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Andy Fraser

Continuing Pete Sargeant’s lunchtime conversation with master bassist and musician ANDY FRASER….

FH: Thing is…we saw Paul (Rodgers) again not long ago and in many ways you are in the same place creatively, he is very enthusiastic about making music still and you seem more enthusiastic than ever, with McTrax happening and all – unless you’re acting, of course..

AF: (Laughs) Ha! I wish I could act!

So in a way, whatever gulf there was that evolved between you two…it might be history

Yeah, but probably the last chance was this recent thing (2012 Olympics gig – PS)..see, we all agreed between ourselves to do the show…the opening… and that went all sideways , that was the first time we’d ever agreed

This was with Simon, who we saw at Ronnie’s Chess show in London and drumming alongside Andy Newmark….

We were rehearsing down at Sensible the week before they came in, so we knew of the show…

Simon (Kirke)…peacemaker?

(Emphatically) Yes!!!! In Free, me and the two Pauls, we were three very different, distinct and strong characters and probably well and equally matched to keep each other in control. Simon had the ability to see three different perspectives and a way to pull them all together.

Yes, and not just musically but to sort of up the group effort I suppose. We’re a band lads, let’s…

Yeah, he definitely was a peacemaker and was able to bring three different people into the same space.

I’ve never met him. But maybe I will. He seems to have a bass player’s’ not mentality, but ambience about him. It’s usually the bass player that’s the steadier and the peacemaker. The guy who doesn’t wanna make a fuss or hog the spotlight. Or be uppity.


Was it Wilson Pickett who covered the song ‘Fire and Water’?

It was sent to us very shortly after he recorded it because in order to cover someone else’s song you always need to get permission from the publishers so we were aware that he was going to do it.

Who wrote ‘Fire and Water’?

Paul (Rodgers) started it and I helped to finish it.

When I heard his version, I actually thought he was influenced by Paul. I thought that was weird that at the age he was he had Wilson Pickett sing a song he’d co-written.

We LOVED it !!

Did you meet Wilson?

Not at the time. We were big fans of both Wilson and Otis (Redding). So it was a huge compliment

Apparently, when Wilson heard the song he just said ‘I’m recording this’ and no one argued with him. ‘Fire and Water’ was very much a breakthrough album for you wasn’t it? That’s the one that’s got ‘Mr Big’ and ‘Remember” and ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’, ‘Heavy Load’, and ‘Oh I Wept.’ However, I think ‘Free Live’ was the next to be released? And that had ‘The Hunter’, the Albert King song. The impression I’m getting from talking to you is that Koss would have liked to have done that type of sound as the core of Free.

No, you’re right. He found everything other than straight blues quite challenging and you know he was quite surprised by the turn that the band took from his original concept, a Jeff Beck type thing.

So what did it do to his head when he heard ‘My Brother Jake’ and it shot to number four?

He was already having a hard time. I mean ‘My Brother Jake’ was completely out of his field and even the whole band… I mean Paul (Rodgers) was into it, but the band banged it out. Whereas, if we’d given it more thought, I thought it could have actually grown more than it did. When we sort of knocked it out it was like a pub song

Yeah, it tends to get played on stations where they like the Strawbs ‘Part of the Union’. There was a Jake wasn’t there?

It was indeed, Pete, based on a close friend of ours and I didn’t use his name I used Jake. But I liked the name Jake. It was Horace Faith and he loved it

Was he connected with Island?

No, he just used to hang around I would have loved to have got him connected. He was a great guy, good voice, very rudimentary in his music but so is Bob Marley when you get down to it

The album that most interests me and I don’t know whether you agree was ‘Highway’. ‘Highway’ is almost your ‘White Album’ of four people going or about to go separate ways. There are some songs on here I really do like. But are you fond of ‘Highway’?

I love ‘The Stealer’ and ‘The Highway Song’… ‘Be My Friend’ I love, too

I can’t get the tempo of ‘On My Way’-  I just can’t work out- what the tempo is!?

Wow…yeah there are certain songs which I did call on the offbeat and it’s very difficult to get back on. You’ve obviously been stuck on the offbeat from the beginning. ‘Ride On Pony’ is good. ‘Soon I Will Be Gone’ I love. ‘Bodie’ was a bit experimental. It’s adventurous.

‘Bodie’ was a long way from blues wasn’t it?

