A Conversation With Roger Taylor - Huffington Post
A Conversation with Roger Taylor -
Mike Ragogna: Hi there, how are you Roger? What's up?
Roger Taylor: I'm not bad, not good, I'm just having a little glass of fine wine. I might point out that it's 7:20 here.
MR: Yes, the wine being well timed. (laughs) Roger, it is the 40th anniversary of Queen. What do you make of that?
RT: In my wildest dreams, I never thought this day would come. I can't believe it. Freddie left us 20 years ago, and Queen has been going for 40 years. I guess Brian and I are what's left, and we sort of proudly still fly the flag, you know?
MR: You do. And you're still making great records. I especially like the album you recorded recently with Paul Rodgers.
RT: You're very kind. It was more of a touring thing, mainly, that we did with Paul. It was great. Paul is a great vocalist, great singer, and he was a great favorite of Freddie's, so it was really good to work with Paul.
MR: Now, I love what your press release says: "Ditch the day job. Become a rock star." I'm in!
RT: (laughs) I didn't write that.
MR: I know, but let's dive into that. You're backing a talent search right now.
RT: That's right, and it's not a TV show--we're not dealing in humiliation or failure. It's called the Queen Extravaganza, and we're trying to find really exciting, young, talented, ferociously on fire musicians. We're reaching into the global bedroom via the internet to find some of that incredible talent that's out there. The idea is to form a great band. Basically, they'll be celebrating our music, I guess. We're putting together a really great show featuring the music of Queen over our entire career, but the star of the show will be the band, and it will be a young, on fire band instead of a bunch of old men.
MR: Now, the auditions are open to vocalists, guitarists, bass players, drummers and keyboard players.
RT: That's right.
MR: Is there anything in particular you're looking for? Do you want them to sound exactly like Queen?
RT: Obviously, we want them to be able to play the Queen stuff, which is not easy stuff, but we're looking for great musicians. If they love our music, that's going to be a great help, and we'd love them to look great too because that really does help, but we want them to be excited and involved. This thing is just starting. It's a very interesting project, this.
MR: It is. And you have some industry heavyweights working with you. You have stage designer Mark Fisher, who works with U2 and AC/DC among others.
RT: Yeah, he also did the Beijing Olympics, so you can't get much better than that. Also, he's done a lot of stuff for Queen over the years--the guy's a bit of a genius. This is going to be a great looking show. We've got a lot of unseen footage that will be used. Visually, it's going to be great, but of course, it's going to be mainly about the music.
MR: Yes. And you're going to be one of the judges for this talent search, along with some other well-known musicians, right?
RT: Yeah, that's right. There are three rounds--open auditions, which are on the internet at www.queenextravaganza.com. Then we'll pick 50 out of all those people that send an audition in, and the second round will be a public vote to narrow it to at least 10, and then we'll have a final thing live in L.A. in a big recording studio. It's not going to be in front of an audience; we're just going to try and make a great band. I think it's a really exciting thing.
MR: Could you tell some of the Queen story, maybe from right around when Freddie joined on or earlier?
RT: Well, it all started, really, with Brian May and myself. Brian was in Imperial College in London, and I was studying dentistry at a medical college in London. We met and we had the same interests; we loved Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck...we loved all those guys. Then, we had this weird guy named Freddie who used to hang around with us. Eventually, to cut a long story short, it was only natural that we form a band together. We went through about six bass players before we found John Deacon and that was Queen. That's it in a nutshell, that's how we started, and I guess that's been my life for 40 years ever since. Let me say, it's been a great roller coaster of a life. I'm very happy to be here right now.
MR: Do you remember getting signed to EMI? Do you remember what that was like?
RT: Yeah, I do. I remember one of the guys who was working with EMI saying, "I think we might have a new Deep Purple here," and I remember thinking, "Boy, I hope we're bigger than that." (laughs) I do remember, and it was a big thrill. I think they used to give us a cheeseburger when you signed, so we felt lucky.
MR: Did they give you more than a cheeseburger when A Night At The Opera became one of the biggest albums in the world?
