SIMON KIRKE AND JOHN "RABBIT" BUNDRICK - ON "HEAVY LOAD"

(photos courtesy of Lucy Piller - Free - Bad Company - Paul Rodgers - Fan Website www.allrightnow.com)

Tom Guerra recently got a chance to talk to former Free drummer Simon Kirke and keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick about the new book "Heavy Load", the story of Free. Since the breakup of Free, Simon went on to fortune and fame with Bad Company, and "Rabbit" has played with a host of big names including Bob Marley, Johnny Nash, Mick Jagger, and Snuffy Walden. Since 1979, Rabbit (whose website is http://www.johnbundrick.freeserve.co.uk), has been keyboardist with The Who. This interview is for publication in Vintage Guitar magazine.

Vintage Guitar: Greetings Simon and Rabbit - Can you comment first on what went through your mind when you heard a book on Free was in the works?

Simon: My first thought when I heard about the book was "About bloody time!" It's been so long since Free was around but I suppose time has added to the mystique somewhat. The story is such a classic one of humble beginnings and then the triumphs and tragedies that befell us. I think it makes for compulsive reading. It also gave everyone who was involved in the band the chance to tell their tale.

Rabbit: My first thought was, "Oh boy, they're not gonna let FREE die. Free are still alive and well in the souls of the fans." Naturally, when I heard that (Free historian) David Clayton was heading it up, I knew it would be good. Dave is very thorough, and doesn't let anything slip through the net. He needs to learn how to spell though... It's always a real treat to see photos in books like this, and Dave filled the book up... bringing back all those lovely memories of the guys in the old days. Very nice touch!

VG: ...And after the book came out and you read it, what were your opinions on the accuracy, the completeness of the story, and the overall writing styles?

Simon: Having read the book I was very impressed by the accuracy and thoroughness of the text. I have known David Clayton on and off for several years and he really loves the band and I think it showed in this book. He and Todd Smith spent years in putting it together. I was also very moved by the stories. Most of the events took place over 30 years ago and I had forgotten them. The 'oral history' aspect of the book worked well... It gave it a conversational feel...

Rabbit: I thought it was a very professional job, and well done. So good in fact, that I'm gonna give my copy to Pete Townshend to read. The hardcover design is excellent, showing the 'real' Free at their best. Overall, the accuracy was spot on, however, anytime you deal with a pot of memories, somewhere along the way, somebody remembers an event a little bit different to somebody else, but all in all, Dave and Todd Smith juggled it around beautifully. The story will never really be complete, because all of us who were in Free except Koss are still alive are still very active, and Terry Wilson, and Tony Braunagel, bassist and drummer from 'Crawler', which was Kossoff's off-shoot band of Free, are still active in Los Angeles. Tony plays drums for Taj Majal, and Terry and his vocalist wife are releasing records that would put Bonnie Raitt to shame. Teresa Wilson has a voice to die for, so really, the story goes on.

VG: What do you remember most about your time with Free?

Simon: I suppose the high points include performing at the first Isle Of Wight festival, Wilson Pickett's version of Fire & Water - Paul Rodgers was on cloud nine for weeks after! Also, receiving our one and only gold disc for "Alright Now"...shows at Sunderland and Newcastle during our heyday...scenes you would not believe.....Touring with Traffic and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section in 1973...Pete Townsend coming up to our van and saying how much he like "Alright Now" prior to our ferry ride to the Isle Of Wight festival. Ditto Elton John a couple of weeks later....

