This Article is from the CD 'Molton
Gold - An Anthology'
written by John McDermott.
Along with CREAM and LED ZEPPELIN, FREE stands as one of the most influential bands of
the late 1960?s British blues boom. Formed in London during the spring of 1968, Free?s
original lineup included drummer Simon Kirke, bassist Andy Fraser, lead vocalist Paul
Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff. Kirke and Kossoff were heavily influenced by American
blues artists and, as teenagers, joined in R&B band called Black Cat Bones. Despite
their youth, Kirke and Kossoff were seasoned musicians with a strong and growing
reputation among the London blues scene. "Kossoff," explains Kirke, "while
only 17, was a serious student of music."
Kossoff's background had been classical and he had studied for years. But he also loved
all of those great soul and blues records from America. Veteran producer Mike Vernon best
known for his work with John Mayall enlisted Black Cat Bones to back Champion Jack Dupreee
on the legendary pianists `When you feel the feeling Album for Blue Horizon. Apart from
their celebrated session with Dupree, Kirke and Kossoff grew restless and disbanded the
While scouting for a vocalist to front their new band, Kossoff and Kirke visited the
Fickle Pickle, an R&B club in London's Finsbury Park. It was here that the two first
heard Paul Rodgers, a young vocalist then performing with Brown Sugar. Kirke and Kossoff
were immediately impressed with Rodger?s expressive voice and charismatic style, and
recruited him for their group. "Paul owed a great deal to Otis Redding," recalls
Kirke, "his voice had power and presence. We knew that he was - and still is -
With Rodgers in the fold, Kossoff and Kirke, to round out their new ensemble, turned to
one of their mentors, British blues legend Alexis Korner. "Korner was a big help to
us," says Kirke simply. "Kossoff had been very friendly with him and Alexis
recommended Andy Fraser to us. Though Andy was only 15, he had played with John Mayall?s
Bluesbreakers, which really won our respect.When we first saw him play, he was sitting in
with Alexis Band, wearing these flared trousers and ruffled shirts with rough
"We thought, bloody hell, who is this little punk! But when he started playing we
knew that he was really quite good. Impressed with Fraser?s abilities, Korner helped
arrange an set up at the Nag?s Head Pub in Battersea," remembers Kirke. "It was
great, a very fertile meeting. In fact, at that initial get together, we wrote six blues
based songs. About five or six hours in, Alexis came down and stood in the wings watching.
He not only gave us his seal of approval, he also gave us our the name: FREE."
Korner?s simple choice met with immediate approval. "You must remember,"
says Kirke, "in those days, it was all sort of arty-farty in Britain. Jack Bruce,
Ginger Baker and Graham Bond once had a band called FREE at LAST which was a name we
really liked, however it was already been used though we did use it later as the title for
one of our albums. We were a blues band, so we decided on FREE, which we thought was
something a bit more nebulous."
Beginning with that initial jam session, Free sought to stablish their own distinct
sound and style, shunning excess amplification and instrumentation for sparse arrangement
and a gritty, high energy mix of rock and blues. "Though we were only kids fresh out
of adolescence," explains Kirke, "we were very serious about the direction of
our music. We were never interested in the trappings of psychedelia. We wanted it very
simple Bass, Guitar, Drums and Vocal. Paul Rodgers could play both bass and guitar but we
rarely called on him for it. We never wanted to have a gaudy sound."
On Korners recommendation, Free was signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records and,
subsequently A&M Records in the U.S. Working with producer Guy Stevens, Free entered
London?s Morgan Studios to begin recording TONS OF SOBS, their debut album.
Despite the band's emerging success as a touring unit, capturing their sound in the
studio was, at least initially, more of a challenge."We were really wet behind the
ears when we went to record TONS OF SOBS," explains Kirke, "we didn't know what
to do. Our producer, Guy Stevens, was very talented and was forever buzzing about the
studio. Guy sensed that we were struggling and he pulled us aside. He told us to relay and
just play the two 45-minute sets that we had been playing in the clubs. That's how we did
the album. TONS OF SOBS (a title coined by Stevens) was recorded in a week. When I think
about it today, it seems amazing. Now it seems to take a week to get the right snare
Released in November 1968 TONS OF SOBS and tracks such as I'M A MOVER and THE HUNTER
were obvious examples of the bands earthy roots and considerable blues influence. WALK IN
MY SHADOW, cited by Kirke as the first song the band ever wrote together, is equally
charged, powered by Kossoff?s muscular riffing and Rodgers confident lead vocal. On the
heels of TONS OF SOBS, FREE followed with BROAD DAYLIGHT, their stylish debut single.
