Gary James' Interview With Simon Kirke Of
Bad Company and Free
He's best known for his drumming work in Bad Company and Free. But that's about to change with the release of his solo CD "Filling The Void" (Mega-Force Records). We are talking of course about the one, the only, Simon Kirke.
Q - Simon, you title this CD of yours "Filling The Void". That's kind of a strange title coming from a man like yourself. What would be missing in your life? I always thought, here's a guy who's got it all. If you aren't' a successful musician, who is?
A - Well, it's kind of a metaphor really because the title track refers to when I was struggling with substance abuse. I likened addiction to filling a void with the endless space that was impossible to fill or satisfy. So really that's where that came from. It's the title track because the title track turned out so well, I decided to call the album that. Although the album isn't all about addiction. There are other songs about other subjects. That's what "Filling The Void" meant to me.
Q - When you started your career were you a drinker or was that something that developed as time went on?
A - It's just something that developed as time went on. When I was young and just starting out, I was very ambitious and very driven. I never allowed drinking or substances to get in my way, to blunt my ambition. It only really got bad when Bad Company first broke up and I was sort of left twiddling my thumbs. Idle hands and all that stuff. But by the early '80s I was drinking and drugging way too much.
Q - But again, when you were just starting out in Free and Bad Company, you didn't need that stuff, did you?
A - No. Like I said, when you're starting out, you're young and you're hungry, you take care of yourself because you don't want your performance to suffer the next day if you have a hangover or if you haven't slept 'cause you've done too much coke. You take care of yourself. For us, or for me, once Bad Company had established itself and we were selling millions of CDs and had our own plane and all that stuff, I sort of took it all for granted and started indulging to excess because I had arrived. I was on top of the world. People liked what we were playing, even though in my mind the performance wasn't as good if we had been sober. Look, that's not saying I don't play well. I never indulged before a show. Nine times out of ten I went onstage clean and sober. It was after the gig that it all went to hell in a hand basket. (laughs)
Q - In your song, "One Day Closer To You", you sing "Dined with princes, beggars and rogues." How about princesses? Did you ever meet Princess Diana?
A - Well, I did. Well, I never actually met her. I was in a charity gala. My wife is a dress designer and we were invited by certain people. There was a big gala event and Princess Diana was there, but I actually never sat with her or conversed with her. Everyone loved her.
Q - You were a driver for the Red Cross six weeks after 911.
A - Yeah.
Q - You were delivering supplies to Ground Zero. Were you in New York City on September 11th, 2001?
A - Oh, yeah. I saw it. I live in New York and I live about a mile from Ground Zero. I was on my way to an appointment in the morning about five past nine and I heard this huge bang. I came around the corner to Christopher Street and everyone was pointing at the North Tower. The flames were just starting to come out of the building where this huge wound in the building was. Some guy was screaming "A plane just went in! A plane just went in!" My first thought was; God, I wish I had a camera. It looked so dramatic of course. I didn't think it was a big aircraft. I thought it looked like maybe a Beechcraft or Cessna or something. They said "No, man. It was an airliner." Then I went to my appointment. I didn't hang around because I was late. I came out an hour later and of course by then the second plane had gone in. Both towers were enveloped in smoke.
Q - You didn't hear the second plane hit, did you?
A - No. I was in a basement. When I came out, all hell had broken loose. Of course on my way back to the house, I lived on 11th Street at the time, the South Tower had collapsed. It was an unbelievable day. I think about it every day.
Q - I can imagine. Were you frightened at any point?
A - I knew that it wasn't an accident because two planes had hit. The first plane going in, I thought maybe the guy had had a heart attack or a plane had broken down and stalled, but the second plane going in, I knew we were under attack, that it was a pre-meditated attack. My only fear at the time was for one of my daughters, who was in school down there. Had those towers collapsed horizontally, had they fallen down and covered a block long instead of crumbling in on themselves, there would have been a lot more people killed. But I was just worried my kid was down there. Because the ATT Tower on top of the North Tower was out of action, there were no cell phones. There was no cell coverage for days and days. We were frantic and worried that our kids were gonna be killed down there.
Q - Even six weeks after the attack, Ground Zero was still a dangerous place, with all the chemicals that must've been in the air. Were you wearing a mask when you made those deliveries?
A - Yeah. The Red Cross were one of the first people to make mandatory these gas masks that whenever we went near the site or into the area because of all the wiring and the dust. And of course now, years later, fireman and workers who were down there are dying from lung and respiratory diseases. I remember on a clear, hot day in September, going to the pile and seeing guys with jackhammers and drills and hammers on top of those girders and in the rubble, stripped to the waist, wearing no breathing protection what-so-ever. Somebody wasn't thinking.
Q - Your making an appearance at the City Winery in New York in support of "Filling A Void"? You'll be with your other piano player?
