MUSIC WRITER IN JAPAN
September 19th 2013
Q: Good morning, is that Andy?
AF: It certainly is.
Q: So how are you?
AF: I’m doing good thanks.
Q: You’re coming back to Japan, this time with your protégée, Tobi. How did you discover this guy; he seems to have too much talent for one person.
AF: He does doesn’t he? Well maybe forty years ago, I worked with a keyboard player, Nick Judd. A very good keyboard player and by coincidence, his wife now works for Tobi’s parents who run the Bull Theatre in London and she sent me one of Tobi’s songs and it snowballed from there. I was very impressed with his sing, song writing, guitar playing and general very cool attitude. Mctrax signed him when he was still at school, we have a lot of faith in him and are looking forward to coming to Japan.
Q: You’ve kind of adopted – in a musical sense – the same role that Alexis Korner did for you, a musical guardian so-to-speak. That’s got to be a good feeling.
AF: Alexis Korner was one of the greatest people I ever met. My father was for shit and I happened to become very close friends with Saffo – Alexis’ daughter – at college and they made me part of the family. I was free to hang around the house, play his guitars and he played me lots of music, got me on gigs, got me with John Mayall, got Free with Island (records) and did everything possible to make things happen so I can’t thank him enough.
Q: You’ve taken that role with Tobi though.
AF: Well it’s a two-way street. I believe in Tobi so much that I’m willing to invest Mctrax money, time and energy and we are both winners or losers on this deal but we are feeling like winners right now. When we get back from Japan, we will be starting on his third album; his second album will be released within a couple of months and it blows the socks off the first one.
Q: Speaking of Alexis Korner, did you read Harry Shapiro’s biography of Alexis? Did it capture the man?
AF: No. I’d like to read it – I’ll check it out.
Q: Your biography on your website is very open and honest; thank you and I might add your daughter has done a great job on the design.
AF: My daughters are incredible. I’ve got to the stage where it’s much easier in life to be totally open. No secrets, no burdens, I feel…free! It’s like a great weight has been lifted and I feel better than I did when I was twenty years old and having been through all the medical shit that I have, it’s unbelievable to be able to say that.
Q: We’ll talk about your health alter but just going back to your website for a minute, on it you mention Binky McKenzie, did you know Binky recorded a song with Alexis Korner and Hughie Flint on drums called Rosie in 1967?
AF: Yes. He was all set to be ‘the’ new bass player. Everyone was saying what an incredible bass player he was and I remember when he came to the house. I would hide around the corner and listen to the stuff he did and for him to blow it so badly is such a shame…such a loss.
Q: The trio were called Free At Last.
AF: Yes. Alexis christened Free after Free At Last and our last album was called Free At Last quite appropriately. The funny thing is, when we first started talking to Island (Records), Guy Stevens who was like the Mad Hatter there - he would come up with an incredible idea one day and a useless one the next – he decided that it would be great if we were called The Heavy Metal Kids and Chris Blackwell (head of Island Records) went along with it. I remember us all being around my Mother’s house and we wrote out two big signs, one said Free and the other said Heavy Metal Kids. We stuck them on my Mother’s mantelpiece and just said ‘Nah!’ It was then my job, as leader, to call Blackwell and say no. He then said ‘Well if it’s not The Heavy Metal Kids I don’t think Island will be interested’ and I slammed the phone down. Five minutes later, he called back and said ‘Ok, you win.’ and we had a great relationship ever since. I’ve just turned sixty-one; can you imagine me being called the Heavy Metal Kid now?
Q: That of course went on to be Gary Holton’s band. Guy Stevens: he was the guy who put together Mott The Hoople.
AF: Yes. He was the mainstay at Island. He produced Free’s first album Tons Of Sobs. He was a total mad hatter and I didn’t realise for years it was because he was a speed (amphetamine sulphate) freak but I liked him a lot. He was good fun, very enthusiastic about getting Free going, had some great ideas and some stupid ideas – Heavy Metal Kids being one of them. He came up with the title Tons Of Sobs and Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones) and other very good things. A shame to lose him.
Q: Free’s first rehearsal was at the Nags Head pub but which Nags Head?
AF: Yes in Battersea. I’ve been told it’s recently been torn down but it became quite famous. It was a nice little pub with an upstairs where they would have a blues night and we rented it out for ten quid or something when it was empty. Although it was Alexis’ birthday and they were holding a party for him, he said he would sneak away for a few minutes and catch us. He caught the last fifteen minutes and said ‘This is happening; I christen you Free.’ He did in everything in his power to get us going. We opened as support for him, was our first manager, got us in touch with Chris Blackwell who very wisely sent him a case of champagne so I can’t say enough good things about Alexis.
Q: There is a lot of people out there in the history of Rock and Roll that don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve and Alexis is one of those I feel.
AF: Yes. He probably got it from personal satisfaction but he helped led Zeppelin, The Mall faces, the Rolling Stones, fucking everybody man! Muddy Waters used to sleep on his kitchen floor! People would come round and jump in through the kitchen window if everyone was asleep, that was the kind of place he had. He was just great. I regard him as a substitute father. Very smart; spoke about twelve languages.
