Transcript: Transcript Simon Kirke – From Free to Bad Company and Beyond



Hi, thanks so much for joining me today, I think you’re gonna really enjoy hearing from our special guest, especially if you’re into the music of English bands three bad company


songwriter Simon Cook is best known as the co founder of that super group, Bad Company. And he’s been the only continuous member since its inception. Simon was also the drummer and co founder of the band free. He started with the incredibly talented late Paul kossoff. It’s a fascinating story. And I’ll let Simon tell you all about it. After I congratulate him for being able to figure out how to use Zoom

Simon, the wonders of the internet. And amazing


you’ve joined the 21st century. You’ve got an amazing story to tell Simon Kirke.


Quite a ride.


Can we talk about that journey that you’ve been on? Sure, going right back to the days when you grew up in England and you did a deal with your parents that if you didn’t find a job as a drummer, you’d have to go to college. It was by the skin of your neck that you actually found one wasn’t it?


Yeah, was a two year deal. And for 23 months, I did menial jobs, you know construction demolition, bottle washing, car washing and answering auditions during those two years with no luck. And then really, it was just by the toss of a coin that I got the break because in 1968 there was a big blues boom. In England, every other pub had a blues band. And I saw this great name blackcat bones, I thought what a great name. But I was way across the other side in London. And it was, you know, it was two subway rides. I’d have to get to subway trains the long way. So I tossed a coin. You know, heads I go and tails I stay in and write letters home. And it came down heads. So off, I went and saw the band The guitarist was fantastic. And they were all auditioning drummers, their drummer was leaving. And I spoke to Paul it was Paul Kossoff. He said well if you want to you know, try your luck come down tomorrow and audition and I did and I got the job. So really but for that toss of a coin I’m speaking to you now




So it was purely coincidence that they happened to be auditioning for drummers, anyway.


Yeah, I mean, only went because it was such a great name. And he said, featuring Paul kossoff, This diminutive guitar player who was absolutely wonderful. So anyway, that was on the 23rd month of the 24 that my parents had given me. And it was a professional band and, and suddenly, I was playing, you know, getting 20 quid a night, which was a fortune that was it was a weekly wage, when I got demolition. And then after about six months, we kind of bonded me and costs. We became very good friends. And he said, Listen, I’ve just met this great singer. He’s in another band across town, and he wants to form a band. You know, Would you be up for it, I said, yeah, yeah. And that was Paul Rogers. And we formed Free



I want to get to free in just a minute, but were your parents really disappointed that they’d missed out on a five month?


Well, there were two camps. There was my dad, who was typically English, held no truck would rock and roll and all that loud music. And my mom, who was very artistic and very musical. And I think she was happy that I’ve gone to the next level, and you know, given it shot, and I’ve gone to the next level. So that deal was off University was off. Because this was still only a semi-professional band. It was, I mean, it was a professional band, but it wasn’t, you know, the big time. So I but I think on the whole, they were glad that that my investment started to bail here. Right.


And in terms of Paul Kossoff, had you heard of him already as a guitarist, did you know about what he was like?


No, no, he was unknown to me. But you know, I’d only been in London a few months. But he was making a name for himself. Number one, because he was incredibly good. Number two, because he was very young. And number three, because he was the son of a famous English actor, David casal. So we had quite a bit going for him. But when all that was tossed aside, he was the most incredible guitar at the age of 17. And amazing,


just God given talent. Yeah.


Well, he, you know, he studied Spanish, classical guitar as a teenager as a younger teenager, and really took to it and playing classical guitar is very hard. But then he discovered Eric Clapton and the blues, back in the mid 60s when he was only about 15. And he took up blues guitar, and he just became this astonishingly good and very unclear.


So he’d met Paul Rogers, and says to you come and join another band, what was the attraction of leaving where you were at?


