Simon Kirke Interview: Legendary Drummer Talks New Solo Release and Possible Bad Company Studio Album
Image attributed to Simon Kirke
The End Records and BMG have teamed up to release Simon Kirke’s upcoming studio album, All Because of You, out February 10, 2017, in North America. Kirke was the drummer of the English rock band Free, founded in 1968, with original members Andy Fraser, Paul Kossoff and Paul Rodgers. Their biggest hit, “All Right Now,” reached number one in more than 20 territories.
Kirke and Rodgers formed the hard rock supergroup Bad Company in 1973 alongside Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. The band enjoyed great success throughout the 1970s, and their first three albums reached the top five on both the UK and US album charts. They are known for the singles, “Bad Company,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”
“I was never really a singer. When you’re in a band with Paul Rodgers, you don’t really need to sing because he’s so good. I did the occasional backing vocal, and I was never really a good singer. But, on this album, I really wanted to sing well. I took vocal exercises. Josh Solomon, the leader of the band, and his wife Erika, are both amazing singers. They taught me some exercises, and we did vocal warmups before each vocal take. It really helped my singing immensely. But, then again, I love playing drums.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Simon, I enjoyed your new album!
Simon Kirke: Oh, thank you very much. It’s a labor of love for me. Yeah. Thank you. That’s great!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was the inspiration for the record?
Simon Kirke: I have a new love in my life, Maria. We met three years ago. I was going through a marriage that was splattering to a halt, and she resurrected my love. Love being the most effective of muses, I wrote several songs about her. Most of them ended up on the album. Hence, the title Because of You. So, yeah, it’s really all because of her that I wrote it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That also explains why the music is not hard rock and more on the mellow side?
Simon Kirke: I do have a soft side even though I play ferocious drums. I’m quite loud. But, I’ve been writing songs for many years now. I’ve been playing guitar for as long as I’ve been playing drums, which is about 53 years now. I started writing songs back in the early 70s.
I actually released my very first solo album, Seven Rays of Hope, in 2005, so that’s 12 years ago, and I’d never done it before. There’s another one called Filling the Void, and they were kind of homespun albums. I recorded them in my apartment or in my little house out on Long Island, and I played all the instruments myself. I had some help from a couple of people on the second album, Filling the Void, but I’d never really done a professional album as such.
Then, at the beginning of last year, I got a manager named David Spero. I played him some songs that I’d been writing. He loved them and said, “Boy, do I have a band for you!” It’s kind of hard, Melissa, when you live in New York, to try and get studio musicians, not the ones that are really expensive, and it’s very hard to get them all in the same room at the same time because they’re all so busy. So, when David said, “This band that I manage could play these songs really well,” I sort of leapt at that opportunity and sent them some Mp3s of the songs. They sent back a treatment of three of them, and they were just so good. So, off I went to Chicago, which is where they live.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The Empty Pockets?
Simon Kirke: The Empty Pockets, God bless them. They live in Chicago. I went there in the early part of last year, and we did it in four sessions. We recorded 12 songs and kept 11.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your rendition of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” is more laid back, and you play the ukulele!
Simon Kirke: Well, it was heresy, I have to say, total heresy. I didn’t intend for it to be on the album. I have a little ukulele at home and I was noodling around on it. I just played the first couple of lines to “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” I had no intention of recording it, and Maria said, “That’s nice. What is it?” She’s obviously a little younger than me. She hasn’t really heard Bad Company. I said, “Well, it’s a song called ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love.’ It’s by Bad Company.” She said, “Well, you should do it.” I said, “Whoa. Hang on a minute. This is like doing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in a jazz style. You can’t do that.” She said, “I don’t care. It sounds great. You should do it.”
So, I finished it. It was very easy to finish, and I sent the Mp3 to the Pockets, as I call them. They loved it, so we did a rough demo and it was really good. Before I wanted to go any further, I sent it to the record company and to Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs, the original writers in Bad Company. They both loved it and said, “Go ahead.” So, we recorded the song and it’s lovely. I really like it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I do also.
