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The Free Agents Release First Album

February, 2003

Anyone who has attended classes at the FBI Academy since the 1970’s has probably heard the music of a group of Special Agents who performed monthly concerts there for faculty and students. The Free Agents - a group of five retired and active FBI Agents - have now released their first CD, containing an eclectic collection of songs ranging from Freight Train to Amazing Grace. Profits from the sale of the album are destined to benefit children who are the victims of crime, including the deserving children of persons who are incarcerated, thus fulfilling an objective of The Free Agents -- to help build a bridges of human understanding between law enforcement agencies and communities which have traditionally viewed the police with distrust.

The story of The Free Agents began in 1979 when Don Bassett and John Hall, both Special Agent instructors at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, learned that they had several things in common: they both sang, played the guitar and lived within a few blocks of one another. Thus began a friendship and musical collaboration that would last for over twenty-three years and evolve into the group of five FBI Special Agent musicians who appear on the album, which is entitled, The Free Agents: Most Wanted.

John and Don immediately began carpooling after meeting, providing time to listen to and learn music while going to and from work. They also kept guitars in their offices to take advantage of after-work opportunities to pick and sing together. Other staff, faculty and students began to hang around and listen to the two, and eventually the informal sessions moved from the office to one of the Academy’s dormitory lounges. As the crowds became larger, voice and instrument projection became a problem, so they moved their musical venue to the Academy auditorium. About the same time that the auditorium shows began a third member - Danny Schofield (vocals and guitar) - joined the duo. But the auditorium was too cavernous for the intimate setting the trio felt most comfortable in, so a move was made back to the dormitory lounge area, but this time with a professional sound system, components of which were provided as legacy gifts by various FBI National Academy classes and the FBI Recreation Association.

About the time the trio moved back into the lounge setting, a fourth musician, "Chip" Riley (electric bass, guitar and vocals) joined the group, which began playing monthly at the Academy with guest musicians frequently joining the effort. When "Chip" was transferred another musician was waiting in the wings to replace him: "Buddy" McKinney (electric bass, guitar, vocals), who had performed as a guest with the group on numerous occasions became a regular. By this time the group’s monthly performances had become an institution at the Academy; and they also found themselves being invited to perform at other functions from New Agents’ graduation dinners to special visits by FBI Directors and their guests, and to the National Executive Institute, Major City Chiefs and Major County Sheriffs annual conventions in Sun Valley, Idaho. Of all the invitations to perform, however, the most sobering and gratifying were those for ceremonies in memory of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and individual funeral services for departed colleagues.

As the group became more popular fans began to ask, "What do you guys call yourselves?" At that point in time they simply replied, "A gaggle", because they never rehearsed and weren’t sufficiently organized to be referred to as a band. One night at dinner Don Bassett asked his wife, Molly, what she thought would be an appropriate name for the group. Without hesitation she replied, "The Free Agents, because you never charge for your music." The name stuck.

About 1996 a Special Agent from the Richmond FBI office was at the Academy for a class and happened to have his violin with him. After hearing him play, Wayne Smith was immediately inducted into The Free Agents and began traveling from Richmond to Quantico monthly to play concerts with the group.

At this writing that original group remains together: Don Bassett (guitar, keyboard and vocals), John Hall (lead guitar and vocals), Buddy McKinney, Danny Schofield and Wayne Smith. Don retired from the FBI in 1988, but continued to perform monthly with the group. Danny, John and Buddy have since retired, leaving Wayne as the sole remaining "active duty" member.

But the group decided in the mid 1990’s that The Free Agents would transcend retirement, and do so in a way that would enable them to maintain their bonds with the law enforcement community. The group originally decided to put their music to work helping the children of law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty. But as they began to explore this cause they discovered that, by and large, the children of slain law enforcement officers are well cared for by various organizations. Then in June of 2001, The Free Agents mentioned their intended plans to their professional guitarist friend Doyle Dykes at Sun Valley, where he was playing two concerts with the group (Doyle also appears with his guitar "magic" on two of the album’s cuts -- Freight Train and Amazing Grace). Doyle suggested including in The Free Agents’ plans scholarships for "at risk", deserving children of persons who have been incarcerated for serious crimes. The Free Agents immediately recognized the wisdom in Doyle’s suggestion: What better way to build bridges of trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities that are most likely to be hostile toward them, than by helping their kids get educations? The Free Agents had considered recording an album for many years. Now they had a purpose in doing so -- to raise money for kids -- both those from the law enforcement family who lost a father or mother in the line of duty, and those victimized by the criminal activities of their parents.

The Free Agents have been very pleased to note that their purpose in recording and selling the new album closely complements President Bush's recently-announced initiative to establish volunteer mentoring programs to help the children of incarcerated persons.

When it came to recording The Free Agents found that they faced a steep learning curve. While their original intent was to record an album that would capture the essence of their live Academy performances, they discovered that their objective was difficult to achieve in a studio -- particularly for a group that rarely rehearsed (performances were their rehearsals). Hence it has taken over two years to create this product, and then only with the able assistance of Richard Burgess, owner of IAR Studios in Alexandria, Virginia, and his partner, Matt Montoro.

The Free Agents will forever be in debt to their good friend Doyle Dykes for making a special trip from his home in Cleveland, Tennessee to Alexandria to record Freight Train and Amazing Grace with them. As a group they are convinced that Doyle is the best acoustic guitarist in the world today, bar none; they maintain that it is an unbelievable thrill and honor to perform with him in the studio and on the stage, as they have on several occasions. The Free Agents also very much appreciate the opportunities to play music with Doyle’s daughters, Holli and Haley, and his son Caleb, all of whom are gifted musicians following in their father’s footsteps.

Likewise, the group is grateful to their good friend and fellow musician, Bran Dillard, owner of Picker’s Supply in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for playing bass on most of the album tracks and supporting them in so many other ways.

The Free Agents hope that their CD will bring back pleasant memories of days spent at the FBI Academy to FBI and police students alike, not to mention staff and faculty. In addition to the musical enjoyment it may bring, purchasers of the album can also take comfort in knowing that they have contributed to a very worthy cause.

The Free Agents: Most Wanted can be purchased online at www.thefreeagents.org or from any of the group members; the cost is $15.