Reviews Zone

Back Street Crawler: Atlantic Years 1975 – 1976 (HNE Recordings) 28th August 2020



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



Two words only should be enough of a reason to go seek out this new four-disc box set from 1970s UK rock band Back Street Crawler. Those words are “Kossof” and “Paul”. Not necessarily in that order!

Of course, I am referring to the much loved and much missed legendary guitarist Paul Kossoff, who along with singer Paul Rodgers, bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Simon Kirke, formed the mighty Free.

After Free split in 1972 after just four years together, their guitar star dropped a solo record, “Back Street Crawler” for Island Records in 1973. With Terry Wilson on bass, Mike Montgomery on keyboards, Tony Braunagel on drums and singer Terry Wilson-Slesser.

Kossoff’s “Back Street Crawler” solo record line-up spawned his new band and they were signed to Atlantic Records. The band’s debut album, “The Band Plays On” came out in 1975 and features in this set as CD one.

Prior to their debut release, they played a few UK shows, including a gig at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall on 15th June 1975, captured here on the third of of the four discs.

Featuring “The Band Played On”, “It’s A Long Way Down To The Top”, ”Train Song” and “Survivor” from the band’s debut.  Also heard are Kossoff’s “Molten Gold” and Free’s classic, “The Hunter”.

Paul Kossoff’s ill-health scuppered further touring, but he was able to contribute to the recording of the second album, “2nd Street”, which appears here on the second CD. The band by then featuring the keyboards of former Free and future The Who member, John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick.

After taking drugs since he was 15 and battling a serious addiction, Paul Kossoff died on a flight between L.A. and New York on tour with Back Street Crawler in March 1976, from a pulmonary embolism, when a blood clot travelled from his leg to his heart.

Poignantly after his drug and health issues, his epitaph at Golders Green crematorium reads: “All Right Now”, of course a reference to Free’s timeless biggest hit. The posthumously issued second Back Street Crawler LP was dedicated to “Koss”.

They played a series of shows at the famed Starwood club in L.A. and  sadly the 3rd March 1976 performance would be Paul Kossoff’s last ever show. A fan illicitly recorded the gig that night, seven tracks of which are reproduced on the fourth CD of this set.

This fourth disc is completed by studio outtakes of “Jason Blue” and “It’s A Long Way Down To The Top”, plus the unreleased “Evening Time” and “She’s Gone”. The collection here had the full involvement of Back Street Crawler front man and singer, Terry Wilson-Slesser.

HNE Recordings offer a disclaimer: “Whilst every effort has been made to produce the best possible audio, limitations in the material drawn from non-standard and unofficial sources means that the quality on CD 4 may not be up to the standard usually expected.

“All tracks have been included for their historical importance, including Paul Kossoff’s final performance.”. Well, I have heard much worse quality ‘bootlegs’. There are 10 + 9 + 14 + 11 tracks here, so 44 in total.

Paul Kossoff was the son of Margaret Jenkins and actor David Kossoff, who was of Russian-Jewish descent. He had a brother Simon. Paul began classical guitar lessons at nine until 15. He wanted an electric guitar after seeing Eric Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1965. He bought a Gibson Les Paul Custom.

In 1966 he got a job as salesman at Selmer’s Music Shop in Charing Cross Road, London and had guitar lessons from a session player who worked in the guitar department there.

The same year, Paul joined Black Cat Bones blues band, and they played with blues piano player Champion Jack Dupree. , They often supported Fleetwood Mac and also played gigs with Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green.

Paul’s bandmate in Black Cat Bones was drummer Simon Kirke, and the two went on to play on Champion Jack Dupree’s April 1968 album, “When You Feel the Feeling You Was Feeling”.

In April 1968, Kossoff and Kirke teamed up with singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser to form Free. They toured for two years, during which time they recorded two albums: “Tons of Sobs” in  ’68 and “Free” in ’69.

Their third album, “Fire and Water” in 1970, featured the hit “All Right Now”. They appeared at the famed Isle of Wight Festival and completed sold-out tours of the UK, Europe, and Japan.

After 1970’s “Highway” had poor sales, the band called it a day. “Free Live” was recorded in 1970 and released in 1971 as their farewell record.

Kossoff and Kirke teamed up with keyboard player John “Rabbit” Bundrick and Japanese bass player Tetsu Yamauchi to release the 1971 album, “Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit”.

Free then reformed and released the album “Free At Last” in 1972, after which Andy Fraser quit and Free brought in Tetsu and Rabbit for Free’s 1973 album, “Heartbreaker. They then split for good.

After his solo album, Paul played for John Martyn on his 1975 tour, before assembling his band Back Street Crawler. After Kossoff’s death, the band, now called ‘Crawler’, made further albums.

Pail Francis Kossoff aka “Koss”, was one of the best rock and blues guitarists the UK has ever produced and he influenced many players to come – and still does. This box set is a lovely reminder of just how talented he was, some 44 years after his untimely demise at the age of 25.


By Christopher Weston



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