Chicago’s Robert Lamm Knows What Time It Is

Robert Lamm of Chicago and his magical keytar!

Singer/keyboardist Robert Lamm has been part of a particular band of brothers for decades as Chicago, the group he co-founded, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

But this past summer during the band’s tour with co-headliners the Doobie Brothers and former Eagle Don Felder, he was inducted into another elite group: The Songwriters Hall of Fame, going in with a class that also includes his Chicago bandmate/trombonist James Pankow.

The pair found out about the honor last year, about the same time they were notified of the band’s (long) overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though Lamm’s reaction is a bit surprising.

“I’m a little ambivalent about it to be honest. I’m flattered, I never thought it would be bestowed on me. Some of the writers of the greatest American songs like Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Burt Bacharach are in there,” Lamm offers. “But to a large degree, it’s for the very earliest work I did on the first dozen or songs I composed for Chicago. That was a long time ago. I didn’t know what I was doing then, but I know what I’m doing now!”

Still, it’s hard to argue when some of the band’s Lemm-penned (and usually sang) tunes include classic rock and band staples like “Saturday in the Park,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” “Beginnings,” “Questions 67 & 68”, “Dialogue (Parts I and II),” “Another Rainy Day in New York City,” and “Harry Truman.”

But it’s another numerically-inclined song – with its title literally inspired by the time of the morning that Lamm wrote it – that has been such a calling card that the band recorded it twice: “25 or 6 to 4.”

Lamm says there was on incident shortly after the tune came out that made him think it was something bigger than just a hit. “I do remember going to a dinner party a couple of years after it came out, and Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson were there and another big performer whose name I can’t remember, and they were all talking about the song,” Lamm says. “That’s when I realized there was something [extra] it. And it’s been sampled a number of times by hip hop and rap artists and been in movies. So that all adds up to it having more impact than I ever expected.”

For years, the three most egregious exclusions from the Rock and Roll Hall were Yes, Deep Purple, and Chicago. With all three of those acts entering in the past two years, Lamm’s frequent tour mates in the Doobie Brothers now occupy that short list.

Old Days with Classic Chicago: Robert Lamm, Danny Seraphine, Lee Loughnane, Walt Parazadier, James Pankow, Peter Cetera, and TErry Kath. Photo courtesy of http://www.chicago-the-band.com

“Their time will come, I know it,” Lamm says. “I love those guys, and we’ve worked with them a lot, we have a long history. Our tours are very successful and are really a joyous event. It’s music that has meant so much to multiple generations. And the staying power of their music along with ours performed in one evening is something. And they are professionals.”

For their last tour, the band wasn’t just tripping down memory lane. The set list included “a nod to EDM music,” as he notes in recent years an older remixed Chicago track (“Street Player”) has become an unlikely dance club hit.

Also out this year was a Steven Wilson remixed-effort on Chicago II from 1970. The white-hot Prog-leaning Wilson has done similar work for Jethro Tull reissues, and has a solo career along with his band Porcupine Tree. Lamm adds that the band is contemplating playing that entire double album in concert down the road.

“I never thought that it could sound better than the original release, but it’s really something very different, and it’s great what he’s done,” Lamm says. “I haven’t listened to any of those songs in decades!”

In fact, there has been so much new activity in the Chicago story recently, that the ending of last year’s career-spanning CNN documentary, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago had to be continually re-edited.

hicago in 2017: Keith Howland, Lee Loughnane, Lou Pardini, James Pankow, Robert Lamm, Walfredo Reyes, Jr., Jeff Coffey, Ray Herrmann, and Tris Imbolden (Walt Parazadier not pictured). Photo courtesy of Chicago.

Lamm was happy with the result, though it was not without controversy in that it was produced by the son of a current bandmember. Ousted original drummer Danny Seraphine says he wasn’t represented well, and it did not include reflections from former singer/bassist Peter Cetera or original producer/manager James William Guercio (both declined to participate in the project).

He’s also celebrating the release of Time Chill, a retrospective anthology of his solo career since the early ‘90s with some unreleased and remixed material. So, while Lamm and Chicago are happy to revisit their past for big audiences on tour, they are not beholden to it.

“We’re not thinking about the 50 years behind us,” Lamm sums up. “We’re thinking about what’s ahead and all the new projects we are going to attempt!”

Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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My WAR Biography is Out Today!

