Living for the Music: Bad Company's Simon Kirke

Andrew Kruse-Ross

andrew kruse-ross | bad company | oct. 2018

A member of legendary rock outfits Free and Bad Company, Simon Kirke needs no introduction.

A capable singer, saxophonist and guitarist, Kirke's recorded three solo albums but it is behind the drum kit where most will recognize him and that's where concertgoers will find him on Oct. 27 when Bad Company takes the stage at Green Bay's Resch Center.

Taking a few minutes away on a rainy day in Long Island, Kirke was kind enough to talk about life both behind and away from the drum kit.

There's so much to talk about and I really want to be respectful of your time, here. In preparing for our visit, I see not two days it was announced you're to be honored by Rockers on Broadway, congratulations.

Thank you. Wow, yeah, that came out of the blue. I'm humbled and very honored to get the award.

You're not always behind a kit. And some may not know that you sing, play guitar and saxophone as well, including on your solo projects. How are you enjoying being back behind the kit with Bad Company?

Oh, yeah! It's like slipping into a pair of old shoes. I still get a thrill and we're coming up on 40 … Wow, 45 years. It's hard to believe. I still enjoy and I still get a charge listening to Paul singing and playing behind him and we tend to spur each other on. It's been quite a long partnership going back to Free which is coming up on 50 years this year. Hard to believe.

You mentioned the longevity there; you and Paul have shared the stage longer than many people have been married. Is there a secret to maintaining that relationship for so many years?

(Laughs) we'll, we're pretty much the same age so we have similar backgrounds musically. I think there's mutual respect there and we like each other as people but we've always kept our distance.

Back when we were in Free, before we had girlfriends and wives, we were all still a very tight-knit band—a group of kids, really. We were very young and sort of hurdled all over England an Europe in our little band, so we were very tight-knit, but as time went by, we got girlfriends, we got married and we spread out but there was always a genuine liking for each other.

It got strained a little bit at the end of the '80s when Paul kind of left the band and we got someone else in so like any long-term relationship it had its ups and downs, but now we're a lot older and wiser. We tend to see each other's point of view. I think it's safe to say we're good friends now.

It goes without saying really that your live arena shows in the '70s are quite legendary, but also took their toll on the band, or at least, the band tired of the touring. Here we are, so many years later and we're back to arena shows, how are you finding life on the road these days?

Oh, yeah! There's really not any size of a show that is daunting to us anymore. We just go out and play and we let the PA carry the sound to wherever it's going to take it to. We just do our thing.

I remember seeing the Stones at a private event, I was lucky enough to go with them as a guest of Ronnie Wood and they played to 300 people at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas and they got a fortune for doing it — in cash, apparently. I remember seeing them and I turned 'round to their tour manager (we were sitting out front) and I said, 'Arnold, these guys … they still …' and he said, 'Simon, they can only play one way. Whether it's to 100,000 people in Dodger Stadium or 300 people here, they can only play one way.' And that's the same for us, we can only play one way and it's engrained in us and it's never going to change.

I know the Beatles were an early influence and eventually, you ended up doing three tours with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. In a career with many achievements, where does performing with Ringo rate?

Oh, it was wonderful. I mean to get the call from Ringo. I met my daughter coming to me saying 'There's a Ringo Starr on the phone for you, dad.' I thought she was kidding! I had no idea that I was even in the mix in the pool of musicians.

I got on the phone and he says, How are you?and I had just got out of rehab, so it was even more of a surprise to me and he says, Do you think you can do it 'cause I'd like you to come on the road with me, but you need to sing and play drums as well.

And I had done it before Bad Company when I had my own band and I sang, so the only thing was to pick two songs from the vast records that Free and Bad Company had. So I picked 'All Right Now' and 'Shooting Star.'

So, not only was I playing with Ringo, which was a huge influence on me, but I got to play with Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton and Gary Brooker and these guys were … wow! It was so humbling to play with them. I read one of the first reviews of our lineup was 'of all the lineups that Ringo had had over the years, this was the best.' That really meant a lot to me.

At the end of the first show, Ringo called me in my hotel room and said, Well, how was it playing sober?and I said It was the best thingand we both had a little tear. You know, he was in the program and I'm in the program. It was just a wonderful thing and as you've said we ended up doing three tours together.

Bad Company and Free both created such a lasting impact musically, it's like you've caught lightning in a bottle and done it twice, influencing so many others in the process; I wonder is there anything you can share in hindsight that has made such success possible? Any advice you maybe give other musicians, perhaps?

I'm going to quote a golfer of all people and his name is Gary Player. He was a legendary player, only a little guy at about 5 foot 7 but he said, 'The more I practice, the luckier I get.'

That kind of stuck with me, regardless of what your profession is. If you stick at it, something will happen. The landscape has changed so much since I was a teenager; social media plays such a vast role in success, but there's also luck. And you have to be lucky and you have to put yourself in a position for luck to happen. You have to be original. Unfortunately, if you're in a cover band or a bar band and your playing other peoples' songs, the odds of you being a success are not good. Originality is very hard, but just have faith in yourself and I know this sounds like an old fart speaking but stay away from all those nefarious substances that I partook of in vast quantities back in the day because it doesn't help one iota. So just stick at it and never be afraid to ask for help.

Bad Company visits the Resch Center on Oct. 27, 2018, with special guests Cheap Trick and the Femmes of Rock. Tickets are $35 and up. A portion of the proceeds goes to support The American Cancer Society, the Red Cross as well as the Miracle League of Lakeshore and Brown County Heroin Treatment Court. Tickets are available through Ticket Star.

Be sure to check out Kirke's latest solo effort, “All Because of You," recorded with the Empty Pockets. The album is available on iTunes and via Amazon.com.

For more on Bad Company visit BadCompany.com.

--Carl Dunn photo

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