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This Article is from the CD 'Molton Gold - An Anthology'

written by John McDermott.

Along with CREAM and LED ZEPPELIN, FREE stands as one of the most influential bands of the late 1960's British blues boom. Formed in London during the spring of 1968, Free's original lineup included drummer Simon Kirke, bassist Andy Fraser, lead vocalist Paul Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff. Kirke and Kossoff were heavily influenced by American blues artists and, as teenagers, joined an R&B band called Black Cat Bones. Despite their youth, Kirke and Kossoff were seasoned musicians with a strong and growing reputation among the London blues scene. "Kossoff," explains Kirke, "while only 17, was a serious student of music."

Kossoff's background had been classical and he had studied for years. But he also loved all of those great soul and blues records from America. Veteran producer Mike Vernon best known for his work with John Mayall enlisted Black Cat Bones to back Champion Jack Dupreee on the legendary pianists `When you feel the feeling Album for Blue Horizon. Apart from their celebrated session with Dupree, Kirke and Kossoff grew restless and disbanded the group.

While scouting for a vocalist to front their new band, Kossoff and Kirke visited the Fickle Pickle, an R&B club in London's Finsbury Park. It was here that the two first heard Paul Rodgers, a young vocalist then performing with Brown Sugar. Kirke and Kossoff were immediately impressed with Rodgers' expressive voice and charismatic style, and recruited him for their group. "Paul owed a great deal to Otis Redding," recalls Kirke, "his voice had power and presence. We knew that he was - and still is - unique."

With Rodgers in the fold, Kossoff and Kirke, to round out their new ensemble, turned to one of their mentors, British blues legend Alexis Korner. "Korner was a big help to us," says Kirke simply. "Kossoff had been very friendly with him and Alexis recommended Andy Fraser to us. Though Andy was only 15, he had played with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, which really won our respect. When we first saw him play, he was sitting in with Alexis Band, wearing these flared trousers and ruffled shirts with rough collars."

"We thought, bloody hell, who is this little punk! But when he started playing we knew that he was really quite good. Impressed with Fraser's abilities, Korner helped arrange a set up at the Nag's Head Pub in Battersea," remembers Kirke. "It was great, a very fertile meeting. In fact, at that initial get together, we wrote six blues based songs. About five or six hours in, Alexis came down and stood in the wings watching. He not only gave us his seal of approval, he also gave us our the name: FREE."

Korner's simple choice met with immediate approval. "You must remember," says Kirke, "in those days, it was all sort of arty-farty in Britain. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Graham Bond once had a band called FREE at LAST which was a name we really liked, however it was already been used though we did use it later as the title for one of our albums. We were a blues band, so we decided on FREE, which we thought was something a bit more nebulous."

Beginning with that initial jam session, Free sought to stablish their own distinct sound and style, shunning excess amplification and instrumentation for sparse arrangement and a gritty, high energy mix of rock and blues. "Though we were only kids fresh out of adolescence," explains Kirke, "we were very serious about the direction of our music. We were never interested in the trappings of psychedelia. We wanted it very simple Bass, Guitar, Drums and Vocal. Paul Rodgers could play both bass and guitar but we rarely called on him for it. We never wanted to have a gaudy sound."

On Korners recommendation, Free was signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records and, subsequently A&M Records in the U.S. Working with producer Guy Stevens, Free entered London's Morgan Studios to begin recording TONS OF SOBS, their debut album.

Despite the band's emerging success as a touring unit, capturing their sound in the studio was, at least initially, more of a challenge."We were really wet behind the ears when we went to record TONS OF SOBS," explains Kirke, "we didn't know what to do. Our producer, Guy Stevens, was very talented and was forever buzzing about the studio. Guy sensed that we were struggling and he pulled us aside. He told us to relay and just play the two 45-minute sets that we had been playing in the clubs. That's how we did the album. TONS OF SOBS (a title coined by Stevens) was recorded in a week. When I think about it today, it seems amazing. Now it seems to take a week to get the right snare sound!"

