How Free Finally Broke Through With ‘Fire and Water’
When British blues rock band Free entered the studio in January 1970 to work on their third record, everyone knew it was a real make-or-break moment. Despite the immense, raw talents of singer Paul Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff, their first two albums had hardly made a dent either in America or in their native Great Britain. The common perception was that they had potential, but they were just too green. Everything changed when they dropped Fire and Water on June 26, 1970.
Carried by the lead single “All Right Now,” which eventually made it all the way into the Top Five on the charts in the U.S. and in England, the album was a smash hit and Free suddenly found itself standing near the top of the rock and roll universe. A star-making turn in front of 600,000 people just a few months later at the Isle of Wight Festival all but cemented that position.
The spirit of the “All Right Now,” which was written by Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser, actually came from another song by bluesman Freddie King titled “The Hunter” that Free included on their debut record Tons of Sobs in 1969. As Rodgers explained to the Huffington Post, “We wanted our entire set to be original music. This was how we'd become regarded as a serious band. But, 'The Hunter' was a song we could never lose, because it had the right mood. 'They call me the hunter, a pretty young girl like you is my only game.' So light and easy. So, okay, we can't drop that song, but what we can also do is write one that's inspired by that song. With the same lightness of touch, lyrically. You know, 'pulling chicks, and yay! everything's cool.' And that's where 'All Right Now' was born out of, really."
More than just a vehicle for a single hit song, Fire and Water is a tight, eclectic record filled with balls-out rockers like the title track, funky blues pieces like “Mr. Big,” as well as sultry ballads like “Don’t Say You Love Me” and “Oh I Wept.” The rhythm section, with Fraser on bass and Simon Kirke on drums, are as tight as can be, but it's the vocal flourishes of Rodgers – along with the Kossoff’s signature guitar vibrato – that really what set the music apart from anything anyone else was doing at the time.
Unfortunately, just about a year after releasing Fire and Water, Free decided to call it a day. Their follow-up record Highway and the single “The Stealer” performed disappointingly, and Kossoff’s addiction to heroin made it difficult for the band to carry on. "That was a monster hit for us, and it was a bit of a double-edged sword, really," Kirke said in 2010. "We became our own worst enemies, I believe. We sort of crumbled under the pressure. There was no letup from that crazy merry-go-round."
Free reformed once again a year later and made another two records before disbanding for good in 1973. Sadly, Paul Kossoff wasn't able to overcome his addiction to hard drugs and died of a heart attack on a flight from L.A. to New York on March 19, 1976. Kirke and Rodgers later formed the supergroup Bad Company with Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell, while Fraser would continue to create music with a variety of outfits until his death in March 2015.
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