“BAD COMPANY ADJUST”
BY BRUNO STINE
ROCK STARZ MAGAZINE
Ten stories below us the Amazon photographer stalks the pool deck, taking light meter readings in the sweaty mid-day heat of Miami Beach in May, sizing up angles and perspectives, awaiting the appointed hour of deliverance.
In the hotel room, the air conditioning turns the Florida steam bath into an icebox, but, that’s not the reason for my shivers. I am thinking of that large bikini clad woman down there and the menace in her voice as we parted a few minutes ago..
Across from me at a small table is the object of her harsh words- a young pixie-faced boy from Herefordshire . And if he isn’t delivered to her at the aforementioned fixed time, my life won’t be worth the price of a pocket Instamatic. Mick Ralphs yawns and stretches, looking not at all like a likely photo subject in rumpled hair and ragged cut-offs. He isn’t worried, but then why should he be? All he has to do is worry about being attacked by thousands of horny young girls at Bad Company concerts. If he ever had to face the wrath of a giant female photographer delayed, he’d pack up his guitar and light out far Stoke Lacey, the little British country town where he still hasn’t finished up his apprenticeship as an electrical engineer.
I take a hold of myself and attempt to concentrate on the business at hand. We are discussing the origins of Bad Company at the moment, and Mick is explaining why he left Mott the Hoople when that band was at the peak of its acceptance, after lean years of struggle.
“I had a lot of material that wasn’t getting used, and I needed an outlet for that. I was beginning to feel my role in Mott was insignificant. It was just like the guitar player. Anybody could have done what I was doing. I felt I needed to take a more positive role within the framework of the band, but an equal band, where it was a tight unit and everybody contributed as much– and as a result we got the same amount out of it.”
All this sounds logical, I say, but it still doesn’t quite explain things. There must have been something about the music … Mick answers with a blank stare.
At the end of your time with Mott, the music was getting very involved, I suggest, most unlike the stuff Bad Company does. “Yeah,” says Mick as if I’m pulling out his right front bicuspid without Novocaine. “Productions started getting like that.”
I look at my watch, which is rapidly bearing down on the Hour of the Amazon. And did that type of thing repel you? I ask Mick …
“Yeah,” he says, and now a note of contempt is in his voice. “Well, to me it gets away from the essence of rock music, you know what I mean? It’s all very well if you’re into that. I just don’t happen to be that way, and I don’t see rock music that way. Ummmm. I know a lot of bands do it, and do it
well. The Moody Blues and all that sort of thing swamped with pretentious fucking lyrics, orchestras and … his voice trails off, and so does the contemptuous tone. He contemplates his next words and speaks them more matter-of-factly. “I guess there’s a lot of people that like that sort of thing, but it’s pretentious to me. It’s like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. It’s just sort of an exercise in technique and technology rather than music. There’s no sort of real soul there, you know, and heart. See, when that goes- that’s really the basic thing and if that goes out of it, then it doesn’t mean anything to me.”
So much for the Moody Blues and E.L.P. It must have been some tough music that Mick used to listen to when he was a kid.
“Yeah,” he laughs, “Ricky Nelson. James Burton used to play with Ricky Nelson, and I used to like his stuff. You’d hear the records on the radio, you know, and I used to think, that’s a good sound. It was a commercial style, I suppose you could call it. And Ricky Nelson had loads of hit records, so Burton had to be playing something right…
“I like the way the guy played because up to that point in England, all the bands were like Cliff Richard and the Shadows, very syrupy and clean-cut, and it was all sort of pinging guitars, really horrible. And uh, I liked Burton’s style, and I liked Steve Cropper and also Chuck Berry. When I heard ‘Green Onions’ with Steve Cropper on it, I mean that was amazing. I thought, that’s what a guitar should sound like. Sort of mean and nasty, you know.
“And I’ve always liked Chuck Berry anyway, not just for his songs, his lyrics, but also for his guitar playing. Because he has a very limited technique, but to me he does so much with it. He gets it over.”
You certainly didn’t pick any virtuoso-type guitar players to emulate, I point out.
“Yeah, that’s right. I think ummm … I like to get behind a song and sort of contribute to it. I think everyone in Bad Company does. That’s how we feel our role is within a band. You see, there’s the other type of guitar figure, like, say, Robin Trower; who is a solo guitarist, and he’s accepted as such, you know. “Which is fine, but, uh, to me that represents Robin Trower; and the rest of his band, to me, seems insignificant.
Which is a shame because the bass player is a good singer, and he writes good songs. But you never really notice them. Everybody’s like waiting to hear Robin Trower’s solo or whatever. It’s nice for him to be accepted like that. But I like to be accepted as a guitarist, a musician with my own style, but who’s an integral part of the band.
“I’ve still got lots to learn about music in general and guitar playing anyway. People I admire, like Albert King, leave such a lot of gaps. He just plays whatever is right. He doesn’t just do his solo for the sake-of doing it. And I try to just play what I feel is needed, too.
“I suppose I do sort of underplay slightly. Not onstage so much. I tend to come out more onstage. But it’s more spontaneous anyway onstage, I think. It’s still in the same contest of playing, but I tend to be a bit wilder onstage, probably because there’s an audience there, so I respond to that.” Mick chuckles at the thought of his wildness onstage.
