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Paul Kossoff

+ {Kossoff Kirke Tetsu Rabbit} + {Back Street Crawler}

Undoubtedly one of best guitarists Britain has ever produced, the wayward and enigmatic modern bluesman PAUL KOSSOFF (born 14th September 1950, Hempstead, London) was probably overshadowed by his fellow axemen PAGE, HENDRIX and CLAPTON, but with turn-of-the-70s heavy loaders FREE, he moved on a generation of hard rockers.
Cutting his teeth with BLUESBREAKERS inspirators Black Cat Bones in and around 1967, he founded FREE (with BCB drummer Simon Kirke), singer PAUL RODGERS and bassist ANDY FRASER. From 1968’s `Tons Of Sobs’ LP to 1973’s `Heartbreaker’ comeback (not forgetting several months in the one-off tributary `Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu & Rabbit’ album in ’72), his leaden riffs created the style associated with the “Mr. Big” band.
With the first chapter of FREE over, the aforementioned, blues-driven eponymous album, KOSSOFF KIRKE TETSU RABBIT (1972) {*4}, featured Japanese bassist Tetsu Yamauchi and Texan singer-songwriter/keyboard player John “Rabbit” Bundrick. The merits of these ill-advised recordings were almost immediately swept under the proverbial studio rug; with the exception of Kossoff’s funky-blues cut, `Just For The Box’.
However, the fractious group were blighted by Paul’s drug dependency, its culmination leading to FREE’s final showdown in 1973. While Fraser had left for relatively unsung album projects and RODGERS and Kirke found their “Shooting Stars” in BAD COMPANY, KOSSOFF (as he was initially billed) formulated his own ill-fated solo career, founding his BACK STREET CRAWLER (1973) {*7}; named so after his debut LP. The said record was significant for its ambitious and self-indulgent opening jam-like studio salvo, `Tuesday Morning’, which lasted over 17 minutes and boasted the rhythm of bassman Trevor Burton (ex-MOVE) and drummer Alan White (ex-PLASTIC ONO BAND). With side two track `Molten Gold’ littered with FREE alumni Kirke, Fraser, Rodgers and Rabbit, the set also featured singer-songwriter JESS RODEN on short ’n’ sweet `I’m Ready’ and the easy guitar work of JOHN MARTYN on `Time Away’.
After much hype and speculation, the birth of BACK STREET CRAWLER was finally underway in 1975. Aka KOSSOFF, vocalist Terry Wilson-Slesser, bassist Terry Wilson, keyboard player Mike Montgomery and drummer Tony Braunagel, they found it tough to compete with the well-grounded and now stable BAD COMPANY; maybe if their album THE BAND PLAYS ON {*6} had been delivered a year earlier, maybe things might’ve been different. On reflection, the vox of Wilson-Slesser was a dead ringer for RODGERS or ROBERT PLANT (at a push!), and by all accounts this was a “band” project with only PK contributing to a couple of group compositions, `Hoo Doo Woman’ (very `Trampled Under Foot’) and `Stealing My Way’. Whatever happened to mainman Montgomery – who was behind several tracks here – after he bailed out, was a mystery, but his `New York, New York’ (not the Sinatra sonnet), `It’s A Long Way Down To The Top’ and `Survivor’ were poignant if not classic pieces of mid-70s rock.
With what seemed to be the guitarist getting back to life as rock star, KOSSOFF finally succumbed to heroin addiction, dying in his sleep (on a plane from L.A. to N.Y.) on the 19th March ‘76. It was a tragic end for a guitarist who was once destined to be remembered in the same breath as the likes of ERIC CLAPTON and JIMI HENDRIX. On a footnote to this untimely but predictable end, there was another BACK STREET CRAWLER set served up shortly afterwards. Without Mike, but enlisting FREE associate Rabbit and newcomer Geoff Whitehorn, 2ND STREET (1976) {*6} had its profound moments in `Blue Soul’, `Leaves In The Wind’ and `Raging River’.
Crawler continued on for a good few years (their eponymous debut in 1977 was commendable), while a raft of KOSSOFF exploitation albums saturated the market, most comprising his solo material mixed in with some classic session and FREE work [see discography].
© MCS Dec2011

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