Christie Goodwin, Getty ImagesWhen Paul Rodgers formed his second major band after Free broke up, he figured the group needed a theme song. So his new band, Bad Company, recorded a song called, naturally, 'Bad Company.' "I wrote the song with that Western feel -- with an almost biblical, promise-land kind of lawless feel to it," Rodgers tells Spinner. "The name backed it up in a lot of respects."
Rodgers, who has one of the most distinctive voices in rock 'n' roll, is now back on tour with Bad Co., which recently released a concert DVD and a greatest-hits compilation. Staples of classic rock radio, his hits with Bad Company include 'Feel Like Makin' Love,' 'Rock N' Roll Fantasy' and the tragic tale of rock-god excess, 'Shooting Star.' We spoke to him, among other things, about fronting a number of major bands, including his stint as lead singer of a reconstituted Queen, why he turned down an offer to join Aerosmith and what he thinks of Christina Aguilera's cover of the Free classic 'All Right Now.'You're coming off the Queen + Paul Rodgers thing. What did being with them allow you to do that you hadn't done before?
It was hugely challenging. In the past, I had always formed bands. I formed Free with Paul Kossoff, I formed Bad Company with Mick Ralphs, and I formed the Firm with Jimmy Page
. This was a different thing, joining forces with a band with a whole repertoire and a whole reputation.
We played together at an awards show in London, and we played each other's songs. If it hadn't worked for me on a musical level -- from the heart -- I would have never have even gone near it. But it did work. We actually played 'All Right Now,' 'We Are the Champions' and 'We Will Rock You' together, and it was just amazing, And so we thought we can do all of this as a new entity -- Queen and Paul Rodgers -- and we'll make it clear to everybody that it is a new entity. I'm amazed that I actually spent four years with them, which is longer than I was with Free.Free's label initially suggested the name Heavy Metal Kids, is that right?
I've always had troubles with names and record companies. With Free, it was Island Records. They wanted to call the band Heavy Metal Kids. This was after lots of touring, and they came to see us at the show. And all the audience was freaking out and jumping up and down and going crazy. And they still weren't convinced. So they came to see us at a rehearsal, and finally they said, "OK, we think we want to sign you ... but we want to call you the Heavy Metal Kids."
The rest of the band said, "Well, it's a record contract. Let's put the two names on that far wall, and then we'll sit here and we'll look at them and see which one we like." I said, "Don't even waste your time -- we're not changing our name." So we went back to the record company and said, "You know what? It's Free or we walk." We really had our fingers crossed behind our backs, but we stuck to our guns. And I've learned to do that through the years.
It was similar with Bad Company. I just felt it was the kind of name that would attract attention. I didn't want to change the name. Even [band manager] Peter Grant was very unsure about it. I'm not sure why. But they all came on board eventually.What made you decide to go with the song ['Bad Company'] of the same name?
I think because it had never really been done, as far as I knew. I thought it was interesting to come out as a brand-new band with its own theme song.
Is it true that the name came from the Jeff Bridges movie 'Bad Company?'
No. I've never even seen the movie, actually. It came from my childhood days. I saw a book on Victorian morals. They showed this picture of this Victorian punk. He was dressed like a tough, with a top hat and the spats and vests and the watch in the pocket and the tails and all of that. But everything was raggy. The shoes were popped out of the soles, and the top of the hat was popped out. And the guy is leaning on the lamppost with a bottle in his hand and a pipe in his mouth, obviously a dodgy person. And you've got this little choirboy kind of guy -- a little kid, actually -- looking up to him. And underneath it said, "Beware of bad company."You deliberately sang those songs with an American accent. I'm wondering: What would 'Feel Like Making Love' have sounded like with an English accent?
It would sound like this: [Sings, "Well, I feel like making love" in a soft, cheesy voice
]. I think I learned the language of rock 'n' roll listening to lots of blues and soul guys. And I imitated those guys. People like John Lee Hooker
, with a very deep American accent. I don't think the language of rock 'n' roll is an English accent; I think it's an American accent.A couple of years after Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died a 'Shooting Star' type of death, you left your own band to be with your family. How did his death influence that decision?
It influenced me very much. But I was ready for it, anyway. I was ready to come off the road, and I could sense the feeling that we were just flying a little too high and getting a little too crazy, and something had to give along those lines.
It happened so many times before -- that was really the inspiration for the song 'Shooting Star.' John was such a lovely guy. It was such a sad thing to lose him as a friend and for the world to lose such an amazing talent. Because I do think he was probably one of the greatest rock 'n' roll drummers that ever lived. So it was really a blow. And it was a harsh taste of reality.
So I decided I needed some time to live some life. But I never ever got very far away from music. I built a studio in the house and just continued recording. And before I knew it, Jimmy [Page] was coming around, and we were writing songs, the Firm was born and we were back on the road again.
Were you ever contacted to replace Steven Tyler in Aerosmith?
Estate of Keith Morris / Redferns
Well, yes, I was, actually. Joe Perry
came up to me at another awards celebration. And he said that Steve was not really interested in touring anymore at the moment, and they were all ready to tour and that they were looking for somebody to take that slot. And I said to him, "You know ... maybe you guys ought to rethink that." And I'm happy to see that they're up and running now because they're a fabulous band.Did you not want to do that just because you had already done the Queen thing?
I think so. As I said earlier, Queen was an exception -- joining forces with an actual band that existed. Because in the past I've always formed a band and then written a whole catalog of songs for that band.I saw that Eminem sampled a song of yours ['Reaching Out,' with Queen], and Christina Aguilera covered 'All Right Now.'
I thought Christina Aguilera's version of 'All Right Now' was absolutely rocking. I loved it. I've heard some people do that, and, eh, you know -- it's quite hard to pull off, really. But she gave it some stick. It was good.
It was interesting, the Eminem thing, because it wasn't quite what I had planned. When we were touring, they tossed around a version of that song and how they planned to sample it. And it was very different to the final result. I wasn't actually crazy about the final result, in all honesty. I never use foul language onstage or on records. It's just not my thing. I do like Eminem, and I think he has a very credible point and lots to say, but he does it in a different way than I would ever do.Weren't you and your wife recently handing out money to fans?
That's something my wife does, and it's dear to her heart. She sees someone she feels something for and she gives them a magic gift. It's called a Random Act of Generosity. I think it's, like, $100. All they have to do in reply is do something nice for someone else. What's her standard -- does she look for something in particular?
You know what? I'm going to get her to come on and answer that one for you. [Retrieves wife, Cynthia
It's a feel thing. It's been interesting because we're giving away $100,000, and I think right now we're at about $65,000 that we've given away. When people are handed an envelope, the looks on their faces -- some of them look like they're being served. Some of them are very reluctant to take the envelope. But I've been really lucky with feeling who's been most needy.
There was one gentleman, he had his two young girls -- about 9 and 11 -- and he knew all the lyrics to Paul's songs. So I handed him an envelope. He waited after the show when we came out, and he had tears in his eyes. He said, "I'm a single dad, and you don't know how much this means to my family." He'd lost his wife in a car accident. But he said, "More than anything, it teaches my girls there are good people in the world and good things do happen."