 

 

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MCA Records Publicity Photo, 1977

 

Three and a half years in the making, my first book, Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR is out today!

Order it or find out more info HERE.

Posted in '70s Rock, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ann Wilson’s Heart of Rock and Roll

 

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Ann Wilson today. (Photo courtesy of MSO PR)

 

More than four decades into her career as one of rock’s premier and most distinctive vocalists, Ann Wilson recently wrapped up she’s never attempted before: an extended solo tour.

“We have a very lean, mean band, nothing extra. Great musicians that can go big or gentle, and a full video program for the whole two hour show,” she says enthusiastically. Of course, her main gig since the mid-‘70s has been co-leading the band Heart with sister/guitarist/co-writer Nancy (sidetrips with the Lovemongers and The Ann Wilson Thing! Notwithstanding).

 

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Photo by Jess Griffin/Courtesy of MSO PR

 

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, Heart racked up an instantly recognizable string of hard rock hits in the ‘70s (“Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” “Straight On”) and enjoyed even greater success in the ‘80s with anthemic power ballads (“What About Love?” “Never” “These Dreams,” “Alone”).

But – as even non-Heart fans know by now – plans for both Ann’s solo tour and Nancy’s new group, Roadcase Royale, weren’t exactly percolating a little over a year ago, or even thought about. That’s because in one of the most jarring recent music stories, at the moment the Wilson sisters are estranged – very estranged.

In a nutshell, there was an incident last year at a show involving a tour bus, a dog, and an intense physical altercation between Ann’s new husband and Nancy’s twin 16-year-old boys. It opened a gaping rift between the siblings usually thought of as perhaps the closest personally and professionally in all of music.

 

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Ann and Nancy Wilson in the ’70s (www.heart-music.com

 

Some month ago, Rolling Stone did a comprehensive piece on the incident and its aftermath, tellingly telling the magazine that the group was no longer on a “temporary hiatus,” but an all-out “hiatus.”

Still, there is one positive outcome, and that Ann agrees it has forced both sisters to step outside of their boxes with their current projects

“We are definitely out of our comfort zone and for me, it’s fantastic fresh, and liberating. I can’t say anything negative about it – except for the money!” Wilson says. “But it’s really good for me, and I’m sure for Nancy.”

Surprisingly, a gander at Ann Wilson’s current set lists show less than 25% are Heart songs – and they are “reimagined.” The rest includes new original tunes written in the last year and covers, a lot of covers.

Mainly from her own personal music faves like the Who (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”), Jimi Hendrix (“Manic Depression”), the Animals (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”), Yes (“I’ve Seen All Good People”), Elvis Presley (“One Night”), Aretha Franklin (“Ain’t No Way”), and even the Black Crowes (“She Talks to Angels” – the lyrics of which she says she “really identifies” with).

But there’s nothing it seems from Ann Wilson’s biggest rock heroes – Led Zeppelin – a group for which she has been known to cover a song or two or three over the years.

“What I liked about them at first was Robert Plant,” she offers. “I had never seen a singer before who could be just as much female as male. It was a beautiful thing, very poetic. I thought I could sing that stuff, and I could.”

Perhaps the ultimate fangirl moment was when Ann and Nancy were chosen to perform ultimate Zep tune “Stairway to Heaven” in front of the surviving members themselves and a star-studded audience in 2013 when the band received their Kennedy Center Honors.

Beginning with just Ann’s voice and Nancy’s acoustic guitar, as the tune progresses they are eventually joined by a full band (including Zep progeny Jason Bonham on drums), an orchestra, a vocal ensemble, and then a whole damn full gospel choir.

“We couldn’t really see them from the stage, but it was pretty nerve-wracking. I mean, in addition to Led Zeppelin, you had President Obama and the first lady, Dustin Hoffman, and Stephen Colbert!” she says. “It was a very intense, famous audience.”

Portions of this article originally appeared on The Houston Press.

 

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Justin Hayward’s Days (and Nights) in White Satin

 

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Photo by Marta Szczesniak/Courtesy of Eagle Rock

Of all the hits that the Moody Blues have charted over the past 50+ years of existence, the one big calling card for the English band is probably “Nights in White Satin.” Atmospheric, classically orchestrated, mysterious, and featuring dreamy vocals by Justin Hayward, it’s not just a hit, but a classic rock anthem.

