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Friars Interviews

andy fraser
Free

                       friars appearances 16/06/69  29/09/69 11/12/69 (Friars Bedford)

 

Free were one of the classic English rock and blues bands of the early 1970s with the legendary All Right Now still played on radio nearly 40 years later. This song was co-written by Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers. The Free story was blighted by the well documented problems and untimely demise of Paul Kossoff. After Free, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke formed Bad Company. Andy kept himself busy musically with his own projects and wrote for other people -  most notably, Every Kinda People, a big hit for Robert Palmer.

Andy kept out of the limelight for some time, but came back with the Naked and Finally Free album in 2005 and as you will read, a new album is nearing completion. Andy lives in the United States and in January 2009 shared his thoughts with us exclusively for the Friars Aylesbury website. Step forward Mr Fraser......

     Free around 1970 - back, Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke, front, Paul Kossoff, Andy Fraser and Andy today 

Andy, thank you for agreeing to talk to us.

Pleasure!

I was talking with David Stopps, the Friars Aylesbury promoter a couple of weeks back and he remembers you as a precocious young talent. Being professional and successful at such a young age, how did this seem in the big wide rock world? Was there any jealousy or resentment towards you?

Jealousy or resentment? Nothing that I was aware of. I never felt young, or out of the ordinary. I guess having started playing piano at age 5, and it taking 10 - 11 years to get going with John Mayall, then Free it probably works out the same length of time it takes everyone else, I just started earlier. Watching John Mayall take of business in a particular way, I just did what I thought was normal and that was one of my particular duties, and it was something I could do without breaking a sweat, so it seemed only natural to do.Why would one of the others do it if was difficult for them, and easy for me. We all had our particular roles, and weren't carrying any dead weight. There were no wallflowers in Free.

Just how big an influence on you at such a young age was the great Alexis Korner?

Alexis became a substitute father. I had become very close with Sappho his daughter at the college I attended in Hammersmith, when I was thrown out of school for refusing to cut my hair. I hung around their house a lot, played his guitars, listened to his records, and he opened the door in my mind to what was before impossible, then became instrumental by first getting me the gig with John Mayall, then encouraging me to get another group going. He had told me Mike Vernon, a blues producer at the time knew of a guitarist (Koss) who was looking for a bass player so facilitated that union; was at Free's first rehearsal at the Nags Head Pub in Battersea, saw the potential, got us with his own manager Brian Morrison, then got us away when it wasn't working, then contacted Island's Chris Blackwell on our behalf, and even had us open at some of his gigs. He was instrumental in guiding me personally, turning on the light in my mind, then supporting Free in it's infancy until it took flight on it's own. Alexis was indispensable.

Was there any fallout with John Mayall with you leaving his band? What happened? Must have been a strange time in some ways earning so much money at 15 years old?!

John Mayall was the boss, and everyone else was a hired hand, paid wages. He hired and fired as he pleased. One day he told Keef Hartley and myself, he was going more for a jazz rhythm section and hired Jon Hiseman and a jazz bassist. I took it all in stride. Nothing personal at all. Because everyone in the Blues-Beakers was so much older than me, though Mick Taylor was 19, and we would sneak off for a joint together, my next obvious step was to find people more my own age, so viewed it as a positive event.

Free gigged a lot in 1969 and played Friars Aylesbury twice and Friars Bedford once you were kind to say (elsewhere on this website) that the Friars audiences were appreciative. In those early days, what kind of general reaction was the band getting? Presumably it was only going to be a matter of time before the band was truly commercially successful?

We were always well received. There was the odd place where we were ignored. The place where 'All Right Now' germinated being one. It was a rainy Tuesday night in Durham, (Simon remembers the location better than I), we got lost getting there, people giving us wrong directions etc. so we were not in the greatest mood to start with. It was a college gig, and it seemed only about 40 people at most showed up. They all seemed to be on Mandrax, the drug of choice at the time... I refer to them as the 'rubber people' as they just seemed to bump into one another during what they felt was dancing, somewhat akin to current 'moshpits' just less violent, and they basically ignored us. We had played several gigs that were purely for ourselves, and sounded great, but this wasn't one of those nights. We sucked! Afterwards in the dressing room there was this long uncomfortable silence, doom and gloom vibes, and I eventually broke the silence by singing "All right now' kind of like a parent to a child 'OK it's not the end of the world', and it broke the silence, everyone joined in and jammed, Simon (Kirke) saying 'time to kick out the shits' a favourite phrase of his, and life went on.

