There was a little switcheroo played on SNL this past Saturday with Maroon 5 trying on Gym Class Heroes' hit "Stereo Hearts," Travie McCoy representing GCH. Both versions are included below, check them out, you decide which "Stereo Heart" beats best. "My heart's a stereo, it beats for you, so listen close..."
A Conversation with Vince Gill
Mike Ragogna: Hiya, Vince. How are you, man?
Vince Gill: I'm doing good. I'm up in New York City working my tail off. I've just about lost my voice talking for about four days straight. I sound a little bit like Mr. Haney from Green Acres.
MR: Okay, Mr. Haney, let's talk about your new album, Guitar Slinger. What was the inspiration this time out?
VC: Well, I never grow tired of being creative. That never changes. Since I was a little boy, I've just pursued it so hard to get better at it, and I think I'm still doing that. My ears tell me that I'm still doing that. I really feel like the songs are a cut above the last record, and the record before that. My playing seems to be getting better in subtle ways--in ways maybe only a handful of folks are going to pick up on. I think that as you do this longer and longer, you really learn more about what not to do than what to do. It's a space that you leave that creates the real good stuff.
MR: You have an incredible career with a collection of industry awards and platinum records. Do you ever take a breath once in a while and go, "Man, I've had a pretty good career."
VG: It's shocking, it really is. It's almost uncomfortable, because I don't possess the personality that really tries to say, "Hey, notice me!" I'm not a good self-promoter. I like doing the work, and then I like people responding to it, and I'm okay if they don't like it. I think the reason I've done what I've done is because of my willingness to share--my willingness to be a collaborator with other people. I think I'm as proud of all the other people I've worked with on their records as I am of my own career. It's of equal importance to me to collaborate. When I was young, I think I probably aspired more to be someone who was a session musician that would be hired to play on records or get hired to sing on records, and then I'd develop into a songwriter who got better at it and hopefully people would think enough of my songs to record them. So, I never had to always be front and center with the attention because I've always been a musician and I probably have much more of a mindset of a musician than a country music star or artist or whatever. So, I come at it from maybe a little bit different of a place than most.
MR: Since you brought up "collaboration," let's talk about "Threaten Me With Heaven." You co-wrote that with your wife, Amy Grant, and also with Will Owsley and Dylan O'Brien.
VG: It's the first time I've gotten the opportunity to do anything with Dylan, and he's a ridiculously talented fellow. And my friend Will Owsley, who unfortunately took his own life after the recording of that particular song, was the one that put all of us together. He knew Dylan from the West Coast and it was a great collaboration and an awfully fine song.
MR: Were you and Will close?
VG: We were great friends. He actually played guitar with Amy for about ten or fifteen years off and on, and because of that, we became friends and wrote some songs together. We both were lovers of guitars and old guitars and collecting and trying to find them. He was a great pal and, unfortunately, the struggles in his life were too great; he couldn't quite get over the mountain. He was a really talented guy. He made two solo records of alternative and pop music. He was viciously talented. He had a great melodic mind and a great hook-y mind and was a unique guitar player. He was really talented.
MR: Let's talk about the title track of Guitar Slinger for a minute. It includes the line, "I married that contemporary Christian singer," which, of course, is about Amy.
VG: I know what you're talking about. The line before it sets it up just right too: "I was living it up as a guitar slinger, women and wine and whiskey for dinner, I knew I was in trouble the first time I'd seen her, I went and married that contemporary Christian singer."
MR: What did she say when she heard that?
VG: I sang it for her and she just hung her head and shook it and said, "You'll say anything, won't you?" (laughs) I said, "Sometimes I will." I just think that it has a great sense of humor to it, that song does. It's as much poking fun at myself as anything else. I've always been fairly good at being self-deprecating, and I think it makes people comfortable if you're willing to poke fun at yourself.
MR: When you're playing in the studio, how judgmental do you get of your own playing? How often do you go, "That sucks, I've gotta do that again."
VG: All the time. It's an interesting process, but I really believe that greatness is defined by the subtleties. It's all about the holes you leave--it's not about playing as much as you can. That's very uninteresting to me and always has been. I think, when it comes to guitar playing, it has to tell a story. It has to have a beginning, it has to have a middle, and it has to have an end. To me, great guitar playing and great soloing and all those kinds of things are still centered somewhat around a melody. There is a melody to these songs, and oftentimes, when it comes time for somebody to play, they just are going to go play you a bunch of stuff, but where's the melody in there? So, I always have a sense of where the melody is and I dance around it. If I play something and there's nine notes in it, I go, "Well, I wonder if I played seven notes if it would speak more?" It's just like a conversation. The guitar makes sounds just like your voice does. I try to play what I would sing, and I oftentimes try to sing what I might play. I hear it in my head, and it just comes out through my fingers.
MR: I also wanted to talk about "Tell Me, Fool," which you do with Bekka Bramlett. It reminds me of a couple of tracks you recorded with Amy. What was the experience like singing with Bekka again on this album?
