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Back Street Crawler: 2nd Street - Album Of The Week Club review

Back Street Crawler's 2nd Street: the last will and testament of former Free guitarist Paul Kossoff

Back Street Crawler: 2nd Street
(Image: © Atco)
Back Street Crawler: 2nd Street

Back Street Crawler: 2nd Street

(Image credit: Atco)

Selfish Lover
Blue Soul
Stop Doing What You're Doing
Raging River
Some Kind of Happy
Sweet, Sweet Beauty
Just for You
On Your Life
Leaves In The Wind

Paul Kossoff’s solo album, Back Street Crawler, slipped out in November ’73. In 1975, Ahmet Ertegun, the Atlantic Records mogul who’d signed Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, signed Back Street Crawler (now the name of the band) and publicly declared Kossoff ‘the emperor of the blues’. It was a new beginning for the former Free guitarist, and a chance to shine. 

The deal was reported as being worth a quarter of a million dollars, although Free’s ex-manager John Glover insisted it was $150,000. “There was no going back now,” he admitted, “so we had to keep Koss in as good a nick as we could.”

But trouble was never far away. After the band were photographed signing their contract at London’s Olympic Studios, Kossoff climbed out of the bathroom window, jumped into his car and proceeded to crash into several stationary vehicles. “And then he dumped his car and walked home,” recalled Glover, who witnessed the carnage.

Back Street Crawler’s debut album, The Band Plays On, arrived in October ’75. It had its moments, but was received as too run-of-the-mill to compete with Bad Company, the band formed by fellow former Free men Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke. 

Kossoff’s declining health grabbed the headlines ahead of his new album. He was taken ill shortly before the band’s first UK tour, was rushed to hospital and slipped into a coma, after which his heart stopped and he was ‘dead’ for 35 minutes, until doctors resuscitated him. 

The subsequent UK tour saw flashes of the old Kossoff, but far too many moments of high farce and terrible chaos. He often fell over on stage, forgot the chords or gave long, stoned, rambling speeches, but a second Back Street Crawler album, 2nd Street, was pieced together in between dates, in studios around America.

It was too late. After one unexpected high at the Starwood Club in Los Angeles, when Rodgers and Kirke jumped up on stage to jam with the band, Kossoff boarded a flight to New York, the 2nd Street master tapes in his luggage. He never disembarked. His body was discovered in the plane's toilet as it approached JFK, and the cause of death given as ‘cerebral and pulmonary oedema’, a legacy of the previous year’s cardiac arrest.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in April 1976

  • 2112 - Rush
  • Hideaway - America
  • Live Bullet - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
  • Still Life - Van der Graaf Generator
  • Blow Your Face Out - The J. Geils Band
  • Black and Blue - The Rolling Stones
  • Blind Dog at St.Dunstans - Caravan
  • Interview - Gentle Giant
  • Ramones - Ramones
  • Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! - Jethro Tull
  • High Voltage - AC/DC
  • Faithful - Todd Rundgren
  • Pat Travers - Pat Travers
  • Stingray - Joe Cocker
  • Young and Rich - The Tubes

What they said...

"2nd Street was so different than the first album. But I think what makes the songs special to me is that they are so emotional. The chord sequences, the way the songs change pitch. Some of the songs sound really upbeat and happy and then Paul Kossoff comes in and the whole atmosphere changes." (Now Spinning)

"This is simply one of the great-underrated rock albums of the 1970s and the last album to feature Paul Kossoff on guitar. He actually died before the album was released due to a heroin addiction. It almost seems as if Koss knew this was to be his last effort and his playing is of an unusually melancholic and lilting quality." (John Rabbit Bundrick)

"Koss's swansong and the last time we had any new original music from one of the greatest guitarists of all time. In many ways a sad album, as Koss was already dead, at the ridiculously young age of 25, when this was released. But Blue Soul, Some Kind Of Happy and Leaves In The Wind are three personal favourites that easily make it onto any Best Of Koss compilation. The rest of the album is pretty damn good too." (AllMusic)

What you said...

