As always, when you read an article written by Nick Kent, the writing is impeccable, but maybe he should have let his interview objects be even more central to proceedings? Anyway, it is a wonder that Mr. Kent could express himself as eloquently as he does, considering he was a herion addict throughout most of the 70s. It sometimes amazes me what people of great talent is able to achieve using hard drugs. But, in the end, everyone will have to pay the price if they don`t stop before it is too late. Thankfully, Mr. Kent was one of those that survived. Read this quite interesting article by one of the most talented music journalists of the 70s.
…Well, come on then, Rodgers, act mean and nasty for the kids!
NO way. Paul Rodgers fails to live up to the horrendous tales of on-the-road booze and belligerence. He`s being a nice guy. And the rest of Bad Company? They`re being nice guys as well. Nick Kent does not even get insulted, never mind get his face smashed in. Oh well, that`s life.
The things we rock writers come up with! For my sins I recall to this day a ridiculously pompous conversation that took place between yours truly and one American scribe – now a fully paid-up member of the Rolling Stone editorial higher echelon but at this point a budding `punk terrible` working out of Detroit – where we came to the conclusion that the only valid dialectic situation left to the rock star-rock critic was to get into highly elaborate fist fights.
Whether this concept was inspired by the much-publicised fisticuffs between Bob Dylan and venerable rock eccentric A. J. Weberman or whether it was just a kind of dumb cool thing to think up at the time doesn`t really matter. Nor did, at the time anyway, the fact that both of us were yer archetypal nine-stone weakling far more adept at hiding under tables when even the vaguest whiff of violence was mooted in the air than `piling in` so to speak.
Surprisingly enough, I`ve never really found myself in a situation where I`ve been forced to declare arms against some irate musician following some less than complimentary review. The nearest, in fact, I ever came to an out-right confrontation of any sort was at an L.A. club where a drunk and offensive John Bonham (Led Zep drummer to the unitiated) poured a jug of cream and a couple of brandies over my coat, this being presumably his idea of a good `wheeze`.
I in turn found the escapade to be thoroughly unpleasant – any retaliation on my part was scarcely the order of the day seeing that Mr. Bonham is built like the proverbial shit-house door and was constantly flanked by two even more muscular than he.
All in all though, the incident did leave a rather sour complexion on my comrade`s idea of the fist-fight as viable rock dialectic, at least in my view and I quickly forgot about the whole thing.
Until, that is, the assignment. Pretty routine stuff on the surface, it was. Fly out to Jersey, land of the ageing gout-booted British tax exile thirsting for some vague replica of the Olde Country wherein to while away his retirement savings, and interview Swansong Artistes Bad Company, themselves tax exiles but in this daunting position through their mercurial ascendancy onto the pedestal of top-flight rock superstars.
All very straight-forward, but then again, Bad Company do have this reputation preceding them for a belligerent boozed-out boisterousness. Legend has it that even my oppressor M. Bonham was so shocked by their behaviour at one Atlantic Records function that he took it upon himself as co-chairman of Swansong to chastise them gravely for their hedonistic philanderings. (Now that little episode I would have liked to have witnessed).
And then again, how can I forget that touching scenario played out by Paul Rodgers, Bad Co`s leading protagonist, just one year ago. The Faces` Christmas Party it was – a civilised enough occasion, and there was I waiting to savour the sheperds pie and mixed veg laid out on this large table when who but Mr. Rodgers should appear, muttering dark curses at everyone in his booze-tinted view, and promptly lay waste the entire table in question, tossing food-stuffs here and there with nary a thought for present company.
Quite put me off my appetite, it did.
As it happens, almost all my colleagues in the business have their own P. Rodgers anecdote. One party, I recall, voted him the single most unpleasant man in rock, while Charles Shaar Murray recalls the time he witnessed our hero almost set about a Hungarian waitress for merely asking him to take his feet off a chair in the hotel restaurant.
More to the point, further reports lead one to believe that Bad Co.`s corporate ascendancy had worsened the Rodgers temperament considerably. A prominent Swansong musician/co-chairman who had freewheeled it over to the States to see his company`s band slaying `em on the East Coast last year mentioned to me a few months ago that the lead vocalist`s unwillingness to swamp his ego in with his three cohorts and become more flexible musically could cause great dissent with the Bad Co ranks.
And finally there was a Rolling Stone (what else?) piece which vividly documented the band on the tour in question seemingly immersed in a never-ending morose bacchanalia with Rodgers particularly obstreperous.
Ruminating over what I`d gleaned from reports on the Bad Co. temperament in regard to this Jersey venture, I envisaged at least some quotient of `aggro` emanating in my direction – principally from Rodgers, I presumed, who might well not like the cut of my clothes, shape of my legs etc. and would probably bottle me if I asked a question perhaps not to his liking.
Well, to remove what possible suspense which can be drawn from the writing of a piece on Bad Company, nothing like that happened at all. Photographer Pennie Smith and I arrived at the hotel to be greeted by two plates of slightly stale sandwiches and a nice-guy Welsh roadie who agreeably set about farming out members of the band for the interview. The inevitable naturally occurred – I was faced with all four members at once for most of the actual interview, a gnarling situation which totally denied any facility for the more intimate one-to-one heart-to-heart patter which usually reveals something interesting.
