By David DeRocco
Paul Rodgers is one highly connected rock superstar. Not in the stereotypical “Sopranos” kind of connection, although he might very well be. More in the “six degrees of separation” kind of way, with Rodgers at the centre of an inspired universe you can trace with simple steps back to a “Who’s Who” of modern music: rocks gods as diverse as Clapton, Page, Gilmour, Beck, Daltrey, McCartney, Watts, Cooper and Mercury, blues legends like Muddy and Buddy, and names like Elvis (both Presley and Costello) thrown in for good measure. It makes sense that the man often dubbed “The Voice” by musicians and critics worldwide would be so connected, especially considering his rock pedigree: Rodgers is undeniably one of music’s most distinctive vocalists, having written and recorded some of rock’s greatest hits during his time fronting Free, Bad Company, The Firm, The Law and even Queen.
It comes as no surprise then that in conversation Rodgers revealed how one such connection to Lynyrd Skynyrd is directly responsible for him acquiring something many of his fans might not know he has: his official Canadian citizenship and a former Miss Canada as his wife.
“I have to say, (Skynyrd) introduced me to my gorgeous wife Cynthia,” said Rodgers, in reference to 1984 Miss Canada Cynthia Kereluka. “I was touring with them as a solo artist, almost 17 or 18 years ago, and they were good friends. And they said, ‘wait till we get to Vancouver, we’re going to introduce you to Cynthia. She’s so right for you.’ And I said, ‘yea sure.’ But they were like, ‘really, you better be listening.’ They match made for us. Johnny Van Zant brought Cynthia up and we just started chatting and we got along so well. And the up side was I kept commuting back to Vancouver to visit. And then I started staying longer and longer each time until eventually I didn’t go home!”
Rodgers is quite content to be enjoying his current life as a Canadian. Soaking up the natural splendor of his home in B.C.’s beautiful Okanagan Valley, Rodgers and family have embraced such typical Canadian pastimes as swimming, kayaking, jamming with The Sheepdogs and advocating for indigenous Canadian wildlife – he’s shown particular interest in the challenges facing herds of wild horses roaming in the Okanagan area. Don’t think for a moment, however, that Rodgers has lost the drive that’s helped him release 27 CDs, sell 125 million albums and earn his position at #55 on Rolling Stone’s list of all-time greatest vocalists. Rodgers says that drive is something he’s had since he was an aspiring young musician in his hometown of Middlesbrough, England.
“When I look back, and I left home when I was about 17, I didn’t know that I had an agenda, but I did. And it was to survive to find peace of mind and to make music doing it. And I think that’s what I’ve been doing all this time. The drive comes from a love of music and performing.”
Rodgers has done more than survive in a career spanning over four decades of international success. Since first hitting the radio charts with “All Right Now,” the 1970 smash hit he penned for bluesy rockers Free, Rodgers has produced an amazing catalogue of music. Prior to launching his solo career, he formed supergroup Bad Company, earning six multi-platinum albums on the strength of rock classics like “Feel Like Making Love,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Shooting Star,” “Bad Company,” “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy,” at times rivalling Led Zeppelin as the world’s biggest-grossing British band. The pressures inherent with such success, however, proved to be at odds with Rodgers’ equal desire to have peace of mind. And so, at the height of Bad Company’s fame, he heeded a warning he got from The King and walked away from the band that had earned him his greatest fame.
“For me, after many many years of doing mega-tours, I wanted to pull back from that. It wasn’t really how I wanted to spend my life. I love music, but I also wanted to enjoy my life. Years ago I got Elvis Presley’s autograph, and he said on it: ‘To Paul, take time to live. Elvis.’ And I was like, ‘wow, what does he mean take time to live?’ And he died a few years later. I eventually took that to heart, because I realized you can be as passionate as you want about music, but you’ve also got to look after your health and be able to continue. The death of John Bonham, that hammered it home for me. I was like, wait a moment, we’re flying a little too high here and I didn’t want anything like that to happen to my band members. I just thought, we’ll just take a break.”
His first move after departing Bad Company was putting a studio in his house, where over the next two decades Rodgers continued to make music. While many would question the wisdom of leaving one of the biggest bands in the world, Rodgers has no regrets about the decisions he’s made over the years.
“There have been a number of turning points in my life. But I don’t regret anything, because everything that you do is a learning process. And even if it turned out to be a mistake you can actually learn from it. Moving out from my hometown was a very big moment for me, because I did go to London with a band, but they left, and the net result was I was in London completely on my own and I was 17. For me it was challenging. That’s why I say, staying alive was a kind of priority. To survive and to make music in uncertain times was a turning point. But I never questioned it I must say because I was so convinced that music that was in my head, that I listened to and I wanted to make, was the way for me to go wherever that took me.”
Over the past two decades the music has continued to take Rodgers around the world, writing, recording and touring with bands such as The Firm and The Law, and working on collaborative projects with a variety of musical colleagues. That included a couple memorable world tours with Queen.
“We came in on equal terms,” said Rodgers. “That’s why we called it Queen and Paul Rodgers. We wanted to make it clear that it was something we were doing on equal terms. I actually had them do more Queen than my music, because at that piont in time they hadn’t toured in many many years. They’d done the odd show but they hadn’t toured and I had. So I said do more queen. We did three-quarters of Queen materials and about a quarter of my stuff, which included me rising out of the stage in a cloud of smoke and lasers, very Queen style.”
The musical legacy Rodgers has created has earned him many awards, the most prestigious of which is the Ivor Novello Award he received in 2011 for outstanding contribution to British music. It’s one Rodgers holds dear to his heart.
“Very much so, because that was from inside the industry and that’s from people who know and who really care about music and it runs deep. It speaks of influence rather than sales. And that was a huge compliment to me. I was very very honoured to have that. It stands proudly in my studio now.”
Given the volume of music he’s created, is there one song the music fan inside of Paul Rodgers looks back on and says, ‘yes, that’s really a great song?’ Given his genuine humble nature, Rodgers grew silent before finding an answer that also included his motivation for continuing to perform.
“Well, you know, that’s a good question. Thanks for that. But things like “Rock and Roll Fantasy,” “Shooting Star,” “Run With the Pack,” “Feel Like Making Love.” When I stop to think about all those songs and put them all together, I’m very proud of the musical legacy I’ve created. Even now when I play “All Right Now,” even after all this time, it’s like the first time. I meet someone’s eyes in the audience, I look out in the crowd, and its tonight, it’s happening right now, it’s very much in the moment. And so it’s a personal thing. It depends on how you measure success really. I measure success in the joy in the faces if I can say that. When I see a happy crowd, forgetting their troubles and just being part of this energy we’ve all created, I think “Im doing the right thing here.” This feels good.”
Paul Rodgers and his band perform two nights at the Avalon Ballroom August 28th and 29th. For details, visit www.fallsviewcasinoresort.com/entertainment.