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Bad CompanyFree was a learning experience for the young Rodgers. Now in his mid-20s, he was already a veteran in the music business.
Rodgers put a band together called Peace and toured the U.K. with Mott The Hoople. He struck up a friendship with Mick Ralphs, and they began writing together.
In order to take it to the next level, Rodgers knew talent was not enough; he had to have solid management. Rodgers recalls how he met Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant.
“Mick and I were putting Bad Company together, and I said to him, ‘We have to have the greatest manager in the world. Who manages Led Zeppelin?’ Coincidently, Zeppelin had formed the record label Swan Song and was scouting for talent. I called Peter and told him who I was and what I was looking for. Peter said, ‘I am interested in managing you.’ I told him that I came with a band.”
Rodgers invited Grant to come to the band’s rehearsal, and Grant accepted. The band waited for hours for Grant to arrive but finally gave up and began jamming. Much to Rodgers’ surprise, Grant presented himself at the end of Bad Company’s rehearsal.
He had been outside listening to the group play without letting them know he was there. He claimed he wanted to see what the band was really about without the pressure of his presence. At the end of the day, he liked what he heard and agreed to take them on.
Grant was a man of huge stature who was very intimidating. He was schooled on the streets, equal parts manager and gangster. By the time he signed Bad Company, Led Zeppelin was the biggest band in the world and had all of the machinery in place to launch a band.
“It was a little bit daunting to be signed by the great Led Zeppelin, at the time,” Rodgers admits.
Soon enough, however, the members of each band would become great friends.
“They would come to see us play and come on for a jam,” recalls Rodgers. “We had a lot in common musically, a lot of the same influences.”
The last piece in the Bad Company puzzle was placed when the band found ex-King Crimson bass player Boz Burrell. Now, all they needed was a place to record. As fate would have it, Led Zeppelin was to begin recording a new album and had a mobile unit set up at the Headley Grange manor in England. Zeppelin got delayed 10 days, and instead of having the mobile unit sit idle, Grant instructed the boys to go in and lay down a couple of tracks.
The band enthusiastically went in and recorded the entire first album.
“It was very much a communal spirit. We’d get up, and someone would light fires, someone would cook.” Rodgers remembers. “We had the equipment set up in different parts of the house. The vocals were in one room, and we had a room for the echo. Another room was for drums and another for guitar. It was very organic.”
The song “Bad Company” was a centerpiece for the record, and it came straight from Rodgers’ vast imagination.
“I sat at the piano one day, and I started thinking of a Wild West scene,” explains Rodgers. “In England, you are shoulder-to-shoulder with everybody because it is such a small country. I would imagine these vast plains. In the early days of the Wild West, people were coming from all over the world. People were fleeing from Europe like rats out of a sewer. America was a huge vast canvas that was yet to be painted. All of the above came into my mind, and I had a picture of these guys who were thrown in amongst that. They didn’t really want to be bad company, but they lived in a lawless world, and they had to live with frontier justice. All of that triggered the mood to that song.”
Rodgers set up a microphone outside Headley Grange and recorded the vocals to the song at midnight, under a full moon.
Unlike his situation in Free, Rodgers had a partner in Ralphs who could write songs. Ralphs brought over two tunes from his time in Mott the Hoople, “Can’t Get Enough” and “Ready for Love.” When Ralphs presented the songs to Mott, they were met with a lukewarm response.
With Rodgers behind the microphone, new life was breathed into the songs and both became hits. Rodgers tells about hearing “Can’t Get Enough” for the first time.
“From day one I knew that was a hit. I was surprised that anyone had any difficulty seeing that. Mick said, ‘Do you really think so?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I knew if we could write that sort of music, then we were going to be big. I can still feel these songs and enjoy singing them; great songs never die.”
Getting the record company to agree with Rodgers on the song was not an easy task. Rodgers had to stand up to Grant and demand he listen to him.
“I said to Peter, ‘This is the single.’ He came back to me and said, ‘I have talked to the record company. Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Am I sure? I am f-ing sure!’ We went back and forth. It took them a while to go for it. It always amazed me that it took them a while, because it is so radio-friendly. You just get straight into that groove.”
Going head-to-head with record companies was nothing new to Rodgers, who stood up to Island records about the name Free when they thought they should be called the Heavy Metal Kids.
“We entered Island’s offices and sat down for our meeting and were told that we would lose our record contract if we didn’t comply,” says Rodgers. “I said, ‘Right then, we won’t sign.’ As a musician, one needs artistic control, and I could see that we would be losing that if we signed. I stood to leave and the record company reconsidered.”
The same thing happened when Rodgers came up with the name “Bad Company”.
“When I called Mick and said ‘Bad Company,’ he loved it so much he dropped the receiver, but when I informed the record company, they were absolutely against it,” says Rodgers.
Once Rodgers convinced the label that Bad Company was a great name, Swan Song hired the popular imaging company Hipgnosis to create the album cover. The company was run by artist Storm Thorgerson, who had designed album covers for Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. While most of Thorgerson’s images were real-life and complex, what he came up with for Bad Company’s debut album was exceedingly simple. It was nothing more than the words “Bad Co.”