Instead the band palled it up and quite agreeably joked around, cooing forth platitudes about the new direction their music was taking and how their new album, “Run With The Pack” was by far their most advanced and satisfying recording.
Facing the band in toto so to speak, you really can`t help but be struck by the visual incongruities of the members. Drummer Simon Kirke, a genuinely entertaining and likable raconteur of `witty stories`, must possess the most oppressively bulging biceps in all rock history, both muscle-packed arms just crying out for a plethora of tattoos with motifs like an anchor just above the elbow and “mother” scrawled just below.
Kirke`s whole persona reminded me of Robert Plant`s whole `likely lad` style; their slightly North of the Border accents are almost identical, in fact. In total contrast, guitarist Mick Ralphs seems to have the physique of a post-adolescent teenager even though he bows to holding down an age “politely known as late 20`s.” For the years spent paying all those proverbial dues in Mott the Hoople, he still possesses the incredibly healthy wide-eyed pallor of a youth making his debut with a band at some local Hereford youth club.
Seated next to him, bass-player Boz Burrell presents even further visual incongruities. Decked out in full cow-poke regalia – the frayed denim shirt, unostentatious boots and lean black stetson, his “jazzer`s” beard makes him resemble the unlikely outcome of Acker Bilk signing on with the Eagles.
And finally there`s Paul Rodgers, short and stocky, moving from his seat to the bar like a Jersey bullock swathed in a bizarre-looking sheep-skin lined suedette bum-freezer which made his contours look all the more bizarre. His face looked remarkably haggard and a presumed lack of vitamins and hot sun made his hair look unhealthy and matted as if he`d just donned a rather shaggy doormat in lieu of a crown topper. I do recall stepping back a few paces in agitated reverence as he stomped into proceedings.
So what do we talk about, boys?
After a few obvious `ice-breaking` questions, I decided to divine the band`s opinion of the Rolling Stone piece referred to earlier.
“Well you`re a journalist, what did you think about it?” Kirke retorts amiably enough.
So I mention that – well, reading between the lines it appeared the writer felt a touch disorientated by the surroundings, didn`t seem to be enjoying himself too much and consequently wrote the article from a rather jaundiced aspect.
“The thing is” – Rodgers has just sat down – “he didn`t once mention anything about the music. There was nothing said about the music.”
Ah yes, the music. I mean, it`s more than fair that Rodgers should bring up the whole “music is the message” schtick – after all, that is his and Bad Co.`s only real claim to fame – they`re musicians, not philosophers or crusading emissaries for some worthy cause.
It`s just that talking and writing about music, particularly of the groinal variety, is basically such a prime pain in the ass, ringing forth all the same old platitudes and cliches as it does in these situations.
As it is, Bad Company have had their talents farmed into the computer-critique from more or less the first note they ever played. The definition always tends to read, “Good hard-rock band… sturdy but unambitious”, with special mention of Rodger`s very impressive vocal style and a possible merit star for Kirke`s excellent trashing abilities.
Boz Burrell – Gone, but not forgotten.
The definition wasn`t embellished further by the release of “Straight Shooter,” the second album, and one wonders if the adjectival “unambitious” won`t be underlined a little heavier with the soon-to-appear “Run With The Pack”.
After the interview formalities have been dispensed with, Burrell and Ralphs play me a cassette tape of the Olympia gig showcasing at least five new songs which in turn showcase the patented formulas that have kept the band buoyant through two albums worth of toons thus far.
The first formula is Ralphs` personal adapton of the Keith Richard-Chuck Berry block chord rocker, only this time the full-blooded thrust of “Can`t Get Enough” through to the excellent “Good Lovin` Gone Bad” is made manifest in “Sweet Little Sister”. Obvious chord changes, obvious rock-swagger rhyming lyrics – Sweet Little Sister/You know you can`t resist her/She`s got it made in the shade, borrowing not a little from the Stones` phrase-book but that doesn`t mean it doesn`t rock like a bitch.
It`s just that one can only go so far with such limited concepts, no matter how full-blooded the performance and what with everyone from Kiss and Aerosmith down to your-local-punk-band-in-Stretford or Dayton, Ohio, scraping at the bones of `70s rock`s killer riffs – the “Brown Sugar” patent, the “Sweet Jane” chord changes, “Honky Tonk Women”, you end up needing more than even Paul Rodgers` supple vocalese to supply the edge.
Rodgers, for his part, appears still overly fond of his old Free stylisation if a song like the new “Simple Man” is anything to go by. That same loping, melancholic beat, same dour brooding chords (Rodgers in `soulful mood` always sound like he`s kicking himself because he never got to write Traffic`s “40,000 Headmen” before Winwood conceived the tune), the same earnest but bland utterances.
This time we`re faced with Rodgers waxing philosophical after a fashion with these gem-like utterances for company – “I am just a simple man/Freedom is the only word that means a thing to me.”
