Roger Taylor: “Jason is one of the finest guitar players I have ever come across… he should be famous!"
Jason Falloon has been Roger Taylor’s go-to guitarist for his solo projects since 1993. With Roger recently teasing about a new solo album, Jason explained to Dave Fordham how a chance meeting led to him playing lead guitar on Roger’s last three studio albums and the ‘Happiness?’ and ‘Electric Fire’ tours. This interview originally appeared in the winter 2020 Official International Queen Fan Club magazine and the full version is available in the fan club’s members-only archive.
How did you first come to the attention of Roger?
Playing folk, blues and country music, I was in a band called The Falloons that had quite a following in pubs and clubs, particularly in the south of England and Germany. In early 1993, I was unsure about pursuing a career in music and was playing one of my last gigs with The Falloons in Surrey, close to where Roger lived.
Roger was there and with it fortuitously being a rock-orientated set on that occasion, my electric guitar playing caught his attention. He liked what he heard and when we spoke afterwards, he was very friendly and seemed a really nice guy. But I’d been approached before by people with great ideas that always came to nothing… so although I thought it was really cool, I didn’t get particularly excited until Roger telephoned me the next morning.
Roger was leaving for a trip but I went to his studio and got to know Joshua Macrae, Roger’s in-house producer and audio engineer. Shortly after, Roger invited me back to make some noise on the Nazis 1994 track he was working on. He seemed to really dig my sound and style, and it all went from there.
How knowledgeable were you about Queen?
To be honest, I knew very little about Queen apart from the big songs that were unavoidable. Not being starstruck was probably an advantage and it was only gradually that I realised just how huge Queen were!
I was unaware Roger had taken lead vocals on many of his earlier Queen songs and my only knowledge of his voice was the infamous high parts in Bohemian Rhapsody. So to discover his voice had this amazing gravelly sound was a big surprise and I really liked it.
What were your initial impressions of the Cosford Mill Studios at Roger’s home?
In great surroundings in the countryside, the whole vibe was really nice. The way they had converted the mills meant you still knew you were in an old building. It wasn’t sterile like many studios and I loved the place. I was really sad when Roger later moved!
How would you describe the sessions for ‘Happiness?’ that took place over the following 18 months?
It was on and off for a week at a time, but we still managed to get a lot done. It was always professional, but very relaxed and good fun.
Roger was still writing stuff. It wasn’t like we had a whole song ready to be recorded; in fact, some of the time, he just had a few chords that were worked on and built up.
I had a lot of freedom to play. Roger would ask me to try something on a track and I would improvise, which really suited me. There were never guitar demos for me to follow or anything. The only things that might have been there that I did again would be something like straightforward power chords, but never actual song parts.
The only song that was put together differently was Foreign Sand. Yoshiki sent the stereo mix, Roger’s vocals were added and then it was put together in Japan.
In September 1993, Roger and John Deacon were billed as ‘Queen’ at the star-studded Cowdray Park charity concert. With Brian May busy on his solo tour, what was it like to be lead guitarist that night?
It was a big leap of faith from Roger. He put trust in me even though I didn’t have a track record of such gigs and I hadn’t performed live with him beforehand.
Suddenly I was sharing a dressing room with Pink Floyd, Genesis and Eric Clapton! I admit to feeling the pressure of replacing Brian May for that gig, but the nerves passed and I was in my element as soon as we stepped on stage. It was a massive night for me.
How was it to play alongside John Deacon in one of his last public performances?
Really nice. He came to the studio for us to run through the songs and was showing me the riff for Another One Bites the Dust and how he’d recorded the rhythm guitar part. He was quiet and modest. A lovely guy.
Suddenly I am rehearsing with Roger and John, having dinner with them and being joined by the likes of Bob Geldof and others. I’m a bit shy by nature and as a lot had changed for me in only six months, it was quite a bit to take in and stay cool… but the only problem I had was with myself, as Roger and I liked each other from the start and the others were all very easy to get along with.
The following year, the Gosport Summer Festival kicked off the 32-date ‘Happiness?’ tour…
At Gosport, extra security was brought in after threats from Neo-Nazis in reaction to Nazis 1994… but thankfully it passed without incident!
In fact, I really enjoyed playing Nazis 1994 as I could make lots of noise! We used some samples that made it quite powerful.
