4 guitar tricks you can learn from Paul Kossoff

Paul Kossoff Lesson
(Image credit: Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Six years into his training as a classical guitarist, Paul Kossoff witnessed Eric Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Soon afterwards, Paul bought his own Gibson Les Paul – which, in the mid 1960s, had already been out of production for five years or so! 

Stints with Black Cat Bones and Champion Jack Dupree led to Paul joining Free in the spring of 1968. Paul’s style encompassed elements of blues and soul, using unorthodox chord voicings, which filled out Free’s ‘power trio’ format and set him apart from many of his peers – along with his heartfelt solos, featuring an inimitable vibrato (I should know, I tried very hard in the example solo!).  

Playing a solo ‘in the style of’ any guitarist is a tricky thing to do. How are we to second-guess how a player might react to a chord progression or dynamic? 

My approach has been to take an overview of some of Paul’s best-known solos, mixing open strings with fretted notes like his solo in All Right Now, expanding this into arpeggiated type patterns as heard in Mr Big, and sustained string bends with vibrato reminiscent of Fire And Water (though not sustained quite as Paul’s – I couldn’t get away with quite that volume in the studio!).

Paul was not a keen user of effects pedals, not that there were many available during Free’s heyday. He would usually plug into Marshall heads and cabinets, though he was also seen using Orange amps, and there are rumours of him having used a Selmer Treble-N-Bass 50 for the recording of All Right Now.

Whatever he used, the key is a driven, rather than distorted, tone. Paul was going for melody in his playing, not rippling scale or arpeggio runs – and that vibrato is deservedly infamous. Enjoy and I’ll see you next time.

Example 1

(Image credit: Future)

This first example is inspired by the All Right Now solo, with sustained notes, vibrato and open strings left to ring against fretted ones, which really helps fill out the sound. 

Paul would often overdub over his own rhythm guitar in the studio, but this approach may have originated from live shows where he wouldn’t have had this luxury. Keep the feel relaxed – allow things to drift late, rather than anticipating the beat.

Example 2

(Image credit: Future)

Continuing the theme, this phrase travels up the second string, keeping the open top E ringing before adopting a more traditional blues scale approach. 

It’s important to put yourself in a melodic frame of mind, rather than diving into habitual licks here – Paul certainly did have his favourite phrases but he never played ‘by numbers’. Another way of putting this is that it’s all about the delivery, not the amount of notes!

Example 3

(Image credit: Future)

We’re moving up a gear in this example, quite literally in terms of the fretboard but also with a few more comparatively rapid-fire ideas. Paul loved phrases like that in bar 1, though we finish up in a slightly less typical style. 

His solo in Mr Big featured an extended section similar to the last bar – this isn’t fully transcribed here but take what we have in the last bar and check out the video, and there should be no great mystery if you want to recreate this.

Example 4

(Image credit: Future)

Paul knew how to create dynamics by building to the final soaring high notes of a solo, and that’s what I was going for here. We finish in a similar way to how we started, playing melodic ideas along a single string rather than from scale shapes or patterns. This is a great way to develop melodies without falling into the habits scales can tie us up in.

Here it here

Free – Tons of Sobs

On this first release, Free are on raucous form, with Kossoff’s riffs and solo fills front and centre on Walk In My Shadow. I’m A Mover also allows him to stretch out over Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke’s funky rhythm section. 

The blues classic The Hunter features quite a few overdubs compared with the frequently sparse nature of the band’s later material, but you can still hear that distinctive vibrato cutting through everything.

Free – S/T

Recorded in the first half of 1969 and released later that year, this album takes a more song-focused approach, which apparently caused some friction with the spontaneous Kossoff – although his signature soloing still leads the way on I’ll Be Creepin’, Woman and Broad Daylight. The latter displayed a more soul-based approach (along the lines of Hendrix/Curtis Mayfield) that Paul would favour on some of Free’s later material.

Free – Fire and Water

Kicking off with the title track, the Fire And Water album represents Free really hitting their stride. Oh I Wept manages to combine blues, soul and rock in the way only Free seem to have done, and we have gems such as Mr Big, Don’t Say You Love Me and, of course, All Right Now, which was apparently composed specifically to provide an upbeat closer for their shows. Looks like it did the trick!

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Richard Barrett

As well as a longtime contributor to Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, Richard is Tony Hadley’s longstanding guitarist, and has worked with everyone from Roger Daltrey to Ronan Keating.