will follow at the end of May. One brief listen to either will tell you that the man's voice has astonishingly got even better than it was. Spanning the man's entire career, the sets even offer some new material which rank up there with his best.
I get to interview a lot of people with this great gig. There's no bigger thrill, however, than getting to speak with somebody whose name provides all the introduction you need. I spoke to Paul this week and joyfully found that besides his gargantuan talent, he was equally as nice to talk to.
antiMUSIC: This is an absolute honor to have the opportunity to speak with you.
I bought the first Bad Company record the day it was the shelves and your music has been played constantly on my stereo ever since. Thank you so much for taking the time today.
Paul Rodgers: Ah, well thank you. It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
antiMUSIC: Your CD and DVD are both terrific so congrats on what should be another extremely successful record for you.
Paul Rodgers: Oh, great. Thank you.
antiMUSIC: I guess the first question is why did you decide to release a live CD at this time and why did you pick Glasgow at the show to use?
Paul Rodgers: Well it's, there are two things. There's a live CD and a live DVD. The DVD is my debut solo DVD. It's the first one I've made as a solo artist.
Paul Rodgers: I should say that the art work and photos and everything is different for…a lot of people just have a repeat performance of the same artwork, etc. we've done everything different. The booklets are different.
Paul Rodgers: Yeah. And we kicked around the idea of doing a live DVD for a long time. In fact I was about to do one a couple of years back. And I met up with Brian and Roger and the boys from Queen and that turned into, that sorta sidetracked me a little bit. So finally having done the Queen tour, you know, which was something that escalated from being a couple of dates for fun into a world tour that took two years, you see.
Paul Rodgers: And having done that tour, a lot of people said, well it was great what you did with Queen but we'd like to see, you know, are you still working solo? So I more or less went straight out and did a tour to let people know that I was definitely working solo as well and in the course of that we recorded the DVD and really at the height of the UK tour.
antiMUSIC: Can you tell us about that particular show and crowd? Have you played Glasgow very much in the past and do you know why this show stood out from the others?
Paul Rodgers: Well, all the shows were great. It was a sold out tour. We played at the Albert Hall and it was tempting to actually record it at the Albert Hall but it's kind of, everyone sort of does a DVD there and I've always thought that you know, in the north of England and way across the border into Scotland, the fans have always been so you know, so much a part of the springboard really, for any success that I've had. It was a sort of almost a going home. I'm from the north east of England myself you know, which is towards Scotland. And in fact we did a show in Newcastle the night before which is right from where I come from, right near where I come from. And we thought of recording it there, however we were using so many cameras, we've got 13 cameras, we decided that the hall in Glasgow was definitely all round the best because the cameras wouldn't then interfere with the actual show. So we were able to capture what was going on, in the Clyde Auditorium, and you know, there was plenty of space.
antiMUSIC: Apparently on that tour, Gary Moore popped in for a show. Was this planned in advance or did he just show up at the show and jam?
Paul Rodgers: No, he turned up. I actually called him and asked him if he'd like to come out for a jam, because we often do that. You know, I've played with him before over the years and he's such a wonderful blues player. And it was a good opportunity for him to come up. I don't think he likes to travel too much and he lives in London so it was quite close for him. It was just fabulous. He came on stage and we did, I think we did "Standing Around Crying" and a couple of blues things and it was just awesome.
antiMUSIC: The track listing on this record covers most of your career. At this point, having recorded 28 records, is it difficult to create a set list that is both satisfying to you and your audience?
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, well it's part of the art, really, you know. Really putting a set list together is somewhat similar to putting a song together on a larger scale. The songs becoming the chord changes in a way. And I don't just pick the sets for myself. I bear in mind what the fans want to hear and I try to include a lot of the familiar, the big hits, and also something new. So a huge cross-section, really. And playing, with the individual bands, Free, Bad Company, the Firm, I've always played, there was an individual set of catalogue, an individual set of songs for each those bands. They didn't really overlap too much. But when I play solo, it is my opportunity to put all of that together because it's all songs that I've written and then I include the solo work too in that.
antiMUSIC: How do you feel about including say Free material in your set? Is it sort of an albatross to have to include "All Right Now" or "Can't Get Enough" in every show or are you happy to give the audience what they want?
