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The band managed to record a few albums during its brief resurgence: 1971’s Free Live and the studio efforts Free at Last and Heartbreaker in ’72 and ’73, respectively. Their tours, however, were hampered by Kossoff’s unreliability. The band called it quits for good in 1973.
Rodgers says the group was never able to recover from the turmoil of the earlier dissolution. “Splitting up was big news. It was official, and it was headline news: ‘Free Splits Up.’ All of a sudden, the spell was broken between us, and when we got back together again it just wasn’t the same. It was hard to rekindle what we had prior to all that.”
Kossoff immediately began working on his first solo record, Back Street Crawler, which featured guest appearances by his former Free bandmates as well as Alan White of Yes. The record was widely acclaimed but didn’t live up to the popularity of Free’s music. Kossoff then formed a band named Back Street Crawler and released The Band Plays On in 1975.
As the years wore on, Kossoff’s drug dependency worsened. “The big problem with Koss was he couldn't say no, and there were always people ready to take advantage,” Back Street Crawler manager Mike Green explained in an interview with Get Ready To Rock. “We were recording the first Back Street Crawler album at Olympic Studios, and every night I had to search everywhere, including the toilets, to make sure nobody had left any little presents for him. But no matter how thoroughly you searched there were times when he would still manage to get out of it. He wasn't addicted to anything in particular—he would take anything he could get his hands on.”
Back Street Crawler embarked on a headlining tour of the U.K. in 1975, but it was cancelled midway through when Kossoff developed a debilitating stomach ulcer. While getting treatment, Kossoff suffered a massive heart attack. It took the doctors 30 minutes to revive him.
Once out of the hospital, Kossoff went back on the road with his band, which subsequently recorded another album titled 2nd Street in 1976. In his weakened state, Kossoff was no longer able to perform to the level everyone expected, so most of guitar parts were played by session guitarist W.G. “Snuffy” Walden.
A live version of one of the great Free tracks that shows off Kossoff's vibrato, as well as his ability to shift the root note of a chord for a fuller sound.
All Right Now
Shortly after the release of 2nd Street, Back Street Crawler undertook a U.S. tour, which was again hampered by Kossoff’s condition. A bright spot occurred when Kossoff bumped into his former Free bandmates Kirke and Rodgers, now members of the supergroup Bad Company. “He was in town playing with his group when we were in LA,” remembers Rogers. “We went to visit him and had a big jam. I didn’t realize that he was in such bad shape at that point, because he seemed together. They told me afterwards that he pulled himself together for that night. That was the last time I saw him.”
On March 19, 1976, Kossoff boarded a plane in L.A. bound for New York, but he reach his destination. Midflight, Kossoff experienced a cerebral and pulmonary edema and died at the age of 25. “I was on tour with Bad Company when I heard the news,” says Rodgers. “It was just devastating.” Kossoff was laid to rest at Golders Green Crematorium, his headstone marked with a simple epitaph: “All Right Now.”
Kossoff’s father David set up the Paul Kossoff Foundation to raise awareness about substance abuse. Rodgers purchased one of Kossoff’s ’59 Gibson Les Pauls and later auctioned the instrument, donating the proceeds to the Foundation.
Gibson honored Kossoff in 2012 with a limited run of replicas of his later Free-era/Back Street Crawler Les Paul, debuted at NAMM by blues/rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa. “I inadvertently introduced Arthur Ram [current owner of the Paul Kossoff guitar] and Pat Foley [Head of Gibson Artist Relations] at a gig in Newcastle in 2009,” Bonamassa says. “I was just happy to help get the name Paul Kossoff out there.”
Paul Kossoff wasn’t the flashiest guitar player on the planet, and in the years since his passing, his name has been dwarfed by those of some of his contemporaries. He may not have been the fastest shredder, but he’s certainly among those legendary players who become one with the instrument. “One of the great things about Koss was that he played every note like his life depended on it,” declared Rodgers. “He was so passionate about his playing.” That passion shone through on record as well as onstage. It’s what set Paul Kossoff apart, and is the reason he should never be forgotten.