Bad Company Band: Exiles on Mean Street - Rolling Stone
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Bad Company: Exiles on Mean Street

Bad Company on the road; Paul Rodgers on a rampage

Bad Company

Bad Company in 1975.

Fin Costello/Redferns

CLEVELAND – The Juice Man, also known as Terry Mitchell, freelance “nutrition and skin-care consultant,” was taking his ease, reclining comfortably in the forward cabin of the “Bad Ship,” Bad Company’s leased Vickers Viscount. As the royal blue prop jet with the band’s red-and-white logo lifted off, four Rolls Royce engines straining to clear the trees around Toledo’s airport, Mitchell busied himself with the sports pages of the New York Daily News. He was looking, it seemed, for the box scores to see how his old baseball friends had done the day before. “Useta work with the White Sox,” he said.

The Juice Man had discovered rock & roll and was now the flying trainer, masseur, juice mixologist and vitamin prescriber for Bad Company’s first American tour as a headlining group. He looked up from the ball scores and examined Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell, who was sitting across from him, lazily leafing through People magazine. Some of the Juice Man’s three or four pounds of silver jewelry clanked as he leaned forward. “Soon as I get my head straight,” he murmured, “I’m going to lay my special stuff on you.”

Burrell, bloodshot eyes and flaccid skin reflecting yet another sleepless night of dissipation, nodded wanly.

The Juice Man snapped his yellow felt hat into Super Fly position and popped his shades on. “Yes, sir,” he continued. “What you need is some juice. Did you hear how much better Paul [Rodgers] was singin’ last night? I fixed him up yesterday with my special stuff. Healed his throat. All the difference in the world. Uh hum.” He snapped his fingers and slumped back to a position of supreme coolness.

No one on board the Bad Ship seemed to think it odd that a hip-talking consultant had just shown up one day and joined the tour. No one had told him to leave and now gallon jars of brightly colored juices competed for cargo space with cases of beer and bottles of Chivas Regal, Courvoisier, Johnnie Walker and Blue Nun. The complexes and megadoses of vitamin C were passed around like popcorn. For a group that revels in its “bad” image and drinks and wenches the nights away, this new devotion to health was surprising and probably would not last long. The Juice Man was enjoying it, though.

“Hey, Patty,” he called out to the group’s chief go-fer. “Bring me that jar of red stuff. It’s all mixed.” Due to his elevated status as the group’s trainer the Juice Man did no fetching or carrying. Every morning in his hotel room he would mix up the day’s batch and then turn it over to Patty for disbursement.

He smacked his lips as he and Burrell downed cup after cup of the blood-red concoction. “Fix you right up.”

His juice cure for Rodgers the day before may or may not have helped the singer’s voice, but it did little to help his disposition. As the leader of an alleged fighting band, he’s usually withdrawn and sullen. Thus far during the tour, he had upheld his reputation mainly by pouring a bowl of pretzels over a reporter’s head and, before the Toledo date, fracturing his own left hand in an encounter with a door. He arrived at the Toledo Sports Arena with a cast on his hand and a frown on his face, pausing momentarily to flash a gap-toothed grin at a photographer who’d been waiting for an hour in the concrete tunnel leading to what is ordinarily the dressing room of the Toledo Goaldiggers hockey team. Once he and the rest of the band were inside, outsiders, touching their complimentary cans of Budweiser, were told to leave and the go-fers sealed off the entrance.

That was standard procedure. “The boys may be difficult tonight, and so they want to be alone,” came the daily briefing from a publicist who was nervously pacing the tunnel. “Besides, there may be problems tonight.” What problems could those be? “Problems” was the vague Zieglerian reply.

Any observer not entirely deaf, dumb, blind or stupid could see that Rodgers was in a foul mood. His stage work would be severely handicapped since he often plays second guitar to Mick Ralphs’s lead, besides taking occasional acoustic and keyboard leads. Also, a surly crowd of about 20 ragged youths was already milling around outside the stage door. Their only reason for being there was to rush the entrance or at least trash a limo or two. At the entrance, a garage-type sliding overhead door perhaps 12 feet square, two amiable cops rested their paunches on folding chairs and occasionally shook their night sticks at the rag-tag crew whenever they ventured to within 20 feet of the door. The cops knew how to play this game and so did the kids, but the large, amorphous staff of roadies, go-fers and flacks got nervous. They darted to the door, peered out, turned pale and then darted back to confer with each other.

