During the 1980s, CURT CRESS rose to become one of rock and pop’s best-selling drummers and his international reputation led to him playing on all tracks on FREDDIE MERCURY’S MR BAD GUY album in 1985. Now the head of an enterprise producing media products for music, film and television, Curt described to Dave Fordham the experience of working with Freddie in an exclusive interview that originally appeared in the Official International Queen Fan Club summer 2022 magazine.
For Dave’s exclusive interview in the winter 2022 magazine with Lenny Zakatek, vocalist in John Deacon’s solo venture The Immortals, join the fan club now at www.queenworld.com.
“Basically I’ve used all German musicians, the best that I could find. There’s people like Curt Cress who’s a very good drummer and he’s in a band called Spliff. I think he sells more records than me in Germany… but I’ll change that!” Freddie speaking in 1985 to a Dutch TV station about the musicians on Mr Bad Guy.
How did the opportunity to play on the Mr Bad Guy album come about?
I had already worked with Mack [Reinhold Mack – Mr Bad Guy co-producer] on Billy Squire’s album and other recordings, so he approached me to play drums for Freddie. Mack must have given me a good recommendation and I am very thankful to him for that!
At that time, were you a fan of Freddie’s work with Queen?
Well, who is not a fan of Queen?! They were a great band and I really liked their music. Later on in the early 1990s, I produced and played on the We Are The Champions album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing hits of Queen and Freddie, so I got to know every song very well!
Do you remember the first time you met Freddie and what your initial impressions were?
Yes. Some of the Mr Bad Guy songs had already been recorded and I was replacing the drums. So I was sitting playing at Musicland Studios in Munich and I saw Freddie arrive and go into the control room. Somehow his aura was already very big. I went into the control room to see what he thought of what I was playing… and he said it was fantastic! He was very friendly and open and it was just like a normal relationship between colleagues; we were musicians and there were no walls between us. When musicians play together, you have to communicate well so that everyone can achieve the best they can and Freddie was like this with me from the start.
How would you describe the dynamics between Freddie, Mack and the other musicians in the studio during the sessions?
Like relationships I’d had in some bands, Queen had already recorded so much and had a long life together in the studio and on tour, but coming together like we did for an intimate few days and recording a few songs is a completely different atmosphere and relationship. It’s such a private moment in the studio to perform and open up your heart to other guys.
The chemistry between us all was fantastic. It was all very comfortable and easy, just like other studio sessions I’d done… except the big difference was having Freddie Mercury singing with me because every tune he sung actually meant something. When I played drums, every note I played, I wanted to play… and I felt the same with Freddie too; he wasn’t just singing, he was SINGING! And performing too. It was very impressive. When he was listening to the music, his gestures and everything were like he was on stage – he just loved doing the music and hearing his songs come alive. He was a very intense person – he was so engaged and it was really nice to see first hand.
How would you summarise Freddie’s general persona during your time with him?
On the first day, Freddie said he didn’t feel so good so let’s stop and go to lunch! Usually when I was booked, people were paying a lot of money for me so wanted to maximise my time. But Freddie was very relaxed and I was not really used to that.
So we walked together through the Viktualienmarkt in the middle of Munich to go to lunch. Freddie was walking through the streets in jeans and t-shirt holding a carrier bag… but wasn’t recognised because nobody believed it could really be Freddie Mercury! He acted like a normal citizen and I think he really loved being that free. My wife joined us and it was a really nice time. Freddie was interested to talk about our family, where we go for vacation and where I was playing next – those type of normal things. It was big honour to get to know Freddie a little because he wasn’t just a great singer – he was a really great guy and so friendly. He was such a big star but behaved so normally and like a real gentleman.
So the sessions resumed the next day?
The next day he felt better so he played piano and then sang. For me, it was all very impressive. When he was singing in the studio it was a big performance – there was no difference from what I had seen of him on videos.
I was in the studio for three days after they had already been working for some months on the album.
You laid down drums for all the tracks in just three days?
Yes. I am known to be very fast anyway and as well as that, everything was easy because unlike German recordings that in those days always took a long time because everyone wanted perfection, English and American artists from my experience were always a relief to play with because if you played good then it was good; the performance was more important than the exact perfection of timing etc.
So when I recorded a track with Freddie and Mack, we went into the control room to listen to it, they said it was fantastic, it was finished and we moved onto the next song!
To differentiate his solo work from Queen, did Freddie have a clear idea of how he wanted your drums to sound?
No. I came from the soul rock world and always played free in the studios. I’m not a drummer who sits down, reads and plays to music straight away. As a drummer coming in to play like this, you have to be self-confident, know what you are doing and be free to play without fear. You have to listen to the performer and what he is singing… and if you are listening to Freddie Mercury sing in front of you, it is so easy to play – you can’t go wrong!
As a fellow drummer, had Roger Taylor’s playing with Queen caught your attention?
I always liked his drumming, especially his sound and ideas when playing.
