Simon Kirke on Bad Company, Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs

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Simon Kirke and Paul Rodgers, 2019

Simon Kirke has offered his perspective on Bad Company’s legacy and about the “heartbreaking” condition of his longtime bandmate, Mick Ralphs, in a wide-ranging interview. He also talked about the serendipity of a flip of a coin that started his career and ultimately led to the formation of Free.

The drummer, singer and songwriter was speaking from his home in Montauk, all the way east on New York’s Long Island, during a live chat that took place May 21 on the Bad Company Facebook page.

Kirke spoke about being “absolutely entranced” by the music he was hearing on Radio Luxembourg as a 12-year-old living with his family in the British countryside and thought “this might be my ticket out of here.” At 17, he made a deal with his parents who gave him two years to go to London to find success as a musician.

“On the 23rd month, I got a break and it all came from tossing a coin,” he said. “I had heard about this band called Black Cat Bones. Someone told me you have to see this band. The only problem was, I was living in a suburb of London that was around a 45-minute ride from where the concert was in London. I’d been working all day and I was very tired. I tossed a coin and it came down heads, so I said, ‘All right, I’ll go’.

“The Black Cat Bones were pretty good but this little guitarist was stunning. I was completely hypnotized by how good he was. After the first [set], Paul Kossoff, the guitarist, came down to the bar—he was only 17—and I said, ‘Hey man, Whoa! Loved your playing’.

“I said, ‘Look, I really think you’re great but your drummer’s shit’.” Kossoff told Kirke that it was the drummer’s last night and that the band was holding auditions for a new one the next day.

Kirke won the job and marveled, “If that coin had come up tails… I would have stayed in my apartment [and] watched TV or something.” In one more month, he would have instead returned home and enrolled in a university.

Six months later, Kossoff told Kirke that he had met a singer in another band across town, called Brown Sugar. His name was Paul Rodgers and he wanted to do original material. The three ultimately formed Free in 1968, along with Andy Fraser. By 1970, the group had scored a worldwide hit with the song, “All Right Now,” from their third album, Fire and Water.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Fire and Water

The Facebook interview continued with the impact of Bad Company, formed by Kirke and Rodgers, King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell, and Mott the Hoople guitarist and songwriter Mick Ralphs.

Kirke was asked about their immediate success.

“It was a perfect storm,” he said. “We were all still pretty young, we were all in our 20s. We had come from three well known bands. We were aligned with Swan Song, Led Zeppelin’s label and a really good manager, Peter Grant. The best manager I ever had. The last couple of years for Free and Mott the Hoople were kind of tragic and we were kind of unleashed.”

He talked about the group’s most prominent personnel change, when after several years apart, he and Ralphs decided to re-team for a project in the mid-80s. With Rodgers already involved with The Firm, the band hired a new vocalist, Brian Howe.

“I do regret certain episodes within my career,” Kirke said. “Without casting aspirations on people, the period with Brian Howe was not a happy period for me. It was not a happy union. It was something that was a little calculated on the record company’s part. We sold a lot of albums but it damaged my relationship with Paul because he went his way and I went my way.”

Related: Howe died in 2020 at age 66

He was asked if he had a favorite memory and almost immediately identified one in particular, from Sept. 10, 1974. “Receiving our first Gold album, in Boston, at the end of our first American tour, when Peter Grant… we were just about to go on, and he said, ‘Wait wait wait, you’re not going anywhere.’ And there was a big sheet covering a table. And he said, ‘You’ve worked very hard and I appreciate all your efforts. And this is for you.’

“And he peeled back the sheet, and there were four Gold albums. We had no idea how well the album was selling. We were all in tears.

“We hit that stage flying. We were levitating with happiness.”

Related: Bad Company’s self-titled debut reached #1 in 1974

The subject turned to Ralphs, who suffered a stroke in 2016, just as Bad Company had finished a brief U.K. tour.

“I get very emotional talking about Mick,” he said. “He’s not in good shape and I did see him when I was in England about three years ago and it was heartbreaking because he’s not well. His left side is paralyzed and it has aged him very badly. I talk to him occasionally on the phone. It’s a sad situation and there’s really nothing much we can do about it except send him our prayers.”

Related: Rodgers talked about Ralphs in 2019

Of Bad Company’s legacy, Kirke said, “Our songs are very simple. They don’t aspire to deep, profound messages. We have a great singer. Paul has amassed an amazing following. There’s a lot of love for Paul out there.”

Kirke was asked about the brotherhood of the road, and which classic rock bands he’s enjoyed touring with.

“Journey were amazing,” he said immediately. “They were one of the bands that our band would stand on the side of the stage and watch. That’s how good they were. ZZ Top. Lynyrd Skynyrd. They’re [all] like our brothers.”

Does he consider himself lucky?

“It’s not a given that if you’re talented, you’ll be successful. There are so many people that are much better than me playing drums that never got the break. You make your own luck.”

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