The classic-rock favorites team up with Lynyrd Skynyrd for a string of U.S dates.
The group — which features founding members Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke (bassist Boz Burrell died in 2006) — played Rancho Mirage, Calif., on June 15 and will begin co-headlining dates with Lynyrd Skynyrd Thursday at the White River Amphitheater in Auburn, Wash.
The two bands have a long history together, going back to the ’70s. “They loved us,” Rodgers says of Skynyrd, “because they were very influenced by my earlier band, Free. So Ronnie Van Zant and all those guys, we would hang out together and talk about music.”
The 24 U.S. dates, which end Sept. 19 in Manson, Wash., are the group’s first in the country since 2009.
Runnin’ with the pack. The current tour celebrates the 40th anniversary of Bad Company, a supergroup formed from members of Free (Rodgers and drummer Kirke), Mott the Hoople (guitarist Ralphs) and King Crimson (Burrell). The group played its first show in February 1974 at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, Germany. “We just put our show on the stage, the music we had,” Rodgers says. “It was rough, and we weren’t very slick at all, but it was the first time we’d played in front of people. There’s a different edge to playing live.” Early set lists featured the core of the group’s five-time-platinum debut album, Bad Company, released in June 1974, including future hits Bad Company, Rock Steady and Can’t Get Enough. “There’s not a full set there, so I’d have to think about how we beefed it up to a two-hour set,” Rodgers says.
Movin’ on. After a string of multiplatinum albums and hits that included Feel Like Makin’ Love and Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy, Rodgers left Bad Company in 1982. The 1980 death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham factored significantly in his decision to leave. “I thought, that’s it, I’m coming off the road. I want some time at home. I want to get my feet on the ground. I want to get a taste of reality, and I want to see my kids. I want to take them to school, and I want to be there for their birthdays. ‘Cause you miss a lot of things.” The band continued with singer Brian Howe, then Robert Hart, with Rodgers rejoining in 1995.
Good pyro gone bad. On a recent tour of Germany where a 50-piece orchestra accompanied him, Rodgers had a narrow miss with one of the flame projectors at the foot of his stage. “They literally shot straight up in the air at the front of the stage, 18 feet, and there were four of them,” he says. “They told me to be very careful to stay away from those areas during one of the songs. And I completely forgot. I was standing directly over one — these are pre-programmed, so they can’t actually stop them — I stepped back, just as it went whoosh! Straight in front of my face, just about burned my eyebrows.”
Rock ‘n’ roll fantasy bands. For rock bands of a certain vintage, Rodgers seems to be the replacement singer of choice. After leaving Bad Company, he and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page recorded two mid-’80s albums as The Firm. He toured and recorded with Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor from 2005 to 2009. Three other overtures that would have reshaped rock history were non-starters, though: Rodgers says members of the Doors unsuccessfully sought him out in the early ’70s. “Nobody could find me,” he says. “I was deep in the country with Mick, working on songs for Bad Company, so no one knew where I was.” A conversation with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry during one of his fallings-out with singer Steven Tyler didn’t yield much, either. “There was talk of that, but there was never any possibility of doing it,” he says. Also, “Neal Schon, when he was forming Journey, sent me an entire repertoire of songs. But I never really followed that up. The next thing I knew, they were huge.”
Can’t give enough. Here’s another reason Rodgers likes Lynyrd Skynyrd: He met his wife, Cynthia, through the band while touring together during the ’90s. The couple currently lives in British Columbia. “I don’t really function very well without her nowadays,” Rodgers says. “I need her on the tour. So it’s very good to have her come with me.” And if a woman comes up to you at one of this summer’s shows and offers you $100, it’s probably Cynthia, who gives the money to unsuspecting fans at each show as a random act of kindness. “Cynthia has a big heart,” Rodgers says.