Time was when Genesis Publications, the Guildford-based company founded by George Harrison’s friend Brian Roylance, had the monopoly on expensive limited-edition rock books but they were joined a few years ago by Rufus Stone Limited Editions in Newbury, which specialises in hard rock. Now there’s another new kid on the block: This Day In Music Books, an offshoot of the website run by musician, PR and editor Neil Cossar which, as you might expect, lists music-related events on any particular day of the year. Yesterday, June 21, the day I began to write this, Columbia Records in 1948 in New York launched a new vinyl disc that spun at thirty-three and a third revs per minute. Caught on didn’t it?
TDIM Books have already published several conventionally priced music books but this is their first foray into the luxury book market. Rock’N’Roll Fantasy: The Musical Journey of Free and Bad Company, compiled by uber-fan David Roberts, is a full-colour 400-page large format book printed on art paper that in its £75 top-of-the-market edition is hard-cased with an accompanying bag of goodies like replica concert tickets, what looks like home photos and artwork prints. You can get the book on its own for a penny shy of £40.
And very nice it is too, though I must declare an interest since my reports for Melody Maker on Free and Bad Co occupy several pages within. Indeed, my arrival on MM in the summer of 1970 coincided with ‘All Right Now’ topping the UK charts, thus confirming Free’s ascendency to rock’s high table, at least until instability, competing egos, poor management and hard drugs forced them apart. I thus found myself covering them fairly closely, interviewing them and seeing several shows. Best of all was one in Sunderland on June 26, 1970, at the local Top Rank Suite. ‘Freemania broke out in Sunderland on Friday,’ I reported somewhat sensationally in one of my earliest MM concert reviews, which can be found in the book. Over 50 years later I can still recall the euphoric scenes as Free, on the cusp of greatness, triumphed on the singer’s home patch.
The truth is I loved Free. They weren’t naturals on Top Of The Tops miming to ‘All Right Now’ but they were naturals on stage: Paul Rodgers, an expressive, soulful, confident and sexy vocalist (1); Paul Kossoff, a tasteful guitar player who unlike many in his trade knew not just what to play but also just what to leave out; Andy Fraser, a bassist with an elastic style all of his own; and Simon Kirke, tough as old rope, solid and unfussy at the back, a handsome devil too. They had a spring in their step in those early days, the best young band of the year in my view, and I was massively disappointed they didn’t stay together for longer.
The rise and fall of Free occupies the first half of Rock’N’Roll Fantasy, with the rest of the book largely devoted to Bad Company aside from a few pages given over to other projects involving those former Freemen, like Fraser’s Sharks, Rodgers’ Peace, Kossoff’s Back Street Crawlers and, later, Rodgers’ solo work and his adventures with Jimmy Page and Queen. It is heavily illustrated with pictures of all the bands, record sleeves and miscellaneous memorabilia, and due tribute is paid to those members of the groups who have passed on.
The text is largely made up of long quotes from fans, friends and a few industry insiders, some famous, most simply devotees, stretching back from Rodgers’ early life in Middlesbrough to the present day. I was particularly amused by one quote from a fan who was arrested for fly-posting. In reality he was trying to remove a poster of Free from a wall so he could hang it in his bedroom. Since the book is authorised by Rodgers and Kirke, they contribute extensively throughout.
I was never as enamoured of Bad Company as I was with Free. I acknowledged that they were a solid, hard-rocking, hard-working four-piece band whose success was more or less inevitable, given that they included Rodgers and Kirke, along with Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and wild card bassist Boz Burrell, and were managed by Led Zeppelin supremo Peter Grant. Despite their success, I felt there was something predictable and rather formulaic about their music; as if – much like Queen – it was designed on a drawing board where essential requirements for success were ticked off according to market research. Still, they made it big and their fans loved them, as can be seen from the citations from the many admirers who have contributed to this book.
I saw Bad Co several times, the most memorable in New York’s Central Park on September 4, 1974, when Jimmy Page, watching from the side-lines, hopped up on stage to jam with them on their closing number, much to the horror of Foghat whose unenviable task it was to follow them. My review of that night is also in the book, as is my report from California when they performed two nights at Winterland in San Francisco and a night later at the LA Forum, where once again members of Zep stepped up on stage to boost the excitement to fever pitch. A picture taken that night made MM’s front page the following week.
What I didn’t mention in MM at the time, for obvious reasons, was that on Bad Co’s Viscount jet from SF to LA I was sitting minding my own business when one of their roadies came down the aisle and whispered in my ear, “Peter wants to see you.” It was like being summoned to face the judge. I made my way to the private room at the back of the plane where Peter Grant was holding court with some of the band. On a table in front of him was a big mound of cocaine. Peter offered me some and I partook. “Did you enjoy the show?” he asked quite pleasantly.
“Er, yes Peter.”
“Well, mind you say so in that paper of yours. You can go now.”
There was a big smile on Peter Grant’s face but the hint of menace he conveyed is as memorable today as that night all those years ago in Sunderland with Free.
(1) One day in 1972, during one of his periodic bouts of dissatisfaction with Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore confided in me that he thought Paul Rodgers was the best young singer in the UK and wanted to form a band with him. “Can you have a word with him?” Ritchie asked, knowing that I knew Free. I never did.