Released in November 1968 TONS OF SOBS and tracks such as I'M A MOVER and THE HUNTER were obvious examples of the bands earthy roots and considerable blues influence. WALK IN MY SHADOW, cited by Kirke as the first song the band ever wrote together, is equally charged, powered by Kossoff's muscular riffing and Rodgers confident lead vocal. On the heels of TONS OF SOBS, FREE followed with BROAD DAYLIGHT, their stylish debut single. However, despite a superb vocal performance by Rodgers, the song failed to chart in both the U.S. and U.K. "As a single, BROAD DAYLIGHT was a disaster," remembers Kirke. "I think it sold three copies in Sheffield. It was a funny song, totally unrepresentative of the group at the time. Even tough it was early on in our career, the release of BROAD DAYLIGHT was when I had my first inkling that Fraser wasn't quite on the same wavelength as Kossoff and I. Andy wrote it with Paul and was really insistent that it become a big single for us. It just wasn't meant to be."

Despite their lack of chart success to date, the band enjoyed a loyal following built on regular tours throughout Britain. That effort appeared to pay immediate dividends with the release of FREE, the band's second album, in 1969. With FREE, the group displayed an emerging individual style framed by Kossoff's stinging lead guitar, Fraser's bass, Kirke's rock solid beat and Rodgers anguished vocals. Unburdened by extended solos or lengthy jams typical of the era, such powerful original material as I'LL BE CREEPIN showcased the talents of Kossoff and Fraser without sacrificing the group's taut. While tracks such as WOMAN provided a vehicle for Rodgers considerable vocal prowess, behind the scenes, Fraser's reputation as a child prodigy was further enhanced by his contributions to FREE.

"Fraser's bass playing on I'LL BE CREEPIN was fantastic," says Kirke, "I always felt that, pound for pound, Fraser had the most talent of the four of us. Fraser was quite advanced for his age and, in many ways, a lot like John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin-someone who could play a number of instruments well and was a strong, but quiet influence."

In America, neither of FREE's first two albums had generated much interest. Their big break would come in Summer of 1969, when the band was asked along with DELANY & BONNIE, to open dates on BLIND FAITH's massive U.S. Tour. "That turned out to be very fortuitous for the band," recalls Kirke. "Our tour with BLIND FAITH ended with a big show at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards, we were offered a chance to play at Woodstock, but that fell through. Instead, we were offered a week's worth of gigs at Ungano's popular Nightclub in New York. The second night that we were there, CLAPTON and BAKER walked in and we were stunned, absolutely in awe, because we had very little contact with them during the tour. Clapton came backstage and asked Kossoff to show him how he got such strong and fluid vibrato in his playing. Kossoff nearly died. What, me showing you stuff?? You must be joking! But Clapton was serious, as Kossoff, among the guitarists fraternity, had really begun to develop a name for himself.

With two strong albums and nearly two years of touring already under their belt, the quartet's combination of blues and rock was, perhaps, best captured on their seminal FIRE AND WATER album, released in 1970. An engaging mix of ballads and strident rockers. FIRE AND WATER also featured ALL RIGHT NOW, the group's breakthrough single. An edited version of ALL RIGHT NOW had a major chart impact, reaching No. 2 on the U.K. single chart and, in the USA, No. 4 on the Billboard chart. Driven by Kossoff's incessant riffling, ALL RIGHT NOW has proved remarkably durable, remaining, nearly 25 Years later, the band's signature tune. According to Kirke, the song actually drew its roots from necessity.

"ALL RIGHT NOW war created after a bad gig in Durham, England. Our repertoire at that time was mostly slow and medium paced blues songs which was alright if you were a student sitting quietly and nodding your head to the beat. However, we finished our show in Durham and walked off the stage to the sound of our own footsteps. The applause had died before I had even left the drum riser.When we got into the dressing room, it was obvious that we needed an uptempo number, a rocker to close our shows. All of sudden, the Inspiration struck Fraser, and he started bopping around singing ALL RIGHT NOW.... He sat down and wrote it right there in the dressing room. It couldn't have taken more than ten minutes."

HEAVY LOAD and OH I WEPT also from FIRE AND WATER were superb examples of Free's unique marriage of solemn blues and swaggering hard rock. With the release of FIRE AND WATER, Rodgers had emerged as one of hard rock's premier vocalists. "In the studio," remembers Kirke, "Paul was a one take wonder. He might have done an occasional vocal twice, but that was it. His vocal style was very dry and stripped down with no embellishments at all. I can't remember one instance when Paul used any effects such as reverb on his voice. What you hear on those record's is exactly what he sounded like - and that's what makes him really, really special."