VG: Well, I've been singing with Bekka for about fifteen years, off and on, on different records of mine. She's been in my band at different times, and I believe that she's one of the finest singers I've ever heard. She's just one of the most gifted voices I've ever heard. She brings an energy and a different thing to a record than just about anybody I know, and I adore singing with her. I always have and I always will. She just bumps it up a notch. That song's very much steeped in an R&B kind of song. It's soul music, and she's about as good as it gets. When being creative, you try to plug in people that do the things that not only enhance the record, but lets them shine too. Bekka shines as much as I do on that record. I don't look at things like, "You're the background singer and so you just stay in the background." I look at music and I look at records and I create a process that's very democratic. I want every note to speak and have a purpose. If it's something the bass player plays that inspires me to play something off of it, or something the piano player plays, it's the same thing. Everything has to work together or it doesn't work. It's amazing what musicians can accomplish when they listen to each other. You can't be a control freak, I don't think. I like everybody else's mind in there--what they do, what they contribute, what they think.
MR: In addition to having Bekka on the record, you have Ashley Monroe from Pistol Annies singing on "Who Wouldn't Fall In Love With You."
VG: We wrote that song together. She has one of the most captivating voices you'll ever hear. It's not a big voice--she's not a big singer--but she's just got this cool, quivering, haunting, beautiful-sounding voice. It's one of a kind. Her voice is so unique. I think with people like Dolly Parton, her voice is unique, it sounds only like Dolly. Nobody sounds like her. Alison Krauss, the same thing. I think Ashley possesses that and is somebody that's young--that's coming up--that I really champion. I wanted to write some songs with her. I think there's a chance that I might produce some music with her--for her--next year. I just think the sky's the limit for that kid.
MR: I'd love to talk about "True Love" as well. Amy wrote that about you, which I suppose is only fair since you wrote the line about marrying the Christian singer.
VG: (laughs) Yeah, Amy had written that song about me. We'd been playing it, and I made some suggestions to put a bridge in it and change the melody and the chords a little bit and she liked it. She said, "Well, let's say we wrote this together," and I said, "We don't have to, but I'm grateful." So, it really is her lyric and her story, but I might have a little bit to do with the music and she was kind enough to include me. That was the first song we recorded in the new studio at the house. That was important to me. I wanted to record that song first because it was hers and mine. It wasn't originally going to be a duet, but I said, "You really should sing on this with me," and she graciously agreed, Then, as we did it, there were those answers that I'd always heard in my head, as it went along. I asked our daughter Sarah if she would do those, and she did. Sarah has a really unique sounding voice. Once again, I'm not trying to go, "I want all of my family to sing on my records," but I just like the voice. (laughs) I just like the songs that they make. I said, "That would work here." It's really just trying to fit the right piece into the puzzle.
MR: There's something sweeter than that familial sound.
VG: There's no question about it. My daughter Jenny sings on a few things on this record, and I get to hear what it sounds like to be an Everly Brother.
MR: Let's talk about "Billy Paul."
VG: Well, it's a true story, unfortunately. I hate the fact that it is a true story. It was a friend of mine that caddied out at the golf club where I play golf, and we'd been buddies forever. He was everybody's favorite out there, and it just blew everybody's mind that he snapped and did what he did. He unfortunately took a woman's life and then took his own. I went to his funeral and I met his family. His mom was just the sweetest lady in the world, and I was compelled to write a song about it just to let her know that somebody cared about her son even though he did something horrible. I tried to tell the story with some sense of compassion and a little bit of forgiveness in there. Oftentimes, you can have this whole life you've lived, and the one or two mistakes that you've made are what everybody defines you by, and I don't think that's fair. So, there's a line in the song that goes, "I've seen you at your best and now your worst, but the best of you is what I'll remember first." It's a dark story, but I sure tried to tell it with a little bit of kindness. And then Corrina, my ten-year-old, is singing the high part on it, which is really unique. It makes it even more eerie because of what the song's about and all that. To have this little kid's voice--that little wispy voice up high--singing those words, "What made you go crazy Billy Paul?"
MR: Guitar Slinger seems like a more personal album than not.
VG: Well, there's an awful lot of real life in this record. Some of these songs, even as personal as they might be, they're inspired by the truth and it doesn't necessarily mean that every line is exactly the truth. You have to take the truth and massage it a little bit to make it interesting and make it a song and things like that. A bunch of years ago, when I first met Amy, I came home and just said, "I met Amy Grant this last weekend and she had the most beautiful smile. It just lit up the room. It was beautiful," and so I wrote this song, "Whenever You Come Around" that was basically inspired by her smile. Her smile was something that just completely bowled me over. I thought it was beautiful. I went home and a friend of mind, Pete Wasner, and I said, "I want to write a song strictly about the beauty of that smile." Then we had to obviously tell a story. It was inspired by Amy but it certainly didn't mean that every line was verbatim about my life. It's weird because when you're the songwriter and the artist, everybody assumes that most of this stuff is autobiographical. It can be, to a point, but not every ounce of it is because you've gotta make it interesting.
MR: When I think of you and Amy, I'm reminded of James Taylor and Carly Simon. Balancing a musical relationship must have challenges, how do you do it?
