Joe Bonamassa teaches you Paul Kossoff's signature guitar style

I discovered Paul Kossoff from the late, great Pete Way, who is known and loved as the longtime bassist for UFO. A little known and fun fact about me is that when I was 17, I auditioned to replace Michael Schenker in UFO. I didn’t get the gig, but I did meet Pete. He was very kind to me, and we maintained a friendship throughout the years.

On the day I auditioned, Pete said my vibrato reminded him of Paul Kossoff. I said, “What’s a ‘Paul Kossoff?’” He says, “You’ve never heard of Free? With Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser?” 

I said, “No!” He then proceeded to make me a cassette of his favorite Free songs, and the first song on the tape was Walk in My Shadows, which is along the lines of what is illustrated in Figure 1

I heard this incredible vibrato, wide and fast, that sounded like what’s shown in Figure 2, and it blew me away! I was thinking, “What is this sound?” This also represented the very beginning of my affinity and longing for the ubiquitous sunburst Les Paul that all of the British rock players used, such as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Paul Kossoff.

(Image credit: Future)

Hearing Paul created this journey wherein I loved the simplicity of his sound and his vibrato, and when you married Andy Fraser’s bass playing with Paul’s guitar, the result was some of the heaviest power chords I’ve ever heard. Andy used a Gibson “SG” bass, the EB-3, and played through Marshalls while Paul played his vintage sunburst Les Paul, also through Marshalls.

(Image credit: Future)

This enabled Paul to play some simple two- and three-note chord voicings, like those shown in Figure 3, and achieve a massive sound. Add to this the voice of Paul Rodgers – perhaps the greatest rock singer of all time – and Simon Kirke’s very meat-and-potatoes, rock-solid drumming, and you get the iconic sound that we all know as the sound of Free.

(Image credit: Future)

Figure 4 illustrates more of these Kossoff-style small chord voicings, along with some of the very simple and melodic lines he’d play in his solos, accentuated by that incredible signature vibrato. 

His guitar tone always sounded like it was right on the edge, like the gear was about to “give it up,” but it never did, and his feel, his touch, his phrasing and his sense of musicality was wonderful.

(Image credit: Future)

Arguably one of the best sounds he ever achieved live was on a German television show, where he’s playing a stripped Les Paul through an Orange stack sitting on the floor. It just knocks your socks off. Figure 5 offers another example of the Kossoff-style vibrato.

One song I highly recommend checking out is Fire and Water. The chords are very simple, but the way Paul utilizes these small voicings is very effective. Figure 6 is played in the style of this seminal Free track.

Do yourself a favor and check out the entire Free catalog, as well as Paul’s side project, Back Street Crawler. You’ll be glad you did!

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Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa is one of the world’s most popular and successful blues-rock guitarists – not to mention a top producer and de facto ambassador of the blues (and of the guitar in general).