Building on the momentum created by the international success of ALL RIGHT NOW and their acclaimed performance at the massive ISLE OF WIGHT Festival in August 1970, FIRE AND WATER enjoyed tremendous success in both US and UK. THE STEALER, the group's follow up single and HIGHWAY, the group's fourth album, sold poorly, confounding the young band. "There was a lot of pressure on us to follow up FIRE AND WATER," recalls Kirke, "after that HIT we started touring country's rather than towns. But we just didn't have the seasoning. I mean how do you follow ALL RIGHT NOW? We tried THE STEALER but we knew it wasn't enough."

HIGHWAY offered fans a mellower perspective, as Fraser and Rodgers began to incorporate more outside influences into their compositions. This subtle change in musical direction created some tension within the band. "HIGHWAY was a very laid back album," states Kirke, "we had broken out of twelve bar blues and had gotten heavily into Bob Dylan and The BAND, especially Paul and Andy. The band's MUSIC FROM PIG PINK really turned as around. But even though I loved Levon Helm's drumming, Kossoff and I were still into the blues."

Frustrated by HIGHWAY's commercial rejection and unsure of their future musical direction, Free was consumed by internal friction and a nagging sense of self-doubt. In May 1971, following a turbulent Asian Tour, Free disbanded.

"HIGHWAY was a flop," says Kirke, "especially when compared to (the sales success of) FIRE AND WATER. We just couldn't take the knocks at that age. We thought, foolishly, that we should break up because no one loves us anymore. We were that naive."

Just prior to announcing their decision to split, MY BROTHER JAKE climbed up the British Pop charts, reaching No. 4 in June of 1971. "The song's UK-only success," explains Kirke, "was almost anticipated. MY BROTHER JAKE was a very parochial song, clearly English, where THE STEALER had more of an American flavour. JAKE was very cheeky and all Andy Fraser, with pub piano, a jaunty beat and lyrics about someone pissing their lives away. Who couldn't relate to that?"

On the heels of MY BROTHER JAKE, the band issued FREE LIVE!, a spirited live album largely compiled from a recent performance at Croydon's Fairfield Hall. "The three tracks included on this compilation," says Kirke, "captured the energy and excitement of FREE in concert. FIRE AND WATER, RIDE ON PONY, and MR. BIG really summed up what FREE was like live. FIRE AND WATER, one of our best songs, and RIDE ON PONY were very much influenced by THE BAND. MR. BIG was really a showcase for Andy's playing. Usually, when a Bassist would take a solo, 90 percent of the audience would head to the bar. What made MR.BIG really cool was that Fraser did his solo without the band stopping. It was just a great track to play live."

While FREE LIVE! peaked only at No. 89 in the US, the album would reach the No. 4 position in the U.K., where it became an essential souvenir for British fans. With Fraser off to form TOBY with guitarist Adrian Fisher and drummer Stan Speaks, Paul Rodgers also formed a new group, fronting Stewart McDonald and Mich Underwood as Peace. While Peace would open for MOTT THE HOOPLE on their UK Tour, neither PEACE or TOBY were successful. Kossoff and Kirke were active as well, recruiting John RABBIT BUNDRICK (later of the WHO) on keyboards and bassist Tetsu Yamauchi (later to join the Face) for an album known simply as KOSSOFF, KIRKE, TETSU, RABBIT.

Having struggled in their new projects, FREE reformed in January 1972, touring the UK and beginning sessions for FREE AT LAST. "We had only broken up for about six months," remembers Kirke, "but that was long enough. When Andy and Paul had first decided to leave, I don't think many steps were taken by anyone to change their minds. After Paul went off with PEACE and Andy formed TOBY, it was like for chrissakes guys, what are you pissing away? Let's put this thing back together."

While FREE AT LAST and its accompanying single LITTLE BIT OF LOVE re-established the band commercially, a crippling mixture of old and new problems surfaced, again threatening the future of the group. The most serious of which was Kossoff's mounting drug addiction which compounded his ill-health. Free would tour the US during the early Summer of 1972, but Kossoff's condition caused him to miss dates. On the eve of the group's July tour of Japan, Andy Fraser abruptly departed. Rodgers handled now vocals and guitar. By October, with Kossoff's health temporarily improved, the original quartet reformed to tour the UK. Recording sessions for HEARTBREAKER, Free's final album, began but Kossoff's contributions were muted. Nonetheless, HEARTBREAKER was well received both in the US and the UK, where the album reached No. 9 and WISHING WELL, the single, reached No. 7 on the POP Chart. On tour to support the album, Osibisa's Wendel Richardson was recruited to help out when Kossoff's condition was too bad. Finally, by July of 1973, Free disbanded for good.

