This interview was originally released in September 2021 in Issue 95 of Fireworks Rock & Metal Magazine.
Interview by James Gaden.
Best known as the drummer for Queen, one of the greatest bands the world has ever seen, Roger Taylor has achieved a lot in his incredible career. Aside from penning global hits like 'A Kind Of Magic' and 'Radio Ga Ga', he has also produced hits for other artists and been by far the most prolific worker outside of Queen. Not only has he released three albums with his own band The Cross, this October he releases his sixth solo album 'Outsider' and plans to hit the road to support it. Fireworks were given the chance to call Roger in July, shortly after the tour announcement, for a candid chat about the records that were Taylor-made...
You’ve put out a wealth of great material outside of Queen, and you were the first member of the band to do anything solo. You released a single 'I Wanna Testify', and then a full album called ‘Fun In Space’ in 1981 – what sparked that?
I guess I was just coming into my own as a writer, and I just felt it would be nice to express myself outside the band without having to go through all the process of selection and arguments and arrangements. It was really just an expression of myself – having said that, I always loved being in a band, and I still do, strangely enough… what’s left of us!
Were the other members supportive of solo work, or was there concern that if you scored a big hit it would affect Queen because you were all so integral to the group?
No, that was never a problem; it was never intended to be an alternative to Queen as a career. It was just simply self-expression. When any of us did anything solo or did something away from the band, the others were very supportive, just “good luck” really, never any bad feeling there.
You were one of the first members of Queen to produce someone else – in 1980 you were involved with a single for an artist called Hilary Hilary. You not only produced it, but you co-wrote it and played all the instruments. What was the story with that?
Oh God, yeah! It was a very amateurish affair actually. She was somebody that I knew who had a great look and I thought it would be fun; I wrote the song but it was all done in my demo studio, so it was all very, very basic. It’s kind of “of the moment”, y’know? Sort of a post-Punk/New-Wave thing…
By 1984 you’d made a second solo album 'Strange Frontier', from which you released 'Man On Fire' and the title track as singles and shot promotional videos for them. While you made appearances on TV to promote your first two solo albums, you had never toured solo at that point?
No, I was too busy with Queen really. That and the whole process of putting a band together to tour is quite a thing. I did do it later on, when I formed The Cross in 1987, but that took a lot of my time. The only reason I could do it then was because Queen was working less hard, meaning I had more time to do that. So I did get to go out with The Cross, we did a bit of touring and played a couple of solo tracks with them which was fun.
The first album by The Cross, 'Shove It', you wrote all by yourself. So it was basically a solo album but you launched it as a debut for your new band.
You’re absolutely right; it was a solo album really. The second one, ‘Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know’, that was a real The Cross album, a band album, but yes, the first one was a solo album to all intents and purposes.
I understand that for that second album, the other members of The Cross wrote a lot of the songs because you were busy working on ‘The Miracle’. The band’s sound changed from the more Pop-Rock of the debut to a Classic Rock sound. Were you happy with that evolution?
Oh yeah, I think some of the songs on it are better than others but the band was getting somewhere. It was a lot of fun but honestly, Queen was such a big thing, such a big part of my life, there was never a point where The Cross would rule over that. We were very, very loyal to one another in Queen.
Undoubtedly… you mentioned how you all supported each other in solo endeavours and The Cross is a prime example, Freddie Mercury singing on the first album and Brian May played the solo on ‘Love Lies Bleeding’.
Exactly right, Freddie sang ‘Heaven For Everyone’, he was just hanging about when we were making it and he said, “I love that song, I want to sing that song, let me sing that song.” Yeah, absolutely, you’re a better singer than me so why not! Freddie really loved it, that’s why his version went on the album. Of course, we would subsequently re-work it years later as Queen anyway.
Did John Deacon contribute to 'Shove it'?
Not really, John was always more… he was very in himself, if you know what I mean. We really only socialised if we were in the studio or on tour. By contrast Fred and I were very close, and would socialise outside of work as well.
