Monday, September 11, 2017

Bad Company - 1979 - Desolation Angels

Bad Company 
Desolation Angels

01. Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy 3:16
02. Crazy Circles 3:31
03. Gone, Gone, Gone 3:47
04. Evil Wind 4:19
05. Early In The Morning 5:42
06. Lonely For Your Love 3:25
07. Oh, Atlanta 4:07
08. Take The Time 4:13
09. Rhythm Machine 3:42
10. She Brings Me Love 4:41

Recorded at Ridge Farm, Dorking, Surrey

Bass Guitar – Boz Burrell
Drums – Simon Kirke
Guitar – Mick Ralphs
Vocals – Paul Rodgers

After the critical and relative commercial failure of 'Burnin Sky' Bad Company took a year off from recording and reassembled at Ridge Farm in Surrey during the winter of 1978 to record what became 'Desolation Angels'. Named after the Jack Kerouac novel it was a massive return to form putting them right back into the higher reaches of both the singles and album chart. 

Gone is the muddy muffled sound of the previous album and the laziness of 'Run With The Pack'. This is hard hitting blues based rock at its finest. A natural successor to 'Straight Shooter' and the blueprint for the more melodious bands of NWOBHM and the early 80s rock revival. This is what early Whitesnake and the chart friendly version of Rainbow became in the following year. It has punch, power, hooks, melody, light, shade, blues, hard hitting rock and even female backing singers. 

From the outset Desolation Angels has the foot tapping, the head nodding and it is just a real feel good type of album. From the octave divider guitar riff of opening track 'Rock n Roll Fantasy' to the dying soulful note of 'She Brings Me Love' there is not an off note, a missed key or a wasted second anywhere. Mick Ralphs is playing at his fastest and heaviest proving once and for all that he is woefully underestimated as a rock guitarist. Despite the overall power of the album he still manages to play some nice soft acoustic lines in the self penned 'Take The Time' and 'Crazy Circles'. Some funky laid back country twang on 'Oh Atlanta' and some great understated tasteful guitar on 'She Brings Me Love' as well as some straighforward blues on 'Early In The Morning'. Simon Kirke and Boz Burrell are so tight throughout it is impossible to fault them and Paul Rodgers is ...... well ..... just Paul Rodgers ..... enough said. 

Beautifully balanced throughout Desolation Angels showcases a band of multi talented musicians playing at the height of their creative careers with a new found hunger and enthusiasm that had been sadly lacking just a year earlier. The heavy crunch of 'Rock n Roll Fantasy', 'Lonely For Your Love', 'Rhythm Machine' and 'Gone Gone Gone' are all perfectly countered with the softer 'Take The Time' and 'Crazy Circles'. Whilst the blues of 'Early In The Morning' and the laid back soul vibe of 'She Brings Me Love' the two longest tracks, compliment the western flavoured 'Evil Wind' and the country stomp that is 'Oh Atlanta' like a fine wine accompanies a great dish. Leaving you with a forty minute feast of pure aural delight. 

Whisper this quietly for my reputation may not survive but this is my favourite Bad Company album. I like it even more than the debut, and not just because it was my first Bad Co album either. A rock classic and a must listen for any serious lover of rock music. Oh and just to top it off a great cover by Hipgnosis !

Bad Company - 1976 - Burnin' Sky

Bad Company 
Burnin' Sky

01. Burnin' Sky 5:07
02. Morning Sun 4:08
03. Leaving You 3:25
04. Like Water 4:27
05. Everything I Need 3:22
06. Heartbeat 2:36
07. Peace Of Mind 3:22
08. Passing Time 2:30
09. Too Bad 3:47
10. Man Needs Woman 3:43
11. Master Of Ceremony 7:10

Recorded at Le Chateau Studios, Herouville, France, July-August 1976.

Bass Guitar – Boz Burrell
Drums – Simon Kirke
Guitar – Mick Ralphs
Vocals – Paul Rodgers

Bad Company returned to France in 1976 to record their fourth album 'Burnin Sky' although this time they chose Le Chateau Studios in Herouville. It was the first time they had used a proper studio rather than a mobile set in a grand location. 

It is clear almost from the outset that the three albums in as many years had taken its toll on the bands main composers Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs as the material here is once again mostly not up to the high standards of the first two albums. Thats not to say it doesn't have its moments though. 

In fact the album starts in classic Bad Company style with a crash of thunder heralding the beginning of the title cut. A song which is on a par with the tracks from the first two albums and is head and shoulders above anything else on offer here. 'Morning Sun' harks back to the Free days and with its jaunty melody it occasionally brings 'I'll Be Creepin' to mind. 'Leavin You' is more typical of the Bad Company sound but lacks conviction in places and could have done with a more punchy mix to these ears at least. 'Like Water' is another song that sounds more Free than Bad Company although that is not surprising given that Rodgers co-wrote it with then wife Machiko Shimizu during the Free days. In fact it was one of the few tracks recorded by Rodgers band Peace during the Free split. The original can be found on the Free box set 'Songs of Yesterday'. After a brief interlude of 'The Happy Wanderer' 'Everything I Need' ends the original side one in a sort of 60s rock n roll style complete with spoken word bridge which is corny to say the least. It is almost a cross between the two Zeppelin tracks 'Dyer Maker' and 'Hot Dog' !!! 

Boz Burrell lays down a really funky bass line on the grooving rock track 'Heartbeat' that opens up side two before things go a little more laid back with the Simon Kirke penned 'Peace of Mind' and the woefully short but nevertheless pleasant 'Passing Time'. The heaviest track follows in the shape of 'Too Bad' an out and out rocker which was written by Mick Ralphs despite several CD issues mistakenly crediting it to Rodgers. Another Ralphs composition 'Man Needs Woman' keeps the tempo high for another three and a half minutes or so and although nothing spectacular it is decent enough and benefits from some good Mel Collins sax. The final track 'Master of Ceremony' is undoubtedly one of the strangest tracks on a Bad Company album. A seven minute funky jazzy bluesy groove at first it sounds completely out of place but it just grows and grows ensuring that 'Burnin Sky' is top and tailed by its two best cuts. 

'Burnin Sky' didn't fare as well as the first three albums sales wise but as it was released in the punk year of 1977 that might not be quite so surprising. Like the previous years 'Run With The Pack' it lacked a radio friendly hit in the shape of a 'Can't Get Enough' or a 'Feel Like Makin Love'. In fact the only single released from the album was an edited version of the title track which failed to make any impact whatsover. 'Burnin Sky' is most certainly Bad Company's most different album and it is obvious that ideas were at a premium. The brevity and lack of direction on some of the tracks along with a muddy at times disappointing mix from Chris Kimsey didn't really help and although 'Burnin Sky' is still a fine rock album it is, like 'Run With The Pack', a step down from the first two albums.

Bad Company - 1976 - Run with the Pack

Bad Company 
Run with the Pack

01. Live For The Music 3:58
02. Simple Man 3:37
03. Honey Child 3:15
04. Love Me Somebody 3:09
05. Run With The Pack 5:21
06. Silver, Blue & Gold 5:03
07. Young Blood 2:37
08. Do Right By Your Woman 2:51
09. Sweet Lil' Sister 3:29
10. Fade Away 2:54

Recorded in Grasse, France, September 1975 with The Stones Mobile Unit

Bass Guitar – Boz Burrell
Drums – Simon Kirke
Guitar – Mick Ralphs
Vocals – Paul Rodgers

The heavyweight collosus of a supergroup that was by now Bad Company trundled into the fragrant town of Grasse on the French Riviera in September 1975 with the Rolling Stones Mobile Truck in tow and recorded their third album 'Run With The Pack'. 

