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Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd deliver double dose of hits at Blossom Music Center

Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at Blossom Music Center on July 22, 2014


Blossom Music Center was blessed with a double-shot of classic rock last night when Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd co-headlined the woodsy venue nestled in the valley at Cuyahoga Falls.

Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd rocked Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on July 22, 2014.
Peter M. Roche
Bad Company's Simon Kirke keeps the beat in Cuyahoga Falls.
Peter M. Roche

The date was one of just a handful of summer shows pairing the British bad boys (Bad Co.) and American southern rock stalwarts (Skynyrd), so both ensembles took advantage of the rare bill, submitting tight, energetic performances for a packed pavilion audience and congested lawn.

Fronted by vocalist Paul Rodgers, Bad Co. took the stage before sunset, barreling from the gates with the 1979smash “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” and ’75 power ballad “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”

Joining Rodgers were longtime members Simon Kirke (drums) and Mick Ralphs (guitar). Howard Leese shared guitar duties with Ralphs, doubling up the infectious hooks and swapping solos. Newcomer (relatively speaking) Todd Ronning planted the bottom end on bass, synching with Kirke’s strident beats on the rambunctious “Gone, Gone, Gone” and smoldering “Burnin’ Sky.”

The English group stormed onto the scene with its now-legendary self-titled album in 1974, defiantly offering listeners an of sexually-charged guitar rock just as glam and disco were becoming the thing of the day. Formerly of Free (“All Right Now”), both Rodgers and Kirk lead the new band to even greater chart success, with albums like Straight Shooter (1975) and Desolation Angels (1979) yielding one hit after another.

The classic Bad Co. lineup disbanded in the early ‘80s. Rodgers (who possesses one of the most distinctive voices in rock) went on to form both The Law and The Firm—and even sang with the surviving members of Queen in the 2000s. Kirke and Ralphs pressed on with singer Brian Howe, issuing albums in the ‘80s (Fame and Fortune, Dangerous Age) and ‘90s (Holy Water, Here Comes Trouble) before giving thoughts to a full-blown reunion.

The band’s aptly-titled first compilation, 10 from 6, collected ten of the best Bad Co. songs from the first half dozen albums. Rodgers and the gang—now all in their 60s (save Ronning)—played nearly all of them Tuesday night in a stellar, throwback rock set whose 40th anniversary tour stop could’ve been subtitled Bad Co. Live: 14 from 5.

Rodgers—whose pipes haven’t diminished much—ticked off 1976’s “Run With the Pack” from his piano, then cajoled the crowd into singing the refrain on “Ready for Love” (he didn’t have to try too hard to convince us). Both Rodgers and Kirke strapped on acoustic guitars for the eloquent “Seagull,” strumming along with Ralphs unlugged-style.

When he wasn’t busy playing guitar or piano, Rodgers prowled the full length of the stage, working up the onlookers seated down front by shaking hands, twirling his mic stand, and smacking a pair of polyurethane yellow tambourines. “Live for the Music” encapsulated the band’s esthetic. “Honey Child” showcased Bad Co.’s trademark groove-swagger.

“Shooting Star”—the ‘70s single chronicling the rise and fall of a guitar hero (and which predates Foreigner’s similar “Jukebox Hero” story a good five years)—was as melancholy and magical as ever, and the crowd was again prepared to carry the “don’t you know” refrain (and added “Whooos!”).

“Movin’ On” and “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” wrapped the memorable set, whose visuals were augmented by a tasteful balance of spotlights and colored gels.
The last time we saw Bad Co. was back in the 1990’s, on a Blossom double-bill with Damn Yankees, so we knew the guys were good live. But these jams really knocked our socks off.

Michael Cartellone—the Ohio native who drummed with DamnYankees—took the stage with his Lynyrd Skynyrd band mates at around 9:30pm. He’s been with the group since 1999.

Like Bad Company, Skynyrd (who took their name from their gym teacher) went through a period of regrouping and rebuilding in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The Jacksonville-based outfit scored a bunch of hits between 1973-77—many of them still played regularly on FM radio—before the tragic death of main members Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines (and several others) in a plane crash ended that first magnificent era.

Today’s Lynyrd Skynyrd still packs a punch. Now headed by vocalist Johnny Van Zant and longtime guitarists Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke, the rambunctious rabble-rousers heated up the already sweltering pavilion with “Working for MCA,” “I Ain’t the One,” and their take on J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” before unleashing the first of several megahits in “What’s Your Name.”

Medlocke (who drummed for the band in the old days, and who bears some resemblance to the villainous Viggo from Ghostbusters II) appeared to have a psychic connection with Rossington: The tandem guitarists seemed to know precisely which parts belonged to which person, and yet they often played together, harmonizing shoulder-to-shoulder at center stage while Van Zant mingled elsewhere, dragging his bandana-adorned mic stand along.

Peter Keys presided over a piano decorated with stars, stripes and skulls. Clad in a raccoon-skin cap and sunglasses, bassist Johnny Colt looked like a mash-up of pirate and frontiersman. Singers Dale Krantz-Rossington and Carol Chase added splendid backup and harmony vocals from a riser opposite Keys.

Cartellone held it all together, his thunderous drums gluing the multi-instrumental mix together on 1978 outtake “Down South Jukin’” and 1977 Street Survivors ode-to-mortality “That Smell.” “Saturday Night Special” (from 1975’s Nuthin’ Fancy) was another mid-set highlight.

The tail end of the Skynyrd set focused on their first LP, 1973’s Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd: “Simple Man” and “Mississippi Kid” underscored the band’s southern roots and rural upbringings. “Tuesday’s Gone” brought a dose of pathos, but barroom fight song “Gimme Three Steps” stabilized everyone’s spirits.

Obligatory encores “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird” evolved into protracted jams that somehow never seemed overblown or self-indulgent. On the contrary, most in attendance were glad to sing along, sway and dance, or flick their lighters (or brandish cell phones) in homage to Ronnie and the old guard.

Paul Rodgers’ son Steve opened for both bands with a half-hour’s worth of mostly acoustic tunes from his solo portfolio. The spitting image of his dad, Steve nonetheless made his mark with positive-themed songs like “Freedom,” “So High,” and the eastern-flavored “Sunshine.”

Steve was accompanied by a drummer, bassist, and fellow guitarist (and keyboard player), who added pinging harmonic notes and some plaintive slide guitar. Steve, seated and wearing a yellow Tee, favored an acoustic—but picked up a green electric guitar on one or two songs.

He prefaced the mesmeric “River” by explaining that only recently have scientists acknowledged the presence of an interconnectedness between living things—a sacred bond the gurus, yogis, and mystics have been preaching about for centuries.
Steve’s voice could also be easily mistaken for his father’s. The resemblance was uncanny on the younger Rodgers’ final song, an a cappella he belted while standing instead of sitting.

“This is a beautiful place,” he remarked early on. “And you’re all beautiful people.”

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