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MARK TAYLOR'S BIG CITY NIGHTS
INTERVIEW WITH ANDY FRASER, FORMERLY OF FREE
In a MetalTalk exclusive Mark Taylor chats to the former bassist of Free, the legendary Andy Fraser, to talk about his new album 'On Assignment', his book 'All Right Now: Life, Death and Life Again', his label Mctrax Records and about his time in Free.
Hi Andy. It was good to finally see you back on British soil recently. I was fortunate enough to catch you performing with the new young talented artist TOBI at a private show at the Gibson Guitar Studios in London. Please tell us more about TOBI and you new company Mctrax Records.
"Mctrax, our new Music Delivery System was created in large part because I felt the music industry in general was way behind the curve. Before CD's they fought them like hell to stop them, then when they made so much money, they fought like hell to prevent the digital age. I embrace it.
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"I recognize that most kids have a smart phone before they have a girlfriend, here, Thailand, Africa, everywhere and they want their music now. Mctrax allows them to stream/have delivery of a track instantly to any device in seconds for 11¢. They don't have to buy the whole album if they find they only like one track, but they can if they wish, either have it delivered as a stream for $1:11, or download a track for 88¢ or whole album for $8:88. Sign up is as simple as iTunes or Amazon, or Express Checkout available if you don't want to sign up yet. Available are all current releases as audio/video, now books, and soon we are moving into movies with Mctrax Motion.
"TOBI, our first signing, is a London boy, signed when 16, who is a combination of say John Mayer, Jimi Hendrix, and Justin Bieber if you can imagine that. Schooled in traditional blues from all the masters, he also can bust a move, and has the freedom in his song-writeing like a John Mayer or even Dylan. Not afraid to be brutally honest about himself, or vulnerable in order to express a feeling we all share, but rarely own up to, trapped inout machismo. Destined for a very long career."
That evening you also got to meet up with you old buddy Frankie Miller.
"Frankie is a long time friend, even best man at my wedding, saying on the day (after a long night of drinking): 'Ooh Andy, de ye not think it a wee bit early in the morning to be getting married, it's awful bright, mahn.'"
A couple of days later TOBI and you peformed at the Isle Of Wight Festival. How did that compare with the legendary Free Apperance from 1970 in front of a reported 600,000 fans. Did you have any flashbacks whilst up on stage?
"TOBI, I and the band we had put together from musicians in L.A, Germany and NY had a fabulous time. Despite all the rain during that period, (you English folk really let us down) the sun came out during our set, and we and audience had a great time. It was an especially great time for TOBI, as he had never been to a festival before, and to star at one really made his day.
"Ironically his brother, who is in lighting was there to do the big lights, and also responsible for the show at Buckingham Palace for Madness for the Royal jubilee. So it runs in the family.
"Being back 40 years later was like having my own Jubilee, but always trying to live in the moment, enjoyed it for what it was. Festivals have changed into something resembling Carnivals, which I don't care for, but it was a total thrill for TOBI."
Amazingly that show at the Gibson Guitar Studios was your first time on a British stage in 21 years, the previous time being the Night Of A 100 Guitars held at Wembley Arena. What were your memories of the night?
"That particular Wembley show featured Brian May, Paul Rodgers, Jason Bonham, and Slash with myself, where we were in support of Gibson Guitars, which raised money for the Prince Charles trust and charities."
You've just played again at Wembley Arena on September 29th for the Jim Marshall 50 Years Of Loud tribute. You got to perform with Glenn Hughes on the Free classic 'Mr Big'. How was that for you?
"I love Glenn Hughes. He is a wonderful guy, fully recovered from his cocaine binging days, and only interested in giving back. A very generous soul, and one of the world's best singers.
"I had a blast, and totally love working with Glenn, and we have talked about more joint ventures."
You've just released a new album 'On Assignment'. What kind of music can people expect to hear on that?
"As Opposed to 'Naked... And Finally Free', a very personal 'coming out' statement, 'On Assignment' allows me to get out of myself, having got that off my chest, and deal with more Global and social issues, although there are also some very personal songs on there too. I feel it represents another growth in me, and am pleased with the direction I am going in. Forward, as opposed of doing covers of myself from the 70s. An easy trap to fall into."
Lyrically you've approached politics and climate change in quite a lot of your new material. What is the perfect world to live in according to you?
"'A perfect world to live in?' You have high expectations. We live in an imperfect world by design, and our goal is to overcome the hurdles laid before us to afford growth. One can only embrace the challenges, and strive to meet them head-on. Not easy while doing them, as we all know, but having learnt from our mistakes, realize the value in having them... afterwards.
"My role as an artist, is to be honest in my expression of those things concerning me emotionally, or global issues socially and spread awareness as best I can, inspiring others, to do what they do best in solving our planets many problems. A shovel or chemical experiment may be better in someone else's hands, my job is to encourage you to do what you do best to help in your own way."
