We are besieged by rock stars who can’t move beyond their hits. Thank goodness that Paul Rodgers is no such rock star. Sure, if you listen to classic rock radio you’ll hear his iconic vocals whenever Clear Channel decides to play the same handful of (utterly classic) Bad Company or Free hits. But this is a rocker whose recent career has been occupied by “passion projects” focused on those who inspired him. That coupled with a selective touring schedule has not only kept his voice in its arena rock form, but has also kept him from falling into the creative morass of the “oldies” circuit.
His latest “passion project” is his first studio LP since 2000: The Royal Sessions. Recorded at Memphis’ iconic Royal Studios, The Royal Sessions is more than an homage to Stax Records artists like Otis Redding, Albert King, and Sam & Dave; for Rodgers, it is an honest and analog account of following inspiration despite all other plans.
Rodgers was in the midst of recording a long-awaited album of original songs when the opportunity to record at Royal Studios presented itself. The Royal Sessions’ authentic, reverent feel that is due in no small part to the roster of Memphis studio musician veterans, some of whom played on the very recordings that Rodgers honors on The Royal Sessions. (Did we mention it’s available on 200 gram vinyl, too?)
His love of the Memphis sound and the serendipitous way the album came about further inspired him to give back to the city that made the music that inspired his own music. To that end, all proceeds raised by sales of The Royal Sessions will be donated to the Stax Music Academy, which provides music education programs to children in inner-city Memphis. It’s a feel-good record all around. Rodgers certainly thinks so, and was thrilled to talk about its analog recording, his surprise at having a number one album in 2014, and the excitement that an artist feels when they’re onto something truly authentic.
When did you know you had this VOICE?
Well, I felt I could be a singer at a very early age; I think I must have been about thirteen or fourteen. I started life playing the bass, and I used to just sing harmonies and things with my good friend Colin Bradley back in those days.
And then one day, for some reason they asked me to sing a Little Richard song—“Long Tall Sally” I think it was, or “Good Golly, Miss Molly” perhaps. And I felt then that I could sing this…that I could do this thing called “singing.” The other time, actually, which made me think about singing…we used to do a Solomon Burke song called “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” [Starts singing the song.] I used to take the bass off and sing that one, and I used to get a real kick out of that. I think it was during those times that I sort of graduated from playing the bass and focusing just on singing. So, it goes back a long way.
You’re from northeast England. How did where you grew up shape your musical influences?
Well, I was born in Middlesbrough, which at that time was a very heavily industrialized area. There was shipbuilding, steelworks, and chemicals. It’s very much changed now, as a lot of the shipbuilding and steelworks have moved to other parts of the world; the chemical works are still there. But, when I was growing up, it was quite a gritty place. There were a lot of toxins floating about in the air, and the chemical works—we called them “the works”—was the place that you were expected to go once you left school. My school was about three or four stories high, and I used to look out from my classroom on the top floor and I could see all “the works” and the smoke belching out of it. I used to think, “Oh my God, is that where I’m going? Is that the only way?” [Laughs]