Rabbit: My most memorable thoughts about my time with Free are really numerous. I suppose the main vibe i remember to this day, was one of honest, completely un-bending, hard, hard, work with 4 guys who brought me into the fold without any pre-judgement. They didn't know me at all, yet invited me in to jam, and when we jammed, we went for it hard. No holds barred, everything was an experiment, like 'mad scientists' in the laboratory. We were creating a monster, that at the end of the day, bit us all in the ass ! I can still recall the smell of Basing Street Studios, the family type vibe from Chris Blackwell, and all the staff, and all the other bands on Island's label. We were like farm animals in Blackwell's Barn. Slopping it out, trying this and trying that. It was a great experience, and a great learning curve for me, a lone Texan, to be thrown in the middle of a load of Englishmen who took me by the horn, and steered me in the right musical direction. I owe all of this to Free. We must not forget Tetsu Yamauchi, the bassist who took over from Andy, in Free. Tetsu was an admirable replacement for the "new" Free line-up. I still am in touch with him today. Tetsu now lives in his home country of japan. Richard Digby Smith, the resident engineer at Island, was my mentor, and helped me wade thru all these different English type musos, and explained what was going on most of the time, when I hadn't a clue as to how to deal with an Englishman who happens to be mad at me. Digby soon showed me the ropes, and how to stay out of trouble. I think to this day though, he will recall that I was quite a handful to deal with, myself. Touring with Free was always a treat. I felt like I was in the big time, playing with the big boys. These guys really knew their stuff, so I was in with the right crowd, you can be sure. Whenever Paul would open his mouth and sing, you knew you were in the right place, on stage with him. Me and Simon always got on, and are still good friends today. Simon was the peacemaker. He stepped in the middle of trouble several times, but nobody was gonna mess with him, so any trouble soon got dispersed. Overall, the total experience of recording in the studio, rehearsal was always a drag, and doing the wonderful tours, was an experience I have never matched to this day. Long live Free!

VG: Since the breakup of the band, do you think Free been given the proper place in rock history, and if not, what do you think Free's legacy should be?

Simon: I think Free should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, quite honestly. We influenced a lot of bands and although we didn't sell as many records over in the States as in England there is still a lot of respect for us. Whether or not we will remains to be seen.... Our legacy was a blues based, soulful music played with passion and feel. We lived and died for that band...............

Rabbit: No, I don't think Free has been given its proper place in rock history! I'm sure it's mainly due to the fact that they didn't survive long enough to really conquer the American market. They hit on it, pushed it around a bit, but never kicked it to death. So, they didn't have the endurance of say, 'The Who', or 'The Rolling Stones'. Free could have been just as big, in my eyes. With a singer like Paul Rodgers on board, it's pretty hard for the boat to sink! In fact, I think Paul should have his place in the 'Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.' Free's legacy is... The Band That Started It All In The 70's! The Godfathers Of White Soul Music! They influenced a slew of bands like "Foreigner", "Kansas", "Humble Pie", and all of the sound-alike singers who mimic Paul Rodgers. Paul's phrasing is very original, and when you hear a singer using Paul's style, you easily pick up on it.

VG: What would you like the readers of Vintage Guitar to know about Free (little known facts, anecdotes, etc.)?

Simon: We schlepped Eric Clapton's totem pole up and down the West Coast leg of the U.S. Blind Faith tour in our tour bus. He has it in his garden in Surrey. Also, the guitar he swapped with Koss on that tour (a '59 Les Paul Standard) was just auctioned for one hundred thousand dollars last year for charity.

Rabbit: I'd like people to know that Paul Rodgers and I don't hate each other. It's a myth, generated from one bad encounter in 1972. He's the finest rock singer on the planet, bar none!

VG: What have you and the surviving members of Free done in the years following the breakup?

Rabbit: Of course Paul (Rodgers) and Simon went on to Bad Company, who recently reformed for a reunion tour. Paul is with them off and on, plus he does his amazing solo work. I went on to join The Who. Also, we must not forget Tetsu Yamauchi, the bassist who took over from Andy, in Free. Tetsu was an admirable replacement for the "new" Free line-up and he now lives in his home country of Japan. Richard Digby Smith, our resident engineer at island, was my mentor, and helped me wade through all these different English type musos, and explained what was going on most of the time, when I hadn't a clue as to how to deal with an Englishman who happens to be mad at me!!! So really, the story of Free goes on!

Simon: Since the BadCo reunion tour I have been on a couple more All-Starr tours with Ringo... I write songs and do sessions and at the moment am involved with film scoring and supervision. I live in New York City with my wife and four children.

-Tom Guerra

CLICK HERE FOR TOM GUERRA'S REVIEW OF"HEAVY LOAD"

BACK TO TOP | GUITARIST INTERVEWS