Perversely, sympathy was for the kids outside, especially when one of them claimed that there were several hundred empty seats available inside. They presented a vehement argument for a few free tickets: The show was obviously not a sellout, the profits would be whisked away to England anyway, sooo – gimme a ticket, Jack!

Inside, Maggie Bell was winding up another competent set, her red hair awash with sweat in the heavy humidity of the un-air-conditioned hall, her pale thighs flashing through the black fringe of her satin dress. As she finished her encore, “Going Down,” the leaden skies outside unloaded a torrent of rain that temporarily drove away the rock & roll urchins. Inside, a Roman candle and three explosions caused fear to flash across many faces backstage. Toledo is, after all, rock & roll’s fireworks capital. On the stage of this confining, poorly ventilated hall, a cherry bomb stopped Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies show, and tonight the feeling was that things might explode any moment. However, it turned out to be more of a frisbee crowd than a cherry-bomb mob. Even though the stage-door hopefuls returned for a last show of bravado, the rain had taken all the fight out of them and their momentary dash was merely to remind the cops that they’d be back another night.

Backstage, Patty the go-fer finished setting up the bottles of Chivas and Vital Juices with plenty of green paper cups alongside, and Bad Company took the stage to the greeting of dozens of lighted matches.

“Watch out for Paul tonight,” a flack shouted. “He was up till nine this morning doing wicked things.” What wicked things? No reply. There were only two groupies backstage and neither appeared to qualify for the rock & roll hall of fame. A roadie in the Goaldigger dressing room made an offer. “Anybody wanna bid $100 for the real Bad Company story?” A second roadie called out, “I just looove Paul Rodgers,” followed by a sardonic laugh. There, the curtain of secrecy descended.

Bad Company is not the most gregarious band and the fussy ring of lackeys around the group did everything possible to protect them: “There’s a reporter here” was a constant refrain. Part of the extreme caution must be attributed to Swan Song Records’ Peter Grant, who manages Led Zeppelin and Bad Company. At the onset of this tour, Grant took out after one reporter and doused him in the face with, of all unlikely weapons, hair spray. On another occasion, he complained to his vice-president, Danny Goldberg, that this magazine had done him a great disservice by placing only two members of Zeppelin, instead of all four, on its cover.

The members of Bad Company, other than Rodgers (drummer Simon Kirke, guitarist Mick Ralphs, Burrell), were amiable enough as long as serious questions and interviews were not brought up. In other words, the tour was nothing so much as a carefully chaperoned, flying fraternity party. The daily routine was the same: The band members were awakened and put on the plane; Linda, the stewardess (long on cleavage and short on conversation with outsiders), took orders for sandwiches or drinks or Vital Juices; a publicist presented the daily bulletin that the boys might be difficult and would not want to be hassled; the plane landed; the group (alone, always) went straight to the hall for a soundcheck and then disappeared until midway through Maggie Bell’s opening set. The entire operation was extremely efficient and entirely boring. One roadie named Patsy even wore a sweatshirt with the words “Very Boring” across his back.

At an earlier show in Lakeland, Florida, the group played through a virtual blood-and-guts gang fight right in front of the stage and later claimed not to have noticed a thing. Total dedication to one’s art.

On the Toledo night, they concentrated on playing – and on dodging Paul Rodgers’s flying objects. His broken hand was obviously not all that was bothering him. As he strutted, shirtless, in tight white pants, he turned and shouted to a roadie to fix his microphone. The hapless roadie approached him on the wrong side (the audience side) and Rodgers grabbed him in a hammerlock and, cursing, flung him away. During “Easy on My Soul” he grew angrier and, not surprisingly, improved his performance. Bad Company’s sound depends on an undercurrent of imagined trouble – Kirke’s rumbling drums and Burrell’s roaming bass at the bottom and Ralphs’s guitar lead and Rodgers’s vocals almost matching each other in treble urgency. Unlike the runaway garbage-truck sound of similar heavy groups, Bad Company’s more resembles the precision drive of a Mercedes bus. Maybe not as exciting, but still metallic and heavy and clean and always, always under control. It’s a simple, direct sound that comes from Rodgers’s and Kirke’s experiences with Free, Ralphs’s time spent with Mott the Hoople and, to a much lesser extent, Burrell’s days with King Crimson.

