This epic chronicles the story of the seminal British blues/rock band Free. Leaving no stone unturned, and with the help of more than 400 photos, authors David Clayton and Todd K. Smith have painstakingly detailed the rise and fall of the band from its early pub gig days in late-’60s London through the massive chart success of “All Right Now,” to the varied fortunes of vocalist Paul Rodgers, drummer Simon Kirke, bassist Andy Fraser, and guitarist Paul Kossoff (VG, May ’00).
Obviously a labor of love, Clayton and Smith have transformed the magic of Free’s music and the chemistry of the band into print through conversation with the surviving members and others, including Al Kooper, Chris Blackwell, Andy Johns, Ritchie Blackmore, and more. Given the perspective associated with the passage of time, the writers are able to give Free its place in rock history as a significant and important musical force.
While never enjoying the huge commercial success of their contemporaries in Led Zeppelin, Free’s early live performances were legendary and often shattered attendance records set by The Rolling Stones and The Who in their native U.K. Heavy Load reads like a comprehensive who’s who of late-’60s/early-’70s rock bands, particularly those British.
The story within is of the genius and tragedy of Paul Kossoff, whose early playing earned him legions of fans, including Eric Clapton. But sadly, the drug use present in his life since late childhood eventually destroyed his body and contributed to his untimely death in March of ’76, at age 25.
Of particular interest to guitar aficionados are the descriptions and superb photographs of Kossoff’s instruments (most are late-’50s Gibson Les Pauls) and amplifiers we now consider vintage and collectible.
In a time of cookie-cutter approach to musical biographies on TV music channels, Heavy Load paints Kossoff, Kirke, Fraser, and Rodgers as vibrant-yet-human musicians, not Spinal Tap-ish caricatures. The quality of the writing and the drama of the story ensures it will appeal to fans and non-fans alike.
At $58 ($35 for the book, $23 for shipping from England) Heavy Load is not cheap, but it’s arguably one of the best books ever written about a rock band, and it’s the definitive Free book.
England: Moonshine Publishing, 2001, Hardcover 281 pages, $35 plus $20 shipping
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.