VG: Well, we found each other pretty late in life, which I think was probably a gift in itself. We'd lived a long life before we wound up together and I think that we were grateful for the kindness. It seems to be the first thing that you think of--to be kind to each other and to be respectful to each other. You learn from your mistakes. You should learn from your mistakes. So, I just think that we both have similar qualities. We're tender and friendly and easy going and all that, so it makes for a good relationship. And once again, our careers had twenty-five years invested in them before we got married, so there's not a competition issue at all. I think a lot of times, when you get together two people that do the same thing, it can get competitive or whatever. But we don't seem to have any of those issues. It's really pretty sweet.
MR: Making music and recording with Amy has to be such a cool experience.
VG: It is. I got to produce two records for Amy over the last few years. I got to sit in the chair where my job was to lift her up. It was a treat. It was easy to do, because I'm crazy about her. I didn't have to dance around or walk on eggshells or anything. Like I said, if you get respect, you have to give respect.
MR: Gong back to the title track, I wanted to ask you about the lyric in Guitar Slinger that goes, "There's a few licks left in this guitar slinger, even though half of my stuff's in the Cumberland River." Hopefully that's an exaggeration.
VG: No, it's not exactly. It's the truth. In the flood that came a year and a half ago, I lost a lot of stuff--I think forty or fifty guitars and thirty or forty amplifiers. I collect stuff. I'm not a buyer and a seller, but I just buy stuff that I find and love. Some of it was sentimental, some of it was great, some of it wasn't. It was painful...a pretty rough loss. But a lot of people went through it. A bunch of us went through it together, which made it easier. Keith Urban lost all his stuff and Brad Paisley lost all his stuff. All these different guitar players and musicians that housed their stuff at this place lost everything and so everybody just kind of banded together. Some guys said, "Here, borrow these for awhile if you need something." It was really neat to watch all of the musicians reach out to each other. We sold some of the stuff at auction that was trashed and gave it to the guys that needed to get some money to get some more stuff. It was pretty neat.
MR: It united Nashville, didn't it.
VG: In a big way. It was funny because at the time of the flood, the oil spill was going on in the gulf, and that took up all the national media attention, and so a lot of people never even really knew that that had happened in Nashville. But the people just all rallied around and took care of each other. It was really neat to see.
MR: Every once in awhile, do you think back to the days of Pure Prairie League?
VG: Oh, sure I do. It was a great experience for me. I was really young, and I got to go be in somewhat of a major rock band that had a couple of hits and me on American Bandstand and Solid Gold and all of these great music shows and tour in a bus. In a sense, it was the big time for me in that world. I was young and I paid attention. I tried to learn a lot; I learned a lot about the record business, I learned a lot about touring, about a little bit of everything. It was a great experience.
MR: And then there's your initial solo career afterward.
VG: I left Pure Prairie League in '81, and I went to work for Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash as their guitar player and did that off and on for several years and made several records but never really had any big hits. Those were some rough years, throughout '82 and '83 until '90, when "When I Call Your Name" came out. Everything changed quite dramatically then, but those were an interesting stretch of years. I worked a lot in the studio for other people in a lot of sessions and just kept after it. I was never going to quit.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
VG: Oh, gosh. Just remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. You gotta be extremely patient and you gotta have really thick skin, and understand that not everybody's going to love it. There'll be times that are the worst in your life and times that are the greatest in your life. I've always tried to ignore my success and ignore my failure, and just keep on an even keel and realize that I can't control any of the results. It's like the weather. You can't control the weather, so you can't get uptight about it. It's the same thing with your career. You make a record and whether they buy it or they don't, none of the notes change, if you sell a hundred million or a hundred.
MR: Is that what happened with you?
VG: Yeah, I think so. I think the results have not dictated to me whether I was successful or not. When I quit Pure Prairie League and went to work for Rodney, people said, "Why'd you do that? You were the front man of a big rock band," and I said, "Well, the musicianship and caliber of songs and all of that stuff that I went to was better. To me, it was a step up." Any time I got to be in an environment that I think made me better, then I felt that was success.
MR: Nicely said. And by the way, you have some nerve putting out a 43-song album. (laughs)
VG: I know. That's why I spent five years between records. It took five years for everybody to hear that whole record. (laughs)
MR: Are you on tour with this record?
VG: Yeah, I'm out playing. I'm in New York now doing a bunch of press stuff and all that, and I'll go home tomorrow. Then in three or four days I'll go back out on the road for a little bit.
MR: Which trusty guitar do you have by your side?
VG: Today, I just have an acoustic guitar with me. Everything we're doing up here is just me and a guitar.
MR: Well, I really appreciate your time, Vince.
VG: It was a great time, thanks. Good to talk to you.
1. Guitar Slinger
2. All Nighter Comin'
3. Tell Me Fool
4. Threaten Me With Heaven
5. When The Lady Sings The Blues
6. Who Wouldn't Fall In Love With You
7. When Lonely Comes Around
8. True Love
9. Bread And Water
10. Billy Paul
11. The Old Lucky Diamond Motel
12. Lipstick Everywhere
13. One More Thing I Wished I'd Said
14. If I Die
15. Buttermilk John
Transcribed by Claire Wellin
Vince Gill "Guitar Slinger" - Studio 987 at The Bing Lounge
A Conversation with Trombone Shorty
Mike Ragogna: Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, how're you doing?
Trombone Shorty: Doing good, Mike. How you feeling?
