Beginning as a rock supergroup in the 1970s, Bad Company set out to create a style stripped down to a simplistic four-piece rock band. The band shot to the top of the charts with their debut album, broke up in the mid-1980s, then resurfaced three years later. After more than two decades of recording in various configurations, Bad Company continued to modify and reform their no-frills rock and roll approach.
In August of 1973, drummer Simon Kirke and singer Paul Rodgers, both formerly of Free, decided to start a new group. They hooked up with Mick Ralphs, who had recently left Mott the Hoople, to play guitar. The trio named the band Bad Company after a 1972 western film starring Jeff Bridges and directed by Robert Benton. In November, Boz Burrell, who had played bass with King Crimson, completed the lineup.
Bad Company performed their first show in March of 1974 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Since each of the members had come from successful bands, they were quickly labeled a “supergroup.” But instead of
Members include Boz Burrell (born Raymond Burrell, August 1, 1946, Lincoln, England), David Colwell (joined in 1991), guitar; Robert Hart , vocals Brian Howe (joined in 1986), Simon Kirke (born July 28, 1949, Shrewsbury, England), drums; Mick Ralphs (born March 31, 1944, Hereford, England), guitar; Paul Rodgers (born December, 17, 1949, Middlesbrough, England), Rick Wills , bass.
Band formed in England, 1973; signed to Swan Song Records, 1974; released six albums, 1974–83; reformed with new singer Brian Howe, 1986; released five albums, 1986–93; returned with singer Robert Hart and signed to EastWest Records, 1995.
Addresses: Record company —EastWest Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
taking a flamboyant, no-holds-barred rock and roll approach, Bad Company wanted to pursue a more sparse, mood-oriented direction. As John Swenson wrote in Rolling Stone, “For a supergroup, Bad Company is spectacularly understated.” Rodgers told Bob Kirsch in Billboard.” [T]here is more subtlety than just hammering the hell out of people…. We grab the audience and then take them somewhere. The idea is to combine mood and excitement, with subtlety as the third ingredient.”
Bad Company began capturing the attention of fans and the music industry almost immediately. Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant signed a management contract with them, and helped the group land a recording contract with Island Records in the U.K. and Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label in the U.S. By June of 1974, they had released their self-titled debut, which included hit singles like “Can’t Get Enough” and “Ready for Love.” The album soared to the top of the U.S. charts, resulting in a rise from opening act to headliner before the end of their first tour.
Bad Company returned to the studio right away to record their next release, Straight Shooter. They produced the album themselves, and it reached number three on the charts in both the U.K. and the U.S. Songs like “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” took over the radio airwaves. Ed Naha reviewed the album in Rolling Stone: “Straight Shooter is a fine example of contemporary rock & roll but, more than that, it is an exciting second step forward by a fledgling band that looks like it may be around for a long time to come.”
Bad Company continued with its non-stop schedule, touring and recording Run with the Pack in 1976 and Burnin’ Sky in 1977. When they took a break in 1978, rumors began to travel that the band was on the verge of breaking up. They squashed those rumors with the release of Desolation Angels in 1979, named after a Jack Kerouac novel. It included the popular singles “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” and “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Ken Tucker noted a slight difference in the band’s material in his Rolling Stone review. “Desolation Angels reveals qualities about these guys that their earlier work didn’t hint at: wry world-weariness and a bemusement toward the tension between the sexes, plus a ouerulous, queasy feeling about their own place in all this.”
In 1980, the break-up rumors began to reach fruition. Rodgers began to consider leaving the group. However, he stayed to record the 1982 release Rough Diamonds, which included the single “Electricland,” as well as perform the follow-up tour. In July of 1983, Bad Company announced they had officially disbanded. Rodgers recorded a solo album and went on to form the Firm with former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. From there, he performed with the band the Law, then formed Paul Rodgers & Company. Guitarist Ralphs toured with Pink Floyd and went on to perform his own material. Kirke formed a fleeting band called Wildlife, while Burrell also formed a short-lived rock band.
In 1986, Atlantic Records released 10 from 6, a compilation of ten Bad Company hits from their six albums. Atlantic Records approached the group with the idea of a reformation. They decided to go ahead and returned with singer Brian Howe, who formerly worked with Ted Nugent. Bassist Steve Price filled in for Burrell in the studio, since Burrell had already committed to tour of Ireland.
