Simon Kirke may not be the flashiest drummer in rock, but he has been the rock-solid anchor for the classic band Bad Company throughout its career—from the first snare smack that kicked off “Can’t Get Enough” to the present day. In fact, Kirke is the only member of Bad Co. who’s been in every lineup and on every album since the band’s formation in 1974. Prior to joining that supergroup, he was the drummer in Free (also featuring future Bad Co. singer Paul Rodgers)—that’s right, he created that legendary groove on the classic “All Right Now.”
Those are laurels anyone could rest on, but Simon Kirke is more than just a drummer of immaculate taste and talent. He’s also a singer, songwriter and all-around musician who plays guitar and piano. In recent years—when he’s not drumming with Bad Co. or in other high-profile gigs like Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band—he’s been creating his own music.
July 18 will mark a milestone for Simon as he takes the stage at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., for a one-time-only (at least for now) solo concert. In an interesting twist, he’ll be supported by local Philadelphia-area musicians in a band he’s dubbed Leap of Faith that was assembled just for this show.
When I talked to Simon Kirke, he had just rehearsed for the first time with the Leap of Faith band in anticipation of Saturday night’s show. In addition to this exciting new phase in his career, we also spoke about working with Ringo, upcoming Bad Co. plans, departed friends, a legendary but notoriously difficult fellow drummer, and a certain eight-track tape from his past.
Howard Whitman: You have a show coming up on Saturday at the Sellersville Theater. I understand you’re using some local talent. Why don’t you tell me about that?
Simon Kirke: We had our first rehearsal yesterday. I was a little nervous because I hadn’t heard any of them. I’d only been recommended them by a mutual friend. So it was a leap of faith, and I’m actually calling the band Leap of Faith. They were great— they were really, really good. It’s Jeff Kozol on drums, Sam Uosikkinen on guitar, Andy King on bass and Jeff Quatro on keyboards. We had our first rehearsal and it was really good. I’m very excited about playing. I do play drums on half a dozen songs, and then Jeff Kozol plays drums on the others, or percussion, because not all the songs will be flat-out rock and roll. I do a couple of acoustic solo songs, and there are a couple of surprises. There’s a Bad Company song that people will not recognize until I start singing it. Because for me to try to emulate Paul Rodgers or try to emulate a Bad Company song in the original style, it’s pointless because you can’t really beat it. So I’ve tried to do the Bad Company songs in my own style.
Whitman: Are you playing guitar in this show?
Kirke: I’m playing acoustic guitar on a few things. I’m playing solo piano on a couple of my original songs. I do a bunch of original songs and then one Free, “All Right Now,” which everyone loves, and then a bunch of Bad Company songs.
Whitman: Do you do “All Right Now” in a different style—perhaps acoustic-based and stripped-down?
Kirke: Well actually, no. That’s one song that I can’t really … It’s a rousing song, and it can only really be done in one way. I’ve been singing it for years because I sung with Ringo, when I did these tours with Ringo Starr and the All-Starr Band. He asked me what I could sing and I lied completely, and said I could sing “Shooting Star” and “All Right Now.” He said (Ringo voice), “Well, that’s fine by me.” I managed to acquit myself rather well. You can actually go on YouTube and see me singing “All Right Now” in Detroit (check out the video here) with the inimitable Jack Bruce on bass and Peter Frampton on guitar. That was a wonderful band.
Whitman: That’s quite a band to have with you. Was that the first time you sang that song?
Kirke: It was, yes! And I had to have some vocal exercises… I mean, I had an OK voice. I think it’s pretty good now, but back then, I hadn’t really sung. Because you don’t need to sing in the band if you’ve got Paul Rodgers singing. I did the occasional backup on the albums, but I hadn’t really sung properly for many years, so it was a baptism of fire.
Whitman: I had the eight-track of the Kossoff/Kirke/Tetsu/Rabbit (post-Free supergroup) album you sang lead on.
Kirke: Wow! I am very impressed. You don’t sound old enough to have a bloody eight-track, Howard.
Whitman: Oh, I am.
Kirke: We’ll leave it at that. But I am very pleasantly surprised.
Whitman: I wish I still had something that could play it.
Kirke: I know. Someone sent me an Instagram, they’d seen it in an antique shop, an eight-track of the first album. I said “Buy the lot, buddy.” You know, eight-tracks worked very, very good because they had eight tracks. The songs were done in eight tracks, so the sound on each track was amazing, much better than cassettes. It was just that they were so bulky and unwieldy.
Whitman: And they would just click in the middle of a song, because the music was broken up into four parts.
Kirke: They were good for putting under tables that were wobbly.
Whitman: There you go. And they were really the first things you could play in your car.
Kirke: Yeah, yeah.
Whitman: That was a cool project, because it was the first album on which you sang lead, and it was you carrying on with some of the Free guys.