By now the two years of constant touring was begining to take its toll and the songs on here are in places a little jaded or even ordinary. Despite a number of good cuts ultimately 'Run With The Pack' suffers due mainly to there being no hit in the form of 'Can't Get Enough', 'Good Lovin Gone Bad' or 'Feel Like Makin Love' from the earlier albums. However, it is rescued by some classic 'album tracks' which on the whole converted well to the live set. 

The album kicks off with 'Live For The Music' which is in truth a pretty ordinary affair and comes nowhere close to emulating the earlier album openers. Even in a live setting this track struggled to make any sort of impact and was soon dropped. The following 'Simple Man' though is a classic peice of Bad Company blues country tinged ballad. It is almost 'Ready For Love' part two. 'Honey Child' is more akin to the 'Good Lovin Gone Bad' formula but failed to make any significant impact when released as a single. It did, however, work well in the live set. The first of the slow ballads 'Love Me Somebody' is another ordinary song but is saved by Rodgers excellent, as ever, vocal. The title track is a piano led mini epic with a great string arrangement to fade by Jimmy Horowitz who had also been used on the previous album. 

Side Two of the vinyl issue kicks off with 'Silver Blue and Gold' another piano led track and one that has grown with time and is now regarded as one of the bands best songs. It still features in both Paul Rodgers solo shows and Bad Company reunion gigs. For the first single Bad Company recorded a version of The Coasters track 'Young Blood' which personally I don't like at all although it did manage to get to #20 in the US singles chart. Almost comedic in places it does not sit well for me amongst the rest of the album and maybe it would have been better released as a non album single or something. It certainly brings down the overall quality of the album and I was totally amazed when they played it live at the recent reunion shows especially given some of the far better tracks they omitted. The campfire singalong 'Do Right By Your Woman' is next and although it is by no means a classic it sounds like it in context to the previous track! Originally a version was going to be used that had been recorded around a real outdoor fire but the crackling of the wood was too loud so it was discarded and another studio take was used instead. The original, with crackles, version can be found on The Original Bad Company Anthology. Another Ralphs penned hard rocker 'Sweet Lil Sister' nods again towards the power of the previous years 'Straight Shooter' before the melancholy country ballad like 'Fade Away' closes the album in classy style. 

Bad Company - 1975 - Straight Shooter

Bad Company
Straight Shooter

01. Good Lovin' Gone Bad 3:35
02. Feel Like Makin' Love 5:12
03. Weep No More 3:59
04. Shooting Star 6:14
05. Deal With The Preacher 5:01
06. Wild Fire Women 4:32
07. Anna 3:41
08. Call On Me 6:03

Recorded on Ronnie Lane's mobile at Clearway castle, Gloucestershire, England September 1974.

Bass Guitar – Boz Burrell
Drums – Simon Kirke
Guitar – Mick Ralphs
Vocals – Paul Rodgers

In September 1974 with the self titled debut still flying high in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic Bad Company took some time out from their extensive touring schedule and moved into Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire to begin work on their second album 'Straight Shooter'. A haunted castle which had already in the previous twelve months hosted Deep Purple among others it was the ideal venue to follow on from the previous years adventures at Headley Grange. With the Ronnie Lane Mobile and engineer Ron Nevison all set up Bad Company duly arrived with a batch of powerful songs, some of which had already featured in the live set. 

The main difference between 'Straight Shooter' and the debut album is that the sound has definitely moved more towards the stadium/arena rock sound and away from the lingering Free influences which were evident on that debut. 

Opening cut and first single 'Good Lovin Gone Bad' is possibly the heaviest and most powerful track the band ever recorded. Like the previous years 'Can't Get Enough' it was written by guitarist Mick Ralphs but the sound here is far more air guitar heavy rock than the bluesy strutting songs on the first album. In contrast the following track, and coincidentally following single 'Feel Like Makin Love' is a much lighter affair although it builds to a quite heavy climax. The song has been recorded by several other artists including Pauline Henry and has featured in many TV shows and films. It has become as synonymous with Bad Company as 'Can't Get Enough' as is played constantly on the radio on both sides of the Atlantic, therefore it needs no in depth analysis from me ! 

'Shooting Star' though is probably the best cut on the album and remains an integral part of any Bad Company or Paul Rodgers show to this very day. Telling the story of a young man embarking on his rock n roll adventure, hitting the bigtime and subsequently dying of substance abuse it has wrongly been credited as a tribute to several fallen rockers including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and more obviously Paul Kossoff. Rodgers though has always denied that it was written with one particular person in mind and suggests it is more of a  warning of the pitfalls of the rock n roll lifestyle. 

Another song that was in the live set before being recorded was 'Deal With The Preacher'. A belting rock song with a nice bridge it was an ideal concert opener and none of the power was lost on the studio version. It ensured both sides of the original vinyl issue opened with a bang. It remains one of my favourite Bad Company tracks. Early live versions had slightly different lyrics and although none of these are commercially available there are a few knocking around on bootlegs. Similarly 'Wild Fire Woman' was to become a live favourite in the early years with its driving rhythm ideally suited for US radio. The album also includes two Simon Kirke penned tunes. The country tinged pair 'Weep No More' which features a nice string arrangement from Jimmy Horowitz and 'Anna' which was a reworking of a song originally recorded for the Kossoff Kirke Tetsu & Rabbit album some three years earlier. Obviously with Rodgers handling the vocal this time around, Kirke had sung it himself on the earlier recording, this is by far the superior version. The album closes with the lengthy 'Call On Me' a bluesy lightweight meander which really doesn't go anywhere and is probably the albums weakest cut. 

The track 'Whisky Bottle' was also recorded at these sessions and was used as the B-side to 'Good Lovin Gone Bad. It is now available on The Original Bad Company Anthology. 

Like its predecessor 'Straight Shooter' rode high in the upper echelons the album chart on its release in April 1975 peaking at #3 on both sides of the Atlantic jettisoning Bad Company into a seemingly never ending world of stadium sized headlining tours of America and all the excesses that accompanied it.

Bad Company - 1974 - Bad Company

Bad Company 
Bad Company

01. Can't Get Enough 4:10
02. Rock Steady 3:46
03. Ready For Love 5:00
04. Don't Let Me Down 4:18
05. Bad Company 4:50
06. The Way I Choose 5:05
07. Movin' On 3:20
08. Seagull 4:06

Album originally released as Swan Song 8501 on June 26, 1974.
Recorded at Headley Grange, Hampshire, November 1973.
Recorded at Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio.