While I was at it a little bit on the fence, because I just, you know, I just joined this band. They were pretty good there. You know, we played standards, there wasn’t anything special but cos was so enamoured of Paul Paul Rogers he said this guy’s singing is so good. And you know, let’s at least let’s have a little jam together the three of us and I was really taken in with courses and I say cost because they both call Paul. So costs and Paul Rogers so just clear that up. So I was taken with courses enthusiasm. And we met Paul up in north London and he was in a house and he had a little while he was a large sitting room and there was a little stage and a drum kit and we had a little jam and as soon as I heard him say whoa wow I gotta say goodbye


That was three quarters of Free. And then we got Andy Fraser on bass a couple of weeks later. And off we went.


And you certainly went off with a bang didn’t you?


Well, people say we were an overnight success, but we weren’t. We actually stopped around England for about two years, which is a long time when you’re playing at least 300 shows a year. So we did the, what we call the transit circuit, you know, that little Bedford van transit circuit, we went all over England, all over Europe, building up a fan base. And then we got a record deal with Island Records. That was that was huge. That was a big step, because they wanted to change their name. They didn’t like free. They said it was too nebulous, you know, promoters. were under the impression that, you know, you could get in for nothing. They didn’t think it was a strong name. And they wanted to call us the heavy metal kids. And we said in so many words, go away. And they said, well, then we don’t have a deal. Jesus, but we stuck to our guns. We left the office because he said, Well, you’re not going to change the name. There’s no deal. Shit, okay. And this was on a record. This was this that Joe Cocker traffic was a lovely label and, and you know, to be turned down by them. Anyway, that evening, Chris Blackwell, who’s the head of Ireland called Andy, who was the only guy to phone and said, You know what, we’ll give you six months trial as free. And, you know, come and sign the papers tomorrow.


Yeah, Andy Fraser had come off John mails band, hadn’t he? He’d been the bass player for them wouldn’t amazing lineup. You were settled on the name free. Where’d that come from?


That’s a good question. And not many people ask that. So five stars for you there. While we were rehearsing in this pub called the Nags Head, and the very first rehearsal, we just clicked. I mean, the four of us just clicked amazingly. And after a couple of hours, you know, we got like five original songs. And during that little break, this guy, Alexis Korner, who was the godfather of the blues scene. And who costs you, Andy Fraser knew he taught. He turned us on to Andy Fraser. He said, You got to get this kid because he is unbelievable. But baseball. So he popped in to the pub, where we were upstairs in a big room. And he was knocked out. And he said, we had a little break little Ziggy and a beer. He said, Well, what are you going to call yourself? So we had no idea? And he said, Well, look, I was in a band called Free at last with Graham Bond was an organ plan Ginger Baker, who went on to cream, but you can’t use that. Obviously. I bet you just call yourselves free. And we were in the 60s. Remember when you had bands like Yes. And clouds and art? Spooky, too. You know, they were kind of nebulous names and free just wow. Yeah. That’s, that’s wonderful. So yeah, we became Free.


You said you played around before you became really popular. But it didn’t take that long did it?


But it took two years. We were formed in May of 1968. And we had the big hit all right now in the late spring of 1970, during which we played everywhere we played incessantly. But it was all right now that really broke us in more ways than one, but we’ll come to that later.


We certainly will. I mean, that was that became number one. And I think 23 Amazing. Tell me a little bit about the backstory to that song.


Well, you know, we had this sort of style. It’s sort of grungy blues style a little heavy footed a little. It was more to listen to than to actually dance to and it was after one particularly slow gig in North and we came off By the time we left the stage, the applause had died. And we had to walk from the stage there were no dressing rooms in this hall, it was the students or we had to walk through the crowd, to the dressing rooms at the back of the hall. And it was one of the longest walks we ever did, because everyone was silent. And we never had this before. You know, students are a different breed, to the you know, the regular clientele that we were used to playing to. So we got into the dressing room and we were kind of down. And I remember only saying, you know, we need a song that people can dance to the cause of all this. Doo doo, doo doo currently dance to it. You can listen to it. Anyway, we need a song everyone can dance to and he had this sort of brainwave where he started bopping around the dressing room sort of body drumming on his body oh right now the is and we thought wow, that’s that’s nifty. And then him and Paul Rogers that evening went back and to the hotel Ron did the bare bones


all right now was Free’s first big hit. It was a huge number one. But it became a bit of an albatross around the guys next, both because they were too young to handle success, and they weren’t able to follow it up. Stay tuned to hear what happens next


is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye. It’s a beautiful day.


