Album Review: Back Street Crawler – Second Street (1976)

Such is the way with life that when you think things are on the up and you are finally heading into some clear water a huge great tidal wave comes along and turns your world upside down all over again. Even to the point of destroying it completely. That, sadly, was the case for poor old, although old is hardly a appropriate term for one so young,  Paul Kossoff. His past tribulations and highs and lows have been well documented. From the personal pride and bewilderment he felt when his hero Jimi Hendrix took him to one side and asked him to show him how he got ‘that sound’ out of his guitar to the disgrace and embarrasment of having to have Simon Kirke placing his fingers on the fretboard to remind him how to play ‘All Right Now’ when in a drug crazed stupor before one of the final tragic Free gigs. So no need to go into any depth with that here.

After Free Kossoff formed Back Street Crawler, a band he named after his solo album of a couple of years earlier and they put out a decent enough blues rock debut album and embarked on a headlining UK tour. The tour was cutshort though due to Kossoff suffering a heart attack and being declared clinically dead for almost 30 minutes. It was after this though that things began to pick up. A reasonably well recovered Kossoff had regained a little of his old enthusiasm and the arrival of old mate John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick to replace the less suitable Mike Montgomery on keyboards had also given him a lift. Headlining shows at the Starwood Club in Los Angeles, where old mates Bad Company came along to jam seemed to signify Kossoff was on the way back and optimism was at its highest point for some time.

“Second Street” was recorded in various studios in America during Kossoff’s rehabilitation period and for this reason Snuffy Walden who had helped out on the final Free album again took some of the guitar parts when Kossoff was too ill to play. Despite this though it is clear from listening to the album that Kossoff was regaining his enthusiasm and things were definately on the up. The nine track album features four from the pen of bass player Terry Wilson, not to be confused with vocalist Terry Wilson-Slessor and four from keyboard man Rabbit, two of them co written with Dean Rutherford and just the one group composition.

Things get under way with ‘Selfish Lover’ a reasonably fast paced opener. The first thing that hits you is that the addition of Bundrick in place of Montgomery has given them more of a Free feel. Kossoff seems happier and his playing is very reminiscent of the last two Free albums, particularly Heartbreaker. Although he didn’t play on all of that album much of what he did play was some of his best work. The track features lots of flashing solo notes across riffs and vocals alike. ‘Blue Soul’ has a nice gentle acoustic guitar opening with some lovely piano underneath. Former Beckett man Terry Wilson-Slessor who is not unlike Paul Rodgers in delivery belts out a superb soulful vocal which compliments the melody perfectly. The guitar and keyboards are working well in unison as ever with Kossoff and Bundrick. What could have been little more than a simple blues soul track is turned into an atmospheric peice thanks to the powerful little sections alongside the gentleness of the main part of the song. Of course the classic weeping Kossoff guitar gives it its own majesty. ‘Stop Doing What You’re Doing’, the only group composition, is energetic and fast paced with a funky beat. Kossoff playing some great funky riffs underneath the main body of the song. Kossoff plays it like an instrumental never wasting an opportunity to flash a few notes tastefully across track. It is almost constant soloing, even behind the vocal which is rhythmically repetative but not to the point of monotony. The back end of the song takes a progression not unlike the Don Nix track ‘Going Down’. ‘Raging River’ is another track with an acoustic opening before it builds up to a better than average mid tempo folk blues track. The first half of the album ends with ‘Some Kind of Happy’ which is a truly wonderful blues soul song. With great backing vocals and a superb lead vocal delivery from Wilson-Slessor the song is packed full of emotion. As you can imagine it features more great classic Kossoff guitar. His Gibson weeping and wailing mournfully in a style not unlike that on ‘Come Together In The Morning’. The song has a great climax and is easily my favourite on the album. It is just one of those songs that hits a spot and stays with you forever.

