There has never been a better rock singer than Paul Rodgers. There are bigger stars, there are wilder frontmen. But what Paul Rodgers has got, more than any other rock singer before or since, is soul.
Ever since he was a raw 18-year-old making his recording debut in 1968 on Free’s first album, Tons Of Sobs, Rodgers’s voice has had a special quality, an emotional depth gleaned from vintage blues and soul music. According to drummer Simon Kirke, who backed Rodgers in Free and his next group Bad Company, “Paul owed a great deal to Otis Redding”. Moreover, Rodgers, a tough, working-class lad from Middlesbrough, had plenty of rock’n’roll bravado. “His voice has power and presence,” Kirke added. He was – and still is – unique.”
With Free, Rodgers (pictured above with the band in 1972) was at the forefront of the British blues rock revolution, and with Bad Company, one of the first supergroups, his swagger was symbolic of the golden era of 70s rock. Since splitting from Bad Co. in 1982, Rodgers’ diverse career has seen him involved in various projects with many other rock heavyweights. In the mid-80s he formed his second supergroup, The Firm, with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and in the early 90s he teamed up with drummer Kenney Jones (ex-Small Faces and The Who) in short-lived venture The Law. He has also released several acclaimed solo albums, including Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute To Muddy Waters, which was nominated for a Grammy in 1993.
In a surprise move, Rodgers re-formed Bad Company in 1999, recording new material (included on The Original Bad Co. Anthology) and touring the US. But an even bigger surprise followed – the biggest of Rodgers’s 40-year career – when, in 2005, he joined with Brian May and Roger Taylor (but not John Deacon) to tour as Queen + Paul Rodgers. It seemed odd, to say the least: Rodgers, a macho figure and renowned brawler, stepping into the shoes of rock’s greatest gay icon. But as Roger Taylor stated simply: “Paul’s voice is extraordinary.”
And the tour was so successful that the trio have continued to work together. In December 2007 they released a brand new single, Say It’s Not True, with all proceeds going to Nelson Mandela’s Aids charity 46664.
This song, first aired on the 2005 tour, has all three of them singing lead vocals, but it’s Rodgers, of course, who handles the big rock climax. And it’s clear that Paul Rodgers isn’t finished yet. And in 2008, he returned to the Bad Company trail, which continues to be artistically rewarding.