MR: Feeling good, man. Troy, what kind of fun's been happening lately?
TS: Everything is going great. We're continuing to tour a lot to support the albums and it's been really exciting. These last few years have been a great ride.
MR: You've been riding a wave of critical accolades and playing non-stop. You played Iowa City recently, right?
TS: Yeah, we did. It was a nice place with a big fan base--it was really cool. We recently did the Iowa City Jazz Festival and a lot of people remembered us from that, plus people were excited about the new record. It was really fun...people were jumping up and down on their seats and all. It was great.
MR: Troy, your music includes jazz, funk, hip-hop... How would you describe it?
TS: I call it Super Funk Rock. It's just something that directly flows from the city of New Orleans. You know, down there, everything is just like a gumbo; you just put it into one pot. You're constantly inspired by different kinds of music because we're exposed to it there. Every time you play with someone different, you're playing with someone who has strength in a different genre. That type of training has such an impact on us musically. It's like if your family were to move to a different place and you began to pick up different accents or mannerisms. That's how I think of playing music in New Orleans. I also just want to continue to learn about all styles of music. New Orleans music is just a musical gumbo. I don't know what else to call it. It has it's own genre, you just hope it feels good.
MR: Nice. You grew up in New Orleans, right?
MR: Which neighborhood did you grow up in?
TS: The Treme neighborhood.
MR: And you were actually on several episodes of the TV series Treme.
TS: Yeah, about six or seven episodes. I think I've only seen two of them so far.
MR: What was it like growing up in that neighborhood?
TS: Oh, it was great. There was music all the time. The world famous Rebirth Brass Band used to practice around the corner; there was the late Tuba Fatts who was a mentor to my brother and me. All of my family even played music. So, just growing up there and being able to see the street parade going on everyday for a birthday party or a jazz funeral was amazing. Everyone was family there. Everyone looked out for one another. It was great to grow up there as a student and a fan of music. Everyone was just like a parent and they always tried to make sure that you were on the right track.
MR: So, it took a village even then?
TS: That's right.
MR: Nice. And--I love this--at the age of six, you were already a bandleader.
TS: Yeah. I put together a Trombone Shorty Brass Band with my friends across the street. I knew how to play some drums at that age, but I really didn't speak the language of music. I was just teaching those guys how by example. Then after a while, my cousins even got involved. We would march around the city of New Orleans doing birthday parties for kids and all different kinds of things. We were just trying to imitate what my brothers were doing and what the Rebirth Brass Band was doing because that's all we saw. We wound up going on tour in Europe when I was about ten years old and everything. It was about a month long tour--it was really exciting.
MR: Who were some of your influences growing up?
TS: There were so many--James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, NIN, The Ministry, Louis Armstrong, Rebirth Brass Band, just to name a few. I always try to steal something from everybody.
MR: (laughs) And I think I can figure this one out, but how did you get the name "Trombone Shorty"?
TS: Well, I started playing the trombone when I was four, and my brother shouted out that name to me at a jazz funeral. The horn was actually taller than me at that point, and it kind of stuck with me. You know, everyone in New Orleans had a nickname and I guess that was mine. Still is. I tried to do a show under my own name and only my close friends and family members showed up.
MR: Now, you've not only had some great success on your own albums recently, but you also have been busy collaborating. For example, didn't you recently play on a Jeff Beck track and now he's on For True.
TS: Yeah, I played with Jeff on a song for a tribute album for Les Paul. It was really exciting to be able to play with him live.
MR: Do you feel like the two of you have a synergy when you play together?
TS: Oh, yes. It's amazing to be able to be on stage with him. I've shared the stage with him a bunch in the last year. We went on tour to open for him in the UK and he invited me to play with him every night. He's just a legendary musician and it's so great to be able to be on stage with him...and steal some of his licks. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) I think he's one of the most expressive guitar players I've ever heard.
TS: Agreed. You can definitely hear his heard and soul when he's playing. It's almost like he's singing.
MR: Speaking of being able to hear someone's heart and soul, "Encore," the second track on For True, features Warren Haynes.
TS: That's right.
MR: Is there a story behind that?
TS: Well, I played with Warren on different things through the years and he happened to be in town to do a jazz fest and I said that we should try to get him on one of the tracks because I'm a big fan of his playing. So, he actually came over for a few hours, and we ate some po' boys and we got in the studio and he played on the track. The rest is history.
MR: What went into the track creatively?
TS: There are all kinds of different things that I do. When I get the chance, I try to write on my computer. I have a small keyboard that I take with me and I can put together a whole digital band on the program. Sometimes, I'll write on a piano if I'm in a hotel and they have one. I just grab my iPhone and record it. Sometimes, we even have mic check jam sessions and we record it on one of our phones or whatever we can get our hands on. So, sometimes it happens in the studio, sometimes not. I wrote the song, "Funk," in the studio just playing around. I didn't have anything created when I went in, I was just there by myself with the producer and I told him to get some track going and I started on the drums and worked my way through all the instruments and put that track together. It's just a matter of when I'm inspired in the moment.
MR: So, you're the type of artist that goes to his instrument when inspiration strikes.
