When Chris Blackwell signed Free to Island Records in 1968 he wanted to call them the Heavy Metal Kids but in stepped blueman Alexis Korner with the perfect name for the band FREE. This band had it all and delivered one of the best all time party records in ‘ All Right Now’ and left behind a fine body of musical work.
On Drums ~ Mr. Simon Kirke who could lay down a back beat like the Stax legend Al Jackson of Booker T & The MGs fame. Simon Kirke was rock steady, never too flash and never missed a beat. On Bass ~ Mr. Andy Fraser who was playing with John Mayall at the age of 15 and is an astonishing bass player and co~writer of all the classic Free songs. On Guitar ~ Mr. Paul Kossoff, son of actor David Kossoff who was classically trained on guitar before plugging in his trusty Les Paul guitar and becoming one of England’s finest and also my favourite guitar player. On Vocals ~ The one and only Mr. Paul Rodgers, one of the greatest voices England has ever produced and also an excellent songwriter.
While I was working at the Marquee Club in London in 1969 the DJ used to play two 45s by Free, one was ‘Broad Daylight’ and the other was ‘I’ll Be Creepin’ which I loved. I had never seen this band play and one Friday night my mates and I made it out to Loughton in Essex to see Free play live. We got a beer and managed to get right down the front of the stage. Free strolled on and in the next hour proceeded to deliver one of the greatest soulful performances from a rock band I have ever seen! ~ very powerful. The band was on tour to support their first album ‘Tons of Sobs’ which has a real blues feel about it with songs like ‘Going Down Slow’ and the Albert King classic ‘The Hunter’, but for me it was the songwriting talent of Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers which pointed the way forward for the band with songs like ‘Worry‘ ~ ‘Walking My Shadow’ and the brilliant ‘I’m A Mover’ with a blistering solo from Paul Kossoff.
Their self titled second album Free was the stepping stone to later success with outstanding songs and playing from the band. ‘I’ll Be Creepin’ ~ ‘Songs of Yesterday’ ~ ‘Lying in the Sunshine’ and ‘Woman’ moulded the classic Free sound.
With this band what they didn’t play was as important as what they did play ~ Leave some space for the music to breathe!
Next up was their biggest selling album ‘ Fire and Water’ which featured the big hit single ‘All Right Now’ which hit the top of the charts in that hot summer of 1970. This is a monster record even today receiving lots of radio play all over the world. ‘Fire and Water’ is an album where every track is a standout with Simon Kirke driving the band along from behind the Drum set and Andy Fraser delivering the Bass solo to end all Bass solos on ‘Mr. Big’ and gut wrenching guitar solos with understated control from Paul Kossoff and the great Paul Rodgers showing us that he is Britain’s answer to Otis Redding. A must have in any record collection.
By this point Free mania had arrived and breaks and disagreements started to appear in the band who didn’t handle success too well due to their young years and the pressure was on to follow~up on the hit album and 45. The next album was not received well but I think that judgment was unfair then or even now, maybe it was the dull sleeve after great pieces of artwork on the three previous albums, but the album ‘Highway’ has some high points and is still a gem in it’s own right.
The swaggering ‘The Highway Song’ kicks off the album and is followed by the song chosen as the next 45 follow~up to ‘All Right Now’ ‘ The Stealer’ which couldn’t get arrested on the radio and did a belly flop on the singles chart as did the album, but with tracks like ‘Be My Friend’ ~ ‘Ride on Pony’ and the rest of the album it shows all this band needed was more time for recording and probably a good holiday away from each other as they had been touring endlessly at the point.
The band spilt up for the first time and not the last with Kossoff saying that the songwriters Fraser & Rodgers were too restrictive in the studio almost telling Koss what to play note for note instead of the creative input coming from all the members of the band. Meanwhile Island Records released the album ‘Free Live’ which shows how good the band was at the time. The band did reform a couple of times and soldiered on releasing two fine albums ‘Free At Last’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ both on Island with Kossoff playing some amazing guitar from deep within on ‘Free At Last’ and sadly only appearing a few tracks on ‘Heartbreaker’ because of drug problems but both albums spored hit 45’s in ‘Little Bit of Love’ and ‘Wishing Well’.Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke must be thanked for keeping the band together with Fraser leaving and Kossoff going awol at this point .
The real tragedy here was the rapid demise of guitarist Paul Kossoff who never got over a serious drug problem when the band initially broke up in the early 70’s, passing away in March 1976 at the tender age of 25 while promoting his new band Back Street Crawler in the USA. A sad loss of a huge talent who is still much loved today.
Andy Fraser formed the excellent band Sharks with Chris Spedding but that didn’t last to long, still he kept his hand in writing songs for Frankie Miller, Rod Stewart and Chaka Khan as well as releasing some good solo albums.
Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke went on to form Bad Company and signed to the Led Zeppelin label Swansong and were to conquer America with their brand of stadium rock. However Paul Rodgers who has played with some of the best guitarist in the world has said that he never found a guitar player to replace Paul Kossoff, not even Jimmy Page or Brian May. Sail on My Brother Jake.