Two 1960s bands made a special emotional claim on me as a young man. They were by no means the artists I listened to most often, nor were they necessarily the best representative of my tastes. But they latched onto me in a unique way. One was The Beatles. The other was Free.
Free formed in 1968 and lasted until 1972, with a series of personnel changes towards the end. The singer and drummer, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke, went on to form the massively successful band, Bad Company, while bass player Andy Fraser drifted away from the scene and guitarist Paul Kossoff died of drug related heart complications.
Free were by no means great lyricists, concentrating on relatively simple soul and blues derived sentiments, but they were adequate. What was special about them was their sound. Each player had an individual style that blended into a very satisfying whole, much as the case of The Who. Paul Rodgers was – and still is – an outstanding 1960s soul influenced singer who gave the words weight and emotion. The music that the band made – full of space and restraint – was proto-hard rock, but with a subtlety that most other bands playing in that style never approached. Their best songs were very strong melodically and surged with a funk-influenced rhythm. Everyone has heard “All Right Now” and it is deservedly considered a classic rock song, but most of their output is in the same league and sometimes better. “The Stealer”, “Wishing Well”, “Mr. Big”, “Trouble On Double Time”, “Easy On My Soul”, “Mouthful Of Grass” are all evocative and moving songs. There are many others.
My first experience with the band was with their ultimate album, “Heartbreaker”, a record that is not truly representative of the organic sound that they developed in their early days (Andy Fraser had left the band at this point) but is nonetheless a masterful album. It was this record that forged such a special emotional link with me at the time. Working backwards towards the band’s beginning only reinforced this.
Thus I was fully primed for Bad Company to continue this illustrious road when they first appeared, but it soon became evident that replacing Paul Kossoff with Mick Ralphs and Andy Fraser with Boz Burrell could not rekindle the magic of Free. I was very disappointed, but in truth Bad Company faced an impossible task. Free was as about as perfect a band as one could hope to find.