I chuckle to myself, recalling how tame Bad Company looks in performance, except for maybe Paul Rodgers’ strutting. During their namesake number, when Paul is seated behind the electric piano, the band really looks as lifeless as Booker T. and the MGs. But then this is what I love about Bad Company: how they get me high, high, high on the music only.
However, I’m not about to destroy Mick’s delusions of wildness. “It’s very exciting to play live, you know,'” he continues. “We enjoy recording, but it’s a totally different thing to gigging, even though we try to keep it the same. We try to make our records quite simple in terms of recording.
We don’t sort of do millions of overdubs. We don’t really believe in all that. And uh … ” He hesitates, and a little redness touches his fair complexion. Mick Ralphs is embarrassed. “Uh, we used strings on one number on Straight Shooter, which is sort of a concession to what I just said. But that was just an experiment, really.” He says this as if he hopes I’ll find it in my heart to forgive him, although he doesn’t really expect me to.
During a performance in Lakeland, Fla. I saw Paul Rodgers take off on a couple of his improvised codas and do strange and wonderful things. At the end of “Ready for Love,” he somehow turned the song into the Temptations’ (and the Faces’) “Losing You.” At the end of “Movin’ On,” he is suddenly into a bit of “Whiskey Bottle,” a song Bad Company has recorded but not yet released, which somehow leads into “Can’t Get Enough.” In the case of both songs, it was nothing new, but when the “Losing You” first happened onstage in Australia, the band almost fell over.
How does it feel to play behind a singing madman? I ask Ralphs.
“Well,” says Mick slowly, choosing his words carefully. “We all sort of pivot around Paul, because he can change lyrics or arrangements or endings or whatever at will. He’s that sort of geezer, and that’s the natural way he comes over. We sort of have to follow him like a hawk. But it’s good, it’s really good because there’s a lot of communication between us, and it’s getting to the stage now where we can anticipate things. If he goes off and improvises an ending or something, then we’ll be able to pick up on ,it and follow him. “And that’s a good thing. It’s nice to have that feeling in a band. It’s the same with everybody else. I think Simon (Kirke, the drummer) will confirm this.” We might break into something that we haven’t done before in a number. Somebody will start it off and then everybody picks up on it, which is really good, rather than everybody looking around and thinking,’What the fuck’s happening?’ We can pick up on each other really good.”
Despite this, I’ve heard people call your music simple, mindless garbage, I offer tactfully.
“It’s basic music,” says Mick shrugging but not apologizing. “Good solid songs and good solid music to back it up. But when I say basic, I don’t mean banal basic. I mean earthy.” It’s not that simple to be simple, I say. In fact it’s hard to be simple.
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” says Mick.
Then how does Bad Company do it- it’s certainly not technical virtuosity, say I with a sage nod. “No, I don’t think so” says Mick, wondering at the funny way I’m shaking my head. It’s a thing where you have to allow for every other member of the band and not overplay, but play just enough to complement it. I’m not sure it would have happened if the band had been composed of different members”.
It certainly wasn’t that way in the excessive Mott the Hoople music, I note.
“Yeah, exactly. Free (former band of Rodgers and Kirke) was always quite a simple sort of band, but I always felt they lacked a bit of fire. You know, a bit of energy, which I think I inject, to a certain extent, because I’m all sort of rock-and-roll based. I think ifs a lot to do with the four people, the chemistry of if. It’s a good balance, and we’re able to sort of have a good understanding of music and how we’d like things”.
The hotel room phone Jangles loudly, cutting Mick off in mid-sentence and snapping me back to reality. I have forgotten completely about the creature, and a quick glance at my watch tells me I am in big trouble. It is 10 minutes past the hour of the gun. Sure enough, the voice on the phone is that of the lady’s lackey inquiring coldly what has happened to the body I promised to produce.
He’s on the way, I say, shoving Mick toward the door, I’m very sorry, please give my respects. Muttering something about stopping off in his room, Mick rambles on down the hall. I straighten up a few things, then take the elevator down and, stroll uneasily out to the pool to watch the shooting session. She is there, along with the lackey and the musicians -Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell. But no Mick! As I approach, my head bowed, she somehow catches my eye despite my carefully avoiding hers. I shudder as her icy glance chills me. I back away … For, the next 45 minutes, the tension grows, and as I tick off my limbs and other parts one by one, I’m through two eyes, two arms, 10 fingers and four toes on the left foot when out shuffles a nonchalant Mick.
Within minutes she has him and the others squirming around the deck chairs in perverse tangles. I crawl off to a shadowy corner and watch, praying that her lenses are clean and her shutters tripping. My only possible chance for survival is a good shot. F-stops don’t fail me now.
BAD COMPANY DISCOGRAPHY:
1974 Bad Company
1975 Straight Shooter
1976 Run with the Pack
1977 Burnin’ Sky
1979 Desolation Angels
1982 Rough Diamonds
1986 Fame and Fortune
1988 Dangerous Age
1990 Holy Water
1992 Here Comes Trouble
1995 Company of Strangers
1996 Stories Told & Untold
2002 Merchants of Cool
2006 Live in Albuquerque 1976
2011 Live at Wembley Arena
2016 Live in Concert 1977 & 1979