Bad Company - Biography
Bad Company began as a British super-group, formed in the early 1970s by ex members of Free, Mott the Hoople, and King Crimson. The band was very successful throughout the ‘70s, but they split in the ‘80s. Over the years, they have reformed in several different incarnations. Bad Company continues to tour with three original members.
In 1973, after the break-up of their band Free, vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke were looking to form a new band. The two hooked up with guitarist Mick Ralphs, who had recently left Mott the Hoople, and then got in touch with bassist Boz Burrell of King Crimson to complete their lineup. Rodgers named the band after his favorite film, 1972’s Bad Company. The group wanted a no-frills, straight-ahead approach to rock. Bad Company made their live debut in March of 1974, and immediately caught the attention of British music fans and the media. Both Kirke and Rodgers had struck up friendships the Led Zeppelin team, and so it was an easy fit when Bad Company signed on with Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label in the US (Bad Company signed with Island Records in the UK). Once a deal was secured, the band quickly entered the studio and released Bad Company (Swan Song) later in 1974. The album was an immediate international hit, reaching as high as number one on the Billboard 200, and spawned the hit singles “Can’t Get Enough,” “Ready For Love,” and “Movin’ On.” The group graduated from opening slots to headlining gigs during the course of 1974 and set about recording a follow-up once they were back from tour. Straight Shooter (Swan Song), released in 1975, also shot to the top of the US album charts, spurred on by the singles “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad.” Rodgers and Kirke’s ex-bandmate from Free, guitarist Paul Kossoff, joined Bad Company on stage in late 1975 to perform Free’s hit “All Right Now” and the band made plans to tour jointly with Kossoff’s new band Back Street Crawler. Sadly, Kossoff died from heart problems related to chronic drug use before the two bands could embark on the tour. Bad Company kept up their rapid pace of touring and recording, and released Run With the Pack (Swan Song) in 1976. Run With the Pack was the group’s first album to earn platinum status and included their cover of the Coaster’s “Young Blood.” The group’s next album, 1977’s Burnin’ Sky (Swan Song) continued their less-is-more aesthetic, but the formula was starting to wear thin. There weren’t any successful singles off of the album, and the record sold only moderately.
After Burnin’ Sky failed to excite the public’s imagination, the group took stock of their approach to songwriting and soon started playing around with keyboards, synthesizers, and electronic drums. Bad Company’s next album, 1979’s Desolation Angels (Swan Song), showed the fruits of the band’s work with their new instruments; both the album and the singles “Rock n’ Roll Fantasy” and “Gone Gone Gone” were hits. Tensions were mounting in the band prior to Desolation Angels, and after the album was completed things got bad enough that Rodgers considered leaving the band. However, after taking a hiatus, he returned to the group for the 1982 album Rough Diamonds (Swan Song), which failed to sell well. In 1983, Rodgers announced he was leaving the band and they officially broke up. Rodgers went on to form the band The Firm with former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, and they released two albums before disbanding.
In 1986, Ralphs and Kirke decided to work together again and hired ex-Ted Nugent vocalist Brian Howe to front their own band. They also brought on bassist Steven Price and keyboardist Greg Dechert to complete the lineup. Neither Kirke nor Ralphs was thinking of carrying on the Bad Company name for their new project, but at the insistence of Atlantic (their new record company), they relented. The new Bad Company released the album Fame and Fortune (Atlantic) in 1986. The album’s heavy use of keyboards and Howe’s vocal style seemed to throw the group's old fan base and the album only sold moderately. Toward the end of recording Fame and Fortune, former Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell rejoined the new version of the band but left again before the band could tour in support of the album. When the group did finally hit the road, they decided to play down the use of keyboards as they went along and then dismissed keyboardist Dechert from the lineup altogether in 1987. By the time of recording their next album, Dangerous Age (1988 Atco), guitars were back in prominence in the Bad Company sound. Producer Terry Thomas worked closely with the band, co-writing many of the songs, as well as contributing guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals. The album did better than its predecessor, and scored three minor hits with the songs “Shake it Up,” “One Night,” and “No Smoke Without a Fire.” When the band toured in support of the album, they gained keyboardist/guitarist Larry Oakes, but by the end of the tour both he and bassist Price decided to leave. Tensions were also high between Howe and the rest of the band. Howe wanted to leave and launch a solo career, but he wasn’t able to secure a new record deal and so continued with Bad Company.
