Page 10 R.A.T.W.
The recent sudden death of PAUL KOSSOFF left those of us who knew him with a feeling of loss that will not ease with the passage of time because he was one of the prime figures among modern electric guitarists.
There can be little doubt that the electric guitar was the foundation on which were laid the floorboards of rock ‘ n’ roll. The sixties were both the high point and the melting pot for rock’s guitar geniuses. The names read like an honor roll: JEFF BECK. JIMMY PAGE, ERIC CLAPTON, ALVIN LEE, ROBERT FRIPP. JIMI HENDRIX, ROBIN TROWER… the list goes on and on. Some have made it successfully to the seventies playing in the same vein, some have radically altered their style, some have withdrawn from the scene… and some are no longer with us. Our purpose here is to pay tribute to PAUL KOSSOFF; he was never fully recognized in the late sixties, and had to shake a series of almost crippling bad breaks just to be able to make music again. He was responsible for ‘All Right Now’ and ‘The Stealer’ as well as creating a distintive style of playing.
Self-admitted drug problems, the lack of a ‘killer instinct’ and self-confidence, and several assorted health ailments with a nearly fatal blood clot-heart attack late last summer being a forerunner of things to come) had, to say the least, hindered Paul Kossoff. It’s hard to believe that FREE hit the big time seven years ago. and that when Paul died, he was still only 2A. Last year after wheting the public’s taste with his fine ‘Back Street Crawler’ solo 1p, the word went out that Paul Kossoff had a new band and was ready to go on the road again. The heart attack fouled up those plans with the result that touring was initially delayed. During his recovery period, Paul spoke with RATW about his career, He was candid and firm in his resolve to play again. Ironically, his conversation with us was one of the last interviews he did, and his thoughts at that time reflect his determination to make music no matter what it cost him…
RATW: Paul, you wanted to do a series of albums with different size bands. Now that you have this band (Back Street Crawler), do you still want to follow that format?
Paul: Well, when I’ve done quite a bit more with this band and we have a break, I think I’m going to want to try something different… recording-wise. I’ve put all my energies into this band, so I haven’t really formed an idea of what I might do…
RATW: Your guitar sound changed significantly between the first Free album and the second one. Looking back, can you remember what it was that made you change?
Paul: The first album was sort of… we just went in and played everything we did, sort of live and straight off, almost. The second album was much more of a studio album. We were beginning to form some sort of way of doing things, things we carried through to the following albums.
RATW: Do you prefer playing live to doing studio work? Paul: I like both, but I really love playing live.
RATW: Do you think that self-confidence is as important to a performer as talent?
Paul: Oh yeah, it’s at least as important; I think the two things go hand-in-hand. You lose one, you lose the other.
RATW: Terry (Terry Wilson-Slesser, lead singer), how did you get involved with Back Street Crawler?
Terry: I was in a band called Beckett for five years, and they sort of just ground to a halt. We tried everything, we toured with nearly every band in England. We tried every approach and we weren’t getting anywhere. Our guitarist quit, and we were due to do a second album with CBS, and I asked Paul if he would play lead guitar on a session basis, and in the back of my mind, I would’ve liked for him to join the band, but because of some problems with the record corn pa nies, it didn’t happen. They wanted to split Beckett up altogether, and throw me into Mott The Hoople. ‘cuz Ian Hunter had just left at that time, which I turned down. Paul was with us for two weeks in Beckett rehearsing, and he had to go back to London because it wasn’t gonna happen. I turned down the Mod job, and CBS sort of put Beckett on a shelf, so I had to do something, and Paul phoned me up and asked me if I would be interested in forming a new band, and I said yeah, definitely.
RATW: How did the rest of the band get together? Why did you use American musicians as opposed to English musicians?
Paul: Um m… well, all the time after Free split up, I never really met anybody that I played with that I got off with, you know what I mean, where… something happened, but I remember playing with Terry and him telling me about this bass player and drummer. They were friends of Rabbit (John Bundrick, keyboardist who has spent time with Free and many other bands, and is currently the keyboard player for Back Street Crawler) from Texas, and I got to know them through Rabbit. I remember havin’ played with them in a basement in London, and it was really good, you know, sparks flew, and I remembered it so when it came time to time to think about gettin’ a band together, I called them up and asked them if they fancied doin’ it. They said yeah, you know, they had been listeners to Free and myself for a long time, and they were really into the idea of doin’ it.
RATW: How soon after the present line-up was set did you record the album?
Paul: It was all fairly quick; we rehearsed a total of maybe two months, went on a short tour of England, then went in the studio and made the album over a two month period.
RATW: Do you think Free would have been as successful as, say, Bad Company is now if ‘All Right Now’ had been released four years later than it was?
Paul: That’s hard to say, really; I think that particular record seems to be ageless. I think if it came out now, people would still like it. At the time it did come out, we were getting no promotion over here anyway, so it’s hard to say.
RATW: Do you plan to use any of the old Free numbers in Back Street Crawler’s sets?
Paul: If Bad Company weren’t doin’ it, I’d probably do ‘The Stealer’, ‘cuz I wrote the b , but I don’t think so, this is a different style band, somehow, to do old Free songs. I will do ‘The Hunter’ occasionally, which is associated with Free.
RATW: Looking back, what are your thoughts on the solo album you did, the original Back Street Crawler?
Paul: What it didn’t have was a song content, there wasn’t a strong lyrical thing on that album. It was mainly a lot of guitar things, put together rather haphazardly; it was really just a series of sessions with different people. I really liked it, though, personally, and people over here seemed to like it as well.
RATW: Do you think having other writers in the band will help make you a better writer as time goes on?
Paul: Hopefully, yeah, I’m not a bad writer when I write, but I don’t write very often. Now that I have the opportunity, it’s something I’ve got to cultivate.
RATW: After not appearing in public for a while, you surprised a lot of people by touring with John Martyn. How did that come about?
Paul: I sat pretty low for a couple of years, as you know, and it came to a point where I had to do something, and I wasn’t too confident about it. Iwas stayin’ with my manager at the time, and he also handles John Martyn, and John asked me if I’d like to do a few songs with him at the end of each of his sets on his tour. I said yes, but I was frightened of gettin’ back up there; it turned out to be exactly the tonic I needed at that time.
RATW: Do you have any long-range goals for this band in mind?
Paul: We’ve got a lot of alleyways to discover, we’ve got a lot of things to find out about ourselves, yet. We’re not at the stage where we’ve formed a definite point to head for; basically, I’d just like to clean the sound up a bit. By the time the next album comes along, we’ll have much more of a group identity coming out.
Back Street Crawler’s second 1p was finished before Paul passed away, and it will be released. Fittingly enough, one of the last gigs Paul did was in Los Angeles, where he was joined on stage by Paul Rodgers and Rabbit. They made excellent music as Free in 1969, and they still made excellent music in 1976, just jamming together in a club. Farewell, Paul – you were unique in your determination to play even in the shadow of death. It may have claimed you, but it never conquered you.