Monday, 16 January 2017

Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer: MERRILL E MOORE



MERRILL E MOORE: 
ROCKIN’ AT THE 
HOUSE OF BLUE LIGHTS 

 26 September 1923 – 14 June 2000 



I can accept that, at the time of his greatest hits Duane Eddy was no Segovia. And Sandy Nelson was no Buddy Rich. In the same way, Merrill E Moore was never a great keyboard technician. Even within the narrow confines of his peer group – that of the odd music-form known as Rockabilly, he never attained the accomplished highs of those who’d come before him – the Boogie-woogie and Western Swing piano players that he’d listened to, and learned from during the 1940s. But then, anyone who loves Rock ‘n’ Roll for the right reasons, know that virtuosity is a small part of what it takes to become great. Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about passion, and not precision.

So why is Merrill E Moore remembered? He represents a musical cul-de-sac, his recordings were few, and even these are flawed. Yet they change hands for large sums of money, and his name has become the centre of a minor cult, a password into the inner sanctum of Rock cognoscenti. Moore had fire.

Rockabilly and Country-boogie were hybrids. The initial tentative fumblings to reach out across the great racial divide and sniff out what the Blacks were doing on the other side of the tracks. The first steps of what was to lead to Rock ‘n’ Roll. It began with the addition of a drum-kit to the standard line-up of the C&W group. An innovation that was to have far-reaching implications, but it was not yet Rock… it was not Black enough, not infused with the earthy power of R&B enough for that. But within Rockabilly – and within the Rockabilly piano-playing of Moore (and Moon Mullican) lay the seeds of a style that would be adopted by Jerry Lee Lewis, and many others.

‘Merrill E Moore’ wrote journalist Tim Johnson, ‘is one of those legends of the Country Rock era who, although they’ve never had complete commercial success, have been hailed as The Start Of it All’ (‘Dalkeith Advertiser’, 22 May 1969). Therein lies his importance.

Merrill Everett Moore was born in 1923 in Algona, in the state of Iowa, and started playing piano as a child. He studied keyboard for several years and was diversely influenced by styles ranging from Jazz and Classical to Church and Country music. By the time he was seventeen he’d already developed his boogie left-hand style which would later be augmented by his pounding right-hand improvisations, chopped rhythms and steady drum back-ups.


In the late 1940s, following radio and ballroom work – and a US Navy wartime spell, he moved to San Diego, California, with a burning thirst to play wherever he could get work. This ‘Good Old Boy’ steeped in the music of the country, was soon working the lucrative club scene. Initially both he – and Ella Mae Morse on the West Coast, plus Boyd Bennett in the mid-West, were developing a boogie-beat and band-shouting style vaguely derived from that of Amos Milburn and Wynonie Harris. Rock historians Phil Hardy and Dave Laing opine that the variant was ‘technically crude but well-received’ (in the Panther ‘Encyclopedia Of Rock Volume 1’, 1976). It may be true that they lack the authentic intensity of the artists they drew from, and to an extent rely on the flashy excitement generated by the instrumental back-up rather than through keyboard skills alone.

In 1952 – aged twenty-nine, Moore signed a deal with Capitol Records, and was to remain with them for the six years during which the various strands of Rock ‘n’ Roll came together to explode across the sleepy face of the Western World. The label also recruited Gene Vincent – in 1956, prodded from its complacency by the commercial necessity of answering RCA’s Elvis Presley hegemony. But – aside from producer Ken Nelson who accomplished this coup, Capitol had a condescending attitude towards its ‘down-market product’, which – at the time, also included Johnny Otis and Esquerita.

Moore’s recording success was erratic. He had regional and national hits with his solo sides, laying down the classics on which his later reputation would be based. Although “House Of Blue Lights” had been written in 1946, and had already provided hits for Ella Mae Morse and the Andrews Sisters, Moore remakes it into his own definitive version. As much a part of Rock mythology as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ the ‘house’ was referenced by Little Richard in “Good Golly Miss Molly” and nudged the title of Deep Purple’s twelfth studio album in 1987. There’s a story that Moore was unable to take advantage of the single’s gathering momentum with hard national touring, due to the insistence of the ‘Buckaroo Club’ – or maybe it was the ‘College Inn’? that he fulfil his six-nights-a-week performing contact with them. If true, he seemed to bear no grudge.

