Paul Rodgers is returning to where it all began – in more ways than one. The legendary rocker, known for his work with Free and then later Bad Company, is celebrating the golden anniversary of Free with a new release, Free Spirit: Celebrating The Music of Free, which was recorded at a place that he knows quite well – the historic Royal Albert Hall in London. Ahead of its release, watch an exclusive video of Rodgers performing Free’s hard rock classic “All Right Now” below.
Being back at a venue that he has played many times was special to Rodgers. “It was wonderful and received so well. There’s a lot of love for the music, and I was very touched by the response.” In addition to CD/DVD and Blu-ray, and album will be released on a medium that was fashionable when he first recorded with Free some five decades ago – vinyl. It’s a medium that he still listens to quite a bit today.
“I have a lot of analog. I think a lot of people do. There are a lot of people that are re-discovering it. I still have a lot of my old records from back in the day. It’s a joy to play things like Junior Wells’ ‘Hoodoo Man Blues,’ and John Mayall & The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. There’s a warmth that you can still feel. I do think that the ear detects this on some level.”
Of “All Right Now,” which became the band’s signature tune in 1970, Rodgers says it’s a song that has aged well – but one he actually went for years without playing. “When I left Free back in 1972, I didn’t play ‘All Right Now’ until about 1996, when I was touring with Jason Bonham, and we were supporting the tribute record we had done to Muddy Waters. We got calls from the audience to do the song, and I hadn’t done it in so long. Then, the band started calling for it. So, people were calling for it in front of and behind me. I said ‘Okay. Let’s do it.’ It was so refreshing to play, and it has wound up staying in the set. I am amazed at the song and its longevity.”
Between that iconic song, as well as Bad Company hits like “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” it’s a given that rock enthusiasts will be jamming along with Rodgers’ grooves forever – and that’s something that makes him smile. “That’s a nice thing. As a performer, the thing that I love is to see people come together. I love it when people come from all over the place in separate vehicles, and they all come to this venue and become one energy. When that happens, it’s a very magical thing. I think that helps the world go around, and it’s what we do as performers – bring people together.”
Rodgers says that playing the songs of Free on the collection was as refreshing as it ever was – with one of the reasons being some of the songs the band never played in concert before. “A lot of the songs we recorded, we’d put the basic track down, then I’d go write the lyrics in the control room, and I’d put the vocal on it, and walk away. That was it. We never performed it live. There were so many tracks like that – ‘Love You So,’ ‘Catch The Train’ – a lot of these songs we were focused on recording, but we didn’t play any of them live. It’s amazing to play them live now and re-discover them now.”
In a career that has seen many highlights, what are some of the moments that stand out for Rodgers? He doesn’t hesitate.
“When I played with Jimmy Page, he would take a solo, and lift the roof off of the building. You would just pinch yourself that you were witnessing it. There were moments with Queen where I would be surrounded by sixty thousand people, and people would be singing along, and you’d think ‘Wow. Am I really here?’ Then, doing the album at Albert Hall, I stood about ten feet back from the mic because the dynamics of the band were so focused. They could play – and you could hear a pin drop. They had the attention of the audience. I was standing back, and singing ‘Be My Friend,’ and it was also a pinch me moment. You would wonder ‘Am I in the past or in the future?’ At the same time, it doesn’t matter. You’re here now. There are those moments all the time.”
To promote the release, Rodgers is taking the music to the people. “We’re getting ready to go on tour with Free Spirit, and Jeff Beck is going to be on the bill. Deborah Bonham is going to be there too. I’m really looking forward to that.”
While his resume includes stints with some of rock’s greatest groups, there was one band that was interested in his services – but couldn’t find him.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but I did a show with a reformed version of The Doors. They came up to me, and said ‘You might not know this, but when Jim Morrison died, we flew over to England, and were looking for you to join us. But, we couldn’t find you.’ I was gobsmacked. I told them that I was in the country hiding away writing with Mick Ralphs writing songs for Bad Company. That was really amazing. What a compliment.”
Rodgers laughs about that story, saying that in today’s tech-savvy world, he likely could have been reached. But he’s not so sure that’s a good thing, entirely. “It’s a shame that all the technology we have now doesn’t allow you to get away today. You have to really work at it.”