recently released Free Forever double-DVD,
the British rock and roll Wild Bunch is offered up for reappraisal for both the
older and younger generation. All hail the late, great guitarist Paul Kossoff.
By Rick Allen
Free’s Paul Kossoff was a wonder of a guitarist. A
demon when it came to tone and vibrato, Kossoff would have changed the way the
whole book was written had he lived another decade or two beyond his 25th birthday. With “The Voice” Paul Rodgers on vocals and a rhythm section-Andy
Fraser on bass and Simon Kirke on drums- to rival Jones and Bonham, out of all
the great late-’60s/early-‘70s British blues-rock acts, Free channeled the true
blues spirit like no other – as evidenced on the recently-issued 2-DVD Free Forever (Eagle Rock Entertainment; www.eaglerockent.com).
But internal strife, substance abuse and a bad
break or two meant that they couldn’t sustain the momentum generated by their
hit “All Right Now” (still a classic rock radio staple) and they became one of
the great “what if” stories in rock and roll. Perhaps Free’s greatest asset after Rodgers’
voice and Kossoff’s guitar is the natural enthusiasm and controlled abandon with
which they made music. They seemed like four guys who would have been just as
happy playing in a pub for fifty people as for tens of thousands as they did at
their famous Isle of Wight show, one of their
highest moments some video of which is included in this set. Except for Fraser, who could be a bit of a
dandy (and in recent years came out of
the closet, not that that factoid is necessarily relevant, but still… – Fact Checking Ed.) they looked like
they were four guys who got up, put on whatever was clean, and went to work. In
the interview section of the DVD we find they did just that, usually performing
in the same clothes they wore driving to the gig.
This set collects pretty much all of the available
footage of the band so there is a little padding, including four versions of
“All Right Now” and three of “Mr. Big.” Several other songs come around twice
but each take has something to recommend it (though the silent concert footage
that takes up a good part of one disc is definitely a fans only feature). The
live audio of their Isle of Wight show is less
so, and might as well have been released separately as a CD, since only part of
the concert was captured on film. There are two edits of that footage and the
rest of the audio is played over candid snapshots, publicity photos and shots
of ticket stubs and other memorabilia. It’s great to listen to but for viewing,
once around will probably do.
A touching encapsulation of Kossoff’s downward
spiral featuring childhood photos is handled the same way. To see Kossoff as a
chubby, smiling but sad-eyed little kid is to recognize some of the reasons
behind the drug and alcohol abuse that led to his early death. Overweight kids
don’t always grow out of the sense of isolation and insecurity, the scars that
come with being that way. Even as a fairly normal weight adult, with his pink
skin and red beard Kossoff looks like an overgrown gnome, softer and less
sexually lethal than the criminally thin Fraser and Rodgers.
That said, when Kossoff plays, there’s a look of
anguished ecstasy on his face, his mouth forming words but his guitar doing the
speaking, screaming, wailing.
It’s magnificent to see and hear, and it does much
to illustrate the greatness of the band. Watching Free it’s hard not to feel
that they made rock and roll music the way it was meant to sound, taking its
blues roots and developing them along natural lines.
Among the extras are interviews with the surviving
members of the band and two rather odd videos from Fraser’s post-free solo
career in which he comes across somewhat like a pumped-up, bare-chested hipper
version of Peter Allen (…ahem… see above.
– Archival Ed.) not quite what you would expect from a founding member of a
band as down to earth as Free but, you know, chacun a son gout and all that.
The package might have had a better flow if it had
been edited down to a single disc, but better too much than too little. (You got that right, sir. Free was one of the
greats, and I saw ‘em in concert myself. – Fanboy Ed.) With Free Forever we have a welcome retrospective of a rock and roll
Wild Bunch that held out as long as they could against the slick plastic disco/haircut
band/drum machine horrors that were already beginning to infect popular music. It
was all right then and it’s all right now.