“Down The Road Apiece” was another song with previous history going back to its 1940 debut by the Will Bradley Trio, and Chuck Berry also did a version which the Rolling Stones use as a template for their own remake, but Moore’s revision stands its place with them all. While “Rock Rockola” is another slab of pyrotechnical crude R ‘n’ R energy. Each of them fuse Moore’s unique boogie piano with the then-embryonic white Country end of the Rock spectrum. Yet he never achieved a hit record big enough to brand his name across a mass market, or to reach UK record buyers. Indeed, only three of his singles from this period were issued here – through Decca. His wild barrelhouse playing with contrastingly cool vocals set him apart from the more commercial approach of frenetic vocals dominating the mix.


As well as his solo recordings Moore was doing prolific studio session work, appearing on Tommy Sands “Teenage Crush”, plus records by Kay Starr, Faron Young and Wanda Jackson’s Capitol hits. Often playing alongside guitarist Roy Clarke and Vincent’s Blue Caps on such occasions. His playing can be heard on Wanda Jackson’s ‘Rockin’ With Wanda’ LP and her 1960 hit “Let’s Have A Party”. Later, she was to return to C&W, while Moore dropped out of the recording scene for a decade, in favour of club and radio work, appearing on the LA ‘Hometime Jamboree’ with Tennessee Ernie Ford. By 1962 he was doing hotel lounges back in the San Diego area.

A situation that lasted until the end of the sixties, when proto-Rock and Rockabilly had become highly-collectible, with enthusiasts searching out rarities and obscurities. To meet this specialist market, some of Moore’s best solo material from those Capitol years were collected by Ember, and would form the basis of his second period of recording activity. In July 1967 ‘Bellyful Of Blue Thunder’ was issued, the first of two Ember albums of reissued material from Moore’s rocking past. The album features “House Of Blue Lights”, ‘Bell Bottom Boogie”, “Rock Island Line” and “Rock Rockola”.

It was followed in May 1968 by ‘Roughhouse 88’, a set featuring “Sweet Jenny Lee” and “Snatchin’ And Grabbin’” aligned against Moore’s unique reading of “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue” and “Cooing To The Wrong Pigeon”. A single – “Down The Road Apiece” c/w “Buttermilk Baby” was lifted from the second set. The albums were largely well-received by a coterie of Rock fans, and probably represent one of the few solid worthwhile achievements of that year’s much-touted Rock revival. Reviewing ‘Roughhouse 88’ ‘Record Mirror’ proclaimed ‘Merrill is alone now, no-one else plays like this and his wild, yet musically superb piano work surpasses anyone else on the scene.’


Moore’s grassroots reputation, which had lain fallow since the demise of the first Rock ‘n’ Roll wave, was – at least in the UK, on an upward turn. Max ‘Waxie’ Needham wrote an authoritative revaluation of Moore for ‘Record Mirror’ (October 1967), and later commented ‘Country Rock, as Merrill Moore plays it, is music of special brilliance, played by a brilliant specialist’ (from ‘Rock Chunks’ in ‘Top Pops’, 26 April 1969). Oddly enough it appears the wheel has turned full cycle, for not only were the records enjoyed as the good vibrant Rock that they undeniably were, but they were being analysed and examined as valuable artefacts by the new breed of Rock academics.

With a wide open grin and a big Stetson hat, this new prestige was vividly made flesh by the reception Moore received during the Easter 1968 UK ‘Wembley C&W Package’ on which he shares the bill with Conway Twitty, Bill Anderson, George Hamilton IV, and other such luminaries. He appeared on BBC-TV’s ‘Late Night Line-Up’, and reminisced to the press (to Wesley Laine of ‘Record Mirror’) about watching Hank Williams arrive an hour late for concerts – ‘a most miserable man, just like the lyrics of his songs’, about meeting Elvis Presley on the Southern Californian set of Elvis’ TV special, and of his respect for British artists Lonnie Donegan, Tom Jones, and Jazz pianist George Shearing.