However, despite a superb vocal performance by Rodgers, the song failed to chart in both
the U.S. and U.K. "As a single, BROAD DAYLIGHT was a disaster," remembers Kirke.
"I think it sold three copies in Sheffield. It was a funny song, totally
unrepresentative of the group at the time. Even tough it was early on in our career, the
release of BROAD DAYLIGHT was when I had my first inkling that Fraser wasn't quite on the
same wavelength as Kossoff and I. Andy wrote it with Paul and was really insistent that it
become a big single for us. It just wasn't meant to be."
Despite their lack of chart success to date, the band enjoyed a loyal following built
on regular tours throughout Britain. That effort appeared to pay immediate dividends with
the release of FREE, the band's second album, in 1969. With FREE, the group displayed an
emerging individual style framed by Kossoff?s stinging lead guitar, Fraser?s bass,
Kirke?s rock solid beat and Rodgers anguished vocals. Unburdened by extended solos or
lengthy jams typical of the era, such powerful original material as I'LL BE CREEPIN
showcased the talents of Kossoff and Fraser without sacrificing the group?s taut. While
tracks such as WOMAN provided a vehicle for Rodgers considerable vocal prowess, behind the
scenes, Fraser?s reputation as a child prodigy was further enhanced by his contributions
"Fraser?s bass playing on I?LL BE CREEPIN was fantastic," says Kirke,
"I always felt that, pound for pound, Fraser had the most talent of the four of us.
Fraser was quite advanced for his age and, in many ways, a lot like John Paul Jones of Led
Zeppelin-someone who could play a number of instruments well and was a strong, but quiet
In America, neither of FREE?s first two albums had generated much interest. Their big
break would come in Summer of 1969, when the band was asked along with DELANY &
BONNIE, to open dates on BLIND FAITH?s massive U.S. Tour. "That turned out to be
very fortuitous for the band," recalls Kirke. "Our tour with BLIND FAITH ended
with a big show at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards, we were offered a chance to play at
Woodstock, but that fell through. Instead, we were offered a week?s worth of gigs at
Ungano?s popular Nightclub in New York. The second night that we were there, CLAPTON and
BAKER walked in and we were stunned, absolutely in awe, because we had very little contact
with them during the tour. Clapton came backstage and asked Kossoff to show him how he got
such strong and fluid vibrato in his playing. Kossoff nearly died. What, me showing you
stuff?? You must be joking! But Clapton was serious, as Kossoff, among the guitarists
fraternity, had really begun to develop a name for himself.
With two strong albums and nearly two years of touring already under their belt, the
quartet's combination of blues and rock was, perhaps, best captured on their seminal FIRE
AND WATER album, released in 1970. An engaging mix of ballads and strident rockers. FIRE
AND WATER also featured ALL RIGHT NOW, the group's breakthrough single. An edited version
of ALL RIGHT NOW had a major chart impact, reaching No. 2 on the U.K. single chart and, in
the USA, No. 4 on the Billboard chart. Driven by Kossoff?s incessant riffling, ALL RIGHT
NOW has proved remarkably durable, remaining, nearly 25 Years later, the band?s signature
tune. According to Kirke, the song actually drew its roots from necessity.
"ALL RIGHT NOW war created after a bad gig in Durham, England. Our repertoire at
that time was mostly slow and medium paced blues songs which was alright if you were a
student sitting quietly and nodding your head to the beat. However, we finished our show
in Durham and walked off the stage to the sound of our own footsteps. The applause had
died before I had even left the drum riser.When we got into the dressing room, it was
obvious that we needed an uptempo number, a rocker to close our shows. All of sudden, the
Inspiration struck Fraser, and he started bopping around singing ALL RIGHT NOW.... He sat
down and wrote it right there in the dressing room. It couldn't have taken more than ten
HEAVY LOAD and OH I WEPT also from FIRE AND WATER were superb examples of Free?s
unique marriage of solemn blues and swaggering hard rock. With the release of FIRE AND
WATER, Rodgers had emerged as one of hard rock?s premier vocalists. "In the
studio," remembers Kirke, "Paul was a one take wonder. He might have done an
occasional vocal twice, but that was it. His vocal style was very dry and stripped down
with no embellishments at all. I can?t remember one instance when Paul used any effects
such as reverb on his voice. What you hear on those record's is exactly what he sounded
like - and that's what makes him really, really special."