Paul Rodgers: (laughs) No, actually not really. Sometimes I DON'T put them in. it's strange enough. But I must say that that is very rare. Because what happens is, when you get to the point, you know, I didn't play "All Right Now", for a lot of years, all through the Bad Company years, and all through The Firm years, you know, there's very little cross, cross playing of the music. I kept each band to itself. And really I started, "All Right Now", crept back into the set when I was supporting, when I was playing in support of the blues tribute, in '96, the Muddy Waters tribute. And I had the band behind me saying, "Let's do "All Right Now", let's do "All Right Now"! And the audience in front of me going, yeah, do "All Right Now". And I hadn't done it for some, I don't know, what would that be, 20? 20 years or something?
antiMUSIC: Yeah, right, right.
Paul Rodgers: Believe it or not, and it was only me standing on the front of the stage saying no. so I said, well what the heck? Let's do it, you know. So we did it. And it just took the roof off the place. And basically, it stayed in the set since then. Remarkably the song itself, although it was one of the most commercial songs ever written, I think it's safe to say, was actually written out of the blues, because blues is very dear to my heart. And it was inspired by blues. So it's a strange thing, isn't it?
antiMUSIC: You have several new songs on the record, I'm told. One of them is "Warboys (A Prayer for Peace)". Is this directed towards the war in Iraq or just a general world-wide observation?
Paul Rodgers: Well it's very timely in the sense that there is that terrible war going on out there. I do feel it's very saddening to see so many people being killed. It all seems kinda futile. I mean I just don't understand what we're all doing there really. What the purpose of this is. And I suppose it is general and it's also specific too. It seems to me, I love to read history and I read a lot of history and down through the centuries it does seem that mankind has never been able to elevate himself above the need to fight wars over things and to kill each other. And I just wish that humankind could transcend that seemingly hardwired desire to wipe each other out which seems very strange. It's a strange thing when you think throughout the years, there's always been wars. And there's been an arms race since somebody invented the spear I think, you know what I mean. All the way until we had nuclear power and then for a little while we found a respite because there was a stalemate in the arms race, if you see what I mean. We have natural resources we should be exploring and become independent of the need for oil and resources and I think that's actually at the root of a lot of the problems, isn't it?
antiMUSIC: Absolutely. Whether they say that or not.
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, I know, I know. It's just sort of the underlying, the underlying motive it seems to me. You know, I mean I have to say if I'm going to get on my soapbox just a little bit: Osama Bin Laden is the person we should be after, you know. The leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was kind of irrelevant to us really, was he not?
antiMUSIC: That's right.
Paul Rodgers: Am I the only one…or does everybody think that but nobody's saying it, I just don't understand. And having said all that, there are times, there are sometimes when …that aggression, that sometimes you do have to fight fire with fire, right, you know. Sometimes that IS the only answer to some of the fanaticism that goes on, right. I understand that. Because we can't let fanatics run the world for us and sometimes that is the only answer. But we have to be sure that IS what we're dealing with, you know, that that is what the cause of the war is. Let's be clear. So that's my little say. And it's all connected with the song, I guess.
antiMUSIC: What inspired the song "Far Distant Shore"?
Paul Rodgers: Well, "Far Distant Shore", you know, it's a strange thing. A lot of people…I do feel that everybody can write songs. It's just a matter of believing that you can. There's a certain place that's partly, just when a person is going off to sleep, there's a kind of, you're not asleep but you're not quite conscious, just in there, I think that's where the very creative part of the mind. That's where I think songwriting comes from. Very often songs will come to me at that moment, just as I'm nodding off to sleep. And I go darn, I've got to wake up and write that down. And that very often happens. It's kind of a mind flow and "Far Distant Shore" appears on the DVD and the rehearsal footage, we filmed it, we only filmed it at the rehearsal. My guitarist Howard Leese is playing a mandolin on that, and I'm playing acoustic guitar. And it's kind of a thought stream, it's very strange. I don't know anything about warfare at sea but the whole story is about the ships appearing to flee into the sun and then turning back towards the enemy. So that now the enemy is looking straight into the sun and trying to do battle at sea. Apparently that is a tactic which I didn't really know about and it just come from the unconscious so it's quite interesting. By the way it's not on the CD, it's on the DVD only.
antiMUSIC: When you look back at the last several years with Queen, obviously it got a great response from your audience. Did it fare as well for you personally as you had originally envisioned?
