When a band decide to split, the best time to do it is not when your new single is climbing the chart.
In 1970, Free were riding high with the anthemic All Right Now which reached number two in the British chart and sat there for four weeks behind Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime. Building on the momentum created by the international success of it and their acclaimed performance at the massive Isle Of Wight Festival in August 1970, their then-current album, Fire and Water enjoyed tremendous success in both US and UK.
The follow-up single, The Stealer and its parent album Highway, which was their fourth, sold poorly, confounding the band. “There was a lot of pressure on us to follow up Fire and Water” recalled drummer Simon Kirke, “After All Right Now became a hit we started touring countries rather than towns. But we just didn’t have the seasoning. I mean how do you follow All Right Now? We tried with The Stealer but we knew it wasn’t enough.”
Things started to look dismal especially with each other member of the band, Andy Fraser and Paul Kossoff turning to drugs, particularly the latter who, it was said, at the time to be drowning in mandrax, heroine and alcohol.
The Highway album offered fans a mellower perspective, as Fraser and Rodgers began to incorporate more outside influences into their compositions. This subtle change in musical direction created some tension within the band. “Highway was a very laid back album,” Kirke recalled, “We had broken out of twelve bar blues and had gotten heavily into Bob Dylan and The Band, especially Paul and Andy. The band’s Music from the Big Pink really turned us around. But even though I loved Levon Helm’s drumming, Kossoff and I were still into the blues.”
In March 1971, they were back in studio but after laying some new songs it was clear that the magic was over and that they had to split. Strangely, the destiny of the song My Brother Jake, which is surely written about Paul Kossoff, would contribute to bring them back together some months later. “The song’s UK-only success,” explained Simon Kirke, “Was almost anticipated. It was a very parochial song, clearly English, where The Stealer had more of an American flavour. Jake was very cheeky and all Andy Fraser, with pub piano, a jaunty beat and lyrics about someone pissing their lives away. Who couldn’t relate to that?”
It reached number four in British charts in May 1971 and stayed there 2 weeks. It was backed with Only My Soul, two songs that would only stay on singles and on various compilations. While the song descended the chart the band split up.
Fraser went off to form Toby with guitarist Adrian Fisher and drummer Stan Speaks, Paul Rodgers also formed a new group, fronting Stewart McDonald and Mich Underwood as Peace. While Peace opened for Mott The Hoople on their UK Tour, neither Peace nor Toby were commercially successful. Kossoff and Kirke were active as well, recruiting John ‘Rabbitt’ Bundrick on keyboards and bassist Tetsu Yamauchi (who later joined the Face) for an album simply known as Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu, Rabbitt
Having struggled in their projects, Free reformed in January 1972, touring the UK and beginning sessions for a new album called Free At Last. “We had only broken up for about six months,” remembers Kirke, “But that was long enough. When Andy and Paul had first decided to leave, I don’t think many steps were taken by anyone to change their minds. After Paul went off with Peace and Andy formed Toby, it was like for chrissakes guys, what are you pissing away? Let’s put this thing back together.”
While Free At Last and its accompanying single Little Bit of Love re-established the band commercially, a crippling mixture of old and new problems surfaced, again threatening the future of the group. The most serious of which was Kossoff’s on-going drug addiction which compounded his ill-health. Free would tour the US during the early summer of 1972, but Kossoff’s condition causing him to miss dates. On the eve of the group’s July tour of Japan, Andy Fraser abruptly departed and in July of 1973, Free disbanded for good.
Following Kossoff’s departure from the band, his drug addiction got worse and in 1976, on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, he died from drug-related heart problems. He was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium and his epitaph appropriately reads ‘All Right Now’.