By Ritchie Yorke.
Paul Rodgers’ new album was recorded in Willie Mitchell’s famous Royal Studios in Memphis.
In the early part of his distinguished career Otis Redding gifted the world with his fiery interpretations of a clutch of classic soul songs. Such icons as ‘Thank You,’ ‘A Change is Gonna Come,’ ‘My Girl,’ ‘Wonderful World,’ ‘For Your Precious Love’ and ‘It’s Growing.’
Now a handful have been dusted off and provided with new life by one of the U.K.’s finest blues singers Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company et al)
Otis Redding changed Paul’s life. He changed quite a few other lives too, your reporter among them, but Paul flung off the baggage of his parents’ employment restrictions to forego the steel mills, docks and rail yards to become a singer.
Although he’s a long term admirer of the music which emanated from Memphis through the ’60s and ’70s, it was a tour of the Stax Records Museum by Paul’s old friend, Perry Margouleff which prompted the birth of the Royal Sessions project.
Perry was lamenting that Stax was no longer available as a studio facility but he was reminded that the nearby Royal Studios – home of celebrated producer Willie Mitchell, the legendary Hi Records label and stellar artists such as Al Green, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles et al – was still in operation.
So they booked it.
“We started out in the Royal studios with the track ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ (originally recorded by O.V. Wright in 1964 and covered by Otis Redding on his Soul Ballads album).
“The backing musicians didn’t know me and I really didn’t know them. But after the first few bars, it felt like we’ve known each other forever,”Rodgers recalls.
“They’d just heard that I was a singer/songwriter. But they were really great – they were very open to what was going to happen, whatever it was going to be. There was magic in the air and you can catch it in the grooves of The Royal Sessions album.”
It was old school all the way. “As wonderful and as convenient as digital is, there’s something to be said about analogue sound.
“They say that under analysis, when you look at vinyl sound through analogue, it goes in waves. Like beautiful smooth waves.
“Whereas digital goes up and down in steps. Very sharp. And the ear does detect that on some level. I think analogue is a much more powerful signal. I love what it sounds like.
“I’ve recently re-discovered it myself. I’ve re-purchased on the internet a copy of the first record I’d ever bought – ‘Red Beans and Rice’ by Booker T & the M Gs. It sounds just the same as it did in the old days. There’s something warm about it and I really love it.”
Among the repertoire selected were such soul gems as Ann Peebles’ ‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’, Albert King’s ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, Otis Redding’s ‘Dreams to Remember’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)’, the Temptations’ ‘It’s Growing’ and ‘Walk On By’ (originally by Dionne Warwick and re-imagined by Black Moses, Isaac Hayes).
“I love the original version of ‘Walk On By,’ but I also love how Isaac Hayes took it down a notch. It’s the only tune that I didn’t record the vocals live with the band in the studio. I wanted to think it through a little. So I just added some very easy lyrics that weren’t jarring and weren’t bolted on but were really part of the conversation of the song and of the music.”
As an old school soulster, Paul struggles to find much appeal in the musically-muzzled formats of rap and hip hop. When I tell him that my friend Jerry Wexler, the Atlantic Records’ maestro who dreamed up the term ‘rhythm and blues’ to usurp the implications of ‘race music’, had always felt that R & B had virtually nothing in common or harmony with rap and hip hop, Paul smiles broadly. “It’s hard to disagree,” he shrugs.
Asked to identify recent new albums which have impressed him, there’s a bit of an awkward silence. “Adele,” he continues, “is someone else that I really admire. With Rolling in the Deep, she really captured something. And Amy Winehouse’s album was a fantastic record. It’s a shame we lost her. Basically I’m re-listening back to older stuff – rediscovering the bible so to speak.”
64-year old Rodgers divides his home between Surrey, B.C. Canada and Palm Springs. He’ll be featuring some of these tracks on tour this year with his band, and awaits an Aussie invitation to perform Down Under.
Are you listening, festival directors around Australia?
THE ROYAL SESSIONS by Paul Rodgers is available now through 429 Records.