A - Yeah. I'm playing with a guy who comes on the road with me when I do solo shows, Larry Oakes. He played second guitar for Bad Company in the mid-80s, so he's an old friend, a great player. I'm having some back-up singers and a cello player for the gig in New York City. We've just had a rehearsal. It sounds beautiful. They're gonna play on several of the songs, not all of them. But I do some Bad Company songs and I do my own songs. So, it's a bit of a mixture. People are curious as to what the drummer of Bad Company is doing playing acoustic guitar, how's it going to be? I think they'll be pleasantly surprised.
Q - Are you planning to tour behind the CD?
A - Well, yes and no. Yes I am going to go out on the road. Am I going to do a city to city tour? No, I'm not. My touring days are not over, but they're no where as numerous as in the old days. I like staying at home. I like writing songs. I like producing. I will be doing the occasional solo show. I'm going to L.A. I'm going to Vegas. I'm doing some Texas shows and there will be agents at this gig on Sunday (June 5th, 2011). William Morris and several other booking agencies. In kind of a way, Gary, it's like me re-inventing myself. Hopefully I will get some shows 'cause I really love playing those solo, acoustic shows. I love singing. I love playing guitar. I still love playing drums, but Bad Company isn't doing anything at the moment, so this is my chance.
Q - Why wouldn't you rent an office, hire someone to make calls to venues and see if there's any interest in you, rather than paying a 10% commission to an agency?
A - I never thought of that. No. Probably not. I prefer to pay an established agency that has contacts all over the world and let them do it. I'll give them their 10% or 20% . I'm doing this not for the money, because I don't get a lot from shows financially. I've made a comfortable living from Bad Company, but this is something I really love doing and whatever money comes my way, then so be it. It certainly is nothing like I get from playing with Bad Company.
Q - You say, "I've been writing songs for many, many years an I just wanted to get them out". So, there was never an opportunity to record one of your songs on a Free or Bad Company record?
A - Most of the songwriting was done by Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs. I contributed a few songs. I co-wrote with Paul on a couple of songs, most notably "Bad Company", which is something we knocked out in about fifteen minutes and I have a few songs on the albums, but mainly the writing was done by Mick and Paul. So, this is a challenge, writing songs for many, many years and I've got a stockpile of songs and I've chosen the twelve that I think are pretty good. I finally got an opportunity to make a CD and put it out and see what happens.
Q - What do you think of the music business as you look around today? Is there more opportunity for guys like you out there?
A - Well, there's always going to be a market for Rock 'n' Roll 'cause there's always going to be teenagers who will rebel. It comes out in different musical genres. The musical vehicle of the youth right now seems to be Rap. Rock has kind of taken a back seat for the last few years. The industry has changed a lot, yeah. It's become a lot more corporate. There aren't as many record companies anymore. There's only four or five major record companies in the whole world. It seems to be more geared up towards solo artists. There's always been a market for bands, don't get me wrong. It's tough. Times are tough throughout the world. There's a recession on. Record companies are being squeezed to cut down on personnel. It's a tough time for a new act to get signed.
Q - But you have an advantage because you have a name.
A - Yeah, I know. Look, I'm in the twilight of my career. I've had a good run and people are interested in the fact that Simon Kirke, the drummer with Free and Bad Company, is releasing a solo album. They're curious. So, luckily some of the doors are halfway open to me from the get go. But I wouldn't like to be starting off now in this business.
Q - Did you struggle for a number of years before you were signed to a record deal?
A - Not with Bad Company. No, not really. With Bad Company, because we were made up of people from well-known groups, there was an interest, a ready-made interest in us. We were lucky because we actually called up; when we formed in 1973, we said who's he biggest band in the world? And it was Led Zeppelin. So, I remember Paul Rogers called up Peter Grant, who was the manager, and said "Listen, we've put a band together. We'd like you to come and see us." And he came to see us and liked the band. He said, "Look, I'd like to sign you to Swan Song Records," which is Led Zeppelin's personal label. So, we didn't have any trouble. It was pretty smooth sailing. I also think talent will eventually show. Talent and persistence. You've got to be persistent. You gotta make an MP3 or a CD and take it to every club, anyone in the business. Never give up. There's a lot of people out there in competition, so you've gotta be your own manager really.
Q - We know all the great things about being in a successful recording and touring act, but what if any downside would there be?
A - Well, the downside really is your lack of privacy and the amount of time that gets eaten into your family life. That's why it's pretty much a young person's game. When you're breaking into this business and you're married with kids, it can be a drawback. You have to travel. You have to tour. There are a lot of temptations out there; members of the opposite sex, drugs and drink, shady lawyers, shady agents. There are a lot of pitfalls. You can end up broke and addicted in pretty quick time.
Q - I hope all of those things didn't happen to you.
A - Not at once. (laughs) Like I said, I'm an addict and I'll always be an addict. I'm in a twelve step program. I've been clean and sober for a number of years now. But it's a very tempting area, especially when you're touring. If you're in Australia or Germany, thousands and thousands of miles away from home and someone gives you something or takes you to bed or buys you a drink, you'd be in-human not to accept, or very impolite. (laughs)