MICKI FREE’s AMERICAN HORSE just hit stores this week. The 11-track disc showcases Free’s fiery guitar and writing skills and the musical talents of his band, drummer Cindy Blackman (Lenny Kravitz) and bassist David Santos (Billy Joel, John Fogerty). This album marks the first in a series of Native Music Rocks Records releases due out in 2010 on Fontana/Universal.
Born in West Texas, Free grew up mostly in Europe where his stepfather, an Army sergeant, was stationed and where the young musician was introduced to rock ‘n’ roll. “I wasn’t a Beatles guy,” he recalls now. “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.” The family relocated to Illinois when Free was a teenager. He formed a band, Smokehouse, that played shows with Ted Nugent, Rush, REO Speedwagon, KISS and a nascent Cheap Trick, with the 17-year-old Free earning a reputation as something of a six-string prodigy on the Midwest scene. KISS’ Gene Simmons was so impressed that he told Free, “You’re a star. If you ever get to L.A…. look me up.”
Free headed west in 1979, and after sleeping on girlfriends’ floors and hanging out at the famous Rainbow bar, he eventually did hook up with Simmons again–a chance meeting at a studio where both happened to be working. Free wound up going on tour and being managed by Diana Ross, Simmons’ then-girlfriend, and after coming off the road he was offered membership in Shalamar; though his initial instinct was to turn it down, Simmons counseled FREE that “if you join this band it will be like getting into a limo instead of a cab right now.” Micki took the gig and didn’t look back. “I won a Grammy Award with them, so it was obviously the right move,” he says.
After Shalamar, Free hooked up with Jean Beauvoir, who had been playing with Little Steven Van Zandt’s Disciples of Soul, in Crown of Thorns, which was managed by Amazing Management (Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley) and produced by Jean, Micki and Paul Stanley. After a pair of albums in that configuration, Free decided to go solo with 2002’s Black Moon…Black Sun, the first of his two solo rock albums. 2002’s Gypsy Cowboy was nominated for seven Native American Awards (Nammys), which named him “Best Male Artist of the Year” in 2002. Onetime Cheap Trick bassist Jon Brant was part of his Micki Free Electric Blues Experience, while Micki’s path also led to work with LA & Babyface, Queen’s Roger Taylor, the late Tony Thompson of Chic, former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin and others.
Free won further notoriety when comedian Dave Chappelle put together a Chappelle’s Show skit poking fun at the guitarist’s long-haired good looks, mistaking him for a woman before finally declaring that “Micki Free is not a girl!” “I became infamous overnight,” Free says.
After deciding to “follow the red path” of his heritage and embrace Native American flute music, with 2003’s The Sun Chaser album, Micki is back with American Horse, a collection true to his hard rock roots. This is a real rock album, and I’m very proud of it,” says Free. “I was just inspired to write some cool rock stuff again. 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.”
Check out “Wounded Knee” from American Horse here: http://soundcloud.com/musicquizking/wounded-knee