If you’re wondering who the heck Micki Free is, don’t feel bad. I was wondering the same thing when a message landed in my in-box a little over a week ago announcing that this guitar wild man was releasing a new album on July 20th. As I usually do, I expected another unoriginal rock act, but I always take some time to give just about everything a listen, so I downloaded the promotional copy of the album a couple of days ago.
I’m happy to report that I was wrong again. I can say without reservation that Free’s new album, American Horse blew me away! Free, a bit of a rarity in the rock world is a Native American guitarist that has been on the scene for a while, but his was not a name I recognized.
Born in West Texas, he spent much of his childhood in Europe where his father was serving in the U.S. Army. It was during those years that he discovered rock music and decided which direction his love of rock would take him in. “I wasn’t a Beatles guy,” Free admits. “I dug the Beatles, but I heard Hendrix and Cream and the Stones and that was it. I’m more of a bad-boy guy, I guess.”
Upon returning to the U.S. during his teen years, Free formed a band called Smokehouse and did pretty well by landing gigs with Ted Nugent, Rush, REO Speedwagon and KISS. Gene Simmons was so impressed with Free that he suggested that he look Simmons up if he ever found himself out in the Los Angeles area.
Free did indeed head west in 1979 and connected with Simmons, which resulted in the opportunity to tour with Diana Ross – then Simmons’ girlfriend – as manager. Upon completion of the tour, Free was offered a spot in Shalamar which he accepted at the urging of Simmons. Shalamar went on to win a Grammy for "Don’t Get Stopped in Beverly Hills" from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack in 1986.
Following his time with Shalamar, Free worked with Jean Beauvoir, LA & Babyface, Queen’s Roger Taylor, Tony Thompson of Chic, and former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin.
Oddly enough, the full extent of Free’s fame was not realized until he was featured on an episode of comedian David Chappelle’s TV show where he was featured in a skit where he was mistaken for a woman due to his long hair and good looks. From the episode a sort of catch phrase was born: “Micki Free is not a girl!”
“I became infamous overnight,” Free says.
As for the album itself, as I eluded to earlier, this one really took me by storm. Free rips on guitar with the best of them and even takes on the Hendrix classic “Voodoo Chile,” which was also covered by the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. There’s also some bluesy stuff and a ballad thrown in for good measure, but for the most part, American Horse just rocks.
I sometimes have a difficult time picking out a favorite track from an album but this one jumped right out at me the first time I heard it. Track 3, “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” another Hendrix cover, is clean, well-executed and and has a tempo that just resonates with me.
Another cool thing about this is album is that it features drummer Cindy Blackman, and yes, Cindy is indeed a girl! I have not been impressed by many female drummers but Blackman holds her own and then some. I guess the testosterone thing always seemed like an integral part of the drumming experience to me, but if Blackman is packing any extra male hormones, you couldn’t tell by looking at her!
Obviously, Hendrix fans may have good reason to check this out, but even though I’ve never been that into Hendrix (perhaps I should have been!), I think this is one of those rare new albums that is going to wind up in my regular rotation.
I think Free echoes what a lot of us are thinking these days when he says, “To me, rock ‘n’ roll is dead as we know it; there’s some cool music out there, but it’s not rock ‘n’ roll, classic stuff like we used to know–Zep, Hendrix, Cream, all of that. That’s what I do. My heart is in rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s what’s on this album.”
American Horse is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.