Kirke: Yeah. That was special … it was a turbulent time for me back then, because Free had broken up just when we were really doing well. We’d broken up because we really couldn’t handle the success of “All Right Now.” We were only kids, and our manager was a little ineffective. It was just too much for us. When “All Right Now” came out, I was barely 21. Andy was 17 and Paul Kossoff was 18, and I was the oldest at 21. We just couldn’t handle the pressure. So, Kossoff/Kirke/Tetsu/Rabbit was formed from the ashes of that band, and we were OK. None of us could really sing, and it was quite a job to fill the shoes of Paul Rodgers. It was a good album. It was very musical, and we had fun doing it. But I always have a soft spot for people who say they bought that album because it meant a lot to us.
Whitman: I remember it well. It was good stuff. … Speaking of Free, I was sorry to hear about Andy Fraser passing.
Kirke: Yeah, that was quite a shock to me. I knew that he had HIV, but he’d had that under control for many years. What I didn’t know is that he had this rare form of cancer. He was a very fit guy. He ate well and exercised well. I don’t think he drank or did drugs—he was amazingly fit. But obviously the cancer caught up with him and that was that.
Whitman: That’s such a shame. Were you still in contact with him over the years?
Kirke: You know, the tragedy was that I was going to do some shows with him the next month, in May. We were going to do a tribute to Frankie Miller, who was an amazing singer-songwriter in Scotland. We had a show all lined up and had a tour lined up. We eventually went ahead and did the shows without Andy and made it a tribute to both Frankie and Andy. But he was very, very well liked in England. There was a lot of affection for Free. Not so much Bad Company, but Free had a lot of affection in England, and of course, Andy was a monster bass player.
Whitman: Yeah, he was.
Kirke: Amazing. And an amazing songwriter. It’s a real tragedy that he went so soon.
Whitman: We have lost so many of the great bass players lately—Jack Bruce …
Kirke: I know! Chris Squire, and the guy from Toto (Mike Porcaro) …
Whitman: I play bass myself … actually, I do “All Right Now,” pretty much every show I do now.
Kirke: Oh! I see, now I know…
Whitman: Sing it and play it.
Kirke: You sing it and play it? My God!
Whitman: I do. There are some tough notes in there. That Paul Rodgers guy is pretty good, I have to say.
Kirke: He’s pretty good (laughs). We’re doing a big tour next year, Bad Company, hopefully. I know we’re doing a bunch of European shows, but we’re supposed to be doing 30 to 40 shows in America next year.
Kirke: I love playing America. We’ve always gone down well.
Whitman: Is that the same lineup you’ve been using, with Howard Leese on guitar?
Kirke: Yeah, Howard, and Todd Ronning on bass—wonderful bass player, and then Mick Ralphs of course on lead, Paul on vocals and me playing drums. I had a chance last year when we did some shows to step out and play guitar on “Seagull.” The three of us played guitar and they let me play a little lead. I’ve been playing guitar for many years, and I manage to get by. But I hope we do it again next year. I really love playing guitar.
Whitman: Do you enjoy stepping out and fronting the band now?
Kirke: Well, I do! I was a little nervous, obviously, because I hadn’t met these guys. And we played in this guy’s basement, and I took the mic in my hand and we just started singing my songs. I really do like it, and I hope people are appreciative. I’ve heard that the crowd that goes to the Sellersville Theater [is] pretty musically knowledgeable. I’ve done solo shows before in clubs and people talk, they chat in the back and they clink glasses and it’s a bit of a drag. But I think that the Sellersville crowd [will be] a lot more appreciative. I hope that they give me a chance. I will play drums, and I know people would like to see me play drums, and that’s fine. I saw the Stones a couple of weeks ago in Nashville and, of course, everyone wants to hear their hits, but as soon as they deviated from the hits and started playing stuff from their new album or Keith’s solo stuff, people’s interest just started to wander. It’s human nature, I know, but I hope people will give me a chance on Saturday, because there’s some good stuff. I have to blow my own trumpet, but there’s good stuff there.
Whitman: I was just there at the Sellersville Theater recently, for a show by the band King’s X, and that’s a venue where music is appreciated.
Kirke: Oh, I love King’s X!
Whitman: They’re a great band.
Kirke: Oh, they’re incredible. They’re too good. I mean, they really are too good for their own good. I mean, they’re not commercial at all, but they’re just amazing musicians and they’re amazing players. So, wow, yeah.
Whitman: They brought the house down, and it is a place where people who really appreciate music go. I think you’ll go over great there. So are you just doing this one show in this format?
Kirke: I am, yeah. Bad Company is not working until next May, so there’s at least nine months to fill. And there are some people coming down to see me. In a way, Howard, it’s a bit like a showcase. If they like it, they’ll book me. I’m much more confident than I was 24 hours ago, before I met these guys. But they’re a terrific bunch of players, so I’m so looking forward to Saturday night.
Whitman: The guys in the band, they did their homework? They’re all set?
Kirke: I was amazed. I was absolutely knocked out, because there are 16 songs I’m doing, maybe 17, and they knew just about every one. Of course, “Shooting Star,” “Feel Like Making Love,” they knew. But my stuff is a little bit more complex, and they knew it just about 90 percent. I was so pleased.