Amazingly, it wasn’t until recently that the singer and writer of the said 1967 tune really “got” it – despite that fact that he’s been performing it for decades.

“I was 19 going on 20 when I wrote it, and I had no idea what it was really about. I was at the end of one big love affair and starting another, and it was not meant to be a single,” Hayward says. “It was the opposite of what a single should be!”

And sure, what kind of pop hit has a spoken word poem (written by drummer Graeme Edge and recited by keyboardist Mike Pinder) smack dab in the middle? But then, Hayward opened his email one day and someone had sent him the 2010 cover version done by soul singer Bettye Lavette. And his entire world view changed.

“For the first time in my life, I understood the song, what it was supposed to be. Her version explained it,” Hayward says, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. “I have been singing it from the heart for a long time and every word meant something, but I hadn’t understood it because it was a collection of random thoughts. But the way she did it, it made sense. And I have the feeling that her version is better than ours!”

Hayward says it “touched his heart” that he later got an email from Lavette that read “Hello baby. Thanks for the song.”

On this solo tour, he’ll undoubtedly perform “Nights” and some other Moody Blues classics (which also include “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Question,” “The Voice,” “I’m Just a Singer [In a Rock and Roll Band],””Ride My See-Saw,” and “Your Wildest Dreams”).  But he’ll also dig into his surprisingly deep solo catalog, the best of which have been compiled into the CD All the Way (it also includes one new tune, “The Wind of Heaven”).

Most of this material is more quiet and introspective than his Moodies songs. On his recent solo tour, Hayward was accompanied onstage only by only Mike Dawes (guitar) and Julie Regins (keyboards/vocals).

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The Moody Blues arrive at Schipol Airport, The Netherlands, 1970: Mike Pinder, Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward, Ray Thomas, John Lodge. Photo by Clausule/Wiki Commons

“Over the years, I held a few things back from the Moodies that I thought were too personal or particular. Too much ‘me, me, me’ instead of ‘us, us, us.’” Hayward says. “And that represented some kind of pain or psychological dilemma in my life that needed to be expressed. I do things [on this tour] that don’t work inside the loud context of the Moody Blues.”

Leading off the CD is the original version of “Blue Guitar.” And while it later appeared on record in a different, highly-orchestrated version, this is the original mix done with members of 10cc. Long thought lost, it was recently located in a tape storage unit.

“I was overjoyed to find that. I knew it was good, in the original form and mix. But the record company didn’t want to credit 10cc, who weren’t on their label at the time,” Hayward explains. “So [10cc member] Graham Gouldman and I went to try and find that original Eric Stewart [also in 10cc] mix. It was unadulterated, clear, and brilliant.”

Hayward also cops to a bit of male musical bonding with Alberto Parodi, who mastered the track. “We sat like silly old men and held each other’s hands during the playback,” the singer notes. “Then again, he is Italian. And they are very emotional.”

Also on the CD is Hayward’s biggest solo hit, the enchanting “Forever Autumn.” While not written by Hayward, it was done for the 1978 concept album Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds. Though – as the singer explains in the liner notes – after he recorded it, he heard nothing more for a year, until he was informed by a record promotion man that it would be the single off the album! Hayward would reprise his version on several tours staging the story.

“Honestly, I had forgotten all about it. I did the song and we had a lovely day and then Jeff Wayne asked me back for another song and some backing vocals,” he says. When I tell Hayward that – as a 9-year-old – I was obsessed with the song and played my 45 single endless times, he’s momentarily speechless.

“That is really incredible you said that. Because after I recorded it, I went home and my wife heard it, and she said ‘What’s that all about? Who’s going to buy that?’ and I said ‘I don’t know, probably 9-year-old boys.’ So Bob, I finally met you!”

In the MTV era of the ‘80s, the Moody Blues had (like fellow ‘60s prog rockers Yes) something of a resurgence on the heels of much-played videos. In the case of the Moody Blues “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.”

The first clip shows the story of an English girl in the ‘60s who follows the “young” Moody Blues (actually actors) and then, years later, encounters the “current” band at a show.

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“Well, we had to do that. We were about 45 at the time, so we weren’t going to play younger versions of ourselves!” Hayward laughs.

“But I would have to say that was the happiest time that the group has had and in my life as well. I was straight and fully conscious and made sure I enjoyed every moment. And to have a hit record in the American charts and Germany and people recognize you from the video…that was great. But it lasts about three weeks and people move on!”