Free performing Mr Big at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970:

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yeah, I couldn't agree more! That's why I started this thread. Wonderful band with some truly beautiful songs. :)

Heavy Load: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RR4mPGJ6Pg

Yeah me too, they produce raw emotion still, without going over the top in to musicial mayhem, i dont know any of my friends that dont like them, every time i hear one of their songs i say "I'm Alright Now" :guitar_mood:

Regards, Danny

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Yay oh yay :D

Im not the only one who likes them at the moment. I love free, PK was such a tragedy, a young life wasted on drugs :boohoo:

Paul Rodgers, great vocals, andy fraser, the best dancing bass player ive ever seen (

) and simon kirke with the classic drum beats :D

Long live Free!!!!!!!!

oknyms.jpg

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Great article, thanks for posting it!

I love Free. Unfortunatly they're most known for Alright Now, which of course is a great song, but they're so much more than Alright Now. One of my favourite rock ballads ever is Don't Say You Love Me. Great jazzy and bluesy sound and Rogers is amazing on that track!

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Great article, thanks for posting it!

No worries, copy and paste job, I didn't spend ages typing it out. ;)

I love Free. Unfortunatly they're most known for Alright Now, which of course is a great song, but they're so much more than Alright Now.

It is a great song, and when it gets played on the radio, it's always the single edit version which misses the best part out. :angry:

I have heard Wishing Well on the radio a few times though, and My Brother Jake once or twice.

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  • 1 year later...

Great band. :) Check out Paul Kossoff with Black Cat Bones they made one really good album in 1970.

Paul Kossoff didn't play on that album, but I'd like to hear it.

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Hi Ady!

Here you go....great music, there are a couple of more on You Tube :D

Black Cat Bones - Death Valley Blues

Thanks, Deborah!

After a few lineup changes they became Leaf Hound.

Leaf Hound - Sad Road To The Sea

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Hi Ady!

Here you go....great music, there are a couple of more on You Tube :D

Black Cat Bones - Death Valley Blues

Cool. On a side note, although Kossoff wasn't a member at the time they cut the record, another guitarist named Rod Price was. He later formed Foghat together with Lonsome Dave Peverett. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSIJuZJbizo

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Ady, thanks for the reminder of Black Cat Bones.

Swede, Got to see Foghat in the late 70's. It was a great concert.

Thanks to you both for a little walk down memory lane :peace:

Edit: to add

Edited by Deborah J
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  • 5 months later...
  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 months later...
  • 1 year later...

Paul Kossoff: An Interview with Rock’s Street Crawler

Steven Rosen, Guitar Player, July 1976

THE LATE PAUL KOSSOFF, born in London, September 14, 1950, became the unsung guitar great of Free at the age of eighteen. That short-lived, but successful, English quartet split in 1973, with lead singer Paul Rodgers forming Bad Company and Kossoff emerging with Back Street Crawler.

Throughout his career, Kossoff was hampered by poor health and drug addiction, and spent much of his time in and out of hospitals. In August of 1975, Paul suffered a major heart attack and respiratory failure. A reported recurrence of this condition brought about his death, on March 19, 1976, while sleeping on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The following interview, done a few months before his death, looks at his guitar playing, his bands, and his involvement in the English rock scene

When did you first start playing guitar?

When I was nine, and I heard some Shadows music [English counterpart of The Ventures] on the radio. My parents thought I should take lessons, so I had classical training for six years. After that, I sort of got away from playing, and the first real inspiration I had to get back into it was seeing Eric Clapton with John Mayall at a small club. I didn’t know who he was or what had gone down, but here’s all these people yelling, "God, God!" He really caught my attention, and then I wanted to play. I found that my classical training had no bearing on that sort of music, other than dexterity. After Clapton, my interest grew. I went from him to Peter Green, to B.B. King and Freddie King, and then I got into soul, Otis Redding, Ray Charles. Green and Clapton were very dexterous and powerful at the same time. Clapton is everything I’d like to be. I also liked [keyboardist] Long John Baldry, and [Faces vocalist] Rod Stewart was good in those days, too. I saw the Jeff Beck band with Stewart and was very impressed. Around this time I formed a blues band called Black Cat Bones. But that broke up, because I wanted to form a band with [drummer] Simon Kirke.

Were you playing electric guitar in that band?

