An interview with Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke

by Jon Epstein

I recently read that drummer Simon Kirke was the only member of the legendary band Bad Company, who will be bringing the “One Hell Of A Night” tour to PNC Amphitheater on June 30 with co-headliner Joe Walsh, was the only original member of the band who has played every single show that Bad Company has performed. Curiosity got the better of me, and I dug and Googled and dug some more looking for, and verifying, all the Bad Company concerts I could find officially listed and finally came to the figure 619. I dropped Simon an email to verify that the information about his “attendance” record was correct, and told him that he had passed the 600 gigs mark earlier this summer. His reply was what I have come to find is typical of him. Yes, he told me, he had played them all, and “that’s quite a few. Wow.” As it turns out this isn’t quite as straight forward as it would appear. Bad Company has been at least three bands, two of which were top of the charts/Platinum record level successful, with a revolving cast of musicians and vocalists, and individual discographies. The 1989 album Holy Water, with a band fronted by vocalist Brian Howe, achieved considerable commercial success. There is nothing at all wrong with that. Holy Water is an outstanding album that contains some of Mick Ralphs best playing. The “circus” for lack of a better term, and in no way meant as disrespectful, that revolved around Bad Company as a band, as a commercial and legal entity, and as a record company “brand” for the better part of the 80s and 90s was an extraordinary lesson in just how far things can spiral out of hand, regardless of any individual intention. Bad Company were the victims of circumstances that no one could have foreseen, products of a “record business” that created Rock Stars, dripping in all the excesses of the time, both good and bad, producing some of the most enduring music in rock and roll history, and too many senseless tragedies brought on by a profoundly naïve, but never the less very real, notion that from excess springs greatness. Perhaps it does, but it also costs quite a bit as well, financially and psychically. For Bad Company, things got complicated when Paul Rodgers left the band shortly after the release of the original band’s last studio album, the lackluster “Rough Diamonds”, to pursue a solo career which would ultimately cement his status as one of the greatest vocalists in rock history. Meanwhile, eager to capitalize on the Bad Company “brand” the executives at the bands record label at the time urged them to continue recording as “Bad Company” to which they initially agreed. By doing so, the band inadvertently branded itself as a record company product, never even considering the possibility that by doing so they could damage their legacy, and went on to sell millions of albums under the Bad Company banner. The label was happy, while the individual members of the original band, increasingly, were not. In 2008 all of the issues had finally been settled, conversations had been held, and the three surviving members of Bad Company, Simon Kirke, Mick Ralphs, and Paul Rodgers (having lost the bassist to a heart attack in 2006) announced that they had agreed that in order to preserve the Bad Company legacy that the original band would come back together as a touring band, with the possibility of recording always out there.

It is unlikely that you will be able to find a single hard rock band that does not owe Bad Company, and its predecessor Free, best known for the Classic Rock staple All Right Now, in which both Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke occupied the same roles they currently hold, a huge debt for their influence. That alone should bring their exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame into question. It comes as a surprise to many rock fans to find out that they have not yet been inducted, although their long time touring guitarist Howard Leese has been for his work with his previous band, Heart. Because he was the only original Bad Company member to be a part of all the iterations of the band at the end of the last century, Simon harbors no small amount of regret for what that might have contributed to the issues the band faced in the early part of this century. His point is a good one. While some of the music recorded without Paul Rodgers was quite good, allowing it to be called “Bad Company” was not a good decision. Perhaps it is the confusion created by that decision, he told me, that has contributed to their not getting the Hall of Fame nod. I had to agree that it probably didn’t help, but wouldn’t the very fact that Bad Company has been active for 43 years straight, in no small part due to his refusal let the ship go down, and to be the last man standing if necessary, count for something at the end of the day, I asked? “Apparently not”, he responded wryly, “although the band has been down such a long road over 43 years that I think ultimately they will bring us in. We have influenced a great many bands over the years and of course Paul Rodgers should be inducted in his own right, at least that’s my feeling.He just gets better and better…” As the man who has provided the musical heartbeat, the muscle, behind Paul Rodgers for 48 years, he would know.