In the mid-1960’s, a teenage lad from the industrial town of Middlesborough, England, headed to London to make music. His band got a gig, and a gig meant money, food and freedom. On the way to the group’s breakthrough concert, however, the unthinkable happened: The van broke down.
Paul Rodgers recalls how this event changed his life.
“When our van broke down, I walked down the street and noticed a van parked in front of a house. I knocked on the door and offered them the show money just to take us to Norwich. I got no takers. Two of the guys headed back home while the drummer and I stayed with the van full of gear. We were hungry. I borrowed a loaf of bread from a local bread factory, and we survived on that until we could get the van towed away to a friend of the drummer’s father. He then hitched back home. I was actually going with him but crossed the road and headed, hitching, to London. That was my crossroads.”
Once settled in London, Rodgers began pursuing his dream.
“I got a flat, downscaled my equipment, formed the band Brown Sugar and was playing at the Fickle Pickle when I met Paul Kossoff, who asked if he could come up for a jam,” Rodgers explains. “When Koss and I played together, Free was born.”
And, in a sense, so was Paul Rodgers.
Free was formed in 1968 by teenagers Paul Rodgers, Paul Kossoff, Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser.
Singing professionally since the age of 13, Rodgers found his true voice in Free when he began writing songs for the band. The first song ever recorded by Free was Rodgers’ “Walk in My Shadow.” The band released Tons of Sobs and found success with “I’m a Mover” and “The Hunter.”
The simple fact that four teenage white boys were playing the blues with such expertise and maturity made people sit up and take notice.
In 1970, Free released the pivotal album Fire and Water. It was obvious that Free had changed and was no longer just a blues/rock band. Free found success on the charts with the song “All Right Now.”
“I knew we needed a song that we could play after ‘The Hunter,’” says Rodgers. “I wanted to write a song that the audience could sing along to, so I asked myself, ‘What is the simplest line that I can think of that the audience can grab a hold of and sing?’ I went, ‘All right now, baby it’s all right now.’ The song was simply born from that.”
Rodgers continues, “I remember walking to our offices on Oxford Street, which is a busy street in the center of London. There was a lady standing on the corner with the sun shining down upon her; she looked incredible. She was the inspiration for the line, ‘There she stood in the street smiling, from her head to her feet.’ It turned out that she was a very famous actress who was working at a theater company down the road.”
The success of “All Right Now” saw the band’s management place Free as the opening act for supergroup Blind Faith’s tour of America. The band was not ready, psychologically or logistically, to move from clubs to stadiums.
“We were still using the same equipment that we had been using in small clubs, even though we were now playing big venues,” says Rodgers. “If we felt that we needed more volume, we simply would walk over and turn up our amps. We didn’t have the hands-on management needed to guide us and educate us about upgrading our gear and other relevant issues. We were kids thrown to the lions when we came to America to tour with Blind Faith.”
Internal squabbles began to strain the relationship between Rodgers a