Vocals – Paul Rodgers
Bass – Boz Burrell
Drums – Simon Kirke
Guitar – Mick Ralphs

Saxophone – Mel Collins

When Free disbanded in mid 1973 Paul Rodgers teamed up with Mick Ralphs, who had recently departed from Mott The Hoople, with a plan to make an album together. Rodgers had met Ralphs when Rodgers short lived project Peace had toured with Mott The Hoople during the first Free split in 1971/2 and the two had shown a mutual respect for each others work. Ralphs finally left Mott when they refused to record 'Can't Get Enough'. When Ralphs first played it to Rodgers the latter declared it a sure fire hit and said 'I'll sing that song'. 

Following the demise of Free, Simon Kirke had gone off an a lengthy holiday to Brazil and on his return contacted Rodgers to see what he was doing. Kirke knew Ralphs vaguely from his Mott days and accepted an invitation to go to Rodgers house and jam on some new material. Kirke was impressed and soon the duo were increased to a three piece. The final piece of the jigsaw however took a little longer to find. It has been suggested since that as many as sixteen different bass players were tried, John Wetton being the most noteworthy, before ex King Crimson man Boz Burrell secured the gig with his non prima donna attitude and natural playing style. Rumour has it he had been taught to play bass parrot fashion by Robert Fripp on a transatlantic flight during his time with Crimson. Alexis Korner once proclaimed him 'the most natural bass player I have ever heard'. 

Prior to the line up being finalised Rodgers had contacted Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant to see if he would manage them. Subsequently Grant signed the band to Zeppelins fledgling Swan Song label. Initially though, Grant was not keen on the Bad Company moniker but (as had done with Free, who Island wanted to call The Heavy Metal Kids) Rodgers stood his ground and insisted there would be no change. It has long been considered that the name derived from Rodgers love of the 1972 film of the same name starring Jeff Bridges but this remains unclear as Rodgers has since denied it. 

With line up, management, name and a great set of songs all ready in place Bad Company had a stroke of good fortune when Zeppelin were delayed by a couple of weeks when they were due to start work on the initial sessions for the Physical Graffiti album. Grant had a mobile studio all set up at Headley Grange sitting idle so suggested to Bad Company that they 'might get a couple of tracks down if they were quick'. With the enthusiasm of a new venture burning in their souls they were not satisfied with laying down a couple of tracks and they recorded the whole album plus a couple of B sides and an unused track in the two weeks. 

Bad Company's self titled debut album takes the old Free addage of 'less is more' but transfers it from the blues boom sound of the sixties to the stadium rock sound of the seventies but without losing any of the soul. The foundations of Bad Company can clearly be heard on the final Free album Heartbreaker but Ralphs adds the rock n roll riffing that was never a part of Kossoffs armoury and Burrell does what all good bass players do .... add a little funkiness now and again and keep things on an even keel the rest of the time. 

Bad Company the album is packed full of fine hard rocking bluesy tunes that have become a mainstay of American FM and latterly UK classic rock radio since it was released way back in June 1974. It features the obvious well known hits that really need no lengthy descriptions like the strutting love man pout 'Can't Get Enough', the laid back funky riffy groove that is 'Rock Steady', the heartfelt blues soul plea of 'Ready For Love', which had been recorded by Ralphs previous band Mott The Hoople on their 'All The Young Dudes' album albeit in a slightly different format and the moodily atmospheric title track for which Rodgers recorded his vocal in a field under a full November moon. Then there are the three lesser known slower tracks 'The Way I Choose' which has a definite Highway era Free vibe about it. 'Seagull', an acoustic track on which Rodgers plays all the instruments, which has latterly become something of a classic in its own right due to Rodgers featuring it very prominently in his solo shows and the recent reunion tours. 'Don't Let Me Down' is probably the closest the album has to filler and is at times alarmingly similar to the Beatles track of a similar title. However, the addition of Sue and Sunny on backing vocals and Mel Collins on sax give the track a certain soul sound that The Beatles could never have managed. Add to this the storming second single, another Ralphs classic 'Movin On' which tells the tale of life on the road and you have what surely must be a contender for the best debut album of its day. 

The record buying public of 1974 certainly agreed and the album peaked at #3 in the UK and #1 in the US subsequently providing Swan Song with a #1 album before Led Zeppelin themselves did. They also recieved a number of awards including best new group and best vocalist. At one point Bad Company was certified as the 46th best selling album of the seventies with over 5 million copies sold. Proof if it was needed that sometimes Bad Company is indeed good company.   

Free - 2012 - Songs Of Yesterday

Songs Of Yesterday

December 12, 1970

01. The Stealer
02. Fire And Water
03. Ride On A Pony
04. Heavy Load
05. Woman
06. I Love You So
07. Be My Friend
08. Mr. Big
09. All Right Now

Boston Tea Party, Boston, Massachussets, July 24, 1969
10. Walk In My Shadow
11. Moonshine
12. Songs Of Yesterday
13. Fire And Water
14. All Right Now
15. Drumfill
16. Woman

Bass, Backing Vocals – Andy Fraser
Drums – Simon Kirke
Guitar – Paul Kossoff
Vocals, Harmonica – Paul Rodgers

Possibly the perfect Free live boot.  On the Godfathers label.  Features the complete Midnight Hour Stockholm, Sweden broadcast from 12/12/70 coupled with 7 tracks from Boston Tea Party, 7/24/69.   Great and well balanced sound and a boss setlist.

Free - 2006 - Live at the BBC

Live at the BBC

In Session
101. Waiting On You 2:17
102. Sugar For Mr Morrison 3:43
103. I'm A Mover 3:05
104. Over The Green Hills 3:52
105. Songs Of Yesterday 3:09
106. Broad Daylight 3:19
107. Woman 4:23
108. I'll Be Creepin 2:44
109. Trouble On Double Time 3:51
110. Mouthful Of Grass 4:42
111. All Right Now 5:29
112. Fire And Water 3:05
113. Be My Friend (Take One) 6:06
114. Be My Friend (Take Two) 5:37
115. Ride On A Pony (Take One) 0:10
116. Ride On A Pony (Take Two) 4:32
117. Ride On A Pony (Take Three) 1:24
118. Ride On A Pony (Take Four) 0:25
119. Ride On A Pony (Take Five) 4:30
120. Get Where I Belong 3:25

In Concert
201. The Hunter 5:24
202. Woman 4:26
203. Free Me 7:24
204. Remember 4:48
205. Fire And Water 3:59
206. Be My Friend 5:00
207. Ride On A Pony 4:35
208. Mr Big 6:36
209. Don't Say You Love Me 5:27
210. Woman 4:18
211. All Right Now 5:10

Track 1-1: Top Gear 15/7/68
Track 1-2: World Service Rhythm & Blues 15/11/68
Tracks 1-3 to 1-6: Top Gear 17/3/69
Track 1-7: Stuart Henry 2/12/69
Tracks 1-8 to 1-10: Top Gear 8/12/69
Tracks 1-11, 1-12: Sounds Of The Seventies 4/6/70
Tracks 1-13 to 1-20: Sounds Of The Seventies 19/4/71
Tracks 2-1 to 2-4: John Peel Sunday Concert 15/1/70
Tracks 2-5 to 2-11: John Peel Sunday Concert 2/7/70

Bass, Backing Vocals – Andy Fraser
Drums – Simon Kirke
Guitar – Paul Kossoff
Vocals, Harmonica – Paul Rodgers

With backing from Alexis Korner, the father of the famed British blues movement, Free came together in April of 1968. The birth of the British blues-rock boom produced such legendary acts as Led Zeppelin, The Jeff Beck Group, Cream, The Faces and Humble Pie, as well as Free, which included vocalist Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Simon Kirke.

