The Sto­ries Be­hind The Songs

Bad Com­pany

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Michael Hann

“Ba­si­cally a spaghetti western set to mu­sic” Bad Com­pany gave the band their theme song and gave rock a clas­sic.

A Rodgers/Kirke col­lab­o­ra­tion and a rare writ­ing credit for the drum­mer, what was “ba­si­cally a spaghetti western set to mu­sic” gave the band their theme song and gave rock a clas­sic.

It would prob­a­bly be fair to say that things weren’t look­ing great for the re­main­ing founder mem­bers of Free when the group parted ways in 1973. Their lat­ter years had been marked by dis­cord, much of it prompted by gui­tarist Paul Kos­soff’s wors­en­ing ad­dic­tions and in­creas­ing un­re­li­a­bil­ity. Bassist Andy Fraser had left in dis­gust the pre­vi­ous year, and there seemed to be lit­tle on the hori­zon for singer Paul Rodgers and drum­mer Si­mon Kirke.

Yet be­fore the year was out, they would record the first al­bum with a new group that would make them more pop­u­lar than Free had ever been.

“I was feel­ing a bit de­spon­dent be­cause Free had bro­ken up,” says Kirke, now 67. “I met a lady who was Brazil­ian and she said: ‘Come down and stay with me.’”

He ended up in Brazil for three months. But the itch to hit the drums had not dis­ap­peared. A call back home to Rodgers to see if any­thing was hap­pen­ing led to the dis­cov­ery that the singer had hitched up with Mick Ralphs, newly de­parted from his po­si­tion as gui­tarist with Mott The Hoople. Rodgers asked Kirke if he was in­ter­ested in play­ing with them. He was.

“When I got back I went over to Paul’s house,” Kirke re­calls. “Mick was there, and that was three-quar­ters of Bad Com­pany.” It took some months be­fore they brought in bassist Boz Bur­rell to com­plete the line-up.

As the band re­hearsed, a sound emerged: loose-limbed, spa­cious and with a bluesy swag­ger that made their hard rock sound a lit­tle less hard than it re­ally was. Then came the name: ei­ther from a Vic­to­rian il­lus­tra­tion warn­ing of the per­ils of keep­ing bad com­pany (ac­cord­ing to Rodgers), or be­cause the singer had seen a poster ad­ver­tis­ing the western Bad Com­pany (ac­cord­ing to Kirke). At which point Rodgers de­cided the band needed a theme tune. It ended up be­ing one of Kirke’s rare writ­ing cred­its.

“In late 1973 there was a Clint East­wood western,” Kirke says, nam­ing A Fist­ful Of Dol­lars, though he must mean High Plains Drifter, which came out in the sec­ond half of that year. “We had this idea about be­ing what they called long rid­ers, who rode across the plains in their long coats, with Winch­esters in hol­sters and tum­ble­weed blow­ing across the plain. It was a very ro­man­tic im­age, and Paul was very much en­am­oured of that pic­ture.”

One day, as Bad Com­pany were work­ing out what they were go­ing to be, Kirke paid a visit to Rodgers’s cot­tage in Sur­rey. “He had this huge Yamaha grand pi­ano which dom­i­nated the liv­ing room. He was play­ing in E flat mi­nor, which is quite a hyp­notic scale. He had this pi­ano phrase, and the lines ‘Com­pany, al­ways on the run/Des­tiny is the ris­ing sun/I was born with a six-gun in my hand/Be­hind the gun I’ll make my fi­nal stand.’ That’s all he had.”

It might not have been much, but Kirke was smit­ten by what he heard. “I thought: ‘Wow.’ It’s not in C ma­jor, it’s not in G; it’s not in those ev­ery­day chords. I pitched in a line here and there, and we helped each other with the mid­dle eight. I think it was done in about an hour. It was ba­si­cally a spaghetti western set to mu­sic, and it’s been our theme song ever since. I still love play­ing it to this day, and I’ve played it about 675 times.”

