Paul Rodgers – a Northern soul
PUBLISHED: 15:44 05 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:19 20 February 2013
Teesside star Paul Rodgers is the finest blues and soul singer of his generation. <br/>He was back in Newcastle in April on his new solo UK tour and Michael Hamilton caught up with him All pictures courtesy of Paul Rodgers
MH: Tell me why you moved the Newcastle gig from the City Hall to the Arena.
Paul: We switched the gig from Newcastle City Hall (capacity 2,000) to the Arena (capacity 11,000) simply to accommodate everybody. I love the City Hall. Its always had a great atmosphere and I have great memories of playing there in the early days with Free. Theres so much history there on that stage. I also played there with Bad Company. Newcastle is such a great place to play but its the North East fans that really create the brilliant atmosphere.
What are your memories of growing up in Middlesbrough?
Middlesbrough was a very gritty, grimy place when I was a kid because of all the heavy industry, and, of course, most of that has gone now. I remember saying to my kids: Youll be really surprised when you visit Middlesbrough because you live in a really nice place. But of course its like a park now - all green and the air is clean - so they wondered what I was on about!
My memories are so many and varied Im going to have to write a book to get a perspective on it. At the time you are just busy living your life.
I used to go to Ayresome Park and watch Boro when I was a kid. I was really shocked when I found out they had knocked it down. I used to go to the match with my mate Pete Smith. Hes my best friend and we are still in touch. Pete became a fireman. Hes still up in the North East. As kids we always used to knock around together. We would go down to the park and play football, muck about and make a nuisance of ourselves. We would go over to the fire station and climb up on the windows and look at the fire engines and dream of being firemen and he actually did become one.
Do you think you would ever move back to the North East?
I dont think I would ever move back to the North East now. I have lived away from my home town longer than I lived there. I was just 17 when I left and Ive travelled the world since.
But my roots are still there and I still have lots of friends and relatives there. They always come to the North East shows and its great to catch up with everyone. Im stamped through with the North East just like you are when you come off the northern assembly line - and its never going to go away.
Tell me about your start in music before Free.
I started playing music as a kid at school with our band The Roadrunners. Colin Bradley was the guitarist in the band and his older brother Joe took us under his wing and managed us when we were only about 13 or 14.
Even then we were quite a well-organised little unit. We had our own van and our equipment was all paid for. So as soon as we finished school we were off doing shows all over the place. We did workingmens clubs, weddings, gigs - anywhere we could get them.
I was playing bass in those days as well as singing. I was pretty much self-taught.
What were your musical influences?
I listened to a lot of blues in my childhood. It was a very strong influence on me. It was so easy to learn 12 bar blues.
I would listen to John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf. These guys were heavy duty blues performers and they sang about this earthy other world where chickens ran in the streets, kids played barefoot and people jumped on railroad trains with their guitars and travelled thousands of miles to play their music.
When I was a kid Pete Smiths parents would take us up to where Cooks Monument is and we used to look down at Middlesbrough from up there and all the rows and rows of houses. I remember saying to his mum: It looks small, doesnt it? And she said: Maybe it is. And that changed my view on life. It was one of the triggers that put it into my mind to go and make my way in music.
Tell my about your early memories of Free and meeting guitarist Paul Kossoff.
I remember the first time I met Koss. He was working in Selmers music store in Charing Cross Road in London. Somehow we kept bumping into each other wherever we were. Its a big city but I suppose we were going to the same blues clubs and moving in the same circles. One day he turned up at one of my gigs and wanted to have a jam. I was thrilled. Here was David Kossoffs son wanting to play with me. He was with a group called the Black Cat Bones at the time.
We played Stormy Monday Blues, Four O Clock in the Morning and Every Day I Have the Blues and it was magical. I said right away: You and me are going to form a band. So Free was formed right there.
Paul played with his heart and soul. He wasnt one of these flash whizz kids obsessed with technique and how fast you could play. He had a great feel.
I miss Koss even today. I would rate him as number one in the list of all-time great guitarists. Ive worked with a lot of great guitarists and I dont think they would mind me for saying that.
Who is your all-time favourite singer and why?
It has to be Otis Redding. He has been a huge influence on me. He sang from the heart. He had gospel roots and he really had soul. I remember being 13 or 14 and you go through a lot of angst and uncertainty at that age as you are becoming a man with those huge hormone changes. Otis Redding was someone who really spoke to me. When he sang songs like A Change is Gonna Come and Down in the Valley it was so pure and so sincere. Thats what I wanted to do.
I hear you have been working on a Paul McCartney tribute album.
I was asked to do Let Me Roll It for the album. Ive always liked that song and Im honoured to do it. Im a Beatles fan from way back. I just love those little three-minute pop masterpieces that Paul and John wrote like She Loves You, Cant Buy Me Love and Ticket to Ride. I still get the shivers when I hear them.
I believe that you also rescue animals. Is that true? My wife Cynthia has a huge, huge heart and cant see an animal suffer. We sometimes go down to Mexico for a holiday and we spend a lot of time in the middle of the desert in an animal pound taking care of them. Then she brings them home to Canada where we have a place with some land overlooking the Okanagan Lake. Its a beautiful spot. She finds homes for them in Canada but at the moment we have about 12 or 13 cats with us. n
Legend stays close to his roots
Middlesbrough rocker Paul Rodgers will always be remembered for the classic single All Right Now, which took the charts by storm in 1970, became a world-wide hit and propelled his band Free to pop stardom.
It was a number one in more than 20 countries and helped to establish the sound of the British blues/rock invasion.
Free released no less than four Top Five albums in the early Seventies and Paul was eventually honoured with The Multi Million Award in 2000 by the British Music Industry when All Right Now passed two million radio plays in the UK.
But the soulful singer has continued to make sweet music for 40 years. After Free came Bad Company, then The Firm, and he has enjoyed immense success as a solo artist.
In 2008 he toured with Queen, who were largely dormant following the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, and last year he reformed Bad Company and played a UK tour with the surviving original members of the band for the first time in 30 years.
Like all great bluesmen Paul has always stayed close to his roots.
He grew up in Valley Road in Grove Hill, Middlesbrough. The family lived at number 25, two doors down from the legendary football manager Brian Clough. He went to school at St Josephs and then St Thomass. He played bass in a school band called The Roadrunners and did his first gig at Sussex Street youth club.
But Paul realised he had to move to London if he wanted to make it. So he hitched to the capital. There he met up with guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Simon Kirke. It was 1968 and Free was born.
They signed to Island Records and Tons of Sobs became their debut album.
Pauls career - which has seen him sell more than 90 million records and produce 28 albums over the past 40 years - was on its way to achieving legendary status.
Free broke up in 1973 and the following year he formed the great stadium rockers Bad Company, managed by Led Zeppelins Peter Grant. They toured extensively from 1973 to 1982 and had a string of hits including Feel Like Making Love, Cant Get Enough, Shooting Star, Bad Company, and Run with the Pack.
It was while he was touring with Bad Company that he learned of the death of his close pal Koss from a drugs overdose. Paul wrote the classic 1973 hit Wishing Well about the virtuoso guitarists battle with heroin. And he admits he has never really recovered from the tragedy.
Bad Company earned six platinum albums until Paul left in 1982 at the height of their fame to spend time with his young family. He married Machiko Wada in 1971 but got divorced in 1996. He later met beauty queen Cynthia Kereluk, a former Miss Canada, and they married in a surprise outdoor wedding ceremony in Canadas Okanagan Valley on September 26, 2007.