Fresh Eyes: Bad Company denied

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The good old days for Bad  Company.
The good old days for Bad Company.

by Jon Epstein

Bad Company released its self-titled debut in 1974, 40 years ago this summer, and it remains one of hard rocks most successful first albums.

This was not surprising to anyone familiar with Bad Company’s’ pedigree.

Bassist Boz Burrell had been in King Crimson, guitarist Mick Ralphs had been a founding member of Mott the Hoople and drummer Simon Kirke and vocalist Paul Rodgers had previously played together in the now legendary English band Free while that band had several FM radio fixtures and rock standards: “All Right Now” and “Wishing Well.”

By the end of the decade the band had released four additional albums, establishing itself as one of the biggest live acts in rock history, and had, as these things have a tendency to do, begun to implode. The band’s vocalist, now a rock icon, Paul Rodgers, had found himself deeply at odds with the other band members’ substance abuse, bassist Boz Burrell found himself deeply at odds with Rodgers and the other two members, guitarist Mick Ralphs and drummer Simon Kirke, found themselves in the middle of a no-win situation. The original lineup of the band released its last studio album, Rough Diamonds, in 1982 with little fanfare. 

For the remainder of the century Paul Rodgers continued to record and perform as a solo act, and briefly joined forces with Jimmy Page to record two albums as the Firm. The remaining members of Bad Company soldiered on, and primarily under the direction of drummer Simon Kirke were able to retool the band with vocalist Brian Howe, and recorded several successful albums in the 1990s, most notably 1990’s platinum-selling Holy Water, which spawned two Top 10 singles: “If I needed Somebody” and “Holy Water.” The tour for that album became one of the Top 5 grossing tours of 1991. All things considered, it was looking pretty good, and then through the excessive use of cocaine and alcohol it got stupid again.

Time and distance, love and death, attitude and perspective have a way of changing things. In this way it was at the funeral of their onetime manager, and longtime friend Peter Grant that the original members of Bad Company came together again to make music. Since that time the band has toured, recorded several live DVDs and is currently in preparation for the second wave of its 40th anniversary tour.

Although I have been involved with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since its planning stages, and a number of my collectibles are on display there, I tend to pay very little attention to who is and who is not in the hall. I have found that the selection process seems to be incredibly vague, and many of the inductions seem rather arbitrary. Of course, as is the case with any entertainment industry awards, induction into the hall of fame is quite incestuous and self-congratulatory, and of very little interest to the average fan and even less interest to someone like me who has long ago given up on the cult of celebrity. Nevertheless I was floored when Simon told me that they had not been inducted. I, like many others apparently, assumed that they were because… well this is Bad Company, for God’s sake.

How the hell did that happen? I was truly and rightly stumped. By literally every criteria Bad Company, and its four original members (bassist Boz Burrell died in 2006 at age 60, while strumming a guitar at his home in Spain. Now that’s rock and roll, by God!) should have been inducted years ago, and yet here they are 40 years in and going strong, only to be denied.

To be sure the path to induction into the hall of fame is political, and I am equally sure that many backroom conversations take place in this regard. It’s also very unlikely that the members of Bad Company have done something to cause the nominations committee to exclude them.

If anything, Bad Company, and Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke in particular, have been active, engaged and committed to a number of organizations, events and charities, done so with little fanfare, and have shown themselves to be extraordinarily professional with a humility that generally escapes rock-music legends. Perhaps their exclusion is simply an oversight. I like that scenario, although I am having trouble actually believing it.

Bad Company, and Rodgers and Kirke in particular, are cornerstones of modern rock. Together they and their bands have written and recorded some of rock music’s most iconic songs. The Free song “All Right Now,” for example, had been played on the radio over a million times as of 1989. As Bad Company they provided the blueprint for all hard rock to follow, and have continued to remain active and viable as a musical force over 40 years into their career. As the band begins its second round of it’s 40th anniversary tour this year with Lynyrd Skynyrd I am hopeful that the hall of fame nominations committee takes notice. If there was ever a band that was entitled to its place in rock-and-roll history, Bad Company is that band.

Jon Epstein, who lives in Winston-Salem, is an associate professor at Greensboro College, a musician and a longtime consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.