Paul Rodgers talks ‘All Right Now,’ rock

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - CALENDAR - BY JIM FARBER NEWS­DAY

Paul Rodgers set the stan­dard for clas­sic-rock front men. Over the past five decades, he has not only com­manded the mic for Free and Bad Com­pany, but also for bands fea­tur­ing Jimmy Page (The Firm), and Queen (sit­ting in for the late Fred­die Mer­cury). Now he’s on tour with an­other lion of British rock, Jeff Beck. The tour, which also in­cludes a set from Heart front woman Ann Wil­son, backs Rodgers with a band named Free Spirit, which aims to chan­nel the soul of Free. A live al­bum/DVD from Free Spirit’s U.K. tour last year has just been re­leased. Here, Rodgers talks about re­con­nect­ing to Free’s ma­te­rial live on the 50th an­niver­sary of their found­ing, as well as his con­nec­tions to Beck, Plant and more.

Q: You’ve ti­tled this tour the “Stars Align.” But just how “aligned” will you be in the ac­tual show?

A: There’s a ten­dency to think we’ve formed a su­per group of my­self, Ann and Jeff. But we’re each do­ing our own sets. There’s also a short acous­tic set from Deb­o­rah Bon­ham (sis­ter of the late Led Zep­pelin drum­mer John Bon­ham).

Q: Have you ever recorded with Jeff ?

A: I’m proud to say he was on three tracks on my 1993 “Trib­ute to Muddy Wa­ters” al­bum and he nailed ev­ery per­for­mance. I saw The Jeff Beck Group at the Mar­quee Club in 1967, when he was with Rod Ste­wart and, holy smokes, they were amaz­ing. Jimmy Page looked at that band and said ‘that’s a great blue­print for what I want to do with Led Zep­pelin.” I ac­tu­ally first met Robert Plant up in Birm­ing­ham be­fore that band even started. He said, “I’ve been of­fered a job in Lon­don with a guy called Jimmy Page. He said he’d been of­fered ei­ther 30 quid a week or a per­cent­age of the band.” I told him, “Take the per­cent­age.” Years later I told that to Led Zep­pelin’s man­ager Peter Grant and he said, “Oh, so you were the one!”

Q: Free started in 1968, the same year as Led Zep­pelin. In Eng­land, peo­ple rec­og­nize the depth of that band’s tal­ents. But in the U.S., you’re treated like one hit won­ders for “All Right Now.” Why didn’t you be­come big­ger here?

A: I think we could have if we had stuck with it — and if we’d had proper man­age­ment. But we tried to man­age our­selves and we didn’t have an At­lantic Records be­hind us.

Q: When you wrote “All Right Now” with Andy Fraser, did you have any sense it would be­come one of the most en­dur­ing rock songs of all time?

A: We were writ­ing so many songs, in some ways “All Right Now” just seemed like an­other. But when we first played it in a lit­tle venue, we opened with the song and at the end of the set, we asked if any­one had any re­quests. Ev­ery­one started shout­ing, “Play that first song you played!” That was our hint.

Q: Free coun­tered the pre­vail­ing blues­rock sound of the day, which was fast and busy. In­stead, you pre­sented a lean, sinewy sound that was slower and more open. How did that de­velop?

A: Alexis Korner, a jazz mu­si­cian who was our men­tor, told us, “Some­times it’s the space be­tween the notes that’s more im­por­tant than the ac­tual notes.” A lot of mu­si­cians try to fill any gap in the mu­sic with a gui­tar lick or a bass run. But it came nat­u­rally to us to leave lots of breath­ing room for the lis­tener to en­ter the mu­sic and be­come part of it. That sound af­fected so many bands. Lynyrd Skynyrd said they were in­flu­enced by our “Fire and Wa­ter” al­bum. Queen told me it was their bible, which you wouldn’t think be­cause it’s so far away from their mu­sic.

Q: You’ve worked with so many great guitarists, from Jimmy Page to Brian May to Free’s late lead gui­tar player Paul Kos­soff, who had that poignant tremolo sound. Who is your fa­vorite to work with?

A: Koss will al­ways be my fa­vorite. When we first played to­gether at a lit­tle blues club in Lon­don on “Stormy Mon­day Blues,” peo­ple came up to us and said that time stood still. Koss al­ways thought that his tremolo was too fast. But Eric Clap­ton told him, “No, that’s your sound.” The gui­tarist in my new Free Spirit band, Pete Bul­lick, is kind of like Koss. His play­ing has that vul­ner­a­bil­ity, but with power too. In our new show, we will do about six Bad Com­pany songs and other things, but when we play the Free ma­te­rial, it has that old magic.

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