It has been a quiet weekend for me for once, no place to play on Friday, no place to play on Saturday. But that has given me more time to try to memorize a new song and also to continue reading this thing I’ve been reading on my computer since the Canadian Grand Prix. And of that, I am really excited. I just love reading friends’ book manuscripts, and I can truly say I have never had one quite like this one. In Montreal, when I attended that Charnobyl Voice evening of music, I did so with a Formula 1 friend and colleague, fellow F1 journalist, Mark Hughes. During the evening Mark let out – after I complimented him once again on an amazing book he did with and on the life of a racing car driver named Tommy Byrne – that he had just finished doing another similar book. But this time it was on the bass guitar player from the 1970s band Free, whose biggest hit was “All Right Now.”
Yup, I had heard him correctly. He told me a few more of the details. The book, titled “All Right Now” (what else could it be called?!), was done in the same style as his book on the racing car driver, called “Crashed and Byrned,” which is one of the best racing memoires I’ve ever read. That story was about Tommy Byrne, who was possibly one of the greatest racing drivers to make it into Formula One but never really get a chance at a top team, spending his five races in F1 in a back-of-the-grid team despite a massively promising career in the lower series. But the key to it was the interest of Byrne’s life growing up from nothing in Ireland, of Byrne’s voice telling the story, and of Hughes’ interjections telling bits of the story in his own voice to give an added layer to the whole.
So Hughes told me that he had now done the same on Andy Fraser, who was the bass player in Free, and creator with Paul Rodgers of most of the songs – like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards – including the big hit, “All Right Now.” He had approched the musician himself and proposed doing a book. Fraser agreed, and Hughes went on to meet him in California. So since reading friends’ manuscripts is one of my favorite activities, I immediately asked if I could read it – or he offered and I immediately jumped at the chance. The book is not yet published, but this thing is as good as the Byrne book and has a potentially much bigger public to reach.
So far the story is interesting not just to read up on what might otherwise be considered an obscure musician from the 70s – I mean, it’s not McCartney or Jagger – but also because as with the Byrne book, there’s a bigger, much bigger story here. Fraser joined and formed Free at like 16 years old in 1968. He was catapaulted to fame, never had a regular teenager’s life of discovery and only much later realized he was gay. Then he contracted AIDS. But not only did he not succumb to the disease, but he has surmounted it and lives a fully creative life. The book is full of this kind of message, and his life is an example. Fraser went on to write the hit song, “Every Kind of People,” for Robert Palmer in 1978. And he has also written hits for Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan, Rod Stewart and Paul Young. AND he has done solo albums, and continued to develop his music to this day. He is also nearly 60 years old and in amazing physical condition, seemingly relishing his unique life from, in his case, like Byrne’s, humble and unlikely origins.
But for me the real beauty of this book also is just to see how another musician created his life in music, and what I could not imagine when I started reading it, to have another – and unusual – look at the music scene of the last 50 years. I mean, this guy as a teenager actually played with John Mayall AND Alexis Korner. In fact, it was through dating Korner’s daughter that he met Korner and eventually got the gig with both Mayall and then met up with the future members of the band Free. While I still battle my way into the Keith Richards autobiography, I am filled with excitement in reading this one and won’t put it down – even though my computer printer is not working and I have to read it from a PDF!
I don’t know how happy either Mark or Andy Fraser would be for me to quote much from an unpublished book, but I did want to put in at least one nice bit from Andy, hoping that “fair use” copyright laws allows me to do so! Check out this bit Fraser says when talking early on about Free: “The thing that really made it feel unique was how we all gave each other space in our playing. That really stood out for me and it lent the whole sound a great power and spirit. It’s something I see in the great orators. You watch Barack Obama for example, and everything comes from silence. It starts off and you can hear a pin drop, that space in between is everything so that anything you add then has a big effect. A good speaker knows this, knows how to command silence; they begin softly and so when they start saying things with vigour it becomes incredibly powerful. We had that with Free, just naturally fell into that from the very first moment. Although people say they would love to hear Free together now, aside from the fact that Koss isn’t with us anymore, it could never be the same anyway because although everyone was talented, the most important thing was the spirit and what was in between the notes. That was derived from the respect we had for each other and the joint vision, how we each understood, without it being said, what we were trying to do. If you heard us now and there was no spirit you’d realized there were just some very simple riffs that didn’t mean much without spirit.”