It was a direct result of these subcultural rumblings of interest in the pioneering piano-pounder that prompted the next album. In March 1969 the Action organisation, preparing to launch their B&C label, sent British executive John E Abbey out to Los Angeles to record some new Moore material at Randy Wood’s Crestview Studios. The first manifestation of the session was a single issued a month later, coupling “Sweet Mama Tree-Top Tall” – on which a rousing Jazz violin is laid over Moore’s signature boogie-woogie playing, with Roger Miller’s sentimental “Little Green Apples”, set to a steady shuffle-beat offset by some nice steel-guitar. The 45rpm was a taster for the album ‘Tree-Top Tall’ issued in May of the same year. ‘This is the sort of music that had Teds rockin’ in the aisles around the Elephant and Castle a few years ago, and it’s still as good as ever’ enthused reviewer Richard Green (‘New Musical Express’, 17 May 1969).

Yet it’s an odd collection of material. The opening track revamps his early hit as “House Of Blue Lights ‘69”, while from the same vintage he takes Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City” and Shirley & Lee’s “Let The Good Times Roll”. Yet the same mellowing that afflicted the concurrent Jerry Lee Lewis output was apparent in the selection of Esther Philips’ hit “Release Me”, which he sadly chooses to interpret from the Engelbert Humperdinck blueprint.

But, if it didn’t exactly live up to everyone’s expectations, it was certainly a benchmark LP, and – for the forty-six year old Rocker, an impressive achievement. Inevitably the contents and style of the album reflects his live repertoire of the time, which used a trio format with Bob Henkle on sax and bass-fiddle, and Mike Johnson supplying drums and occasional vocals. Moore’s wife – Doris, also sang with the group some weekends, playing San Diego cabaret spots, where the vintage Rock content jostles uneasily against the slicker side of their act, the Latin tempos and ballads.

Moore confided to Max Needham that ‘I have learned a little more – five years of studying Theory and Composition, and we work better places than the old style calls for. Not that I don’t enjoy playing as I once did – indeed, I do!’

Cancer took him at the age of seventy-six. Merrill E Moore’s genre was essentially a hybrid thing, catching fire only when Rock ‘n’ Roll first became a viable commodity, and losing its relevance soon after, as Rock continued to evolve. In the wake of Moore’s innovations, Rock developed into a separate entity while C&W relaxed back into its interrupted somnambulism for a further decade. But various white working-class Southern performers in the small towns of Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas would look back on Rockabilly and the Boogie-woogie piano-playing of people like Merrill E Moore, as one of the roots of Country Rock.



MERRILL E MOORE 

His collectible records may still be found on specialist websites (if you’re lucky)…

THE SINGLES… 

May 1968 ‘Down The Road Apiece’ c/w ‘Buttermilk Baby’ (Ember EMB-S 253)

April 1969 ‘Sweet Mama Tree-Top Tall’ c/w ‘Little Green Apples’ (B&C CB100)

THE ALBUMS… 

BELLYFUL OF BLUE THUNDER (Ember EMB 3392, July 1967) with ‘House Of Blue Lights’, ‘Rock Rockola’, ‘Fly Right Boogie’, ‘Corina Corina’, ‘Hard Top Races’, ‘Bartender’s Blues’, ‘Tuck Me To Sleep In My Old ‘Tucky Home’, ‘Red Light’, ‘Bell Bottom Boogie’, ‘Big Big Boogie’, ‘Barrell House Bessie’, ‘Rock Island Line’, ‘Nursery Rhyme Blues’, ‘Doggie House Boogie’

ROUGH-HOUSE 88(Ember EMB 3394, May 1968) with ‘Buttermilk Baby’, ‘Ten Ten A.M.’ ‘Cow Cow Boogie’, ‘Sweet Jenny Lee’, ‘Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue’, ‘One Way Door’, ‘Down The Road Apiece’, ‘Gotta Gimme Watcha Got’, ‘Nola Boogie’, ‘King Porter Stomp’, ‘Yes Indeed’, ‘She’s Gone’, ‘Snatchin’ And Grabbin’’, ‘Cooing To The Wrong Pigeon’


TREE TOP TALL (B&C Records CAS 1001, May 1969) with ‘House Of Blue Lights ‘69’, ‘Wabash Blues’, ‘Kansas City’ (by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller), ‘Born To Lose’, ‘Texas In My Soul’, ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, ‘Sweet Mama Tree-Top Tall’, ‘Release Me’, ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, ‘She Won’t Let Me Forget Her’, ‘Wabash Cannonball’, ‘Little Green Apples’

