The authority of Free’s debut album Tons Of Sobs (1968) was all the more remarkable given the tender age of its creators.
All four band members were in their teens – bassist Andy Fraser barely out of school – yet their mastery of world-weary blues (such as Moonshine or Goin’ Down Slow) rivalled that of Led Zeppelin. Paul Kossoff stole the show with his emotionally charged, liquid guitar style.
Released the following year, their eponymous second album was even better. Rodgers’ soulful voice was developing into one of the best in rock and the band had built up a blistering reputation as a live act, gathering a sizeable following in the UK.
1970’s Fire And Water elevated Free to the big time when All Right Now entered both the UK and US Top 10. It was the definitive Free song from the definitive Free album and went on to become a bona fide rock classic.
That summer, cresting the wave of their popularity, the band played to over half a million people at the Isle of Wight festival.
With pressure to come up with a successful follow-up to All Right Now, Free were confident that The Stealer would do the business. When it stiffed completely things started to go seriously awry. The Highway (1970) album received a similarly lukewarm reception.
The band decided to call it a day after fulfilling touring commitments in Japan and Australia, with the split eventually coming in May 1971 – ironically coinciding with their biggest hit since All Right Now, an epic Faces-style romp called My Brother Jake.
The band subsequently regrouped in 1972 and released the Free At Last album – a reasonable effort which supplied a Top 20 hit with Little Bit Of Love, a highly melodic slice of rock & roll – and the sort of thing Rodgers would go on to perfect with Bad Company.
While the album made the Top 10, Kossoff was spiralling into serious drug dependence, and following a disastrous American tour, the band’s stability received a further blow when Fraser left the group.
With Tetsu Yamauchi (bass) and John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (keyboards) filling in, the band undertook a Japanese tour prior to recording a final album, Heartbreaker (1973).
Although Kossoff was too ill to make much of a contribution, the album stands amongst Free’s best, boasting Rodgers’ desperate plea to Kossoff, Wishing Well and the superbly Beatles-esque Come Together In The Morning.
Following a final tour of the US with Traffic, Free finally split in summer 1973 with Rodgers and Kirke going on to form Bad Company. Kossoff meanwhile had already begun his ill-fated solo career forming Back Street Crawler.
A survivor of both cancer and AIDS, bassist Andy Fraser passed away in March 2015, aged 62.
John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick