Alan Jones on a woman in a diaphanous dress, a wailing Les Paul, and a T-shirt that said it all…
It could have gone either way.
In the late sixties my musical experiences were limited to my mother’s meagre collection of seven inch singles by the likes of The Searchers, Andy Williams and Dusty Springfield played on our cheap ‘Dansette’ record player.
The first records I bought for myself were ‘My Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder, ‘Brontosaurus’ by The Move and an LP by a band called Crazy Elephant which was in the bargain bin at my local record store. It was awful – I bought it because I liked the cover and had heard one track “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’”. It was a life lesson retained to this day.
But things were about to change…
My mate Terry suggested we go to a local nightclub that had a ‘rock night’ on Fridays and being as we did everything together at that time, I went along to ‘The Capitol’ in Wallasey (Merseyside) locally known as ‘The Cap’.
We were both too young to be in there but managed to slip in behind some other poor sods who had been stopped from going in by the man mountain on the door.
We had only been in there for a matter of minutes when this fantastic track blasted out of the disco speakers and this woman, probably in her mid-twenties, started dancing on her own on the dance floor.
She was dressed in a diaphanous maxi-dress that the pulsing lights shafted through and was waving her arms about in time to this fabulous music.
I was transfixed. Not just by this dancing vision of womanhood but by the music. “Wow, this is for me” I thought and asked the DJ what it was. “Free” he said. “What, you got it for nothing”? “No” and he showed me the cover. It was Free’s second album and the track that had just changed my life was “I’ll Be Creepin”.
At the time I had a job as a ‘Saturday lad’ in Tesco’s (Friday night and all day Saturday for £1.50 – tell that to the kids today and they’ll never believe you) so it took me a couple of weeks to save up and buy ‘Free’.
I rushed home and slapped it onto the Dansette. Every track was a gem – ‘I’ll Be Creepin’ (of course), ‘Songs Of Yesterday’, ‘Trouble On Double Time’, ‘Woman’. This was cathartic.
I saved up again to buy their first album ‘Tons Of Sobs’ – much more blues/rock based with classics such as ‘Worry’, ‘Goin’ Down Slow’, ‘Walk In My Shadow’ and ‘The Hunter’ and found out the band were all under twenty years of age – bass player Andy Fraser was only fifteen for chrissakes…how could they be this good at this age?
I remember there being a real buzz of anticipation from all my peer group before the release of ‘Fire And Water’ in 1970 and it didn’t let us down.
Every track was a gem, with Paul Rodgers’ soulful vocals complementing Paul Kossoff’s wailing Les Paul and with Simon Kirke’s metronomic drumming aligned to Fraser’s outstanding bass work, and a clutch of great songs, they couldn’t fail.
Tracks such as ‘Fire And Water’, ‘Heavy Load’, ‘Mr Big’, ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ and the iconic ‘All Right Now’ blasted the band to super-stardom reaching #2 in the British album charts and #17 in the USA.
It was around this time I saw them at the famous Liverpool Stadium and that gig has never left my “Top Ten Gigs Of All Time” – although I had to miss the encore due to having to catch the last ‘cross-river’ bus home. Sigh.
Paul Rodgers in 2016
However, cracks were beginning to show, particularly with regard to Kossoff’s Mandrax addiction and Rodgers and Fraser’s ‘musical differences’ – and after the rather patchy ‘Highway’ album (not helped by the cover which didn’t even show the band’s name) and despite great tracks such as ‘The Stealer’ and ‘Ride On A Pony’ – the band split.
They reformed for the well-received, but again patchy ‘Free At Last’ which still gave up gems such as ‘Catch A Train’, ‘Sail On’, ‘Travellin’ Man’ and hit single ‘Little Bit Of Love’ but the magic was gone.
Fraser went off to form Sharks with Chris Spedding and Koss tried his luck with Back Street Crawler and by the time of their final ‘Heartbreaker’ album Tetsu Yamauchi had replaced Fraser and Jon ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick had come in on keyboards with Koss only contributing guitar on five tracks.
The classic ‘Wishing Well’ comes from this album along with ‘Travellin’ In Style’ and the soulful ‘Come Together In The Morning’ but everyone could see the end had come.
Rodgers and Kirke went on to hit paydirt with the stadium-filling Bad Company, Fraser tried his hand at a few projects including the aforementioned Sharks and the sort-lived Toby but seemed content to just let the royalties from ‘All Right Now’ pay the bills.
Saddest of all was the death of Koss on a flight from Los Angeles to New York on 19 March 1976, from a pulmonary embolism brought on by drug addiction. He was 25. A much underrated guitarist, especially by himself, his playing has always been the standard by which I’ve judged other players ever since.
I used to have a T-shirt that said ‘I Might Be Old But At Least I Saw All The Best Bands’ (too small for me now (!) and I will be forever grateful to Free for kicking in the door, opening up my life to proper music and enabling me to wear that shirt with both truth and pride.
And in case you’re wondering, I never found out who that woman was…
(ii) Steve Goudie
Paul Rodgers chatted to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in April 2011. In this interview edit he talks about Paul Kossoff and the formation of the band.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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Featured Albums w/c 14 September (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 PERFECT PLAN Time For A Miracle (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 OVERLAND Scandalous (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 ANNIE DRESSNER Coffee At The Corner Bar (indie)
Power Plays w/c 14 September (Mon-Fri)
GALLOWS CIRCUS Medicine Man (indie)
ROY ZIV Currents (indie)
NOVATINES Honey (indie)
KILFEATHER Never Stop (indie)
VANILLA FUDGE Immigrant Song (Golden Robot Records)
BROKEN MACHINE Sweet Mary Jane (indie)
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