TS: Yeah. If I can't get to an instrument, I'll just hum it into my phone and I'll create it later on. I'm also the kind of artist that constantly has music running around in my head all the time. It really bothers me when I'm trying to go to sleep and I always hear melodies. But that's also the fun of music--you're always moving forward and trying to do something different. For instance, I'm hearing some things now that I'm going to put down when we go to sound check.
MR: You also worked on The Princess and the Frog with Dr. John which was nominated for an Academy Award, didn't you? What was that experience like?
TS: It was great. Dr. John called me and I had no idea what we were doing but I went in the studio and we did the song. There was a screen with these black and white cartoon sketches and I had to play off of what the cartoon character was doing on the trombone, you know? It was really fun. That was my first time doing something like that and it was really exciting to be in the studio with Dr. John and his band.
MR: I'll bet you get calls for a lot of session work now.
TS: I think so. Unfortunately, I'm not in the city very often, so I miss a lot of calls when things are going on because we're on tour. But it's fun, you know? It's great to be able to be in that position. It's a blessing.
MR: Now, you're only a couple of albums into your career, what do you see as far as the future of your career as Trombone Shorty?
TS: I have no idea. I didn't even plan on getting this far; I just wanted to play music. Music has taken me so far already, and I have no idea what it has in store. We're just gonna keep moving forward and you never know what can happen. We'll continue to try to do the impossible.
MR: We also have to mention that when they re-opened the Superdome for Monday Night Football, you did a little pre-game set with Green Day, right?
TS: Yeah, one of my favorite bands.
MR: There's got to be a story behind that.
TS: Well, we were on tour in the UK and they called me because I was supposed to be back in New Orleans around that time doing Jazz Fest. So, I got a call while I was at Abbey Road Studios that they wanted to put together something and the next thing you know, I'm at a table with Bob Ezrin, Rick Rubin, Green Day, and U2 talking about what we were gonna do. It was really exciting, and within the next couple of weeks, they called some of my New Orleans friends to participate and then we played at the re-opening. It was really exciting to be able to sit down at a table with all of those guys. It was a great thing to be a part of, and they're all great guys who all wanted to help out our city in some way, and they did just that.
MR: Troy, because you are a New Orleans native, I have to ask you about your thoughts on how the restoration of the city is going.
TS: Well, right now the city is at about 85%, I would say. Of course, the lower Ninth Ward was the area hit the hardest and that area hasn't improved much at all, but there are still people that feel very strongly about that neighborhood. They built their houses back up and didn't leave. The population is very low there, but overall, I think New Orleans is doing okay. People are doing their part to keep it alive and I'm doing my part with the people of New Orleans to bring the city back even better than it was before.
MR: While we're here, I just want to touch on your album Backatown, your Grammy nomination, and how that album spent a lot of time at the top of the jazz charts. Did you have a feeling that that album was so strong, it was gonna hit big?
TS: No, I never feel like that. I have no expectations and never know what any of these albums are gonna do, so anything that happens is a complete surprise to me. It's a blessing and an honor to be in that position. When I put that album out I wasn't even thinking about the charts or anything, I just wanted to put it out there and let the fans hear it. For it to be on the charts for nine weeks was a blessing to me. I just mainly wanted to get the music out and see what the fans thought.
MR: Nice. What was it like being at the Grammy's?
TS: Oh, it was nice. It was great having the world's greatest musicians and entertainers there and I was just excited that I got to see some of my favorite people. Just to be a part of that was another big step for me. It was like, "Wow, I'm really here." I never dreamed about that, but I was so grateful to be a part of what's going on in music today. It's a great feeling when your hard work pays off and is being seen by the right people.
MR: Do you have any advice for newer artists?
TS: I would just say stay true to your music and if you're honest and passionate about your music, it should take you wherever you want to be. Don't worry about being a superstar, just be honest in your music and passionate about your craft and people will see that. Make sure you're focused and honing your craft so that you're able to get better musically and technically and go out there and continue to work hard.
MR: Where will your tour be taking you over these next few months?
TS: Well, we've been all over so far and I don't think we're done until January. Right now, we're all over the East Coast, then we head out to Europe again before Christmas. We'll probably continue to keep playing all over the world...it never stops for us.
MR: Troy, best of luck with everything, and thank you so much for coming by and talking with us today.
TS: Thank you so much for having me, Mike.
3. For True
4. Do to Me
5. Lagniappe Part 1
6. The Craziest Thing
7. Dumaine St.
8. Mrs. Orleans
11. Big 12
13. Then There Was You
14. Lagniappe Part 2
Transcribed by Evan Martin
A Conversation with Paul Rodgers
Mike Ragogna: Why it's rock vocalist--nay, rock legend, Paul Rodgers. Hello Paul.
Paul Rodgers: Hello, Michael.
MR: Paul, tell us about a certain Live at Montreaux 1994 CD/DVD release.
PR: This album was done some time ago at Montreux Jazz Festival...the footage was almost a secret. The record company called me and was insistent that it was something we should release. I watched it and I thought it was really interesting. It combines a lot of blues, and a lot of my songs from Free. Did it actually have any Bad Company on there?
MR: Yes, it does.