Around this same period you were a lot more active as a producer, working with acts like Jimmy Nail, Fergal Sharkey and you produced the debut album from Virginia Wolf. You also worked with Magnum on their ‘Vigilante’ album. They had already experienced some UK success, so what were you asked to bring to proceedings as their producer?
That’s right – God, Virginia Wolf, blimey… you know your stuff, I tell you! [Laughs] With Magnum, my job was to make as good an album as we could. They were a very good band, and they’re still going. They were very good musically and strong on all fronts. Their image was a bit odd I thought, very old school, but Tony Clarkin, he was their main writer and I thought his songs were fantastic. I enjoyed that album actually and I think it still sounds good today. There are a couple of great tracks on that album. They had a great drummer, good singer; everyone was good in that band. They worked hard and I really enjoyed my time with them, it was a good experience.
You actually opened for Magnum with The Cross on a German tour; was it a difficult transition to go from being a record producer for a band to then being their opening act?
[Laughs] It was bloody awful. I wish I’d never done it! I don’t know why I did that, absolute madness really. I don’t know how the management ever permitted it to be honest, but there we are, we all make mistakes! [Laughs]
'Blue Rock' was the third and final album from The Cross. It was arguably the best one, but it never got much of a chance, as Freddie passed away shortly after it was released. Did that sap any enthusiasm you had for the band, because you put The Cross to bed not long after?
Yeah, it didn’t even get released outside of Germany or Japan. It did kill the enthusiasm, you got it. And after Freddie died, I became fixated on trying to make the tribute concert work. That was all done very quickly; it was done within three or four months of his death, so all other things faded away at that point. Brian and I were thinking, “Well that’s it then really. It was good, but we’ll have to get on with life now, whatever that means.” We were all in a very strange place for about five years. I think when we started making the ‘Made In Heaven’ album, not everyone was convinced that was a good idea. I thought it was a great idea to finish things. Once we completed the album and got it out, that was sort of the end of the shock and grief period. I must admit, a lot of the 90s are a blur to me.
In 1994 you returned to your solo career, issuing ‘Happiness?’ which reflected on some of those experiences and this time you did a full tour to support it. Did you feel particularly daunted by this or had touring with The Cross prepared you for being the focal point for a full show?
Yes, I did, that I do remember! [Laughs] I did feel daunted, I must admit. I wouldn’t be as daunted now but again, I felt a bit awkward. It’s difficult because my main instrument is drums and there I was just singing, or sometimes playing guitar some of the time. So it felt quite odd at first. I thought the ‘Happiness?’ album was quite a decent album though. That and ‘Electric Fire’; I was quite pleased with those. It’s very hard when you’re in a band like Queen to do stuff away from the mothership if you know what I mean; it’s difficult because you feel a huge resistance from people, sort of dismissive like, “Oh yeah, it’s him from them” kind of thing. Even Mick Jagger has encountered that, trying to shake off that massive brand to do your own thing.
The tour was superb and there were four tracks recorded at the Shepherds Bush show that were released as B-sides for some of the singles. Would you consider releasing the whole show, even if it’s just digitally, because that concert was fantastic?
Do you know… I didn’t even know about that! Can you remember what the songs were?
Yes, there was a fabulous version of ‘I Want To Break Free’, along with ‘Ride The Wild Wind’, ‘Loneliness’ and ‘Everybody Hurts Sometimes’. If you do have the whole show, there would be Queen fans out there that would love to get their hands on it.
Blimey. Oh yeah, I remember a couple of them… I don’t think I’ve heard the whole show to be honest. I’d quite like to get my hands on it myself, just for interest sake to see what it sounds like! [Laughs]
You toured again four years later to support ‘Electric Fire’ and did a then world record setting live streamed show from your 'Cyberbarn' [a barn at Roger's home that was converted to host a concert]. Live streams are common now but back in 1998, it was really new. Where did that idea stem from?
