The marvellous simplicity of rock

By Sergio Ariza

Free was formed in London in 1968 with the coming together of a quartet of very young and talented group of musicians: singer Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Simon Kirke. After recording two notable albums in 1969, a great opportunity came to them that same year when the newly created supergroup Blind Faith took them as their support act on their only tour. Eric Clapton had noticed the young Kossoff and they developed a friendship that led them to exchange Clapton's 59 Gibson Les Paul for Kossoff’s Custom from the mid-50s. The guitarist of Free had begun to use that model after seeing Clapton playing with the Bluesbreakers; while the ex- of Cream was in love with the studied vibrato of Kossoff.      

Everything indicated that Free was going to be the next great group from the English blues rock scene that had already given Cream,
Fleetwood Mac and Humble Pie. They had everything: a guitarist with a unique feel, an incredible singer and two composers, Fraser and Rodgers, of the highest order. They just needed a song that made everyone see what the rest of the musicians already knew. This arrived in the most unexpected way when, following a disappointing concert, Fraser decided that it was necessary to write a rock anthem to finish their live performances. In the dressing room he began to sing what would become All Right Now - and in a few minutes the song that gave them immortality was ready.

The song hit the top five in the British and American charts and, in a moment, the doors of success were opened. But Fire And Water, the album that contains it, went far beyond its most famous song. It opens with the title song, a great theme with a splendid riff courtesy of Kossoff. Like everything he touched, he was influenced by the slogan "less is more". The guitarist knew that that motto was one of the strengths of the band: "our strength resides in our simplicity", he said. Free was not an experimental band by any means, but all of its elements were combined in the best way: Rodgers’ perfect voice, Fraser’s songs and bass lines and, as a finishing touch, the Kossoff class.

On Oh I Wept Kossoff's guitar seems, in effect, to weep, with his famous vibrato demonstrating all its splendor. Remember is further proof of the tremendous imprint that
Otis Redding had on the fantastic voice of Paul Rodgers; it is pure soul for the singer that Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger called "the best voice of rock", and the icing on the cake is another fantastic solo by Kossoff. Heavy Load is a ballad that opens with a piano, one of the few instruments that appear on the album besides the guitar, bass, drums and voice of each of its members. Again it is a vehicle that makes Rodgers shine as he caresses every word as if it were the last; while it has to be said that the singer’s strengths are not in its lyrics, nobody could deny the incredible feeling in his voice. Fraser stands out again with a melodic bass line and Kossoff does not enter until the end but when he does he lets himself be noticed, playing notes that would make B.B. King himself smile.

Mr. Big
opens side two masterfully, and is one of their best songs as it is built on a solid drum beat and a few chords, with Fraser crowned as one of the best bass players of all time with a great job on the four string, with a solo included. Don’t Say You Love Me takes them back to ‘soul territory’ where they perform so well, with Rodgers and Kossoff in unison at the emotional end of the song. And then comes the closing with the iconic All Right Now, the song with which they reached the top and which is the best proof of the talent of these four excellent musicians who at the time of this recording were 17 years old (Fraser), Kossoff 19, and Rodgers and Kirke 20.

An extreme youth that foreshadowed much more important things, which was confirmed by their outstanding contribution at the Wight Festival that year before 600,000 people. But what should have been the beginning of their reign, was only the peak that announced their decline. Fights between Rodgers and Fraser, in addition to the deterioration of Kossoff because of drug abuse led to their dissolution in 1971. They never again reached the levels of Fire And Water, but it is proof of the enormous talent they had and, in particular, the incredible guitarist who was Paul Kossoff, a man who did not reach the age of 26 and whose ashes rest next to a plaque on which you can read: All Right Now