Yes, I was about sixteen when I got my first electric; it was an EKO or something like that, with a gold lamé finish and a billion knobs. Soon after that, I got myself a Gibson Les Paul Junior which was the cheapest Gibson around at the time. Then I had this obsession about getting a real Les Paul; it was from seeing Beck and Clapton using them. I wanted the very same thing–they were very basic influences on me. Anyway, Simon was in Black Cat Bones, and he knew a band which contained Paul Rodgers, so I got to know Paul. My playing was still very primitive at this time, but it had something very much in common with the way he sang. We got together and jammed, so all that was needed now was a bass player. At that time Andy Fraser had just left John Mayall and was looking for a band, and that’s how Free was formed.

What type of guitar and amplifier were you using when Free first started?

I was using a Les Paul and a real old Marshall top with a homemade bottom, with four 12" speakers, which my father helped me build. I used this setup for about a year and a half, and then I got a regular 100-watt stack. Andy was using two Marshall Major stacks, and we used a Marshall PA.

What equipment are you using now?

The equipment has been nicknamed "The Enterprise." It consists of two cabinets, each containing eight I 2s [Celestion], and two Marshall tops. I think I’m going to lighten the equipment; I think it’s too much. I’ll probably be using half of The Enterprise on gigs–just one bottom and one or maybe two tops. The cabinets were made special for me by Marshall and have bass speakers. I’ve always liked to use them, because I don’t like a lot of top. With bass speakers, you get a nice, round sound without rasp. I’m also using a Les Paul Standard with sunburst finish; I think it’s about a ‘57. It had its neck broken once, on the last gig with Free. It went up about twenty feet and came down on its neck. I thought that was it, but I saw a guy in London named Sam Lee who does beautiful work, and he put it back together. It broke at the 5th fret, and he rebuilt everything from there up, including the tuning head. The only other thing I’ve done to it is put Grover machine heads on.

What settings do you use on the guitar and amp?

I use mainly the treble pickup, between 8 and full up on the amp and guitar. It’s very simple. The amp is usually full up, and I control it from the guitar. Maybe I’m a little bit too limited with my sounds; I’m not sure. I like to play bluesy things on the bass pickup, around 4, 5, or 6 on the guitar, with the amp full up. And then you blast into a solo with your treble pick-up. You don’t play a billion notes, but you play a few goodies, hopefully, like Freddie or B.B. do.

You were also using a Fender Stratocaster for a while.

Yes, on the front of that Back Street Crawler album [island Records, ILPS 9264]; that was a white Strat with a maple neck, but the neck was warped. It was beautiful to play–you couldn’t play any big chords on it, but it was really responsive. A track on Back Street Crawler, ‘Time Away’, was done with that guitar. I also used a Strat with the last setup of Free I was involved in. I don’t know what year it was, but it was an old one. I’m not into years and all that; if it sounds good and feels good, I’ll use it. Also, there’s no tremolo arm on that Strat. I’ve never used one, because I’ve never been into it. Any tremolo I use is from the left hand.

Was it hard to develop such a smooth vibrato?

I think my vibrato has taken a long time to sound mature, and it’s taken a long time to reach the speed of vibrato that I now have. I trill with my first, middle, and ring fingers, and bend chiefly with my small finger. I’ll use my index to back up the ring finger when I’m using vibrato.

Is there a similarity between your vibrato technique and Eric Clapton’s?

Probably, yes. He did once come up to me and asked, "How the hell do you do that?" And I said, "Oh, you must be joking!" That was the first time Free was America, and we were doing the Blind Faith tour.

Why did you change from the Stratocaster to the Les Paul?

I never really changed – one guitar meant one thing, and the other something else. The Les Paul is very sensible on gigs; it will not let you down tuning-wise or if I treat it roughly. Even if you pull back on the neck of the Strat, it’s out of tune, particularly that white one I had. It was harmonically out of tune a little anyway, so you had to make adjustments while you were playing.

What kind of strings do you use?

At the moment, I’m using Fender heavy or anything really heavy or stiff. Basically, I like the Gibson Sonomatic sixth, fifth, and fourth, a banjo third–I don’t know what gauge, but it’s heavier than what a Fender Rock And Roll would be (unwound), and Fender Rock And Roll second and first. I use a heavy pick, Fender or Gibson. It’s really not what type of pick you use, but how you use it. I’ve always used a heavy, because it suits me. You can really lash or you can be cool. I find a loose pick rather useless.

Your playing seems totally devoid of electronic effects.

Almost. On stage, I use a phase shifter, and I’ve used it on albums a few times. When I’m on stage, I’m too excited to fool around with controls and knobs. I find I can get the sound I want from the guitar and amp, providing everything is working right.