PR: You're right I'm just looking at the track list now. That version of "Louisiana Blues" was the one I did on the tribute to Muddy Waters album. The band was very much a part of the recreation of that blues song. We took it to a different place, we took Muddy's song and did what we did to it. Ian Hatton, the guitarist, was very much a part of that. He's a great arranger.
MR: You and the band seem to be enjoying the blues workouts, especially on the blues songs you performed from tribute album, like "Good Morning Little School Girl," "I'm Ready," and "Muddy Water Blues."
PR: "Good Morning Little School Girl" is an interesting song because it shows you the malleability of the blues. I remember when we recorded that, I had a particular version that I wanted to do, it was the fast version. We were all mic'd up and ready to record, Jason Bonham had said to me, "Why are we doing it this way?" I said, "Well, it's the blues, you can do it any way you like." I snapped my fingers and we did a swing version of the song. We went on and we forgot about this, and we put the fast version down. We then came in to listen and said, "Yeah that's pretty good. The engineer then said, "Why don't we listen to that other version you did earlier on?" I said, "Wow, did you record that?" He said, "Yeah." We had these two versions and it just shows you what you can do with the blues.
MR: And you're no stranger to the rock, having been the lead vocalist for Bad Company and Free. Paul Rodgers has a signature voice that incorporates blues naturally along with strong rock vocals.
PR: It's really kind of you to say so, Michael. I think what the blues has taught me--I'm always raving on about the blues--is to emote. It's taught me to tap into my emotions and express them; that's what blues and soul music really does. If you're going to sing a song, you've really got to sing it like you mean it. You've got to put your experiences into that song and live the part.
MR: And you do. Now, back then, prior to the collaborative project, you included a certain Brian May at this concert
PR: That was prophetic, wasn't it? That was before any question of my joining forces with Queen. There's a jam session right there with Brian.
MR: Was that concert where you developed a relationship?
PR: We actually knew each other even before then. The first time I played with Brian, he contacted me and I was in semi-retirement in Kingston in London. He was doing something in Spain for the Olympics. It's amazing really because nobody knew where I was, I was kind of hiding away. I then got this phone call from Brian May and he said, "Damn you're hard to find!" (laughs) I was trying to be impossible to find at the moment. He said, "Listen, I'm doing this thing for the Olympics, and I've got a thousand guitar players and we don't have a singer. You've got to come over and sing." That was when we first contacted each other really.
MR: What do you think of your Queen experiences?
PR: Well, we did a number of things. We did some live CDs and live DVDs, we played in Kiev, which was the biggest square in Europe, so I'm told. We had 360,000 people turn out just for us--it wasn't a festival or anything. We did a lot of things, and we ended up in the studio and recorded a studio album of all live material, of all new songs called The Cosmos Rocks.
MR: And there are Return Of The Champions and Live In The Ukraine.
PR: Yeah, we were very productive in the four years we were together.
MR: Pal, your tribute to Muddy Waters, was nominated for a Grammy, and this was the tour that supported that album, right?
MR: Were you in shock when you heard it had been nominated?
PR: I was really pleased actually. In fact, it was Buddy Guy that actually took the Grammy that year, and I was on his album. So, I felt like I had received one anyway. It was really nice because he's the real deal. For me, basically a kid from Middlesbrough, to be nominated for a Grammy for the blues was exceptionally nice.
MR: Let's get some thoughts on the incarnations you've had over the years, starting with Free.
PR: Well now, when I first came down to London, I was looking to form a band. I was playing with a blues band in a club called The Fickle Pickle. A guy came up with really long hair down to his waist and he said, "Hey, I want to jam with you guys." It was Paul Kossoff, and he came up and jammed with us and it was just amazing. I sat down with him afterwards and said, "We need to form a band." That's where Free was born, right there. So, Paul and I put that band together, it was beautiful. I miss the musicality that we achieved. Again, we started out playing blues and we took it from there. I became a songwriter, and the first song I wrote was called, "Walk In My Shadow," which was a twelve bar blues. We branched out from there and started to write our own song structures.
MR: What's the story behind your hit "All Right Now?"
PR: Well, I was writing all kinds of songs, I was writing all of the time. It was just another song. We had a song called "The Hunter," which was the only blues song left in the set. The rest of the set was all original songs. We couldn't go anywhere without playing "The Hunter." I thought I wanted to make a song that was as strong as that. I tried desperately to come up with something that was strong and had an audience participation part to it. That's how the song was born really, again, out of the blues.
MR: It seems "All Right Now" might have been a prototype for the Bad Company sound.
PR: I don't know, I think for me it's all one long story. Now, when I play solo I play things from Free, from Bad Company, from The Firm. They do jell together very well, I think the center of the bands are the songs. I think that's what the character is based upon, it's based upon the character and the nature of the songs. I came out of Free a little bit disillusioned about the business. We had tried to manage ourselves and I realized that we needed a strong manager and that would be the key to the next band I put together. I teamed with Mick Ralphs and we started writing songs. I approached the manager of the biggest band at the time, which was Led Zeppelin, who was Peter Grant. He seemed interested in managing us. I really took it for granted at the time and said, "Well that's that." When I look back, it was quite amazing that he would take us on.
MR: And Bad Company was huge, I would say your biggest band association. What was it like during that run?
