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
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......
Andy, thank you for agreeing to talk to us.
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
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
Just how big an influence on you at such a young age was the great
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
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
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.
general philosophy, we all had no doubt the band was gonna make it. 100%
Its difficult to imagine the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 playing
to over 500,000 people it must have been surreal?
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.
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.
FAW: 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.
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
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
Ultimately do you think that Kossoff could have been saved or was
just driving down that path regardless?
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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!
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?
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
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?
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?
was on Simon's list, John Mayer [Grammy award winning blues guitarist
- Ed] was
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?
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
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
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?
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
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.
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