Glad you’re still here. I’m chatting with Free and Bad company drummer Simon Kirke, who’s just been telling us about the amazing chemistry that he and Paul Kossoff Paul Rogers and Andy Fraser shared as members of the group Free, quite ironically, having a number one hit also caused their downfall. But of course, at the time, they didn’t know what lay ahead.


Certainly was born from a bad gate, basically.


That’s great. That’s testimony to the fact that out of adversity comes good thing sometimes.


Necessity is the mother of invention. That’s right. Yeah,


I love that story. That’s awesome. So that’s put you on the on radio, everywhere around the world. Everyone is now dancing to free. What sort of band did you set out to be? It wasn’t sort of a dance band in the beginning, was it?


No, no, absolutely not. I mean, look, we just wanted to, we were very much steeped in the blues. And I think, you know, that’s, that’s really what we wanted to be was a kind of alternative blues band, not 12 bar blues, every song. But you know, but blues, bass. And of course, we were young, we wanted to appeal to girls. I mean, that’s one of the reasons blokes getting the band, you know, to to appeal not only to guys, but obviously to girls. We want it to be popular. But we didn’t want to sell out. We weren’t going to become a pop group. But we just needed that song. And I think what saved that song from becoming a sort of cliche pop thing was the guitar. A guitar solo was just phenomenal. It was, I think the best guitar solo the pool cuts off ever played. And it’s sort of elevated above because we’re on Top of the Pops with all these you know, glitter bands and whatever. And then suddenly Got this incredibly bluesy guitar solo?


it had a little bit of everything but quite honestly, Sandy that’s what we want it to be a blues band but with popular opinion rapping.


You wanted it all. And you got it for a short time anyway with that band, what went wrong?


Well, I think we were too young. Honestly, we were too young to handle the success. Because instead of playing a town every other night or every night, we were now playing a different country, a different country every night. And you know, we’re in Holland, you know, Amsterdam, one night, Brussels and next, Hamburg, back to England. And then America looms you know where to go and do America. And we were really we weren’t ready, quite honestly, we’re not ready for that level of success. And of course, the big thing, one of the biggest reasons was the follow up. What are you going to follow up on right now? Because anything, unless it’s five stars is not going to happen. And we were under that pressure from the record company. And it didn’t happen, you know, we the subsequent album is single after fire and water, which was the album All right now is a single taken from the album. This the follow up album was called highway and there’s singles called steal it, and they died a death. And it was like, Whoa, you know, no one likes us anymore. Deer. And we broke up basically, we broke up because we couldn’t handle the workload. We were only I was only 19 Andy was 17 kossoff was 18 and Paul Rogers six months younger than me so 19 We were still really kids and we and the Fraser and Paul Rogers were the ones who said Look, we’re not going to have a break we’re going to we’re going to pack it in and we’re going to do solo stuff and it kind of really threw us for a loop


a lot of friction starts with the writing became more and more diverse, even though it said, you know, it’s like Lennon and McCartney. Half of this stuff that was credited to Lennon McCartney was was not written by the two of them. They were in disparate groups. to give, and that’s what happened with Andy and Paul, that they started writing their own songs. And they grew further and further apart. And I think we jumped the gun by splitting up, we should have just taken six months have done what we wanted to do, etc. I’ll see you in December, because we broke up, I believe it was in May, and then cost about the drug habits. Because he was so bereft, you know, he was so shaken by it by the ban, but all of a sudden, had reached this pinnacle, and then just collapse imploded. And he got strung out on various substances, and he never really recovered.


Oh, Simon, what would it have looked like you said you weren’t ready to have that sort of success? Apart from your age? What would have it looked like if you were ready?