You've also been busy writing a new book on your life, 'All Right Now... Life, Death And Life Again'. Was it an easy or difficult experience for you writing an open and honest account of your life?
Trick question. It was hard coming to terms with my reality. My self-denial of being gay after marrying a wonderful woman, and having two incredible daughters, a mountain that I couldn't see the other side of, then coming out publicly, after coming out to myself. That was difficult.
"But having reached the other side, putting it in book form was easy. Made easier by my co-writer Mark Hughes, who wrote to me, and within one sentence showed me he got my story, and wanted to write a book. He came out to California, ran his recorder for five days, then transcribed it, along with his own commentary in a book form which makes easy, and informative reading.
"He did the work, I just lived the life, but having come to terms with it, I feel FREE, unburdened, and my life has been given a second chance, I am grateful, and will not waste it. I intend to use every moment, to give back, and justify my existence.
You've had to face some demons in your life, battling Kaposi Sarcoma, a form of cancer and contracting HIV. What advise can you give to other people who may find themselves in a similar unfortuate situation? How does one keep strong mentally and carry on to lead a positve life?
"Well not being in the advice business, I can only say learn from my mistakes if you can. I have found my will to be a lot stronger than my body, and was not gonna let anything get the better of me. There were times when I was this close to being a goner, but it all comes down to Faith. What in? That's every individual's decision.
Do find find that a believe in a higher power helps?
"YUP. If there isn't one everything is a waste of time. When like me, you are so sick, no amount of wealth, fame, friends or even doctors has any value any more, what is left? Then you find God. If not there is nothing, and that doesn't make sense."
You wrote the song 'Every Kinda People' which which a big smash hit for Robert Palmer on both sides on the pond in 1978. Have you written any other hits for other artists that we may not be aware off?
Frankie Miller, 'Be Good To Yourself', Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Chaka Khan, Joe Cocker, Paul Carrack, Paul Young, Rod Stewart, even Ted Nugent, nutter that he is, have all honored me by choosing to cover my material. It amuses me that Ted Nugent's cover, of 'Knocking At Your Door' was written from a gay perspective, and he has no idea."
I've noticed that when you perform on stage these days you do like to swing your stuff and have a dance. When getting ready to go out on a Friday night, what record do you dance to in front of the mirror?
"No Friday nights for me. I am constantly trying to deal with fact there are only 24 hours in a day. If there is music playing at the supermarket, that is half-dancable, I will dance right there."
'All Right Now' has to be one of the most instantly recognizable rock songs ever written. A song you co-wrote with Paul Rodgers. How did that song come about? Did you purposely write or did it come about from a jam?
"Rainy Tuesday, gig in some Godforsaken college in England. 2000 capacity, 22 people show up, wasted outa their minds on Mandrax, the drug choice at the time, bumping into each other like 'rubber people', in a 70s version of a mosh pit, totally ignoring us, who could usually play for ourselves, and sound good.... but we sucked, and came back to the dressing room with that awful vibe, like someone's gonna get hurt.
"To break the tense silence, I started sing "All right now, baby it's a-all right now". Like a parent saying come on kiddies, there's another day tomorrow, life goes on. It broke the intensity, everyone starting tapping along, and harmonizing, and hence the beginning of the song.
"The guitar riff, was me trying to do my Pete Townsend, who I always regarded as 'king of the chords'. Paul later wrote the verse and the lyrics while he was waiting for the band to pick him up for another gig, he said. We actually never took the song seriously, felt it was the most lightweight of our material, and argued against it being released as a single. One of the few arguments we lost with Island founder Chris Blackwell, but turns out he was right.
Did you think at the time it would be such a monster hit?
"No. I thought it would embarrass us."
What goes through your mind today when you hear it on the radio?
"Still sounds like a tyhree chord trick demo, with bad, and obvious edits. Beethoven it is not. But undeniably ka-ching."
What is your favourite personal Free track from your time in the band?
"That's a tough one, as I like so many Free songs. 'Be My Friend', 'Soon I Will Be Gone', 'The Stealer', 'Sail On', 'Heavy Load'. I like them for being honest expressions of how we felt at that moment. One can only be honest, and truly express how one feels now, so redoing those songs would feel like a cover band, covering your past songs.
There was strong rumours circulating that the remaining members of Free, yourself, Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke with either Joe Bonamassa or Peter Bullick on guitar would play at the opening or closing ceremony of this years Olympics in London. How close to a reality did that became?
"It became very close. We all for the first time agreed in principal to do it, as the occasion was far bigger than any of out personal beefs, but it came unglued, as we didn't agree on any guitarists.
"I even went to the company that did Tupac Hologram, and they were ready to do Koss Hologram. Only a $million. Others were not so keen..."
Do you have a personal message for all your fans out there?
"Follow your heart and dreams. Check out mctrax.com for all latest releases, and expect to have your socks blown off by TOBI."
Thank you so much Andy for taking the time to answer these questions. God bless to you, family and friends for all in the future.