It seems almost too easy to say a record was “a lifetime in the making,” but in the case of Paul Rodgers’ The Royal Sessions, it’s more than poetic metaphor or press hype; it’s a genuine statement of fact.
In the mid ‘60s, before this singer/songwriter founded Free, Bad Company or The Firm with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Rodgers was a teen band singer in Middlesbrough, England besotted with vinyl 45s from America: hot new R&B sides from Memphis labels like Stax/Volt, Goldwax and later Hi Records. Spinning the records over and over, Rodgers would imagine how the artists and singers created such momentous sounds and wonder about the places they came from.
Flash forward to 2013: Paul Rodgers is at South Memphis’ Royal Studios, recording those familiar old songs with many of the same players who had graced the original tracks.
The session almost seemed fated. Rodgers had been working on an album of original rock material with his friend and musical collaborator Perry A. Margouleff. In late 2012, Margouleff was visiting Memphis where he was tipped to Royal Studios, the historic home of late producer Willie Mitchell and Hi Records. For over 40 years, Royal has remained a thriving recording hub where artists come take advantage of the vintage gear, old-school wisdom, and sheer magic of the room. They’ve also utilized the talents of the native players, foremost among them the stalwarts of the famed Hi Rhythm Section, built around the Hodges Brothers. Still turning out remarkable records and performances today, Royal Studios has become the last great resource for those truly seeking the real thing.
The result of Paul Rodgers’ pilgrimage to this musical Mecca is a deeply felt, powerfully sung and expertly played collection. Featuring a cross-section of material handpicked by Rodgers, it surveys a wide landscape of American R&B, offering fresh takes on the fatback blues of Albert King, the gutbucket balladry of Otis Redding, the sophisticated stirrings of Issac Hayes and a host of other classics from the Southern soul canon.
Working in the old-school style, everything was recorded on analogue tape, with the basic tracks – including Rodgers’ vocals – all cut live on the floor with the band. Unaware of Rodgers’ history or reputation, the veteran session men were surprised when he chose to kick off the session with a pass at Redding’s iconic “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” After Rodgers nailed the song in a single scintillating take, organist Charles Hodges took him aside and said admiringly, “Man, you’ve really got this in you. You can really do this.”
Moved by their experiences working in Memphis, Rodgers and Margouleff decided to donate proceeds from the album to the Stax Music Academy, as thanks to a city and musical community that’s meant so much to them.
The Royal Sessions represents the culmination of a long, profound journey for Paul Rodgers. Five decades after first discovering these songs on those old 45s, he has created a record direct from the heart.
This is the sound of his R&B fantasy—his soul dream—finally come true.