Well, I think management would have helped a lot. They were more alcohol gonna put it, they were more like an esoterical management. They weren’t like the Peter Grant had Led Zeppelin or Mickey Mouse, the old school managers. These were like, almost kind of airy fairy, you know, let them do what they want. You know, no one stepped in to this bunch of teenagers and said, Look, you’ve had a great run of a break. You know, do you want to you want to go and do a solo, I’m fine. We’ll do it, do whatever you want. But Paul Rodgers was the first one to say I don’t want to work anymore. And they they booked in another Japanese tour. After he specifically said I don’t want I need a break. And within a week, they said oh, by the way, you know, April to May, you’re going to be in Japan. And he hit the roof. I mean, he went crazy. And justifiably so. So it was a little, you know, Ireland were a great management on paper. But when it came to handling us, they dropped the ball, quite honestly. And it was never the same.


I’ve heard that so many times about the record labels that they were much more interested in the profits than they were in the people. Yeah, I guess understandably so.


Yeah. You know, they’re, they’re a business, and they’re there to make money. But when you when you sort of rub up against, you know, kids who are very hadn’t fully formed yet, you know, they’re not grown up. And they tend to be, you know, like, all teenagers were rebellious. And we think, um, you know, they want to do that to us. And then, you know, while very, very knee jerk reaction, unfortunately, it really free was never the same, even though we reunited about a year later. Because costs were so bad. And our solar projects hadn’t done anything. So we, we got back really to, to get costs back together again, and but he was so strung out, and he never, he never really recovered. What was it like coming back with him?


Horrible. He was so he was so screwed up. And nowadays, you know, most people know someone who’s been in rehab, it’s not a big deal. I say the drug problem is so you take care of it, and, and it’s, you know, so white, but back in those days, 50 years ago, Sandy, if you were drug addicts, you were a pariah, you know. No one wanted to know you. And, and it was all kept hush hush and swept under the carpet. Because it was a stigma. There was so much stigma attached to being an alcoholic or drug.


Didn’t his parents try and reclaim it?


Well, he’d had trouble with drugs before cos as a 15 year old, he got into speed. You know, they’re all doing these things called blues, Drinan mill, and everyone was taking up ers and whatever. And he got pretty strung out. So knowing what I do know about addiction, because I’m one myself. I mean, I’ve been, I don’t mind telling people I’ve been in and out several rehabs knowing what I know about addiction now, cos was an addict from day one. But he never received the proper treatment. And you know, he had this epileptic seizure on stage, and we just canceled the term put him in his little apartment for three weeks to dry out. No supervision, no medical care. No Africa is crazy. Knowing what I know now it’s just got your head.


By 1973, we had two years of slogging dragging this, what became the carcass of free around and by 73 We say that we’re done. And we all exploded into various parts of the world and came back, nimble, came back with Morales and took off with Bad Company, which again was a whole huge story, wasn’t it? So you couldn’t keep good guys down that’s for sure. So that was 1973. And as you said, you meet up with me grafts who’d been playing with Mott the Hoople, as well as bows barrel who’d come out of King Crimson.


Yeah, once we met them with Mark and Mark had been on Island Records so we kind of free and kept sort of crossing paths in you know, in the offices a man a, you’re doing a lot of love that album and so on. So we kind of knew him, and he was such a lovely guy. I love me. He was genius. He was funny. He wasn’t a genius guitar player, but we were fed up with blame of geniuses. Geniuses a hard work, Sandy. I know. There are bloody works. So along comes MC. And what happened was he he was leaving Mott the Hoople, and they did a tour and Paul Paul Rogers had a little solo band called Peace. And he he opened up from what the people on this English tour and every you know him and Mick formed this relationship, this this friendship, and they would play a little baby jam together after the show and MCs says you know, I’m fed up with more I want to form a band. I’ve got this song that Ian Hunter won’t sing. And it was cool can’t get enough he had this little reel to reel tape and he had a little recorder and he put it on in some dressing room. And Paul went, This is it. This is amazing. And he started singing along with it and Mick told me years later when he started singing along to the tape is the hairs to stood on him because he just you know, anything that Paul sings becomes majestic and that was Can’t Get Enough which turned into a huge hit!


1974 That was that came off the debut album, Bad Company. And again, you were several years older. Not that many years, although you were now watching early 20 You’re 25


Yeah, man Paul was 25 Make was a few years old and it was born 44. So he would have been 30. So he was kind of the elder statesman bars. We never really found out all buzzwords, but I think he was. He was 46 he was born. So he would have been 30 as well. So you had we No, we have Leanna an amazing band, coupled with the fact that we were managed by Peter grant and Led Zeppelin at the debut, the swan song album, label, their label, and it was just a perfect storm when it all came together.


