A quite sad article today, remembering one musician who died way too early. Kossoff died from a pulmonary embolism, after a blood clot in his leg shifted to his lung. One thing is when a man like Lemmy dies in his 70th year, many people would say that even 70 is too early these days, but at least he was allowed to live a full life. That was not the case for Kossoff and so many other people, famous or not, who died way before their time. May they all rest in peace and let us hope there is some kind of heaven that they and the rest of us will go.
Paul Kossoff: a tribute
By Steve Clarke
There wasn`t even an inkling of the tragedy to come when Paul Kossoff and the rest of his band, Back Street Crawler, boarded the night flight from Los Angeles to New York just 13 days ago.
They`d just completed a two-month American tour, a new album had been recorded, and for the first time in five years it seemed Paul was set to re-live the kind of fulfilment he had experienced with Free in the late `60s.
But it was not to be.
When the plane was about to start its descent on John F. Kennedy airport, attempts to rouse an apparently sleeping Kossoff were unsuccessful. Oxygen was administered and a general panic ensued. And on landing, his colleagues – including his manager of seven years, Johnny Glover – were forced to leave the plane with Paul still on board, unaware that he was in fact dead.
This tuesday, Koss – as he was affectionately called by close friends and fans alike – was buried, just 25 years old.
The results of an autopsy will not be known for a week or two, but it is well known that he suffered a serious physical breakdown involving a stay in hospital some 12 months ago, and also that his condition at that time was related to an earlier heavier involvement with drugs.
Paul Kossoff had not been a particularly healthy man since the demise of Free, one of the great English rock bands, but it wasn`t until last year that matters came to a head. He had to be kept alive artificially for half an hour after his heart, lungs and kidney had packed in. He spent his 25th birthday in hospital recovering from this almost fatal illness.
Koss`s drug problem can be linked directly to the break-up of Free in 1970. In two years the band, one of a galaxy of blues-based bands coming out of this country in the late `60s, had shot from being a club attraction to one of Britain`s major groups.
Prior to Free, Koss had played with a more orthodox blues band, Black Cat Bones. And his life seemed clearly focused around music.
At the peak of their admittedly short-lived success there wasn`t a member of Free who was over 20. And when Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser (the group`s major composers) decided to split the band in 1970, Koss and Simon Kirke wanted none of it.
When I talked to him last February, he had this to say about the break-up of Free: “I didn`t start all that drug stuff when I was with Free – that came afterwards. I just came to a standstill and got swept up by something else.”
Glover agreed with the guitarist`s opinion, “Simon and Koss would have been happy to play in Free forever. The split hit Koss worst of all – it took his life away”.
Koss and Kirke did in fact continue working together outside of Free to cut one album, “Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit”, but in terms of a working band nothing materialised from this union. When Free reformed in `72 the major reason for the re-union was the guitarist`s growing drug problem.
“I really didn`t want to do it,” Kossoff said last February. “Or rather I wanted to do it, but I couldn`t take it. There was a lot of pressure on me – Paul wanted to get me well and he believed that if he got me up and playing that would do it. And there was pressure from Island (Free`s record company). I didn`t stand a chance. I had to do it. They sort of dragged me out of my pit.”
Glover put it stronger. “I conned him into coming back into the band. It was done almost to get Paul out of the drug thing. If we worked all the time we thought we would get him out of it.”
The reformation was only a partial success and differences between Fraser and Rodgers couldn`t be patched up and it wasn`t long before Fraser quit the band, to be replaced by Tetsu and Rabbit; it was Kossoff who later turned The Faces on to Tetsu.
A British tour was cancelled after Koss fell over and broke his foot during a sound-check at Newcastle City Hall. And when Free undertook a Japanese tour, they had to leave Koss at home because he was in such a bad state. For Free`s last ever gigs (supporting Traffic in America at the beginning of `73) a replacement guitarist was brought into the line-up and Kossoff doesn`t appear on all of the band`s last album, “Heartbreaker”, released around this time. One of Rodgers` songs, the hit single, “Wishing Well,” was in fact inspired by Kossoff`s problem:
Thrown down your guns, you might shoot yourself / Or is that what you`re trying to do / Put up a fight you believe to be right / And someday the sun will shine through / You`ve always been a good friend of mine / But you’re always saying farewell / The only time when you`re satisfied / Is with your feet in the wishing well.
Kossoff`s career as a guitarist stagnated between `72 and early `75 – when he returned to the stage, jamming with acoustic guitarist John Martyn – apart from his making a solo album, “Back Street Crawler”, released in `73 and recorded over the previous two years.
Despite its hotch-potch nature, anybody interested in Kossoff`s musical vision should have this album in their collection.