As a general philosophy, we all had no doubt the band was gonna make it. 100% assured.

Its difficult to imagine the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 playing to over 500,000 people it must have been surreal?

The biggest gig we had done to date. Island was very smart in helicoptering us in just before we were to perform, so we wouldn't be exhausted just by hanging around, which is usually the case. When we went on stage we were still fresh. Walking from the helicopter to the back-stage area, I felt this alien vibe. Couldn't explain it, until I saw Tiny Tim. That guy is from another planet. Pete Townsend was also very gracious in his wishing the band well, and my biggest surprise was how much of a 'British gentleman' he was, as opposed to the 'Shepherds Bush yob' he gives the impression of being. Lucky for us, the guy working the sound system, was an old friend who had helped PR and I cut some some 2 track demos at his house, so we were in good hands.

The amount of energy required to match the energy being focused on you from that amount of people can completely deplete one very quickly, so playing only 15 minutes was just about right.

What was the main spark that caused Free to implode in 1971? Was it inter band difficulties or Paul Kossoff's drug issues or both? Was there friction from the success of Fire and Water?

Chicken and egg question. What came first. Did Paul's (Kossoff) situation disrupt the natural balance, or did the friction between me and Rodgers cause Koss's situation. I am loathe to put all the blame on Koss. When we look back now, and see that the "Bad Company" way of doing things was really the direction Rodgers was heading in... and I would really wanted to have no part in something like that... a 2dimensional version of Free, where the bass-player shuts up and just plays the bass, a management who got things done by breaking peoples legs, generally, a 'no more Mr. Nice Guy" approach, just get out there and make some money, I knew it was time for me to move on. I actually think if I had been involved I would have been a spoke in the wheel and prevented them from making it.

It was obvious to all of us that the band had broken up. I just verbalized it, thus I was the one the media said had left the band. At that stage, Paul had started to feel, "I have a wife and kid to support", and really adopted the "I am the man of house " attitude, that we had done things Andy's way and it didn't work, now we were gonna do things his way. Our communications seemed to have an underlying 'take or or leave it" tone, and when I called his bluff, I think it took him by surprise. For my point of view it wasn't about 'calling his bluff', there was no question it was time to move on.

When Free reformed in 1972 to try to save Paul Kossoff from himself, it is understandable you were unhappy at his unreliability and left again. How did you feel at the band carrying on, albeit not for very long with different musicians?

I felt it foolish for the others to carry on, despite Rabbit [John Bundrick who is still a Who regular] and Tetsu [Yemauchi] being very talented people, and nice guys, I was very familiar with them, but that seemed beside the point. Koss was only getting worse, and they must have experienced some further traumatic times, and I believe they got Wendall Harrison, and Snuffy Walden in to cover, but it seemed like the band didn't really know what to do, and were reaching aimlessly with no particular direction, and it didn't take them long to have to admit to reality.

Ultimately do you think that Kossoff could have been saved or was just driving down that path regardless?

I don't think Koss could have been saved. He had crossed some line, where there could be no turning back, and was hell-bent on this slow suicide. He lost his confidence, and felt unworthy of the praise bestowed upon him, and in some twisted logic, thought if he was seen on stage playing badly, then it could be blamed on the drugs, and he would go down like his heroes Hendrix etc. as opposed to being straight and playing bad, where there would be no excuse. Very twisted logic.

Although you kept busy musically in the 1970s with Sharks and the Andy Fraser Band, it must have been odd seeing Bad Company becoming the juggernaut it became? Did you feel any pangs of envy or were you happy with what you were doing?

Strangely, no pangs of envy. If anything I thought Paul should have been bigger. I was well aware of how it worked, and they had just enough elements for commercial success. Starting with Paul and Simon, straight out of Free who were on the verge of really striking it big, so there was that void they could fill, Boz and Mick Ralphs who weren't unknowns filled it out, and especially Mick Ralphs having "Can't get Enough", a definite hit song, (and by the way, rejected by Mott the Hoople), and then Peter Grant who also managed Led Zeppelin, and whose label 'Swan Song' was about to expire it's distribution deal with Atlantic. In order for them to resign Peter Grant told Atlantic, Bad Co's 'Can't get enough' had to be no. 1, not no.2, or they wouldn't get Swan Song. End of story. They got their No.1, but it was a slow downhill ride after that.

