BAD COMPANY - “Muddy Waters. Where’s That?”
July 26, 2014, 6 months ago
Blues rock legends Bad Company—surprise—are still out there gigging away, with a line-up as classic as it can possibly be, given the death of original bassist Boz Burrell. So yes, out there playing them big hits are Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke plus two. Also in the news is the reissue through Rhino, of the band’s chart-topping first two records Bad Company and Straight Shooter.
It all started, says guitarist Mick Ralphs, as a reaction to prog as well as the British glam scene of ’71 to ’74... “Well I was involved in that to a degree with Mott The Hoople, but again, it wasn’t my cup of tea. And that’s why I left, really, to form Bad Company with Paul. I wanted to get back to something more basic and simple. And I mean, I took a chance, because Mott was just on the verge of being really big, after ‘All The Young Dudes.’ But I decided I wanted to get into something more bluesy, more meaty, and so I took the decision to leave and work with Paul.”
Bad Company would be recorded at infamous Led Zeppelin haunt Headley Grange, but Straight Shooter... that would be cut at the haunted Clearwell Castle...
“Well, yes, it was an old medieval place, and it was ostensibly haunted, but I think a lot of it was to do with perpetuating the myth of these old house to get more people to stay there, you know. It was a tourist thing. But yeah, it was an old, old castle, and we only used a part of it. Because most of the time it was let out for guests who wanted to stay and have medieval banquet nights there and stuff like that. But yeah, it was a historical place.”
“When we did the first album, it was quite unusual to record in a different environment outside a studio, in an empty house with a mobile truck,” continues Ralphs. “We really liked it, because we could record when we wanted to. We could set stuff up anywhere we wanted to in the house, to move it around to get a good sound. And we also liked the fact that we didn’t have to drive to London and spend hours trying to find somewhere to park before you could actually go work in the studio. So it was very convenient from that point of view. We loved that it was out in the country. We just drove up, moved into the house and just set about recording when we felt like. It was great fun. It was more enjoyable but it was also more productive because there was no time constraints. We didn’t have to check out at a certain time because another band was coming in. You had the place, you know, permanently on lockdown 24/7.”
Both the first two albums found the band working with Ron Nevison, who would go on to great acclaim as a top-flight producer, most notably with UFO.
“He was the guy that came with the truck. He was... obviously he was paid as the engineer. Working with him, we had a good relationship. He helped define the sound we got. I think he would’ve liked to have been credited as producer. But in fact we did the producing ourselves; we knew what we wanted. Especially on the first record. We’d already rehearsed the songs and thought we didn’t need a producer per se. He was very good at it, and I think he went on to do a lot of other acts.”
And now, all these years later, your two records are back on vinyl... “Yes! It’s a big thing, especially in this country, about vinyl. Which, obviously, in the day, the record was what we played—it was a vinyl album, with an A side and a B side, and you’d string the songs together. My youngest son is in a band and he’s very much into vinyl, and they put out a vinyl album, which... it sounds a lot better, really. And I remember the excitement in the early days, getting a new album and putting it on. People would come around and you’d go listen to it, like a social event. It’s a shame people don’t do that anymore. It’s not social thing to do because it’s available anywhere. In the early days of rock, before Bad Company, we used to live in a flat together and people would suddenly come around with Abbey Road or Neil Young or something, and you’d sit around and read the album notes and listen to the record. It was a very tactile thing. Great experience. So hopefully, people will be able to experience some of that when they get the vinyl versions of the first two albums.”
Oddly, Bad Company sounded like a quintessentially American band, which is perhaps one of the reasons they didn’t sell that many records back on their English home turf.
“No, we did okay, but the trouble was we spent most of our time in America. A new album came out and then we went on tour, then we came back, did the next album and went back on tour. We did some dates in England and Europe, obviously, but we seemed to be more popular in the States. I think early on a lot of people might’ve thought we might’ve been an American group. But no, we always liked playing in England, and we did tour England and Europe. But it was on a smaller scale than in America, obviously, because it’s that much smaller. So we tended to spend a lot of time away, and maybe the British public misconstrued that as oh, we don’t want to play in England. It wasn’t that. We were just trying to do as much as we could in America. You know, it’s a big country.”
But there’s also that American sound, somewhere between southern rock and ZZ Top, and, weirdly, very much close to Foghat, yet another British band soaked in Americana and America.
“Maybe, yeah, because we all liked American blues and soul music,” agrees Mick. “And in those days, people tend to sing in an American accent, for whatever reason. And so yeah, I think yeah, we could be misconstrued as an American band. But we were playing the music that we loved, and we grew up with. But we put it into our songs, and of course in those days, not many white people in America knew various of the people that we loved. You know, the blues guitar players and singers. They’d hadn’t heard of ‘em. Because that’s the way it was on radio then. Like somebody said, we were in Chicago, and somebody said, you know, ‘Great to welcome you to Chicago. Where would you like... what would you like to see?’ And I said, ‘Well, Muddy Waters.’ And the bloke said, ‘Where’s that?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s a bloke actually; he just plays on the south side, and kind of a major influence on us.’ So obviously, people like Zeppelin, Bad Company, Humble Pie, all sent back our version of that music back to America. And it was viewed as like new music. But it was really all based on blues music. In fact, the first Zeppelin album, you can hear lots of loud versions of blues songs. And then obviously over time, you know, sort of interviews and more knowledge, and then of course the Internet, people got wise to the fact that... because in England, in the early, middle ‘60s, there was a big blues boom, with the early Fleetwood Mac and people like that. In fact Cream came out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. But we all played blues music from the Chicago period and it became a sort of thing in England.”
The original version of the band only lasted six records and eight years. Did these roots rocks desperados not get along?
“No, no, we all got on like a house on fire,” says Mick. “You know, of course, we all had our time of indulgence, and people might’ve drunk too much and whatever, but we never fell apart as a band. I think we gradually got worn down by the touring and album cycle. You lose the desire to do it when it becomes almost automatic. Then we wanted time off and we took time off, and then Paul wanted to do something else, and step back from it all. But now we do it because we want to do it, and we like each other, and we like doing it. We don’t do it that often. We don’t do it for major tours. I think the way we do it is just about right. It keeps everybody on their toes, everybody fresh, and it sounds fresh to the audience. Which is the way it should be.”
“As players and singers, they’ve got a lot better; we all have,” reflects Ralphs in closing, asked about his buddies in the war, Paul and Simon. “We are much better at what we do now than when we started out. Although we weren’t bad when we started out. Everybody has sort of mellowed with age, as you do. We’ve all got kids, and as you get older, you don’t have to... well you take it seriously, but it’s not like deadly serious, you know what I mean? You do your gig well and you talk to people and blah blah blah. But when you’re young, it’s all-consuming. You’re so young and ambitious, and everything matters that much more than it does when you get older.”
Martin Popoff's short eBook about Bad Company's Desolation Angels album can be found here.