Yeah. It was basically Paul. You know, going off on a tangent and I liked his adventurous spirit even when it wasn’t totally successful. There’s lots of songs on here I really like. I actually ‘The Stealer’ was written, recorded and mixed in the same night and we were really thrilled out of our minds. And then Blackwell heard it when Andy Johns woke him up and said ‘you’ve gotta hear this’. He came down and just said ‘that’s the next single’. But I think, having had time to reflect, if we’d been given just a little more time then it could have been a hit and it wasn’t.

You can say that about… I mean I listen to that record and I think that if I was producing I would have put horns on ‘Ride on Pony’.

Well they wouldn’t be out of place. We were gigging and we’d take two weeks off to record an album

That’s all you got then

Yeah that was it

What about other Island artists? Did you ever run into Fairport?

Well, we gigged with all of them. Traffic, Jethro Tull a lot, Spooky Tooth.

(We speak about the banter at the time over who was the best guitarist of the day)

The only way to measure is how much someone moves you. They’re not ‘better’ than others. It’s funny that you’d hear in that record a band going separate ways. Because we were really pleased with this. We were most in harmony at that time. The fact that we wrote, mixed and recorded ‘The Stealer’ in one night shows that we were on the same page.

I think what it is that there’s the feel that the next album is  gonna see a further… well not a splintering but like the moving away of the personalities, from each other. I get it and I enjoy it and to me it particularly has the cohesion BUT I didn’t think there would be a real follow-up to ‘Highway’.

And you were right

What do you recall about ‘Free – At Last?

Difficult. Very difficult. Kossov was already pretty out of it. I mean you’d go out to like put on a solo and he’d literally fallen asleep over his guitar. Paul Rodgers had all ready decided that we’d done things my way and it didn’t work. Now we were gonna do things his way and I think there were some songs on here that were murdered particularly ‘Guardian of the Universe’ which I think is an unbelievable song and it’s really a lullaby. I think it needed to be treated with that sort of sympathy. He goes out and hammers it out on the piano and says to Kirke stick on some drums. So sergeant major goes out and gets on some drums put on. It’s like – what are you doing ?! But there wasn’t enough communication. He was looking at me like I wasn’t there and so for the first time I was like …oh ****!

Your book does go into, for the first time, why Free split up as a band and in a nutshell how’d you put it?

Me and Paul were just going in different directions and it stems from that.

Prematurely? Or was it time for it to happen?

Well I mean originally I could see us climbing mountains and reaching horizons like the Beatles did. And we never did. So it was obviously premature but the way things went that’s what happened. There came a point when we had to say this is not happening. We are not loving this like we used to. This is hell. This is torment. We’d go on stage and Kossof five minutes behind and you and me wanna be doing different things. Be honest, this isn’t happening

Simon and Paul, this was a revelation to them that you and Rodgers had come to that conclusion, is that right?

That’s probably true but I didn’t… I would have to make an assumption as I’m not in either one of their heads.

They knew about the split of Free after you and Paul (Rodgers) came to that conclusion ?.

We may have all been together, but I can’t remember.

What was Blackwell’s reaction?

He’s always very sad but accepting. He’d never been the type of guy that forced his artists to do anything. He may have given to much credit too his artists and freedom and latitude. He was probably the only one who we all had enough respect for who might of said ‘listen guys why don’t you just take six months off or something’

Which would happen now but he was no Berry Gordy.

No right, exactly. Gordy would co up to Marvin Gaye and say what do you mean you’re not going on stage and smack him across the face.

Post-free… You don’t wanna talk about the Sharks do ya?


(We talk about the Sharks)

Now, someone we both know – Robert Palmer. The Yorkshireman. I met him probably when we were both eighteen and he was in a band called ‘Vinegar Joe’ with Elkie Brooks and Pete Gage. Talking after the show, he put me onto the two-guitar interplay on James Brown records

He turned me on to Marvin Gaye !

Now, how would you describe Robert?

Love him like a brother. The nicest guy. I used to go round when he still had a flat in Hampstead Heath and he played me Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ – completely blew the doors off. Oh man, thank you and I learnt so much from that. There was genuine love

He got on well with the Little Feat guys didn’t he? And the Meters?

Exactly. I was sort of blown away when he said he used to come and see Free. And with him being a great singer and all

He was one of the first people to get into Devo, covered ‘Girl You Want’. When you wrote with him it must have clicked I mean he was absolutely rooted in blues and soul.  When you wrote ‘Every Kinda People’ how did he react ?

I’d written it and he’d heard it and wanted to do it.

You do a version with Tobi nowadays don’t you? It’s a very enduring song. There’s a War song called ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’. We’re all humans together why on earth do we let anyone divide us?

