Paul Rodgers Talks Bad Company's New 'Live 1977 & 1979' Album: Exclusive Song Premiere

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Bad Company 

When Paul Rodgers listened to the tapes for the upcoming Bad Company: Live 1977 & 1979, he heard a band that he felt was at the peak of its powers -- at least in the first phase of its career.

"We were going through a huge surge of success," Rodgers tells Billboard about the group, which he formed during 1973 with fellow Free alumnus Simon Kirke, Mott The Hoople's Mick Ralphs and former King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell and were famously signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label. "We weren't really all that used to it, and we were adjusting to it as we went and finding out what life at the top was like in a way and trying to work with it, trying to stay with it and trying to maintain it. At the same time we were trying to do the thing that we'd set out to do, which was to be very creative and make new music. There was a lot going on."

Live 1977 & 1979 captures Bad Company's original lineup from shows in Houston and London, respectively -- with Billboard exclusively premiering the version of "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" from the latter below. The second disc also features three songs from Washington, D.C., that same year. "I must admit the record company (Rhino) has been very good about finding things we've basically forgotten about," Rodgers says. "To be honest I would never have done this myself. I was very skeptical when they approached us with it. But when I listened I was quite surprised. There's a couple things on there, like 'Leaving You,' which I didn't even know we'd actually played live, ever. And it's got a great feel, better than the record. There's some things that have turned up that have actually surprised all of us, and I thought, 'Well, if it's interesting to me perhaps it's interesting to the fans.'"

Listen to "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" below.

Part of the success Rodgers mentions also includes Bad Company having its own private jet, a Viscount with four Rolls-Royce engines that may not have been as opulent as Led Zeppelin's Starship but was still a pleasant perk. "We used to take off at 200 mph with this amazing sound that I always wanted to put on a record but never got around to," Rodgers recalls. "It was a great plane and it had our name painted on the side and more luxurious seats and its own bar and bedroom. It sounds a little bit 'rock star,' if you like, but it actually was very practical 'cause the alternative to having our own plane was everybody getting up in the early morning, going to the airport, schlepping through security. That takes time and energy as opposed to getting out of the show, going straight to the airport, jumping on the plane and you're on the way to the next show as the audience is leaving this one. So you're not quite as exhausted with travel and you're ready for the next show."

Bad Company travels a bit more modestly these days, as the band will this spring when it hits the road co-billed with Joe Walsh, starting May 12 in Dallas. "I love Joe," Rodgers says. "We go back a long way. I met him before he joined the Eagles; In fact, we were talking at a party at Boz's house and he said, 'I've been asked by this band the Eagles to do something with them. What do you think?' and I said, 'Well, why don't you just go have a jam with them and then think about it' and he said, 'That's a good idea. I'll try that.' The next thing I hear he's joined the band and was off and running with them."

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Bad Company will be welcoming its own new member -- albeit an interim one -- for the upcoming tour. Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson will be filling in for Ralphs after the latter declared he was "just not feeling up" to the trek. "We'd announced the tour and Mick looked at it and went, 'I can't do this,' which was not great news at all," Rodgers recalls with a laugh. "I wanted to slightly berate him, 'What the heck?!,' but he sounded so sad. He really wasn't up to it. There are a lot of bands like that; we're all getting older and it's one of those things. There's a lot of bands out there that are touring with replaced members -- The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin talked about going out with Jason (Bonham). There comes a point where health is an issue. It's very grinding being on the road, and sometimes people aren't up to all that."

Rodgers had met Robinson during a tribute to Jimmy Page at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. The two got on well and parted with a resolve to collaborate in some way. "So when Mick bowed out I thought of Rich and called him and he said he'd love to do it," Rodgers says. "I think he'll give a shot of new energy into the band and I'm looking forward to getting together with everybody and doing that. I think it's important we give value here."