FREE – ” Tons Of Sobs “

Posted: January 2, 2022 in MUSIC

Free’s blues heritage is undeniable. Guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke came from a blues combo called Black Cat Bones. Vocalist Paul Rodgers arrived from the similar sounding Brown Sugar and bassist Andy Fraser had been a Bluesbreaker. Free was a formidable coming together of raw British blues rock talent. And they didn’t disappoint, coming up with their own distinctive brand of blues on their debut. They didn’t pummel like Zeppelin, caress like Cream or strut like The Rolling Stones. Rather, Free loped and grooved, driven by Kossoff’s aching guitar, Fraser’s throbbing bass and Rodgers’s sonorous voice. Free, back then were aged between16 and 17 when they made “Tons of Sobs“. They were a very young band. Although, from their lyrical content they were very mature for their ages and had obviously done a lot of living from the kind of songs that they were writing.

“Tons Of Sobs” begins and ends deceptively with the pastoral sounds of Over The Green Hills (parts one and two). But in-between there are all-time blues rock classics such as Worry, Walk In My Shadow and I’m A Mover. Such is their authenticity, these songs sound like they were recorded by crusty old blues legends instead of raw new kids on the block. (Andy Fraser, let us not forget, was barely out of his school uniform at the time of the album recording.) The standout track on Tons Of Sobs is The Hunter, a swaggering version of the blues rock staple originally written for Booker T And The MGs.

No one else sounded like Free.  They didn’t play fast or punishingly loud, but when they locked onto a groove their mid-tempo sound was unmistakable and their fierce, soulful brand of raw blues unparalleled.  Paul Kossoff’s emotion-drenched guitar playing, if not especially flashy, rivalled the best in the world, while Andy Fraser’s adventurous, walking bass lines made the band sound like they had two guitarists much of the time.  

Fraser had briefly been a member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, while Kossoff and Simon Kirke came from Black Cat Bones so their blues credentials were unimpeachable.  Add to this the world-beating vocals of Paul Rodgers and you’ve got a recipe for success.  

It’s hard to think of a more impressive debut album than “Tons Of Sobs“, especially as none of the band members were yet twenty and the youngest, Andy Fraser, was barely sixteen years old when it was recorded.  All tracks were band originals except Jimmy Oden’s classic “Goin’ Down Slow” The most memorable part of this album for me is the introduction to “Goin’ Down Slow“. We are drawn into a smoky bar room with the drawly piano and then Kossoff plays that first note which sends an electric shock up your spine. More than any other group, Free were truly out there with their emotions.

Booker T’s “The Hunter” which had been a 1967 hit for Albert King.  The later Free albums may have been more successful – especially “Fire and Water” which spawned the worldwide hit “All Right Now” – but none of them tapped into the heart of the blues boom more comprehensively than “Tons of Sobs”.

It has such a mysterious cover, with a clown looking at Mickey Mouse in a coffin and a rabbit in a graveyard. On the inside cover, you have the band looking very mysterious. Paul Kossoff looks like he could rule the world!. The USA cover was completely different with just a picture of the band members.

  • The US LP version of Tons Of Sobs on was on A&M used different sleeve photos taken from the inside sleeve of the UK release 
  • The 2001 CD issue contained eight bonus tracks, including three BBC recordings
  • Producer Guy Stevens ran the UK branch of Sue records under the wing of Island records, and he was the man who named both Procol Harum and Mott the Hoople.  He also produced records for the band Art (pre-Spooky Tooth), Mighty Baby and, later, The Clash  
  • Standout track: “I’m A Mover”
  • Blues highlight: “Goin’ Down Slow

The 2016 remasters were done by Andy Pearce who has done a sterling job and these are the best the Free albums have sounded on CD. There’s something about the sound stage, the clarity of the musicians, the warmth of it. It’s probably as close as you’ll get to vinyl without having all the cracks and pops! “Tons of Sobs” was released in 1968 it is a very raw blues-rock album and Kossoff is simply on fire on this. Andy Fraser had not quite got his mojo for writing the songs yet with Paul Rogers. They are nearly all Rogers’ compositions, apart from “Moonshine“, which is written with Paul Kossoff. “Going Down Slow” is over eight and a half minutes long and the notes just pour out of Paul Kossoff’s guitar. “Sweet Tooth” is actually my favourite track. I think Kossoff’s playing is just absolutely fantastic. If you’re a fan of blues guitar, this is where Kossoff made his mark. He might have later on pulled back on the number of notes he was playing. (He never played millions of notes) but all the notes he plays are on target, and this is a classic piece of blues classic rock and every home should have one.

Paul Rodgers: Vocals, Paul Kossoff: Guitars, Andy Fraser: Bass guitar, piano, Simon Kirke: Drums, Plus: Steve Miller: Piano

Released: 14th March 1969

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