That’s maybe a bit more of a pub song

It’s very gentle, why is that?

Probably because I am. I guess I was turning mellow and I wrote it just as I moved to the States and I was into no more rain, no more British taxes or English attitudes. Somewhere new. I don’t want to be part of a stock rock band. I want to branch out. Now,  where ever you go you can find good or bad. But I was sort of in rebellion to, Rodgers ‘ idea of being just having a stadium ready rock band. I wanted to have other elements like an RnB or a soul thing. I mean, listening to Marvin Gaye completely opened doors for me

Yes, ‘Inner City Blues’ is as relevant now as it was when it was written. Because governments heap the blame for everything on their poor

A good song is universal and not stuck in a time. I don’t actually write for other people. I just write songs. They get to hear them and want to do them

That very thing was said to me by Albert Hammond.

If you want a song by Diane Ross by ten o’clock tomorrow morning, on’t call me. It ain’t gonna happen. Well if I got together with her over a stretch it might be fruitful. I can’t be a Tin Pan Alley type writer. It’s not really the way I work. I tend to express how I’m feeling. I write all the time. I’ve got shelf loads of songs. Sometimes, I’m quite shocked when I hear old songs I’ve written when I realise – wow that’s a good song. I just didn’t have the ability then   to know how to sing it properly or to perform it properly. But… it’s a great song.

When you’re writing songs often it’s the company you’re in. Say you had a song but you weren’t quite sure what to do with it you might find yourself in the studio with somebody good and it might come together.

That’s sort of what happens with Tobi. I mean he comes over and he’s got these ideas. Some have happened and some have just started but they’re all great ideas and I just work with it.

Next thing – he and I were talking about I think it was the first track on his album…

‘Here We Go’.

You’ve got this heartbeat thing there. And I said to him ‘what’s that heartbeat stuff’ and he said ..ha. Yeah….

While he was doing a vocal he did that sound and I loved the sound so much that I sampled it and used it as a sort of reggae organ.

I wanted to ask you about the era of your life when you realised you had gay tendencies or leanings which led you into a different way of living because you’re a family man, you’ve got two gorgeous daughters and suddenly you’re realising things about yourself that you hadn’t realised before. Did that affect you creatively? Did you look at your lifestyle and realise this has to change?

I got backed up against a wall. Because I’d been in self-denial all my life. I mean there was a compartment way in the back of my mind that knew. But I shut the door on it. There was such a stigma from everyone, from everywhere.

There weren’t people coming out then. I remember that era really well. I remember even in the late 50s early 60s there would be radio shows like ‘Julie and Sandy’. And it was accepted that a lot of people in acting were effeminate but it was kind of like a cissy thing. There wasn’t more to it than that. The emergence of the fact that same-sex couples wanted to live together as equal was a shock to most societies and it still is in some.  Did you want to explain yourself or be private or what ?

Well it took me ten, twenty years to go through that stage. It’s not like ‘I’m gay I’m gonna tell everybody’. It was really like coming to terms with it. Meeting other intelligent gay people lawyers, doctors. Getting past the stigma that had been implanted in my mind. Then coming to terms with it in a public way. Which I didn’t think I could climb that mountain because I couldn’t see the other side.

What did you fear though? Because as I understand it your family, your daughters were quite accepting of it.’ Dad feels that way, fair enough.’

Yeah. But that was only after a long time that I had worked on myself coming to terms with it. It was when they were eighteen or nineteen and they’d always seen me through child eyes. Now they were curious to know. They said is that all it was we thought maybe you didn’t love mum anymore? We’ve been close. We work together. It’s the best thing in the world.

Is it anybody’s business though?

Everybody has their own right to the amount of privacy they want. I have come to the place where because I’m gonna be public. I’m gonna let it all hang out. There are no secrets, I’m completely unburdened. And to coin a phrase – I’m free. I’ve been down where no amount of money, fame or amount of doctors or friends could help, I was that far gone. When everything loses its value you have to ask well isn’t there anything left? Is there nothing? That’s where you find God and start reflecting on that whole thing. And then having been lucky enough to come back …well, everything is a bonus. Feeling normal. You have no idea how wonderful feeling normal is !

See, you’re telling me I’m doomed! Because if I get in bad trouble I’ve got no religion at all. So there’s nothing in my armory to save me!

(Laughs) It’s irrelevant. God is very forgiving. And you’ll probably be just fine…

Thanks Andy, Sam & Glenn

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