March , 1985
By David Huff
The Firm incorporates Two Rock Legends
It's a classic picture.
On one side of a stage is Jimmy Page, the legendary lithe figure clutching a guitar that seems larger than life. He’s once again performing with the intensity and brilliance that catapulted his name, and that of Led Zeppelin, into the annals of rock and roll history.
In front of him stands another iconic vocalist, Paul Rodgers. Together they have incorporated their blues-drenched past and turned it into an unpretentious and powerful entity they simply call The Firm. The combination of the two is not only moving, it is downright electrifying. And real!
“I had been desperate to play for a long time,” confided Jimmy Page , "and thank God, now I am able to."
For all intent and purpose, Page had gone AWOL from the music business since the tragic death of his friend and band mate, drummer John Bonham on September 25, 1980. The only time Page had performed on a stage this decade occurred when he participated in a benefit for musician Ronnie Lane that subsequently became known as the ARMS tour that featured the crème de la crème of legendary British talent. It was here Page began getting the bug to perform again and to end the long hiatus the demise of Led Zeppelin had forced him into. The only problem was finding the right people. The start was Paul Rodgers.
"The ARMS tour is really what brought us both together," responded Page. "I had known Paul for a long period of time and been acquainted with his work because we were on the same label. I had always respected his past work with the bands he had been associated with, and we even had found time ourselves to write a couple of songs together."
The combination of Page and Rodgers doesn't quite conjure up the magic of a Page and Robert Plant, so how could it have happened? The ARMS concert of course. When Jimmy Page began playing his haunting instrumental version of "Stairway to Heaven," for the first time in nearly four years at the concert, and Rodgers began singing the lyrics, the chemistry the moment produced between these two superstars answered the prayers that Page had been saying since the premature retirement of Zeppelin.
"Working with Jimmy was a different experience from anything that I have ever done before," confessed Rodgers. "This is a totally new and ongoing thing for the both of us. I can't really describe how we do it, we just do it."
The careers of Page and Rodgers have nearly coincided one another from the day they both began their separate trails in music that would eventually lead them to one another.
Rodgers was born in Middlesborough, England and moved to London in the '60's with one of his first groups, Wildflowers. When that disbanded, Rodgers joined a blues group called Brown Sugar. While working with them in a North London pub, a young guitarist named Paul Kossoff asked to jam with the band. Subsequent sessions led Rodgers to form a band with Kossoff, drummer Simon Kirke and 16-year old bassist Andy Fraser.
The new band took their name from a suggestion the 'father of the blues,' Alexis Korner, offered them – Free at Last. The name was shortened to Free, and from 1968 to 1973 with a year interim in-between, the group produced some of the most high-powered, influential music of its time.
Jimmy Page was a busy session man in the mid-60's. He literally did hundreds of dates during a four-year stint that saw him work with some of the most important and influential names in the business. The steps leading to the formation of Led Zeppelin began when Page returned to active touring with a regular group, the Yardbirds, where he switched from bass to guitar when Jeff Beck became ill.
That incarnation lasted until 1968 when the Yardbirds broke up and Page decided to scour the countryside in search of the right combination that could compliment, with the fullest expression, his arsenal of sounds and ideas. Two unknowns, vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham, were recruited to round out the line-up that included another seasoned session bassist named John Paul Jones.
To please concert bookers, this quartet made its initial appearances under the guise of the New Yardbirds. They eventually settled on the name Led Zeppelin after they heard a musician decree that their band would fall out of the sky like a lead zeppelin and disappear as quickly as they emerged on the music scene.
Their unprecedented, boundary shattering sound combined with powerful and charismatic personalities, Led Zeppelin was an instant hit in America, but not their own country.
Upon leaving Free, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke joined up with ex-Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and former King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell to form Bad Company. They became the first band signed to Led Zeppelin's album label, Swan Song. and their self-titled LP shot to No. 1 in both the United States and around the world. For the next nine years, Bad Company would release a string of multi-platinum album and sell out major concert venues from coast-to-coast before finally calling it quits in 1982.
Led Zeppelin of course went on to produce some of the most critically acclaimed music the world has ever heard. Between 1969 and 1980, Zeppelin released nine albums that were all certified platinum almost immediately upon release. Their string of credits includes what many believe the all-time classic song of this generation, "Stairway to Heaven."
Turmoil and tragedy, unfortunately, is another legacy of Led Zeppelin's. Robert Plant was the most notable example of the tragedy that beset Zeppelin, (the death of his young son from a stomach virus the most disheartening). However, it was the self-induced death of John Bonham, who literally drowned in his own vomit that wrote the final chapter of one of the world's most celebrated bands.
Page's withdrawal from the world of music would last nearly five years. Outside of composing the soundtrack for the movie, Death Wish II, little was heard from Page until he emerged during the ARMS tour for his friend Ronnie Lane in 1983.
Consequently, Paul Rodgers stayed busy after Bad Company by writing, producing, singing and playing all the instruments on his first solo outing, Cut Loose. His teaming with Jimmy Page may very well spell the beginning of another chapter of an illustrious career for both musicians.
"I am personally in a situation that I have wanted to be in for a long time," explained Rodgers. "Like the concerts we will be playing, people will hear material from us that has never been recorded before. We are going to be completely breaking in new material prior to them being recorded and that is quite fantastic really. They could become something totally different when we play them live."
The Firm line-up also includes drummer Chris Slade who's list of credits include a seven-year stint with Manfred Mann, two with Uriah Heep, one with Gary Numan and sessions with Mick Ralphs and David Gilmour.
"The first time I ever met Paul Rodgers," offered Slade. "was when we had a blow out at the Nomis Studios in London. I had no idea it would turn into a band. Oddly enough, both Jimmy Page and David Gilmour called me up on the same day."
Slade had committed to Gilmour earlier in the day before Page called. After a six-month tour with the former Pink Floyd guitarist, he was freed up to join he Firm in July of this past year. Bassist Tony Franklin came to the group literally by chance. He began his career with gigs in small clubs and on various sessions, slogging his way around the dance and disco circuits.
Through some chance contacts, Franklin came to work with Roy Harper. He just happened to be very close friends with Jimmy Page. During the early part of summer in 1984, Franklin and Harper found themselves jamming with Page in gigs under the name The McGregor brothers. These shows eased the legendary Page back into the spotlight that the ARMS tour had reintroduced him to a year earlier.
"When we first started rehearsing with Jimmy and Paul," said Slade, "it was booked under the McGregor Brothers. The band didn't have a real name until someone mentioned The Firm."
"At first, we had a lot of problems working out a name for the band," he said. "At one point we were going to throw a bunch of names into a hat and just pull one out. We very seriously thought about calling the band the McGregor Brothers, but someone suggested The Firm.
"We thought about it and even though it seemed like such a simple four-letter word, it had a powerful meaning to it when you thought about it. The name, The Firm, conjures up so many images and levels of progression. It fit particularly well with the music that we were writing because it too could be interpreted on so many levels."
The Firm's debut LP was completed in late November and released to critical acclaim everywhere. One song, "Radioactive," has been receiving heavy airplay throughout the country.
"We have a new thing now," remarked Rodgers, "so I hope that people won't be expecting to hear Led Zeppelin or Bad Company. I mean, this is a new thing for us and we are just developing it and getting into it. We aren't promising anything to our audiences but a good time for those that come out to see us perform."