Thursday, March 19, 2009


I was reminded after reading the entry in Dave White's very fine CLASSIC ROCK blog on that on this date (March 19) in 1976 Paul Kossoff, former guitarist with Free, and at that time leading his own group, Back Street Crawler, died of drug induced heart failure. Kossoff was only 25 when he died.

Free had a brief but electrifying career, from April or May (conflicting sources) of 1968 to July, 1973, with a breakup of about six months from late 1971 to January of 1972.

The group consisted of (see photo, clockwise from left front);
Paul Kossoff- lead guitar; Paul Rodgers- lead vocals; Simon Kirke- drums; and Andy Fraser- bass.

They had fair success early on, but their greatest work came in 1970 with their album Fire and Water and its internationally huge single, the classic Alright Now. After disappointing sales of their followup album Highway- and with internal clashes and a worsening drug problem with Kossoff, Free broke up in May 1971.

Kossoff and Kirke joined singer/keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and Japanese bassist Testsu Yamauchi to form Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu, and Rabbit. Andy Fraser's new group was called Toby, and Rodgers formed a band called Peace. Only "KKTR" recorded any material available to the public, and soon Toby and Peace broke up.

Free got back together in early 1972, recorded a new record Free At Last, and then saw Fraser leave for good in July 1972. Tetsu and Rabbit were brought in as replacements, and this lineup stayed for the duration. But all wasn't well. Kossoff's drug problem was killing the band, and at one point he couldn't be counted on for tours or recording. Rodgers was forced to stand in on lead guitar, and on one tour Osibisa's Wendell Richardson filled in on lead. One more album followed, Heartbreaker (1973) with another classic single, Wishing Well. But by July, 1973, Free was no more, broken up for good.

Tetsu went on to replace Ronnie Lane in The Faces, Rabbit was a noted side man who recorded alot and toured with The Who. Andy Fraser became a solo act, and Simon Kirke and Paul Rodgers went on to form Bad Company with former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and ex King Crimson bass player Boz Burrell.

Kossoff regained his health for awhile, and recorded two albums with Back Street Crawler, the second of which was released posthumously. He was a slasher and a progenitor of what would become known as HEAVY METAL. Bands like GREAT WHITE, DEF LEOPARD, BLACK CROWES, and PEARL JAM all covered songs recorded and composed by the members of Free, and their late, great guitarist, Paul Kossoff.

Here's a couple of vids. First Free performs Alright Now on TOP OF THE POPS, and following, before 600,000 at the ISLE of WIGHT FESTIVAL (1970) they do Mr. Big.


Dave said...

Koss may be dead but he won't be forgotten.....just listen to Brian May's attempt at Koss's guitar style on a track on Queen and Paul Rodger's last CD.
Fond memories of him playing at Newcastle with Free and Back Street Crawler. Always remembered along with his parents David n "Jenny" nice people sadly missed.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Consider the "what if's" regarding Koss. There are few true originals as far as guitarists, someone who you knew who it was automatically- Hendrix, Richard Thompson, Santana, Jeff Beck...and Paul Kossoff. He was rooted in the blues, but took it to a different level. What if he stayed clean and FREE were able to last? Or if he had been with Rogers and Kirke in BAD COMPANY, with or without Mick Ralphs. Or if he took a route similar to Ritchie Blackmore and built Back Street Crawler into a suitable vehicle for his talents. Or, perhaps, if it were Koss as Mick Taylor's replacement in the Stones.

Its sad to think this talented guy was with us so briefly. But he did leave his mark, and 30 plus years later, he is still remembered.

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