Building on the momentum created by the international success of ALL RIGHT NOW and
their acclaimed performance at the massive ISLE OF WIGHT Festival in August 1970, FIRE AND
WATER enjoyed tremendous success in both US and UK. THE STEALER, the group's follow up
single and HIGHWAY, the group's fourth album, sold poorly, confounding the young band.
"There was a lot of pressure on us to follow up FIRE AND WATER," recalls Kirke,
"after that HIT we started touring country's rather than towns. But we just didn't
have the seasoning. I mean how do you follow ALL RIGHT NOW? We tried THE STEALER but we
knew it wasn't enough."
HIGHWAY offered fans a mellower perspective, as Fraser and Rodgers began to incorporate
more outside influences into their compositions. This subtle change in musical direction
created some tension within the band. "HIGHWAY was a very laid back album,"
states Kirke, "we had broken out of twelve bar blues and had gotten heavily into Bob
Dylan and The BAND, especially Paul and Andy. The band's MUSIC FROM PIG PINK really turned
as around. But even though I loved Levon Helm?s drumming, Kossoff and I were still into
Frustrated by HIGHWAY's commercial rejection and unsure of their future musical
direction, Free was consumed by internal friction and a nagging sense of self-doubt. In
May 1971, following a turbulent Asian Tour, Free disbanded.
"HIGHWAY was a flop," says Kirke, "especially when compared to (the
sales success of) FIRE AND WATER. We just couldn't take the knocks at that age. We
thought, foolishly, that we should break up because no one loves us anymore. We were that
Just prior to announcing their decision to split, MY BROTHER JAKE climbed up the
British Pop charts, reaching No. 4 in June of 1971. "The song's UK-only
success," explains Kirke, "was almost anticipated. MY BROTHER JAKE was a very
parochial song, clearly English, where THE STEALER had more of an American flavour. JAKE
was very cheeky and all Andy Fraser, with pub piano, a jaunty beat and lyrics about
someone pissing their lives away. Who couldn't relate to that?"
On the heels of MY BROTHER JAKE, the band issued FREE LIVE!, a spirited live album
largely compiled from a recent performance at Croydon?s Fairfield Hall. "The three
tracks included on this compilation," says Kirke, "captured the energy and
excitement of FREE in concert. FIRE AND WATER, RIDE ON PONY, and MR. BIG really summed up
what FREE was like live. FIRE AND WATER, one of our best songs, and RIDE ON PONY were very
much influenced by THE BAND. MR. BIG was really a showcase for Andy's playing. Usually,
when a Bassist would take a solo, 90 percent of the audience would head to the bar. What
made MR.BIG really cool was that Fraser did his solo without the band stopping. It was
just a great track to play live."
While FREE LIVE! peaked only at No. 89 in the US, the album would reach the No. 4
position in the U.K., where it became an essential souvenir for British fans. With Fraser
off to form TOBY with guitarist Adrian Fisher and drummer Stan Speaks, Paul Rodgers also
formed a new group, fronting Stewart McDonald and Mich Underwood as Peace. While Peace
would open for MOTT THE HOOPLE on their UK Tour, neither PEACE or TOBY were successful.
Kossoff and Kirke were active as well, recruiting John RABBIT BUNDRICK (later of the WHO)
on keyboards and bassist Tetsu Yamauchi (later to join the Face) for an album known simply
as KOSSOFF, KIRKE, TETSU, RABBIT.
Having struggled in their new projects, FREE reformed in January 1972, touring the UK
and beginning sessions for FREE AT LAST. "We had only broken up for about six
months," remembers Kirke, "but that was long enough. When Andy and Paul had
first decided to leave, I don't think many steps were taken by anyone to change their
minds. After Paul went off with PEACE and Andy formed TOBY, it was like for chrissakes
guys, what are you pissing away? Let's put this thing back together."