Q: I can’t let you go through an interview with asking about All Right Now: You and Paul Rogers wrote that; which parts are attributed to whom?
AF: It was written on a very strange night. It was a rainy Tuesday and we were playing a college in England somewhere. We got lost on the way, arrived in a foul mood, there was room for two thousand and there was maybe thirty-four people there all out of their heads on mandrax which was the choice of drug at the time and they were all bumping into each other like rubber people. They took no notice of us and we could usually play for ourselves and sometimes be great but as it happened, we sucked and afterwards in the dressing room, there was a horrible silence like someone was going to get hurt any minute and to break the tension I started singing (sings) ‘All right now… baby come on, tomorrow’s another day, life goes on’ and it broke the silence and everyone started tapping along and harmonizing and that was the start of the song. The guitar chords were me trying to do my Pete Townsend who I always reckoned is king of the chords. The chorus guitar part was actually transposed from piano which is no easy thing but Koss did it fantastic – no one could play the riff like him. Paul Rogers said he scribbled down the lyrics to the verses when he was waiting for us to pick him up to go to another gig so that was basically it. It was a throwaway and we argued against it being released. We said to Blackwell ‘You can’t be serious! What about this? What about that?’ but he said ‘No – that one.’ That was about the only argument he won with us and it turns out he was right.
Q: And now it has been played more than two million times on American radio.
AF: The last certificate BMI sent me was four million.
Q: Wow! Well it is one of the great rock songs of all time.
AF: Everybody says that and I say ‘Thank you lord.’ because to me it was a two chord trick and a throwaway demo. It doesn’t sound like Beethoven so I haven’t got big headed yet.
Q: How long did it take you to come up with that bass break – arguably the bass player’s Smoke On The Water, it’s one of the first things any bass player starting out learns.
AF: It was sort of an automatic thing. Because we were only a three piece and Koss needed some chords underneath him that sort of did the job. That was just an easy way of doing it and I really didn’t give it much thought at all.
Q: You didn’t give it much thought and it became the staple of every bass player’s learning in the world.
AF: You just never can tell can you? (laughs) I can’t believe I was thrown out of school for refusing to get my hair cut and now they have school programs that use All Right Now in music study.
Q: Well you did finally get your hair cut.
AF: Yes but it would still be too long for them. Their idea of a cut was when you put on a cap, nothing would show underneath. I was a good student too! They did me a favour because while they were still whacking kids fingers with a ruler, I was with fucking John Mayall and playing with Mick Taylor and having the time of my life.
Q: You were only fifteen…
AF: Yeah, can’t complain.
Q: A couple of comments about your ex-bandmates in other projects; You had Adrian Fisher from Sparks in Toby. I saw him play with them in ’74 and he was superb – very underrated.
AF: You’re right, he really was good. He was a beautiful guy. I was told that he died from a drug overdose but his brother wrote me and said he actually caught Hepatitis C somewhere and that’s what took him; another great loss. I’m truly encouraged by just about everyone I’ve worked with has gone on to do fantastic things.
Q: Chris Spedding being another one.
AF: We just did a tour in England with Tobi and Chris was the second guitarist. He was so complimentary and knew exactly what to do. Tobi can play great guitar on a record but not even he can play two guitars at once so we always need a second guitarist and Chris Spedding was gracious enough to come along and we had a great time. I always used to make fun because we would play Motorbikin; - one of his hits – and I would announce it by saying that The Sharks broke up when he drove the Sharkmobile into a tree. He was going around a roundabout, five miles per hour and he drives into a tree! He put a big ‘V’ in front of the Sharkmobile, broke my thumb and I said ‘This is going to take a while, you guys had better get another bass player.’ I always make jokes about it; his song Motorbikin’ was after the experience with the Sharkmobile, Anyway, we had a lot of fun; he’s a good guy.
Q: Although not underrated in the rock world, has never seemed to hit the Premier League: does he just prefer it that way? Is he a quiet reserved guy?
AF: He is a quiet guy. The only other that comes to mind like that is Jimmy Page and somehow things fell into place for Jimmy Page who really pushed himself to the fore whereas Chris is content to do what is necessary.
Q: You’ve had more than your fair share of tragedy and heartbreak. You’ve survived cancer twenty-nine times, were close to death and then diagnosed as having hepatitis B, lost a lot of good people around you and yet you are amazingly positive and have a passion and energy for everything. Have you always been like that or was your diagnosis a wake-up call?
AF: I was always a bit of a speedy guy but when I was diagnosed with AIDS which I was one T-Cell away from gone, I was really proud of myself - and I know that you have to be careful of pride – that I very quickly said ’Ok. You’ve got less time than you thought. Cut out the crap and only go to A Division stuff. You don’t have time for horseshit. If someone is just yakking on, cut them off, you don’t have time.’ To be given a second chance and to be in such great health now, feeling so ready to get home and to be fired by young people like Tobi, although I’ve done a couple of good bass riffs, I really feel I need to make my contribution before I’m oft or whatever comes next. I really admire people like Bill Gates who now dedicates his life to helping others. That’s a great feeling. There are plenty of people who go out and just lavish themselves with expensive and don’t care about others but he really puts a lot of effort into making a difference and it’s that kind of thing that I think, makes one worthy. A couple of bass riffs don’t cut it in my book.
