These days, Free is mostly remembered for their seminal hit, All Right Now, but Free's original band members - Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke, Paul Kossoff, and Andy Fraser - have left their indelible mark on rock history, long after Free ceased to exist in 1973.
Fomed in London in 1968, Free initially came into being as a result of the encouragement and support of British blues entrepeneur Alexis Korner, who provided the name and also introduced bassist Andy Fraser into the mix. Andy knew Alexis through his friendship with Korner's daughter Sappho, and Korner's relationship with Andy was that of a surrogate father. At the time, Andy was only 15, but like young Mick Taylor before him, had already cut his musical teeth with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. The rest of the band were only teenagers themselves. Paul Rodgers was 19, as was drummer Simon Kirke, and lead guitarist, Paul Kossoff was 18.
Free were signed almost immediately to Chris Blackwell's Island Records, and their first two albums, Tons of Sobs, and Free didn't exactly race up the charts. The music is indicative of the players' blues influences, via stints in blues bands like Black Cat Bones (where Simon and Paul first met) and Brown Sugar, Paul Rodgers' first outfit. Tons of Sobs was a studio rendition of the live set, while Free was the beginning of departure from the strict blues influence, and the introduction of Paul Rodgers' powerful rock vocal sound.
However, with the release of Fire and Rain, their third studio effort, the band broke out with the smash single All Right Now. This song firmly established the band at the top of the charts in both the UK and America, and ensured them a spot on the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, where they played for 600,000 people.
Riding on the success of Fire and Rain and All Right Now, another album was rush-released in September of 1970. The pressure was on. Paul and Andy began squabbling, and Paul Kossoff got into a massive drug habit, notably with Mandrax, a soporific which also contributed to the death of Jimi Hendrix. The drug was later outlawed in the UK, and has never been available in the US.
Free broke up temporarily in April 1971. The record company released Free Live in 1971 to try and capitalize on the break-up, but after resolving some of their disagreements, the band reformed in 1972, and released Free At Last, while returning to the studio to record what turned out to be their final album, Heartbreaker.
In January 1973, as Heartbreaker was released, Andy Fraser finally quit for good. Paul Kossoff was deep into his addiction, and his health was failing. Realizing it was useless to go on, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke formed Bad Company with Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople and Boz Burrell of King Crimson. Managed by Peter Grant, whose hand was also on the tiller of Led Zeppelin's huge success, Bad Company went on to become one of the first supergroups of the 1970s.
In 1975, Paul Kossoff was doing well enough to put Backstreet Crawler together, and Paul and Simon invited Kossoff to join them on stage for a couple of shows. A tour of the UK was set to kick off in April 1976 with Bad Company and Backstreet Crawler on a double bill. But Kossoff slipped back into drug problems and resultant health issues. On March 19, 1976, on a flight from LA to New York, Paul Kossoff died of a heart attack, attributable to his addiction. He was 26. He is still regarded as one of the top blues-rock guitarists.
Andy Fraser went on to form Sharks and The Andy Fraser Band. He later moved to California and continued to work in music - his composition "Every Kinda People," recorded by Robert Palmer, is probably his best known song. At this writing, Andy is still working in music in Southern California, and recently played some local gigs.
Simon Kirke has lately been an instructor in a high-dollar Rock Music Camp.
Paul Rodgers recently toured with Queen, as Queen featuring Paul Rodgers. The successful concerts were taped for a Queen DVD We Are The Champions. Paul is set for a solo tour of the UK, starting in September 2006.