RT: Yeah, we had two cheeseburgers from when we were the number one album...and a coke. In those days, life was simpler, you know? (laughs)
MR: The progression of this band is phenomenal. Your first albums, Queen and Queen II were hard-edged, and it was hard to predict an album as melodic as A Night At The Opera would come down the pike. I think it was with Sheer Heart Attack that you started integrating more fun styles.
RT: That's right. I think we were really finding our confidence. Sheer Heart Attack is one of my favorite albums, actually, because you can start to see our ambition and there is some really great stuff on that album. It doesn't hang around, it doesn't bore, nothing is too long, and it sounds good. I've always been happy with that album, and that was a good moment.
MR: I recently spoke with Graham Nash and Allan Clarke of The Hollies, and one of the songs we talked about was "On A Carousel," where they go, "Round and round," which is literally a round.
RT: I remember that song, yes.
MR: Were you guys inspired by The Hollies for the vocal arrangement of "The Prophet's Song" on A Night At The Opera? It just seems so similar.
RT: Well, really, the round thing is a very old, English musical form. So, I wouldn't say that we were inspired by The Hollies. I do remember The Hollies very well, actually, and they were a very good band. They were very technical as well because they had the harmony genius of Graham Nash. I can't say that they were the inspiration, it's a sort of classical English style of harmony, and it's one of my favorite bits, actually. That bit is actually featured in the Queen Extravaganza.
MR: Nice. That would show off the contestant's vocal talents very well.
MR: Before we leave A Night At The Opera, there's another song I want to talk about. It's sort of an unspoken classic, unknown to the masses--the song, "39."
RT: It's strange, actually. When we did the tribute to Freddie, we asked George Michael, "What do you want to sing?" And he said, "'Somebody To Love' and '39.'" I thought that really came out of left field and I wasn't expecting that. That's quite a popular song, actually. It's kind of like a space folk song, so it's kind of in its own category.
MR: My old producer and mentor, Tommy West, branded it, "Peter, Paul and Mary on acid."
RT: Well, you could come at it from that direction. (laughs)
MR: Looking at all of the run of hits you guys have had, are there a couple that really stick out to you?
RT: A particular favorite of mine wasn't a massive hit in the States, but I think it gets used a lot and heard a lot. It's a song we did with David Bowie called, "Under Pressure." I love that song. You know, there are not many I don't like. Then, of course, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was an unusual record of high quality.
MR: And what did you think when you saw it in Wayne's World?
RT: I thought, "Great!" I thought it was even better when we had a number whatever it was album out of it. I think it brought Queen's music to a whole new generation that probably wasn't expecting it--I'm not sure Mike Myers was either--but I thought it was a hilarious thing. I love Wayne's World, and I thought it was a hilarious scene as well.
MR: I think the most amazing thing that could have topped that would have been the two of them singing it with Queen.
RT: Yeah. I loved the whole thing. It was great, and I thought it was good for everybody.
MR: As far as albums go, do you have a particular favorite out of those?
RT: Well, Sheer Heart Attack is quite a favorite of mine, and I think one of the best albums we did was probably the very last Queen album featuring Freddie, Made In Heaven, which was a very good album. Before that we did Innuendo, which I thought was good. I like The Game and The Works. Yeah, it's hard to think of my favorites.
MR: I have to ask you, how did The Highlander connection come about?
RT: Well, a friend of ours was directing the movie, and we loved the look of the movie, so we just agreed to write a couple of songs for it. So, Brian wrote "Who Wants To Live Forever?" which is a very good ballad, I think. I wrote "A Kind Of Magic," which was a very big hit in Europe and other parts of the world, but I'm not so sure what it did in America. That was our involvement in that movie, but we had sort of gotten on a roll, so we had a whole album then. It ended up not being a movie score album but a bonafide Queen album.
MR: And I love how that worked out, as opposed to Flash Gordon, which was definitely a soundtrack album.
