ANDY FRASER'S LEGEND HANGS on co-writing All Right Now, Free’s eternal groove-and-grunt radio-play-record-busting 1970 classic. It started with the aftermath of a bad gig to a moribund audience and him telling the others in the dressing room “It’s all right now” – then, a few days later, that bassline. But its success always bemused him – it seemed too simple to be great. For a couple of years he did have a mighty writing partnership with Free vocalist Paul Rodgers. In a 1997 MOJO interview he told me: “It came very naturally. His strengths are melody and lyrics and mine was the music and we learnt from each other.” Result: not only All Right Now, but I’m A Mover, Fire And Water, The Stealer, Ride On A Pony and My Brother Jake.
“I started working early, put everything else aside, including coming to terms with my sexuality.”
But one suspects that, from the time he quit Free – twice, in fact: 1971 and finally the following year – until his death at 62 following lengthy resistance to AIDS and cancer, he may never have felt he’d fulfilled everything he had inside him.
Because he led a formidably complex life. Born in London, son of a white woman and a mixed-race Guyanan, he pushed on through the experience of childhood racism and his father leaving his mother when he was seven. Even before that, he’d already “demanded piano tuition”. Having passed a sheaf of classical exams, come his mid-teens he adapted that knowledge to play what he really loved, R&B. Sappho, a classmate at Hammersmith College Of Education, turned out to be Alexis Korner’s daughter and that led to a stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – aged 15 – and the Nag’s Head rehearsal that ignited Free. “We were roaring from the get-go,” he told me.
The kid promptly declared himself leader – “They had to buy it. And I didn’t know any better” – and even the fearsome Rodgers bowed to his supreme confidence.
However, after Free, his career and his personal life turned patchwork. Subsequent bands fizzled and he never found another permanent musical home – despite doing nicely as a songwriter, his post-Free compositions regularly taken up by the likes of Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan, Robert Palmer and Rod Stewart.
But it later emerged that his inner life involved an unsuspected complication. All seemed steady enough when, in the mid-’70s, he moved to California, married long-time Australian girlfriend Ri (Henrietta) and they had two daughters, Hannah and Jasmine.
However, they broke up in the late ’80s and, in an unexpected passage of our 1997 interview, Fraser told me why. He was gay. And HIV positive. Having said it, he asked me not to include the “revelation” in the Free feature I was working on. I and MOJO agreed, not being in the business of outing people against their will. He went on to describe how he’d worked through it all over the previous ten years by driving all over America in a motor home sporting a solar-powered studio, writing as he wandered.
At last, in 2005, with the release (in every sense) of a new solo album, Naked… And Finally Free, he both came out and talked about the agonising – “to the point of incapacitation” – he’d gone through.
“I started working very early, put everything else aside, including growing up, and coming to terms with my sexuality,” he said, in an interview on the Let It Rock web site. “One has to be comfortable in one’s own skin, or it will eat you up inside.”
Fraser’s gardener found his body in his car at his home in Temecula. Police say they are investigating the cause of death.