Free’s Paul Rodgers Tries His Hand at Memphis Soul, Admits 'I Was Intimidated'
Free and Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers has performed among greats for most of his professional life, singing such classics as “All Right Now,” “Bad Company,” “Shooting Star,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “Rock And Roll Fantasy,” joining Jimmy Page in The Firm in 1980 and members of Queen in 2004.
But in a sold-out performance and interview at Los Angeles' Grammy Museum Oct. 15, Rodgers told Grammy Foundation and MusiCares vp Scott Goldman that he's always been a soul singer at heart -- particularly on his new album covering R&B classics, The Royal Sessions. Recorded at the iconic Memphis Royal Studios with some of the original session musicians, the collection was produced by Perry Margoulef, who appeared with Rodgers and Goldman for the event.
“I was intimidated by the session musicians,” Rodgers said. “Perhaps I feel I’ve been pretending to be a soul singer and I was going into the place where Albert King and Isaac Hayes sang. There is no pretending here. [But] it was very gratifying how the guys welcomed me. We did ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ first.”
Margouleff said the album came about because he was touring Stax and other Memphis studios, and was told Royal Studios was still in business, recording every day. He got so excited, he drove there, jumped out of his rental car with the engine running in what he termed "not a very good neighborhood,” and rushed inside. Once somebody walked in to give him his car keys, he calmed down long enough to call Rodgers and say, “Guess where I am?”
Rodgers was stunned, because the studio was where his idols made history. “When I was 14, I heard Otis Redding in a club local to me and I was blown away,” Rodgers said. “It leaped out at me and went straight to my heart. I set my sights on singing like that.” Booker T and the MGs' “Red Beans And Rice” was the first record he ever bought. “I got the idea of what a band should be from listening to Booker T and Otis Redding,” he said. “The way they played together was very spiritual.”
It was through Redding and Otis Blue that he became aware of Memphis. “When I heard this music I felt a rapport with it. When I go there today I still feel at home,” he said. The recording process was old school, too: every track was cut live on analog. “It’s not the old fashioned way, it’s the real way,” Magouleff said. Rediscovering that sound quality made Rodgers a vinyl junkie again. “I think it is tiring to listen to digital music for too long,” Rodgers said. ‘I am not against progress, digital is here to stay. I bought CDs, but I was becoming tired of music.”
Following the Q&A, the night ended with Rodgers and the musicians performing three songs from the new album, starting with a stellar “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” followed by “I Can’t Stand The Rain” and “Born Under A Bad Sign.”
This article originally appeared in THR.com.