After the current solo tour winds up, there will be more activity with the Moody Blues, who also host their own cruise. But as with any band with a 50+ year (or even much less) history, there’s some drop off in membership.

The current version of the Moody Blues includes original drummer Graeme Edge, and classic lineup members Hayward and bassist John Lodge. When I spoke with Edge in 2011 he said that the band could not exist without the utterly distinctive vocals of Hayward, though the man who owns those pipes in question disagrees.

“Well…there’s always another kid that can come along and do those songs. Graeme and I love each other dearly, but I’ve seen so many bands where they got a new guy singing and just carried on!” he says.

Finally, the Moody Blues are usually on a short list of acts that are not currently in a certain Cleveland-based Hall of Fame, but many feel should be. And with the inclusion of more classic and prog rock bands in recent years (Chicago, Yes, Electric Light Orchestra, Deep Purple), might it be time for the Moody Blues?

“I don’t’ care,” Hayward offers. “It doesn’t mean anything in my life, but it does to the American fans. In Europe, it doesn’t even make it to the news channel. But it must be tough for the fans. I hope it happens for them one day.”

Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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Gregg Rollie’s Journey Back to Santana

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The boys in the reconstituted Santana: Benny Rietveld (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums), Gregg Rolie (lead vocals/keyboards), Carlos Santana (lead guitar), Michael Carabello (percussion/vocals), Neal Schon (guitar) and Karl Perazzo (timbales/vocals). Courtesy of Jensen Communications.

On the day of Prince’s death last year, television was awash in old interviews, concert clips, and videos. During a 1999 chat with Larry King on CNN, the Purple One talked specifically about three of his biggest musical influences: Stevie Wonder, Graham Central Station, and Santana.

The next day, founding member, singer/keyboardist Gregg Rolie (whose pipes feature on signature hits “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways,” and “Oye Como Va”) reflected on that connection.

“Prince has told Carlos that Santana was the band for him, and had a lot of influence on his sound. And you can hear it,” Rolie offers. “What’s kind of bizarre is that I heard he went out shopping for music just before his death [at Minneapolis’ Electric Fetus record store], and one of the new albums he bought was Santana IV.”

Wait, hasn’t Santana put out a billion records since their self-titled 1969 debut with the black and white psychedelic lion on the cover? Well, yes. But for this project, guitarist/leader Carlos Santana has reassembled most of the Woodstock-era lineup featured on those first three seminal records Santana, Abraxas, and Santana III.

That includes Santana, Rolie, guitarist Neal Schon, drummer Michael Shrieve, and congist/percussionist/singer Michael Carabello. Bassist Benny Rietveld and timbalist/percussionist Karl Perazzo from the group’s regular current incarnation fill out the lineup.

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Gregg Rolie onstage at Woodstock, 1969. Photo from http://www.greggrolie.com

So titling the new effort Santana IV is simply a continuation, as if this band of brothers was just picking up 45 years later (though Rolie and Schon would go on to co-found another little group that did OK for itself, Journey). And it seems that Schon was the real kickstarter for this campaign.

“He really pushed for it and Carlos wanted to do it. And when just the five us got together for the first time, we jammed for six or seven hours,” Rolie says. “And we had the same magic between the players, and we knew it was going to be great. And we really played with each other. It was perfectly imperfect”

Rolie says the band worked on more than 40 pieces of music – some fragments, some completed songs, some jams – before settling on the 14 tracks which make up Santana IV. And all were recorded in two or three takes.

It’s a powerful, incredible record that is far better than most people might suspect, combining all of the band’s classic sonic elements and Latin influences (“Yambu,” “Caminado,” “Suenos”) on instrumentals (“Fillmore East”), rock epics (“Blues Magic/Echizo,” “Come As You Are”), and more commercial sounding tunes (first single “Anywhere You Want to Go,” “Shake It”).

Two tracks – “Love Makes the World Go Round” and “Freedom in Your Mind” feature Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers on lead vocals in the social/political-themed tunes. Someone that Rolie was happy to cede the mike to.

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Gregg Rolie onstage at Woodstock, 1969. Photo from http://www.greggrolie.com

“He’s a musical icon and I listened to him as a kid. He’s such a gentle man. And he still has the pipes!” Rolie says, adding that Isley joined the Santana IV lineup for a live show that was filmed for DVD release.

