In the pantheon of rock guitarists Mick Ralphs is rarely mentioned, yet for twenty odd years was an integral figure within the British rock scene. To be part of one iconic band is an achievement (Mott The Hoople) but to be a founding member of classic rock giants Bad Company also demonstrates that his understated style belied his talents. He was no ‘Flash Harry’ but if tone and tasteful playing is your bag then check out Ralphs on Mott’s ‘Thunderbuck Ram’ or Bad Company’s ‘Can’t Get Enough’ – he had it in spades.
This 4CD set is basically a kind of ‘What I did on my holidays’ kind of a deal. These albums were recorded during Bad Company’s on/off touring schedules and disagreements. They document a musician with a hunger to play but finding it a difficult path to tread. Mick himself would confess to being no front-man and he was certainly no vocalist, as many of the tracks here sadly witness. Hard to believe then that he was under consideration to replace Ian Hunter in Mott – but that’s another story!
Following a breakdown in the Bad Co ranks in 1982, Ralphs put together a talented band including former bandmate and drummer Simon Kirke – releasing the ‘Take This’ album in 1984. Listening to the bouncy opening cut ‘All It Takes’ it quickly becomes apparent that Ralph’s weedy vocals are not going to carry the project. There are many promising tunes and some fine playing on display but they are crying out for his former cohort Paul Rodgers’ commanding larynx. Significantly, the instrumental title track ‘Take This’ is a jazz-rock bobby dazzler in the vein of Jeff Beck’s mid 70’s output and demonstrates what a versatile player Ralphs could be.
Perhaps taking its cue from his previous albums title cut, 2001’s ‘It’s All Good’ is a collection played entirely by Mick himself. Recorded over a two year period this instrumental album was bereft of structure and coherence. A mixture of jazz-rock and blues the music is repetitive with no clear direction only occasionally threatening to alleviate its torpor. One track of note is an unreleased live Bad Company recording of Freddie King’s classic blues ‘Hideaway’.
The ‘That’s Life’ album on CD3 is a schizophrenic collection of what appear to be home demos. Although the recording quality is variable to say the least it’s actually a fascinating hodgepodge of ideas. Amongst the diamonds in the rough are ‘Under Pressure’ – a tune recalling prime-time Georgie Fame and the Rolling Stones flavoured ‘Hey Hey’ with a riff straight from the Keith Richards songbook. Bad Company fans will be intrigued to hear a 1970 demo of the classic ‘Can’t Get Enough’ which even in a roughly hewn state and without Paul Rodger’s dulcet tones sounds like a rock classic in the making. There’s also an embryonic Bad Company instrumental outtake – ‘Budgie’ – included for good measure.
Topping off this diverse collection is the album ‘Should Know Better’. It seems de rigueur these days for rock’s elder statesmen in their declining years to go back to the source so to speak. To be fair although there are few surprises with the selection of Blues classics proffered the band cover them with gusto and Mick Ralphs shows his unmistakable economy and panache.
Ralphs has had a career that most musicians can only dream about and deservedly so. If these recordings merely fill a gap in a die-hard fans collection then its mission accomplished.