BOOGIE MY BLUES AWAY(Bear Family Records BCD 15505, 1990), German 44-track 2CD compilation including previously-unreleased material, with rare EP version of ‘Nola Boogie’, plus ‘Barrel House Bessie’, ‘Music Music Music’, ‘Sun Valley Walk’, ‘Lazy River’, ‘Back Home In Indiana’, ‘South’, ‘Shanty In Old Shanty Town’, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, ‘Nobody’s Sweetheart’, ‘Jumpin’ At The Woodside’, ‘Somebody Stole My Gal’, ‘Moore Blues’, ‘Sentimental Journey’ and more


Published in:
‘RED HOT Vol.1 No.1’ 
(UK – December 1977)


Friday, 30 December 2016

Poem: 'Mars Is A Robot World'



MARS IS A 
ROBOT WORLD 


even planets rust…
Opportunity touches down on
Meridiani Planum, 25 January 2004,
then 9 March 2005, Spirit Rover pauses
to see a vortex of dust devils spin by,
Curiosity sets down, Bradbury Landing
6 August 2012 in Aeolis Palus…
now Mars is a robot planet, where
each and every small soft apocalypse
 that falls, is seen and calibrated,
a sniff that tastes thin Martian air,
lenses that glimpse the pale green star
recorded forever beyond returning,
treads etch patterns in tumbled grit,
encrypting it into the topography,
setting up ghost-ripples in dead rivers
immersing in shimmering tides
 within the memory of shallow pools,
in evidence-trails of evaporation
left across a rim of scars, in a
squiggly striation-chain of eddies,
transient in the endless curve,
warping whims of hardpan where
soft wind is the only other sculptor…

in a million years from now
others will enter this star drift
seeking us and find no trace,
but for stilled machines
on this rusted planet…


Published in:
‘ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION no.485 (Vol. 40 No.6)’ 
June (USA – May 2016)


Thursday, 29 December 2016

Album Reviews: Status Quo's 40 Years Of Hits



‘STATUS QUO: 
 FORTY YEARS OF HITS…’ 

 Album Review of: 
‘THE COMPLETE PYE COLLECTION’ 
 by STATUS QUO 
 (2004, Sanctuary Midline 3CD) 

‘Technicolour dreams are all I see, technicolour dreams of you and me…’ Could that lyric come from any year other than 1968? It’s a film already playing inside your mind, the wistful long-haired teen-girl in Bridget Riley Op-Art dress slipping through a false-colour trip-treated enchanted forest. And that’s just one title from this lost trove of what the liner-notes accurately define as ‘bubblegum psychedelia’. Not the hard-edged manic ‘Nuggets’-style USA acid-garage-punk (apart from their early shot at the Blues Magoos’ “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet”), more the kaleidoscopic whimsy of its UK ‘sunny cellophane skies’ variant. It’s only the name beneath the song-titles, and the subsequent riffing twelve-bar Quo notoriety that tends to devalue the historic integrity of this stuff.

In fact Rick Parfitt himself admits that this is Quo ‘before they’d invented themselves.’ A group who stumbled into the charts by happy accident with “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, and spent the next couple of years trying to replicate its success – most obviously with “Black Veils Of Melancholy” which randomises the guitar-hook only slightly and shifts the phase-control along a bar or two. And of course, they’re not all stone-gems, although some are – “Ice In The Sun”, “When My Mind Is Not Live”, or “Make Me Stay A Little Bit Longer”. Then there are contract-fillers when inspiration fails, covers of the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine”, Tommy Roe’s “Shelia”, or the Bee-Gees’ “Spicks And Specks” (twice, the second one abruptly curtailed by a voice cutting in ‘alright, come on’).