“Among the band, we have the same sensibility about playing music,” he adds. “The time seems like it never passed.”

Not part of the reunion for various reasons were members of the same era Jose “Chepito” Areas (timbales/congas/percussion), and Marcus Malone (drums). The latter made national news when he was discovered in late 2013 by a TV reporter living homeless on the streets of San Francisco. He later had an emotional reunion with Santana caught on video.

“Marcus…it just didn’t happen. And Carlos has been playing with Karl for 20 years on timbales,” Rolie offers. And bassist David Brown died in 2000.

So with a great classic band reunited and able to play a rich back catalogue with strong new songs, it would seem like a tour would be imminent. However, a full tour isn’t up for discussion. Carlos Santana has been active his current band, Schon is embarking on massive Journey tour, and Rolie s handling double duty on stage with both his own group and as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, who are touring this fall. Both Rolie and Schon, are of last month, are both two-time indcutees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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With Ringo’s other group: Gregg Rolie, Steve Lukather (Toto), and Todd Rundgren. Photo from http://www.greggrolie.com

“It’s a chess game with all the schedules and making them work. But this lineup will have and will do some more [one-off] shows,” Rolie says. “I think the way we make this work in the future is to do a Santana/Journey tour.”

Concerning his continued employment as an All-Starr, sometimes he still has to pinch himself that he’s onstage with a friggin’ Beatle.

“It took me two years to not go “wow, holy crap I’m on the same stage as Ringo Starr!’ I mean, the Beatles, everybody wanted to be in that band. And to be on the same stage as the same guy who helped me get started on all this…it’s incredible, Rolie says. “He’s such a good man and good bandleader and we all get along famously.”

Today, Rolie is a resident of Austin, and enthuses about life in the Lone Star State at his home overlooking Lake Travis. But with touring commitments to three bands (and work on a solo record that was temporarily shelved for Santana IV), he only has one question.

“I wonder…what the hell happened to my retirement!”

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Houston Press.

Posted in '70s Rock, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Santana, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Yardbirds Still Got It Live If You Want It!

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Your current Yardbirds: Myke Scavone, Johnny A, Kenny Aaronson, original member Jim McCarty, and John Idan. Photo by Arnie Goodman/Courtesy of Kayos Productions.

Coming out of the suburbs of London in 1963, the quintessentially English Yardbirds had one of the more interesting career trajectories of bands in terms of sound.

They hatched as a mostly hardcore blues-based group, specializing in covers like “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl” “Got Love If You Want It,” and “Train Kept a’ Rollin’” But the band later found their greatest commercial success with more rock and psychedelic numbers like “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “Shapes of Things,” and “Over Under Sideways Down.”

Of course, the band was also an amazing incubator for guitar heroes, having the Holy Trinity of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page pass through their ranks (not so lucky, original lineup member Anthony “Top” Topham). The rest of the group included Keith Relf (vocals/harmonica), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass through 1966), and Jim McCarty (drums).

They called it quits in 1968, with only Page left and briefly fronting “The New Yardbirds” before changing that name to…Led Zeppelin. Some members reunited from 1982-83 (In 1976, Relf was electrocuted and died while playing guitar in his basement), and the group has been back full time since 1992. So what’s the biggest difference between the Yardbirds of Yore and the flock in 2016?

“Well…they’re all American now. And they’re younger!” McCarty – the sole original member left – laughs. “But we did a tour last fall that worked really well. And this lineup has a lot of experience, they’ve all grown up with the music, so it’s sort of in their blood.”

The lineup includes several crack players who have also performed with other big names, including guitarist Johnny A (Peter Wolf), bassist Kenny Aaronson (Bob Dylan, Billy Idol), singer/harmonica player Myke Scavone (Ram Jam), and guitarist-singer John Idan.

When the Yardbirds were starting out they – like their contemporaries the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, Animals, and Zombies – fell under the spell of American blues artists. And a large chunk of their set list included cover tunes by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson in addition to their own originals.

McCarty says it’s easy to figure out why that particular music didn’t have anything near the impact on U.S. teens as it did the young lads Across the Pond.

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The Early ‘Birds: Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Eric Clapton, Keith Relf, and Paul Samwell-Smith.