When Free hit the scene, the group made an immediate impact. Depsite a relatively short run of just less than five years together, Free moved at a fast pace, always pushing forward, willing to experiment with a less-is-more stance. In addition, Free were a touring machine and the quartet was often featured on the BBC, where the young band was always anxious to showcase new material.

While a good portion of Free's BBC recordings have been lost over time, Live at the BBC features two CD's worth of material that has survived to this day. In some instances "off air" material has been included which lacks the sound quality of the master tapes, but still captures the raw spirit and vibe of the energetic Free. 

Disc one from the compilation features songs from Free's BBC sessions, which the group first undertook in July of 1968, just three months after forming, when they recorded four songs for Top Gear. The only song remaining from the group's initial venture on the BBC is "Waiting on You", which appropriately opens disc one of the collection. "Sugar for Mr. Morrison" follows, which was recorded during Free's second BBC session, from November of 1968. Over the course of the next few years, Free continued to entertain radio listeners during their numerous BBC appearances, with takes of such noteworthy numbers as "I'm a Mover", "I'll Be Creepin'", "Woman", "Fire and Water", "Ride on a Pony" and the group's signature track "All Right Now", represented on the Live at the BBC anthology.

Disc two from the BBC set features eleven songs culled from a pair of John Peel Sunday Concert performances. The first four tracks, "The Hunter", "Woman", "Free Me", and "Remember", were originally simulcast on January 1, 1970. Depsite the fact that the songs suffer from bootleg sound quality, the fact that the cuts have been salvaged and included with the extensive collection is noteworthy. The group's performance from July 2, 1970, is a marked improvement in sound, as Free deliver the goods in spades with "Fire and Water", "Be My Friend", "Ride on a Pony", "Mr. Big", "Don't Say You Love Me", "Woman", and an inspired version of "All Right Now".

By February of 1973 Free called it a day following a tour of the states with Traffic. During their run, Free managed to record six studio LP's, plus a live album, tour virtually non-stop and entertain their fan base with numerous appearances on the BBC. The group was a reflection of the blues based rock that they performed and their revered status was based on the band's hard work ethic.

Free - 1973 - Heartbreaker


01. Wishing Well 3:39
02. Come Together In The Morning 4:38
03. Travellin' In Style 4:01
04. Heartbreaker 6:12
05. Muddy Water 4:15
06. Common Mortal Man 4:06
07. Easy On My Soul 3:44
08. Seven Angels 5:03

Recorded at Island Studios in October and November 1972

Bass Guitar, Percussion – Tetsu Yamauchi
Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals – Simon Kirke
Electric Piano, Piano [Acoustic], Organ, Backing Vocals, Glockenspiel – Rabbit
Guitar – Paul Kossoff (tracks: A2 to A4, B2, B4)
Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar – Paul Rodgers

The reformation of Free in late 1971 had not exactly gone to plan. The plan such as it was was to get the old Kossoff back and help kill the demons that tortured his soul before they killed him. There is an argument that all it actually did was to make things worse but that does not give credit to Rodgers, Kirke and Fraser for their intention was only good. 

Despite recording a brilliant and brooding album in "Free at Last" the venture had turned to disaster before the hit single 'Little Bit of Love' even had chance to slide down the chart. Cancelled gigs and tours, internal friction and turmoil all led to Fraser quitting and Kossoff being regularly sidelined. Texan keyboard wizard Rabbit Bundrick  and Japanese bass player Tetsu Yamauchi were drafted in. Suddenly Free had been transformed from four hungry ambitious lads from England into a multi national ego filled volcano of Vesuvian proportions. Or as someone remarked at the time "The Paul Rodgers Band". That though is a little unfair on Rodgers who had been in something of a power struggle with Fraser since day one and quite rightfully saw himself as Free's leader. Kirke had never been one for taking charge, he's too laid back for a start and Kossoff of course was in no fit state to take charge of anything. 

However, Bundrick had different ideas entirely and never one to hide his light under a bushell demanded creative input ....... he was a member of the band not a session musician. This led to a great deal of friction between him and Rodgers so much so that proper fist fights were a regular occurrence. Bundrick has even stated that he spent much of the US tour tending his wounds. Not something you would expect from a band constantly writing about peace and love but these were sad times for Rodgers and Kirke. The sad fact of the matter is that if Rodgers and Bundrick could have sorted their differences out they could have been anything as Bundricks organ sound fitted perfectly with Rodgers' voice. Similarly Rodgers sang Bundrick's songs far better than anyone else ever has ('Muddy Water' for example). 

Kossoff meanwhile was plummeting new depths and eventually Rodgers could take it no more and brought in Snuffy Walden as the bands new guitarist. He also played much of the guitar on the album himself. Kossoff was only used when he was in a fit state to play so subsequently only appears on five of the eight tracks. The decision to relegate him to that of a session musician and not a member of the band was surely unnecessary though and in retrospect I'm sure it is something that everyone involved in the decision regrets. Especially as some of his playing on the album is as good as anything he ever laid down on tape. Case in point being the superbly atmospheric and heartbreaking solo on 'Come Together In The Morning'. 

The album kicks off with Free's final hit 'Wishing Well'. A classic rock riff that sounds as fresh today as it did back then was written by Rodgers but in a similar show of unity as he had displayed on "Free at Last" he gave it to the band and it was published as a group composition ...... including Kossoff, even though he played no part on the final released version. He did however appear on the US version and on later remixes that have been made available recently. 

The rest of the album features four solo Rodgers compositions 'Come Together In The Morning', clearly the albums highlight despite the presence of 'Wishing Well'. The bluesy and menacing title track during which Rodgers' cries of "make a new start" are more than prophetic as this album is as much an introduction to Bad Company as it is a farewell to Free. Incidentally it was hearing this track that made Ritchie Blackmore adamant he wanted Rodgers to replace Ian Gillan in Deep Purple. The soulful lapsed Catholic torment of fighting through pergatory that was 'Seven Angels' all of which featured classic Kossoff performances and the piano led gentleness of 'Easy on my Soul', a track which Bad Company would later re record as a B side. 

The second single 'Travelling In Style' was a camp fire singalong song about travelling on a train which was again credited to the band as a whole although it bears all the hallmarks of a Rodgers composition. 

The remaining two songs 'Common Mortal Man' and 'Muddy Water' were solo Bundrick compositions and highlight eactly just how good this incarnation of the band could have been if Kossoff had been fit. Obviously hammond and piano led they fit Rodgers' voice perfectly and the former features some more classic crying Kossoff guitar. 

The accompnaying tours were a disaster. Snuffy Walden was unavailable and Kossoff was indisposed so Rodgers handled guitar until eventually Wendell Richardson from Osibisa was drafted in. A strange choice that frankly was doomed from the start. Free fell apart in chaos. It all ended at the Hollywood Sportatorium in Florida on February 17th 1973. 

Rodgers and Kirke formed Bad Company a stadium sized version of Free that stode American like a collossus througout the seventies. Bundrick went to The Who, Tetsu to The Faces. Kossoff put together Back Street Crawler but just as they were gaining some recognition he succumbed to the demons and drifted away forever on a plane flight to New York on March 19th 1976. 

