Feature: Bands that time forgot – BAD COMPANY (1986-1996)

Bad Company in 1995

For most, Bad Company conjures up the classic seventies line-up fronted by Paul Rodgers and with Mick Ralphs, Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell.  The eponymous and classic first album yielded a handful of airplay and chart hits and set the template – bluesy and soulful hard rock elevated by a good tune.

The later life of the band is often overlooked.  Paul Rodgers had gone by 1983 and with him the classic sound that made Bad Company one of the early UK arena-filling bands.

The first album with a new vocalist ushered in a new era in 1986.  And a style that was definitely aimed at the American FM radio and AOR market.  Ralphs and Kirke remained from the original line-up whilst there was a revolving door for the bass position ultimately settling with one-time Foreigner Rick Wills in 1992.

Fame And Fortune chimed with the late eighties demand for melodic hard rock with keyboards (and sax!) and vocalist Brian Howe (ex- Ted Nugent) gave the sound a more melodic pop/rock gloss.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, sitting at the production controls was Keith Olsen who by this time had worked with genre heavyweights Foreigner.  But this was nothing like the Bad Co. of old.

It was the next series of albums with producer Terry Thomas that offered more consistency and a return to a guitar-driven sound.  1988′s Dangerous Age also yielded some airplay and MTV “hits” including ‘No Smoke Without Fire’.  Brian Howe reminded of that other great AOR crooner Lou Gramm.

Bad Company - Holy Water

The most successful album of the Brian Howe-era and arguably the strongest – Holy Water – was released in 1990 right in the middle of a golden age for AOR/guitar rock with bands such as Winger, Whitesnake and Giant whom Terry Thomas also produced.  Several singles emerged including the title track, and ‘If You Needed Somebody’.  ‘Stranger Stranger’ and ‘Never Too Late’ are particularly fine examples of the band’s raunch ‘n’ roll typical of the period.

During this time Ralphs took some time out from the touring band and his place was taken by Geoff Whitehorn and then Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell joined on second guitar.

Following the next album – 1992′s Here Comes Trouble  – Brian Howe left the band, apparently frustrated about the lack of songwriting contribution from Ralphs and Kirke (Howe had written the previous albums with Thomas).  The original band members evidently hasd misgivings about the band’s musical direction with Howe.  This album doesn’t fall short of its predecessor in terms of the quality department with superb songs such as ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, ‘Little Angel’ and ‘Brokenhearted’.

Bad Company continued, recruiting Robert Hart in 1994.  The one-time Distance frontman has more recently worked with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The album Company Of Strangers appeared in 1996.  Hart had a more soulful delivery, closer to Rodgers on songs like ‘Judas My Brother’, ‘Little Martha’ and ‘Gimme Gimme’ whilst ‘Abandoned And Alone’ and ‘Down And Dirty’ bring us back to the raunch ‘n’ roll of the previous albums in glorious style.

This was definitely an end of the era, as at this time also AOR was somewhat overshadowed by Grunge and ultimately nu-metal bands of the early millennium.  In 1998 the original members of Bad Company reunited to play four new songs on a new compilation and they have toured off and on ever since, although without Boz Burrell who died in 2006 and with Howard Leese deputising for Mick Ralphs who had a stroke in 2016.

BAD COMPANY - Manchester Arena, 24 October 2016

Mick Ralphs in 2016

As Pete Whalley commented, reviewing the band’s gig in Manchester in October 2016, “Kirke … has aged well – putting on a typically powerhouse performance.  But Ralphs, in his early seventies, looked in some physical discomfort as he meandered around the stage.

He may not have added greatly to the sound, but his sheer presence made this gig.  Without him, it would have been Bad Company in name only.”  This is exactly the same feeling with present day Mick Jones and Foreigner.

On the back of that tour I asked Simon Kirke about the post-Paul Rodgers era of the band and whether they would ever revisit some of those songs.  He thought not and the focus was very firmly on the seventies back catalogue, similarly they didn’t touch his earlier incarnation with Paul Rodgers, Free.  It may simply be that the promoters and managers of what is an arena rock show think this is what the moneyed punters really want.

There are some great songs from the later period and, with no impetus from the original drummer or others championing the cause, it steadily becomes a sadly under-exposed era.  It’s a shame that a scratch band couldn’t be formed which celebrates this music, fronted either by Howe or Hart.

Sadly, this won’t ever happen with Howe as, just after completing this feature, we learned that the singer had died of a heart attack after suffering a similar scare in 2017.

In 2009 Hart and ‘Bucket’ Colwell  formed X-Bad Company but they only seemed to have managed a single and a live album recorded in 2010 which  reveals a setlist of 70 per cent seventies material.

As Andy Nathan reported for GRTR! in July 2019,  at his London gig ‘Bucket’ Colwell did play several Bad Company songs but they were all from the earlier period.  Looking at a Brian Howe setlist from the same time and, again, there is more emphasis on the seventies “hits”.

A compilation was produced in 1996 which draws a line under the later period of the band’s history and before Rodgers’ reappearance.  Stories Told & Untold featured new material and re-recordings of the “classic” band.

The situation in the late 1980s was not unlike – for example – Whitesnake with Moody and Marsden compared with that band in hair metal mode.  Some fans of the original band and style remained underwhelmed.   However there is no doubt that some will have warmed to the revised Bad Co. offering and readers playing catch up would do well to investigate.

David Randall

Simon Kirke chatted to Get Ready To ROCK! Radio in October 2016.  In this interview edit he talks about 1990s Bad Company.

Recommended albums

Holy Water (1988)
Here Comes Trouble (1992)

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 14 March 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 23 March 2021.

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