Singer-Songwriter Freebo to Play in Redding
11/27/2017 11:00AM ● Published by Phil Reser
Something to Believe
By Phil Reser
Photo courtesy of Freebo
From world-renowned bassist to award-winning singer-songwriter, Freebo touches your heart with songs of passion that reflect his commitment to the creation of a conscious, socially involved planet.
For years, he was known as one of the finest bass guitarists in the music industry. He played bass with Maria Muldaur on “Midnight at the Oasis” and on more than 100 classic rock records by artists like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Ringo Starr, Dr. John and Aaron Neville.
He toured and played for a decade with Bonnie Raitt, often as just a duo, becoming firmly entrenched in the minds of many music lovers as that silent, frizzy-haired bass player with the deep grooves. His standing gig with her put him in the epicenter of the singer-songwriter scene.
His musical journey began in a small Pennsylvania town, where he grew up playing football and basketball and dreaming of becoming a doctor. He began playing piano as a child and learned the ukulele. He fell in love with the tuba after seeing the children’s story, “Tubby the Tuba.” Attending college in the early 1960s, he began his transformation from conservative kid to counterculture young adult. It was there that he began playing the bass guitar. “I had gone there on a strict pre-med track,” he says. “Calculus, physics, chemistry and biology. I didn’t do very well at it.”
So he drifted away from school into the music scene. That was also about the time that the name Freebo came into existence. The Afro-wearing musician’s nickname evolved from “Fro” to “Frobee” to “Freebo,” and that fit his newly evolving personality perfectly.
His band soon evolved into the Edison Electric Band, whose 1970 album, “Bless You, Dr. Woodward,” a collection of blues-jazz-pop-rock, turned out to be the only record by the group. “We were a funky, funky, psychedelic blues-rock band,” Freebo says.
One day they were playing at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia as the opening act for Procol Harum, and one of the band’s managers brought his girlfriend to see Edison Electric. That girlfriend was an 18-year-old Bonnie Raitt, and as Freebo recalls, “She loved it.”
A couple years after that, Raitt gave Freebo a call and said she had a record deal and wanted to work with him. “That began my 10 years with Bonnie. I made the first seven records with her; for the first three years together we were a duet, and just being with her took me to another level and put me on the national map as a bass player.”
But something was missing: “It turns out there was a part of me that really was yearning for self-expression, and it was about more than playing bass,” he says. “I had all these other ideas – I had melodic ideas, rhythmic ideas, philosophical ideas, arrangement ideas…and I really didn’t have a place to put it. So I realized I needed a vehicle to put all these ideas and creativity into, and it turns out that was the song.”
He has now firmly established himself as a singer-songwriter. In recent years, he has recorded five solo albums: “The End Of The Beginning” (1999), “Dog People” (2002), “Before The Separation” (2006), “Something to Believe” (2011) and “If Not Now When” (2015).
His songs are thoughtful, passionate and often philosophical takes on life, love, politics and dogs. In fact, he classifies his songs into those four categories.
“Now I’m a writing fool,” he says. “I love the process and it has given me the freedom I’m seeking. The yearning, churning, burning deep inside is gone. I’m much more at peace as a human being.
“I’m a natural teacher and I like to share what I’ve learned. That’s why I do songwriting retreats and mix music with speaking with folks. I feel like I’ve got the empathy that someone who has been writing their entire life doesn’t have. I can relate to the fear that people have in comparing yourself to others. When you’re going through crazy times, one of the most healing things to do is to write about it. Put it in an art form. Write poetry, a journal, paint, dance; just get it out.”
Freebo with Alice Howe
Friday, January 12
Oaksong Music Society at Pilgrim Congregational Church
2850 Foothill Blvd., Redding