Free’s bassist and songwriter recalls how the band’s biggest hit had its genesis in a less than successful live gig
Formed in 1968 as part of the Great British blues bloom that also spawned Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After and Jethro Tull, Free released their first two albums, Free and Tons Of Sobs, to critical acclaim but little commercial success. That changed when the single All Right Now helped drive their third long-player, Fire And Water, to No 2 in the UK charts and No 17 in the US in 1970.
The next few years saw them at the very top of the rock tree, but by 1973, it was all over: guitarist Paul Kossoff succumbed to his drug addiction and died in 1976, while vocalist Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke continued to find success with Bad Company. Bassist Andy Fraser, meanwhile, moved to the US and concentrated on songwriting for others. He recently released a new solo album called On Assignment, but here he recalls the writing of Free’s 1970 breakthrough hit.
“All Right Now was basically written because of this terrible gig we did at a college in Durham. We’d driven up there on a rainy Tuesday, it was cold and miserable and we got there in a pretty foul mood to be honest. And then we saw the audience… it was a venue that could hold 2,000 people, but there were only about 30 people there. And those 30 were all off their heads on Mandrax… it was pretty grim. But of course we went on anyway.
“Now usually, we could get up there on stage and it didn’t matter who was watching or whether they were getting into it… we’d just play for ourselves, basically, and have a good time. But this night, it just wasn’t happening… we absolutely sucked. And the audience were too out of it to even notice, which just made it all the more depressing, really.
“Afterwards, in the dressing room, there was just this horrible silence… a really bad atmosphere. So to try and alleviate the tension, I just started singing… y’know, ‘All right now, baby it’s all right now,” over and over, kind of like a parent trying to gee their kids along! But it worked, the rest of the band started tapping along and so I thought, we’re onto something here.
“The chords of the song were basically me trying to do my Pete Townshend impression… I actually wrote the riff on piano and then Kossoff transposed the chords to guitar, and he did a helluva job because that’s not always easy. Basically the chorus wrote itself, the chords took me about 10-15 minutes and then Paul [Rodgers] came up with the verses while he was waiting for a lift to a gig the next day.
“We really thought it was just kind of something light and throwaway – y’know, at last we’ve got an uptempo song, was basically all we were thinking! Because we were very serious boys you see, we liked to write songs we felt had some kind of depth, whereas All Right Now is just pure fantasy, really. And then [Island records boss] Chris Blackwell said he wanted to put it out as a single and we said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding’! Well, that was one of the few arguments we had with Chris that he won, and of course in the long run he was right.
“I still play the song today… I have to, I don’t think audiences would let me off the stage if I didn’t! It’s the same with Paul – he even has to sing it when he’s playing with Queen. And there are good and bad things about that… you try singing the same song for 40 years and you’ll see what I mean. But these days I just change the lyrics around a bit and have some fun with it.
“I don’t know if it’s actually the song I’d like to be remembered by, though. Every Kind Of People, which was one of the first songs I wrote when I moved to the States and which my dear, much-missed friend Robert Palmer, who I’d known from even before the Vinegar Joe days, ended up performing… that’s one I’m particularly proud of. And then of course there’s Heavy Load, Be My Friend, Soon I Will Be Gone, Sail On… I still love a lot of those old Free songs. That band’s music still really stands up for me… as I’m glad to say it seems to for other people, too!”