Andy Fraser: a true original

We lost Andy Fraser on this day: he’d been fighting cancer and Aids for quite sometime. If you were a Free fan, like I was, you supported them just that little bit harder because we know they never got the recognition they deserved, as a band and as individual musicians. We also hated the fact that the ‘others’ didn’t really catch on to anything further than Alright Now, by their own admission a Pop Song that needed to be written, yet their other material was so much better.

Okay then, let’s start with Alright Now, leaving alone the fact that he was playing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at 15 and was 17 when this song went to No1!! This was my first introduction to the band, and to Andy’s unmistakable contribution on the record. Most bass players pumped away on the low end, particularly if they were in a 3-piece band, because somebody needed to ‘hold it down’. Andy seldom ‘pumped’, he left holes; gaping great big holes. When he did pump on a bass line, he’d waited so long that the tension was like a steel rod. He doesn’t play at all on Alright Now until the chorus, and then drops out again on the verse. When he plays under the guitar section in the middle, he plays down the low end, then up the ‘dusty’ end as we call it (the place most bass players don’t go). This is not normal! Not for bass players of that time. This is balls-out-in-full-view economy! No-one else was that brave; I defy you to find a bass player before or since that played like Andy. If they say he influenced them, that’s what you hear; his influence. But he was a true original. I first picked up the bass as a kid, and I only wanted to be Andy Fraser, no-one else. Maybe I got close, but that was it.

Yet in every Music Paper Bass Player’s Poll in the 70’s, he was never at the top. If you were a Yes fan, you voted for Chris Squire, likewise Cream and Jack Bruce, The Who and John Entwistle. This was missing the point. Listen to “Catch A Train” from Free At Last. Any other bassist would have to listen this 1,000 times just to get an idea of where Andy’s head was at… just when you think, ‘I know where he’s going to go now’, he doesn’t flaming do it!! He does something else, that any bassist in a 3 piece band would turn tail and run from. But it fits, and sounds so fresh even now.
Again he does it on “Little Bit Of Love”, also from Free At Last. He plays only half the notes you want him to play, until 1:44 minutes in when he doubles up and the track really starts moving: and the song’s only two and a half minutes long! The tension is almost unbearable….
He would also frequently play chords on his bass (even more so live) to hold the rhythm down while Kossoff soloed in his (also) totally original way.

Their first album Tons Of Sobs wasn’t showing much of this style, but by the second album Andy was beginning to take chances that eventually made the third album Fire & Water sound like no other band around at that time. Fans: Mr Big?! Who amongst us didn’t play the hell out of that track? A bass solo in the middle that was so melodic it was an integral part of the song, with Kossoff’s fantastic arpeggio playing underneath that totally reversed their roles, pinning down a rhythm pattern bed with Simon Kirke for Andy to do his thing. Man, I get so frustrated as I write this that they didn’t what they deserved in terms of success. Not in my eyes anyway.

I followed him through his other projects; the very brave Andy Fraser Band with no guitarist at all, then the underrated In Your Eyes solo album and the brilliant band The Sharks. Whilst they were no Free, they were another very original sounding band, and in it he found a sympathetic guitar player in Chris Spedding, and Snips the lead vocalist.

I haven’t even touched on his songwriting skills, that would warrant another piece as big as this: instead I will dedicate the song ‘Goodbye’ from Free At Last to him now, just as it probably was back then for Paul Kossoff (another very, very great loss). Everyone in the band could feel Koss was slipping away from them, and apart from a few guest spots on Heartbreaker, it was also Kossoff’s wonderful swan song album.
Andy, I will not forget you; I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t heard you x

Key songs:
Goodbye from Free At Last
Catch A Train from Free At Last
Little Bit Of Love from Free At Last
Sail Away from Free At Last
Sunny Day from the Highway album
Songs Of Yesterday from the album Free
Mr Big from Fire & Water

… or, just buy the whole damn catalogue

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