Free disbanded for the first time in 1971 due to growing friction between members of the band. Three spin off bands were created, Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit by Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke. Toby by Andy Fraser and Peace by Paul Rodgers. Only Kossoff and Kirke’s outfit managed to record and release an album though. One Toby track ‘Travelling Man’ did turn up on a compilation album as did a few Peace tracks which also featured Mick Underwood who would go on to be a member of Gillan on the drum stool. The Free reformation came around quickly and within a year of splitting they had reformed and released a new album Free At Last. The songs for that album were largely ones Fraser and Rodgers had ready for their new bands but in a show of collective togetherness they declared them all Fraser/Kirke/Kossoff/Rodgers compositions. That honeymoon period didn’t last long though and before too long Fraser had jumped ship and they brought in Tetsu and Rabbit on bass and keyboards. The one album recorded by that line up aptly entitled ‘Heartbreaker’ saw Kossoff relegated to a session musician on the album sleeve and not named as part of the band. Things were indeed looking bleak for the man who just a few years earlier had mesmerised Hendrix with his sound.
Kossoff had been something of a liability on the final Free tour and had often been replaced by Wendell Richardson from Osibisa or Paul Rodgers had taken on guitar and vocal duties. He somehow though managed to get himself together and moderate his drug addiction enough to go into Island’s Notting Hill studio a short while later to record a solo album.
The resulting album ‘Back Street Crawler’ is a mostly instrumental jam like affair which displays every ounce of Kossoff’s guitar playing genius at its best. Indeed Side One on the original vinyl edition is given entirely to one song. The seventeen and a half minute opus ‘Tuesday Morning’. The track constantly builds and takes you into different directions and styles on a whim. There is hard riffing, flashes of mournful soul, slight ventures into jazz, blues and even folky tones throughout its duration. The keyboards from Rabbit underneath the flashes of the guitar are a perfect blend and as I have said elsewhere Rabbit and Kossoff were musically a great match. The first significant solo kicks in at about the ninety second mark and Kossoff wrings out those high wailing notes from the Gibson whilst Rabbit keeps it all in tune underneath. Top class stuff. The second solo is a dirtier sounding one and then the track goes off in a totally different slower direction. Kossoff creating a great vibrating sound behind the main riff which is very atmospheric. I could wax lyrical about it all night but you would be better off going and listening to it.
The first of four tracks on Side Two is the criminally short ‘I’m Ready’. One of only two tracks on the album to feature vocals this song was my introduction to Jess Roden who sang the lead vocal and co-wrote the song with Jean Roussel. The track itself would not have been out of place on Roden’s debut solo album of the following year and Kossoff happily shares the limelight with the vocalist despite it being the guitarists name on the cover. The solo parts complimenting the vocal and not trying to steal the singers thunder. The song has an almost jazzy soul like feel to it. Once again the keyboards are vital to the song but this time its courtesy of co writer Jean Roussel. Roussel has a CV which is like a who’s who of music from the 70s and it would probably be easier to list people he hasn’t been involved with than to try and include them.
Next up is another instrumental ‘Time Away’ which Kossoff co wrote with John Martyn. This track is considerably shorter than the opener even though the original jam lasted thirty eight minutes and is also much slower, atmospheric and mournful. Once again instead of reading me waffling about it you would be better off going to listen to it. Thanks to the new deluxe edition you can actually listen to the whole thirty eight minutes of it on the second disc.
The second of the tracks to feature vocals isn’t from the sessions for this album at all but is actually an out take from the sessions for the Free At Last album recorded the previous year. ‘Molten Gold’ was written by Kossoff and features the other members of Free. Paul Rodgers on vocals, Andy Fraser on bass and Simon Kirke on drums. Rabbits organ and piano were added at the Back Street Crawler sessions as was the backing vocal by Jess Roden. The song itself is pretty typical of the Free At Last material and it must have been a close call as to whether it was included. The Free remasters series and box set ‘Songs of Yesterday’ have other versions of the track without Rabbit and Roden.
The final track is the title track and although it is another instrumental initially it was supposed to have a vocal on it sung by Kossoff but for some reason it was never added. Kossoff had sung a track on the Kossoff Kirke Tetsu and Rabbit album so was more than capable of handling a vocal.
Back Street Crawler is an album that highlights everything that is good about Kossoff’s guitar playing. There has still never been anyone close to recreating that sound on a guitar and he remains in my top three all time guitarists. The album itself has now been given the Island Deluxe Edition treatment and if you can track one down it is a must for every Kossoff fan. Not only do you get the full thirty eight minute Time Away jam but you also get six versions of ‘Tuesday Morning’ all done in a slightly different way. The full extended version of ‘I’m Ready’ as well as another take entirely, a second version of the title track and two more versions of ‘Molten Gold’. Just for good measure you can also add three new tracks ‘Leslie Jam’, John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ and a version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’.
This album has been in heavy rotation for me ever since I first heard it and it will always remain one of my favourites an=s it not only highlights the genius of Paul Kossoff but also introduced me to Jess Roden who would go on to be one of my favourite singers.
© Martin Leedham. First published 26th November 2019