Free interview with Andy Fraser
Andy Fraser is songwriter and bass guitarist whose career lasted over forty years.
It’s a great pleasure to have you on our magazine, Andy! How are you these days?
I am extremely well, and all things considered, that’s a miracle. Having been as far down as one can go, and then to have come back with a feeling of youthful vigor, is a wonderful surprise. To be free of constant pain, have so much to keep me busy, I am privileged. Having started a Label, mctrax.com a total surprise twist of events, we are having great success with our first signing TOBI. A 16 yr. old from London, who I would describe as a cross between John Mayer and Justin Bieber, with a bit of Hendrix / Clapton thrown in. A great singer and songwriter to boot. We will doing the Isle of Wight festival, in June with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty among others, after a long radio / promo tour before hand.
You grew up in London. What would you say influenced you the most?
I lived in London until I was about 22, so it encompasses quite a bit. I started classical piano tuition from the age of 5 (very precocious) until about 12 then got more interested in guitar, the Beatles, and all the other great groups of the time. From about the age of 12 until 15 I was in R&B, blues kinda bands playing Motown, Stax, and blues covers, scaring my mother to death, as I would get home at 4 or 5 in the morning after gigs, and I was 12. A major influence on me was meeting Alexis Korner. I had gone to college after being expelled from school for refusing to cut my hair, and became very close with Sappho, Alexis daughter. Spent a lot of time at their home, playing his guitars, listening to his records, and getting educated in the music industry.
You were really young when you joined the Bluesbreakers.
I was 15, and very excited to be playing with such musicians, respected them as my elders. Felt especially close to Mick Taylor as he was 19 and the next youngest. Used to sneak off and share a joint, something Mayall would have fired us for, as he was a Bemax and corn flakes kinda guy, nothing like his image suggests. But I held them all in high esteem, considered them my seniors, and learnt all I could.
Alexis Korner! What was he like?
Alexis was like a substitute father. My own was an asshole. Alexis did everything humanly possible to educate me, share his experience, get us a manager, then get us w / Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, absolutely the best label for us, had us open for gigs with him. Can’t give the guy enough credit. He was a fun guy, very intelligent, spoke about 15 languages, and thought I rolled an excellent joint. I spent so much time there with Sappho listening to his blues records, it was the best education I could have had.
How did you join Free and what do you remember from some of the early sessions you had together?
The other three were looking for a bass player, tried many and were unhappy. When I left the Bluesbreakers, Alexis had talked with Mike Vernon the owner of Horizon Records a little blues label, who mentioned Koss and crew were looking for a bass player. Koss came around to my mums house, we jammed a little, and suggested we all get together at the Nags Head pub, in Battersea, which had a little blues club upstairs where we could rehearse when closed. It was instant magic. We all knew it. Alexis promised he would try and show up, but it was his birthday, and a party was being held for him, but made the last 15 minutes, and immediately got it. He Christened us FREE after his band, Free at Last. So thus we were on out way.
Tons of Sobs is an amazing debut full of heavy blues rock. What can you tell me about recording and producing it?
Except for Koss, who had done a few sessions for Bluesman Rambling Jack, we had never been in a studio before, so we were real green. The sterilized atmosphere minus an audience really threw us. Guy Stevens who was the producer and can be described as somewhere between a genius and a mad-hatter on speed, eventually said just play your LIVE set, which we did, and they recorded it.
You played on so many gigs. How do you remember the early ones with the band?
At one time I could remember every single show, promoter, how much we were paid, and what we sounded like that night. Breaking up, and the ugliness that followed forced me to start blanking out memories and move on.
Would you like to share some interesting stories that involve Paul Kossoff?
Kossoff was a born comedian. Because it was cold in UK, Koss would often wear a very long coat. He could go into character, for example “Ena Sharples” from the long running English series “Coronation Street” – an old woman with an attitude, and proceed to take any of us apart, by telling the truth, but in character. The funniest thing!!
I remember driving home from one gig, me and Koss in the back, PR in front passenger seat, where PR was going on and on about Koss over some little issue, and Koss, just casually rummages through his bag, brings out a mirror, turns on the overhead light and puts it in front of PR’s face, until even he had to laugh at himself.