Despite the dissension, the group decided to work with producer Thomas again and released the album Holy Water (Atco) in 1990. Holy Water became the most successful Bad Company release since the glory days of the original lineup, spawning the hit singles “Holy Water,” “Walk Through Fire,” and “If You Needed Somebody.” Bassist Felix Krish played on the album, while bassist Paul Cullen was recruited to tour with the band. Though Ralphs played on the entire album, he initially wasn’t able to tour and his spot was taken by ex-Crawler guitarist Geoffrey Whitehorn until he could return. When Ralphs returned to the lineup later in the Holy Water tour, the band also added second guitarist Dave “Bucket” Colwell. The group toured successfully in a co-headlining tour with Damn Yankees and then returned to the studio to complete their next album, 1992’s Here Comes Trouble (Atco). Also a strong seller, Here Comes Trouble was supported on by the group’s Top 40 single “How About That.” Before touring commenced in support of the album, the group added bassist Rick Wills (Small Faces, Foreigner, Roxy Music) to the lineup. The group also recorded a live album on the tour, What You Hear is What You Get: The Best of Bad Company (1993 Atlantic), which combined both new hits and songs from the original incarnation of the band. Though it took nearly twenty years for the band to finally release an official live album, it sold poorly. Howe announced that he was leaving Bad Company in 1994, claiming that he had shouldered much of the songwriting work for the band without receiving the credit he thought he was due.
Bad Company soldiered on, hiring singer Robert Hart to take over the frontman position. Hart sounded very similar to original singer Rodgers — so much so that many older fans thought that Rodgers was back in the band. The new version of Bad Company released the album Company of Strangers (EastWest) in 1995, and the album was a moderate success boosted by the single “Down and Dirty.” The group followed Company of Strangers with 1996’s Stories Told & Untold (EastWest), which was a combination of seven new songs and seven re-recordings of some of the band’s biggest hits. Though it may have seemed like a good concept at the time, the record stiffed commercially and the band broke up again soon after.
In 1998, Rodgers and Kirke got together to compile an anthology album of the original band’s material. Both thought the anthology would get an extra kick-start if the original lineup of the band could get back together and write some new material, so Rodgers, Kirke, Boswell, and Ralphs went into the studio and recorded four new tracks for inclusion on The Original Bad Company Anthology (Elektra), released in 1999. Two of the new songs off of the anthology, “Hey Hey” and “Hammer of Love,” became minor hits, and the group decided to launch a limited tour of North America in the summer of 1999. The tour was a success, but the reunion was brought to an end the following year when Ralphs announced he was going to retire from live performance. Soon after, Boswell left as well. Rodgers and Kirke decided to carry on, and launched a new series of tours in North America and the UK with co-headliners Styx and Billy Squier in 2001. They recruited ex-Bad Company bassist Wills and guitarist Colwell to take over the spots left vacant by Boswell and Ralphs. The group toured again in 2002, and then released a live CD and DVD called Merchants of Cool (2002) on Sanctuary Records. Bassist Jaz Lochrie took over from Wills for the duration of the tour. After the tour, Bad Company went on an extended hiatus. In 2005, Paul Rodgers was asked to join Queen for a tour and live album called Return of the Champions (2005 Parlophone/Hollywood), which was billed as “Paul Rodgers and Queen” and featured the group ripping through hits from the Queen, Bad Company, and Free catalogs. Former bassist Burrell died from a heart attack in September of 2006, at his home in Spain.
In 2008, Ralphs put together a band called Mick Ralphs’ Bad Company, which included vocalist Hart, guitarist Colwell, bassist Lochrie, and drummer James. Later in 2008, Ralphs, Rodgers, and Kirke reformed and continue to play as Bad Company to this day.