What equipment do you use in the studio?

Basically, the same as on stage. When I’m overdubbing leads I like to be loud, so I can get plenty of power. When I’m cut-ting a track with the other guys, I’ll use less wattage, but I’ll still get the same sound at a lower volume.

Your solos on record–‘All Right Now’, for example [Fire And Water, Free A &M, 42681–are they thought out beforehand or played as the track is being cut?

Well, on ‘All Right Now’, the bass was put down, and then the keyboard, then the rhythm guitar, and it was best if the solo was simple. It wasn’t exactly worked out, but at the time we were thinking more of effect than of virtuosity.

Is that your philosophy on playing guitar?

I like to move people; I don’t like to show off. I like to make sounds as I remember sounds that move me. My style is still very primitive, but at the same time it has developed in its own sense. I do my best to express myself and move people at the same time.

Do you play acoustic guitar at all?

Yes, I do. I write songs on acoustic guitar. I have a beautiful Guild, given to me by the band [back Street Crawler] when I was sick. This is the best acoustic I’ve ever had; it’s better than the Gibson Hummingbird I had. I’ve never had a Martin, but I don’t think one would suit me. I don’t play any acoustic on stage, but I’d like to.

Do you use any special tunings on electric or acoustic?

No, but I use a lot of open strings, and the chords are neither major nor minor. I don’t like to play a major chord unless it’s necessary. I prefer to use a chord that rings, having neither major nor minor dominance. For example, if I was playing in G, I’d press down a D on the fifth string, a G on the fourth string, leave the third string open, get a D on the second string, and a G on the first. That shape can be moved up to a C [8th fret], and a D [10th fret], and an F [13th fret]. There’s also a figure I use in A with my little finger playing an A on the bottom E string while the A fifth string is ringing open, and I’m getting an Eon the fourth string, and an A on the third string.

[Ed. Note: These chords are characterized by the lack of a natural or a flatted third which would identify the chord as either major or minor.]

Are there certain scales you work from?

No, my playing is very primitive. I work from a few chord shapes, but it’s really pretty basic. I’ve never been able to get into the quick runs, the super-duper stuff that Alvin Lee or Rory Gallagher do. It’s never really interested me. I do practice whenever I can. With Free, we worked so much there was only time for women and sleep.

What effect has drugs had on your playing?

I had a very morbid interest at one point in [Jimi] Hendrix and Otis [Redding]. I used to listen to them and take all these drugs, and I’d think, "What point in my even playing? They’ve done it all." And that was a bad way to be. I went through a big Hendrix thing, where I was infatuated by him, his music, and his death.

Did you ever meet Hendrix?

Yes, I met him a couple of times, but I can’t say that I knew him. When I was fifteen or sixteen, Hendrix first came to Britain with Chas Chandler [Hendrix’ manager], and he was going around to the music shops, and I was working in one. In that shop, if there was a colored person buying something, they’d put a "C" on the top of the sales sheet. Chas came in with Jimi one day, and, honestly, Hendrix looked freaky, and he really did smell. When he first walked in, all the salesmen were going, "Oh, my God!" There weren’t any guitars strung left-handed, so he took this right-handed Strat and turned it over, so that the low E was on the bottom. He started playing some chord stuff like in "Little Wing," and the salesmen looked at him and couldn’t believe it. They wouldn’t own up to it afterwards, but they were all hanging around him, putting up with the smell and everything. He didn’t buy nothing, but just seeing him really freaked me; I just loved him to death. He was my hero and still remains my hero.

How do you feel about Eric Clapton’s music?

I saw Clapton whip up a storm a few months back. There’s no doubt about it: he can still play. When I saw him, he came on stage with an acoustic guitar, and everybody thought he wasn’t going to play –the band was doing all the playing. Then he went through a few songs, and someone handed him a nice Gibson Firebird, and he played ‘Bell Bottom Blues’, which is just a blues, but he whipped up such a storm. I thought, "That guy’s better than he ever was." I was drawn out of my seat.

What’s still in store for your playing?

I think there’s still more room to develop in the way I’m playing. My vibrato is finally starting to grow up. Playing with Paul Rodgers helped me grow; he was my best teacher as to how to enhance a voice, blues-wise. I hate to play just solos; I pre-fer to hear his voice and back it up or rip it around or push it–without covering it over. My style and his grew up together.

© Steven Rosen, 1976

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