 This triple-set opens with that first ‘Picturesque Matchstikable Messages’ (1968) album plus all the a-&-b sides made under their earlier incarnations as The Spectres (a ridiculously over-the-top “I, Who Have Nothing”), and Traffic Jam (“Almost But Not Quite There”). They then spend the other two CD’s evolving towards their next career-phase, with the contents of three more complete vinyl albums, plus some lost archive rarities from the 1981 and ’98 vaults. Ain’t CD wonderful? Through the prettified, more self-consciously orchestrated harmonies – and less fun, of ‘Spare Parts’ (Sept 1969), developing their song-writing skills with Rossi, Parfitt, roadie Bob Young, and frequently overlooked bassist Alan Lancaster all strongly contributing. Until their own “In My Chair” rightfully returns them to the charts. Nudging them into the more Blues-Heavy ‘Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon’ (Sept 1970) with “Spinning Wheel” already recognisably ‘Quo’, plus the entendre-strewn “Lazy Poker Blues”, and “Is It Really Me” extending to a full 9:30min jam. Then ‘Dog With Two Heads’ (Dec 1971) with the downright weird “Gerundula”, and chart-hit “Mean Girl”. But me?, I’m flipping back to album one for ‘I see your shadow slipping through a silver glade, tip-toeing over crimson sands, moving me onwards into a sea of jade, leading me gently by the hand…’ Dayglo psychedelia at its most bubblegum trip-tastic.


Published in:
‘SONGBOOK no.2’ (UK – Feb 2004)



Album Review of: 
‘PICTURES: 40 YEARS OF HITS’ 
by STATUS QUO 
 (2009, Universal 2CD) 

If Status Quo had terminally totalled their Transit van into a motorway support bridge in the late-sixties, or if they’d deep-fried their brains to iconic LSD vegetables like Syd Barrett, or Brian Wilson, then chances are their cult-credibility would now be critically unassailable, with “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” up there with the Smallfaces’ “Tin Soldier”, Pink Floyd’s “Point Me At The Sky”, or Smoke’s “My Friend Jack” as quintessentially pristine examples of Freak-Beat. Then again, had their 747 fallen out of the sky in the mid-seventies they’d be remembered as monolithic metal monsters, the London variant of martyred Lynyrd Skynyrd perhaps, by those metal-heads who get dewy-eyed with nostalgia for far lesser entities such as Saxon or Uriah Heep. John Peel was an early champion, Bob Harris on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ too. Trouble is, they are the band who never forgot how many bars make twelve. Everyone knows what a Quo record sounds like, those paralytic licks that go chinga-chinga-chinga at mind-numbing repetitions. No other group is so readily identified by so instantly recognisable a sound. It’s also universally adaptable and can be grafted onto just about any song you care to think of – as they prove through personalising a series of oldsters such as “The Wild Side Of Life”, “The Wanderer” – and that old John Fogerty track “Rockin’ All Over The World”. Not that all Quo hits necessarily conform to blueprint. ‘Cos they don’t. Think “Marguerita Time”, “Living On An Island”, or “In The Army Now”. But then again, enough of them do to give substance to the image. Sure, maybe their career’s long since gone beyond its commercial or credibility peak. Too bad. No defiant apologies required. Quo were hip, for a while, something we may need to remind ourselves of every now and then.

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.13 (Jan/Feb 2009)’ 
(UK – January 2009)


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Interview: RICK PARFITT of STATUS QUO



STATUS QUO: 
 RICK PARFITT
 - WHATEVER YOU WANT…? 


Rick Parfitt died 24 December 2016, aged sixty-eight. 
This is the full previously-unpublished transcript of an interview 
I did with him during his promotion for the 2002 Status Quo 
album ‘Heavy Traffic’. As such he’s keen to talk up the new 
product, but in fairness, it’s a strong album, and it arrived on a new 
creative energy-rush following a low period of disappointingly 
unsatisfactory work. And he was as engagingly candid when criticizing 
the flaws of the earlier work as he was to enthuse over the new…




The Holiday Inn. Two adjoining rooms off the same corridor. ‘We’re better off when we split up while we’re doing interviews’ explains Francis Rossi. The ‘we’ being him and long-time Status Quo partner Rick Parfitt. ‘So recently we’ve been trying to get them done separately because people expect us to go into Morecambe & Wise. And we usually do…’

Status Quo are a band with total world sales exceeding 112-million units. That’s a lot. But for reasons still unclear without the use of mind-altering drugs, Status Quo are seldom accorded the respect granted their contemporaries such as the Who or the Rolling Stones, which is odd considering they cover pretty much the same terrain. Evolved out of Blues, for which they still have a tangible love and respect, and which still forms the basis of their ‘sound’. Today, they’re in the mood to talk about one of the more recent additions to the Quo catalogue. The 2002 album ‘Heavy Traffic’, and if Rock dreams are all about the open highway, then it’s here it hits all the green lights.