Each band member admits that a simple sound is what they want. The songs are not overly complex, exemplified by such direct statements of love/lust as “Feel like Makin’ Love” or “Ready for Love.” They are simple, hard songs, for which there is a growing audience. Though few of their American shows are sold out, the first album sold almost a million-and-a-half copies and Swan Song claims that the second is already at half a million. Not bad for a group whose main appeal is Rodgers’s voice.

It’s his band entirely and, even as he grew more frantic on the Toledo stage, he conducted the group as surely as if he had stood before them with a baton. His hair tumbled and whipped across his face as he began kicking mike stands into the banks of amplifiers. He knocked over his electric piano and spun his mike around his head and then hurled it into a monitored speaker. The crowd, naturally, cheered these feeble theatrics and surged against the flimsy wooden partitions separating them from the stage. The roadies involuntarily flinched and crept behind the amps.

As the crowd began stamping for the obligatory encore, Swan Song pulled a surprise: Everyone but the group and the roadies (who traveled by land) had to leave immediately or miss the plane. Company policy. A roadie named Patty placed eight cans of Budweiser into one of the Cadillacs and glowered protectively. “This is the group’s limo,” he snapped, making very sure that everyone knew just who was an “insider” and who was an “outsider.”

Out of further perversity, this outsider appropriated a beer. Patty glared but said nothing. “Where’s the colored guy?” a go-fer shouted. He meant the Juice Man, who came ambling up, followed by the faint strains of “Can’t Get Enough” from the arena. “If we don’t get to the plane before the group does,” a flack said, “well be in big trouble.” The plane was reached 38 seconds before the band arrived. One by one, in white terrycloth dressing robes soaked through with sweat, they filed down the aisle and disappeared into the rear cabin. Rodgers, a makeshift splint on his hand, suddenly flung the door open, raced up the aisle, kicked a chair and screamed, “Yeah, I’m uptight!” before running back to his cabin. The Juice Man hid his face in his newspaper and an uneasy silence settled on the entourage. The stewardess put Abbey Road on the sound system and started passing out beer and sandwiches. The plane lifted off toward Chicago, a rest stop before Cleveland, and an air of camaraderie slowly returned. As the other three members of the band straggled out for drinks, Kirke mentioned he’d gotten a tape of the Beatles’ white album. “Oh wow everybody” said a flack, “Simon’s got the white album! Let’s put it on.”

At the other end of the cabin, Rodgers clutched a fifth of Jim Beam with his good hand.

The outsider mixed a drink and sat down beside Burrell on a couch opposite the bar. Burrell, who did not want to be interviewed but didn’t mind just talking, seemed to be in the same daze onstage that Rodgers exhibited offstage. Even though he has the air of a man who is permanently stoned (which he is not), he turned out to be, along with Kirke, the most lucid of the group. He dug his cowboy boots into the shag carpet and took a long pull from his drink. “It was tough tonight,” he said, his angular face beginning to relax. “The show was okay but you saw that movie Paul was putting on. I had to be ready to duck all the time. Plus, his hand was bothering him and his guitar playing was off. But I like this band and I’ll tell you why. Even tonight, with things messed up, if Paul would drop a beat we’d all catch up unconsciously, immediately. I like our sound. What I don’t like is that pseudointellectual, arty crap like when I was with King Crimson. I like it simple.”

Ralphs slouched down onto the couch and began a drunken double talk; it almost seemed to the outsider that he had been sent to do so. “Crates of cabbages!” he shouted. “Blightly across the brine! I’m bringin’ it in on one leg cap’n.” Burrell twirled an imaginary mustache. “‘Ave a cigar? Blawsted fool.” And so on.

