Added on 26-Oct-2005
It's a simple enough question to put to Paul Rodgers, hearty English blues-rock belter: Do you remember the first Queen song you ever heard? Right now, with Rodgers, former frontman for Free and Bad Company, filling the late Freddie Mercury's shoes on tour - trading the flamboyant showman's wrestling footwear for a sturdier pair of leather boots - well, it's such an obvious query you'd think Rodgers would have a pat answer for it.
"I think I've always admired them from afar," he said by phone from Aruba, where the attraction billed as Queen + Paul Rodgers had just headlined a festival. "I didn't go out and buy their albums, to be perfectly honest. But whenever I heard them on the radio, I dug it. There's no doubt about it, it was great music."
Yet, instead of sharing recollections of hearing Keep Yourself Alive or Seven Seas of Rye or the still-ubiquitous Bohemian Rhapsody blaring on the BBC, Rodgers, 55, offered up a fond memory about meeting the quartet on a staircase outside his former manager's office as the 70s began.
"This is when Peter Grant" - notorious handler of Led Zeppelin - "was managing Bad Company. And we said hello, one band to another, as it were. And I got the impression that they were really a nice, fine bunch of gentlemen.
"I found out later that they were probably the only band that decided that, before they would launch a career, they were all going to get their degrees and finish their education. I was very impressed by that, because most of us at that time threw everything to the wind like any other rock `n' roll musician. But they were unique right from the start."
And Queen remained so for 20 years, from its early metal leanings to its most theatrical era, from its misguided forays into dance-pop to what might have amounted to a comeback, sparked by the inclusion of Bo Rap in Wayne's World. But the band's chances at resurrection ended with Mercury's death from AIDS in November 1991.
Since then, apart from a memorable tribute concert in 1992 and the completion of leftovers in 1995, Queen has been silent, save for a multitude of highly salable compilations that have kept the band's reputation thriving worldwide.
And nowhere more so than home, where last year the newly established UK Music Hall of Fame included Queen among its inaugural class, alongside the Beatles, U2, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley and Madonna. (Clearly, one needn't be English to be inducted.)
It was at that ceremony that Rodgers (on hand to honor impresario Chris Blackwell, who had produced Free) and two-thirds of Queen's remainder - guitarist extraordinaire Brian May and drummer-vocalist Roger Taylor - first teamed up, closing the show by tackling those overused staples We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. (Bassist John Deacon, by the way, has opted to remain retired.)
"That was really where it started," Rodgers says. "It was such fun that we came off saying, `Let's do something.'"
Yes, but what? Hopefully not another ballyhooed flop like the Firm, Rodgers' 80s outfit, famous mostly for bringing Jimmy Page out of post-Zeppelin seclusion.
"Initially, when we talked, I thought it would be something like May-Taylor-Rodgers, and we'd write some songs and do a couple of smallish gigs, just for fun. But when they came back and said, `No, let's do Queen + Paul Rodgers,' that completely put a different perspective on the whole thing."
Suddenly, a lark was turning into the Big Queen Show.
"So I had to draw a breath and think: `Hmmm, that's a challenge.' And I like a challenge. How well I rise to it - that's my measure of success."
Rodgers' resume certainly proves his point. Apart from his stint with the Firm, there's his widely admired tributes to Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters, the latter of which featured virtually every guitar legend alive (May included) and scored a Grammy nod.
A clear influence on later bands like the Black Crowes and Guns N' Roses, Rodgers is cut from the same cloth as Mick Jagger and Robert Plant _ vocally speaking, that is. Brawny and near-macho with his current goatee, ho