Queen & Paul Rodgers

Still rocking after all these years

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By Gary Graff  

Fifteen years after frontman Freddie Mercury's death, Queen still reigns over the rock world.  With sales of more than 150 million albums worldwide, the group has been as formidable in hiatus as it ever was as an active concern -- whether it was the operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody" returning to the charts thanks to 1982's Wayne's World soundtrack, or the international success of the musical, We Will Rock You.

Now the group lives on as Queen + Paul Rodgers, a surprising collaboration that features guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Meddows-Taylor collaborating with the former Free and Bad Company vocalist for shows that played Europe and Japan in 2005, along with two U.S. cities and a full-blown North American tour in 2006.

The union, which mixes the Queen catalog with hits from Rodgers' bands, has produced a live album and DVD, Return of the Champions, as well as lots of speculation about what it means for the future. Is it the real life, or is it just fantasy...?

Q: Reviving the Queen name without Freddie Mercury has raised some eyebrows. Any second thoughts about that?

Roger Meddows-Taylor: It didn't make any sense for us to tour under another name. It has been our name for thirty-odd years, so why try to pretend this is something else. And there's a lot of interest around the world. You'd be surprised how busy we've actually been without doing a tour or a new album. So all the connections were there, and the brand lives, if you know what I mean. We obviously have some kind of lasting appeal.

Q: Do you have any sense of what, exactly, that appeal is?

Taylor: Obviously I think maybe the songs and the music have lasted. I have to say it's been a wonderful surprise to us. I didn't think we were a flash in the pan, obviously. We had a very long, active career for twenty years, so we knew we had some kind of longevity. But we really didn't think that all this time later the songs would still be such a part of the wallpaper. It's impossible to tell at the time if something is going to have longevity like that.

Rodgers: I came in with a great deal of respect, and that's increasing the more I perform this material, actually. The style is slightly different to mine. It's more cerebral, in many respects. It's almost a classical feel, sometimes, whereas I come from the blues and soul. But the two styles do merge. They do marry quite well.

Taylor: We were always a blues-based band, really. At base that's what we were, but I suppose we just branched out a lot. (laughs)

Q: (Queen bassist) John Deacon didn't want to be part of this. What's up with that?

Taylor:  John really has opted out of the whole music business thing. He wrote us a letter saying "I totally approve of everything you do and, um, can I have my share?" (laughs) He's still a partner, so he's there in that sense. But we understand. He's a very introverted guy and has become even more so. I think Freddie's death affected him very deeply.

Q: What's Freddie's family had to say about all of this?

Taylor: We're in contact with his mother and his sister, and they sometimes turn up at the shows. They're with us. There in alongside, in the stable, if you know what I mean.

Q: How have you approached the material with Paul, who's a very different kind of singer than Freddie?

Taylor: It helps that he didn't have to try and be like Freddie Mercury at all. He's a proven commodity in his own right, if you will. He was one of Freddie's favorite singers and one of our favorite singers, and very highly regarded. We loved his stuff with Free, particularly. It's what we grew up on.

Rodgers: It's been a little tougher than I thought. When we first did "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions," they are so much in my ballpark, in my range, but there are other songs -- like "The Show Must Go On" or "I Want it All" -- that I really had to sit down and think, "Now, how do I approach this one? And this one?" I always did respect Freddie, but I have a huge amount of respect for him now. He had such a huge voice and he delivered so consistently at a high range. It's a huge undertaking, really. But my approach has always been to just be myself. I reinterpret the songs the way I feel them. That's the only way I can do it, really.

Q: Queen's popularity in the U.S. ebbed during the '80s. What happened?

Taylor: That's a good question! (laughs) I think when it became obvious that Freddie was homosexual, we perceived a noticeable decline in popularity. And we did a couple of albums that weren't that great, to be honest. Those were probably the major factors. And then to compound that, we then felt we'd lost a little ground in the States, so we didn't tour after '82, and we concentrated on places like South America and Europe, which were huge markets for us and massively successful. It just made sense for us to go there and not to the U.S., so our profile diminished there. But we did spend the better part of ten years touring the U.S., to great effect.

Q: What's been your favorite Queen activity in the interim?

Taylor: The musical We Will Rock You was fun for Brian and myself. It enabled us to go to Russia, to all sorts of places, and to audition in Germany and Spain and Australia and hear all these fantastic people. And we felt we were fighting in action against the traditional music, which is sort of an art form we both loathe and hate. It was interesting and fascinating, and it's still very much alive.

Q: How about a Bad Company musical?

Rodgers: Y'know, it's a strange thing. For years I always thought it would be nice to take, say, "Shooting Star" and make it into a theater production because you could stretch the story, that "Johnny was a schoolboy when he heard his first guitar." You could actually do that, but I've never really met the right people who I could sit down and do it with. The story's there, though, so maybe someday...

Q: Does the success of this endeavor open the door for new Queen music at some point?

Rodgers: People ask, but we have no plans beyond the U.S. and Canadian tours. I'd like to sit back a little and do something, things other than Queen.

Taylor: Brian and I have been talking a lot. We've actually started to write some new stuff. We would like to do something. We still think we can contribute something quite valid. Look at Neil Young's album, Prairie Wind. It's one of the best things he's ever done, so, y'know, old guys can still rock. And I'd like to think it would be a collaborative thing with Paul. He's great to work with and he gives us a bluesier edge and fits our instrumentation so well.

Rodgers: (laughs) You see -- that's how it goes. There are no plans, but there's lots of maybes!

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.