Simon Kirke: It’s not sexy. It’s not like the sexy version. Bad Company did a pretty sexy version. It’s just cheeky (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you prefer singing or playing the drums?
Simon Kirke: I was never really a singer. When you’re in a band with Paul Rodgers, you don’t really need to sing because he’s so good. I did the occasional backing vocal, and I was never really a good singer. But, on this album, I really wanted to sing well. I took vocal exercises. Josh Solomon, the leader of the band, and his wife Erika, are both amazing singers. They taught me some exercises, and we did vocal warmups before each vocal take. It really helped my singing immensely. But, then again, I love playing drums.
I got a chance to play drums on just about every track on this album although Danny Rosenthal played drums on “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” I love playing piano and I love playing guitar. I have a whole sort of roster of likes, and every now and again, they make an appearance. But, my number one love is drums.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Bad Company released a CD last year with recordings taken from two concerts, one in 1977 at the Summit in Houston and the other in Wembley Stadium in 1979. Listening to those concerts, does it bring back happy or sad memories?
Simon Kirke: Back in those days, obviously, I was a lot younger and a lot wilder. My intake of drink and dangerous drugs was quite high back then. I’m amazed that I’m still around to tell the tale. I don’t do anything like that now. I have to say that, quite honestly, when I listened to those two CDs, I was a little uncomfortable only because of the memories that it brought up.
I thought the performances were great and I never went on stage high or drunk. It was always afterwards. Because I was in my 20s, I could shake off the hangovers in the morning and get on with life. So, my memories of those days are not only a little cloudy, but I think I play better now, quite honestly. I’m not disparaging it. I’m not knocking it.
I’m certainly not knocking anyone else in the band because our youthful exuberance overpowered any deficiencies that I might’ve had through being slightly impaired or being up all night the night before. I have mixed feelings about those shows, Melissa, quite honestly. They were a lot of fun. We made some bloody good music, but being a sober guy now, I’m a lot wiser. I’m enjoying my music now. I’m enjoying it very, very much.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it your time in Free or the many years in Bad Company that gave you the most personal satisfaction?
Simon Kirke: Wow. I think anything that’s a first time around is what stands out, your first love, first car, hell, your first record player. To me, Free, before it all went south, before it started going bad … the second and third years of Free. We were only together five years. But, the second and third years were the happiest because we were a little gang. There was only four of us. We went all over the country, all over Europe and just knocking people out. We kept ourselves to ourselves, and we amassed this audience that grew and grew each time we went around the country.
Free was a special band. We were very young, almost too young really. But, I remember those days quite fondly. Bad Company was a sort of big brother to Free. Honestly Melissa, I think I was happiest the first three years of Bad Company because we were in a band that had no monkeys on our backs. There was no dead weight. We were allied with Led Zeppelin’s record label, Swan Song. We had an amazing manager, Peter Grant, and we were really off and running. I have fond memories of both bands, and it’s the first years of both of those band that are the fondest.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And, you also have toured with Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band.
Simon Kirke: Yeah! I had just gotten out of rehab. I was drumming my fingers and I got a call. My daughter came into my study and said, “Ringo Starr’s on the phone.” I said, “You little cheeky monkey. Go away!” She said, “No. It’s really Ringo.” I picked up the phone and said, “Hello?” He said, “It’s Ringo here. How are you, Simon?”
He asked me if I’d like to join the All Starr Band. It couldn’t have come at a better time because Bad Company was having one of its breaks, and I was doing nothing. Ringo said, “I heard about you. Is everything okay with you now?” Ringo’s a very staunch, sober man. I said, “Yeah. It’s fine.” He said, “You’re going to have to learn two songs to sing because all my guys have to sing songs from their respective bands.”
Oh God, that was a challenge because I’d never really sung in a band before outside of high school. We picked “All Right Now” and “Shooting Star,” one from Free and one from Bad Company. I had a lot of help from Peter Frampton because I kind of blew my voice the first couple of rehearsals. He gave me some great exercises to do. If you go to YouTube and look at Ringo Starr in Pine Knob, Detroit, you can see me singing “All Right Now.” That’s a pretty good indication of my peak of singing with Ringo.