Before they released their next album, they had to decide on a name. “We were having a terrible time picking a name—we had the lineup, and the record was in the can, but we didn’t have a name, “Kirke told Sharon Liveton in Billboard. Paul Cooper, the head of Atlantic on the West Coast, suggested they keep the name Bad Company. “Until then, it hadn’t even crossed my mind,” said Kirke.
With everything in place, the newly reformed Bad Company returned with the album Fame and Fortune, produced by Keith Olson. The album veered away slightly from the band’s original simplistic style, adding the popular, electronic synthesizer sound. The group purposely wanted to start back up slowly, in order to avoid the madness that accompanied shooting to the top in 1974.
In 1988, Bad Company left the synthesizers behind on Dangerous Age. The album was an attempt to return to their original theme. As J.D. Constantine wrote in Musician, “Dangerous Age delivers all the bluesy punch of the first Bad Company albums without any of the excess that eventually drove the band to strutting self-parody.”
The next decade brought a series of member changes for the group. In 1990, Burrell decided to leave the band, and Ralphs took an extended sabbatical to spend time with his family. Kirke and Howe recruited bassist Paul Cullen and guitarist Geoffrey Whitehorn as replacements. The new lineup recorded Holy Water, which included the tune “If You Needed Somebody.” They followed up the release with a lengthy 203-show tour with Damn Yankees. In June of 1991, the fourth leg of the tour had yet another lineup, which included Kirke, Howe, the return of Ralphs, and the addition of bassist David Colwell. “Bad Company as a whole has always been more important than any individual in it,” Ralphs said in the band’s biography. It was a statement they proved again and again throughout the 1990s.
The following year, Bad Company released Here Comes Trouble on Atco Records, which included the single “How About That.” After the release of the album, Colwell was replaced by bassist Rick Wills, who had played with Foreigner. In 1993, they released the live album The Best of Bad Company Live… What You Hear Is What You Get. In his Entertainment Weekly review, Tom Sinclair wrote, “The playing is rock solid, all the hits (” Can’t Get Enough,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love”) are here, and singer Brian Howe does a fine imitation of the departed Paul Rodgers.”
Bad Company continued its series of member changes in 1995. Howe left the band and was replaced by singer Robert Hart. The new formation released their first studio album in three years called Company of Strangers on EastWest Records. “It’s like we’re a band again now,” Colwell said in the band’s biography. “We all write songs, we all co-wrote songs with each other, we went in and rehearsed like a real band…. That record really helped us get back the band’s original vibe.”
After the release of Company of Strangers, Bad Company played a successful, extensive tour with co-headliner Ted Nugent. With the spark of teamwork in place, they returned to the studio the following year for the release of Stories Told & Untold, the first album the band ever recorded in the U.S. This release brought Bad Company’s past to the forefront. The changes, struggles, and challenges returned them to the outlook they started with in the mid-1970s. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…. It’s come full circle now—this music could have been played 20 years ago,” Kirke stated in the band’s biography. “It’s worth all the trials and tribulations we’ve gone through over the years. More than worth it.”
Bad Company, Swan Song, 1974.
Straight Shooter, Swan Song, 1975.
Run with the Pack, Swan Song, 1976.
Burnin’ Sky, Swan Song, 1977.
Desolation Angels, Swan Song, 1979.
Rough Diamonds, Swan Song, 1982.
10 from 6, Atlantic Records, 1986.
Fame and Fortune, Atlantic Records, 1986.
Dangerous Age, Atlantic Records, 1988.
Holy Water, Ateo Records, 1990.
Here Comes Trouble, Ateo Records, 1992.
The Best of Bad Company Live… What You Hear Is What You Get, Ateo Records, 1993.
Company of Strangers, EastWest Records, 1995.
Stories Told& Untold, EastWest Records, 1996.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing, New York, 1996.
Amusement Business, May 22, 1995.
Billboard, September 7, 1974; December 27, 1986; July 14, 1990; October 3, 1992.
Entertainment Weekly, November 5, 1993; June 23, 1995.
Musician, December 1988.
Rolling Stone, August 29, 1974; June 5, 1975; July 3, 1975; April 8, 1976; May 19, 1977; October 6, 1977; May 3, 1979; September 30, 1982; August 24, 1995.
Stereo Review, December 1982.
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