No way did I feel it reflected on me, or even them personally. In fact I turned down many opportunities to join various bands that could have done the same, but it became important for me, to develop my singing confidence, and follow my artistic urgings as opposed to sacrifice them purely for fame and fortune. That alone, without having artistic integrity would be very empty. The strength of Free was we could have had it all.

I think I would have been envious if Bad Company had broken new ground musically, fulfilled some of the promise offered by Free. But they never took me any place new. Didn't seem to have their eye on the artistic horizon, willing to take chances. If they did, I would have felt left behind. I personally still felt I like moving forward, discovering the unknown, even if alone.

Whilst All Right Now is undoubtedly your greatest (commercial) success as a songwriter, writing for other people must have given you a lot of pleasure? Especially with Robert Palmer's Every Kinda People. There will be a lot of people reading this who would not have been aware of that.

Although other people did many songs, I was still actually writing for myself. Then a publisher would bring them to the attention of other artists. As it happens Robert Palmer was a very old friend from back in the days when he lived in Scarborough, and came to see us at his local club, mainly for the bass, he later told me to my surprise. When he came down to London, and also got placed on Island's label, we were able to spend a lot of time together. He was the one who turned me onto Marvin Gaye (What's Going On) when he still lived in a little flat in Hampstead Heath.

He remained a close friend, and I always found him to be extremely generous in spirit and materially. I miss him a lot, although was aware of his substance abuse, and am quite surprised it didn't catch up to him earlier. A very strong constitution I guess.

You kept a low profile, musically at least, for a couple of decades, apart from Woodstock in 1994 when you reunited with Paul Rodgers. This must have been a bit odd, even more so when you were, I believe, doing Bad Company songs?

Very observant. Paul called me up last moment. Was very clear with his request - unusual, as he is known for calling up and waffling on for hours without saying what he's calling about, which can be very irritating after 15 minutes..... and infuriating after an hour. If one is upfront with me, I respond accordingly, so it was an instant 'yes'. My sole motivation was to see where he was at nowadays. I actually suspect I wasn't the first on his list, and maybe someone else had let him down last minute.

He didn't know it, but it was right in-between a 2 week session I was having in Lake Tahoe where I was having my blood changed daily. A process where an IV line is inserted, your blood drawn out, oxygenated and put back, daily, for 2 weeks. An early experimental treatment for AIDS before the current meds.

They [the medical people] were not happy about me going to New York to do a massive concert, and I was actually very frail. I ended up being quite disgusted by Paul's attitude and behaviour, not only towards me, but for example, he had allowed Brian May to assume we would be playing some Queen material. Paul's attitude was he wasn't singing any fucking Queen songs, and figured he would tell Brian only after he had travelled to New York from London, and it would be too late to do anything about it. As it turned out, Brian did one rehearsal and flew back to London furious.

Another ridiculous item was Paul wanted everyone to sign this 2 page contract which had 'page 33' and '34' on the top. I said re-number them or show us pages 1 through' 32. This snowballed into his then current girl-friend arguing on the phone with my attorney in California. Suddenly even Free became Spinal Tap. Quite an eye-opener. He had also previously sent me a cassette tape saying learn these songs, as if I hadn't written half of them. I am not sure if he even knows how offensive he can be.

You must have felt like a bassist for hire!

Because I was paid, I actually was a musician for hire... and treated like it. It was incidental, as I would have done it for nothing just to satisfy my curiosity. Now, no amount would be enough. I have since suggested that in conjunction with the release of the Free Forever DVD we do a concert and film it, not because we would enjoy it, but so many people still request it. His reaction to the suggestion was very negative. My curiosity has been satisfied. About the only thing we agree on is that we are now on different pages.

When you came back after your long break with the Naked and Finally Free album in 2005, this must have seemed a cathartic or even therapeutic moment? Its clear that people missed you and apart from the subtle Free reference in the album title, its obviously referring to your coming to terms with your sexuality and out of denial?

True. In fact music has always been a form of therapy for me, and as such held a near sacred place in my relationship with it. Thus, although we must all compromise between art and celebrity, there has always been a resistance in me from what feels like selling out. Doing what you think is expected, as opposed to being a real expression of how one feels in the moment. Even playing songs from the past seem to keep one in a sort of time-warp, and feel dishonest, as they express how you felt then, as opposed to now.