"Heartbreaker" may just be the most apt title for an album ever but it remains a testament to one of Britains finest rock/blues bands and despite all that went on around its creation it is worthy of the name Free on the cover. I just wish someone had had the decency to restore Kossoff to the band line up on the recent remasters for even though it was his failings that led to the demise of the band his talent and uniqueness as a guitarist has done as much to ensure they we will never be forgotten as anyone.

Free - 1972 - Free At Last

Free At Last

01. Catch A Train 3:12
02. Soldier Boy 2:51
03. Magic Ship 5:23
04. Sail On 3:06
05. Travellin' Man 3:23
06. Little Bit Of Love 2:35
07. Guardian Of The Universe 5:32
08. Child 5:19
09. Goodbye 5:15

Paul Rodgers - vocals
Paul Kossoff - guitar
Andy Fraser - bass
Simon Kirke - drums

After splitting briefly in 1971 Free reformed at the end of the year and soon after the Christmas and New Year period found themselves once again in the familiar environs of the Island Recording Studios in Basing Street. 

Much has been written about the way this all came to pass so I won't elaborate too much here. But basically a mixture of the disappointing reaction to "Highway". Internal feuds between Rodgers and Fraser, Rodgers and Kossoff, and Kossoff and Fraser added to Kossoffs increasing dependency on, and inability to perform because of, illegal substances meant that the band literally fell apart shortly before it would have torn itself apart. The time away from Free did little to help Kossoff, despite the fact that his and Kirke's splinter group the unimaginatively monikered Kossoff Kirke Tetsu and Rabbit were the only ones to record an album. It has been suggested that in truth he never recovered from the death of close friend Jimi Hendrix during the "Highway" sessions. 

In a spirit of reconcilliation Rodgers and Fraser the groups main songwriters brought with them the unfinished tracks from their respective splinter projects Peace and Toby (the naming of bands does not appear to be one of the individual members talents although credit to Kirke for coming up with Bad Company some years later !) and agreed that all tracks would be published as group compositions. This was very much a first for Free and was something that Rodgers never did again throughout Bad Company, The Firm or The Law. Only doing it again on the Queen+Paul Rodgers collaboration. 

The albums title was initially going to be the name of the band way back in the beginning and was coined by Alexis Korner their early mentor. 

Yet again "Free at Last" sees the band developing a slightly different sound. Fraser had developed significantly as a piano and organ player and his playing is much more evident and more to the fore than on previous albums. That doesn't mean there is less Kossoff though. His playing is far more brooding, dark and mysterious than on the early albums. The Gibson literally wails and shrieks in agony and pain through tracks like 'Child' , 'Guardian of the Universe', 'Magic Ship' ,'Soldier Boy', 'Sail On' and 'Goodbye'. Even on the more upbeat and faster paced numbers like 'Little Bit of Love' which gave them another UK Top Twenty single, 'Travelling Man' and 'Catch A Train' the mellow cry of his earlier sound is replaced with a much more agonised tone. All this gives "Free at Last" a much fuller sound than the earlier albums. There is also a fair bit of mellotron on the album as well as some acoustic guitar from Rodgers. More of the gaps have been filled here than on the early albums but without losing that classic Free sound. 

Lyrically the album is very dark and gloomy too which was to be expected I suppose given the circumstances that led to their conception. Fraser had actually kidnapped Kossoff during the split to get him away from his drug related associates. At the time many people heard the lyrics as pleas to Kossoff to sort himself out although Rodgers has always maintained this was not, at least intentionally, the case. 

"Free at Last" is very much Free's grown up album. At times it resembles the majestic cry of a dying beast. It is drenched in emotion, melancholy and darkness far more than any other Free album yet it also shows shafts of light and a hint at what could have been had the demons that took over Kossoff been slain. Only Free could take one song ('Child') and fill it full of sorrow and optimism at the same time. Make no mistake these were musicians and songwriters whose creative talents were at their peak. Lyrically this album may be Rodgers' finest hour. 

Sadly it all fell apart again as quickly as it had been put back together. Kossoff was unable to play on numerous occasions and tours and gigs being cancelled was a regular occurrence. On other night Kossoffs playing was a sorry sight by all accounts and yet in typical Free fashion there were still some nights when it all sounded as good as it had done just a year or two earlier. 

Despite the album selling well and reaching #9 in the UK album chart Fraser decided he couldn't take anymore and jumped ship for one final time before an American tour. Tetsu and Rabbit were recruited but Kossoff was left at home to undergo the neuro-electric therapy, which had worked for Eric Clapton and Peter Green, leaving Rodgers to take over guitar duties. 

It looked all but over for the band that just a year or so earlier had been widely touted as the successors to The Rolling Stones but there was still one last turn to take on that muddy road even if the road was getting rockier by the day.

Free - 1971 - Live


01. All Right Now
02. I'm A Mover
03. Be My Friend
04. Fire And Water
05. Ride On A Pony
06. Mr Big
07. The Hunter
08. Get Where I Belong

Paul Rodgers - vocals
Paul Kossoff - guitar
Andy Fraser - bass
Simon Kirke - drums

While Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers quickly assumed leadership of Free's studio albums and developing sound, it's Paul Kossoff that shines when they play live. Whether it's because there's less opportunity for additional instruments to reduce his role as had happened in the studio, or simply because Kossoff excelled in a live environment, he's very much to the fore here. Free were a great band anyway. They had the rare combination of being great players raised to another level by the chemistry they had as a unit. Kirke set the tone for the bands sound, with simple but powerful back beats. Fraser's cool funky bass lines provided the youthful, cocky strut. Rodger's dry, unadorned vocals articulated sex, sensitivity and sorrow as needs be. Kossoff was the bands wild heart, capable of heavy, groovy riffs, unrestrained solos and genuine, original, honest blues. Nobody plays like Kossoff. Like so many great bands belonging to any era, the intensity required to maintain such a high standard of recorded output burnt them out. Thankfully they kept busy before then.

The two gigs these recordings were taken from took place either side of Free's commercial explosion after the "All Right Now" single (January-September 1970). People called it overnight success but Free had already recorded two quality albums and had a following built largely on their live reputation. Originally only eight tracks when released, whoever compiled the album included most of the big hitters in that initial sequence. I was surprised at how loose and 'live' "All Right Now" was the first time I heard this version. The guitar cuts out at points, the riff isn't always clean, but I actually prefer it now. Conceived as a live song to get people moving, the energy's enhanced by the imperfections. Any misdemeanors can be put down to over exuberance and it's great to hear a song people have heard millions of times roughed up in this way. "Be My Friend" is one of the standout Free tracks and one of the best ballads ever written. Kossoff's rippling guitar is vulnerable and tender during the verses, articulate and heartbreaking during the solos. Rodgers brilliance as a vocalist is really apparent here. Lyrically, it's nothing particularly noteworthy and could even be mawkish in the hands of a less emotive singer, but Rodgers sings with such purity and soul the sentiments become universal and real. I became familiar with most of these songs from this album before hearing their studio equivalents and Mr. Big always sounded better live. Starting with a simple beat, a sparse, unhurried riff and menacing vocals, the song builds into a blistering crescendo complete with bass solo. I know few people who could recall many great bass solos but Kossoff sets such a climactic, exciting backdrop the track just gets better and better and Fraser was a formidable bass player. "The Hunter" is an apt inclusion on any Free album. It almost encapsulates them, acknowledging the music that inspired them while still making still it their own. The thundering intro brought to life by the wailing guitar is some way to build anticipation. It sounds like the alarm sounding after a predator's been let loose. Few songs have such a distinct, signature opening. The closing studio track "Get Where I Belong" was recorded during abandoned sessions for a fifth album. Perhaps its poignancy would only have been truly felt at the time as it's inclusion is a kind of farewell, expressing regret at things that have been but still hopeful for the future in light of the bands split. It would've been the actual final track originally whereas now on the 2002 reissue a handful of bonus tracks follow. It's a decent song, perhaps a slight step down from the slower moments on 'Highway' but that says more about the quality of the tracks that preceded it. 

