Paul Rodgers, 'Walk on By': Exclusive Song Premiere Off 'The Royal Sessions'

Jim McGuire
Paul Rodgers

The rock vocalist talks new album, plus Bad Company and a (not-so-welcome) boxed set from his earlier band, Free. "There's 16 different versions of 'All Right Now.' Are you kidding me? Who needs that?"

If Paul Rodgers has his way, his upcoming album "The Royal Sessions" won't be his last visit to Memphis' famed Royal Studios -- or into the even more famous music that was created there. 

Rodgers tells Billboard that he recorded "two or three more songs" than the 10 Stax/Volt covers that appear on the album, which comes out Feb. 4; that includes a soulful rendition of Free's "Walk in My Shadow" Rodgers says was recorded at the insistence of producer Perry Margouleff. 

"I think I might go back and do another album, depending on how things go with this one, because there were a lot of songs I later thought, 'Wow, I could've one this one. I could've done that one,' " says Rodgers, who recorded primarily in Memphis with many of the session hands from the original Stax and Hi Records recordings. "This is almost like we've found something here, I think. If I can get the guys back together again and they're all willing, I would love to do it." 

Rodgers says he'd also like to put together at least one show with those players -- including the Reverend Charles Hodges on organ and his brother LeRoy Hodges, Jr. on bass, guitarist MIchael Tolls and others. "I'd like to do a DVD somewhere in a club in Memphis and see how this material would be in a show with everybody," he notes.

Rodgers says his philosophy for "The Royal Sessions" was "to show respect for the originals and at the same time take them slightly to somewhere else. You can't really go wrong with these songs; they're tried and true and tested, and I'm not really one for stripping the song down and re-creating it. If I like what I heard originally, that's why I want to sing it. So I'm fairly close to the originals, but you don't want to be just copying." His version  of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Walk on By" is an example of that approach, stretched to nearly seven minutes with plenty of space for improvised vamping. Listen:

"That was the one song where I did the vocal outside of the studio," says Rodgers, who actually finished his performance in New York. "They had an arrangement I didn't quite follow, so I wanted to take it out and think about it. There's a part in the song where Charles just opens the door; it was kind of like an invitation to do what you feel there, and I wanted to take that away with me and think about how I was going to handle that. It had to be something appropriate, but simple, that you hardly even notice is there and blends into the total arrangement of the song. I think the way we did it really nicely dovetails in to the last, climactic chorus. It was lovely."

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Rodgers plans to incorporate "The Royal Sessions" material into the shows he'll be performing this year, and he's also continuing work on another album of original material, though he describes that project as "a little bit on the back burner at the moment. We have quite a few songs and we're writing constantly between the other events that we're doing. But it's definitely in the cards, probably in the next couple of years." Bad Company is currently back on hiatus after last year's 40th anniversary tour -- "We tend to do things every five years, it seems," -- Rodgers notes -- while a boxed set of Free's complete recordings is looming that Rodgers is not particularly happy about. 

"They're just going to open the vault and release the lot, warts and all, and there's nothing we can do to stop them," Rodgers says. "I mean, there's 16 different versions or something of 'All Right Now.' Are you kidding me? Why? Who needs that? It's a little bit like practicing a love letter and throwing away three or four copies and someone coming up behind you and straightening those up and putting them on the Internet or something. Perhaps they'll cut it down a bit, but the ball seems to be in their court."