The outsider got up and introduced himself to Rodgers and his Jim Beam. “Do you think this splint’s fucked up?” Rodgers asked. “Shouldn’t it be turned the other way?” Neither of them knew, so he forgot about it. “That show tonight,” Rodgers said, “it wasn’t good. The air was too hot. The air was so heavy the crowd was just down. Chicago was our best show. I measure the others against that.” “Well,” said the outsider, “it seems that you sing better in adverse conditions and . . . ” Before the sentence was completed, Rodgers had drifted back to his rear cabin and closed the door.

The outsider located another drink and sat down beside Simon Kirke, who talked about stage tension and how he sometimes throws up after a show. “But,” he said, “I could tell I was getting people off and that’s all I ever want.”

As the plane started its descent, the Juice Man emerged from his reading. “Simon,” he said earnestly, “what time do you want me for a massage? I’ve got to take care of Paul first. But I’ll get you some aloe vera for that foot and take care of it.” Kirke had a gaping open wound on his left foot, the result of a motorcycle wreck.

The Bad Ship taxied to a stop and the outsider deplaned to find himself standing beside Rodgers on the deserted tarmac of Chicago’s Midway Airport. Rodgers was gingerly holding his left hand away from his body and staring straight up at the stars. The outsider said hello. Rodgers stared at him. “Were you on the plane?” he asked.

The Juice Man got his comeuppance, almost, in Chicago. The entourage was checking out of the Ambassador Hotel; dissipated rock & rollers and one female fan in a transparent blouse were arranged on the couches under the chandelier. Road manager Clive Coulson, a husky six-footer in a black-and-red rug-by shirt, was hustling bags together. He formerly worked for Jeff Beck and Zeppelin and cheerfully boasts about the time he slugged an armed guard at the Essex House in New York when the guy hassled him. The Juice Man gathered his jugs of stuff together for Patty to take to the plane and then called Coulson over.

“Say, uh, Clive, here are some things for you to take care of.” Coulson stared, open mouthed, as he was handed carefully typed bills for hundreds of dollars in services. A flush crept up his face and his voice hardened. “You never said anything about this.”

“Yeah, well, Clive, this is for the stuff and the honey and so on.”

Coulson turned to the outsider. “I’ve seen it all now. Rip off.” His jaw set, he reached into a briefcase, peeled off several big bills and handed them over.

“Now, Clive, what are the dates for the Madison Square Garden and Forum engagements? I promised the group I’d be there. I have some ginseng for Simon and some special oil for healing scar tissue and ah, Clive, some stuff for Mick’s skin and some vegasol for Paul. Now, what is your phone number?”

Coulson made a conscious effort to restrain himself and left.

On to Cleveland. In the antiseptic dressing room of the Municipal Auditorium the roadies slumped on stools, sipped at their beer and avoided the presence of the outsider. Diane, the caterer, brought in great bowls of spaghetti and salads and tubs of beer and cold cuts. Maggie Bell’s voice wafted up the grimy stairwells: “I’m going down, down, down, down, down, down.” The group straggled in. Burrell got a glass of wine and sat down under the inscription on the wall: “The bitchin’ Beach Boys were here, December 7th, Pearl Harbor, Love from Fatass.” The one beside it read, “If you would like some great head call me. I’m Olivia, 24-hour answering service. Recommended by some of the top entertainers in the business.”

A hip young doctor – discreet and dressed in leather and sandals – came in to administer the night’s pain killer shot to Rodgers. “Hey, Paul,” giggled Burrell, “if you start to nod onstage, yell out so we can keep the tune going.” Rodgers grinned. Ten minutes later he would start the set by hurling his mike stand at a roadie.

Coulson ordered everyone out of the dressing room so the group could psyche themselves up for the show. Then an astonishing sound came through the doorway. Like some weird parody of choir-boy harmonies, Bad Company’s acapella harmonies floated into the hallway. “If you ever change your mind/About leaving me behind/Bring it to me/Bring your sweet lovin’/Bring it on home to me.” The outsider imagined Bad Company standing in there under the bare bulbs, arms around each other’s shoulders invoking the ghost of Sam Cooke and shook his head in wonderment. One of the Bad Company entourage standing nearby spoke up in a tiny voice: “Doesn’t that just give you . . . chills?”

“No,” replied the outsider, “it doesn’t. Let’s go down and see the show.”

In This Article: Bad Company, Coverwall, Paul Rodgers

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