"Of course it wasn't really
Queen on stage -- how could it be without Freddie Mercury?" a reviewer for a
newspaper in Belfast noted last June. "But in every other sense, this was a
true royal command performance."
Go ahead and accuse me of
abandoning my usually acute "nostalgia alert" oldies-act warning system. But
even though the show is being billed as "Queen + Paul Rodgers"-- the
gruff-voiced former singer for Free and Bad Company is as much of stylistic
contrast as one can imagine from the flamboyant Mercury, and I can certainly
live without ever hearing "Feel Like Making Love" again -- I am nonetheless
excited about the chance to see one of the most over-the-top bands in rock
history (or some facsimile thereof) in concert one more time.
"Tie Your Mother Down."
"Fat Bottomed Girls." "Killer Queen." "Keep Yourself Alive." I am so
This only slightly
chagrinned Queen fan spoke to guitarist Brian May from London several weeks
before he began the American leg of the reunion tour with original drummer
Roger Taylor, his old friend Rodgers and assorted hired backing musicians.
Q. Brian, I
think American fans of a certain age assume that all English rock stars know
each other, and they probably gather once a year at some fancy club in
London. How did you first meet Paul Rodgers?
A. Ooh, that's
going back. I know we said hi when we went to [Led Zeppelin and Bad Company
manager] Peter Grant's office to talk about management, and Paul was just
leaving and that was it. But Paul was a hero of ours -- we wouldn't have
said that much more to him really. He is the same age as us, but Free was
out there at such a young age conquering the world, it's incredible.
[Guitarist] Paul Kossoff is a great hero to me and still is.
Anyway, Paul [Rodgers]
probably said hi at that stage, and I would bump into him at various times,
and we would remain in touch and send each other Christmas cards. And I
would play with him on a couple of occasions just to get up and do a song,
and it always felt good. "All Right Now" is in my blood, and it was never a
problem if Paul would say, "You wanna come and play this?" But it wasn't
until the Fender gig [the September 2004 50th anniversary party for Fender
guitars] that it hit me so hard that we had such a good flow of energy and
what that could mean. Something went "bing!" in my head -- a light went on
-- and I went, "My God! Why didn't we think of Paul [for Queen]?" Paul's
wife was there, and he looked at me and then looked to her and said, "All
you guys need is a drummer."
Q. A lot of
people have noted that it's actually a liberating thing that he's such a
different kind of vocalist, because he doesn't have the burden of trying to
It's wonderful because there is no sense of re-treading old ground; it all
feels new with Paul and that's wonderful. He's such a great talent to work
Q. Were there
earlier discussions over the years about touring with somebody else?
occasionally, but on the whole I have to tell you I was fairly happy with my
life. I didn't want to be wrenched out to spend months away from home again;
it's a big decision, and I can't overstate that. You're used to having your
time and your freedom after you have had years on the road, and there is a
part of you that doesn't want to say goodbye to your home and family. It has
to be good for you to want to do that. Yet now I feel that it is good -- too
good of an opportunity to miss.
Q. Let me ask
an indelicate question: Given your success, are you rich enough to never
have to work again if you don't want to?
A. Ah, yes! But I
have to tell you that I never did it for money anyway. Maybe that sounds a
little bit altruistic, but I can tell you that when we lived in a bed-sit
when we started out with Queen, I was perfectly happy with fish fingers and
cod in a bag. I never felt a need for money. Yes, I do have it now. But if
it disappeared tomorrow, I would survive and still make music.
Q. Was the
grind of touring the reason that original bassist John Deacon opted out of
A. Yeah. John is
in a different place, and when the subject came up, the first thing we did
was ask John, but he prefers not to. He wants his life as it is now and
doesn't want to go back into that -- what can I call it? -- that jungle.
Q. Was it like
riding a bicycle again for you and Roger Taylor?
A. Yes. There is
something that happens when Roger and I play together; we're like brothers.
We fight, and there is a certain amount of needling between us, but the
brotherly thing means that things work. Everybody says that as soon as we
sit down together and play, something strange and wonderful happens. I'd be
the first to admit that I'm sure I play better with Roger than with anyone
interviewed Roger years ago, before the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in
1992, and we talked about how drummers never get credit for anything
besides drumming, though throughout Queen's history, he was also important
as a vocalist and songwriter. Was showing people that part of the incentive
A. Yeah. I think
he would be very mad, still, if he was talking to you now. He became a major
writer and wrote a couple of the bigger hits like "A Kind of Magic" and
"These Are the Days of Our Lives," which is a very beautiful song I think.
And he plays pretty good guitar, too.
Q. How about
Queen's influence? We've seen so many examples of that, including last
year's "Killer Queen" tribute album. What do you hear carrying the stamp of
Queen's legacy that gets you most excited?
A. It makes me
very happy if people refer to it in any way, like when the Foo Fighters talk
about us in a complimentary way. I find it very rewarding and exciting,
because they're the pinnacle of what's going on at the moment. The Darkness
also acknowledges us as a great influence. It makes me very happy that we're
a part of the river that flows -- we had our influences and they had us, and
it makes me proud.
Q. The thing
that always strikes me is that Queen has such a variety of different
influences and wide-ranging elements in its sound. There's the "Tie Your
Mother Down" Queen, the "Bohemian Rhapsody" Queen, the "Crazy Little Thing
Called Love" Queen -- few bands attempt to run the whole gamut of styles as
you guys did.
A. Yes, it was
very wide; we didn't feel any boundaries. That was the fun of it, really,
and it still is. Our influences -- a lot of them were half unconscious
things that we heard when we were kids, and of course it was very varied
during those days. There was no rock 'n' roll when I was really small; you
heard ['50s children's musician] Uncle Mac playing things like "The Laughing
Policeman" and "The Thunder and Lightning Polka" and skiffle, and we had a
fantastic place for us to grow as seeds.
Q. There were
also very few genre boundaries during the psychedelic explosion in the
mid-'60s, when you started playing, or in the glam movement of the early
'70s, when Queen began to make its mark.
A. Yeah, and to
me, that's something rather precious. Psychedelia for me embodied freedom
and new growth, and that stays with me, though I didn't take the drugs. For
me, I just wanted it to be the pure music; there was enough there to keep me
excited, and there still is.
Q. Is there
talk of recording again with this new band?
A. There is a lot
of talk, but no recording at the moment. The touring is tough enough right
now; physically, it's a mountain, because we all really need to get in
shape. But I think we would like to do a bit of recording, because there
does seem to be a good chemistry, good feel and a good marriage of life
views. I think we are quite close in a sense, Paul and me, in what we think
is important in life and what we want to write about. So I'd love to see it