RT: Flash... was merely a soundtrack album, and it wasn't pertaining, really, to anything else. It wasn't really the next Queen studio album, it was the soundtrack album to Flash Gordon, which was very much a film of its time. It was retro even then.
MR: Yeah, they dressed Flash in a gladiator outfit and had Ming in that '20s diva outfit...
RT: We thought it was funny, but not everybody did.
MR: Did you guys bond a little with Dino De Laurentis?
RT: Sort of. I don't know if you'd call it bonding. What he said really was, "Hey remember, Flash Gordon is saving the world." That was Dino's contribution.
MR: Roger, you recently did something called Freddie For A Day, which was a global celebration. Can you describe that for me?
RT: Freddie For A Day was really a celebration of Freddie's 65th birthday. We had kind of a big dinner in The Savoy Hotel in London, we had some great comedy guests, and then Brian and I did a little set. We had the guy from Keane, Tom Chaplin, and we also had the fantastic Jeff Beck, my favorite guitar player. It was a good night, it was a real good night. That was about two weeks ago, and I really enjoyed that.
MR: Do you feel the same way I do about Jeff Beck, in that if he's on stage with other guitarists, he just wipes the stage with whoever is up there with him?
RT: He does tend to do that, yes. There is only one of him. He's the governor. He's just extraordinary. You know from the first note that that could only be him because nobody else plays like that. He plays so musically and that's why it's such a joy to play with him.
MR: Roger, it's the 40th anniversary of Queen, and all the albums have been remastered with bonus tracks added. Were you involved in that process?
RT: Absolutely. Brian and I were just sort of the quality control filter...whatever you want to call it. They sound so much better--crisp and fresh. With today's technology, things do get better. We also have a feel about bonus tracks, that they have to sort of go through us and that's quite a tough net to get through sometimes. You know, we just want to keep the quality high.
MR: Do you miss Freddie?
RT: Yeah, I've been asked that so much...of course. Brian and I would probably give you the exact same answer, he's like part of our personal mental wallpaper. He's always there, and if we're ever having an argument about something, we feel like he's almost in the corner. We normally feel like we know what he would have thought. So, yes we do miss him, but it's not as bad as it was, you know? Time does heal. He was great, and I'd like him to be remembered great too.
MR: For both his work with Queen as well as his solo works.
RT: Yeah, I have to say that I think his best work was done with the band. (laughs) He was a great talent. Amongst all the glitz, glamor, the dressing up and all the outrageous theatricality, people forget that at the heart was a brilliant musician, and I would like to continue to fly that kind of flag for him.
MR: Beautifully said. Earlier, you mentioned "Under Pressure" with David Bowie. Were you all in the studio for that? What was the recording process?
RT: Oh, absolutely. We wrote it all together, and it was very much a joint effort. It was a bit of a joy, really. We started it in Switzerland, all together, writing it, and we went for pizza halfway through and nobody could remember the bass riff. Then, I think I came over to New York and finished it with David, Freddie arrived late and Brian never turned up. So, that's the story of "Under Pressure" in a nutshell.
MR: At the time that it was written, did you know how "We Will Rock You" became the biggest sports anthem ever?
RT: No, we had no idea. It was conceived as sort of a participation piece with large audiences, but who would have guessed that kind of thing. I'm just pleased it happened that way.
MR: With the incredible career that you've had, what advice would you give to new artists?
RT: Oh, believe in yourself and stay with it. Don't let anybody tell you different. Just have faith in yourself.
MR: Beautiful. Well, this has been a wonderful experience. Roger, I need to have you back sometime, maybe after the Queen Extravaganza is finished and you've chosen a band, you could come back for another chat?
RT: Fantastic! That would be a great idea, Michael. I would love that. And the band will have been chosen with no humiliation involved.
MR: That is something that I do harp on fairly regularly, these talent shows that are based humiliation. It's great that you're bringing some elegance to your project.
RT: I hope so. We're just looking for great young, brilliant talent. It's exciting.
MR: Good luck with that, and I really appreciate you spending some time with us today, Roger.
RT: Thank you, Michael.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney