A precocious musician and talented composer, the bass-player Andy Fraser was only 15 in April 1968 when he joined the drummer SimonKirke, guitarist Paul Kossoff and vocalist Paul Rodgers to form the rock group Free. Within a couple of years they were playing to 600,000 people alongside Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues and Jethro Tull on the last day of the Isle Of Wight Festival.
"The energy directed towards you was nearly overwhelming. We gave our all," said Fraser of their legendary performance which included "Mr Big", a showcase for his dynamic bass playing, as well as their breakthrough hit "All Right Now", the rock anthem inspired by their earlier trials and tribulations at the bottom of the ladder on the college circuit in the North of England.
"It was a downer of a night. Thirty people had shown up. Afterwards, in the dressing room, there was this awful silence when we were all kind of down. To break the bad vibe, I began singing 'All right now', that was the beginning of the song," Fraser recalled of the tune that took 10 minutes to write. "It was a real throwaway, the most superficial of all of our songs. Paul put together the lyrics quite easily. We all felt they were the most immature lyrics of all of our songs. We actually argued for another single to be released."
Overruled by Chris Blackwell, their boss at Island, Fraser and his band-mates watched "All Right Now" rise to the top the charts around the world, though in the UK it was kept off the No 1 spot by another epochal good-time single, "In The Summertime" by Mungo Jerry. "All Right Now" swiftly became a juke-box and mobile disco favourite, and has remained a radio staple. Indeed, while Rodgers proved a superlative, soulful frontman influenced by Otis Redding, and Kossoff was a virtuoso guitarist when not struggling with drug dependency, Free made a virtue and a distinctive feature of their back-to-basics approach. The simplicity of "All Right Now", as well as "My Brother Jake", "The Stealer" and "Little Bit Of Love", their follow-up singles – all co-written by Fraser – contrasted sharply with the progressive rock of the era and contributed to the success of their albums Fire And Water, Free Live! and Free At Last in the early 1970s.
However, their youth and naivety turned them into a volatile, combustible proposition, with Fraser and Rodgers often at loggerheads. Free broke up for six months in 1971 and their return the following year was marred by Kossoff's problems, prompting the bass-player to quit before the group's last hit, "Wishing Well", and their final album, Heartbreaker, when he was replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi. Despite teaming up with guitarist Chris Spedding, vocalist Steve Parsons, aka "Snips", and drummer Marty Simon for a short-lived tenure in Sharks in 1973, and then fronting the Andy Fraser Band for two albums in the mid-'70s, the bassist didn't match the achievements of Rodgers and Kirke's subsequent supergroup, Bad Company.
A multi-instrumentalist as well as a gifted songwriter, he penned the upbeat, Caribbean-flavoured "Every Kinda People", Robert Palmer's first hit in 1978 which was revived by the Jamaican duo Chaka Demus & Pliers in 1996. The song's inclusive lyric – "It takes every kinda people to make the world go round" – were obviously inspired by Fraser's outlook but the musician didn't come out as gay until the mid-1980s. "After years of self-denial. I had thoughts of suicide," he admitted. "It felt like living a lie, and inconsistent with my gay values and integrity. Coming to terms with being gay , not only personally, but publicly, is my greatest achievement. Being able to share that with my daughters enabled the most open, loving relationship imaginable."
Born in the Paddington area of London, he was mostly brought up by his mother and began playing piano at five. His classical training, playing Beethoven and Mozart parrot fashion, stood him in good stead as he learned theory and later returned to the keyboard to write Free tracks like ''Heavy Load''. He didn't consider himself a natural bass-player but took up the instrument after a spell playing guitar in his early teens. Expelled from St Clement Danes grammar school for refusing to cut his hair, he enrolled at Hammersmith College of Further Education where he befriended Sappho Korner, daughter of the musician and British blues boom catalyst Alexis: "I got to spend a lot of time over at their house, listening to his record collection and noodling around on his guitars. He became much more of a father to me than the one who had divorced my mother when I was six or seven or so."
On Korner's recommendation, in 1967 he auditioned for another blues legend, John Mayall, and replaced John McVie in the line-up of the Blues Breakers featuring the guitarist Mick Taylor, later of the Rolling Stones. "It was a great experience. I just had so much to learn from people who were way older than me," said Fraser, who toured and recorded a BBC session with Mayall before moving on to Free. Again, Korner played his part: he helped name the new group he took on tour as support act, and brought them to Blackwell, who produced their second album, Free, after entrusting their Tons Of Sobs 1969 debut to Guy Stevens.
Fraser's memories of his time with Free were overshadowed by the death of Kossoff from a heart attack on a flight in 1976. "He had embarked on this course of self-destruction, slow suicide I guess. Did the band come apart because of him or because of the friction between Rodgers and myself? I don't have the answer," said the bass-player, who moved to California in the mid-'70s.
He collaborated with Frankie Miller, writing the title track of the Scottish singer's 1978 Double Trouble album, and wrote for Joe Cocker and Chaka Khan. In 1984 he made a sentimental return to Island with the Fine, Fine Line album. A decade later he performed with Rodgers at Woodstock '94. He issued his last studio recording, Naked ... And Finally Free, in 2005. He was diagnosed with HIV and Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, and died at his home in California.
Andrew McLan Fraser, singer, songwriter, musician and producer: born London 3 July 1952; married Henrietta (two daughters); died California 16 March 2015.Reuse content