Paul Rodgers: Well, it was an interesting thing playing with Queen. I always follow my heart in things, you know. And it's taken me on all kinds of roller coaster rides I must admit (chuckle), and a lot of people say, 'oooh, that sounds like an odd pairing, you with Queen'. And I would have said so myself, frankly, had I not played with them first. We played on a live TV show and we both wanted to play live. And when we came off stage, we just felt, wow that was just so great. Let's do more. And I thought we'll do maybe a couple of shows, just for fun. But as I've said, you know, it sort of flowered into a worldwide tour that took us round two years to get through. It was hugely successful I think, not because of me, because of, I think because it worked between us, but also because everybody got behind it, the management, the crew, the record company and the fans in particular, really, really got behind it because I think they, Queen was badly missed. And it was nice to see them crank it up again and go out there and tour. So everybody wanted it to work and I think that's why it did.
antiMUSIC: Well it did. And it wasn't just anybody they got to fill that mike space, either. With anyone else I don't think it would have worked.
Paul Rodgers: Well, thank you. Thank you. That's very nice.
antiMUSIC: What is the status of you and Queen. Will there be a record of original material at some point or are you simply planning on doing the live thing with both your catalogues?
Paul Rodgers: Well it's a kind of a go with the flow situation. We haven't a plan. We didn't really plan a world tour. It just kinda grew into that. Since then…the relationship is great. We've been in the studio and recorded some things, just to kind of suck it and see as they say, kinda situation and see what we put together, cause we've been around the world playing basically our hits, you know. And we did do one new song in North America, a song I wrote called "Take Love" and so it remains to be seen what we can create, and it's exciting too because we don't really know. We go in there and say okay, what do you got? (laughs) We just kick something around and see where it takes us. We're just the three of us in the studio and we're kinda sharing the bass honors. Brian's doing some and I'm doing some, and it turns out actually Roger is a, I mean a great drummer. This we know. A great singer. This we know. He's a great songwriter. This we know. And he's also a fantastic guitar player.
antiMUSIC: Did not know that.
Paul Rodgers: Yeah, so, full of surprises
antiMUSIC: Just by seeing recent photos of you, you are in tremendous shape. Are you health conscious to keep up with the rigors of your business or are you just by nature somebody who looks after themselves.
Paul Rodgers: I think I am by nature someone…it's always, you know, it's sort of a requirement of the job really, that you don't you know fall off the front of the stage, although that has happened. You know, I mean, you need to be, I like to be, I think it's easier to handle things in life if you stay fit. I just find the touring easier to handle. I mean I stopped drinking years ago now, 10 years ago, and stopped smoking 20 years ago. And I stopped doing things that one does when one is young and foolish and you think you'll live for ever. I feel so much better for it. I'm grateful for my health. I do think your health is your wealth. I do know that's sort of a cliché but I do agree with that because you can be as rich and successful as you like but if you're not healthy, what does it mean, you know? And I also think the fans deserve a thousand percent from the artist and that's what I try to give.
antiMUSIC: Tell us about your new band. You're playing with Howard Leese who people know from Heart. How did you hook up with him?
Paul Rodgers: Howard is a friend from way back. We've actually been, he's actually been in my band for some 9 years now, so we have quite a history together. Quite a lot of material under our belt that we can draw upon. I mean sometimes, the other night we were playing in, where was it, Milwaukee and the crowd just wouldn't let us off the stage, we did six encores. (laughs) So it was, okay, what else do we know? And pulling all the songs out. Fortunately we had a lot of songs between us. Now I've got Lynn Sorenson on bass. He's been with me for 15 years, and he's another trooper and a great, great bass player and a really fantastic stage presence too. On the DVD I had Ryan Hoyle on drums. He was a new addition. He also drums for Collective Soul. And Jeff Kathan is normally my drummer live. And let's see, I introduced a new guitarist who's 17 years old, Kurtis Dengler.
antiMUSIC: I read that. How did you get connected with him?
