Interview – Paul Rodgers

From Middlesborough to Memphis, the former Free rocker returns to his musical roots

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Interview – Paul Rodgers

Last year former Free and Bad Company front man Paul Rodgers went to a classic soul studio in Memphis and hooked up with the ‘house band’ to record the songs of his youth. That studio was the home of Hi Records, Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios, and the people backing him up were the same ones that played with Hi Records’ best known artists. And, as that roster included Ann Peebles and Al Green, these are first rate musicians; people like Hammond B3 maestro Reverend Charles Hodges and his brother bass player LeRoy Hodges, as well as a horn section and backing singers. The Royal Sessions, as they have been dubbed for Rodgers’ latest release, were captured by producer Perry Margouleff, who discovered that the studio was still running and used analogue tape. The sessions were recorded live with the minimum of overdubbing and mixed in analogue, without recourse to Protools or its ilk. As a result, the album has a warmth and vibrancy that is rare. The songs he covers include ‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’, ‘Walk On By’ and ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’. I caught up with Paul and asked him what it was like to make an album as unusual as this.

Jason Kennedy: Was this a labour of love?

Paul Rodgers: I’m still enjoying what I’m doing. I loved recording this album, it was something, it’s been 50 years since I was sitting in my little room in Middlesborough and going out to clubs and listening to this music. From Middlesborough to Memphis is like 50 years and in between I’ve done all this other stuff like Free, Bad Company, The Firm and QPR and that kind of stuff, so its amazing to come full circle in many respects.

Did you ever play this material in the early days in the Wildflowers (the name of Paul’s first band, or one of its names at least)?

[Laughs] It’s such a funny name when I look back now. It was such a great idea at the time, we were the Roadrunners but we changed our name to hit the big time when we went down to London. We were only the Wildflowers for a couple of months really but that’s the name that sticks. I thought it was a perfect name at the time what with flower power. I used to play ‘It’s Growing’, probably that’s the only song I’ve done with a band, with the Roadrunners. Even though I’ve absorbed these songs into my DNA in many respects I never really sang them full on. It was only when I stepped to the microphone in Memphis, at the Royal studios with these guys that I did a proper version.

I tell a lie, there is one other one, there’s ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, we did that with Free. ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’, we did that in one take, I suggested we do it and the guys noodled around with the arrangement and stuff like that for ten minutes. Then we went straight into it and recorded it. We finished it and everyone went wow! We listened to it and said that’s it, we’re not going to really be doing that in more than one take, it’s there. That sometimes happens, it’s a sign of a really good session.