While FREE AT LAST and its accompanying single LITTLE BIT OF LOVE re-established the
band commercially, a crippling mixture of old and new problems surfaced, again threatening
the future of the group. The most serious of which was Kossoff?s mounting drug addiction
which compounded his ill-health. Free would tour the US during the early Summer of 1972,
but Kossoff condition caused him to miss dates, forcing, initially. On the eve of the
group's July tour of Japan, Andy Fraser abruptly departed. Rodgers handled now vocals and
guitar. By October, with Kossoff?s health temporarily improved, the original quartet
reformed to tour the UK. Recording sessions for HEARTBREAKER, Free?s final album, began
but Kossoff?s contribution were muted. Nonetheless, HEARTBREAKER was well received both
in the US and the UK, where the album reached No. 9 and WISHING WELL, the single, reached
No. 7 on the POP Chart. On tour to support the album, Osibisa?s Wendel Richardson was
recruited to help out when Kossoff's condition was too bad. Finally, by July of 1973, Free
disbanded for good.
Following the demise of FREE, Rodgers who reportedly turned down the lead vocalist
position with DEEP PURPLE, joined Kirke, ex King Crimson Boz Burrell and Mott the Hoople
Guitarist Mick Ralphs in a new group called BAD COMPANY. Led Zeppelin Manager Peter Grant
signed them to Zep?s newly formed Swan Song Records. In 1974, their self titled LP was a
runaway sales success reaching Billboards top position in August, and followed, for nearly
a decade, by a steady string of platinum successes worldwide.
Andy Fraser never quite channeled his talent as effectively again. After unsuccessful
stints with SHARKS and FRANKIE MILLER, he would record two albums as the ANDY FRASER BAND
for CBS Records in 1974 and 1975. In the 1980?s, Fraser enjoyed a minor chart hit with DO
YOU LOVE ME. He would also record for Mercury Records, as well as contribute to the work
of such artists as Brian ENO and Robert PALMER.
Despite Paul Kossoff?s history of ill-health, his potential seemed unlimited. During
sessions for FREE AT LAST, Kossoff had begun to record BACK STREET CRAWLER, his first solo
album, released by Island Records in 1973. Following that effort, he would form a quintet
also called Back Street Crawler. Amid interest from a number of competing labels, Kossoff
chose Atlantic Atco records and recorded two critically acclaimed albums, THE BAND PLAYS
ON and SECOND STREET. Sadly Kossoff?s battle against drug addiction was unsuccessful. He
died 19 March 1976 of heart failure aboard a flight to New York.
After the breakup of BAD COMPANY in 1982, both Paul Rodgers and Kirke have continued to
enjoy commercial success. In 1984 Kirke, Ralphs and Burrell recruited former TED NUGENT
vocalist Brian Howe to front a revamped Bad Company. Beginning with the release of FAME
AND FORTUNE in 1986, this edition has issued four successful albums and remains a durable
and popular concert attraction around the world.
Paul Rodgers has also continued to maintain a high profile. While Cut Loose, a 1983
album, was unjustly overlooked, Rodgers' next musical venture - a much heralded
collaboration with legendary Led Zeppelin Guitarist Jimmy Page - was not. As the FIRM,
PAGE and RODGERS along with bassist Tony Franklin and drummer Chris Slade, scored with two
consecutive albums. THE FIRM and MEAN BUSINESS and such hits as RADIOACTIVE, SATISFACTION
GUARANTEED and ALL THE KINGS HORSES.
In 1991, Rodgers teamed with former WHO drummer Kenny Jones to form THE LAW. LAYING
DOWN THE LAW, the group's debut single, met with wide approval especially in the US. More
recently, Rodgers has issued an acclaimed tribute to one of his idols, blues pioneer Muddy
Waters. Featuring collaborations with such celebrated guitarists as BUDDY GUY, JEFF BECK
and DAVID GILMOUR, the album MUDDY WATERS BLUES marks a welcome return to Rodgers' blues
and soul roots.
Recordings of Artists
Related with FREE
The Free Album
Heavy Load - The
Complete Free Story
Songs of Yesterday
at Chrome Oxide
KKTR - In Depth
Free Page from
Best of Free Video
Best of Free Tablature
FAS - Free
Tribute Band: Free Again