Bad Company are an English hard rock supergroup formed in Westminster, London in 1973 by two former Free band members—singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke— as well as Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. Peter Grant, who managed the rock band Led Zeppelin, also managed Bad Company until 1982.
Bad Company enjoyed great success throughout the 1970s. Their first three albums, Bad Company (1974), Straight Shooter (1975), and Run With the Pack (1976) reached the top five in the album charts in both the UK and US. Many of their singles, such as “Bad Company”, “Can’t Get Enough”, “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad”, and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, remain staples of classic rock radio.
Paul Rodgers Period (1973–1982)
There was a rumour that singer Paul Rodgers was so enamored with the Jeff Bridges film Bad Company that he chose to name his band after it, but Rodgers, in an interview with Spinner.com, explained that the idea came from a book of Victorian morals that showed a picture of an innocent kid looking up at an unsavory character leaning against a lamppost. The caption read “beware of bad company”.
Bad Company consisted of four seasoned musicians: two former members of Free, singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke; former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs; and ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. The band signed to Swan Song Records/Atlantic Records in North America, and with Island Records in other countries. (Island Records had until that time been the UK home to both Free and King Crimson, as well as to Mott the Hoople for their first four albums; Atlantic, in turn, released King Crimson’s and Mott’s early albums in the US through a licensing agreement with Island). Atlantic/Warner Music would later acquire the non-North American rights to the band’s catalog.
The band’s 1974 debut album, Bad Company, was recorded at Headley Grange, Hampshire in Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio. The album reached number one on the Billboard 200 in the US, and number 3 in the UK Albums Chart, spending 25 weeks in the UK charts. The album has been certified five times platinum in the US and became the 46th– the best-selling album of the 1970s. The singles “Can’t Get Enough” and “Movin’ On” reached No. 5 and No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1975 their second album, Straight Shooter, reached No. 3 in both the UK and the US, and also went platinum in the US. The album also spawned two hit singles, “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” at No. 36 and the slower “Feel Like Makin’ Love” at No. 10.
Their third album, Run With the Pack, was released in 1976 and reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 5 in the US. Bad Company scheduled a British tour with the band of former Free member Paul Kossoff, Back Street Crawler, to support the album, as well as a new album by Back Street Crawler. This double headline tour was scheduled to commence on 25 April 1976 but was halted due to Kossoff’s death on 19 March 1976.
1977’s Burnin’ Sky fared the poorest of their first four records, reaching No. 15 in the US and No. 17 in the UK. 1979’s Desolation Angels did better than its predecessor, peaking at No. 3 in the US and No. 10 in the UK. Desolation Angels also embellished the group’s sound with synthesizers and strings. It had two charting singles: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” at No. 13 and “Gone Gone Gone” at No. 56.
By the end of the 1970s, however, the band grew increasingly disenchanted with playing large stadiums. In addition, Peter Grant lost interest in the group and management in general after Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died on 25 September 1980. In the words of Simon Kirke, “Peter was definitely the glue which held us all together and in his absence, we came apart”.
A three-year hiatus from the studio ended with the release of Rough Diamonds in 1982. This would be the sixth and final LP in the group’s original incarnation until four new songs were recorded in 1998. The album was the worst selling Bad Company album of those that had Paul Rodgers as the front man. The album peaked at No. 15 in the UK and No. 26 in the US.
After the release of Rough Diamonds, Bad Company disbanded. Mick Ralphs said, “Paul wanted a break and truthfully we all needed to stop. Bad Company had become bigger than us all and to continue would have destroyed someone or something. From a business standpoint, it was the wrong thing to do, but Paul’s instinct was absolutely right”.
Despite being famous for their live shows packing the largest stadiums for almost a decade, Bad Company did not release an official live album of performances from this time period until the 2006 album Live in Albuquerque 1976. The recordings were made by Mick Ralphs, who regularly taped the group’s shows and used the tapes to critique the band’s performances. Bootlegs of Bad Company’s live performances from this period were also available, including “Boblingen Live” (1974), “Live in Japan” (1975) and “Shooting Star Live at the L.A. Forum” (1975).