Of course, I would like to have sounded like Roger Taylor because I really like his sound. But I had a completely different drumkit and all drummers sound different anyway. Freddie loved what I played and I am very proud of that.
Please can you describe how the songs and album came together?
Some songs were recorded live with Fred Mandel and the other guys in the studio and some others had already been recorded.
Mr Bad Guy (my favourite track on the record) was already recorded with Roger’s drums but Freddie needed to replace him because it had to be a solo album and not Queen. I said to Freddie that Roger played it so well that I really didn’t feel right wiping his drums from the tape and playing it again. So I told Freddie he had to call Roger for approval otherwise I wouldn’t play it! Even though Roger was fine about it, I still believe he sounded better than me… but Freddie really liked what I played and I was very happy to be on the record.
Were you aware at the time that versions of There Must Be More To Life Than This and Man Made Paradise had originally been worked on during Queen’s sessions for Hot Space in 1981 and The Works in 1983 respectively?
I didn’t know that. If Roger’s drums were already laid down on any tracks other than Mr Bad Guy then they weren’t played to me.
Was there ever any talk of touring the Mr Bad Guy album or any live performances?
Of course, I would’ve loved to have performed with Freddie on stage. Maybe he hoped we’d perform if the album was successful but I don’t know for sure as you don’t get to know a person well in such a short time together.
By Freddie’s standards, did Mr Bad Guy’s relative lack of commercial success surprise you?
I don’t know if I was surprised. I saw a lot of other artists coming out of successful bands to do their own albums and mistakenly thinking they are doing everything better. This was the first time Freddie was alone in the studio doing his own production and there will always be mistakes in that situation. In my opinion, with ballad, disco and rock, maybe there were too many mixed styles on one record.
But for me, it is still a classic.
Upon finishing Mr Bad Guy, was there initially a hope of working with Freddie again?
I would have loved a second album but there was no talk to me about that. I think Freddie would’ve learnt a lot from Mr Bad Guy and maybe would have done it differently.
Did you have any contact with the other Queen members during the Mr Bad Guy period?
Only saying hello to Brian at the album playback at Musicland Studios. It was like a family at that event and of course I was not so much involved with that family. But it was really nice to be invited and was a great occasion.
Did you keep in touch with Freddie over the years?
After Mr Bad Guy, Freddie invited me to the Queen concert at the Olympiahalle in Munich. That was the first time I had seen them live and it was incredible. Freddie was not a very tall guy and I was talking to him before the gig… but then he went on stage and it was like he had grown to three metres high! He was incredible.
We didn’t keep in touch after that because I left Munich and was always somewhere else in the world with other acts, opening studios and producing etc. But when I heard of Freddie’s death in 1991, I was in tears.
Were you associated with the posthumous The Freddie Mercury Album, released one year after Freddie’s death and featuring remixed versions of Foolin’ Around, Your Kind of Lover, Mr Bad Guy, Lets Turn it On and Living on My Own?
They may have used some of my drums but I was not involved in that record.
And what did you think about the 2019 special edition of the Mr Bad Guy album?
I haven’t heard it yet.
How did you feel about the reworked versions of Made in Heaven and I Was Born to Love You on Queen’s Made in Heaven album in 1995 and the Queen + Michael Jackson version of There Must Be More to Life Than This in 2014?
I liked I Was Born to Love You but Made in Heaven was fantastic – Roger Taylor’s drums were so good.
I haven’t heard the reworked There Must Be More to Life Than This but I will now!
How did it feel to see the scenes portraying the Mr Bad Guy sessions in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie?
Of course, in a film there are many things that are different to how it happened in real life. What I didn’t like so much was that it looked like Freddie wasn’t happy in Munich when actually I think he really loved Munich and had a great time.
I knew more about Freddie after I saw the film than I did before, even the wrong things. It was a big honour to work with him and knowing more now about Queen and the story behind Freddie than I did then, maybe today I would ask him many more different things than I did. I feel a little sorry because maybe I should’ve tried to get more time with him, but when you are young you always assume you will come together again…
Considering your accomplished career over more than five decades and having worked with a myriad of distinguished and varied artists such as Meat Loaf, Tina Turner, Boney M and the Scorpions to name but a few, where does Freddie rank?
For me, Freddie is number one. Other artists I’ve worked with were not all as friendly or impressive as Freddie and they didn’t sing, play piano or write songs like Freddie. He was really special and there will only ever be one Freddie Mercury. Over my career, I have played on approximately 14,000 songs on thousands of records but when people ask for examples of my work, I always play them tracks from Mr Bad Guy.
Freddie is still there with me and I have a Mr Bad Guy gold record on my office wall as a reminder!
This article is © Dave Fordham and the Official International Queen Fan Club and is not to be reproduced without permission. Join the fan club at www.queenworld.com.
Curt’s solo albums are available on Spotify and for more details on his career and current activities, visit www.cc-holding.eu.
Have you watched Dave Fordham’s extended interview with Neil Fairclough, exclusive to brianmay.com?