Mike Canoe: My main problem with most blues rock albums is that the musicians don't play the blues so much as "perform" them. It's like how Hollywood actors perform Shakespeare, caught up in the ritual and the phrasing, without successfully inhabiting the character enough to elicit an emotional response.

2nd Street by Back Street Crawler generally avoids this pitfall. The album feels warm and genuine as opposed to a pageant of how the blues "are supposed to sound." Singer Terry Wilson Slesser has a soulful, lived-in voice that is free of the chest-baring swagger that can make for bad company. The anguish in Just for You and Blue Soul sounds genuine, but so do the almost gospel catharsis of Some Kind of Happy and On Your Life. Keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick actually reminds a lot of John Paul Jones when he would colour and flavour a Led Zeppelin tune with his keyboard or organ playing.

As the two main songwriters, Bundrick and bassist Terry Wilson (not to be confused with the almost identically name lead singer) write in the blues idiom while generally avoiding clichés. The lyrics generally don't stray from love gone bad but still sound somehow fresh. Ironically, the one band composition, Stop Doing What You're Doing, is the only song that feels like it would pop up in an 80s movie soundtrack as shorthand for "the blues."

2nd Street really feels like a band album. I understand that the restraint on lead guitarist Paul Kossoff's part was not entirely by choice but this restraint both showcases the band and gives more weight and shine to his solos, particularly on Just for You and Raging River, where he interplays perfectly with Bundrick's keyboards. And, if there is not, in fact, an uncredited female vocalist on Some Kind of Happy, someone in the band has a great falsetto.

Like the James Gang, Trapeze, and Elf albums before it, another real nice surprise of a pick from the club.

Roland Bearne: I have no great insight into this album as never investigated Kossoff's all too brief post-Free work. Overall, the playing is supremely tasteful. Vocally, whilst comparisons with Rodgers are inevitable, but TW Slesser possess – dare I say – a slightly "purer" tone, which lends itself very nicely when the material gets into gentler, broadly "funkier" areas. 

Keys, bass and drumming are flawless and accomplished throughout, especially the keyboards. Terry Wilson's texturing of the the material is really lovely. And so to the guitar work: I love Kossoff's less-is-more style, his riffs and solos never have any excess fat and this always gives me a sense of his compositions "breathing" the music has space and makes for really enjoyable listening. It may be my ears deceiving, but it sounded as though the cracks were becoming apparent in some slightly ploddy phrasing but, he got it all laid down for that we are grateful. 

With only a few listens I'm at this stage going to go with an overall impression which is that however and whatever the circumstances were, this is a really nice record to enjoy as a full and balanced set. Didn't know it existed before, thanks to this group, I now do. Nice.

Thick House: While the name Back Street Crawler evokes dirty, gritty, raunchy rock a la the Stones or the New York Dolls, this band instead played a much more restrained mix of rock and R&B, reminiscent at some times of Rod Stewart, and maybe Traffic. The music on this record is competently played, with a few interesting, slightly proggy flourishes (such as the instrumental middle eight on Selfish Lover). 

Unfortunately, the album languishes in the middle of the road. The songs range from slow to mid-tempo, and with the exception of Stop Doing What You're Doing we never get a full-on blues freakout. The album is surprisingly poorly sequenced. The opening triad of Selfish Lover, Blue Soul and Stop Doing What You're Doing works well, but they feel like they should be the end of the "A" side, not the beginning of the album. 

Then again, given how many of these songs are glurgey ballads, there's not a good way to balance the album. No one song stands out as a hit. The closest is Some Kind of Happy, which is competently performed, but is nails on a chalkboard to me. The syrupy gospel-choir arrangement highlights the weak lyrics in the chorus. "All I want is some kind of happy!" Where is the drama? Shouldn't you want to be insanely happy instead? Or barring that, could you write something like "All I want is to stop wanting to die?"