Well at least it`s not pretentious and for that I`d gladly take an outfit like Bad Company over the infinitely more ambitious but ultimately ill-postured Queen. It`s just that full-blooded unoriginality and jaded pretence are pretty lean pickings when your expectations settle on that high and mighty echelon both bands are poised on at present.
Bad Company, for their part, tap their feet and nod agreeably at each other. They also mention that the more `advanced` stuff on “Pack” hasn`t been fully mastered yet for stage-performance. Still, one feels just a touch cynical when Ralphs sets about defending his statement recorded in Teazers a couple of weeks back that his band reminds him of The Beatles “in a very distinct way”.
“Yeah, I read that too,” he laughs for a second and then suddenly turns serious. “No, you see what I was trying to say… by drawing that parallel is that just like The Beatles we`re able to cover all the bases. By that I mean you`ve got Paul on one side and me and there`s melody and the rockers and…. Like Lennon and McCartney had that down. They covered the whole spectrum.
“That`s what we`re aiming for and now with this new album…”
And so it goes. As it happens, Ralphs is an extremely likeable bloke. I`d interviewed him several years ago when he was floundering with Mott (this was just before the DeFries union) and I was an idealistic cub reporter and the interview quickly broke down to become an energetic chat about favourite bands and music in general.
Looking back on his Mott days, I ask him whatever happened to the “budding Neil Young” image that Ian Hunter seemed so adamant about laying on the guitarist?
Ralphs fields off the `Young` schtick by simply retorting, “Well, with me it wasn`t as bad as Hunter who was desperate to be Bob Dylan (pause). Nah, Mott was a bizarre group in that we got into this whole thing of appealing to the loon-pants head-shaking audience. Yeah, a bit like Status Quo I suppose, only…”‘
Ralphs seems adamant about disowning the whole glitter-rock trip that the Bowie association set Mott up with. Indeed, Bad Company were conceived by Ralphs and Rodgers in terms of an earthy, anti-glitter backlash.
A question concerning the managerial merits of Tony DeFries draws forth inevitable comparisons with Bowie`s own Col. Tom and Swansong svengali Peter Grant.
“Well, DeFries knew all the stuff about law side of things. But I don`t think he really had any feeling, though, for the human or… uh, artistic side of the business. With Peter, well, it`s like he`s one of the lads really.”
Burrell defines Grant`s attributes as a manager further:
“He really acts as a cushion (sic) between the band and all the politics that are bound to surround one. That is, he lets you get on with the music totally while he fields off all the lawyers, record company guys etc. that are more than ready to hold back your actual output.”
Kirke: “We hardly ever sit down and do business with him. It`s usually always a social thing when we meet.”
Bad Company and Grant set their alliance rolling with just a handshake, by the way. A gentleman`s agreement.
Events following directly in the wake of Bad Co.`s association with Swansong show a more than dramatic change in fortunes.
Kirke dismisses his earnings from Free as “a pittance… I suppose that`s what you`d call it.” He prefers not to muse over any potential “sour grapes”.
Ralphs, upon leaving Mott, was faced with departing with a debt (Mott the Hoople were in debt to upwards of £100,000 at one point, so the story goes) or breaking free, thus nixing any personal hold on royalties arising from the subsequently successful “Mott” album. He chose the latter.
And Burrell? Well, his former escapades provide the best copy of the day. A former King Crimson employee (Fripp taught him bass “parrot-fashion”) his reminiscences are scurrilous if nothing else.
“That whole period of my life was ridiculous. I mean, if I`ve done anything in my life purely for the money, that was it. I mean, I`d be singing these lyrics and suddenly I`d stop and think, `Christ, what does that mean`. I reckon Sinfield used to dig out his Roget`s Thesaurus, find the most impressive-looking words and just throw `em all in.
“And Fripp! (laughs). He`d be sitting on his stool just scowling at us. So every night for an encore we`d rush out… see, the only thing Fripp can`t play is a straight-forward blues, so for the encore the rest of the band would charge onstage and before he`d got a chance to plug in his guitar, we`d kick off with a 12-bar! (laughs).
“On the very last night, Mel (Collins) demolished a mellotron as part of the solo. He just very methodically took it to pieces, right, and Fripp turned round… it was during `Schizoid Man` … he was on his stool (collapses laughing).
“The thing is, though, it`s ridiculous when people murmur that we`re all in Bad Co. for the money. Nothing could be further from the truth. But, I mean, that Crimson gig – that was a pure pay-check thing.
“It`s a shame really. People just don`t get it straight.”
So finally to Rodgers, who, far from the mooted belligerence of yore, was amiable enough. He even talked with mild candour about his drinking binges, saying that he and the band had cut down drastically in a tone which, to the impartial observer, appeared to mean business.
Later I overhear a phone conversation where Rodgers reverently mentions that he`s soon to become a father for the second time, which could well account for this new-found serenity.
Oh, and that tax-exile schtick. It appears to be not all champagne and roses even if alcohol and cigarettes are almost half the price. Kirke at least had picked up on some nookie. He had a date, he said. Taking her to the pictures, he was. To see The Jungle Book for the second time in three days.
A really strange ad….
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Gary Holton, Ronnie Lane, Warne Marsh, Keith Moon, Kid Strange.
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