Q&A with drummer Simon Kirke, kept the beat for Free and Bad Co. two of the most popular bluesy hard rockers

"Music has to unify. It has to bring people together. It can be a vehicle for communication. For celebration, for revolution, for commiseration, for hope, to convey despair...sadness, happiness...All the human emotions that we experience through our lives. It has always united people and I believe that is the main impact it should have..."

Simon Kirke: Ready For Rock n' Blues Beat

Simon Kirke born and raised in London, the Beatles perked a teenage Simon's interest in rock music, and he picked up the drums - leading to a gig with a local band called the Maniacs, on which Simon supplied drums and lead vocals (something quite uncommon at the time). Simon worked out a deal with his parents after graduating high school, that if he couldn't "make it" as a drummer in a band within a two-year period, that he would begin a college career. Just a few months before the deadline, Simon landed a gig with a group called the Black Cat Bones. The drummer befriended the group's talented guitarist, Paul Kossoff, who in turn convinced Simon to leave the group with him and begin a new outfit with singer Paul Rodgers. Soon ex-John Mayall's Bluesbreakers bassist Andy Fraser signed on and Free was officially formed in 1968. Mixing blues with hard rock, the group would prove to be quite influential, especially on the strength of their classic 1970 release, Fire and Water, and its strutting, anthemic hit single, "All Right Now." When the band broke up, it didn't take Simon long to find another gig, joining Paul Rodgers in a new band, Bad Company, which was quite similar stylistically to Free. Joined by ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell and ex-Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs, Bad Company was the first group signed to Led Zeppelin's record label, Swan Song.                                                                             (Photo: Simon Kirke)

Their debut album, 1974's Bad Company, would go on to become one of hard rock's all-time classics, as it birthed such long-standing rock radio standards as "Can't Get Enough," "Ready for Love," and the title track, written by Paul and Simon himself. The group hails as one of the all-time top rock outfits. Simon Kirke is the only member of Bad Company who’s been in every lineup of the band. In addition to his work with Free and Bad Company, Simon has guested on a long list of recordings by other artists over the years, including albums by Wilson Pickett, Faces, Gov’t Mule, Jim Capaldi and Ron Wood, among countless others and he is often found drumming live on tour with acts like Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band. Simon recently toured with Bad Company and The Eagles' Joe Walsh, and recorded a soul-baring solo record, "All Because of You," with Chicago band, The Empty Pockets, released by The End Records/BMG (2017).

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Rock n' Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Rock and Roll (and music in general) has been a valuable tool in communication throughout the world for many years. It has united races and religions…when John Lennon said the Beatles “were more popular than Jesus, right now” I knew what he meant. It was a poor choice of words, however! Music has been a unifying force for many years, it is the only true international language.

What characterize your music philosophy? How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started?

I play from the heart…it doesn’t even have to be perfectly in tune... look at singers like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan. Their voices are not very good, but they communicate their songs so well… and be truthful... “Truth shall set you free!” Even if it hurts sometimes!

I listen to myself playing drums 50 years ago and I was very busy… I still had not perfected my style…I was trying too many things at once… all my influences were still out front… the real me had yet to emerge.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Levon Helm, the great drummer with the Band once told me to just keep it simple… my drumming is meant to provide support and not to stand out front like a lead singer or guitarist. And Alicia Keys said a great thin recently: “the more you add to a song or a piece of music the smaller it becomes…”                            (Photo: Simon Kirke)

"Be honest, don’t do drugs. I know from my own experience that is a dead-end street. Practice diligently. Being a musician, being a good human being requires work and dedication. These are things I wish I had known when I was younger, but it took a long road to finally get there, I am very content right now!"

What were the reasons that made the UK in 60s to be the center of Blues/Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

Back in the 60s There was a strange crossover Musically between the UK and America. Blues artists like BB King, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, howling wolf etc. they didn’t have the popularity that they should’ve had in their home country. So, they came over to England and Europe where they were embraced. Similar to how black jazz musicians in the 50s and 40s were embraced and found a home particularly in France. And of course, there was the British invasion in the 60s.

This led to the beginnings of the stones, Led Zeppelin in 67, Cream, and a little later my band Free, Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green. Then you had the British Invasion to the States... Led by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the pacemakers etc... For years some of these bands were thought by the Americans to actually be American but it was just these influences coming through...When I was growing up, I loved all things American. And I was not alone in this country...

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I actually think the state of today’s music is very good the Internet has provided a platform where people can write and present songs and be heard or seen all over the world. But it is a knife that cuts two ways it also allows hundreds of thousands of other people to do the same thing so you can get an overload of artists. And I believe computers have diminished the quality of writing to a degree.

It is so easy now to write a verse and the chorus and some lyrics and record them in five minutes and within 20 minutes put it out to the world and I think it takes away from the quality of writing. When I was starting out, I just had a cassette recorder and a pen and paper, and I didn’t record anything until I was sure it was well written and well-rehearsed. That doesn’t seem to be the case nowadays: but generally, I think it’s a healthy situation right now.              (Bad Company, 1974 / Photo by Mark-Sullivan/Getty)

"Rock and Roll (and music in general) has been a valuable tool in communication throughout the world for many years. It has united races and religions…when John Lennon said the Beatles “were more popular than Jesus, right now” I knew what he meant. It was a poor choice of words, however! Music has been a unifying force for many years, it is the only true international language."

Why do you think that Free and Bad Company music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I think Bad Company and Free are still popular today because we wrote very good songs and we were pretty good on our instruments! Paul Rodgers still is one of the best singers ever and our instrumentation and instrumentalists were really very good indeed and we focused on songs about everyday things particularly love; finding it and losing it ...oh yes...we rehearsed the songs a lot too!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experiences in the life and the music?

Be honest, don’t do drugs. I know from my own experience that is a dead-end street. Practice diligently. Being a musician, being a good human being requires work and dedication. These are things I wish I had known when I was younger, but it took a long road to finally get there, I am very content right now!

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

It has to unify. It has to bring people together. It can be a vehicle for communication. For celebration, for revolution, for commiseration, for hope, to convey despair...sadness, happiness...All the human emotions that we experience through our lives. It has always united people and I believe that is the main impact it should have...

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