Free is one of those bands who most people know from just their two hits singles “All Right Now” and “Wishing Well” and pretty much nothing else. Both tracks still receive much radio airplay and can usually guarantee gents of certain age will be air guitaring once the solos start. But for all the acclaim and enjoyment of these singles, little is ever said about how truly tight this band were live or how groundbreaking they were, setting down a style of music for other bands to follow.
Free were a hard rock and blues band consisting of Paul Rodgers (vocals), Paul Kossoff (guitar), Andy Fraser (bass) and Simon Kirke (drums). They were all young teenagers when they first started gigging in different bands. Through the guidance of legendary blues man Alexis Korner the four like-minded youngsters came together to form a group in 1968. The youngest was fifteen (Fraser). The eldest were eighteen (Rodgers, Kirke). Korner dubbed the band “Free” and so they were born.
Free spent long hours rehearsing until they were almost telepathically in tune with each other. They gigged everywhere—no place was too lowly or too small—from boozer to club to proper theaters. At a time when music was shifting from psychedelia and flower power to blues and rock, Free were a part of a new generation of bands that were ringing in the changes.
In 1968, they released their debut album Tons of Sobs—a good and powerful blues album that sounded as if it was recorded in one goose-bump, adrenaline-pumping take—with amazing interplay between Rodgers’ vocals and Kossoff’s guitar. However, it did little to raise the band’s profile. However, live they were getting the attention they hoped for and a legion of dedicated fans started turning up at their gigs.
In 1969, Free released their eponymous second album, which didn’t do as well as expected (it should have sold shedloads). It was during this point there was early signs of division within the group as Rogers and Fraser formed a songwriting partnership which dictated the direction and style of the band. It left Kossoff and Kirke feeling isolated and a tad mutinous. Guitarist and drummer considered dumping Fraser and replacing him with Mott the Hoople’s Overened Watts. Kossoff also considered joining another band and auditioned as guitarist for The Rolling Stones. While Fraser and Rodgers wondered if they should form their own band. However, this was all temporarily forgotten about with the massive success of their next album Fire and Water—a stunning record which also contained their biggest hit single “All Right Now.”
Continuing under the writing partnership of Fraser and Rodgers, Free began to create a powerful, seminal white blues/hard rock sound that other bands would have greater success in copying. They found a steady pulse in Kirke’s drumming and a prodigiously talented guitarist in Kossoff. Free gave a star performance in front of 600,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival and were considered by many in the music press to be the future of rock. They had broken the American market and were seemingly on the verge of greatness.
But a fourth album Highway, also released in 1970, failed to follow-up on the success of Fire and Water. This together with disagreements between Rodgers and Fraser, and Kossoff’s serious drug problem, caused the band to temporarily split. The NME reported:
With their current single ‘My Brother Jake’ standing high in the UK charts, Free have disbanded!
The decision to break up was taken during the group’s recent Australian tour and now the various members are planning new bands.
Announcing the split, a spokesman said: ‘The boys felt they had achieved as much together as they possibly could within their existing framework. They have now decided to pursue individual careers..’
It was thought Kossoff and Kirke would stay together and assemble a new group. While Rodgers and Fraser would form their own bands. A live album—recorded at Sheffield and Croydon’s Fairfeld Hall—was planned for release but no further singles.
As fate would have it the release of a live album in 1971 proved to be yet another big hit and personal disagreements were soon resolved and the band released their fifth album Free At Last in 1971, which put them back in the Top 10. Free At Last is a dark, brooding, deeply felt and powerful album considered by some critics as a plea by the band for Kossoff to get off the drugs. During its recording Fraser allegedly kidnapped Kossoff in an attempt to get him clean—it didn’t work.
When it came time to tour and promote the album, the reality of Kossoff’s drug problem meant he was “physically incapable of performing.” Arguments flared between Fraser and Rodgers and the band split—this time with Rodgers and Kirke staying on as Free. The band’s last success was their sixth album Heartbreaker which charted big in both the UK and US and gave the band a final hit single “Wishing Well.”
Keeping reading after the jump… it’s Free…