That I certainly remember! Somebody suggested it to me and I didn’t really understand the internet at that point. It did seem like a good idea though and it was fun – quite nerve-wracking but fun, although it was hard for me to imagine this thing going out into the ether and people sitting at home and watching it all over the world. It’s an odd concept but it worked. I really liked that album; it has a bit of everything.
In 2013 you issued your fifth solo album ‘Fun On Earth’, in conjunction with the amazing ‘The Lot’ box set. The big box set contained remastered editions of all your albums, both solo and with The Cross, plus all the singles. Between that and the fact that 'Fun On Earth' was a nod to your first solo album, many fans thought you had come full circle and this was you closing the door on your solo career. Was that your thought at the time?
It was a nod to ‘Fun In Space’, exactly, but it wasn’t really the intention to say I was done. I sort of work in the moment and I didn’t know if I was going to do anything else. I just do stuff now; I’m very lucky having my own studio and it’s a proper studio, so now I can just wait for the moment when I feel like working. It’s a wonderful luxury but I had no idea if I was going to do anything else at that point. When I made this album, ‘Outsider’, that came because I suddenly realised I had a lot of stuff, I’d had a creative burst if you like. I had all these songs and suddenly there was an album, it was just there because I’d been working away, especially throughout lockdown, trying to pass the time in an interesting way. It’s always satisfying when you’re working, work is good. It’s almost like cheating the virus – ah, so you thought you could stop us! [Laughs]
It started with some singles; you released ‘Journey’s End’ inspired by David Bowie passing, then you put out ‘Gangsters Are Running This World’ and then ‘Isolation’, but you never indicated there was an album coming?
When I did those, they were basically released as I did them. It wasn’t really until I did ‘Isolation’ during the lockdown that the rest of the songs on the album kind of followed. The singles weren’t big releases but people seemed to like them so I started looking if they could all be put together – and when I did, it seemed to work.
While you’re known as Queen’s drummer, and you played guitar in The Cross, you handle the bulk of the instrumentation here and there’s quite a lot of piano on the record. Do you employ the piano a lot when you’re writing?
I’ve got a beautiful Steinway Grand Piano here, it sounds wonderful. I’m not a great pianist but I do love to write on piano, it’s great because all those chords are accessible. I find it easier to write on piano than on guitar, it just felt like a more musical way of doing things – although I love guitar, absolutely love it. I’ve always loved guitar music.
Me too, I gravitate to the Rock stuff so a track like ‘More Kicks’ was right up my street. I noticed a saxophone pops up in that and one was used quite prevalently on ‘Fun On Earth’ too, it’s not an instrument that gets used much these days.
You’re right and I love saxophone, especially an overblown sax, it adds so much excitement. Think about Little Richard, he used saxophone a lot. There were a lot of those early Rock ’N’ Roll records that had it; I don’t know why it went out of style. Saxophone can make or break a record... think of ‘Baker Street’. I love the sound of it so I brought Steve Hamilton in to play on my stuff. He played on a track from ‘Fun On Earth’ called ‘Fight Club’ and I just loved the sound it added; it’s a whole different feel.
‘Gangsters Are Running This World’ comes in two forms, basically two different tracks that share the same title, a slow version and a Rock one. Why is the Rock one named the “purple” version?
You’re exactly right, it is two different songs and it was inspired by The Purple Gang, which was a group of Detroit gangsters from the 1920s. It’s a very tenuous reason but I had to call it something else to differentiate between the two versions, because as you said, they are different songs, different lyrics, just with the same title and the same message.
There’s a wonderful acoustic version of your 1994 hit ‘Foreign Sand’ that you originally did with Yoshiki. The original was quite lavish, what made you strip it down?
To be honest I thought the original was over-arranged. It was too long, too flowery… when really, at heart, it was a nice, decent song. So I’ve stripped it right back to the kernel to make the most simple version of the song I could. So you can listen to the huge, floral arrangement with the orchestra and the big piano flourishes, or you can just hear what the core of the actual song is with this version.
