NME Interview by Andrew Tyler 1973
Rabbit – No part of the Pop Phenomena.
A Long Texan loafer is Rabbit. A not especially pretty man. His face has the sort of stretched, angular, features of a Picasso portrait with a jaw full of metal-capped teeth, a podgy nose and friendly, half-hidden eyes. He's been in and out of Britain for two years now bruising along at a terrifying pace and attacking any number of projects simultaneously. “When I don’t work for a day,” he says, “I kind of freak out. I’m trying to beat something but I haven’t figured out what it is yet.” We've come to know Rabbit these last few months through his fine work with that tortured bunch of musicians know as Free, a group he came to join via the recommendations of Traffic ’s Rebop. First sighting of Rabbit and his new friends came early last year with “Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu, and Rabbit”, and album that appeared while Free were in deep trouble. Rabbit and Tetsu stayed on in place of Andy Fraser and with Paul Rodgers produced the commendable “Heartbreaker”.
PART TIME –
Rabbit's piano playing, occasional vocals and writing have again transformed the group into an attractive proposition. Yet he's clearly not happy with his role in the band and treats it more as a part-time job. He continues to keep in touch with fellow Texan Johnny Nash, with whom he ’s about to collaborate on a second film score and Island Records already have in their possession the masters for his first solo album. It ’s an excellent debut LP that he’s decided to dedicate to the harangued and harassed American Indian. He calls it Broken Arrows, which, to his mind, pretty well sums up the state of the Native American's predicament. But how to get it all down in words for the album sleeve? "It represents in this case," he says, "a land where the people once lived and hunted free and didn ’t worry about what was on the other side of the Ocean. Their arrows were strong and they were taking care of themselves nicely. But there's an old saying that goes 'everywhere the white man touches turns rotten.' The Indian arrows couldn't fight his bullets and he was broken in like a wild horse. Everything is broken about them. Everything but their beliefs that is. ”
He's already got three songs down for his next album. One, he says, is red-hot, one medium rare, and the other ’s a little on the cool side. He says he’s slowed up since he’s been in England. He’s compiled something like 100 songs since 1970, most of them in Sweden where he worked with Nash. He seemed to be carrying most of the lyrics with him-scratched out on ragged pieces of paper and backs of envelopes and jammed inside a series of dog-eared exercise books.
There’s something about England, he says, that cuts him off from his source of inspiration. Some of it is to do with the pace he sets himself but there were other, more subtle, hang-ups. “I find I’m beginning to live out my dreams in reality. While you still have a dream you can get all inspired and there ’s no telling what you can come up with. As long as you can sustain your dream you can stay at your creative pitch. But then when I leave England I ’ll probably realize that a lot of things I’m saying are all wrong because I’m right in the middle of it all.”
True enough the disparity between Rabbit’s fantasies and his achievements seem to shrink by the week. He still, in no way, resembles a pop phenomena, but then this was never part of his grand scheme. He has, instead, earned a following and respect among British and Continental musicians and he ’s won a place in, and in some ways has salvaged, a top rock band.
But Free leaves him a little clammy. “I feel like a permanent member of the group but I don’t always feel like I’m part of the band. But then I don’t have the same successful reputation as Paul and Si so I don’t like to live off the reputation thing they’ve built up. In some ways it makes me feel dependent because I’m supporting something that’s already gone down. Mind you, the stuff we do on stage now is mainly new material. There are maybe two or three original songs but I guess we have to do that. But I don ’t necessarily dig that.”
“Free is a family”, he says, “a bit like Peyton Place but no one sulks when a member decides to turn outside the group for inspiration. They don ’t get mad if I play a session or do a jam and that’s why I respect them because it’s not that possessive thing. I do think I’ve added something to Free, and I want them to know and I want the public to know that Free are not what they used to be. I want them to accept that they ’ve changed. The Public so often holds an artist back. Paul and the others feel they must get up and do all the old songs. But people have to know that we ’re people just like them and we have to change too.”
And that’s why he mostly likes sitting solo in his room at night writing new songs or working in a studio when there ’s no one around to tell him how he should be doing things. “It’s not as exciting as stage work but it’s more precise and I can at least get it down the way I want it.”