If you’ve ever had to learn a set of classic rock covers for gigging or simply good-time jamming purposes, this list will invariably have included Free’s most famous and most successful song, Alright Now. Although the bass part in the chorus is tight, funky and bursting with classy variations, the real fun comes in having to cleanly execute the tricky riff with its repeated high-register melody under Paul Kossoff’s guitar solo. The author of this, and co-author of the song itself, is Andy Fraser.
Born in London on 7 August 1952, Fraser played piano, graduating to guitar aged 12. When his school friends decided to form bands a bass player was needed, so Fraser tuned his Lucky Air-Stream 3 guitar down an octave. Because of his mixed-race background Fraser initially played with West Indian musicians but this changed when he discovered The Beatles. Two legends of British blues were then instrumental in launching Fraser’s career: Alexis Korner took the 15-year old under his wing and recommended him to John Mayall, and when Fraser hooked up with Paul Kossoff, drummer Simon Kirke and singer Paul Rodgers, Korner suggested the name… Free.
Of the six albums this line-up recorded, the third, Fire And Water (1970), was by far the most successful and briefly turned Free into major world stars. By 1973 it was all over, due to personal differences between Fraser and Rodgers and Kossoff’s burgeoning drug addiction. Fraser quit in 1972 and after a number of unsuccessful projects, including Sharks with Chris Spedding, relocated to California to concentrate on songwriting. As well as penning hits for Joe Cocker and Chaka Khan, Fraser wrote the wonderful Every Kinda People for a side project and the late, great Robert Palmer turned it into another huge hit.
Fraser played a short-scale Gibson EB-3 with Free, and there’s much to admire in his slightly unusual approach. His lines are packed with melodic variation, often incorporating high-register figures like one of his heroes, Paul McCartney, while exposure to Motown’s James Jamerson fertilised his grooves with funky, staccato phrasing. It was this approach, together with the unusually tight, burpy tone (unusual for an EB-3, that is), which helped set Free apart from the hundreds of bands cutting the same stylistic furrow in the early ’70s.
Fraser released Naked... And Finally Free in 2005, his first solo album in over 20 years.