Brian Howe Period (1986–1994)
In 1985 Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke, having just worked together the previous year on Ralphs’ solo album Take This, decided to reteam for a new project. But in 1986, their label, Atlantic Records, insisted they resume the Bad Company name. Unfortunately, Paul Rodgers was already engaged with a new supergroup called The Firm. With Rodgers gone, the remaining two members partnered with ex-Ted Nugent vocalist Brian Howe as the new lead singer. In addition, they hired Steve Price as the new bass player and Greg Dechert (ex-Uriah Heep) on keyboards. Howe’s vocal style brought more of a pop-rock sound to the band, which Atlantic Records, looking to bring the band back up to arena status, was looking for after declining turnouts to previous live performances and the dismal sales of Rough Diamonds. The band hired Foreigner producer Keith Olsen to produce the new line-up’s initial album, 1986’s Fame and Fortune. Burrell agreed to rejoin the band and was name-checked on the Fame and Fortune album, even though he didn’t play on it. But just before the supporting tour, he left once again (Steve Price then returned). Among the subsequent projects, Burrell was involved with was a nine-piece jazz outfit called The Tam White Band.
Reflecting the musical style of the mid-80s, Fame and Fortune was laden with keyboards, unlike previous Bad Company albums, but was only modestly successful. The single “This Love” managed to reach No. 85 on the Singles charts but was not the success the band hoped for. But things were about to change.
In 1987 Dechert was dropped from the line-up as the group decided not to play up the keyboards in their sound as much. They toured that year supporting Deep Purple.
For the next Howe-era album, 1988’s Dangerous Age, the band replaced Olsen with producer Terry Thomas, who got rid of most of the keyboards and returned the band to a guitar-driven sound. Thomas also added small amounts of keyboards as well as rhythm guitars and backing vocals and wrote most of the songs with the band. Dangerous Age fared better than its predecessor, spawning several MTV videos and the AOR hits “No Smoke Without A Fire” (#4), “One Night” (#9) and “Shake It Up” (#9, also No. 89 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart). The album went gold and hit the Top 60. For the Dangerous Age tour, the band was augmented by Larry Oakes (keyboards, guitar), who had also played with Foreigner. Price and Oakes both left at the conclusion of the tour.
The band’s next album, Holy Water, written mostly by Brian Howe and Terry Thomas, was released in June 1990. The album, also produced by Thomas, was enormously successful both critically and commercially, attaining Top 40 and platinum status by selling more than one million copies. Holy Water was the band’s first album on the Atlantic subsidiary Atco. The album spun off the singles: “If You Needed Somebody” (#16), the title track “Holy Water” (#89) and “Walk Through Fire” (#28). “Holy Water” also hit No. 1 for 2 weeks on the AOR charts with “If You Needed Somebody” reaching No. 2. The album received significant radio airplay (five songs made the AOR charts in all) and spawned several video hits. Felix Krish played bass on the CD while Paul Cullen was recruited for live shows.
Mick Ralphs, who was taking care of personal and family matters, sat out for most of the Holy Water tour, although he did perform on the album. Beginning in June 1990, Ralphs was replaced on the road and in the videos by ex-Crawler guitarist Geoff Whitehorn. Ralphs returned later on during the tour (in April 1991) and Whitehorn went on to join Procol Harum in December 1991 with whom he still plays to this day. Also joining at this time was ex-ASAP guitarist Dave “Bucket” Colwell as the second guitarist. Their subsequent tour, supported by Damn Yankees, was heralded as one of the top 5 grossing tours of 1991 during a year which saw many other rock acts facing a downturn in concert attendance brought on by rising ticket prices and economic recession.
It was widely rumored at the start of the 90s that Howe and other members of the band, which he helped revive four years earlier, had been bickering over financial matters. Howe had been rumored to be leaving the band in 1990 and ex-Kansas singer Steve Walsh was to take over. This plan proved easier said than done. Atlantic Records did not agree, given their renewed success and Howe’s extraordinary vocal ability, and he was convinced to stay on.
