It’s difficult to imagine the honor of being tapped to be the lead singer of the Doors after Jim Morrison's tragic death. But that is exactly what happened to Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers.
The only thing is, no one told him about it.
“It’s apparently true,” Rodgers says of Robbie Krieger and other Doors members flying to England in an unsuccessful attempt to track him down. “I was totally gobsmacked.”
In the days before cell phones and the internet, it was easy to slip off the grid. “I was out in the country putting Bad Company together, so nobody could find me,” Rodgers says of hiding away in the woods writing songs with Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs.
Even if Krieger had found him, Rodgers is not sure it would have worked out. “Jim Morrison was fantastic, and I would hate to try to replace somebody of that stature 'cause he’s just so great,” he says.
Rodgers never replaced Morrison, but he found tremendous success with Bad Company, which would go on to sell 125 million albums and propel the band to rock stardom.
Bad Company will play its biggest hits Friday, February 22, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in the second show of only a dozen this tour. Expect to hear favorites such as “Bad Company,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy,” “Shooting Star,” and “Ready for Love.” Rodgers says they will even play “All Right Now” — the biggest hit from his first major band, Free.
“We were just writing fools,” Rodgers says of collaborating with Free guitarist Andy Frasier when they were teenagers. “We just went into a room, sat down with nothing — just our guitars — and we came out with a bunch of songs. It was amazing. In our own minds, we were Lennon and McCartney.”
After Free, Rodgers knew he wanted to secure a top manager for the fledgling Bad Company. “I’m thinking big here, so I’m thinking, Who is the biggest band in the world? Without a doubt it was Led Zeppelin,” Rodgers says.
He hooked up with legendary Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, and Bad Company became the first band to sign with Zeppelin’s label Swan Song. It was the beginning of decades of collaboration between Bad Company and Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant in 2016 dubbed Rodgers “the voice of all British voices.”
Indeed, Rolling Stone ranked Rodgers 55th on its list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time," calling his voice “incredibly masculine, sexy, hardworking.”
After years of recording and touring with Free and Bad Company, Rodgers needed a break. But Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page wasn’t having it.
“I built a studio in my house, and Jimmy started to pop over to see what I was doing,” Rodgers says of his ill-fated effort to lie low for a while. “We started to write songs.”
Despite the fact Rodgers did not want to be on the road, Page pushed him. Rodgers agreed to two albums and two tours, and in 1984, the Firm was borne. The band went on to enjoy success with the soulful “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart-topper “Radioactive.”
“We just did that on a handshake,” Rodgers says of his friendly partnership with Page. “We didn’t sign a contract or anything like that.”
Rodgers has played with everyone from the Eagles’ Joe Walsh to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, but there is one unlikely artist with whom he would've liked to work.
“Amy Winehouse,” he says, referring to the singer-songwriter who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011. “I loved her talent. It was unmistakable. I mean, Back to Black? Oh, God, it’s so good... She was the epitome of a shooting star. How sad.”
Rodgers is quick to compliment others but slow to share his feelings about why Bad Company has not been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's a snub considered by many to be one of the all-time biggest.
“I don’t know,” he sighs. “I think I must have offended somebody on the corporate ladder at some point.”
It would be inauthentic to be a rock star and never offend anyone, but Rodgers isn’t wasting a moment giving it any more thought.
“Onwards and upwards — we’re still going to be playing our music,” he says. He then adds, laughing, “We’re in our own rock 'n' roll hall of fame.”
Life has changed dramatically for Rodgers since he grew up in a working-class neighborhood not far from AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, with whom Rodgers has recently worked and developed a friendship.
Rodgers relocated to Canada 20 years ago but retains dual citizenship. “I met a lovely lady,” he explains, singing the words in his warm, honey-smooth voice. “She’s the light of my life.”
Rodgers and his wife, Cynthia, are animal lovers with four adopted cats and a yard full of wild deer. They are so dedicated to helping animals that in addition to supporting many charities, they donated autographed paraphernalia, collectibles, and tickets for the upcoming show to benefit two Broward County animal-rescue groups.
Life in Canada has been good, providing Rodgers the sanctuary for which he has long been searching. “I like to get out into the wilderness and go walking and just lose myself,” he says. “It soothes my soul and gets me in tune with nature and in tune with myself. It’s a great benefit for writing. When I come back and sit with a guitar, it’s very inspiring.”
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At 69, Rodgers is on top of his game. A remastered album of previously unreleased Bad Company material is in the works, coming on the heels of his successful 2018 live solo album and DVD, Free Spirit.
He just finished laying down vocals for a Cream tribute album featuring such greats as Ginger Baker, Joe Bonamassa, Maggie Bell, and Eric Clapton, who calls Rodgers “the real deal.”
Rodgers, soft-spoken and thoughtful, pauses briefly before commenting on his evolving legacy as one of the greatest singers of all time. “For a little lad from Middlesbrough, that’s quite an achievement,” he says. “I’m very proud of that.”
Bad Company. 8 p.m. Friday, February 22, at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood; 866-502-7529; seminolehardrockhollywood.com. Tickets cost $35 to $90 via ticketmaster.com.
Correction: Due to a transcribing error, the original version of this post did not mention that Paul Rodgers was tapped to lead the Doors. New Times regrets the error.