Paul Rodgers: Well we were rehearsing for the UK tour after I came off tour with Queen. I got together with the guys and rehearsed for the UK tour and we were getting ready and a mutual friend said you know there's a guitarist here that lives not too far and you really need to hear him. So I was impressed with this and I said, ok, invite him along and we'll give him a shot. We'll have a jam with him. So we threw him into the mix and he added something very creative and very fresh, you know. He's very strongly influenced by the earlier bands as well and I said to him, do you want to come on tour to England with us and (laughs) and he said, well I'll have to get a note from my school, from my parents. (laughs) I said, pending that you're on. So I took him out and gave him a shot. We played at the Albert Hall for instance and it's you know somewhat of a pressure and his second show with us was at the Albert Hall actually so it wasn't as if he'd had a lot of pre-practice. And he comes up to me and he says, okay let me get this straight now, Brian May's in the crowd. Roger Taylor's in the crowd. Jimmy Page is in the crowd and I'm going to be playing in front of those guys with songs that you've written with them, okay. No pressure. (laughs) He was in fact as cool as a cucumber. What I like about him is actually is that he's very confident but it's not an arrogant confidence. It's a natural ability really, and I do like what he adds to the mix, to the songs.
antiMUSIC: With several new songs on here, can we look forward to another solo record in the near future?
Paul Rodgers: Well, yeah, I'd love to do one. Yes I would love to do a solo album. I'm writing all the time. My focus at the moment though is going to be the dates that I'm doing with the solo band. And then I'll go out to Holland for a show out there, and stay over and go to England and meet up with Bryan and Roger and we'll go into the studio again and take that next level. I'm just doing 10 U.S. spring dates. That's all I'm doing this year, solo wise. So I'm kinda moving forward on two fronts with the solo band and with Queen, but I'm keeping…I'm not doing too many shows so that they're pretty exclusive then I guess. So that's going to be my focus. When I get to the other side of that --- (laughs) --- I will look at doing a solo album I guess.
antiMUSIC: Are you very prolific? Are you one of those people who always has a notebook at hand for jotting down ideas or are you capable of just knocking out a song whenever the occasion calls for it?
Paul Rodgers: Well, a bit of both really, to be honest with you. I'm always writing songs. And I'm always dropping off to sleep and waking up suddenly with an idea so I keep a notebook by the bed, and I'm always writing notes and ideas for songs. I have so many ideas all of the time, a lot of the time, it's okay, what do I do with THIS one? You know, so I try to rein them in so that they're focused towards whatever I'm currently doing.
antiMUSIC: You've played along with some very noteworthy guitarists over your career, from Kossof to Ralphs and Page and now Brian May. Do you relish the freedom on your solo tours to be able to go off and call the shots without requiring a consensus on everything?
Paul Rodgers: Well, that's a very good question actually, Morley. I definitely do it. I've worked for this for a long time. And I haven't realized what is I've been working towards until I get here. One of the reasons why I actually formed and then moved on from some many bands is because I've got to the point with them where I haven't felt the freedom that I've really felt I was going to feel. When the band became successful it was very strange; I felt, I started to feel very restricted. And I do feel that now for the first time that I am, you know, I do have that freedom and I've worked long and hard to achieve that really. For example with Kurtis Dengler it was just my call. It wasn't the whole decision-making process and everyone was cool with it, you know.
antiMUSIC: Is there anything you'd like to tell me about the record that I didn't ask?
Paul Rodgers: No, I hope everyone enjoys it and enjoys listening to it as much as I made it.
antiMUSIC: This has been an absolute pleasure Paul. Thank you so much for doing this.
Paul Rodgers: Thank you. I appreciate your kind words.
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank Paul Rodgers for speaking with us.