One of Britain’s finest blues guitarists came into the world on this day in 1950 – Paul Kossoff. Cruelly, he would spend only 25 years on it, during which time the band he provided with such soulful guitar playing – Free – achieved worldwide success following their third album, 1970’s Fire and Water (it boasted a massive Top Five single in ‘All Right Now’, a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic and still a staple of classic rock stations everywhere) which was bolstered further by a memorable performance at the Isle of Wight festival that same year.
Here’s the song, you all know it, with footage from the Isle of Wight; but you might not have seen this tight performance – ‘Mr Big’.
Due to band differences, and in no small part to Kossoff’s increasingly fragile state of health following problems with drugs, Free split up in 1971, which served to further fuel his deterioration. With Free drummer Simon Kirke, Kossoff immediately released the album Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit, a collaboration with bassist Tetsu Yamauchi and keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick.
Free reformed the following year, but the union was short-lived and they split for good in ’73. Once more, Kossoff threw himself into work; there was a solo album before the year was out called Back Street Crawler, containing contributions from all the members of Free and previous collaborators, followed by a tour with John Martyn (who himself appears on Back Street Crawler – on the haunting, bluesy instrumental duet, ‘Time Away’). The album provided Kossoff’s new group with a name and Back Street Crawler swiftly released two albums: The Band Plays On and Second Street – in 1975 and 1976 respectively.
His former band mates (Simon Kirke, now playing behind lead singer Paul Rodgers), meanwhile, were finding success with their new band, Bad Company. A double-headline tour of the UK was scheduled for 1976 to support Back Street Crawler’s Second Street and Bad Company’s Run with the Pack albums.
However, Kossoff’s health was rapidly declining if his addiction was not. On a flight from Los Angeles to New York in March 1976, barely a month before the start of the tour, he suffered a fatal heart attack; another tragic casualty of rock and roll excess and insecurity, just like his hero Jimi Hendrix, whose death six years previously was said to have affected him so.
Do remember the talent that was Paul Kossoff today and please send in your personal recommendations from a sadly slight, but immense nonetheless, catalogue of work. My favourites will always be the well-known Free numbers (‘Wishing Well’, ‘My Brother Jake’, ‘The Stealer’), but for proof, if you need it, of why Paul Kossoff deserves all the accolades in death that couldn’t spare him in life, have a listen to ‘Moonshine’ from Free’s debut album Tons of Sobs. Beautiful.
This week’s chat, by the way, is on Thursday at 4pm (UK). Hope to see you there.