“Most of that music was on a black circuit, wasn’t it? Those performers played to black audiences, and not really white kids in the U.S. They really didn’t know about it until the Stones and the Kinks started playing those songs,” he offers. “And you really just had like a half a dozen U.S. albums that all [us] bands got their material from, like Howlin’ Wolf and Slim Harpo and Chuck Berry.”

A fan of more rock-oriented artists like Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash, McCarty nonetheless grew to love the “bluesier stuff,” which he says added elements of soul and raw emotion. “And when that music started coming over to England in the early ‘60s, it was kind of underground,” he recalls. “You wouldn’t hear it on the radio, you’d have to go to a particular record shop to find it.”

Musicians would also trade notes in person – often during late night bull sessions at London clubs like the Bag O’Nails, the Marquee, and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. It wasn’t uncommon to find members of top groups drinking, mingling, and with an eye out for a different sort of ‘Bird.

“You’d meet in a late club because that’s the only time you weren’t working, though not all of us lived in the city,” McCarty says. “I’d go to the Speakeasy and Bag O’Nails and Cromwellian, and you’d see John Lennon or Keith Moon or some of the Kinks. Or you’d see them on the motorway stops along the way for a cup of tea or something!”

As the man who kept the beat behind three of rock’s most well-known axe men, McCarty had ample opportunity to observe their very different approaches to recording and performing.

“Of course they were all great. As for playing with me, I supposed that Jeff was the most off-the-wall, the most spontaneous. You never knew how he was going to play. He might have a great night one night and a bad one the next, depending on what mood he was in!” McCarty laughs.

“The other two were much more stable. Jimmy was used to playing on sessions for people, so he was very professional. And Eric was just learning how to play, really, to play great blues. He was a purist [at that time], and he really wasn’t going to expand himself.”

And as to the rock legend that Clapton played only begrudgingly on the more pop-oriented “For Your Love” – then promptly quit the band when it became their first hit?

“Yes, that’s true. But a blues song wasn’t going to put us [on the charts],” he offers. “And there were also various politics in the band. Eric and Paul really didn’t get on, which was a bit of a problem.”

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Later ‘Birds with TWO guitar gods: Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Chris Dreja (bottom), Keith Relf, and Jim McCarty

In 1992, the same year that the Yardbirds started up again, the group (minus Topham) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with U2’s the Edge handling the induction honors. McCarty recalls a “wonderful, great evening,” topped by the fact that he got to meet boyhood idol Johnny Cash.

Today, the Yardbirds are busy with summer and fall U.S. tours, along with a stint of dates in Japan. McCarty is also working on a solo record (the Yardbirds’ last effort was 2003’s Birdland), and writing his autobiography.

He says that he still keeps in touch with Chris Dreja, who left the lineup for good in 2013 due to health reasons. “He seems OK, he’s getting by, but taking things slow. But he can’t really play or get around too much.”

McCarty does mention that the pair did share an interesting memory of touring Texas in the 1960’s, one that nearly took them to the center of a important American historical event.

“We were in a limo coming from the airport with the promoter, and he asked us if we wanted to see the place where Kennedy was shot. It was the first thing he said!” McCarty laughs. “That spooked us a bit, so we said ‘No, just take us to the hotel!”

 A version of this interview originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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Paul Rodgers Still Traveling with Some Bad Company

One of the more egregious omissions from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (now that Chicago, Yes, ELO, and Journey are in) has got to be Bad Company. Here’s an interview I did with lead singer Paul Rodgers last year just prior to their most recent tour about the band’s legacy, reformations, and that little ol‘ pyramid in Cleveland…

But it was with understandable head-scratching when two weeks later, Ralphs announced that he would indeed not cross the pond to the U.S. for the trek, claiming he was “just not feeling up for” the extensive travel. Instead, Black Crowes co-founding guitarist Rich Robinson was announced in his stead.

The turn of events came as a surprise – especially to Ralphs’ bandmates.

 

“Well…we were all gobsmacked the day after we announced the tour, Mick announced he wasn’t going to do it! It left us in a tricky position, but the show must go on. Though it would have been nice to know ahead of time!” Rodgers says.

“But Mick was very apologetic,” continues the singer. “He said he took one look at the schedule and said he couldn’t do it. And I understand. The travel is grueling. We love being onstage, but the getting there, and the other 23 hours, that can be tough.”

