Saturday, July 04, 2009



Free had two albums under their belt by 1970, both of which were solid yet not commercial bonanzas for the group. Prodigiously talented, the individual members carved distinct, well defined parts for each of the seven tracks that comprised "Fire and Water". Paul Rogers and bassist Andy Fraser shared the bulk of the writing duties (Paul Kossoff contributed to two songs, Simon Kirke snagged a credit for "Mr. Big") While not as heavy as the previous releases, the third disc contained a secret weapon which would come to be their biggest hit, push them to fame and cause a quick implosion.

You have seen the Isle of Wight version a million times. Here's an early TV performance from 1969.

For those of you that have been living in a remote area without electricity for your entire life and have decided to shave your beard, come down the mountain and trade in your hunting knife for an ipod, that was "All Right Now" by the rock band, Free.

I'm here all week.

All at once, Free had a huge following, a monster hit and it completely wrecked them. Some cried "sell-out", while the majority expected them to do this type of song repeatedly. They didn't (nor should they have). In fact, they kind of went in the direction of The Band on their next LP (Highway).

Now it's really a shame that these guys were not given more serious attention for their efforts at that time. Rogers brought soaring, gritty soul to every note he sang, while Kossoff showed an improvisational brilliance on lead guitar with great taste and tone. More than a few notable musicians have cited Fraser as a very big influence on bass and Kirke is a legendary timekeeper. You have to love his solo on the outro of the title track, though it is faded out sharply on the record.

So influential, such a distinct sound. "Mr. Big" is a fine example of their collective strengths, with no one overplaying and each instrumentalist laying down very clean, effective lines. Listen to that bass! Though it's a model of simplicity, emphasizing the groove, he still makes it interesting with quick runs high on the fretboard.

Moodier fare like "Oh I Wept" and the piano driven "Heavy Load" add another dimension to the proceedings and help vary the pace. Kossoff brings that signature vibrato to his solos, decorating the arrangements with great fluidity and never wearing out his welcome.

Truly untouchable on stage, the quartet deserved to be one of the biggest acts of the seventies. Poised for bigger things, Kossoff suddenly became disenchanted with the musical direction taken and increasingly debilitated by drug intake, Rogers and Fraser simply fell out. Only one more studio project was completed with the original four members before the partnership disintegrated. Fraser left, Rogers and Kirke would go on to form Bad Company and Kossoff, sadly, died from his excesses in 1976.

Fire and Water still stands up as a powerful set, worthwhile on every level.


Anonymous said...

I like how he tapes two mics together.

rock and roll history said...

Screw Fender. The Gibson EB is the most amazing musical instrument ever created. And after watching 'Mr Big' i'm not quite sure that i am worthy of owning one.