In these “lost years” there were constant stories of Paul being admitted to various clinics to be straightened out, and while it`s difficult to sort out fact from fiction, there was probably a lot of truth in them.
Over a three-year period I`ve interviewed Koss three times. The first time was when he released “Back Street Crawler”, and then he was in extremely poor physical condition, his speech slurred and his manner distant. The second occasion was last February and the change in the man was radical. While it`s untrue to say that Paul was fresh-faced, his physical condition and mental attitude seemed much improved.
I remember him telling me during the first interview that he was sick of waking up and looking at “A sack of shit in the mirror”. Eighteen or so months later and he`d certainly come a long way beyond that miserable condition.
Moreover he was interested in playing again. No, that`s an understatement – he was just itching to play again and I remember him telling me what a buzz he got from appearing before an audience, and how he`d missed it. “Because I`ve started playing again I`m happy. I just feel happy. It seems that possibilities are opening up again in front of me and I`m looking forward instead of back.”
Koss was true to his word and months later he`d formed Back Street Crawler with a bunch of Texas musicians introduced to him by Rabbit.
When the band played in Newcastle last summer the reception which greeted the once-again dumpy little Koss was genuinely staggering. He obviously loved the adoration, and played up to it continually, coming on fierce and strong.
But again events overtook him and by August he was again in hospital, for the second time in just over a year.
Later, when we met him on the first (or was it the second?) day after he`d been discharged from a nursing home, he wasn`t in altogether bad shape. He told me that he hadn`t been doing an awful lot of dope prior to the illness, just the odd bit of this and that. There was no reason for him to lie since months earlier he`d confessed the sordid details of his Mandrax fits to me, and how for a short period he`d shot up heroin.
What did bother me at that meeting was that certain people seemed to be encouraging him to drink – and this was after doctors had warned him not to. I`m not saying that alcohol was being poured down his throat, but his wine glass was frequently filled. And this was a guy who`d just come out of hospital and had narrowly escaped death.
Considering what had gone down, Koss was soon back on the road, playing British dates in the autumn. A two-month American tour opened in the New Year, and it was from this series of gigs that Paul was returning when he died.
During his ten-week stay in the States, a second Back Street Crawler album was recorded. Called “Second Street” it`s out on Atlantic within the next few weeks.
When I asked Kossoff`s loyal manager, Glover, whether perhaps it had been early for him to be gigging again, he pointed out that the American tour was a relatively easy work-load with no more than three or four consecutive gigs. He also pointed out that Paul`s only interest in life was playing.
So what sort of shape had he been in recently? Fairly good, according to Glover, although he did say there`d been a fair amount of drink in Kossoff`s life recently, particularly before gigs.
“He was a very sensitive guy and he gets very nervous before playing.”
As fate would have it, Koss jammed with his old Free colleagues while in LA recently. And Glover says it`s Bad Company`s Simon Kirke who`ll be most cut up about Paul`s death. In the days, when Bad Company were being formed, there was actually talk of Paul joining Mick Ralphs on guitar within the band, but owing to his health, it just wasn`t on.
As a guitarist, Kossoff was a very special player indeed – as a listen to any of the Free albums will show. His licks were always charged with a vivid intensity, immediately recognisable, and he had the ability to build a solo from something relatively low-key to a raging torrent of sound.
Check out his solo on “Going Down Slow” from the first Free album, “Tons Of Sobs” and you`ll see what I mean.
Clapton once asked Koss how he achieved his unique tremelo sound, and while Koss doesn`t rank in the same peer group, he`s not all that far beyond – if only he`d been able to direct his talent in a better way.
Moreover, he had genuine stage presence, a lion`s mane of hair falling half way down the back of his stocky frame, his right arm crashing down mercilessly on a helpless Les Paul, mouth agape and energy pouring from his speaker stack.
So what went wrong with his personal life?
The answer Glover gives is the Free break-up. Kossoff himself though, put it like this: “I`ve been asking myself a long while, why? I think it`s something to do with my make-up as a person for a start-off… Escapism… to heighten things… masochism even – certainly main-lining is that.
“Once into drugs you get fairly morbid trains of thought – morbid interest in death and dead people. It`s quite horrific at times. I got into all that with Hendrix. Also the feeling of being in slight danger was like a romance. It`s very strange… I started to identify with Hendrix for instance.
“See, it was an escape from playing as well, `cause that`s a big responsibility in itself…”
Whatever, Koss is dead. He gave a lot of people many a buzz. Next time someone glamorises hard drugs, remember him.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Bonnie Raitt, Kevin Ayers, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gary Glitter, Rod Stewart, Donald Byrd, Shel Talmy, Neil Young, Man.
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