But, it was lovely playing with him, a big influence of mine, and he’s such a nice guy. I loved playing with some amazing musicians as well and outside of the auspices of Bad Company. I got to play with Peter Frampton, Jack Bruce, Todd Rundgren, Eric Carmen, a whole bunch of people. We had a lot of good fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your daughter, Lola, is having a successful acting career!
Simon Kirke: Yeah. She’s doing very well. I’m very proud of her. I have three daughters. Jemima was in the HBO series Girls. Domino, my oldest daughter, delivers babies. She’s a homeopathic doula. I believe she has delivered about 110 babies so far. That, I’m very proud of. Lola’s in Mozart in the Jungle.
It’s funny because Lola was taking clarinet lessons several years ago. I said, “Wow! Okay. I thought you might want to learn drums like your dad or guitar.” She kept it a secret. She didn’t tell. She was learning clarinet because she was up for this role in Mozart in the Jungle, and the day she got it was the day she told me. She said, “That’s why I was having clarinet lessons. I didn’t want to tell you in case it jinxed the audition.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So, Lola’s a musician also?
Simon Kirke: She’s got her own band. She has a lovely voice and has a little band that she goes around the country with when she’s not filming. She’s doing very well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How long have you been living in America?
Simon Kirke: I came over in 1995. I left London in 1995. The kids were just growing up, and I was kind of tired of England and the politics. So, I’ve really gone from the frying pan into the fire with Donald J. waiting in the wings (laughs). Oh, don’t get me started. Oh, dear.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That reminds me of the time Donald Trump had “All Right Now” playing at the Republican National Convention.
Simon Kirke: We sent several cease and desists, but obviously he couldn’t give a flying pardon my French. I was trying to look on the positive side that it was very good publicity, and we put disclaimers on our website that we had no affiliation with him whatsoever. My only hope is that he has his family, that his daughter, son-in-law and sons will be a steadying influence on him because without them, oh, my, Lord. Anyway, let’s not go there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve worked with so many musical icons. Which one did you have the most memorable experience with?
Simon Kirke: I think the first one that springs to mind is Wilson Pickett. Growing up in England, my idols were Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Al Green and Wilson Pickett, primarily black music. About 10 or 12 years ago, a friend of mine that produced him called me up and asked if I’d like to play drums on an album. I said, “Well, I’m kind of busy,” He said, “It’s for Wilson Pickett.” I said, “What time is the session?”
I went down to meet Wilson and he was an imposing guy. He was a little bit moody, and I was nervous, but we started. We ran one song and halfway through the song, he said, “Hold it! Hold it!” I thought, “Oh, Jesus, here we go.” He said, “Let’s roll this thing. We’re ready.” I thought, “My God, I’ve only been playing it for two minutes.” We did it in one take. He was a trip.
I have to say Chuck Berry was quite a daunting man to play with and a pain in the ass, but one of the most rewarding evenings I had was playing drums with him in Switzerland, of all places, at a private party. They needed a drummer and luckily, I was in town. As I said, he was tough to work with, but he was amazing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did I hear you have written a memoir?
Simon Kirke: Yeah. I’ve written a memoir. I mean, it’s on the shelf for the moment because until I retire or until Bad Company fades into the sunset, my story isn’t finished. There will be several chapters to add to it. I have finished it to a degree. It needs a couple more drafts. I’m very keen to get my solo career off and running. I’m a bit of a late bloomer.
But, doing this album, All Because of You, really gave me a better sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be singing like I did sing on the album, I would’ve said, “No way,” because I’ve always been a little insecure about my singing and songwriting, I have to say. Until David Spero and the Empty Pockets said, “These songs are really good,” I was just a little bit of a wallflower, Melissa.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Just a little insecure?
Simon Kirke: Ever so slightly, yes. But now I’m a brash, arrogant, over-confident drummer. That’s a lousy combination (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What does the future hold for Bad Company?
Simon Kirke: More shows this year, Melissa, and a possible summer tour. Hopefully, a Bad Company studio album toward the end of the year.
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