Heralded by Carlos Santana and Billy Gibbons, among many others, Grammy-winning blues-rock guitarist Micki Free announces a February 4, 2022, release date for his new album, Turquoise Blue, on the Dark Idol Music label, distributed by Burnside Distribution / The Orchard / Sony. Free’s mastery of tone is showcased on the new disc’s 13 originals, plus a scintillating cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic “All Along the Watchtower.” The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by Ken Riley at Rio Grande Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Special guests on Turquoise Blue include Gary Clark Jr., Steve Stevens, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Cindy Blackman Santana. Free teases the album’s release with his debut single, “Bye 2020,” on November 12, featuring additional guitar pyrotechnics from long-time Billy Idol six-stringer Steve Stevens.
I wrote ‘Turquoise Blue’ over the period of time when Covid first broke out and we were advised to remain at home. Interacting with my peers was just not an option. The songs are a direct testament of how I felt during that crazy time. Take my song, ‘Bye 2020;’ it tells exactly how I felt that year, with the dying, the masks, the quarantine, the protests, the fake news, the misinformation…. I just wanted to say, ‘Bye 2020!’ I enlisted my good buddy Steve Stevens from Billy Idol to lay down the first guitar solo and I did the second solo.
I get my mojo from the classic greats—the masters of blues-rock and even classic rock, but everything I play comes from my own heart, and with ‘Turquoise Blue,’ I feel like I’m really getting to the core of what I do in a way I hope people will connect with, because making music is about a connection so strong that it transcends language.
Free’s resume reads like an almost-mythical backstory to a movie: a protégé and guitar-slinging peer of KISS’s Gene Simmons, Prince, Billy Gibbons, Carlos Santana, and Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilson; glorified in a popular Chappelle’s Show episode of “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories,” as part of Prince’s team in a now-legendary basketball game. A featured member of R&B hitmakers Shalamar, he scored a top 20 hit with “Dancin’ in the Sheets” and won a Grammy in 1985 for the song, “Don’t Get Stopped in Beverly Hills,” from the Beverly Hills Cop film soundtrack.
Free was born in West Texas of mixed blood Cherokee/Comanche Native American and Irish descent. Soon after, his family relocated to Germany, where his father was stationed as a sergeant in the Army. It was there at age 12 that an older sister took him to see Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi just blew my mind. He came out dressed like a gypsy with scarves and a flowing, psychedelic shirt, and his guitar was the most incredible thing I’d ever heard. From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
After his family moved to Illinois, Free formed his first rock band, Smokehouse. When Smokehouse opened a concert bill that included the group KISS, Gene Simmons, himself, walked up to Free as his band was coming offstage and declared him “a star.” By that time, Free, had already developed a flair for rock ‘n’ roll fashion and the dynamic stage presence that’s one of his trademarks. Free was 19 years old when Simmons became his first manager. Since then, he’s been in the whirlwind of the music business, having recorded, written songs, and played with Simmons, the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Prince, Little Steven, Sam Moore, Cheap Trick, Billy Gibbons, Carlos Santana, and Jean Beauvior of The Plasmatics.
During his nine years with Shalamar, Free was nominated for Grammy Awards three times.
I loved being part of that band and its success, but as a musician I felt I really couldn’t be myself. I was a blues-rock guitar player and songwriter who just wanted to let it fly and play from my soul.
Once free from the constricts of playing in a commercial R&B format, Free reconnected with his roots in big guitar tones and epic soundscapes, and songs written from the heart and not for the charts. You can hear the exploration that culminates in Turquoise Blue on five previous studio albums, including the critically heralded Tattoo Burn, from 2017, as well as Micki Free—American Horse Live at Hyde Park, which captures a 2010 London concert that featured guest Bill Wyman and Native American dancers.
I’ve grown and matured as a songwriter since my Shalamar days, and brought my blues-rock guitar playing, which has been my passion since I saw my first concert – Jimi Hendrix – front and center. With this album, I’ve been able to thread every element of my life and my playing together in a way that reflects my entire journey. I’ve kept it honest to the bone, so listeners can feel it, too. This album is, basically, Micki Free.
Another standout track on the new CD is ‘World on Fire,’ a song definitely about the sign of the times. The music for the song started out as sort of homage to my buddy Carlos Santana, who I’ve jammed with many times in the last five years or so. I idolized him and Jimi Hendrix growing up as a boy. The lyrics again were inspired by current events during 2020-2021. I have my old bandmate Cindy Blackman-Santana, wife of Carlos Santana, on drums, Andy Vargas, lead singer of Santana, and Karl P. on percussion. I produced the track and played all the guitars.
An additional highlight is Free’s treatment of the Hendrix/Dylan classic, “All Along the Watchtower.”
After seeing Jimi perform ‘All Along the Watchtower’ in-person, his version was just so haunting to me and I always wanted to cover it…to this day my favorite Jimi Hendrix song…written by Bob Dylan.
Through it all, Free has also embraced his heritage. As a musical activist, he has created the Native Music Rocks program, which gives Native American musicians performance opportunities. He also founded the first Native American record company (Native Music Rocks Records) and is an advocate for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In addition to his guitar prowess, Free has mastered the Native American flute and has recorded five albums on that instrument, including 2016’s The Native American Flute as Therapy. Next to his Grammy, his accolades thus far include five Native American Music Awards, including Male Artist and Pop Rock Artist.
Feature image photo credit: Marie Gregorio-Oviedo