As I write elsewhere on Just Backdated, my arrival at Melody Maker in the summer of 1970 coincided with ‘All Right Now’ becoming a huge hit and Free breaking big time. As a result I saw them several times, interviewed them – mostly Paul Rodgers – and travelled with them on the road. Looking back now I always thought that their bassist Andy Fraser, who died in California on Monday aged 62, put the spring in their step, his inventive, popping bass lines adding a unique resonance to this young, ambitious and innovative blues group.
Paul Kossoff was a strikingly original guitarist who instinctively knew that what you left out was as important as what you put in, Paul Rodgers had a wonderfully soulful voice and knew how to engage an audience and Simon Kirke was solid as a rock on drums. But of the four I think it was Andy’s bass lines that raised the group above the rank and file. He was also extraordinarily young, 17 going on 18 when ‘All Right Now’, which he co-wrote with Rodgers, reached number two that year.
The song was written hurriedly, according to Simon Kirke who recalls Andy coming up with the bass riff in a dressing room in Durham: “It was obvious that we needed a rocker to close our shows. All of a 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 10 minutes.”
Andy and Paul Rodgers co-wrote most of Free’s material but it was the tension between them that split the group, Andy being the first to leave and Kossoff’s drug problems taking the wind from their sails.
In an unpublished memoir written by Simon Kirke, Free’s drummer writes about the moment he and the rest of the group were told that ‘All Right Now’ was a hit: “I was sitting in my flat when the phone rang. It was Denise, the secretary at Island. ‘You have to come over now for a photo session. ‘All right now’ has gone from outside the top 50 to number four. All the music papers want interviews with you. I’m sending a car.’ Fuck me, there was a sign… Denise sending a car!
“And so began our ‘overnight success’. All those hundreds of gigs we had done, all the thousands of miles traveling the length and breadth of England were paying off. We had established a fan base and it was rock solid. We did Top Of The Pops which was a bit of a drag because we had to do it semi live. I say semi because the Musicians Union had stipulated that songs which were broadcast on the TV or radio had to have at least one member of the band playing live. I guess it guaranteed some musician a piece of work somewhere. Anyway Paul was quite happy to sing the song live. He was a consummate professional. We had one hurdle to cross though. The boys at the BBC were sure Paul was singing: ‘Raise the fucking rate’. We assured them the word was ‘parking’ but they refused to take our word for it and we had to play the vocal to them isolated from the rest of the tracks to ensure that indeed the word was ‘parking’. This show was broadcast to millions of people throughout Britain and within two weeks it had climbed to number two… where it stayed behind Mango Jerry’s ‘In The Summertime’. Thwarted by a jug band!”
It’s still a great song, should have been a number one. RIP Andy.