The end you were the first group to be signed to that record label. Yeah, Bad Company was often running and the best was yet to come. Hang in there as Simon continues his story.


This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye, it’s a beautiful day.


Welcome back. By the time the ex-members of free Mott the Hoople, and King Crimson came together as bad company. They were older, more experienced, and a whole lot wiser.


It was great. We had an amazing management, we were seasoned veterans, even though we were relatively young, you know, we’d had five years in the business are the peaks and valleys you know, and we were actually in a band that ironically was had a lot more freedom than free ever had. And I maintained to this day that from 74 to 80 are the best years Bad Company for the first six seven years was just phenomenal. We could do no wrong.


We felt very supported. Zeppelin were like big brothers to us. You know, they came to shows they had a vested interest in us because they were all investors in swan song. You know, it was their label. But they became mate.


I have to ask you though, to the origins of the name, Bad Company. It’s such a flip from the name Free.


It is. Well, there are two schools of thought. And I remember being in Paul Rogers’ cottage down in a country. And I’d stayed behind. They’d gone into town. And Paul came back. And he said, I’ve just seen this billboard advertising this movie, Jeff Bridges movie called back company. He sent me a great name for the band. I said, yeah, yeah. Wonderful name. So we wrote to Warner Brothers, because Peter Grant said, if it’s copywritten, you might have a problem. So we call them up in LA. And Peter Grimes said, well, we want to use it for our band. And some snide guys said, Yeah, well, they probably won’t be around is six months. And Peter Grant said in his own inimitable way, well, we’ll soon effing see about that. And here we are. 50 years later.


The other school I have to say that Paul Rogers was looking through an old Victorian book. And apparently there were a bunch of guys hanging around a smoky lamppost on in London street at night. And he said something like, this is what you should be scared of this is bad company. So that’s where he says he got it from. So if you have both,

wherever it came from, it certainly worked. And Simon, you started writing yourself at that time, too?


Yeah, I’ve been playing guitar as long as I’ve been playing drums. And I’ve been playing drums since I was 13. So six years, because the neighbours were complaining about me drumming, we had a little terrace house, and they complain, and we went to family court because of the noise. And the judge was one of these old fashioned blokes and little clouds. And I didn’t go my father went. And he said, well tell your son that he can practice for half an hour at night, only half an hour. And only when he’s finished his homework. He’d bang, the gavel. And next next case, so that was it after half an hour, and I was just getting warmed up, and then dab would come up safe. Sorry, Simon. No more. And I was like, so my brother who had been in the army in Germany, brought back a guitar that he left in the room when he was in home on leave. And it was in London electric guitar, no amp. And I just started picking it up and playing along to records just to satisfy my musical urges. urges. Yeah. So I learned guitar. And that’s when I started writing songs.


But she’d been part of Free and then in the initial parts of Bad Company solely providing drums, was there a certain time when you took Okay, now I’m going to start writing with you too. Or was it a gradual process?


I’ve always written for myself, certainly, quite honestly. Whatever. I like, you know, and hopefully the other guys like it. That’s been the cross. And I bet it’s just, I like writing but I don’t, I can’t write to tailor made songs. There was one song. Love you. So there’s about the second or third time I ever wrote. And I was playing it in the band. And Paul actually said, Wow, that’s nice. And I’m going Oh, wow. Okay, thanks. He said, you want them to sing it. This is the first song I ever wrote that he sang and it was just wonderful. He did such a lovely job


Unlike the George Harrison and I write a song a year, but it’s pretty good. And that really gave me a lot of confidence to write other songs and and now I’ve written you know about 300 songs.


You did write the title chapter, Bad Company. The debut album didn’t you?


