Friday, May 15, 2015

Paul Rodgers talks Doheny Blues Festival, Free, Bad Company, Queen, The Doors, and more

Paul Rodgers performing in 2008. Photo: Thilo Rahn
I have seen Paul Rodgers in concert a handful of times dating back to the mid-1980s (when I first saw him perform with The Firm) and have always been impressed by his amazing singing voice and ability to inspire. On April 27, 2015, I had my first-ever chance to interview the legendary vocalist.

Robert: I remember one of my first big concerts was seeing you with The Firm in the mid-1980s.

Paul: Really.

Robert: I know you're coming up to the Doheny Blues Festival and I want to talk with you about what fans can expect to hear. 'The Royal Sessions' (released in early 2014) is great and very different from some of your previous releases.

Paul: Yes, it's interesting because people's influences are often a surprise to a lot of people. It's a little different from what I'm actually known for. I loved going back into my roots early and singing those songs. It was really challenging because I was singing the songs by people who were my heroes, do you know what I mean? But when I come to play I will be performing a best of my career so far, including songs like 'Shooting Star,' 'Feel like Makin' Love,' ' Bad Company,' 'Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy,' 'All Right Now' and also include some of the songs from the latest vinyl album you mentioned, 'The Royal Sessions.'

Robert: You are one of the veteran artists who doesn't seem to want to stand still and rest on their laurels. You not only sound great, but you have a great artistic spirit. Talk about what keeps you motivated after selling 90 million albums.

Paul: It's a great question Robert. I think of myself as a free spirit. I don't tie myself down. If I'm tied to anything it's music itself, and it takes me on many journeys. As you mentioned, I've been through and formed actually a lot of bands; Free, Bad Company, The Firm - and then worked solo. With Queen, it was the only existing band I ever actually joined. It was an existing band; most of the bands I formed. That was challenging and it was very different, and I did it for that reason just to see if I could do it. And I really enjoyed it. What I really love doing is playing with my solo band.

Robert: Is that amazing guitarist Howard Leese still with you too?

Paul: Howard Leese (of Heart fame), and I also have a terrific rhythm section from Canada in Todd Ronning on bass and Rick Fertig (?) on drums. And we've been together as this unit for a number of years so they really are an amazing band. 

Robert: So they will also be backing you up on 'The Royal Sessions' material as well?

Paul: Yes they will. I like to put a show together. And I'm really in a unique position because I can pick and choose from all of the songs I've written with all of the different bands I've been with and it makes for a really powerful show I find. And I really enjoy that and the audience seems to like it too. I like it when the audience takes part in what we do, and very often they will sing. They are singing so many of the songs now - even 'Burning Sky' for instance - which is not a song you would think 'Let's everybody sing.' But they are really singing it and it sounds amazingly soulful when they do.

Robert: Speaking of singing, you sound as great now as when I first saw you 30 years ago. Do you really have to stay on top of that to sound good, and you look fit too.

Paul: Well, I actually really enjoy singing. I do a lot of singing at home, and do sort of try to stay in shape. We all do (laughs a bit); we have to. One of the things I do is play a limited number of shows each year. I don't overdo it. This year I have just 15 shows worldwide, and my focus is in North America. And the response of the fans is so terrific it uplifts me as well when I am performing on stage. And we all - every member of the band - will go to a higher place when we're in front of a crowd you know.

Robert: Being that you are only playing 15 shows this year, do you have extra rehearsals? Or because you have been playing these songs together for so many years, is it pretty simple to do them...

Paul: Well, that's a very good question actually. It is something I do think about. Because if we have not played together for a couple months, you know, you need to rehearse. So we will rehearse before a show for certain. And because I like the show to be, to have dynamics, highs and lows, light and shade. And a lot of that comes naturally to a band playing every night. So we need to kind of rehearse and work on that...but I do find when we are rehearsing there is so much energy I have to hold them back actually. It kind of works for us.

Robert: I know you are busy outside of music. What are some other things that you are involved with right now?

Paul: Well, actually I'm amazingly busy. It sounds like I do 15 shows (laughter from both Paul and Robert)...I write, we try to help out where we can, my wife and I, Stax Academy of Music (the Memphis-based Stax Music Academy), and a charity called Willows over in Scotland in the U.K. We try to give back. 

Robert: 'The Royal Sessions' is such a great album, but I imagine you are already thinking ahead to your next project. Are you writing songs for another album?

Paul: Absolutely, all the time. One of the things we do have in the can, when we played in Royal Albert Hall with 'The Royal Sessions' musicians - you know the Rev. Charles Hodges and the guys - we all went over to England and recorded and filmed that so we do have that in the can. It's just a matter of getting to that and mixing it, and we'll put that out. It was a great night. (Concert was held on Nov. 3, 2014)

Robert: I know you do keep busy. I saw a DVD where you came out and performed with Joe Bonamassa, right? You seem to like to do many different things...

Paul: Well, I do. I love a challenge, and I love to do something different. Joe is such a great musician and such a great guy. I'm really proud of him actually the way he has come on and how organized he is with doing the shows. So yes, he invited me out and some other people to feature on his dvd. And that's another thing that limiting my amount of shows allows me time to do; it gives me time to jump on a plane to New York or wherever it was, and do that.

Robert: I have to ask you about something I read on wikipedia. Is it true that the Doors approached you about joining the band after Jim Morrison passed away (in summer 1971)?

Paul: It's interesting you should mention that because you know you had mentioned me playing (on a bill) with the Doors (at Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on Aug. 11, 2007). Robby Krieger came up to me that night. We had never had a conversation before. It was very interesting to meet him and talk. And he said 'You might be interested to know that back in the '70s after we had lost Jim the whole band jumped on an airplane and we flew to England and we were looking for you. We wanted to ask you to join us.'

Robert: You apparently were not easy to find at that time...

Paul: Exactly. Nobody could find me. I had a place out in the English countryside and I had just bought that place and nobody knew where I was. In those days there wasn't the internet or any of that there is. If you didn't have somebody's phone number, you couldn't find them. What I was doing at that point was putting Bad Company together and writing songs with Mick (guitarist Mick Ralphs) and the guys.

Robert: A final question. Looking back, is there something you wish you had been able to do that you didn't? Any regrets?

Paul: Yeah, I have some regrets, but that's life. I regret that we lost Paul Kossoff (the Free guitarist died in March 1976 at age 25) when he was so young. He was the guitar player in Free and I wish he was still around because we were good buds and we had a great chemistry together. It's a shame I lost him. But that's life; life goes on. As far as music itself; music is like a journey of discovery. I'm still finding things that I love. I'm reached back to some of the old folk material, the kind of stuff you might play on mandolin or a ukuele. "This Land Is Your Land" - amazing mountain country songs. The interesting thing about them is they have poignancy in their power simply because they come from the spirit I think, they come from somewhere else. And they have not been promoted by a big record label or anything like that, they're just folklore. They pass from one generation to the next. And it's amazing that they're still there, and that there is such power in these old songs. They fascinate me and the idea of very fascinating to me.

Robert: Your songs are also standing the test of time...

Paul: Well you know Robert, it does amaze me that songs like 'Feel Like Makin' Love' and those songs I mentioned, 'Shooting Star,' still seem to have that poignancy and I think we got something from the blues in that sense. The blues has that quality. Because when I started, when I picked up on blues, that music was 30 years old at that time and still had tremendous power you know. And tremendous power to communicate. I think that's what I still love about the blues, and that old folk music. It has such a power to communicate with people no matter how much time seems to go by... (noted a dual citizen; Canadian and British)...I love living here. Sort of like England with elbow room.

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