The album was issued to coincide with a charting single – “Jam Side Down” (issued 5th August 2002), an inevitable tour, and a ninety-minute Channel Four documentary done by the respected director/producer Jane Treays. She starts out, to an extent – confrontationally, but grudgingly and perhaps inexorably finds herself sucked in by the intense gravitational power of the live Quo set. It’s impossible to resist it for too long. And along the way – inevitably, some statistics get regurgitated. This is a band who’ve recorded no less than fifty-five British hit singles. That’s more than any other band, with no exceptions. Twenty-two of them made the Top Ten. They’ve also had more hit albums – a total of thirty-one, in the British album chart than any other band – apart, that is, from the Rolling Stones!

‘Rick doesn’t much like doing interviews’ Rossi had prior-warned me, unnecessarily. And sure, Rick’s more careful and considered in his responses than the more garrulous Francis Rossi – who confesses at one point ‘maybe I shouldn’t have told you that, I don’t know.’ But Rick is just as open and ready to trade the secrets of a Rock ‘n’ Roll life... in fact – swigging from a Budweiser bottle, his greatest cause for complaint is the catering ‘Just crammed a bit of lunch in quick, and I’ve gotta drink something with it. I would have had a diet coke but there ain’t one here.’ Later, grinning at the bottle after an especially good answer to my question, he goes ‘I’ll ‘ave to have another one of these...!’


You should be used to this ‘Holiday Inn’ setting, isn’t this where Rock bands usually stay? We are, we are. So I expected to get an omelette when I ordered steak and chips, or vice versa. They do tend to get it wrong most of the time. That’s one of the things about being on the road. Especially if you’re abroad and there’s a bit of a language problem. It’s really strange what comes up sometimes. (He adopts an exaggerated chef’s accent) ‘I think he said ‘an omelette with cheese, but it could have been a fillet steak’. But there are worse situations to be in, and you have to learn to cope with these things. So you don’t want to order anything fancy on the road. Stick to the basics – well I do. And anyway, really and truly, we now have our own catering on the road. So, in the routine of touring – between 2:30 and 3pm every day, Francis and I will go to the gig and eat. You have to learn not to make the mistake of eating one potato too many before you go on stage, otherwise you get that worst feeling of going out there a bit blown out, y’know. So it’s good simple, what I call ‘belly-tipper’, something that’s gonna serve you enough to get you through a gig without eating too much. So that’s why we eat early for a nine o’clock show.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that. You started out travelling to gigs, and sleeping in Transit Vans. Yeah, I’ve slept very well in Transit Vans, and – before that, in Thames Vans too. You sometimes wonder how you survived. I mean – apart from all the self-inflicted nonsense you put yourself through over the years with drugs and booze and whatever, I remember back when there was five of us, and we had a Thames Van, and all the gear, so obviously one of us is driving, one is sitting on the engine compartment which is in-between the two seats, one of is in the passenger seat – and they’re the lucky three! ‘Cos two have to lay flat out on top of the PA in the back of the Van. Now, you can only imagine – if the lights change or whatever and you have to slam the brakes on, we’d come down – like, almost straight through the bloody windscreen! But that’s how it used to be. And that’s what we used to do. How we ever came through that I dunno. But I mean, at the time we were young and it didn’t matter. We didn’t give a fuck. We were in the group, and just gigging, it was great. And compared to the way we’re looked after now – I mean, it was unbelievable. When you think back to how it was, but really and truly, it was great. It’s your apprenticeship, isn’t it? You don’t expect to go in at the top.


