Features

Simon Kirke

The Free and Bad Company cofounder releases a solo album that reaffirms his place in the top tier of rock drumming, as well as his stature as a solo artist to be reckoned with.

Story by Bob Girouard
Photos by John Fell

These days Simon Kirke is on top of the world, and it’s easy to see why. His new album, All Because of You, is a joyous celebration and possibly the best thing he’s done yet as a solo artist. The recording features eleven tracks chock full of hooks and happiness, with an interesting mix of styles. Among the genres Kirke covers are reggae (an organic take on the Bad Co. staple “Feel Like Making Love”), gospel (“Into the Light”), and jazz-tinged balladry (“Melting on Madison”). And, of course, there’s a balls-out rocker right out of the Bad Company playbook, “Trouble Road.” For that track Kirke enlisted Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, and he’s supported across All Because of You by the Chicago-based band the Empty Pockets.

When MD spoke with Kirke in 2014, he was embarking on a Bad Co. multi-city tour alongside fellow classic-rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd. Compared with today, it was not a good time for him. “I was struggling with my then-marriage,” Kirke says. “Plus, as of about a year now, I’m sober. I’ve come through all of that with a new perspective, and my current fiancé, Maria, has given me hope for the future. And many of the songs on the album reflect that with her in mind.”

All Because of You was coproduced by keyboardist Josh Solomon, who also arranged for the contributions of a string quartet and a gospel choir. “The recording was done on the west side of Chicago,” Kirke says, “in the Empty Pockets’ studio, which was about the size of a phone book—or maybe two phone books tied together! We cut everything live with some overdubs, but I was astounded at the quality of the sound.”

Fans of Kirke’s famously big Bad Co. drum sound should be more than satisfied by the album. “Josh’s drummer, Danny Rosenthal, had this old set of Ludwig Super Classics with some big, oversized Zildjians,” Simon explains, “which I augmented with my DW snare drum to get the sound I wanted. But what I’m actually most proud of on All Because of You is my singing. Josh and his wife, Erika, took me aside and gave me the most amazing vocal exercises.” Kirke also plays acoustic guitar and ukulele on the album, and he wrote half of its tracks.

For a musician as successful as Kirke, it’s notable that even at this stage in his career he’s open to coaching. But perhaps his modesty shouldn’t be so surprising; recognizing his own personal weaknesses has led Simon to serve on the board of two alcohol-addiction-oriented help groups—the New York City–based Road Recovery organization and the Right Turn rehabilitation center of Arlington, Massachusetts. “As someone who tries to stay sober,” he says, “I attempt to help teenagers and adults stay away from the crap that I went through for many years. I give them a guitar or a tambourine or just tell them to sing. Within a month to six weeks they’re chatting, gregarious, and coming out of their shell. I’m not saying that every single one of them is a success story, because not all of them are. But music has always been the soother of the savage beast within.”

This year Kirke plans to follow up the release of All Because of You with support tours in America and the United Kingdom.