The only guitarist to appear on every Bad Company album is the redoubtable Mick Ralphs, whose on-the-money sledgemhammer riffs were already known by serious fans of rock guitar prior to the formation of the band in the mid ’70s. Ralphs was the original lead guitarist for the legendary British band Mott the Hoople, and his blistering, powerchord-based chops were a staple of that band’s first half-dozen albums. The first four (the self-titled debut album, Mad Shadows, Wildlife, and Brain Capers) were on the Atlantic label, and were produced by Guy Stevens (now deceased). Mick was also on the band’s first two Columbia efforts, All The Young Dudes and Mott, then bailed to co-found Bad Company, which experienced more commercial sucess than the founders of Mott the Hoople could probably have ever imagined, and the new band adhered to a basic song-oriented style Ralphs loved.
VG first interviewed Ralphs in June of ’94, when he and Simon Kirke were on the road with an alternate version of Bad Company that garnered its share of success from the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s before the original Bad Company reunited to work on new songs and a tour for its The Original Bad Co. Anthology compilation. Ralphs was his usual upbeat mood when he brought VG up-to-date on the Bad Company saga.
Vintage Guitar: The last time we talked on-the-record, the release of Bad Company’s live album was pending. There was an intriguing line on its cover that said, “This is a true live recording.” Details?
Mick Ralphs:I think the recording was taken from a radio show we did in New York, like one of those Westwood One things. There were no overdubs and such.
1996′s Stories Told and Untold was intriguing mix of new material and older semi-acoustic versions of Bad Company songs. How involved were you in those recordings?
Well, it came about during a bad time for me. I came off the road and had some domestic problems, so I did some work on it before they went to Nashville to do it properly. I couldn’t go, so I did some guitar parts at Dave Gilmour’s studio on his houseboat.
It’s ironic the original Bad Company reunion had its beginnings at the funeral of the band’s former manager, Peter Grant.
That was the catalyst. We had to get together to take care of some business stuff and found ourselves spending more and more time together, and it was obvious to me the chemistry was still there, like we’d had in the early days. But there were still no plans to do anything together as a band. The record company wanted some unreleased tracks for the anthology. We had some stuff in the vaults in England that we hadn’t looked at for a number of years. Paul was living in Canada and Simon was living in New York, so it was going to be difficult to get everyone to London.
Paul suggested we cut new tracks, and I thought that was a good idea because I’d been at home writing songs. I had a stockpile of material I wanted to put out. I didn’t particularly want to go back on the road again, but when we started to think about doing new songs, it represented a good opportunity. We all went into a studio in England, ran through the new material, and actually did the whole session in about three days!
Some might suggest knocking out the new songs in such a short time period is indicative of how well you work together.
And we hadn’t really seen each other in 20 years! We had the vocals and the backing tracks down the first day. The next day, we listened to what we had, and ended up cutting a couple of other tracks. Paul mixed the tracks in Canada.
In our first interview you said you had boxes of concert tapes the original band recorded. You cited “El Paso 1975,” an as example. Was there any thought of putting any of those live cuts in the anthology?
No live tracks, but it has some alternative mixes and alternative versions of some songs. We never got the rights to use any of the live stuff, but we’re recording every show and hoping that we can come up with a live album from this tour. It’s being recorded on DAT, so it’ll be better quality than the older live material. At the end of the tour, we’ll sit down and sort through what we got.
What guitars are you using on this tour?
I’ve got a ’59 Les Paul I haven’t had long. It’s not in mint condition, and it doesn’t have the original finish, but it plays really well. I’ve also got a couple of reissue Les Pauls – a ’59 and a ’58. I still have that old Fender Esquire, which I use for open tunings.
VG: Backstage at Pensacola in ’94, you had a ’59 slab-bodied Epiphone single-pickup guitar. Do you still have it?
Yeah, but it’s at home; they’re very rare, and have become quite collectible. Since then, I’ve got a two-pickup model in a sunburst finish. They’re great guitars, if you can find ‘em.
Any idea what (erstwhile Bad Company members) Rick Wills (VG, November ’95) and Dave (Bucket) Colwell (January ’97) are up to?
Well, I still speak to Bucket occasionally; we did a couple of little pub gigs. I think Ricky Wills may not be in music anymore; I think he’s doing something with computers.
Other than the proposed live album from this tour, are there any long-term plans for the original Bad Company lineup?
I think everybody’s got their own things they want to do. We’ll take this as far as it’ll go, but Paul’s got his own career going, and I don’t really like being on the road that much anymore. I’d like to be in a situation where I could just write songs and record them. It would be nice to do some dates in Europe with the original band. There’s a lot of interest in that, but we’ll just have to see. Touring the States can be quite grueling, but it’s part of the job.
Mick Ralphs Discography
With Bad Company:
Bad Company, Swan Song/Atlantic, 1974
Straight Shooter, Swan Song/Atlantic, 1975
Run With The Pack, Swan Song/Atlantic, 1976
Burnin’ Sky, Swan Song/Atlantic, 1977
Desolation Angels, Swan Song/Atlantic, 1979
Rough Diamonds, Swan Song/Atlantic, 1982
10 From 6, Swan Song/Atlantic, 1985
Fame & Fortune, Atlantic, 1986
Dangerous Age, Atco, 1988
Holy Water, Atco, 1990
Here Comes Trouble, Atco, 1992
The Best Of Bad Company Live…What You Hear Is What You Get, Atlantic, 1993
Company Of Strangers, East West, 1995
Stories Told And Untold, Elektra, 1995
The Original Bad Company Anthology, Elektra, 1999
Mick Ralphs’ Solo Album:
Take This!, Griffin Music, 1984
With Mott The Hoople:
Mott The Hoople, Atlantic, 1969
Mad Shadows, Atlantic, 1970
Wildlife, Atlantic, 1971
Brain Capers, Atlantic, 1971
All The Young Dudes, Atlantic, 1972
Mott, Atlantic, 1974
Greatest Hits, Atlantic, 1975
Backsliding Fearlessly: The Early Years, Rhino, 1994
And there you have it. A legendary quartet reunites for laudable and legitimate business reasons, records some new tracks to prove it’s still compatible after two decades apart, and tours to support its efforts, with no predictions, pretense, or hype about the future. The original Bad Company earned its place in rock history by purveying straight-ahead songs that still hold up, and the new anthology CD and tour were affirmation of the band’s staying power in the annals of rock music.
Photos courtesy of Elektra.
This interview originally appeared in VG‘s Nov ’99 issue.