Paul Rodgers & Friends : Live at Montreaux 1994

Paul Rodgers’ storied career has spanned four decades, and his impact on the world of rock ‘n roll is unprecedented. Rodgers has been the vocal powerhouse behind the archetypal blues rock blueprint Free, the one and only Bad Company, the stadium rock ostentation of The Firm (with Jimmy Page), and the resurrected Queen. On July 6, 1994, Rodgers was touring behind his Grammy-nominated Muddy Water Blues – A Tribute To Muddy Waters album when the tour brought him to the 28th Annual Montreux Jazz Festival. What unfolded was a legendary night of music and friendships both old and new, captured for posterity on Live at Montreaux 1994.

Opening his set with two back to back Free classics, “Travelling Man” and “Wishing Well,” introduces the Swiss audience to a powerful backing band. Most notably on the display of force is the rhythm section of bassist John Smithson and drummer Jason Bonham; these two display a locked-in precision throughout the low-end prevalent live capture (most notably during the raunchy, sexualized crawl that is “Mr. Big,” another Free rocker making its appearance later in the set). Rodgers then debuts his account of “Louisiana Blues,” but not before asking for a little give-and-take from the audience. Perhaps it is too early in the set, but the crowd never really takes the bait and Rodgers saves the moment by delivering the goods with a wonderful rendition of the Waters’ classic.

The guitarists on duty, Neal Schon and Ian Hatton, are both in prime form, but their talent is really on display during the Rodgers’ penned title track from his album. It is a fine example of the combined aptitude of vocal dexterity, songwriting, and musicianship that has seemed to follow Paul Rodgers wherever he goes. This talent ladder gets higher when Brian May is added to the cast of musicians to scorch his way through Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little School Girl.” The riffs and solos climb, and you can tell the band is pushing each other to keep bringing it up to match Rodgers’ vocal drives. Radio overplay has basically ruined “Feel Like Making Love” as this seems like the easiest track to skip past and not feel as though you’ve missed a thing by doing so. The set flow picks back up with a funky bass groove that leads us through Willie Dixon’s “Let Me Love You Baby.” Rodgers sure has a deep pocket of friends as he pulls out blues masters Eddie Kirkland and Luther Allison to join in during the jam-fueled closer “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Rodgers is legit in giving each of these legends their space by stepping back and letting his tribute to blues become a night for everyone to share, even if it did take 17 years to reach most of us.

Live At Montreux is out now on Eagle Rock.