Paul Rodgers’ “Free Spirit” reignites the power and live spirit of his former legendary band
Legendary vocalist Paul Rodgers has become one of rock and roll’s most iconic voices for many great reasons; as the lead singer of Bad Company primarily, but also with a strong solo career, with the Firm, Queen and of course, as the world first got to know him, as front man for Free. But when it comes to the gritty, bluesy Free (which also featured the legendary late guitarist Paul Kossoff and soon-to-be Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke), it’s the band’s signature hit, 1970’s “All Right Now” (co-written by Rodgers and Free bassist Andy Fraser) that is what most listeners are familiar with. They are unaware of the deep, adventurous, truly stunning (if scant) catalog and so thank goodness that Rodgers is now presenting an expansive, celebrated live set of Free music, along with a big summer tour to showcase the new release. Starting July 18, Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers will embark on the co-headlining Stars Align Tour. Opening the show will be Deborah Bonham (sister of late-guitarist John Bonham (drummer for Led Zeppelin) followed by Wilson, with Rodgers and Beck closing the show on alternating nights. For more information and tickets visit the tour page.
Free Spirit — Celebrating The Music of Free is now available on Digital (June 22, 2018) CD/DVD & Blu-ray (June 29, 2018) and Vinyl (July 6, 2018) and can be ordered here.
The 16-song collection recorded at a sold-out performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall includes inspired performances of rock hits like “All Right Now,” “Wishing Well,” “Fire and Water,” and many deep tracks — some of which were never performed live by the original band, such as “Love You So” and “Catch a Train.” Along with this collection, those who purchase the Blu-ray and vinyl can expect exclusive footage and bonus tracks from opening acts Jasmine Rodgers, artist and multi-instrumentalist daughter of Paul, and Deborah Bonham, rock and blues vocalist sister of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
“When I went down to London in ’67 I had three things in mind,” says Rodgers. “To survive, to find peace of mind, and to make music doing it. When Free came together there was a creative magic around us, something unique and different. I felt again the strength of that magic on the 2017 Free Spirit Tour. Playing the songs we wrote, I felt the love and recognition the fans have for this music. The band, the fans, and I inspired each other to create and capture these moments in time.”
I recently had a chance to sit down with the affable, talented Rodgers to talk about the new album and the history of Free.
Paul, how did Free Spirit come together?
We had done a charity show for Willows Animal Sanctuary which is an organization my wife Cynthia and I deeply support. I did the music of Free with Deborah Bonham’s band behind me and and they just nailed it. So we do this little small exclusive charity gig for three years in a row and just have a blast. We did it at a club in England, in Chichester, but the place closed down and everybody was very disappointed because we all enjoyed playing this music there each year. I said to the band, “One day we’ll tour with us just playing Free music and eventually we went to UK which is when this new album was recorded last year, on that tour. Audiences just went wild for it.
Your original guitar player Paul Kossoff must be smiling somewhere.
For me this project it really helps bring Paul back to life. I want him to be remembered well and when the music is played like this it really puts him back in the room. We had such a wonderful and interesting history together. We were just 17 years old when we got to know each other. It was unusual for a 17-year-old in London to have not just a driver’s license but also a car, that was very unique, but he had both and that gave us a lot of freedom. We would drive around London and talk about the sort of band we would eventually form. We could never decide who would be the leader. We would actually fight over that fact. Then we got Simon Kirke in on drums and Andy Fraser on bass. Well Andy right away said that he was going to be the leader of the band and Paul and I sort of looked at each other but Andy had this fantastic business sense and so he took over all of the accounting and the keeping of records and things like that and really was remarkable with that stuff, in addition to being a great musician.
You didn’t really plan the band out that much, right?
Right. When we started playing we were just four guys who walked into a rehearsal room. Really not too much planning at all. But I will tell you we may have walked in as four separate guys just looking to play the blues, but within three hours we were a band. We just locked in so quickly. The rehearsal took place at little place called the Nags Head in Battersea. I actually went looking for recently but couldn’t find it. Anyway, we were just there playing the blues getting to know each other and in walks Alexis Korner with his family.
Wow, the “Founder of British of British Blues.” What were the odds of that?
Right? We couldn’t believe it. With his wife and kids. So we were singing a song called “Moonshine” that Paul and I had written. Well Alexis really enjoyed what he was hearing and after we took a break he sat down with us and chatted about music. He said to us, “You guys are great but you really do need a good name.” We sat there looking at each other thinking about what our name might be and Alexis said, “Well if it helps, I used to have a band with Cyril Davies called Free at Last.” We all looked at each other and immediately, collectively, decided that we needed to shorten it to just “Free.” Sort of like “Cream.” Not “The” Free but rather just Free. Just a single name; one powerful word as a statement.
It just felt so cosmic that our name would be essentially handed down to us by Alexis Korner. But then what happened was Island Records really got interested in us and they came to see us play and they liked us a lot. So we sat down with them to discuss things. Chris Blackwell, the head of the record company says, “Well you’re really good, but we do think you need a different name. We’d like to call you ‘Heavy Metal Kids.’” Well I looked him straight in the eye and I said, “There’s no way we’re changing our band name. The way it came to us was very cosmic and we think it fits us perfectly. And besides, what happens when we get older.? What happens when we are not kids anymore? Like you know, when we turn 21? (laughs).