My problems with that song are essentially my problem with the album. The players are talented, the band is tight, but everything feels safe and restrained and middle of the road. The band never goes balls out on anything. I want a blues freakout, a 10-minute prog epic, a massive singalong hit, a ballad that makes me feel like the singer would literally die if he can't be with his woman, anything with some verve and emotion. 

My final verdict is that this band was talented, but wasn't quite ready for prime time: if they had been able to release a few more albums, and release their inhibitions, I think they could have done something quite good.

John Davidson: This was the last studio album Kossoff played on before his untimely, drug related death . I’m astonished that I hadn’t heard it before and I think the answer is that I knew about Bad Company - working my way back from Desolation Angels to when they were really really good . I knew Bad Company were born out of the ashes of Free. I knew Kossoff had died, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Kossoff had produced albums of his own in between those two events. Add to that the fact that I discovered heavy rock in the 70s - long before the internet- and was largely introduced to bands via friends, The Friday Rock Show or Sounds magazine so if it didn't get much airplay I wouldn’t have been prompted to buy it.

Anyway...

For a man in ailing health Kossoff is in blistering form, playing songs that are more interesting to my ears than some of the more well worn Free standards .

Credit to WG ‘snuffy’ Walden for his guitar work too - it's not clear how much of the sound is down to his foundations as a session player while Kossoff was too ‘ill’ to perform.

Terry Wilson Slesser is no slouch either, bringing a warm, melodic voice to the mix. He affects an American accent (I certainly wouldn’t have pegged him for a lad from South Shields!) but sounds like a blend of Rod Stewart and Paul Rodgers. He holds his own for sure and that’s pretty good company to keep. It's only when on the more ‘full throated’ demands of Some Kind of Happy that his performance dips just a little.

The rest of the band provide a great platform for the two leads, the bass and drums are interesting enough without being flashy and the keyboards fill out the sound.

Overall the album is a 8 for me. 10/10 for the first two or three tracks. The second half while still very good doesn’t quite match the opening salvo but this is an album I’ll be adding to my collection for sure.

Carl Black: This was very at the other end of my musical tastes so was always going to be a tough one for me. So I can only speak about it very generalised as I only managed to get through once. Starts off with a jazzy blues almost funky type songs. But as seemed the trend with album such as this descended into a clutch of ballads. Couldn't find anything inspiring in this album or indeed interesting enough to make me want to come back.

Marco LG: Before this week I was not familiar with Paul Kossoff, beyond of course Free’s Fire And Water, but the reason why I never got any deeper in Free’s catalogue and in blues rock in general is that quite frankly I don’t really enjoy it as much. Both albums by Back Street Crawler, like the James Gang a few weeks ago or also Bonnie Raitt more recently, confirm I better stick to the more celebrated end of the genre, as the less beaten tracks are possibly a bit too much for me.

After several listens, the nine songs that make up this week’s pick have left no lasting impression on me, with the only possible exceptions of Some Kind of Happy and Stop Doing What You’re Doing. The guitar solos are tasteful, and are nicely counterpointed by solid performances, providing the right balance between sounding like a tight band and displaying the qualities of the star player. This might have come about more by necessity than real design, but it is the most likeable quality of the album.

In conclusion: 2nd Street is a generally pleasant listen that is unfortunately a little far removed from the kind of music I enjoy the most. The high quality of the musicianship on display is evidence the limitation is in the ears of the beholder, but given it is him called upon to score what he hears the verdict can only be underwhelming.

Clay Halford: I love Free. Fire And Water is an all time great album. But I didn't know much about Koss beyond Free and his untimely death so this was a good opportunity to listen to something I had no knowledge of.

And it's good.

Very musically adept and skilfully played, consistent, and simply a good listen. I'll have to relisten to properly decide on favourite tracks but in general this is just a good album with no duffness. Not a standout by any stretch but one I'm happy to put in rotation.