Well, me and Paul did that. It’s a funny story, because he just taken delivery of this huge grand piano. He’d had it installed in his little cottage, and it took up two rooms. It was enormous. And I came down for a rehearsal. And I heard this thing being played. And I walked in and there he is this sort of Mad Professor playing this little down, down. And I said why is nice? And they say, Yeah, I’ve got this image. Well, back in those days, it was Clint Eastwood Fistful of Dollars. Tumbleweed. Riders crossing the plane, you know, looking for bail bondsman. Oh, yeah. It was that sort of Western image. Yeah. All had this idea of Bad Company, a bunch of outlaws being chased across the plains. You know, we just sort of sat around and had a little joint and I think we wrote it in 20 minutes yes great


do something new the only member of bad company who’s been in every single lineup of the band, and you’ve worked with some amazing people over the years. You’ve guessed it on recordings for Wilson Pickett, Jim Capaldi, Ron wood. Ray Charles Bo Diddley, you’ve toured with Ringo Starr and with Joe Walsh, you’ve also been doing your own solo records. Can you tell us about those?


Well, I had all these songs just sitting around really gathering dust. And I had this theory that unless I got them out, then that would leave more room for other songs to come in. And that actually worked. My first album was called seven rays of hope, and that there were several songs that dealt with addiction and recovery. And I’m still very much involved with a couple of organizations that help kids and artists and musicians recover from addiction. When I see kids getting sober, and they’re only 17 or 18. I go, wow, I just found it very cathartic to put all these songs out. I’ve done three solo albums, I plan on doing another, I can really do what I want. I can have the musicians on one gives me freedom to renew to one on one. And if they sell they sell, and if they don’t, it’s not really a big deal for me. Do you have a favourite track that we could listen to?


I’d be in big trouble if I didn’t mention my wife, Maria and I have a lovely song. I had that done with the string quartet. Ever since I heard yesterday, Paul McCartney. I’ve always wanted to do the song for the string quartet. And it’s about as far removed from Bandcamp as you can get. It’s written for the woman I love my wife Maria.


Isn’t she a lucky lady? What happened to Bad Company?


We’re still in existence. I mean, we’re not we’re not hanging out. Yeah, we played our last show. In Vegas. October of 2019.


is a bit like that, isn’t it?


Yeah. And thank God, it was one of the best gigs we ever played. Because we’ve had to live with that memory.


I’d imagine you’ve been writing some material in the interim. Yeah,

I’ve scored a couple of little movies. I really want to get into Movie scoring.


Simon Kirkeyou’re also on the board of the Grammy Awards. Yeah, that’s an amazing position.


Yeah. Of the four shows and oh, the Oscars The Grammys is the sort of bastard child. I don’t know. I don’t want to get into it now. But yeah, I am on the board. And I’m a proud card carrying member and we just do what we can you know,


Again, it’s probably too big a question now for me to say what do you think of music today?


As long as they’re teenagers, they’ll be rebellious music. And I think the state of music is pretty good right now. It’s just I think computers have taken over a little bit too much. It’s all loops now and beats and it’s pretty Be healthy.


Which bands do you think there’ll be talking about in 50 years time?


I can’t think of any- 15 years time. Maybe, maybe, you know, the Foo Fighters have been together now. nearly 25 years, so I used to think of them as new disclaimer, the chili peppers. There’s nothing really that stands out to me right now. I’m sure they’re out there.


We just don’t know about. We don’t. We’re here to find out. Simon. Are you still in touch with all Rogers? Yeah,


I actually just I got an email only a couple of days ago. He lives up in Canada. We do keep in touch. We’re good mates. Yeah, no one else can be in demand. If I’m not in it, or Bullseye in it, then by contract, and by mutual desire, it won’t be Bad Company. Bad Company

is closed shop. Simon Kirke great to chat with you. I really appreciate your time and your stories. Thank you so much. And send my best to your wife Maria. She’s a lucky lady.


Thank you, Sandy. Bye now,


what a lovely man Free and Bad company drummer and co-founder Simon Kirke is – gosh, those bands made some fabulous music, didn’t they? As Simon mentioned, he’s still putting out solo albums. So do check them out. You’ll find all the details on his website, which is official Simon Thanks again for joining me today. I really appreciate your company. And I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing the story of free and Bad Company. Can I count on you joining me again same time next week. I hope so. I’ll see you then. Bye now.