From the Age of Vinyl to Digital Streaming, Duran Duran Keeps the Beat Going

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On paper, it just didn’t make a lot of sense.

Sex Pistols meets Chic. Punk meets funk? C’mon.

But in late 1970s Birmingham, England, 19-year-old drummer Roger Taylor and a lanky bass guitarist named John Taylor (no relation) didn’t know much better. They got into a room and played together for the first time, fusing the sounds and attitude of their youth.

Who knew that after nearly 40 years and more than 100 million albums sold, their band, Duran Duran, would Sept. 11 be releasing a 14th studio album, “Paper Gods,” and be on the road again for a tour that will bring them to the Hollywood Bowl and Agua Caliente Resort Spa in the Inland Empire next month?

Truth is, they had ambitions way back when. But L.A. in 2015? The world? Still taking creative risks? Surely, egos, drugs, breakups, creative differences would have doomed them long before this.

“As Nick often says, he thought the band might last five years ... at most. And to still be here so long after, that is pretty humbling,” said Roger Taylor in a recent phone interview, referring to synth player Nick Rhodes, who with John Taylor, started Duran Duran in 1978.

Somehow, Duran Duran has made it from the vinyl era to the age of streaming with new music, a loyal audience and a drive to keep doing something different artistically. The bandmates are a little grayer, of course, but they still have really cool hair and a resilient beat. In Duran Duran’s most recent album, that beat is leading the rockers in a familiar but audacious direction: the dance floor.

Rewind to late 1970s UK: Roger Taylor, whose face seemed fresh from a James Dean casting call, set up his drums inside that Birmingham room. The bass was new for John Taylor, but he also had a sound in mind for his new band, named after a character in the 1968 Jane Fonda movie “Barbarella.”

Self-taught, the fledgling tandem were in experimental mode. There were few rules, just the punk-inspired irreverence of the time. And they loved the sounds they were hearing — everything from David Bowie to Chic.

Then came the moment.

“John said, ‘I want the rhythm section maybe to be a bit more disco, more funky,’ ” Roger Taylor recalled. “So I tried this kind of disco, funky beat and John kind of picked up the groove. And he looked at me, and I looked at him, and it was working. I mean, within seconds we gelled as a rhythm section.”

As fast as you could say Margaret Thatcher, that musical chemistry — however imperfect in those early days — would become the launchpad for a rocket to fame from 1980 to 1986.

If you have ever danced to hits like “Planet Earth,” “Girls on Film,” “Rio,” “The Reflex,” “A View to a Kill,” “Wild Boys” or “Notorious,” you were moving to beats that grew from that musical fusion. With their anthemic songs, Roger, John, lead guitarist Andy Taylor (again, no relation), singer Simon Le Bon and Rhodes would conquer the pop world.

As Duran Duran embarks on a tour for their new record, the moment is not lost on Roger Taylor, and neither is that early musical chemistry.

“We still have those moments,” said Taylor. “We did some shows recently in the U.S. where we’d look at each other and say, ‘God, we’re still doing this 30-something years down the line. It’s still working.’ I think that’s a real gift that something can last so long.”

It almost didn’t. Fame brought exhaustion, a drug addiction that almost destroyed John Taylor and departures, including Roger Taylor’s in the mid-1980s, before the band reunited in 2001.

Roger Taylor never completely tuned out, though, even as the band forged on with Le Bon, Rhodes and John Taylor creating music (the band never fully broke up and even had hits). Fans, though, longed for a day when Roger Taylor would come back.

“It does change you a bit, actually,” he said of seeing the band from the outside, adding that it was a good thing to be out of the limelight for a while.

It took about 15 years, but Roger Taylor is keenly aware of what he was and is a part of: maybe the biggest pop group of the 1980s, which influenced many artists who came after, from Moby to Mark Ronson.

“Once you’ve been away from a band like Duran Duran, it’s pretty hard not to be in it,” said Taylor, who said he now embraces his “inner Duran.”

In 2001, Roger and John Taylor (John left the band in 1997) collaborated again, marking the return of that hit-making rhythm section. But could a reunited Duran Duran conquer a new pop world, in yet a new decade, when on-demand digital consumption rules?

Gradually, they’ve made their way, even with another glitch when Andy Taylor — who also returned in 2001 — left again in the mid-2000s. With Le Bon and Rhodes, a sober John Taylor and a rested Roger, it’s been a wiser Duran Duran.

“At the end of the day, it’s the music,” Roger Taylor said, adding that the goal with “Paper Gods” was to make a consistent album, start to finish. “If the music is working, you can kind of manage all the other stuff that happens. It’s probably no different to people who work together in an office every day. Everybody’s in that situation, where they are trying to manage personalities and to move as a group force.”

The band is doing something right.

Duran Duran concerts reinforce its staying power, said Richard Blade, the popular Southern California video and radio DJ who put Duran Duran and other groups of the era in heavy rotation on KROQ and his video shows in the early 1980s.

“They never call it in,” Blade said, making an anology to another of Duran Duran’s contemporaries, U2, who recently played a series of shows in L.A.

Those shows, coupled with a constant push to do something new artistically, have kept them afloat in the Twitter age, Blade added.

“That’s what their fanbase loves about them,” he said.

As for the Hollywood Bowl in October, look closely and you might see a slightly nervous Roger Taylor. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It means you care,” he said, preferring to call it adrenaline. “I definitely get that before every performance. And the day that I don’t may be the day it’s time to hang up those sticks.”

When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1 in Hollywood and 8 p.m. Oct. 3 in Rancho Mirage.

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 Highland Ave., Los Angeles; The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32-250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage.

Tickets: $35-$185 in Hollywood; $95-$185 in Rancho Mirage.


Courtesy Los Angeles Daily News