Q: I have to say this. I received the press kit from your record company over here and I thought they had made a mistake because the guy in the picture looked about forty years old.
AF: (laughs) Having been given the second chance, part of it was major discipline. Cut out all the bad stuff which includes all the drugs. I even had to give up my glass of wine at night, mainly because it was messing with my sleep but I’m very disciplined about sleep, disciplined about stopping work because I am a workaholic, learning about nutrition and employing it, eating exactly how I should and exercising. I exercise two to three hours every day and I can intersperse it with emails or what have you but discipline is a great thing. It works and I think it takes something serious like that to force you to be disciplined. People who commute two hours a day have a decent excuse for not having the time to exercise but my commute is upstairs to the studio so I don’t have any excuse.
Q: On your website you write with regards to the sad decline of Paul Kossoff and forgive me for paraphrasing ‘Did the band come apart because of Koss, or did Koss come apart because of the friction in the band – I don’t have the answer.’ May I suggest it was neither? Lots of people just have a self destruct button. You obviously don’t.
AF: Maybe that’s true. When things got tense between us, he definitely took it hard. When we fell apart, we had no support system so maybe that self destruct button kicked in. There came a point when there was no saving him. We tried kidnapping him, we tried putting the band back together, everything possible and it felt like one of the biggest failures of my life. You see, living on a stage is a very strange place. You can’t help but see yourself through thousands of pairs of eyes and there is no hiding from that although lots of people try with all kinds of self-medication. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and if you loses confidence in yourself, it can really take a toll.
Q: Let’s go back to the reason you are coming here, Tobi. You had a band called Toby – coincidence?
AF: Total coincidence. My nickname was Toby given to me by my New Zealand road manager who thought I reminded him of a Toby Jug which he was very fond of drinking out of. It may have been a way of quietening me down as well.
Q: Where you a bit raucous in those days?
AF: I was. As an example, the first day that Free fully got together. They had been together and tried out fifteen bass players. I came along and we agreed after the first rehearsal that this was the band and I said ‘Ok, I’m the leader.’ You should have seen the smoke coming out of Roger’s ears! The other two guys biting their lip. Yeah…I can be a bit obnoxious.
Q: Paul can be a bit arrogant at times so I can understand the conflict but it’s a conflict that created great music.
AF: I agree. We found common ground for a while and when you get personalities that are that far apart…it was the southern gay boy and the northern street fighter and he used to show me his back twice a day but there came a point when we no longer needed each other to finish each other’s ideas. He was writing half the songs and I was writing the other half and I think he wanted to remain a classic rock artist. You can say that at this point but I don’t know if that was in his mind at the time but I always wanted to move on. I admired The Beatles for always looking for the next challenge, always looking to the horizon and never being a cover band of themselves. If they had said after I Want To Hold Your Hand ‘Ok, we’ve cracked the formula, let’s just keep banging these out’, what would we have lost? So Free came apart on that issue and I think that is where the tension arose. Yes Paul can be arrogant and very strong minded but I think we were equally matched and even Koss who had a very strong sense of humour. He could go onto an Ena Sharples character and tear you apart with humour so we kept each other in place until it came unglued.
Q: A lot like The Who.
AF: Yes. I read recently that they nearly didn’t have Roger Daltry because in the beginning, wherever he was he would want to fight with someone. I suppose a singer needs that because you’ve got to have a lot of balls to go onstage as a singer; you really do put yourself out there.
Q: He’s only eighteen, did he know who you were or did you have to teach him about Free and you career?
AF: Apparently he had been taught All Right Now by his guitar teacher so he was keen to come over with his Dad and we did the first album in three weeks. He then went back to school and a couple of days after getting his grades he came back and we did a three month tour of the States. I picked him up from the airport and said ‘By the way Tobi, we’re doing a video tomorrow so we’re going to stop of and pick up some clothes’ so he was thrown right in at the deep end.
Q: That’s got to blow a kids mind hasn’t it?
AF: You would think so but everybody says to me ‘How did you do that at fifteen?’ but I tend to think it’s easier. All Olympic champions are teenagers. They don’t have that pressure of home-ownership, car insurance and all that other crap when you’re an adult. You’ve got nothing to lose, you’re young, full of sunk, go out there and get it. He was sixteen when we signed him and he took a term out of school. Luckily his Dad is the headmaster (laughs) and has been very encouraging for him.
Q: Who are his heroes?
AF: John Mayall, Gary Moore, Hendrix, Clapton…there isn’t an old record be it Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, that he doesn’t know. He has listened to all the greats and learnt from them all. He’s a very educated musician.
Q: I saw a PV where you talked about what to expect from your show with Tobi; do we have a similar show in Japan?
AF: I have found out, most recently in England, that I am in physical danger if I leave the stage without a couple of Free songs. (laughs) So you can expect a few of those, lots of Tobi songs and a few surprises.
Q: Andy, thank you for taking the time and we’ll look forward to the gigs.
AF: Glenn it was my pleasure. Take good care.