The bonus tracks pluck some of the lesser known numbers out. With some bands you feel you could pretty accurately predict what would be in a live set but Free were such consummate musicians and already had so many great songs that they played a fair range of their catalogue to this point. An epic 9-minute rendition of "Moonshine" from the bands first album would surprise most people only familiar with "All Right Now." It's always been one of my favorites from their debut. Free always did sorrow well, but some of their initial efforts had a morose, haunting ambience and "Moonshine" gets a heavy, full on treatment here, ringing every ounce of melancholy from the composition. The riff for "Woman" sounds fuller here and "Trouble on Double Time" always had a bit more thrust live, as opposed to the studio version which sounds a bit light. "Walk in my Shadow" is another favorite of mine from 'Tons of Sobs', starting with Kossoff's trademark vibrato leading into a typical Free riff, heavy but groovy, cocksure, confident, sexual rather than romantic.

I have periods where I don't listen to Free, though "Highway" is an album I come back to often. I've been digging their sound lately and wasn't sure exactly what ratings I'd given each album or whether I'd reviewed them all. I know Free had once been the only band I'd awarded my highest marks to for four consecutive albums ('Tons of Sobs', 'Free', 'Fire and Water' and 'Highway'). Though I've only kept 'Free' and 'Highway' that high as they have the best songs and I have a preference for Free's soul side compared to the blues rock of 'Fire and Water'. When I looked earlier I found I'd given 'Free Live' a 4 and though my review sounds like a 5 star review if ever I heard one, I still feel reluctant. I don't know if they included alternate versions of "All Right Now" and "Mr. Big" to show how they varied from one night to the next, but they feel superfluous. They aren't better than the ones on the original album and I'd rather the space was filled up for different tracks. The 'Songs of Yesterday' boxset featured outtakes from these shows and included 'The Stealer', 'Songs of Yesterday', 'Free Me' and a blistering cover of 'Crossroads' recorded when the band were exhausted after two encores though it doesn't show. The alternate 'Get Where I Belong' seems unnecessary as well. It detracts from the original to have this inferior take tacked on the end.

For better or worse, making it in rock 'n' roll seems to require much more than ability, sincerity and dedication. A band requires luck, good timing and foresight to become a household name, if they even want to. Some bands court celebrity and end up vain hypocrites, milking the myth 'til they die, losing touch with the feeling that compelled them in the first place. Free's relative lack of recognition in light of how good their albums are mystifies me sometimes. Should the band responsible for "I'll Be Creepin", "Free Me", "Fire and Water" and countless others be remembered for "All Right Now"? I have friends who are into hard rock who dig Free, friends who are into soul who love Free, friends who are folkies that love Free, friends who sing that love Paul Rodgers, friends who play guitar and love Paul Kossoff. I can think of many bands who lack their lack of pretensions and genuine sense of identity. Immediately after they had a hit, the band already lamented playing to fans already won over, teenyboppers who'd have a good time regardless of how well they played. How long have the Rolling Stones been going? In an era where hard rock bands became synonymous with over indulgence and bloated on their own hype Free unassumingly made better albums than them. I can only assume the disappointing sales for 'Highway' were down to mismanagement and uncertainty over how to follow 'Fire and Water'. It always amused me that having been dispirited by their lack of recognition commercially pre-"All Right Now", Kossoff was the first to stress the substance of their other work. The fact that all the members failed to really hit these heights again suggests they had something going before the split in 1971. Though the original line-up reunited for the 'Free at Last' album in an attempt to rescue Kossoff from the despair he felt after the break-up, it wasn't really the same and you get the sense the chain had been broken. How Rodgers and Fraser ended up despising each other I have no idea, but hell, they were only just out of their teens.

As an additional tidbit. While even hearing Paul Kossoff playing a solo live paralyses me with excitement, watching footage of the guy play live is something else. The kind of faces he pulls confirm that he was pulling that stuff out from somewhere deep down, wrenching out something internal and giving it the appropriate sound. You won't find a picture of Kossoff playing live where he doesn't look like he might just be playing the last solo of his life.

Free - 1970 - Highway


01. The Highway Song 4:14
02. The Stealer 3:14
03. On My Way 4:04
04. Be My Friend 5:45
05. Sunny Day 3:07
06. Ride On A Pony 4:17
07. Love You So 4:54
08. Bodie 3:05
09. Soon I Will Be Gone 3:01

Paul Rodgers (vocals)
Paul Kossoff (guitar)
Simon Kirke (drums)
Andy Fraser (bass)

Such was the way of the music industry in 1970 that Free were back in the studio on August 21st barely a few months after the release of the "Fire and Water" album to begin recording the follow up "Highway". 

Through the first three albums they had built up a solid reputation as a hard working solid blues rock band. For each of these albums the songs had been written and honed on the road, so much so that the entire previous album was played live at some point or another in the year of its release. That wasn't the case with "Highway" though and for the first time the band were forced to write in the studio. The irony of this is that the recording of the second and third albums had been frought with difficulties as the band disagreed with record company people and producers alike despite having the material all prepared. "Highway" though had none of these problems and was generally regarded by the band as the easiest to record. 

There is a marked change in styles again on "Highway". Just as "Tons of Sobs" had been very bluesy, "Free" very folky (even though Paul Rodgers claimed it to be a soul album) and "Fire and Water" very rocky, "Highway" was drenched in melancholy, soul and even tinges of country and southern boogie. With far more piano than on previous albums "Highway" is certainly the softest of the Free albums although this does give added punch to the harder Free rockers on there. 

The album starts with the curious 'The Highway Song'. Curious in subject matter anyway,  for you don't get many rock songs about farming. Okay so its only loosely based on farming but you get my point. A nice mid paced piano and drum shuffle it sets the tone for the album and casts thoughts of lazy summer days. The idea behing the song is said to have come from Rodgers' love of "Music From The Big Pink" by The Band. 

'The Stealer' was the single and supposed successor to 'All Right Now' and is one of the two real out and out rockers on the album. A great strutting piece of classic Free it is still a mystery to many as to why it bombed so terribly as a single. Lyrically it is not dis-similar to 'All Right Now' but it does lack the latter trademark solo and bridge so is musically inferior. Which makes the decision to use the single edit on the album even more surprising. There is a great "extra Koss" version which is now available which extends the song by over a minute and is virtually all Kossoff guitar. Quite why this wasn't used at the time is beyond me. Incidentally when this was recorded, on first take at 3AM in the morning engineer Andy Johns woke Island boss Chris Blackwell and demanded he come and listen to it straight away as it was a surefire hit. Luckily for Johns Blackwell agreed with him, unluckily for Free the record buying public didn't and it never even charted. 