PR: We came out of the box and exploded onto the scene pretty much. We had everything together and we were in the right place at the right time, we had the songs, we had the band, we had the management, and Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant were instrumental at putting us in the right place and putting us in the right arenas with the right bands. Peter Grant was just an amazing manager. It's very different now than it was then; it was a little wilder in those days. It was a bit like the Wild West somehow. Peter Grant was one of the big guns in town, and he really took care of us. We, in return, from our point of view, got down and just made the music.
MR: Bad Company was on Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label correct?
PR: That's right, it was the seedling label.
MR: I'm probably wrong about this, but for a while, weren't you the only act on that label?
PR: They signed Maggie Bell to the label, and a band called Detective was on the label.
MR: Just to be associated with the Led Zeppelin label and to be distributed through Atlantic must have made it all very exciting.
PR: It was a very exciting period, one of the great things it did for us was people would listen. It made people sit up and listen, because people would say we were basically endorsed by Led Zeppelin, and people were interested in what we were doing. We did have to deliver the goods though, I feel. We had to come across strong. As I said earlier, we were in the right price at the right time. All of the stars aligned and there we were.
MR: Speaking of Led Zeppelin, you were in The Firm with Jimmy Page.
PR: That came about for a number of reasons. I had left Bad Company because I just wanted to be making music at home. Then when John died, Led Zeppelin, of course, would not be working anymore, and Jimmy would come around to my place to see what I was doing. We started to write songs and of course that's how all of my bands have formed really. When Jimmy and I started to write songs together, we had a band form around that. What happened was Eric Clapton's managers called us and said they were doing a tour, and Eric's going to be on that tour, and Joe Cocker, and Jeff Beck. A lot of people are doing this tour to raise funds for multiple sclerosis and would we like to come to America with them. We said, "We didn't really have a band," and they said, "We have a rhythm section for you." "Well, we only have about a half an hour's worth of music," and they said, "You only have to play a half an hour." So, we sort of ran out of excuses, so I said, "Okay, we'll come." That was really how The Firm was born. I really got a taste of what the tour was like again.
MR: This is in addition to your solo career, your second release being the Muddy Waters album.
PR: Yes, it was, yeah.
MR: Was it because you were satisfied with the configurations you were with and there was no real need to solo albums at that point?
PR: With Muddy Waters, I was back off the road again, and I got a call from a friend of mine who was now the head of a record company who said, "Would you like to make a blues album, a tribute to Muddy Waters?" It was perfect timing for me, because I thought I owed a lot to the blues, and it would be such a beautiful thing to do. We got in the studio--Jason Bonham and the guys--we started to put the tracks down and lay everything down. We started to think, "It would be great if Jeff Beck could be on this one, or it would be great if Slash could play on this one." We started to make a wish list of who it would be nice to have on the album. I said, "I could call them and see what happens," and I think it was the power of Muddy Waters and the power and name of the thing that everybody came forward. Buddy Guy came forward, and we played the song "Muddy Water Blues." It was a beautiful thing. I put a little note at the front about how maybe Muddy was watching us from above because it came together so magically.
MR: On the CD and DVD, you feature blues legends such as Luther Allison and Eddie Kirkland. You also have Canned Heat's Robert Lucas.
PR: Yeah, well they were playing there that night, and everybody just came up for a jam and it was very cool. It was amazing how that came together. Again it's this blues thing that everybody can find these chords and everyone can join in.
MR: Maybe that's one of the great things about the blues is everybody knows the chords and anyone can jump in.
PR: It really is, and I hate to keep going on about it, but you think of Jimi Hendrix, that was blues based; Janis Joplin, that was blues based; Led Zeppelin, that was blues based. Rock 'n' roll really came out of the blues. I would love to know who invented the twelve bar blues because it's such an amazing structure. There's probably already a million songs written on it and there's probably room for a million more. Name me a structure that you can say that about.
MR: Your band included Steve Lukather.
PR: Steve's a great guitar player.
MR: You also had Neal Schon.
PR: Amazing shredders, I call those guys.
MR: You also have Jason Bonham on drums, yet another Led Zeppelin connection.
PR: I saw Jason recently, he was at the Greek in Los Angeles and I went to see him. It's a tribute to his father and to Led Zeppelin, and it was a very moving and touching night. He toured in the UK with me this year, he is a good addition to any band because he doesn't just drum, he's also very musically creative. He's just great.
MR: So, that was 1994, and you have assembled quite a group of friends by this point.
PR: What we are, I think, is that we're musical friends. Very often, we listen to each other and we know what we're saying, so there's a rapport before we've even met. I felt like that with Jimmy Page. We felt we knew each other because we heard each other's music, and we didn't actually know each other. It's through the music we did, it's a great communicator.
MR: Where does your creativity come from?
PR: Well, it comes from outside of me. Sometimes, I feel like I'm a vessel for it and I just need to get out of the way and let the thing occur. I do find when you get a group of good musicians together and you throw them a song and you have the focus being a song, there's a type of energy created. I also feel the audience becomes a part of that, and if you just let that happen and go with it, something amazing happens. It's really the addiction for me because I can't seem to stop doing that. It's different every time. Every time we tour, it's unique, every show is unique. Even if you play at the same venue twice, it's going to be a different show from one night to the next. People come from different places--from their homes, in their cars, to the venue, and they have different stories. They all have brand new energy.