It has literally taken me a couple of decades to not only come out of self-denial, but build up enough steam to be able to stand before the world, feeling "Naked... and finally Free", and comfortable with that. Being on a stage, or in public, and not being comfortable in one's own skin, can be like a poison, a cancer eating you from within.

As an aside, Standing At Your Window is an awesome track!

It's kind of the odd man out on the album, from the point of view that it was written with Frankie Miller years ago before he had a brain aneurysm and 3 month coma. I was asked to contribute a song to a Frankie Miller benefit album to help support the enormous medical bills he has incurred while being unable to work. I thought to do a version of this song and also include on my album hoping to help some more.

Prior to the Finally Free album, you had been quite unwell with cancer problems in your neck and shoulders. How are you these days and do you still do a six hour getting up routine with gym etc?

I am very well these days, and have the exercise thing down to 3 hours. When I first began to recover, I needed to go to a physical therapist to learn specific ways of upper body strengthening, and because I had to ease into everything physical it would take 6 hours a day. But that would include a gentle swim and lying in the sun. So it was a complete commitment to putting rehabilitation before everything else. Now I can be quite leisurely and it be under 3 hours.

You played a couple of US concerts (in 2005) but no concerts outside of America. Have you plans to do any further gigs, maybe off the back of a new album?

The next album will be "Andy Fraser... on assignment" and is nearly finished. I am not opposed to touring worldwide, just want to be sure I have created enough interest to make it a worthwhile endeavour.

The Free Forever DVD is a glorious celebration of all that's good about Free, (along with your solo videos if you look hard enough!) and its clear from the launch party that there is a lot of genuine love and affection for the band and not necessarily all from the older generation? How come only you and Simon Kirke were there?

Paul was gonna come, then he wasn't, then he was, then he didn't. Then wanted a video screen of him being there, and generally drove all concerned nuts, and basically everyone was relieved when he wasn't there. As I mentioned earlier, I had actually asked Paul and Simon to do a concert and film surrounding this event, because if we were ever gonna do anything, this seemed like the appropriate time. He was real sour on the issue, and at this time, I don't believe we will ever do anything together again. He did call in during the event, and was questioned by the audience via cell phone held up to a microphone as to why he wasn't there and his responses made the crowd groan in unison.

Talking of the proposed live element of the Free Forever DVD which didn't happen, as we know, who was in line to replace Koss? Rumours suggested it was going to be Slash?

Slash was on Simon's list, John Mayer [Grammy award winning blues guitarist - Ed] was on mine.

In 2008, you nailed your colours to the mast with your unequivocal support for Barack Obama. As an American resident, what do you feel he will do for you, America and the world?

Apart from his intelligence, and that of his wife, his being a constitutional lawyer, which has been shredded in the last 8 years, I sense bottom line it will be his ability to inspire hope that will win the day. The current global financial mess, although started by liars and cheats, is slow getting it's footing back because of a lack of confidence. Before you or I do anything, we must summon the will. And although we may be qualified, without the 'will' to do it, it won't be done. Obama inspires people to 'do what they do' and put it into the collective for everyone's benefit. Like with me. I can't vote, or campaign or make political contributions, but I can do what I do - make music - express my opinion in the loudest possible way, and that can contribute as much or more. He brings that out in people.

He also seems like he will rally republicans to his cause too. Realizes the wagon is so far in the ditch, it will take all shoulders behind the wheel to get it out.

This is speculation on my part. But I suspect if Bush/Cheney and the gang are indicted, as many want, Obama may end up pardoning them, so as not to be a distraction to getting things moving forward. As Nixon was pardoned, as Mandela raised S. Africa up with forgiveness, as the Tutsi and Hutu found peace through forgiveness. This would be an incredibly tough decision, as many Obama supporters want vengeance.

One final question..writing a song that ended up getting played over two million times in the UK alone you presumably still love the song? For the record, what is your favourite Free song?

I never really 'loved' the song, or dislike it, but thought it was a good up-tempo 3-chord trick with some superficial lyrics, they weren't bad, but imagined rather than experienced. We got lucky and should be forever grateful.

I have trouble picking just one song, but tend to lean towards things like "Soon I will be gone" - "Be my friend" etc.

Andy, thank you and best wishes from the Friars people here in Blighty! We look forward to the new album.

Pleasure

Andy's official website

This interview and its content are 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission. 

 
 
 

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