“I remember saying to Storm, ‘Why Bad Co.? We are Bad Company,” recalls Rodgers. “He said, ‘You’ve already got a nickname; like The Stones.’ Behind the lettering of Bad Co., the texturing is human skin. We didn’t actually skin anyone to create that. He photographed the palm of his hand, and then expanded that, and added it behind the lettering.”
The self-titled debut shot to the top of charts in 1974 and eventually went five times platinum. The band returned to the studio to record the follow-up, Straight Shooter, and more success followed as Bad Company’s sophomore effort reached #3 on the Billboard Album Charts. “Feel Like Making Love” hit #10 on the Singles Charts, ensuring Bad Company of another major tour.
Of the song’s inspiration, Rodgers says, “I started to write that song when I was 18. It was about someone that I had met in San Francisco. I met some friends, and we hitchhiked into the woods and went camping hippy style. The song was born from that. I never finished it until we got to the album Straight Shooter. Mick came to me and said, ‘What have you got?’ I started playing him the song, and he said, ‘I know what this needs.’ He then played that heavy guitar part, and I began to sing, ‘Well I feel like making love,’ and the song was finished.”
The signature song on Straight Shooter was the Rodgers-penned “Shooting Star.” The music rock world had recently been rocked with the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.
“I particularly like ‘Shooting Star.’ The story is still poignant and relevant,” Rodgers laments. “The lyrics flowed out of me. I started singing the chorus in my head, and I grabbed my guitar. I couldn’t believe that nobody had written
a song that equated a shooting star with a rock star.”
It is this song that Rodgers’ youngest fans respond to best. “Perhaps the song’s message is reaching them,” he says.
Next came 1976’s Run with the Pack.
“I thought I had become a little more sophisticated by then,” Rodgers admits. “I think Run with the Pack was influenced by The Beatles. I used a string section to contrast the heavy rock feel.”
The album spawned a hit single with the remake of The Coasters’ “Young Blood,” as well as fan favorites “Live for the Music,” “Do Right by Your Woman” and “Silver, Blue and Gold.” While the album was critically acclaimed, it was the first Bad Company album not to sell multi-platinum.
Bad Company had been writing, recording and touring for three years straight and members were beginning to tire when they entered the studio to record 1977’s Burnin’ Sky. Rodgers recalls the bands’ attitude.
“We made a pact with each other that we would record the album, but that we would not release it if we didn’t
think it was strong enough. The contracts were such that it went out anyway. The album was not ready. You need to have some time to write. Some songs can be written while you are on the road, but you need time to yourself off the road to be creative. I think we were a touch burned at that point.”
Even tired and unprepared, Rodgers came up with a classic Bad Company song in “Burnin’ Sky.”
“I had the chorus, and the chords, but I hadn’t finished any of the lyrics for the verses until I walked into the studio and the red light went on,” says Rodgers. “I sang ad lib, on the spot, and was very pleased with the flow of the storyline.”
Bad Company hit the road in support of the album; it was a tour plagued by storms.
“We seem to have upset some thunder god by using a recorded thunderclap to open the album, because it rained and thundered everywhere we went,” says Rodgers. “We had a private plane, and we flew through storm after storm after storm. We all got a little bit spooked about it. The pilot told us not to worry one day because we were going to Las Vegas. He said that it had not rained in Vegas for three years. We got to Vegas, and it rained. At the end of the tour, when I tried to fly home, I couldn’t because of a storm. I finally landed in Paris and had to drive to London, escorted all the way home by thunder and lightning. It was eerie.”
Burnin’ Sky reached #15 on the charts, but the title track failed to crack the Top 40. Bad Co. would need a great album, and a hit single, to stay on top. They found both in the album Desolation Angels and Rodgers’ song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy.” Rodgers wrote the monstrous riff that opened the classic tune.
“I picked up a Roland Synth guitar; it was one of the first ones on the market,” he says. “I fiddled around with it, and I got the most amazing sound. I said, ‘This thing is a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. Listen to it.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that’s it right there.’”
Despite another sold-out world tour, a platinum-selling album and a hit single, Bad Company was in decline. 1982’s Rough Diamonds was the last album recorded by the original lineup, and also was the worst-selling, reaching only #26 and failing to go gold. Like Free, Bad Company had run its course.
Rodgers wanted to go back to basics and rekindle the emotion that had made Bad Company successful in the first place.
“I wanted us to play in a club atmosphere again,” he says. “I booked us in a village hall. I couldn’t book the band as Bad Company, so I booked us as Rough Diamonds, which became the title for our next album. I don’t think there is a lot of pride to that album. I don’t know how inspired we were by that time.”
Recognizing perhaps that the well had, indeed, run dry, Bad Company came to an end.
“We were working very hard, but we were spreading ourselves too thin,” says Rodgers, reflecting on the band’s demise. “For a band to work, everybody has to pull their weight, and by that time, there was a certain amount of coasting going on. You have to have momentum, energy and enthusiasm, as that is what rock ‘n’ roll is all about. If it gets to the point, with any given band, that those elements are not there, then I am on the next train out of town, looking for players and writing the music that excites me.”
and thanks for posting the second half of this very interesting article.
It is always interesting to hear how certain songs and lyrics came about and how the band evolved and then ... well maybe disolved is the right word.
Everybody remembers Bad Conpany .... thanks for sharing the article.
ps great picture of the band!!