Rock N Roll Fantasy: The Musical Journey of Free and Bad Company
Although still in its relative infancy rock and roll had made way for a more intellectual outlook by the close of the sixties. Chief among these singles was Free’s “All Right Now”, a barrelhouse rocker cementing the wants, wills and needs of the curious, ever growing members of the countercultural movements. Fronted by Paul Rodgers, the guitar outfit-furnishing an output even more eclectic than the diversity their name suggested- offered millions of European listeners their safe haven into the chapels shrill, soulful music offered them. Long before his future stratospheric American success with Bad Company, Rodgers was enjoying the fruits of his labour, capturing a sexually charged energy to an audience eager to embrace the primordial in the popular. Among these fans sat Farrokh Bulsara, a singular art student willing to channel that immediacy with his rowdy friends, rogues and audiences. This man turned out to be premier androgyne Freddie Mercury, and such was Rodgers’ influence on Queen, guitarist Brian May personally invited the Free frontman to sing in Mercury’s place on a widely anticipated tour.
And yet May was far from the only guitarist wowed by Rodger’s sensibilities, style or swagger. In the years following Free’s cessation, Rodgers -one of the finest torchbearers blues rock has offered- captured the creative muse from every player from Mick Ralphs’ careful, considered melodies to Jeff Beck’s fierier, more furious form of guitar work. Comparisons to Led Zeppelin were palpable, and Rodgers was personally invited onstage to sing with the band in 1974. By the time he’d left Bad Company, Rodgers had encountered Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page in a point of creative withdrawal. Sensing their dual points of creative ferocity as one and the same, Rodgers invited Page to collaborate on 1984’s pounding Mean Business. And you don’t have to take my word for it- there are more than enough anecdotes out there to fill a book.
David Roberts Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy presents Rodgers’ astonishing journey from blues fan to blues icon. Commencing from his earliest gigs, Rodgers instilled a sense of loyalty that would survive for decades, and maintains a loyalty even to this day. Free drummer Simon Kirke joined him in Bad Company, and the duo remain an integral part of rock’s growing family. Kirke’s drumming style was infectious, indelible, but never at the expense of Mick Ralphs’ songwriting. No less a luminary than Ringo Starr invited Kirke to tour with him, while Rodgers- who later sang with ex Yardbird and guitarist extraordinaire, Jeff Beck- has reignited the passion many seventies guitarists held for their craft, long after the apparent reign had come to an end. Amidst the memories Kirke and Rodgers shared, there were many more who bore memories of these two and their rock posturing. When he couldn’t work with Kirke, Rodgers accepted an invitation with Small Faces stalwart Kenney Jones by forming The Law, a stadium pop hybrid that still holds an interest to this day. Fans wrote in to This Day in Music in their hundreds, capturing the vocalist on his mighty impasto, before reveling in their collective glories as contributors to the tome.
Roberts, who has commemorated Rodgers to print, has published a book by which future rock books need to be measured against. What Roberts has added is not just bravado (Rodgers has enough of that in spades), but context by which this particular sub sect of the rock paradigm has prospered. What’s most remarkable about the work is not how it contextualises the singer, but emboldens him in the esoteric-yet effortlessly commercial- flairs he espoused, and continues to demonstrate to this day. Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy is, much like the artist it writes about, brilliant.