Fred Varcoe: At least three stunning musicians on this album: Kossoff, Terry Wilson-Slesser, Snuffy Walden, but, unfortunately nothing on this album comes close to their magnificent previous work (Wilson-Slesser's Beckett and Walden's Stray Dog debuts are just off-the-scale fantastic). The guitar work is magnificent and the vocals wonderful, but the songs only work in parts. Some of it is, for me, too American and I suspect this is Rabbit Bundrick's influence. Would have preferred more northern England grit and less production, not more. And isn't that the Bad Company riff on Blue Soul? A 7 for me.

John Davidson: Wow.. this is excellent. Definitely in the "how did i miss out on this when I was younger?" pile!

Kevin Miller: I stay on this page because of albums like this. I might vehemently dislike a week or two, and then you hit this Bad Co. fan with a band he’s never heard of and I get to spend the week doing the happy dance! Love it!

Happs Richards: I’m be thing I really enjoy about this album of the week thing is the amount of new, different or stuff I’ve just plain missed that gets suggested!

So this weeks offering, didn’t know the band and had never even heard of the album till I tracked it down on Apple Music and realised after Free this is where Koss went.

The album doesn’t disappoint, as it swings from stripped down ballad to funked up guitar driven songs and you can certainly pick out Koss’s influences and playing style.

What it lacked however in my mind was any really stand-out tracks and as much I enjoyed discovering and listening to the album it’s not one I’d really remember.

Alex Hayes: A lesser known album this may be, but I am vaguely familiar with it. I last listened to 2nd Street way back in the early to mid 90s. A work colleague at the time kindly lent me both Back Street Crawler albums on vinyl, after learning that I was a big fan of Free (still am, absolutely remarkable band). Thing is, that's obviously well over 25 years ago now and, up until this week, I couldn't actually recall too much about them.

This week's pick somewhat reminds me of The James Gang's Bang album from the start of the year, not least because once again the focus is on lesser regarded music featuring a gifted but troubled young guitarist who, sadly, ended up leaving us way too soon. In this case, that's no less than the mercurial Paul Kossoff.

Unfortunately, just like with Free's Heartbreaker album, Kossoff's involvement with 2nd Street is more limited than usual. Here, his well documented drug issues and general unreliability ensured that he was restricted to just the lead guitar lines, with most of the work actually being handled by 'Snuffy' Walden. When Kossoff does feature, he's pretty good. To be honest, none of these songs even remotely measure up to the best work of Free. That's probably an unfair comparison to make though.

2nd Street also reminds me of Bang in that, although it's competent and likeable, there's nothing here that's especially memorable or really screams out for my attention. It's a lot slicker, production wise, than I seem to remember too. Overall though, this is a decent album, and I hope it doesn't take me another 25 plus years to return to it again next time.

Cameron Gillespie: I discovered Backstreet Crawler a few months ago and fell in love with the band's sound.

2nd Street provides us with that unique distinctive touch of Paul Kossoff, creating that classic Free sound that's found punching its way throughout the record. The album is filled with blistering solos that come full of the emotion and feel that only a true legend can encompass.

Terry Wilson-Slesser provides us with a powerfully soulful vocal effort that beautifully encapsulates the feel and emotion of every song.

The band as a whole are as tight as can be, never skipping a beat. The album greets thy humble listener with the fiery intro to Selfish Lover which hits you in the face harder than an upper cut from Iron Mike, or a kick in the gonads, and closes with the bluesy-jazz number Leaves In The Wind showcasing again a soulful display of raw talent.

This album as a whole from start to finish is a fantastically wonderful demonstration of how blues, jazz and soul can come together, and Although the faint remnant sound of Free lingers, the Backstreet Crawlers have made a truly unique blend resulting in what I would call an unknown masterpiece. A fantastic album by a group of distinguished musicians in a league of their own.

I've found rating this album excruciatingly hard because there are so many things that I think about when I rate albums. I've decided to go with a 9/10 and have taken the stance of that from a blues perspective. I think unless you really dig blues or the Free vibe, this album will rank a little lower.

Final Score: 6.62⁄10 (50 votes cast, with a total score of 331)

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