With approximately half the live set consisting of Queen songs, did you study the original renditions?
Luckily Roger wasn’t expecting me to impersonate Brian May; if anything, it was the opposite and he wanted me to do my own thing. But obviously, there are parts of Queen songs that have to be at least recognisable.
I loved playing I’m In Love With My Car, but my favourite Queen track to play was Tenement Funster. I loved the whole vibe with its slow and heavy sort of rock.
Although the album version of Radio Ga Ga may have been a bit too pop-orientated for my personal taste, I loved performing it live even if it didn’t give me much freedom. The audience interaction with all the hands was always a highlight!
Playing venues like Shepherd’s Bush Empire was on another level for me. The tour was great and the audience reception was amazing.
How did performing your own track, Soul (See You in Hell), on the tour come about?
Roger asking me to take center stage for a song was a real shock. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but I really enjoyed it and was only heckled once!
It gave Roger time for a break, but he also had an interest in promoting me as I was the first to be signed to Smashing Records, his independent record label. Roger really liked Soul and wanted me to perform it because when we’d started to record it late at night in the studio, it hit exactly the right atmosphere.
The song title often being mistaken for ‘See You in Hull’ is down to the crew adapting setlists to make us laugh on stage. So ‘Soul (See You in Hull)’ was picked up by a reviewer and the rest is history!
A new version of Soul was released in December on all major music streaming platforms via https://jasonfalloon.hearnow.com/ and I hope Roger’s fans will enjoy it!
And you were credited with backing vocals on the tour…
If I sing songs that suit my voice, I can make it work well. But backing vocals don’t come quite as naturally, so when Matt Exelby later joined the line-up on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, I was quite pleased to be microphone-free!
What do you remember about the radio performance in Milan?
Although probably the biggest gig we did, it was my least favorite. We were right in the middle of the UK tour so flew straight to Milan and back. We were tired and it was one of those situations of waiting around all day. My guitar had gone missing and they started letting people in during soundcheck which didn’t please Roger…
And then on stage, the band was far more isolated from each other than usual and I didn’t get any vibes from natural sounds.
But we travelled straight back to a gig in Truro and with Roger’s local connections, it was a great night that immediately lifted us back up… and by then, my guitar had magically reappeared!
How would you describe the dynamics between Roger and the band?
The chemistry was good; we felt like a proper band and Roger was totally into that. We were all competent players, but the general relaxed approach and family vibe definitely contributed to our sound.
Fast forwarding, you returned to Cosford Mill to play on the ‘Electric Fire’ sessions from early 1997 to the summer of 1998…
I’d already been back to the studio because after the ‘Happiness?’ tour, I was back with The Falloons and we’d recorded an album at Cosford Mill after being signed by EMI Electrola.
The ‘Electric Fire’ sessions were quite spaced out and I’d get called in to do little bits and pieces without really knowing what the end product would be. I just went in and did my job, sometimes without Roger being there, only Josh.
Other times, there were a few more live band sessions in comparison to the overdubs on ‘Happiness?’ because by then, they’d converted the barn at Cosford Mill and it was all kitted out and connected to the studio. The whole band could be set up, so the barn was an excellent place for rehearsing too.
I also laid down some guide for bass on a few things for ‘Electric Fire’ that ended up making the final album… quite a compliment seeing how I’m not a bass player!
Then, of course, the barn was used for the record-breaking Cyberbarn concert that drew 595,000 hits from around the world, the then-largest audience ever for an internet gig…
The barn was a great setting for that. It was very interesting to see the way the technicians put it all together. The only downside was we all had to wear dull colours and not move about much because it was easy to confuse the internet in those days!
How was it to perform on Chris Evans’ TFI Friday show, with TV viewing figures of over two million?
Back in 1994, we did a recording of Foreign Sand for Top of the Pops,, and having told all my friends and family to watch, it was pulled at the last minute in favour of Elvis Presley!
So to perform on TFI Friday made up for that disappointment! I’d assumed it would be watered-down the sound on stage compared to a normal gig, but to my pleasant surprise, there was a really great rock vibe. I thoroughly enjoyed it and still remember it fondly.
What are your memories of Brian May making a guest appearance at the Wolverhampton gig towards the end of the UK tour the following spring… and the roof nearly coming off the Wulfrun Hall?
