Led by singer Paul Rodgers' expressive and full-toned voice and guitarist Mick Ralph's bracing power chords, Bad Company has been rocking the now disco-laden charts with its new LP, Desolation Angels. Hyped by Rodgers' single Rock'n'Roll Fantasy, it is on its way to becoming the group's fifth straight million seller.
As for the band's name, Paul explains: "It's meant to be nasty and funky. It's meant to sum us up." By any name, some of Rodgers' past expressions of road fever were eloquent enough. Often sullen and withdrawn on tour, he has bullied roadies, fractured his hand punching a door, played beat the press (at one point dumping food on a reporter) and flooded two floors of a hotel by setting off the extinguishers. The band even toured with two security men on the payroll to cool things after any of their rampages through U.S. hotels.
As the band's personal manager, Clive Coulson, explains: "Paul is intelligent, moody, a bit of an eccentric. Not someone you could get close to—or would want to. He can't stand weak people and likes to give a bit of verbal." Rodgers, at 29, admits, "I get a bit quick-tempered sometimes," but, as for his brawling reputation, stonewalls: "I can't remember. I was too drunk at the time."
Later this month, the band kicks off its first U.S. tour in two years, and for Rodgers it will test his new image—as a quiet, psychologically rejuvenated, peace-loving family man. Rodgers and Machi-Ko, his Japanese wife of eight years, and their two children live in an unassuming three-bedroom home in southwest London. (They have a country cottage in Surrey.) "When I look around," says the new Paul, "they are the one thing above all else I want to keep together." That wasn't always easy. Touring was so disruptive, he found, that "it took months before I could stop shaking and come down, just to get some sleep. Success went to our heads. It was becoming too intense."
He has used his sabbatical wisely, working around the house and learning karate, both of which helped him kick drug use and cut his renowned boozing down to "the quiet beer or whiskey now and again."
Their "Euro-Oriental" style home, as he puts it, is a refuge from "music industry types," and the Rodgerses prefer quiet dinners of Indian food and wine with non-celeb friends. Rodgers met Machi-Ko, a former TV interviewer, when he was touring Japan with the group Free. "She understands the nature of my work," he says, "and doesn't involve herself." When he is on the road, Paul says, he and she have an understanding—"no questions answered."
Except that he didn't attend art school, Rodgers' youth was an English rocker classic. The fourth of seven children of a steel and dock worker from Middlesbrough, Paul was a soccer-playing, uniform-hating rebel who gave up school at 16 and a year later moved in on London's thriving '60s rock scene.
He gigged with groups like Wild-flower, Brown Sugar and Peace ("very sad songs") before All Right Now made him a rock star with Free in 1970. When the band split up in 1973, Rodgers teamed with Mott the Hoople's Mick Ralphs on guitar and added bassist Boz Burrell and drummer Simon Kirke to form Bad Company, the first act signed to Zeppelin's label, Swan Song. Since then, they have sold more than 12 million LPs worldwide, with hard-rocking hits like Feel like Makin' Love, Bad Company and Can't Get Enough.
Despite his new domestic tranquillity (and more ominous, the group's first-ever use of strings and synthesizers on Angels), Rodgers stresses that Bad Company's music will still bear the "animal, tribal beat" of raw rock'n'roll. Rodgers' big high, he says, tamely enough, is "my music. I'm going to try to look after myself on this tour and not go completely berserk."
Skeptical manager Coulson, for one, is taking nothing for granted. "It's been too easy," he observes unnervingly. "I don't expect this calmness to last forever."
The past decade has been tough on England's once-mighty metal bands: they've been dropping like Led Zeppelins. Cream went sour before the '70s; Zeppelin itself has been grounded for two years, and The Who, without Keith Moon, risks becoming The Why. But though the sun may be setting on the British hard rock empire, Bad Company is one band in no fear of eclipse.