The final studio album of the Howe era, 1992’s Here Comes Trouble, featured the Top 40 hit “How About That” (#38) and “This Could Be The One” (#87). The album went gold. Before touring in support of Here Comes Trouble, the band added ex-Foreigner, Roxy Music and Small Faces bassist Rick Wills and Colwell, a protégé of Ralphs, was now a full-time member. The band toured with several acts, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, and recorded a live album, What You Hear Is What You Get: The Best of Bad Company on the Here Comes Trouble tour. The critically acclaimed album, released in November 1993, featured live versions of hits from both the Rodgers and Howe eras of the band.
Howe left the band in 1994. Regarding his departure from the band, Howe stated: “Leaving Bad Company was not a difficult decision. It had got to the point where nobody was contributing anything to songwriting and quite frankly, the band was getting very very sloppy live. I quite simply, along with Terry Thomas, got tired of doing all the work and then getting nothing but resentment for it from Mick and Simon.”
Recent events (2011–present)
In March 2011 a budget live release Extended Versions was issued, taken from the band’s UK tour in 2010. The CD debuted at No. 139 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart and featured 10 selections, and climbed as high as No. 84 on the chart. This became the first Bad Company album to chart in 12 years.
In March 2012 it was announced that Bad Company would be performing a short run of European festival dates beginning 9 June at the Sweden Rock Festival in Solvesborg. This would mark the first time in 37 years the band had performed in the European continent, outside the UK However, it was announced in May that the German festival dates were canceled but that the Sweden Rock Festival show was still on.
In June 2012 Todd Ronning, from Rodgers’ solo band, took over bass, playing alongside second guitarist Howard Leese, who was celebrating his fourth year with the band.
In March 2013 Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd announced a joint 40th Anniversary Tour commemorating the 40th anniversary of Skynyrd’s first album release and Bad Company’s formation. On 10 June 2013 Bad Company appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, kicking off their commemorative tour to enthusiastic crowds from coast to coast throughout the United States and Canada.
In 2014 Bad Company once again announced a joint summer tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Bad Company’s first two studio albums, Bad Company (1974) and Straight Shooter (1975), were re-released on CD, digital and vinyl on 7 April and 1 July 2015 respectively. The release encompassed the original albums newly remastered in 2015, alongside single b-sides, studio demos, interviews, and previously unreleased songs from the vault.
In March 2016 the group announced a US tour with Joe Walsh. Mick Ralphs later announced that he would not be participating in this tour and that Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes would be standing in for him.
In June 2016 the group announced a U.K. arena tour with special guests Richie Sambora and Orianthi culminating in a show at London’s O2 arena on 29 October. Mick Ralphs rejoined the band for the duration of the tour.
On 4 November 2016, it was announced that Mick Ralphs had suffered a stroke.
In 2017 Bad Company resumed touring with Rodgers, Kirke, Todd Ronning on bass and Howard Leese on lead guitar.
- Current members
- Simon Kirke – drums, backing and occasional lead vocals, percussion, guitars (1973–1982, 1986–1999, 2001–2002, 2008–present)
- Mick Ralphs – guitars, backing vocals, keyboards (1973–1982, 1986–1999, 2008–present)
- Paul Rodgers – lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, harmonica (1973–1982, 1998–1999, 2001–2002, 2008–present)
- Howard Leese – guitar (2008–present)
- Todd Ronning – bass (2012–present)
- Former members
- Boz Burrell – bass, backing vocals (1973–1982, 1986, 1998–1999; died 2006)
- Brian Howe – lead vocals, saxophone (1986–1994)
- Gregg Dechert – keyboards (1986–1987)
- Steve Price – bass, backing vocals (1986, 1986–1990)
- Larry Oakes – guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (1988–1989)
- Paul Cullen – bass (1990–1992)
- Dave “Bucket” Colwell – guitars, backing vocals, keyboards (1992–1998, 2001–2002)
- Rick Wills – bass (1992–1998, 2001)
- Robert Hart – lead vocals (1994–1998)
- Jaz Lochrie – bass (2002)
- Lynn Sorensen – bass (2008–2010)
- Former touring musicians
- Geoff Whitehorn – guitars, backing vocals (1990-1991)
- Rich Robinson – guitars, backing vocals (2016)