I knew the fans would go crazy when Brian walked on, but I didn’t realise it would be such a huge deal or how little Roger and Brian had played together over the previous decade. I only found out Brian was appearing that same day and there were no rehearsals or soundcheck. I’d met him briefly before, but this was the first time we spoke at any length and I realised what a great guy he is.
I was really psyched for him coming on just to see the reaction of the crowd… and when it happened, the place went completely nuts! Although I stood back and let him do his thing, I loved being part of it.
Was it ever on the cards to take the Electric Fire tour beyond the UK?
There was talk of doing overseas gigs, including Australia and South America, but they didn’t materialise, unfortunately. Over the years, Roger has mentioned us getting back out there, but Queen keeps him quite busy! I understand there was an online petition for a Fun on Earth tour… I should’ve signed it!
Talking of Fun on Earth, you also contributed to five tracks on that album?
From 1999 to 2016, I lived in Germany, forming The Jason Falloon Band. I gradually got more into technology and recording, so if Roger needed me for a session, I could often record it from home. Over several years, there were one or two tracks to work on at a time and it was only clear there would be an actual album when I was flown over to Roger’s new studio at The Priory to add guitar where needed to wrap up Fun on Earth.
Roger still potters in the studio, and I continue to go over to put guitar on bits and pieces…
Roger’s solo material covered several musical genres. How challenging was it to adapt your playing accordingly?
Having played diverse setlists with The Falloons where one minute I could be blasting out Jimi Hendrix and the next an Irish jig, it wasn’t a challenge to adapt to whatever was needed.
Having played with him extensively in the studio and on stage, how would you summarise Roger’s prowess on the drums?
I might hear a really good drummer playing the same kit, but when Roger gets on it, there’s a different sound… not electronically or how it's mixed, just the way he hits it. It’s hard to explain but there is more air and a special sort of energy.
He’s got something like John Bonham with that big sound and the way he touches the drumskins. I still always look forward to hearing him as it gives me a buzz every time.
One of his particular sounds is the way he opens the high hat when he hits the snare. One day after we’d played together in the studio, I told him how much I liked that and he replied that it’s one of his idiosyncrasies… I now know it’s on just about every Queen track as well!
Over the years, you’ve often played with the SAS Band too…
The SAS Band is great fun. I’ve always loved it that when Roger appears, he almost always insists on having me there as well. Jamie Moses is a very competent guitarist and they could do the show without me… but Roger likes my playing and when he’s up there singing, he seems to feel more comfortable when I’m there.
For the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at the Clapham Grand in 2011, I filled in for Jamie who was unavailable. Brian May was appearing and during rehearsals, I admit to feeling the pressure a little when Brian was sitting two metres away watching me rehearse Under Pressure (ironically!). But in return, I was able to sit and witness the pure confidence oozing from Brian’s playing during those rehearsals and appreciate just how good he is.
I’ve seen Queen with Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert and it’s quite unbelievable how Spike Edney keeps it all together for them and the SAS Band. And on top of that, Spike’s a very good musician and a great keyboard player.
In all the years you’ve worked with him, Roger must have shared stories from the early Queen days?
Of course, the odd snippet or funny story comes out… but I’ve always thought it evident that Roger is very much the kind of guy who is not living in the past.
There was a lot of fun on our tours, but I got the impression that Roger and Queen had a sensibility about touring and knew they couldn’t party every night. That mentality was different to even mine in 1994, but I watched and admired how Roger handled himself. It’s probably a reason why they are still able to perform to the same level today…
How has working with Roger influenced your current work?
In terms of production, Josh is an expert at picking out bits and pieces, even turning a simple chord into something substantial. That’s influenced how I write and record, and I enjoy making suggestions and building up a song when people come to my studio.
Stone Shiva is my current band. Wanting an outlet for my many demos, we play all original material. Working with Roger has certainly influenced me not just in terms of how to play gigs, but how they should be put together. It’s all rubbed off on me and I am so glad to have been a part of it.
This article is © Dave Fordham and the Official International Queen Fan Club and is not to be reproduced without permission. Join the fan club at www.queenworld.com and listen to Soul at https://jasonfalloon.hearnow.com/
For more details on the KickSTone Experience (Jason’s recording, mixing and production facilities) and guitar tuition, visit www.onlinesessionguitar.org and to catch him with Stone Shiva, check for dates at www.facebook.com/stoneshivauk.