'On My Way' is a lovely mellow track which is a great vehicle for Rodgers' voice and the Kossoff guitar. It leads perfectly into 'Be My Friend' a beautiful brooding cry for love which Kossoff maintained was the best thing they ever did. There is far more guitar on the live versions due to the lack of piano in a live setting (Andy Fraser played bass and piano in the studio) but Kossoff still turns in an impressive performance especially as the song builds. 'Sunny Day' though is possibly one of the two weaker cuts on the album along with the even more countrified 'Bodie'. 

The second out and out rocker on the album is 'Ride on a Pony'. A dirty classic Free riff that just leaps out of the speakers and grabs you by the throat. The song just stunts along throughout its entirety. Nowhere else is the description of Free's sound as "four flat tires on a muddy road more apt". It has long been my favorite Free song, is still my ringtone on my phone and once led to me sacking a guitarist on the spot for declaring it boring and refusing to play it as an encore !!! One strange little thing about the song is that no-one seems to actually have the definitive answer as to what it is really called. It has appeared and been introduced live as 'Ride on a Pony', 'Riding on a Pony' and 'Ride on Pony'. 'Riding on a Pony' would be the obvious choice as those are the actual lyrics but the original album used 'Ride on a Pony' and the "Free Live" album used 'Ride on Pony'. Fact of the matter is whatever you call it its one blinding rock tune and along with 'Be My Friend' became a staple part of the live set even before the album was released. 

Two more brooding bluesy love songs with soul tinged vocals make up the album. The tremendously melancholy and heartfelt plea of 'Love You So' which will doubtless trigger many a personal memory in every listener and the lonely despair of 'Soon I Will Be Gone' which closes the album. 

For some reason "Highway" did not reach the dizzy heights of its predecessor sales wise and it has become something of Free's forgotten album. For me at times I think it is their best. Sometimes "Fire and Water" just edges it. Whatever, one thing for certain is that never again will a band record and release two such classic albums in the same year. By the time "Highway" hit the streets Free were fast disintegrating as Rodgers, Kossoff, Fraser and Kirke developed as musicians and men, they were all still ridiculously young at the time. However there was still many a twist and turn for those flat tires to negotiate on that muddy road.

Free - 1970 - Fire and Water

Fire and Water 

01. Fire And Water 3:57
02. Oh I Wept 4:26
03. Remember 4:23
04. Heavy Load 5:19
05. Mr. Big 5:55
06. Don't Say You Love Me 6:01
07. All Right Now 5:32

Paul Rodgers (vocals)
Paul Kossoff (guitar)
Simon Kirke (drums)
Andy Fraser (bass)

When British blues rock band Free entered the studio in January 1970 to work on their third record, everyone knew it was a real make-or-break moment. Despite the immense, raw talents of singer Paul Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff, their first two albums had hardly made a dent either in America or in their native Great Britain. The common perception was that they had potential, but they were just too green. Everything changed when they dropped Fire and Water on June 26, 1970.
Carried by the lead single “All Right Now,” which eventually made it all the way into the Top Five on the charts in the U.S. and in England, the album was a smash hit and Free suddenly found itself standing near the top of the rock and roll universe. A star-making turn in front of 600,000 people just a few months later at the Isle of Wight Festival all but cemented that position.
The spirit of the “All Right Now,” which was written by Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser, actually came from another song by bluesman Freddie King titled “The Hunter” that Free included on their debut record Tons of Sobs in 1969. As Rodgers explained to the Huffington Post, “We wanted our entire set to be original music. This was how we’d become regarded as a serious band. But, ‘The Hunter’ was a song we could never lose, because it had the right mood. ‘They call me the hunter, a pretty young girl like you is my only game.’ So light and easy. So, okay, we can’t drop that song, but what we can also do is write one that’s inspired by that song. With the same lightness of touch, lyrically. You know, ‘pulling chicks, and yay! everything’s cool.’ And that’s where ‘All Right Now’ was born out of, really.”
More than just a vehicle for a single hit song, Fire and Water is a tight, eclectic record filled with balls-out rockers like the title track, funky blues pieces like “Mr. Big,” as well as sultry ballads like “Don’t Say You Love Me” and “Oh I Wept.” The rhythm section, with Fraser on bass and Simon Kirke on drums, are as tight as can be, but it’s the vocal flourishes of Rodgers – along with the Kossoff’s signature guitar vibrato – that really what set the music apart from anything anyone else was doing at the time.

With a hectic gigging schedule and two already well-received sets behind them, Tons Of Sobs and Free, both in 1969, the following year’s Fire and Water saw the group moving beyond the blues boom and becoming a major part of the denim-clad, hard rock fraternity. Street credibility aside, they were now also able to cut it with the younger teenage ‘Top of The Pops’ crowd with a number still among the mainstream world’s most effulgent rockers, ‘All Right Now’; a song that’s, even now, synonymous with the name Free.

The overall sound which the album’s material is soaked in – this time around opting for a band co-production, alongside John Kelly and Roy Thomas Baker – shows a group with much to offer beyond blues-rock scene contenders and the, yet another long–haired group with a pop hit on their hands tag which, sometimes, they are saddled with. The blues is still ingrained here, however, and is perhaps best represented by such as the reflective bare-bones soul of ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’, and Paul Rodgers and Paul Kossoff’s heavily melancholic ‘Oh I Wept’.
The structure and main central riff of the title track, and the aforementioned smash ’All Right Now’, however, remain classic examples of pure, unadulterated British rock grunt with a largely unadorned, earthy feel that also encapsulates the group strengths. While it’s true Rodgers’ gruff, soulful vocals, and the exchanges between Kossoff’s brittle fuzz fretting and juicy, sure-touch leads are at the forefront of much that’s happening here, it’s the undergirding provision of Simon Kirke’s basic kit-pounding, and the sinewy, flexible bass figures of Andy Fraser that truly enables Free to build on such tough, solid foundations and, in no small part, helps keep their engine well-greased.

Free - 1969 - Free


01. I'll Be Creepin' 3:15
02. Songs of Yesterday 3:31
03. Lying in the Sunshine 4:02
04. Trouble on Double Time 3:34
05. Mouthful of Grass 3:36
06. Woman 3:45
07. Free Me 5:37
08. Broad Daylight 3:33
09. Mourning Sad Morning 5:03

Paul Rodgers (vocals)
Paul Kossoff (guitar)
Simon Kirke (drums)
Andy Fraser (bass)

Free returned to the studio in April 1969 to begin work on their second album and already there was trouble in the camp. Rodgers and Fraser had by now formed a pretty solid songwriting partnership although they were not exactly the best of buddies. This lead to Kossoff and Kirke feeling a little less than equal as both Rodgers and Fraser had very set ideas as to how they wanted the songs to sound. In fact things got so bad at one point that Rodgers and Fraser were going to leave the band and form a duo. Kirke and Kossoff actually auditioned Overend Watts from Mott The Hoople as Fraser's replacement and Kossoff himself even auditioned for the vacant guitarist spots in both The Rolling Stones and Jethro Tull.