Your self-titled album was released in 1969. Fire And Water followed a year later.
Evolvement! We were grounded in Blues, rock, and wanted to keep it as an underlay to more original things. That was our first step in a forward direction. Not always successful, but generally moving in the right direction to something that was totally us. We kept reaching for the horizon until we imploded. Me personally, I always want to keep moving forward, discovering, keeping it an adventure, and not re-doing one’s old party tricks until you get stuck in some past decade. Fire And Water probably nailed it at our best, and opened many doors with “All Right Now”.
Isle of Wight Festival 1970. How was it to be on the stage? Did you meet Jimi Hendrix?
Quite the experience! To play in front of what I am told exceeded half a million people requires matching the vast energy thrust towards you and returning it in performance. We were exhausted afterwards. I am looking forward to re-doing it this year with TOBI. I never met Hendrix, a different I think, but he is still the best guitarist of all time I think. Tobi has a little Hendrix in his fluidity and sense of adventure. Among others met Tiny Tim. Man – what planet is he from?
You left the band in 1971 and formed a trio called Toby.
FREE had become unglued. Paul and myself were going in different directions. He thought I acted like an emperor, and decided he was now gonna run things. I think it was the beginning of him wanting to do a Bad Co. type thing. Get a manager that broke legs, and be a less subtle, striped down, stadium ready version of FREE. I wanted to keep moving forward creatively, not formulate a cash machine. All the while Koss was becoming a junkie. We had basically broken up. As spokesman, it fell to me to announce it. I was viewed as the one leaving. TOBY was my first start at learning to get confidence in my voice. A long process, which I chose as opposed to forming a ‘supergroup’ to cash in. A feeling of starting again at the bottom.
Later you joined again and in June 1972 you left for good and formed Sharks. You recorded First Water.
I thought it sucked. That whole band I have to take responsibility for allowing myself to drift into a situation that I shouldn’t have. I had been at home working on new songs and strengthening my voice when Marty Simon, a very good drummer by the way, got himself invited down, we jammed, and it was good. We thought let’s get a guitarist, which ended up being Chris Spedding, a good guitarist BTW, and I thought we were gonna do my songs, and I would continue working on my voice. Somewhere along the line, someone decided my singing wasn’t strong enough, and before I knew it Snips was the singer, who I never got along with. The whole thing started off kilter from the start, and I was suddenly being asked by the press about this new band I formed. I felt stuck in a very bad situation. Fortunately, on the way home from a gig, Spedding for no reason at all at 5 miles an hour drove the fucking Sharkmobile into a tree. I twisted up my thumb and couldn’t play for a while, and suggested they get another bass player. That was my out.
In 1975 you and former Sharks keyboardist Nick Judd and drummer Kim Turner formed The Andy Fraser Band and recorded an album. What happened next?
Nick wasn’t in Sharks. Can’t remember what happened next, but while on this subject, let me mention that Kim Turner went on to co-manage The Police and Sting, had incredible success, managed me for a while during the “Fine, Fine Line” period, a very generous personality who tragically died of cancer couple years back. Nick Judd’s wife now works for Tobi’s parents, showed TOBI to me, and got me involved in what will be a long career for him. She works in his management, and their son Aiden is now with Tobi, for most LIVE shows. He is also super talented, and although only 16 and out of school yet, will go on be consistently in the top 100 bass player of all time.
Naked… and Finally Free is your latest album from 2005. Would you like to share a few words about it?
Well before it, I had almost considered myself retired, was still writing songs, I need to as therapy, with some vague thought of sometime I would release an album, then the news hit that I had died. Suddenly I felt I needed to show I was still very much alive, and pulled together some of the songs that I thought fitted together well, and voila – Naked … and Finally Free. As you can tell, it is a very personal expression, and I sort of regard it as my ‘coming out’ album. Recently I have released “On assignment” – check mctrax.com, but my attention has been promoting TOBI instead, tho’ I like the album.
Thank you for taking your time, Andy. Would you like to send a message to your fans and It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine readers?
“Psychedelic Babies” – brings Mike Myers to mind – and we all need a good laugh. Check out mctrax.com for all things Andy Fraser and TOBI. It is where you will find all the new releases. You can download or stream many songs and videos.
– Klemen Breznikar