As the singer of some of the biggest rock anthems of all time, including All Right Now and Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Paul Rodgers has sold more than 125 million records and was hand-picked by Queen to replace Freddie Mercury when Brian May and Roger Taylor reunited in 2004 for two mega-selling world tours.
Rodgers’s bands Free and Bad Company were as big in America as they were back home, where the frontman had grown up performing in clubs in his native Middlesbrough from the age of 13.
Dubbed “The Voice” by fans for his powerful blues holler, Rodgers’ singing has influenced generations of vocalists, including Mercury himself, Paul Young and heavy metal giants Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Whitesnake’s David Coverdale.
Yet, away from the stage, Rodgers is happy to live quietly and delights in revealing that he can sneak past fans virtually whenever he wants. “I don’t mind fame, but I don’t seek publicity at all when I’m not working,” admits the modest 73-year-old star.
“I can be pretty incognito. I like to be able to pop down to the supermarket and grab some eggs whenever I want. I care what fans think, but I try to let my music speak for me.”
When he was recently out cycling in Los Angeles, Rodgers stopped in a garage to check his route – and was totally ignored, even though Bad Company’s 1979 hit Rock’n’Roll Fantasy was playing on the forecourt radio.
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“You just don’t exist when you’re on a bicycle,” laughs the affable frontman.
The singer has lived in Canada since the start of the century with wife Cynthia, a fitness instructor and former Miss Canada.
Despite Rodgers’ low-key approach, life with Cynthia, 61, had a rock ’n’ roll beginning – they were introduced to each other by 1970s rock giants Lynyrd Skynyrd.
In 1997, a year after Rodgers and first wife Machiko Shimizu divorced, the singer was touring North America with Skynyrd, famed for Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird – and a tragic plane crash which killed two band members and a backing singer in October 1977. Their drummer, Rickey Medlocke, was a friend of Cynthia and seemingly knew the couple would be well-suited.
Rodgers, talking to the Daily Express via Zoom from his home in British Columbia, recalls: “Rickey told me, ‘Listen, when we get to Canada you need to be on your best behaviour. That’s because when we get to Vancouver you’re going to meet Cynthia.’
Paul Rodgers singing with Free at a festival in Leeds in 1970
“I thought, ‘Okay, great, I’m going to meet a woman called Cynthia. I’m already well-behaved.’ When we did meet, me and Cynthia spent a long time talking. Soon enough, I spent a long time commuting to see her in Canada.” He turns to Cynthia, by his side throughout our interview.
“The rest is history, isn’t it, sweetheart?” Cynthia agrees with a laugh: “It’s ancient history.”
Rodgers officially became a Canadian citizen in 2011 after the couple married in 2007. “I was visiting Cynthia for some time,” he explains.
“I’d stay for longer and longer, and I found the commute to Cynthia’s home in Vancouver was getting too much. I said to Cynthia, ‘I think I live here really, don’t I?’ and she said, ‘Yes you do.’ So I said, ‘Will you marry me?’
“Now Cynthia is involved in every area of my life, including managing my career.”
Despite Rodgers’ compelling vocal style, the then-shy youngster had no intention of becoming a singer when he formed his first band The Roadrunners aged 13. He was initially their bassist. He admits: “I’d never seen myself as a singer or anything in the limelight of that nature.
“Then, when The Roadrunners were starting up, I sat in one day in rehearsals and sang Good Golly, Miss Molly. This voice just came out of me and the band said: ‘OK, you’re the singer.’
“That was the turning point. Then the first time I felt at home in front of a crowd was when we covered Solomon Burke’s blues classic Everybody Needs Somebody To Love at a local youth club. The chorus is ‘I need you, you, you.’
“When I started to point to people on each ‘You’, the reaction was so fantastic I thought ‘Now, this is what I want to do!’”
Paul Rodgers performs with Brian May and Queen in 2005
Ironically, Rodgers and Free bassist Andy Fraser wrote the all-conquering All Right Now in 1970 because they wanted to get rid of the blues covers in the band’s set.
They wanted their new album not to have any cover versions, but their cover of Albert King’s song The Hunter was the most popular song in their concerts.
Rodgers reveals: “I told Andy ‘We’ve got to write a song that’s better than The Hunter. It has to be universal, so the lyrics should be something really simple like, I don’t know, all right now…’
“We came up with the chorus on the spot, then Andy took the song away and came back with that incredible opening riff: ‘Bam! Ba-bam-bam!’
Rodgers has found love with Canadian Cynthia
“There obviously had to be a story to the song, and the big songs usually have a boy-meets-girl story so: ‘There she stood, in the street.’ OK, what’s she doing? ‘Smiling from her head to her feet.’ The rest of the song flowed on the spot. We played All Right Now for the first time that night.
“We opened our show with it and the crowd demanded to hear it again at the end of the gig. I thought, ‘Wow, this song has got something.’”
Sure enough, All Right Now reached No2 in the charts, kept from the top by Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime for four weeks.
“Oh no, don’t mention Mungo Jerry to me,” wails Rodgers good-naturedly. “I don’t mind that they beat us to No1. We had the two biggest hits of the summer, that’ll do me. But I’m going to have In The Summertime in my head all day now. Thanks a lot!” The album containing All Right Now – Fire And Water – also reached No 2.
“Our album became Queen’s bible,” smiles Rodgers. “Brian May told me they had to buy a new copy because they wore the vinyl out playing it so much.” Queen repaid Rodgers when May and Roger Taylor invited him to front Queen + Paul Rodgers for four years from 2004.
The collaboration also resulted in a new album, The Cosmos Rocks, which reached No5. “It was great with Queen, I loved it,” enthuses Rodgers. “The only challenge was that Brian and Roger didn’t want to tour America. I thought that was a mistake. We’re still good friends, and when Queen later got Adam Lambert in as a singer, I thought he was perfect for the job.”
Rodgers has just released his first album since The Cosmos Rocks.
Midnight Rose is his first solo album for 24 years – and is co-produced by his wife, as well as famed producer Bob Rock, a veteran who has worked with Metallica, Bryan Adams and Michael Buble among others.
“Being in the studio with Cynthia was hell on wheels – she’s a slavedriver,” jokes Rodgers, as Cynthia yells “Never again!” Gathering himself, Rodgers states of Cynthia’s first production role: “I’d always thought Cynthia has a good ear. I’d say to myself, ‘She knows a lot of stuff.’
“When she made suggestions to me about changes to my songs or lyric additions, I was really impressed. I let Cynthia run with it.”
The couple are so close that it transpires the album’s tale of spurned desire, Take Love, is actually about their cat rather than any vengeful former lover.
“We had a rescue Siamese cat who’s very proud and arch,” remembers Rodgers. “You couldn’t get near her, and one day Cynthia said, ‘I can’t love you if you keep walking away.’ I thought, ‘There’s a line for a song.’ Walking away from love? We’ve all done it.”
As father-of-three Rodgers prepares to go back to his incognito life in the Canadian mountains, he reveals he’s happier than ever now that he’s settled with Cynthia.
“I like things as they are right now,” he beams. “When I left home in Middlesbrough, there were three things I wanted – to survive, to find peace of mind and to make music. I’ve got all of that and I’ve got a beautiful wife. I’m in a good place.”
The publicity-shy singer from Free? He’s doing all right now.
- Paul Rodgers’s new album Midnight Rose is out now on Sun Records