Micki Free might be the best guitarist no one has ever heard of -- well the general public that is. Mention his name to people in the business, such as Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones fame and they will all sing his praises. In fact, all three legends are currently working on projects with Micki Free.
Ask KISS frontman Gene Simmons his thoughts on Micki Free and a smile will come over him.
“I discovered Micki over 30 years ago when he was a 17-year-old guitarist playing in a regional rock band from Illinois,” said Simmons. “His band opened for us and I watched him (Simmons was big on discovering new musicians in those days, Eddie Van Halen was one of his discoveries) and I told him after the show that he was going to be a star and if he ever came to L.A. to give me a call.”
Micki Free will bring his blistering blues guitar and high energy rock and roll show with him this Friday, August 19, to Leelanau Sands Showroom.
Free decided to become a rock guitarist when at a young age he got to see the person many consider to be the greatest of all time.
“I was just eight or so and my father was in the military stationed in Germany and he was given tickets to see Jimi Hendrix; and he gave them to my oldest sister who took me to the show,” said Free. “We were in the third row and Hendrix came out in pink bell bottoms and said ‘this song is for the lady in the front row with the pink panties.’ He busted out into ‘Foxy Lady,’ and at that moment I thought to myself, hell yeah, I gotta be a guitar player.”
His family eventually moved home near Chicago. In high school, Free honed his blues and rock guitar chops, eventually forming his own band Smokehouse, playing shows with Ted Nugent, Rush, REO Speedwagon,and local favorites Cheap Trick. Free developed a reputation of being a rock and roll guitar prodigy.
“Meeting Gene Simmons was my big break,” said Free. “I took him up on his offer and after high school headed out to L.A. and to my surprise Gene remembered me. We started writing songs together -- it was wild.”
Simmons introduced Free to his then girlfriend Diana Ross.
“Diana liked what she saw and agreed to manage me. I started playing gigs around L.A. and was developing a following. Diana and Gene arranged for me to play guitar on Janet Jackson’s first album. Everything seemed to be coming together for me,” said Free. “Then one day Gene gets a call from the band Shalamar and they want me to join their band as their guitarist. My initial thought was to turn them down, they were R&B and I was rock and blues.”
But Gene Simmons gave Free something else to think about.
“I had never heard of them but they were playing big venues and were climbing the R&B charts. Gene thought it would be a good move for me,” said Free. “He put it to me this way: joining Shalamar would be like getting into a limo every night versus getting into a cab. He was right, it was the right decision at the time.”
For the next eight years Free toured the world with Shalamar selling out 20,000 seat venues, staying in first class hotels and eating at the best restaurants. He even won a Grammy. When the group called it quits in 1991, Free decided to pursue more of his blues and rock aspirations.
In 2002 he released “Black Moon... Black Sun” the first of his two solo rock albums. His second album released later that year, “Gypsy Cowboy,” was nominated for seven Native American Awards (Nammys), which named him “Best Male Artist of the Year” in 2002.
Part Cherokee, Free decided to take a break from his career in 2003 and explore his heritage. He moved to Arizona and began learning about his culture. He mastered the Native American flute and returned to music in 2004.
“Well, the Seminole tribe of Florida had purchased the Hard Rock Cafe and they called me about being a performer for their opening night ceremonies. I just assumed they wanted me to play the flute,” said Free. “I was shocked when they said ‘forget the flute. We want some of that Micki Free rock and roll,’ I guess I haven’t looked back since.”
While Free’s hard-driving blues rock didn’t hit home right away in the states, it did over in Europe where he had been in constant demand including being asked to play on the main stage of one the largest music festivals in England.
“I was asked to perform four years in a row at the Hard Rock Calling Festival with close to 100,000 people. I shared the main stage with Aerosmyth my first year and since then with Paul McCartney, The Police, Eric Claption, Bruce Springsteen among others,” said Free. “It was an awesome experience but what was really cool I brought over some Native American dancers and brought them on stage and the crowd went nuts. I think for most of them it was the first time they had seen a Native American in full headdress dancing on the stage.”
Last year he had another musical highlight happen while at the Hard Rock Calling.
“Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones asked if he could join me on stage,” said Free. “We hit it off and a lot of the media said we were the hit of the festival. Bill also said he wanted to perform on my next project so he will be on my new DVD and CD project coming out this fall.”
Free has a full tour already booked for this fall in Europe and he hopes that will be the case for him next year in the U.S.
“They are starving for my style of music in Europe. I am getting a feeling that is starting to be the case here as well.”
Free has surrounded himself with not only talented musicians but the legendary manager Henry “The Horse” Smith, who was with The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmyth. Free’s bandmates include former Cheap Trick bassist Jon Brant, and drummer Cindy Blackman formerly of the Lenny Kravitz band and wife of guitar great Eric Clapton.
While most people may not be familiar with Micki Free, he guarantees one thing if you attend his show at the Leelanau Sands on Friday, August 19, at 9 p.m., he promises when you leave you will remember him forever.
For details and to purchase tickets go to www.casinos2win.com and to check out Micki Free visit www.mickifree.com.