Micki Free – (guitars/vocals)
MICKI FREE is a singer-guitarist that might be familiar to many KISS fans. The veteran musician has worked with the legendary rockers and was discovered by their very own Gene Simmons. Free has had a diverse career, playing in hard rock combo Crown of Thorns in the ’90s, and even had pop success as part of Shalamar, in the ’80s. American Horse, Free’s brand new rock album, is being released on July 20th. With songs like “Wounded Knee” and “Black Moon Rising,” the record showcases Free’s Jimi Hendrix influenced guitar work and infectious songwriting style. SMNnews spoke with Micki and asked him about his KISS connection, and the new album.
There are a lot of KISS fans that read SMNnews, so we have to ask you, how did you first meet Gene Simmons?
Gene discovered me when I was 17 years old. I had a band called Smokehouse that was doing dates with KISS in the Midwest. It was at a show with Smokehouse, Ted Nugent, Rush, REO Speedwagon, and KISS. Gene came up to me, in his tall black boots with $$$ signs on them, and said, “You’re a star.” The rest is history.
KISS is known for their use of outside songwriters throughout their career. Did the band ever approach you to contribute to that side of things?
Yes, one of the first things I did with Gene was to write songs for KISS. I won a songwriting Grammy for my friend Eddie Murphy’s movie Beverly Hills Cop. I wrote a few things with Gene; one is a song called “Legends Never Die”. KISS didn’t use it, so we gave it to Wendy O Williams to record on her album WOW.
You are an original member of the band Crown of Thorns. The singer of that group, Jean Beauvoir, also has a KISS connection in that he was mentored by Paul Stanley. Was that pure coincidence or did you guys initially meet through Gene and Paul?
You are correct again. I was to Gene what Jean was to Paul. They both encouraged us to meet, and one day while at a club in Paris, we finally met and promised to get in touch when we got back to L.A. We did, and we wrote together and played it for Gene and Paul. They went wild and wanted to manage us and they did. Our label at the time, Interscope, said we were a hit writing team like Tyler & Perry, Simmons & Stanley, Lennon & McCartney — it was a huge compliment. But I must admit — it was pure magic when we wrote together. Just listen to the debut Crown of Thorns album and you can be the judge. My solo stuff is totally different from the COT songs. That was a pure mixture of Beauvoir/Free baby — and to this day, it can’t be duplicated in COT without me.
Why do you think Crown of Thorns didn’t have more commercial success? Those 2 albums you made with them had some stellar material on them.
I agree, but it was all timing and the change of climate in the music business at the time in America. Nirvana changed the sound & face of R&R forever. Gene and Paul were all tied up in getting KISS back in gear, we had to get a new label to put the record out in Europe, and those records were never officially released in America. USA just wasn’t interested. We found a small label called Now & Then Records, but they didn’t have the push someone like Interscope had. We signed the biggest deal in the nineties with Gene and Paul managing us, with a huge advance and tour support, but the record never came out. Ted Fields and Jimmy Lovine (Interscope) loved Jean and I and they loved what we did, so they gave us the masters and said, “Good luck.”
Would you be open to writing and recording with Jean Beauvoir again in the future?
Of course! We have a project called Beauvoir/Free almost finished, but with my current schedule and Jean with his version of Crown of Thorns — it’s hard to finish up. We performed last year at Hard Rock Calling in London in Hyde Park on the main stage with Bruce Springsteen. It was a rocking show baby! He is one of the all time great vocalists in R&R daddy — know this!
You are a huge figure in the Native American music community. How popular is hard rock in that world?
Rock has no bounds — we Indians love it as well. It’s huge within our community. There are some killer Native bands around, but the world just needs to give them a chance to be heard. That’ll hopefully happen soon.
Are there any Native American bands we should be on the lookout for?
There is a 17 year old kid, that sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan, named Levi Platero that when he gets his groove thing together, will be a monster player. His band is called The Plateros. Indigenous is a smoking group too — well, at least they used to be.
Dave Chappelle poked fun at your ‘80s image in an infamous episode of the Chappelle Show some years back. How did you feel about that and have you talked to him about it since it aired?
Dave and Charley Murphy made me infamous with that skit. I loved it, my mom didn’t, but I did (laughter). It was all true by the way. People ask me, “Did you really play basketball with Eddie Murphy and Prince, and eat pancakes when you were finished?” The answer is yes (laughter). If you only knew half the stuff we did then! It was scandalous, and as you know, I am like a saint. That’s it – “Saint Micki Free.” It has a nice ring to it – don’t you think?
You have a new album coming out this month called American Horse. What kind of playing styles can we expect on it?
Straight up blues-rock baby! They tell me it sounds like a dash of Hendrix meets me and The Reverend Willy G. I had the most fun making this album, and some of the best players are on it. People like drummer Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz), Jon Brant (Cheap Trick), Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz) and David Santos (John Forgerty). I have been blessed.
Do any of the songs deal with Native American issues?
The song “Wounded Knee” is a song that directly deals with an incident that happen to us as Native people, where men, women and children were slaughtered by the U.S. Government in the freezing cold. “Blood splattered in the snow banks / Eagle screaming in the night, women running children crying / still the soldiers make a fight / cut em down, run em down / leave no one left alive” These images still burn in my mind today — my heart is still crying.
Wounded Knee by Micki Free
The album is coming out on Mighty Loud, which is Jesse James Dupree’s label. SMNnews readers will know him from the band Jackyl. Have you guys known each other a long time?
The album is on Native Music Rocks Records, licensed by Mighty Loud and distributed by Fontana/Universal. Jesse Dupree is my friend and a killer musician. I’m glad to be involved with him. We performed with Jackyl at Bikelahoma in Oklahoma and had a killer time! Jesse knows how to have a good time (laughter).
Your online PR guy told us you’re a big Tommy Bolin fan. What other guitarists do you admire?
I met Tommy right before he died. What a waste of a beautiful human being and talent. My other faves are Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, and Robin Trower. I am old school all the way.
Pick up American Horse at this link.
By Christian A.