E flat mi­nor is not an easy key for a gui­tarist, and the group tried mov­ing it to E mi­nor, “but it didn’t have the same soul as in E flat. So Mick was stuck with it.”

The song was both a lament and a cel­e­bra­tion, a haunt­ing hymn to the power of the imag­i­na­tion to trans­port four young English­men 100 years back in time, and sev­eral thou­sand miles west­ward. When the first Bad Com­pany al­bum came out, the song res­onated with their au­di­ence, too, and was quickly es­tab­lished as a sta­ple of the band’s live show.

But why would peo­ple re­spond so strongly to a song about 19th-cen­tury out­laws? Af­ter all, send a Bad Com­pany crowd to the old West and it’s highly un­likely than many of them would have been wear­ing black and rolling re­volvers around their index fin­gers.

Kirke laughs. “Only an English­man would ask that,” he says. “Most guys are closet out­laws: we wish we could have done this, done that. Cer­tainly when you’re in your early to mid-twen­ties you could do that – we pushed the en­ve­lope now and then. [A pause.] As much as our wives or girl­friends would let us. And there’s some­thing about the out­law that’s quite ro­man­tic. Girls like bad guys. They don’t like abu­sive guys, but they like guys who are a lit­tle rough around the edges. So there’s some­thing about be­ing on the wrong side of the law, as long as it’s not too far on the other side of the law, that’s quite ap­peal­ing to both sexes.”

Given the re­sults when he did set out to write, it’s sur­pris­ing Kirke didn’t con­trib­ute more to Bad Com­pany.

“My song­writ­ing – and I wish it could be a lit­tle more tough – has al­ways been a lit­tle James Tay­lor­ish, a lit­tle more bal­ladori­ented,” he says. “I vent when I play drums – I’m a tough drum­mer, a hard­hit­ting drum­mer. But it tends to rid me of

“There’s some­thing about be­ing on the wrong side of the law that’s quite ap­peal­ing to both sexes.”

all the nasty at­tack that hard songs re­quire. I’m a laid-back guy. When Mick and Paul took up the reins of song­writ­ing, they did such a good job. I came on board with Weep No More, on the sec­ond al­bum. My songs are very melodic, and Paul is a blues singer; he’s not a nat­u­ral pop singer, and my songs are pop.”

These days, Bad Com­pany’s theme song stirs mixed emo­tions in Kirke. On the one hand there’s the time-travel el­e­ment of go­ing back to his youth. On the other there’s the sad­ness that he will never again get to play it with Ralphs, who had to give up mu­sic af­ter a stroke last year.

“It will be very strange to go on stage with­out him,” Kirke says. “I’m get­ting a bit emo­tional think­ing about it now. But Bad Com­pany’s an amaz­ing band. We’ve been around a long time, and we’re not go­ing any­where yet.”

Break­ing Bad: (l to r)

Mick Ralphs, Paul Rodgers, Boz Bur­rell, Si­mon Kirke.

the facts

RE­LEASE DATE June 24, 1974

(on par­ent al­bum Bad Com­pany) HIGH­EST CHART PO­SI­TION

Did not chart PER­SON­NEL

Paul Rodgers Lead vo­cals, pi­ano Mick Ralphs

Lead gui­tar

Boz Bur­rell

Bass

Si­mon Kirke Drums

WRIT­TEN BY Paul Rodgers and Si­mon Kirke PRO­DUCER

Bad Com­pany LA­BEL

Is­land

the great out­doors

By the time Bad Com­pany came to record their de­but al­bum, in late 1973, they were so well­re­hearsed they man­aged to com­plete it in two weeks at Headley Grange, while Led Zep­pelin broke off from work­ing on Phys­i­cal Graf­fiti.

For the track Bad Com­pany, Rodgers left the old house and went out to the gar­den with a mic. “He could record in a phone box and sound good,” says Kirke. “Go­ing out­side was some­thing that just popped into his head, to try some­thing new. It was done at three in the morn­ing, out on the lawn.”

Bear in mind this was Novem­ber. Let’s hope he wrapped up well.

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