The second half starts with ‘Sweet Beauty’ another one with a gentle opening before it builds up into a slightly faster track. A nice vehicle for Wilson-Slessor and Kossoff it is one of the shortest songs on the album and one of the least impressive. The bar is set high here though so it is still a fine track. ‘Just For You’ is a moodier bluesier song featuring a strong riff with atmospheric organ underneath. The drums of Tony Braunagel are very much to the fore here even more so than on the majority of the album. Braunagel is from the same mould as Simon Kirke, simple and effective without being overly flashy. Kossoff though flashes some great mini solo’s inbetween the verses and during the lyrics. One of Kossoff’s many qualities as a guitarist was that he was happy for the vocalist to sing over his soling. This gave his guitar a far more human crying sound and also didn’t do the vocalist any harm either as it added even more emotion to the vocal. It is tracks like this one that make you realise what a pity it was that Kossoff and Rabbit didn’t get to record with each other more as they blend perfectly and compliment each other superbly. Wilson-Slessor must have felt all his Christmases had come at once to have such great instrumentalists complimenting his vocals. ‘On Your Life’ is a good mid tempo track which is even more reminiscent of Heartbreaker era Free than the rest of the album. With a superb melody, some top notch Rabbit keyboards and another good vocal from Wilson-Slessor it is in the same vein as Bundrick’s best ever composition ‘Muddy Water’. The best compliment I can give Wilson-Slessor is that despite this whole album sounding very much like Free you never find yourself wondering if the songs would have been better sung by Paul Rodgers. Now that has to be close to the highest praise you can heap on any vocalist ….. it certainly is from me. Quite why Wilson-Slessor hasn’t had a more illustrious career is another one of those infuriating rock ‘n’ roll mysteries. ‘Leaves In The Wind’ is a faster jazzier type track with Kossoff and Rabbit playing some interesting jazz like runs under the vocal and Rabbit driving the song along with some great keyboard and piano work. Kossoff of course shines with a great slow lingering blues solo or two. It is a great laid back ending to what is an incredibly good album.

Sadly as I mentioned earlier the floor was pulled away from under the tragic Kossoff before the completed album hit the streets and “Second Street”, which remains strangely obscure, wasn’t released until after he had passed away on internal US flight on 19th March 1976. The world had lost one of its greatest guitarists but he left us one last peice of magic which finally hit the streets the following month. Where would Kossoff have gone had he survived, how would he have developed. Sadly we will never know but track this album down and give it a spin. You certainly won’t be disappointed. I’m not ashamed to say there is a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat as I write these words and the last notes of ‘Leaves In The Wind’ fade away ……

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM November 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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6 Responses to Album Review: Back Street Crawler – Second Street (1976)

  1. kevmoore says:

    Good job highlighting this one, Martin. Given that it is effectively one of rock’s greatest guitarist’s swansong, it should have a higher profile than it does. Wilson-Slessor, and his great voice, first came to my attention in Beckett, their debut, which I recently managed to track down on CD, has some fine moments, particularly ‘A rainbow’s gold’.

    • The Becket album is good and yes Rainbows Gold is the best track. I have had it for over 30 years on vinyl but have never been happy with the production. Sounds very flat from memory, not heard it in a while. Roger Chapman may have produced it I think. Hopefully the CD sounds a bit better.

  2. Thought I would just say I enjoyed your review of this disc
    Very perceptive in places..and very thorough the way you paid attention to the band and Koss’
    struggle to arrive at what is the ultimate ‘landmark’ and ‘final statement’ album for Koss and B.S.C
    Also Dean Rutherford you may be interested to know is me..
    I was ‘advised’ by our ‘management’ that a pseudonym would ‘protect’ my royalties…
    Needless to say I have received Zero from Jon Glover… ‘the management’..
    best regards
    Terry {Wilson} Slesser

    • Thanks for commenting Terry, and for the nice words about the review. Wish there was a way we could get those BSC albums a re release. Was there any other stuff recorded that might be kicking about somewhere

      Hope you are well and happy. Are you still doing anything music wise these days ?


  3. Mike couzens says:

    Great review on an excellent album,bought it when it was first released still have it,play it a lot on cd after all these years .still sound great doesnt get the airplay on radio it deserves..
    Regards Mike Couzens.

  4. fishface says:

    Probably my favourite album in my collection, the band were a joy to watch and hear. I saw Terry Slesser performing Back Street Crawler and Free Songs at the Half Moon, Putney just last month… he’s still got that marvellous voice, 40 years on!

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