Formed in the midst of 1968's British blues boom, Free originally comprised Paul Rodgers (Born 17 December 1949, Middlesbrough, Cleveland, England; vocals), Paul Kossoff (Born 14 September 1950, Hampstead, London, England, d. 19 March 1976; guitar), Andy Fraser (Born 7 August 1952, London, England; bass) and Simon Kirke (Born 28 July 1949, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England; drums). Despite their comparative youth, the individual musicians were seasoned performers, particularly Fraser, a former member of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Kossoff and Kirke had backed Champion Jack Dupree as part of Black Cat Bones. Free received early encouragement from Alexis Korner, but having completed an excellent, earthy debut album, Tons Of Sobs, the group began honing a more individual style with their second set. The injection of powerful original songs, including "I'll Be Creeping', showed a maturing talent, while Rodgers" expressive voice and Kossoff's stinging guitar enhanced a growing reputation.
The quartet's stylish blues rock reached its commercial peak on Fire And Water. This confident collection featured moving ballads - "Heavy Load", "Oh I Wept" - and compulsive, up-tempo material, the standard-bearer of which was "All Right Now". An edited version of this soulful composition reached number 2 in the UK and number 4 in the USA in 1970, since which time the song has become one of pop's most enduring performances, making periodic reappearances in the singles chart. A fourth set, Highway, revealed a more mellow perspective, highlighted by an increased use of piano at the expense of Kossoff's guitar. This was the result, in part, of friction within the group, a situation 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" (UK number 4), but regrouped in January the following year when spin-off projects faltered, although Kossoff and Kirke's amalgamation (Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu And Rabbit) proved fruitful.
A sixth album, Free At Last, offered some of the unit's erstwhile fire and included another UK Top 20 entry, "Little Bit Of Love". However, Kossoff's increasing ill health and Fraser's departure for the Sharks undermined any new-found confidence. A hastily convened line-up consisting of Rodgers, Kirke, John "Rabbit" Bundrick (Born 21 November 1948, Houston, Texas, USA; keyboards) and Tetsu Yamauchi (Born 1946, Fukuoka, Japan; bass) undertook a Japanese tour, but although the guitarist rejoined the quartet for several UK dates, his contribution to Free's final album, Heartbreaker, was muted. Kossoff embarked on a solo career in October 1972, with Wendel Richardson from Osibisa replaced him on a temporary basis. Despite a final Top 10 single, "Wishing Well", in January 1973 Free had ceased to function by July of that year. Rodgers and Kirke subsequently formed Bad Company.
Tons Of Sobs (Island 1968)***, Free (Island 1969)***, Fire And Water (Island 1970)****, Highway (Island 1970)***, Free Live (Island 1971)**, Free At Last (Island 1972)**, Heartbreaker (Island 1973)**.
The Free Story (Island 1974)****, Completely Free (Island 1982)***, All Right Now (Island 1991)***, Molton Gold: The Anthology (Island 1993)****, Walk In My Shadow: An Introduction To Free (Island 1998)****, Songs Of Yesterday 5-CD box set (Island 2000)***.
Free (Island Visual Arts 1989).
Heavy Load: Free, David Clayton and Todd K. Smith.
Encyclopedia of Popular Music
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