Preview: Bad Company still on the run

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There's an endless list of bands from the '70s that have been forced to replace the singers who brought them to the dance.

One band that can be removed from that somewhat dreaded list is Bad Company, which has its original frontman, Paul Rodgers, back in place for its 40th anniversary tour, which stops at the First Niagara Pavilion Friday with Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Bad Company

With: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Where: First Niagara Pavilion.

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Tickets: $31-$106;

Bad Company, which formed in 1973, was among the most notable supergroups of its era, although the guys didn't really set it up with that in mind. Mr. Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke had been in the band Free, best known for the 1970 hit "All Right Now." Guitarist Mick Ralphs came over from glam-rockers Mott the Hoople and after a difficult search for a bassist they arrived at Boz Burrell from King Crimson.

"We all happened to have come from groups that were heard of prior to that, and people may have leapt on that -- 'Oh, supergroup' -- but we weren't thinking along those lines at all," Mr. Rodgers says. "We were just looking for the right people to play with to make as exciting music as we could.

"When we first started we didn't really have an identity as such," he adds. "We were just a bunch of guys with a bunch of songs, and I had learned from past experience, working with my band Free before that, that management at the top level was kind of important."

They couldn't have done better than landing Peter Grant, the formidable manager of Led Zeppelin and The Yardbirds.

"What he did for us was take all the business away and we just made music," Mr. Rodgers says. "We got off to a great start because we had been rehearsing for a while. We had all these songs and it was very generic, it was across the board, it was everything from 'Seagull' to 'Can't Get Enough,' so it was very varied at the time."

Bad Company caught another break in November '73 when Zeppelin -- set to record "Physical Graffiti" at Headley Grange, a country mansion in East Hampshire, England, with Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio -- hit an impasse in its session.

Mr. Grant told Bad Company that if the guys could work quickly, they could get a few tracks down there.

"Well, we went in and recorded everything we had," the singer says. "It was very organic and very funky. We had different instruments set up in different rooms, and it was very old school. My wife at the time would cook, and somebody would wake up and light the fires. Some of the acoustic tracks we did had fires crackling in the background, which was a bit of an acoustic problem, but we solved it. But it was nice. It had a great atmosphere, and I think that's what comes across on that first album."

The self-titled debut turned out to be a No. 1 smash, producing the hits "Can't Get Enough" and "Movin' On" and the FM radio staples "Rock Steady," "Bad Company" and "Ready for Love." The band followed that in 1975 with "Straight Shooter," adding the hits "Good Lovin' Gone Bad" and "Feel Like Makin' Love." Bad Company was solid through 1979's "Desolation Angels," which produced the song "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy."

The band hit its rough patch in the '80s when the industry transitioned to New Wave -- coinciding with a loss that had a broad impact in the rock world.

"It all fell apart when John Bonham died," Mr. Rodgers says of the Led Zeppelin drummer. "We lost a great friend and a great guy. I mean, everybody loved John, and it was such a tragedy. And I think the heart went right out of Peter at that point. And very soon after that I decided I was going to come off the road. So we put the band to sleep for a time."

Mr. Rodgers bailed after the disappointing 1982 album "Rough Diamonds," but Bad Company wasn't down for long. The remaining members re-grouped with former Ted Nugent singer Brian Howe in 1984 while Mr. Rodgers was off with Jimmy Page in The Firm.

"I was working with Jimmy at the time, and they did ask me if they could go ahead and use the name," he says. "I gave them permission to do that because that's what happens with any band -- you are part owner of the name. I wasn't crazy about what they actually did, so I decided to come back. I come back from time to time because we don't tour on a regular basis."

He did go back, but it wasn't until 1998, for a few years, and then again in 2008. In addition to The Firm, he's done solo records and stints with The Law (in 1991) and Queen.

"It was exciting and interesting and different," he says of the Queen + Paul Rodgers work in the mid-'00s. "It was hugely challenging. They did great versions of my songs. It was a good band when we were a band. Some of the places we played in Europe I had never heard of, but thousands and thousands of people showed up, and it was unbelievable. It was great, but it's over now and I'm back to my own music."

Since returning, what he hasn't done with Bad Company -- which has Todd Ronning replacing the late Burrell, ex-Heart guitarist Howard Leese, Mr. Ralphs and Mr. Kirke -- is release an album. The last Bad Company album, 1996's "Stories Told and Untold," was fronted by third vocalist Brian Hart. Will there be another Paul Rodgers Bad Company album?

"I don't know. I keep an open mind. I do lots of different things. We all do. I just did a tour in Germany and I was playing with a 50-piece orchestra, and we did 20 shows out there. I'm interested in a soul album, because my influences are Stax. There's a lot of different things we do. When we get together, we'll see where the things take us. In general, there are no plans for a future."

The current focus, of course, is this tour with Lynyrd Skynrd, which might seem like an odd combination, given that one is British hard-rock, the other a symbol of the American South.

"I love those guys and girls," he says. "We have the same influences. We're very different musically, but we're in the same radius of musicality, if you like."

Among the bonds is an appreciation for Southern blues and soul, which he thinks contributes to making Bad Company a classic band.

"A lot of blues and soul records I listen to, they were recorded very spontaneously, they were recorded kind of warts and all. There was out-of-tune-ness, out-of-time-ness. But what there was was a real genuine spirit, and you were taken into the room by the naturalness of the sound. It wasn't clean, which digital does. You were taken to an atmosphere of a time long ago.

"We used to listen to those things because some of those blues records were recorded in hotel rooms with a microphone. We used to listen to those and we used to love that. That's where my songwriting comes from. I always tried to re-create an atmosphere that's almost live. We got it as clean as we can with no log fires in the background, but it's still very organic. It's not perfect in a technical sense, but it has a spirit, it has a feel. There's a rapport between the musicians. There's a musical conversation that occurs and we go to a place musically and take the listener with us. I think that's what the magic of this music is."

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Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576.


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