Our strength lies in our simplicity.
Free, the quintessential essence of blues based simplicity, was, and still is, a four-piece band to be reckoned with. For as simple and as straightforward as Messer’s. Paul Rodgers, Paul Kossoff, Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke were, they covered a seemingly endless terrain of groove induced, and influential musical canvas.
To be sure, it’s hard to come across a musician who hasn’t in some form or another, been influenced by their music. Everyone from Paul Weller to Ritchie Blackmore, XTC to Peter Green, Lynyrd Skynyrd to Ocean Colour Scene professes an unusually high regard for the band – a quality normally only associated with the likes of The Beatles and Bob Dylan. But unlike Dylan and The Beatles – who have had literally thousands of books written on and about them – it’s really hard to find any literature on Free. A questionably dubious state of affairs, which makes this rather excellent book by David Clayton and Todd K. Smith, all the more cognisant and rewarding, as well as poignant and compelling.
I’ve played with some of the greatest guitar players in the world since then (Free) and never had the rapport I had with Koss.
Replete with a great collection of black and white photographs and (fans) recollections, a Forward by former Island boss Chris Blackwell and an Introduction by Al Kooper, Heavy Load – Free is clearly a work of devout admiration and love. It appears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a way as to be both applauded and admired; one prime and ultimate reason being that of Paul Kossoff. For as much as the authors are in translucent awe of the guitarist, they have declined to write of Kossoff’s inevitable demise in a sycophantic manner.
This in itself, is indeed commendable, as there’s a multitude of authors, who, given the choice, might otherwise have chosen a rather more obsequious path. But herein, are two writers who have opted to tell it as it (probably truly) was.
For this reason alone, is this book all the more credible and fascinating.
Koss was a very funny guy, he could have done his own sitcom. He was so bright, so funny, he kept us cracked up.
Following on the from the aforementioned Forward (‘’When I first heard Free play in the Marquee Club in London, their forceful sound appealed to my roots in black music. I loved their drive, their rhythm feel, and their roots in blues’’) and Introduction (‘’Forget The Stones, forget The Beatles, the greatest band that ever lived was Free…’’), are biographies of all four members of the band, written in such a way as to be endearingly embraced.
Perhaps unbeknown to many, Paul Kossoff actually wanted to change his name: ‘’He said to me and Stuart, ‘What do you think of Heath Stonefield? It has a very grandiose sound to it, don’t you think?’ […] ‘Why do you want to change your name?’ asked Stuart, ‘ You don’t look anything at all like a Heath Stonefield.’ Paul’s answer back was, ‘Who ever heard of a Jewish blues player named Kossoff.’’’
Following on from the biographies, it’s a helter-skelter ride through the trials and tribulations of one of Britain’s finest ever bands. In chronological order, the two authors write of the band’s never ending tours, recording techniques, inevitable internal problems and initial break-up; then the band’s re-union and Kossoff’s harrowing drug abuse, resulting in the band’s permanent demise and sadly, Paul Kossoff’s death at the age of 25 in 1976.
In ‘Shooting Star’ there’s a line, ‘Johnny died one night/Died in his bed/Bottle of whiskey and sleeping tablets by his head,’ every time that line would come up while we were finishing up that 1976 tour, I’d burst into tears. I’d try to put it down to sweat in my eyes. Then after that song, I’d come off the rostrum while Paul did ‘Seagull,’ and that would give me a chance to recover.
Tenderly researched and compiled by two fans for literally thousands and thousands of fans, Heavy Load – Free really is something of a benchmark when it comes to books on bands. Other than being a very worthy testament to a very worthy (yet surprisingly under-rated band), David Clayton & Todd K. Smith can feel enormously proud of having put together an altogether brilliant and highly readable book.
I feel proud just to have it – and all I’ve done is reviewed it!