Rodgers says that as soon as he heard about it, he thought Robinson would make a great replacement, having met and played with him at a Jimmy Page tribute at Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project.

“I said we should do something together sometime. Little did I know how soon that would be!” Rodgers laughs. “But I think it will be an interesting energy.”

The rest of the band this tour will also include former Heart member and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Howard Leese (guitar) and Todd Ronning (bass), both longtime members of Rodgers’s solo group.

And while the five will woodshed on playing the must-play Bad Company tunes like “Can’t Get Enough,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy,” “Seagull” and – of course – “Bad Company,” Rodgers says he hopes to dig a bit deeper into the catalog on this tour with tracks like “Man Needs Woman” and “Leaving You.”

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Bad Company live onstage in 1977. Photo by Carl Dunn/Courtesy of Rhino Records.

Those deeper cuts just happen to be captured on the recent new double discBad Company – Live 1977 & 1979. The first CD captures the band’s May 23, 1977, show at the Summit here in Houston, and the second a March 9, 1979, gig in London (with one additional track from a June 26, 1979, show in Washington, D.C.).

Amazingly, this is the first official live release ever from Bad Company, coming on the heels of reissued/remastered/expanded versions of their studio records.

Rodgers says that Rhino Records picked the gigs and sent them to him for approval. “I do remember that Houston show…what a great crowd,” he offers. “But even I can’t believe it’s our first live record. We just never took the trouble to do it! I always said we should be recording and filming things back then!”

Promising that some familiar songs will have slightly different arrangements, Rodgers adds that he wants to take some tunes to a “different place.”

“You always play the bones of the song, but there’s an opportunity live to take it somewhere else,” he says. “And that’s the beauty of music and the relationship between band members and the audience.”

When not occasionally reconvening Bad Company (or, years ago, fronting Paul Rodgers + Queen), Rodgers has a busy solo schedule. His last record was 2014’s The Royal Sessions, which featured ten handpicked blues and soul cover songs like “I Thank You,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and “Born Under a Bad Sign” at Memphis’s historic Royal Studios.

And while a lifelong fan of blues and soul, Rodgers does not see what he does with Bad Company (or, previously, with Free) as all that different. “I see rock as a soulful genre. That’s what I want to infuse into it; that’s what’s there for me. I like to do soul music in a rock fashion,” he says – before referencing a contribution from his temporary guitarist.

 

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Bad Company at the time of their 1993 reunion: Simon Kirke, Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs, and Boz Burrell. Courtesy of Elektra Records.

“When I heard the Black Crowes do ‘Hard to Handle,’ that was it. As long as it has feel and touches you whether it’s blues or soul or rock and roll…that’s what I’m looking for. If it’s cool and it swings and it’s got a groove.”

To that end, Rodgers is itching to get out and play live, which he likens to running a race in sports in that you get “one shot” to achieve what you want to and there are no redos.

For this tour, subtitled “One Hell of a Night,” Bad Company is paired with Joe Walsh, whose offhand comment named the tour. Rodgers says that he and Bad Company have shared co-headlining bills with other classic-rock acts like the Doobie Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and they’ve always worked out great.

I met Joe back when he was with the James Gang,” Rodgers recalls. “We were at a party together having a drink, and Joe told me that he was tired of the music business and wanted to go to the country and just sit back. But he said he’s been asked by the Eagles to join, and did I hear of them? And I said I did and they were a good band. Next thing I heard, he had joined the band!”

After this tour ends, Rodgers says, he is working with some collaborators and has “written a lot of songs,” but doesn’t want to tip his hand to the project specifics. He will also continue to work with his solo group, and would consider writing his memoirs if he could “just sit on a beach in Hawaii and talk to a tape recorder.”

Finally, there is legacy to consider. For while this year’s inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included some long-overdue classic rock acts, Bad Company is on a short list others who should be enshrined (along with Yes, the Doobie Brothers, Journey, Electric Light Orchestra, The Cars, Moody Blues, Jethro Tull…)

And while the voice of Bad Company first dismissed the notion, he’s come around.

“Ahmet Ertegun used to come to dinner at my house when he was helping to [start the Hall] and talked about Bad Company being in,” Rodgers says. “I told him that I thought this was rock and roll and I didn’t want to be in any museum!” Rodgers laughs. “Now, I have changed my mind. It would be nice to be in it!”

This article originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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