Whitman: Sounds like it will be a great show.
Kirke: It will be, I promise. Are you going to come?
Whitman: I wish I could be there. I have a gig.
Kirke: Oh, OK. Well, I understand what it’s like to be a working musician.
Whitman: I’ll be singing “All Right Now” and thinking of you guys.
Kirke: You’ll probably be singing “All Right Now” at the same bloody time that I will be singing it!
Whitman: It’s very possible. Usually in the first set … I have to ask you, how does it feel to be onstage with a Beatle, to do the Ringo tours?
Kirke: Oh, wonderful. Wonderful. Ringo has always been an influence for me. I mean, in some drumming circles he’s very underrated and almost derided. But he’s actually a really, very good “feel” drummer. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not very technical. But he has wonderful feel, he has a wonderful feel for a song. And he’s left-handed, so he leads with his left hand around the kit, and I suppose only drummers would appreciate this, but it’s very hard to emulate him, not that I would try. It was just great to play with him, and every now and again I’d try to get some Beatles story out of him. He doesn’t really talk that much about that particular band, but I managed to get a couple of little nuggets from him. But he’s a great guy. And the other thing about playing with that band is that there were some terrific musicians. I mean, I got to play with Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton, Todd Rundgren, Gary Brooker from Procol Harum, some amazing musicians. So it was a wonderful time.
Whitman: And everybody sang their own songs, so you were playing “Whiter Shade of Pale” and Cream, not just Beatles songs, right?
Kirke: Yeah. “White Room” and whatever Peter sings, I’ve drawn a blank on Peter.
Whitman: Probably “Show Me the Way”?
Kirke: “Show Me the Way,” yes! And “Do You Feel Like We Do.”
Whitman: And I guess you had to try to get into Ginger Baker’s style a bit in that show as well?
Kirke: Yeah! Well I don’t think Ringo would ever have Ginger in the band. He’s a force of nature. You know, there’s a movie out called “Beware of Mr. Baker,” and in the first scene, he breaks the interviewer’s nose. Have you seen it?
Whitman: I certainly have, and I see that Ginger Baker’s doing the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp now.
Kirke: I know! I was stunned.
Whitman: They’re going to put him around people now? It’s a little … alarming.
Kirke: Maybe they’ll have a little electronic bracelet on his ankle that David (Fishof, Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp producer) can operate just to taser him now and again to keep him in line. But apparently, with age, like all of us, he’s mellowed somewhat. Hopefully.
Whitman: It will be interesting, one way or another, and I’m sure he’ll be honest with the campers.
Kirke: He’s a great guy—no, forget that bit. He’s a wonderful drummer. I’m not sure as a person.
Whitman: In the film, no one ever disparages his talent.
Kirke: Well, Eric Clapton leapt to his defense when I believe the interviewer compared [Baker] to John Bonham and Keith Moon. You know, the triumvirate back then was Baker, Moon and Bonham. And Eric said, “No, no, no, no. Baker was so much more musical than Bonzo or Moonie.” And that’s true! Baker, he tuned his drums, he was the first drummer to incorporate African rhythms. He was really a very musical drummer indeed, who was just a royal pain in the ass to be around.
Whitman: So you’ve been working in a singer-songwriter mode for a while now. Have you been recording these songs, Simon?
Kirke: Well, I’ve done two solo CDs. And they sold very modestly, because I haven’t been in the Facebook, the social media. There’s one called “Seven Rays of Hope,” which I recorded seven years ago when I’d just gotten out of rehab. And then there was one called “Filling the Void,” which I recorded in 2011. You can get that on iTunes. “Seven Rays of Hope,” you have to write to me or write to Lucy Piller, who is our fan club secretary at allrightnow.com, and she can get you those. They’re home recordings, but I’m really proud of them. I do have a bunch more songs, and there’s a label called E1 that want to record them, and they’re actually coming down to the show on Saturday night to meet me. And they want to fly me up to Chicago to do an album. And I’d love to do it, because I’m proud of my songs, and that’s really what I like doing. I love playing drums, don’t get me wrong, that’s my first love. And I love playing in Bad Company, and I love playing music, Howard. And as you, being a musician, will know—someone said it, I believe it was Shakespeare, that music is its own reward. And that’s a wonderful quote. And it’s true. I mean, I’ve played to three people and I’ve had a ball. I lost money, but I had a ball. I’ve played to 30,000 people and had a shit night. That’s for another time, but it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life, play music and write songs.
Whitman: I think there’s a quote attributed to Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick. He said, “They pay me to travel.” He’d do the music for free.
Kirke: Aw, that’s great.
Whitman: And you do the music very well, sir.
Kirke: Thank you, Howard. I’m sorry you won’t be there, but there will be other gigs. This is not just a one-off. I’ll definitely be doing more shows.
Click here for further information on Simon Kirke.
Check out the promotional video for Simon’s July 18 Sellersville Theater concert here.
Tickets for the July 18 Simon Kirke show are available on the Sellersville Theater website.