MR: When looking at new acts, do you think they are doing it right? Or do you feel like something is missing?
PR: I think things have changed a lot, there's so much music out there, and there's so much opportunity for anybody to make music. So, you get a lot of stuff out there, and sometimes, it's hard to separate it. Have you heard Adele? I think there's a spirit that she's got there. Isn't she great? There is that blues and soul thing there. She seems to make it so easy, when you hear it, you go, "Yeah, that's how it is." It's flowing, and that's what I try to achieve, I think. That's true for everybody as long as they play with passion, if they love what they do, and they feel it, then that is going to come across.
MR: When I listened to her for the first time, it was like finding my long lost favorite singer.
PR: (Laughs) Yeah, the older I get, the more I believe there is a great spirit above us that is just sending us messages, and music is one of the ways through which those messages communicate themselves. People are looking to connect and one of the things music does is trying to connect people.
MR: What advice might you have for new artists?
PR: I think I might repeat what I just said, you've got to feel it. It's got to come from the heart, and listen to those people that move you. When I was younger, like 13 and 14, I would listen to people like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, which I still do. I listen to John Lee Hooker and Elmore James. I love Elmore James. He plays the bottleneck and sings, it's just amazing to me. They do something and it tingles the back of your neck and something happens inside of you. That's what happens when I listen to these men and women. When I listened to that, I said, "That's what I want to try and do. That's what I'm still trying to do. Surround yourself with good people and people who believe, especially when no one else does.
MR: I wanted to mention how when I was in High School, they played the first Bad Company album over and over again in the student area. I have to confess, although it's still one of my favorite rock albums, at the time, I was like, "God, I could never hear that album again."
PR: Yeah, well I do understand that. One of the things about being in the studio, very often, is that you hear your own record more times than anybody else in the entire world is ever going to hear it. If you can still stand it at the end of that, then it's got to be okay. You go through the process of rehearsing it, you go through the process of recording it, and you go through trying to get the take. Then you've got to mix it and then you start adding guitars and putting harmonies on it, then you've got to balance it. So, you end up hearing that record about a million times, I find I listen in different ways. I notice I can listen entirely on the bass or entirely on the vocal or entirely on that snare drum or that vocal, and then I can withdraw my pigeon-holed vision and look at the whole spectrum of it. That's what happens when you're mixing. We would often play it on a crappy old speaker, because in those days, people were often listening to it on crappy old speakers. So, we would see how it sounded on a crappy little speaker because it had to sound good on any speaker.
MR: Who's your favorite vocalist of all time?
PR: It's hard to pinpoint one, but I've always loved Otis Redding. He did something to me in my younger days, when I was 13 and struggling with my emotions and trying to be grown up and understand the world. He was a great mentor in many respects. When he sang "A Change Is Gonna Come," it really got to me, I love the way he sings that, especially the way it builds at the end. It's a very slow build.
MR: It's one of the greatest songs of all time, don't you think?
PR: Sam Cooke wrote that song, and his version is very different. It's beautiful in its own way, but after Otis, it's kind of lighter weight. Otis took it slower and really dug into it. You believe in it, it's desperately emotionally.
MR: What is your favorite recording of all time?
PR: There are so many, it's very hard to pinpoint. I love "Green Onions," which is by Booker T & The MG's, it's an instrumental. I love "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty actually. Moving right away from the blues for a second, that still gives me chills, that record. I like "The Midnight Owl" by Wilson Pickett. When I first heard that, it was amazing. The way he hits the end ad-libs is just amazing, what a great singer.
MR: What is on the horizon for Paul Rodgers?
PR: I'm working away, touring and doing my thing. I just finished a tour in Canada with Randy Bachman and Fred Turner. Fred Turner is an amazing singer, and they're both great guys. I've just been down to LA to do a TV show, what I'm going to be doing is a DVD with Joe Bonamassa, He's a big fan actually. He does a great version of my song "Seagull," so they want me to come and jam with those guys on a couple of my songs. I think "Walk In My Shadow" and "Fire And Water." I will be doing a benefit in the UK for a racehorse sanctuary in West Sussex on December 3rd. Steve and my son and Jasmine and my daughter will be playing at that.
MR: Is there any band that you wished you could have been a part of over the years?
PR: The thing is, if I liked a band, I wouldn't want to take any of the members out and put me in it, that would change the chemistry and I don't know if that would necessarily work. I hope people find each other and make good music together, that's what they should do. That's what I kind of try to do myself, I think.
MR: I so appreciate the time you've spent with us.
PR: It's been really wonderful talking to you, Michael.
1. Travelling Man
2. Wishing Well
3. Louisiana Blues
4. Fire And Water
5. Muddy Water Blues
6. Good Morning Little School Girl
7. I'm Ready
8. Little Bit Of Love
9. Mr. Big
10. Feel Like Makin' Love
11. Let Me Love You Baby
12. The Hunter
13. Can't Get Enough (Of Your Love)
14. All Right Now
16. Hoochie Coochie Man
Transcribed by Theo Shier