Obituary: Andrew McLan Fraser, musician

Rock bassist famed for co-writing the anthemic Free. Picture: Contributed
Rock bassist famed for co-writing the anthemic Free. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 3 July, 1952, in Paddington, London. Died: 16 March, 2015, in Temecula, California, aged 62.

ANDY Fraser will be remembered as co-writer as one of the most distinctive and memorable riffs in rock history, that of All Right Now by English group Free, which he joined as bass guitarist when he was 15 and left for good five years later having sold 20 million records. The young age of his success was made even more impressive by the fact he had already played briefly in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers by the time he joined Free, although his post-Free group Sharks were not a commercial success.

He would, however, move to California in the late 1970s to concentrate on a songwriting career, penning tracks for Chaka Khan, Paul Young, Joe Cocker and Robert Palmer. The latter’s first major international hit, Every Kinda People (1978), was Fraser’s other most well-known songwriting credit.

Born Andrew McLan Fraser in Paddington in 1952, he began playing piano at the age of five at his own request, shortly before his parents divorced and his father became estranged from the family.

“I had to make a deal with [my mother], that if she got [a piano], I had to take piano lessons,” he wrote in his website biography. “Of course I didn’t think I needed lessons, but I made the deal.”

The old junk shop piano she bought sat in the family home for a decade and more, and ­Fraser wrote parts of many early Free songs on it.

Around the age of 12 he met like-minded musicians at school and begin to form groups with them, switching to the bass guitar because everyone else wanted to fill the more glamorous roles of singer or guitarist and he was too diplomatic to contest this with them. Nevertheless, he understood how to transfer his existing musical tuition between instruments, as he later said it made the bass easier to learn and gain fluency.

Continuing the theme of precocity, which he said was responsible for his demanding a piano in the first place, at the age of 13 Fraser was touring London on his own, finding musicians to play and rehearse with, mostly West Indian players who introduced him to authentic ska, R’n’B and soul sounds. A Beatles fan with excellent school results but a non-conformist attitude by the age of 15, he was expelled from St Clement Danes grammar school and joined Hammersmith College of Further Education. Here he made friends with Sappho Korner, and then her father Alexis, the influential British blues musician.

Fraser later described Alexis Korner as a fatherly influence during this period, and he was certainly one of the main reasons the young bassist’s career ignited so quickly. Called by John Mayall, who urgently needed a new bassist to take on his imminent European tour, ­Korner recommended Fraser.

In his biography, Fraser remembers auditioning for Mayall on the Saturday and being bought brand new equipment and given a European tour itinerary on Monday. He quit college and was soon driving around Europe with Mayall and his Bluesbreakers, including the then 18-year-old future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor.

When his short engagement with the Bluesbreakers was up, Fraser could again thank Kor­ner for a boost into his most famous venture. Having been put in touch with guitarist Paul ­Kossoff, who was looking for a bassist for his new band alongside singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke, Fraser joined them as Free in 1968, with Korner helping secure their management and record deal with Island.

Within a year they released their unsuccessful debut album Tons of Sobs and a few months later the similarly unheralded follow-up Free, although 1970s third effort Fire and Water – and particularly Fraser and Rodgers’ co-written All Right Now, which was supposedly penned quickly in the dressing room after a poor gig at a Durham student union – would propel them very rapidly to international success.

A hard-working and – particularly in the case of Kossoff – hard-partying band, the group would continue to release in quick succession: first with the 1971 follow-up album Highway, a flop compared to what had gone before; then the seminal Free Live! album, released while the band had briefly split due to differences between Fraser and Rodgers; and finally Free At Last, recorded in a state of ­enforced calm to try to help Kossoff through his drug issues. Although the band would carry on with Heartbreaker, Fraser left after Free At Last in dismay at ­Kossoff’s unreliability, describing the recording of the record as “gruelling”. Kossoff would die of a drug overdose in 1976.

After stalled experiments with the Andy Fraser Band and Sharks, Fraser moved to California in the late 1970s to escape the climate, taking with him his new partner Ri (Henrietta), a visual artist. Despite this relationship, it was also around this time that Fraser would have his first gay experience, although his sexuality would cause him issues with denial and depression for some years until he came to terms with it. During the late 1970s and early 1980s his songwriter-for-hire career was at its peak, with Every Kinda People proving to be a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Releasing the solo record Fine, Fine Line in 1984, Fraser was not long after diagnosed with AIDS and Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, which saw him pull out of the limelight until his next solo album
Naked … and Finally Free in 2005, recorded with his daughters. “I feel now I have the family vibe I always looked for in a band, something really special,” he said at the time. “Only the best things are done in love.”

Andy Fraser died at home in Temecula, California, at the age of 62, with the cause of death as yet unknown. He leaves behind daughters Hannah and Jasmine, their mother Ri, and Fraser’s three surviving siblings. Hannah’s statement upon his death touched upon his many charitable works and activist roles for Rock Against Trafficking, gay rights, the Occupy movement and ocean conservation.