Exclusive: Queen Putting Together Own Tribute Band for 2012 Tour

'If our music is being played live while we’re still alive I’d like it to be done with our stamp of approval,' says Roger Taylor

roger taylor freddie mercury exclusive interview
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images
Roger Taylor performs at 'Freddie For A Day' in celebration of Freddie Mercury's birthday in London.
By |

Queen drummer Roger Taylor was recently in his hometown when he saw a poster that caught his attention. "It said, 'Queen on stage,'" Taylor tells Rolling Stone. "I saw in the very hall where we used to play and there's just the quite bad picture of a band. There are so many of these tribute bands and then there are like orchestral concerts going on featuring music. A lot of these things are not up to scratch and so we want to do it properly."

Assembling a tribute tour worthy of an iconic act – a group that remains so popular late lead singer Freddie Mercury was honored on Google's home page a few weeks ago on what would have been his sixty-fifth birthday –  is a daunting task. But  Taylor thinks he's found an innovative solution to, as he puts it, "keep Queen's music alive." The drummer is enlisting the public's help, putting together an online competition to find the group for Queen Extravaganza, a 2012 trek that will feature a band playing Queen's music combined with unseen footage and a production spectacle. Beginning Monday September 19th, people who think they have what it takes to play Brian May's guitar riffs in "Sheer Heart Attack" or do their best Mercury vocals on "Bohemian Rhapsody" can upload their auditions to www.queenextravaganza.com.

It's a daring venture, but one that Taylor hopes will become a lasting way to deal with the fact that as Queen's legacy and legend has continued to grow over the last two decades, they've had to try different ways to tour after Mercury's 1991 death. The most successful were the treks they did with Paul Rodgers, but Taylor thinks those might be done.

Rolling Stone spoke with Taylor about the ongoing love for Queen's music, his own musical future, some of his favorite Queen non-hits, and what fans can expect when the Extravaganza hits the road in 2012.

It's a very interesting and daring concept for The Queen Extravaganza, which isn't everything Queen did extravagant?
I'm very glad you think that. Also, we thought Extravaganza was the perfect name for something produced by Queen (laughs). Essentially we're producing our own show using our own footage and production values to make a show because let's face it, we're getting a little long in the tooth, but there are an awful lot of tribute bands, some of them good, some of them not good. And we put together something that we felt was purely extraordinary.

You mention being long in the tooth, but you guys have still been active as a band and toured with other vocalists.
Absolutely, even last week Brian [May] and I did a charity thing for Freddie's birthday, we had Jeff Beck, which was fantastic, and a lot of other guys, the guy from Keane, Tom Chaplin. So we can still do it, but I don't really think I want to travel around the world doing it anymore. And, of course, not having Freddie has always made it difficult for the last 20 years. It's a big hurdle, [but] this is a way of keeping our music alive and doing it to our standards.

Will you be involved at all then musically in the Queen Extravaganza?
We're putting the show together now, so what I wanted to do is leave sort of places in the show which Brian and myself could roll up and do a turn, maybe if we're starting a run somewhere exciting. So that would be an option, but, in general, this show will not feature a Queen band member.

To this point you haven't seen any auditions yet, so which aspects are you finding fascinating?
What I'm doing at the moment is actually designing the show, choosing the songs, the song combination, the order of the show, and designing the lights with all our people here. And also, choosing whatever pieces of film and effects we want to use. But, as you say, the actual audition process hasn't started yet. [But] I'm quite convinced that there are tens of thousands of kids, of really talented people, in their bedrooms around the world playing drums, playing guitar, and singing. And I want to find some of those people. And of course we want young people because we're no longer young (laughs). So we'd like really great looking guys to be in this band. Obviously they have to be really good musicians and we're quite convinced that they're out there.

Do you envision this as being an ongoing show beyond next year?
In an ideal world I do and I hope it's a continuing item. We were a very sort of a global band – North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia. All these things are possible so it could be a never ending tour.

Certainly the interest is there, as  people can see from the fanfare surrounding Freddie's sixty-fifth birthday.
I've gotta admit, Brian and myself, we're constantly amazed it's all over the radio, certainly here in the U.K. We're honored and lucky people still enjoy the music and it still has resonance today. It's a long time down the road.

You say you're surprised, but you must be very aware of the interest. You couldn't do the show if there wasn't still such a love for the music out there.
Yeah, if we felt that our music had been sort of forgotten or something like that we wouldn't be doing this, it would be a pointless exercise. It's really fulfilling some kind of demand to do that. Not many young people saw Queen live, so this is a chance to do the closest thing and see a very good facsimile.

But you toured extensively with Paul Rodgers.
Yeah, and that was very enjoyable. I like working with Paul. It was never meant to be any more than a temporary thing, but Paul has such a wonderful voice. It was great to do it. It was almost unexpected and it sort of happened organically. I think that phase is finished now.

Is there any chance of special shows with him?
I wouldn't rule it out. In fact I read the other day Paul said he wouldn't mind doing something. If something came up as special, we could maybe do that, maybe the Olympics or something. But I certainly wouldn't rule it out and he is a wonderful singer, there's no doubt about that.

After so many years do you have the perspective to look at it and see why the music is so enduring?
It's a very complicated question. One thing we do have now after all these years is definitely perspective and I would say one of the things that contributed to it is we made a lot of different kinds of record; there was a lot of variety and I think there was quality there. I would say it was quality, but I would also say that the variety of our music. It went from hard rock to almost rockabilly to a little bit funky to grandiose.

As you've been going through the footage and listening to music are there songs you're developing a new appreciation for?
When we made the albums we never made singles, we made the album and then we picked singles. So, at the time I would probably have liked completely different tracks. I want to include non-singles, album tracks; I want to go quite deeply into the catalog. I think there are some real gems that deserve to be in this show so people get a complete spectrum of the band and not just a rerun of the Wembley concert or something.

What are a few of the deep tracks you'd like to include in the show?
For instance, "In The Lap Of The Gods 1 and 2," nutty things like "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon," "I'm In Love With My Car," going into the catalog really. "You Take My Breath Away," that'll be there. And of course there were some of the later Eighties hits that we had that were bigger hits in Europe, like "A Kind Of Magic." It'll be a real broad spectrum.

Is the footage previously unseen?
Some of it's never been seen. There's stuff from as early as 1973, and even earlier. We've even got stuff, a little bit of stuff, from 1969, so very, very early. There's black and white stuff and there's big stuff, there's a lot of moments never seen.

What are some of the production surprises people can expect from the show?
That's very difficult. We're not even halfway through the design process really. It's very hard to say, but hopefully there are gonna be surprises and it'll cover all eras of Queen and all the different looks. That's as much as I can say really.

Related
• Queen to Stream Live at Wembley on YouTube