“You know the original versions had moved me, and I wanted to get close to that feeling, get close to the way the song moved me when I first heard it,” says Paul Rodgers, founding member of Free, Bad Company, and The Firm, and the man considered to have one of the classic voices of rock and roll. He’s now using that voice to reinterpret some of the greatest R&B songs ever written, and he used some of the great studio musicians out of Royal Studios in Memphis, where he recorded the new album, The Royal Sessions, to capture that feeling. The same studio and some of the same musicians who were a part of the original recordings.
The response has been tremendous to the new release, as the song “I Can’t Stand The Rain” reached number seven on the adult contemporary charts, while “I Thank You” reached number one on the blues charts, as well as number one on the classic rock chart and number four on the Japan pop chart.
“I have to hand a lot of the credit to my producer, Perry Margouleff,” relates Paul. “We were recording songs together, and we’d often talk about our influences. He was down inMemphis, at the Royal Studios. ‘It’s beautiful, we could even do some sessions here,’ he said. We went down, we did three days, and it felt so good I had to go back there and do a full album.”
The songs all come from a place near and dear to Paul’s heart. “They’re all very dear to me, each and every one is very precious,” he says. “They came up for different reasons. ‘Walk On By,’ when I first heard it by Isaac Hayes, I never imagined one day I would sing it. It was so far above my game in the early days with Free. I just felt it each day, any song I would call, they would say, ‘OK,’ and run through it themselves, and we’d be ready to go pretty soon after that. It was a feel thing. I wanted it to be authentic. I think we got it right this time.”
When I asked Paul if there were any songs he wanted to include, but space limitations forced him to leave off, he replied, “Only about 150!”
There’s a bonus track that is an original song they decided to record with the Memphis musicians while they had them in the studio. “There are three bonus tracks actually,” Paul adds. “’The Shake,’ ‘Walk In My Shadow,’ and ‘Wonderful World.’ ‘Walk’ was the first song I ever wrote. I said to Perry it’s a rock song really, and he said it’s a 12 bar blues and these guys can really dig into it. There’s no reason for me leaving them off the album. I was thinking in terms of vinyl. It’s all analog; it’s all live in the studio, and straight to tape. There is a vinyl album release as well as the CD. I was thinking when I put the list together in terms of vinyl, five on one side and five on the other. If you listen to it as a musical experience, that’s what I hope to achieve.
“I love analog. I’ve rediscovered vinyl. I’ve broken out my old record player, it’s wonderful! It’s just an experience; it’s what music was when I first started. Analog comes at you in waves, digital at you like a staircase. To go back to the original analog was a wonderful experience.”
Another thing they did was leave the songs as they were recorded. For instance, they did the Otis Redding classic “Dreams To Remember,” but it clocked in at close to seven minutes long. “A lot of these songs we opened up and really adlibbed around the song,” Paul says. “I said to Perry, ‘We should edit that down.’ He said, ‘No man, don’t touch it!’”
Like many teenagers in England in the ’60, Paul had to get his music through his hometown port, where the records were brought over on ships. They would seek out American blues and R&B artists, and Paul became enamored with artists such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf. And of course he was influenced by the British rock bands as well, such as Rod Stewart, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.
Not only did Paul help found some very influential groups of his own, he’s been a Grammy nominated solo artist, and written, recorded, produced and released 30 albums over the course of his career, selling in excess of 90 million copies. He did a stint with Queen, and has performed with Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Buddy Guy, Joe Walsh, Slash, Nils Lofgren, Charlie Watts, Bryan Adams, and many others. You can still hear his voice constantly at classic rock radio, whether it’s the Free hit “All Right Now,” or any number of Bad Company songs. Including, of course, the staple of just about every rock cover band, “Can’t Get Enough.”
You’ll hear those classics, as well as some of the songs off the new release, on his current tour, which hits New Jersey this month. He’ll be bringing his longtime live band out for the shows. “I tour with Howard Leese (Heart) on guitar, the bass player is Todd Ronning, and Rick Fedyk on drums, an awesome powerhouse drummer. Howard has been with me for 15 years, longer than bands I’ve been with.” For the new material, Paul will make sure the songs capture the vibe of the recordings. “We’ll take a couple songs they’ll be able to handle very, very well,” he states. “And we’ll give them a rock twist.”
Another related project Paul has in the works is to reconvene the Memphis musicians he recorded with for a special “Royal Sessions” concert, which will be filmed for a DVD release.
I asked Paul if there are any new, up-and-coming artists that have caught his ear lately. “There’s a guy called Steve Rodgers,” Paul laughs, “who happens to be very good. He does happen to be my son, but I’m not biased!”
Paul Rodgers will play at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood on April 29 and the State Theatre in New Brunswick on April 30. His new album, The Royal Sessions, is available now. For more information, go to paulrodgers.com.