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Interview: Mike Green on Paul Kossoff

Rock Stars...  

Paul Kossoff

GRTR! reviewer Betsy Green interviews her father Mike Green on his experiences with estranged guitarist, PAUL KOSSOFF.

Mike managed Paul in 1975 and tour managed his band Back Street Crawler.

How did you become involved in the music business?

My interest in music began in the fifties with Rock n Roll, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. I became involved with the actual business in the late sixties when I promoted bands in Hull where I lived at the time.

It was only a small venture but it was at a time when bands who later became famous were starting out and could be booked for next to nothing. I remember booking Jethro Tull for thirty pounds, I've still got the contract signed by Ian Anderson. They were followed by Ten Years After, Amen Corner, Savoy Brown, The Attack, Wynder K Frogg, The Rats with Mick Ronson and The Mandrakes with Robert Palmer who were both, at the time, local support groups.

In the early seventies I went to Hull University where I studied Economics while at the same time working on the entertainments committee promoting the likes of Wings, Rory Gallagher, Sparks to name but a few.

On leaving University I was offered a job with Robin Trower by an old friend who at the time was managing him.

Following my time with Robin I worked with GRIMMS a theatrical group consisting of Neil Innes, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Andy Roberts and John Gorman from the Scaffold.

How did you eventually get to work with Paul Kossoff?

It was through working with GRIMMS. The management company who were looking after them were also looking after Paul. One of the partners, John Glover, had been with Paul since the early days of Free.

I'd just finished touring with GRIMMS and I was at home in Hull when I got a phone call from offering me a job with Koss. It involved looking after him on a day to day basis and tour managing his band 'Back Street Crawler' when they were on the road. I can imagine people reading my interview write up and thinking, I'd have given my right arm for an opportunity like that, and I can see why they would but in 1975 things were a bit different.

Free had broken up and the stories about Paul's problems with drugs were the stuff that legends are made of. Koss' appetite for chemicals made today's celebrity drug takers look like Mother Theresa.

It was not an easy decision. On the one hand I was a big fan, I'd met Paul previously and he'd seemed a perfectly nice bloke but on the other hand there were the all the stories about his problems and how they had contributed to the breakup of Free.

Part of me wanted to take the job but I didn't want to get involved with something that would in today's terms be as much fun as working as a street cleaner in Bagdad.

Eventually I decided in spite of all my reservations the chance to work with Paul was far too big an opportunity to pass on so I said yes and the following day I was sat in the old Island studios in Basing Street waiting to become reacquainted with Paul and to meet Back Street Crawler.

The other members of Crawler were Mike Montgomery, Terry Wilson. Tony Braunagel and Terry Slessor. Terry Slessor was the only British member of the band the rest were Americans who had previously worked with Johnny Nash of "I can see clearly," fame


The big problem with Koss was he couldn't say no and there were always people ready to take advantage

What was he like to work with?

Koss was like all people who have drug problems they have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Koss could be the most charming man on the planet one minute and the next the most devious one. Anybody who has had anything to do with addiction will recognise the symptoms.

Working with him was like riding a roller coaster. My first couple of weeks with Paul made me wish I'd never set eyes on him. Once he knew that I was there to keep him away from both undesirable people and substances he classed me as the enemy and wasted no opportunity to ridicule and humiliate me but when he realised that I wasn't going away we came to an understanding and from then on we got on fine. It was after this that I moved into the house he shared with his girl friend Sandi in Reading.

The big problem with Koss was he couldn't say no and there were always people ready to take advantage. When we were recording the first Backstreet Crawler album at Olympic studios 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.


...when he was straight he was great company he would talk a lot about music and surprisingly Egyptology which he had an amazing knowledge of. We would do quite normal things like going into Reading shopping and going to the pub for a drink.

Can you explain more about his drug issues?

While recording at Olympic there was also the problem of other musicians who had similar problems to Paul but the road crew seemed to know the personal habits of almost everybody in the business so anybody who might pose a threat to Paul was politely told to go and play with somebody else.

When I first worked for Paul I thought that I knew something about drugs that myth was soon dispelled. He complained about having a bad stomach and sent me for a bottle of kaolin and morphine which he promptly drank. This came as a bit of a shock as I was used to one spoonful to be taken three times daily but I soon learned.

This wasn't the whole story though when he was straight he was great company he would talk a lot about music and surprisingly Egyptology which he had an amazing knowledge of. We would do quite normal things like going into Reading shopping and going to the pub for a drink.

This may not sound at all Rock n Roll but it shows that Koss wasn't always the drug soaked character who spent his entire life taking everything from paracetamol to elephant tranquilisers as he is frequently portrayed.

How much did drugs affect his playing?

There is no doubt about that. The stories of him being unable to do concerts, collapsing on stage, having to be shown the chords to Alright Now are sadly all true. Towards the break-up of Free Paul was in pitiful condition.

During the recording of the first Backstreet Crawler album and tour, despite a few setbacks, there were times when his playing was as good as it ever was but it was a brief respite and he soon went back to his old ways which were unfortunately to lead to his early death.

Koss's playing was like a man twice his years. His playing was full of raw emotion he put himself into every note he played audiences would go absolutely beserk when he did The Hunter

Which guitar players influenced him and how do you think he would rate with to-day's musicians?

The two main influences on Paul were Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He had met Jimi when he was working at Selmer's in London. Hendrix had come into try a guitar and Koss was smitten by him and remained that way for the rest of his life.

Eric Clapton also had an equally profound affect. Paul saw John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton at the Golders Green Blues Club and that was it he wanted to play like Eric. Years later when Free toured the states with Blind Faith Clapton asked Paul how he achieved his vibrato Koss was dumbfounded in fact they got on so well they exchanged guitars.

The stories of Paul's excesses have tended to overshadow how good he was. At their peak Free were one of the best bands in the world. With Paul Rodgers, Andy Fraser, Simon Kirk and Paul on a good night they could match anybody.

Those who were lucky enough see them live will know exactly what I'm talking about and it was during this time that Paul was at his best. It's hard to believe that they were all teenagers, Koss's playing was like a man twice his years. His playing was full of raw emotion he put himself into every note he played audiences would go absolutely beserk when he did The Hunter.

How would I compare him with to-day's heroes?

I'm probably a little bit biased but I think his playing both on record and live puts him up there with the best. Every year there is a Free Convention which more than thirty years after they split still attracts hundreds of Fans, both young and old who would tell you nobody has ever played like Koss.

When did you last see him?

I was working at the Edinburgh Festival where I got a phone call from Rob Winn, one of his management team to tell me about his heart attack. The following week I went to see him in Hospital he was very positive and looking forward to coming out and playing again, that was the last time that I saw him. I was at home, I'd left the music business and was training to be a teacher, when I got a call from Sandi Chard, Paul's girlfriend, telling that he had died. I went to the funeral with the other members of Backstreet Crawler it was a very sad occasion for everybody especially his family.

What do you remember most about him?

Apart from his playing it was his lack of any sort of Ego. I've met guitar players in pubs with bigger egos than Paul. When he was straight he was, in lots of ways, just an ordinary bloke. He never got over the break-up of Free and it was very poignant that the last time he ever played live was jamming with Bad Company in Los Angeles the band I think he felt he should have been in but because of circumstances could never have been.


Interview © May 2009 Betsy Green

Album review (Back Street Crawler)

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