Free refined the blues to a lean, hard-hitting rock sound
FREE DISTILLED British blues down to the riffs, silences and Paul Rodgers' ornately anguished vocals by trimming the psychedelic assaults of groups like Led Zeppelin and Cream into a lean, hard-hitting blues rock sound. Formed in the midst of 1968's British blues boom, Free established a style, made more ponderous and commercially successful by bands such as Bad Company, Foreigner and other 70's hard rock outfits.
Their unification bid started in the local London pub circuit, when Simon Kirke and Paul Kossoff, then in the blues band Black Cat Bones, heard Paul Rodgers singing with Brown Sugar. The trio enlisted 16-year-old Andy Fraser from John Mayall's Blues Breakers.
Receiving early encouragement and also its name, Free, from Alexis Korner, the quartet completed an excellent earthy debut album Tons of Sobs in 1969. Preferring blues lyricism while penning gut-wrenching tunes and show casing Rodgers' powerful expressive voice and Kossoff's stinging guitar, this album enhanced a growing reputation.
The group began honing a more individual style in their second set, Free, with brilliant original compositions including I'll be creeping that displayed a maturing talent.
Using great articulation and bent notes the group discovered in Kossoff and Rodgers, two unique stylists, who modelled their sounds on the legendary Eric Clapton and the famous Otis Redding.
Their third compilation Fire & Water helped Free reach its commercial peak. This confident collection featured moving ballads like Heavy Load, Oh! I Wept and All Right Now, which were compulsive, up-tempo material.Highway, revealed a more mellow perspective, highlighted by an increased use of piano, at the expense of Kossoff's guitar. This in part was the result of growing dissention in the group, exacerbated when The Stealer failed to emulate its predecessor's success.
Free broke up in May 1971, paradoxically in the wake of another hit single My Brother Jake. The downward spiral had begun and any number of regrouping bids did not materialize. Free of Last sounded the death knell for this group, which had great potential but failed to live up to its reputation. Personal problems and drug use, especially Kossoff's, took a toll on the band. Kossoff died of a drug-induced heart attack in 1976 on an airplane en-route to New York.
On the brighter side, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke joined forces to form an even more successful outfit called Bad Company.
A. GEORGE ANTONY
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