Paul Rodgers, frontman for Free, Bad Company and The Firm with Jimmy Page (as well as a long-serving solo artist and erstwhile member of Queen) has learnt a lot in his four decades in music, about drugs, The X Factor, Peter Grant and ruthless promoters…
Try not to get too big too quickly
Free got famous fast and it was a shock. You’re working towards it and when you suddenly get it with bells on it is a bit much. I don’t know how well I dealt with it. I found myself feeling very vulnerable and naked and exposed and all of a sudden everyone wanted to know about my deepest personality, when even I didn’t know about it. I’ve looked back at the things that drove me in those days and one of the things was that I was a very, very angry person. I felt a lot of authority figures – headmasters, teachers, police, my old man – seemed to judge me for the long hair. I was striving to understand all of that. It was all internal but the one place I felt myself was actually singing.
Leave Bands Before They Get Stale
I like following whatever’s right for me at any given time. I could have stayed with Free for 40 years but it becomes a corporate entity after a while, and once I become locked into it and governed by it and am expected to do a certain thing all of the time I tend to want to move on. I told Jimmy Page I wanted to do no more than two albums and two tours in two years with The Firm.
Don’t get defined by your Big Hit
I still love ‘All Right Now’, strangely enough. But then that’s probably because I didn’t play it for some twenty years. It wasn’t until 1996 on the tribute to Muddy Waters tour that the band started mentioning it in rehearsal. I said no, but they starting requesting it on stage, and the front row heard and joined in. I found myself being the only person in the building that was saying no. So I gave in and we did it on the spot and it blew the doors off the place. I rediscovered the song and its simplicity and its appeal and it’s stayed in the set since.
You don’t join other bands, you make them your own
I didn’t “join” Queen. We played together and found a strong connection, did a TV show and carried on – then I suddenly realised I’d been with these guys for four years. If I’d been called up and asked to join I would have said no. Joe Perry from Aerosmith had a word about joining them a while back. He said “you’ve always been my number two singer”, and I said, “number two? Who’s number one?” Anyone else? I was in Maui with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie recently and we got together for a jam and that was really exciting. I used to stand and worship Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.
Keep off the drugs
It’s secondary to making music, simple as that. You can get involved with all kinds of excesses very easily but you can do that in any walk of life. For me, it’s always come down to the music. You need to be able to walk on the stage and deliver and connect with an audience. We lost [Free guitarist] Paul Kossoff to drugs, Hendrix – people that had a lot more to give. I’m very strong minded and managed not to become addicted to the cocaine and the etc even though I did my share and my time – it’s not a good thing. I don’t even take aspirins now.
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Beware of the record industry
There’s music, there’s business and there’s the music business. I’ve discovered that unless I take care of the business it’ll take care of me, and I’ve learnt to read the contracts and learn what the record companies want, which is control of artists. And I’ve learnt to avoid that pitfall. With Island they were our agency, our management, our record company, our accountants, everything. They put a contract in front of me as a songwriter and I signed all the way.
Save the hassle by finding a ruthless manager
I picked [legendary Lep Zeppelin man] Peter Grant. When I was forming Bad Company I was thinking about Free’s demise and how we tried to manage ourselves which worked up to a certain level but not beyond. What we needed was great management and I looked around and Led Zeppelin were the biggest band in the world and I thought ‘who’s their manager, I’m going to call him’. Why be shy? He hated the name Bad Company. He thought it was trouble, which of course in a way it was. Trouble is rock and roll’s middle name.
Being professional doesn’t hurt
In the early days in my hometown Colin Bradley was the guitarist and his older brother Joe managed us. I went to see him on his death bed, and he told me the four principles he managed us by: get there early, do a good show, get the money, and get home safe. We didn’t hang around afterwards and get drunk and get in fights, and we didn’t get there late and screw things up. Semehow, that’s embedded in me. Sometimes the promoter would disappear with our money and we’d have to hunt him down like a dog and get the money, fighting with bouncers and stuff like that.
The X Factor will never find a decent frontman
There’s no shortcut between being in your living room and being a rock star. I think you have to go out there and do the gigs, and struggle with the promoters and do the mileage. That seperates the people that really want with the ones that say, ‘what, we have to drive to Glasgow now, it’s four in the fucking morning”. That’s what you do if you’re passionate about it, and you’ll have a puncture on the way.
Beware demented fans
I was onstage in Italy with Queen and there was a guy called Jumpin Jack The Hatter or some fricken thing and he was famous for running at people when they were about to save penalities with this big red hat and go “whallop” and put it on their heads. He tried it on with me, running along the stage thrust being chased by security. I just went “bang” and pushed him off the stage.
If all else fails, meditate
I meditate daily, and I started way back in ’67 when I was 17. I drifted away from it for years but always came back. It’s a very good place to be when you want to centre yourself and figure out what’s important to you in terms of your next step. There’s a tonne of things going on in your mind and you can be very confused and pulled different ways. Very often there’s one thing that if you do that it will unlock the door to a lot of other things. Or as someone said, it’s better than sitting around doing nothing.