When you issued that single originally, there was a superb re-working of The Cross song ‘Final Destination’ as the B-side. Did you and Yoshiki ever discuss making an album together?
No, it was always going to be a couple of songs. I saw him last year actually in Japan, he’s still a friend. It was a short-term thing because we’re fairly different; with him everything has to be so perfect, so I think it would have been very difficult to have done a whole album together. ‘Final Destination’ was chosen because it was a song I always liked playing at concerts; I thought it was a good live track.
You’ve also covered ‘The Clapping Song’ on this new album, and given it some Rock sheen, which is left-field but works really well here. What made you record that?
I just loved that song; I found it so catchy, like a playground nursery rhyme sort of thing. I adored the Shirley Ellis version so I thought “I’d love to try that”. It was great fun and once again I got Steve Hamilton in with some other horn players, and I played a very, very old Trixon Telstar drum kit. It has an old sound to it and it was really a lot of fun for me.
When it comes to touring for this album, you say it will be modest and that you want it to be musically very good. Have you decided who will be in your band?
Yes I have. I’ve got my old friend Jason Falloon on guitar. I’ve got Spike Edney, who is great because he remembers stuff when I forget it. [Laughs] I’ve got the fabulous Neil Fairclough on bass who plays with us in Queen. I’ve got Tyler Warren who also plays with us in Queen; he plays percussion and occasional drums, he’s a fantastic all round musician. And I’ve got Angie (Pollock) from Goldfrapp on keyboards, so we’ve got a good range and scope.
I have to mention Jason Falloon... he has played with you since 1994 and I have always thought he was a phenomenal player. Where did you find him?
I found him in a pub in Sussex! [Laughs] A friend of mine rang me and said, “You’ve gotta come down to this pub and see this guy play guitar.” I walked in and he was playing ‘Voodoo Chile’… there were only two of them, him and his brother on bass, and I was just blown away. I was thinking, “Where did this guy come from?” and I’ve done a lot of work with him since. He’s my go-to guitar player now – if I can’t persuade Jeff Beck. [Laughs]
The pubs near you sound great; didn’t you find Treana Morris in one down there too?
I did, I saw her in a local pub near my house in Cornwall. She has the most beautiful voice so I put her on the ‘Electric Fire’ record and she toured with me for it.
When you do this tour, are you considering recording, filming or streaming any of these gigs?
I haven’t really thought that far ahead. The tour has been pitched very modestly, I’m not doing any big places… all I want is for it to be very enjoyable and fun.
How come there was no tour for ‘Fun On Earth’?
I just didn’t feel like it really. I’m doing this because I’m really happy with this album; I feel good about it so why not? We’ve had to postpone our tour with Queen twice now; it’s now going to happen next year, so I think this will be a nice way to spend October.
Usually on tours you’ve played the bulk of the latest album, a smattering of Queen tunes and some stuff from your other records. Interestingly, you’ve tackled Queen songs that were not necessarily your own, such as ‘I Want To Break Free’, ‘The Show Must Go On’ 'We Will Rock You' and you also dusted off ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ once. Are there others you fancy a crack at?
Did I do ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’? I don’t remember that!
Yes, at a gig in Wintershall in 2011 with Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood. I wasn’t even sure it was true until I got hold of a bootleg and you did, and did a good job of it.
Well I’m astounded to hear that. [Laughs] Whatever Queen songs I do will be on a whim, which was maybe what happened there. I might do ‘Under Pressure’, but that will depend on how Angie sings that with me.
I'm sure I speak for a lot of Queen fans when I say I'm really looking forward to it, it's been a long time since your last tour.
Thank you, it has and this has been a pleasure, you obviously know your stuff. It's nice to talk to a magazine with deep and profound knowledge. I do get people saying to me, “Oh, I didn’t know you sang” and I think, “Oh... where the fuck have you been?” [Laughs]