On to the album itself then. Well if "Tons of Sobs" was Free's blues album then this self titled follow up was probably their folk album. Although Rodgers still insists it's more of a soul album. The hard powerful blues that was all over the first album is still evident in places but is more controlled. If "Tons of Sobs" was a runaway horse  then "Free" is a restrained gallop.

The album opens with 'I'll Be Creepin" which with it's funky and prominent bass starts the album off in tremendous style. Just to prove the longevity of these songs Rodgers used this track to open his set on his most recent solo tour. 'Songs Of Yesterday' has the blues feel of the earlier album and some great Kossoff guitar, but then which of these tracks hasn't. 'Lying In The Sunshine' is a similar type of song to 'Over The Green Hills' from the first album but with more of a soul feel. 'Trouble On Double Time' is the out and out blues rocker of the album and is the only track on which Kossoff and Kirke get a songwriting credit. It has a Stones like strut about it. 'Mouthful Of Grass' closed the first side on the original vinyl issue. Virtually an instrumental with just a choir of aaah's it is a strangely hypnotic sort of song. It is also possibly one of the Free songs owned by the most people as it was used as the b-side to 'All Right Now'. 'Woman' is classic Free at their best with a nice understated intro and a great early solo from Kossoff. It was particularly effective in a live setting and is as good as anything they ever recorded. Highlight for many is the lengthy almost whispering laid back folky blues track 'Free Me'. On the live disc which comes as part of the "Songs Of Yesterday" 5-CD box set Kirke introduces this song as "..... one of our favourites actually". It is not difficult to tell why as all put in faultless performances. Kossoff in particular pulling of one of his trademark crying solo's. At at time when everyone was trying to be the fastest guitarist alive it is ironic that Kossoff was beginning to attract attention by doing exactly the opposite. 'Broad Daylight' was a bit of a throwaway song that wouldn't have been out of place on the first album and was the first single issued by the band. 'I'll be Creepin' was later released as a single but neither charted. The closing track 'Mourning Sad Morning' is an absolutely stunning piece of music that once again highlights Rodgers superb voice. Sounding in places like a two hundred year old folk song the unique mixture of Rodgers' voice, Kossoff's guitar and the haunting flute of Traffic's Chris Wood closes the album on a melancholy but beautiful note.

It is also worth mentioning the album cover as it is one that regularly appears in classic album art coffee table books. It was designed by Ron Raffielli and is a photograph of a naked woman shot from below. This effect was obtained by Raffieli standing in a hole and having the woman stride over him. The outline of her body was then filled with stars and set against a blue sky background. The centre spread of the album featured a picture of a young woman on a beach with building blocks! Each member of the band was photographed in one of the boxes. The box which displayed the photo of Paul Rodgers was being held by the girl up to her mouth and she is blowing sand of it. One of the other members of the band later commented "Typical, the one the girl had hold of had to have Rodgers in it ......"

"Free" peaked at #22 in the UK chart which was not bad at all considering there was no hit single and not exactly masses of publicity. All that would change though in 1970 with two more classic albums, a worldwide hit and a tremendous performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival. Superstardom was indeed due to come creeping around the door very soon indeed.

Free - 1969 - Tons Of Sobs

Tons Of Sobs

01. Over the Green Hills (Pt 1) 0:50
02. Worry 3:27
03. Walk in My Shadow 3:30
04. Wild Indian Woman 3:40
05. Goin' Down Slow 8:22
06. I'm a Mover 2:56
07. The Hunter 4:14
08. Moonshine 5:05
09. Sweet Tooth 4:54
10. Over the Green Hills (Pt 2) 2:07

Paul Rodgers (vocals)
Paul Kossoff (guitar)
Simon Kirke (drums)
Andy Fraser (bass)

The title of Free's first album 'Tons Of Sobs' is both a term for delta blues wailing and a cockney term for loads of money, which is ironic considering the album only cost about £800 to produce. It was recorded at Morgan Studios, London over five seperate days during October 1968 and was released in March 1969. It was delayed to enable the band to record a studio version of live favourite 'The Hunter'. Originally the album was going to include the Fraser/Rodgers composition 'Visions Of Hell' which has since been released on the remastered version. 

During the time of the recording Free were playing live shows continously up and down the UK and the album is pretty much based on the live set they were playing at the time. Rodgers, Fraser, Kossoff and Kirke had all been playing on the blues circuit for a while, despite their young age. None of them was yet twenty and although Fraser was still only sixteen he had already done a stint in John Mayall's Bluesbreaker's! So it is not surprising that 'Tons Of Sobs' is easily Free's bluesiest album. 

They didn't waste any time getting down to business when it came to songwriting either. The very first rehearsal session, which was held in the upstairs room of the Nag's Head public house in Battersea, saw the creation of the first original Free songs. Rodgers had already penned 'Over The Green Hills', a song which was originally a complete song in its own right until producer Guy Stevens decided it worked better as a split rack opening and closing the album. 'Walk In My Shadow' and 'Worry' two of the albums harder rockier tracks had also been pre-penned by Rodgers and were accepted with enthusiasm by the other members. That initial rehearsal also saw the foundations being laid for the first Kossoff/Rodgers composition 'Moonshine' a dark and eerie track in which Rodgers sings about leaning on his own tombstone and waiting for the dawn. It is far more sinister lyric and vocal performance than any Rodgers would ever manage again and is in truth far more menacing than anything the current crop of goth rock bands could conjure up. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in a way most of them could only dream of. The songwriting partnership of Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers was responsible for the majority of Free's material and they too composed their first song at that initial rehearsal in 'I'm A Mover'. It was to remain a vital part of Free's live show right up until the closing tour in 1973 and was the first instance of that classic Free sound which has been described elsewhere as 'four flat tyres on a muddy road'. Whilst that doesn't really do them justice, it sort of gives you an idea of the overall sound. Hard driving powerful blues with a prominent bass line, explosive drum fills and rich heartfelt vocals all topped off with Kossoff's unique 'crying' guitar. Of the other tracks on the album, the aformentioned 'The Hunter'  was the pre All Right Now live favourite and the studio version differs very little from the way it was played live except it may be a little slower. 'Wild Indian Woman' is probably the weakest song on the album but is still a fine tune. 'Sweet Tooth' gives a little hint of the more commercial side of Free that was to come along later with its catchy chorus. It also features some nice piano by Steve Miller. If you listen carefully you can tell that Rodgers was suffering from a cold during the recording of this particular song. Not that it lessens his performance. 'Going Down Slow' is a lengthy pure blues workout which probably formed the inspiration for later lengthy tracks such as 'Mr Big'. Even so Rodgers didn't record anything as pure blues again until his Muddy Water Blues album in 1993. 

As opening albums go, I can't think of a better one from such a young group of musicians. Yes there may have been the odd supergroup of established musicians who have put out a similarly impressive debut but this was virtually their first time in a recording studio. Almost fifty years on the album still sounds fresh and exciting. The performances full of anticipation and excitement. It was a glorious time for British rock music with the likes of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep all arriving on the scene. But Free may have recorded a better debut than all of them. It's just a pity no-one noticed at the time.