The ‘Heavy Traffic’ album features the chart single “Jam Side Down” – am I reading too much into it, or is there a hidden reference there to the band’s pre-Quo name ‘Traffic Jam’? No – it wasn’t deliberate, but we did think – ‘what a lovely link’. And it’s funny, I wasn’t sure whether people would pick up on this, but you’re not the first to have done that. So, I think it’s nice to just pick that little link up from the past, thread it up to now. And – I have to say, that I’m really proud, and I’m not just saying this – I heard myself there! as if I was just saying it – but I’m not! I’m really proud to have done this album, and let people know what Quo is now, because I think the album is really reflective of who and where we’re at. Who we are. And where we’re at. I think it’s the best album we’ve ever done... and yes, I’ve said that before as well. But with this one, all the round pegs have gone in the round holes, and all the square pegs have gone in the square holes. Everything’s come right on this album. I don’t know what it is. The band is playing well – and I’m only telling you this because this is what is going on at the moment, and I don’t really know why. We’ve introduced Matt Letley – the drummer, he’s been with us a couple of years now, but this is the first studio album that we’ve done with Matt. And I don’t know whether it’s him or... I don’t know what it is, but something has really fallen into place all over again. ‘Cos the early band was – what it was. It was rough, it was ready, and people loved it. Now we’ve set out on a kinda different road to become a really class, really good Rock band. And I think that we’re pretty much getting there. I mean – live, no problem. But on album – to get that kind-of vibe across, that good crisp rocking vibe, I think we’ve done it. And how we’ve done it – again, I don’t quite know. It just, was there. Everybody’s in the right frame of mind to do this album, the material is very strong, the sleeve’s right, the title’s right. I saw a poster in the audience a few weeks ago saying ‘HEAVY TRAFFIC: HEAVY QUO’, and I thought ‘Yes, that’s the message we wanted’. And ‘this is working.’ Y’know, something’s clicking into place here, ‘cos a few people obviously picked up on the album pre-release – they download it, don’t they? You can’t police it. But at least we’re not alone. That’s the only consolation I can get personally, the fact that it must happen to everybody. So anyway – all the pegs are in the right holes, it’s feeling great. The album is fabulous, and we’re just really now in the hands of everyone else, and hopefully they do their job properly. We’ve done ours, to a certain extent. We’ve made the album. Now everybody’s gotta work on it. Including us, on days like this – obviously.


You listen to this album once, twice, and there are songs and hooks that stick in your mind. I agree with you. Yeah, I was saying to somebody earlier – ‘I haven’t done this for years, back to maybe the old ‘Piledriver’ (1972) and ‘Hello’ (1973) days’, where I’d put my own album on. And honestly, I’ve got it in the car, and I’m getting home and wanting to listen to the album there too. I want to listen, and it keeps getting better and better. ‘Cos when you record it – one track at a time, and ‘oh god, I remember that one, three months ago we did that.’ But when you hear it mixed and packed up and there it is, it really is a class album.

On the track “Do It Again” you sing ‘I get a rush every night when 8:45 comes’. That’s about the excitement of playing live. So is that sense of anticipation still there? That is the paramount part of the day of being on tour, because – if anybody’s honest with you, you don’t want to do the travelling. You get sick of the travelling. The part that matters, and the part that means everything, is just before you go on stage, and being up there and having a great gig. After all these years – we did two shows recently in a bull-ring in Spain that were absolute magic. It was so great to be on there. You know the old term ‘hot knife through butter?’ – the set went past like that (he snaps his fingers). And people often say ‘Christ, where do you get the energy?’ And I tell you, on a good night it’s so – I won’t say ‘easy’ to do, but it’s so pleasurable to do, that it just goes past. And it’s still surprising – after all these years, that you come off stage and go ‘Wow! That was incredible! Amazing!’ And yet we still do it, everybody comes off really ‘up’ and really vibed-up. Then we did another gig in an arena the following night and the same thing happened. There were two gigs in a row where it was literally like having your back tickled. We got goose-pimples. So yeah, that part of what we do is still fantastic. If it wasn’t, to be honest with you, we couldn’t do it. It would be like work. And you don’t want it to be like work. ‘Cos – you know this as well as I do, if you really enjoy what you do, then it ain’t work, is it? ‘Cos it’s a pleasure. And our business is our pleasure – or our pleasure is our business.

You’ve been with Francis so long now that you must have developed a kind of musical telepathy between you. Oh yeah. We know what one another’s thinking. For the most part. We do have our times – for Christ’s sake, we wouldn’t be normal if we didn’t, and we’ve had our rows over the years. Quite serious ones at some stage, I actually threw a towel at him once!!! But yeah, generally we get on great, 75% of the time we get on really well.


So many long-term partnerships in Rock have ended up in animosity. Well, I can understand it, you see. What a lot of people don’t know – well, a lot of people DO realise this, I’m wrong to say that, is that it’s little things. It’s not the whole nucleus, the big thing of getting on stage and doing it, not the ‘I don’t wanna play tonight’ ‘well I do’ – it’s not that. It’s things like, if you go back on the bus after a gig, for instance, I might say to the driver ‘can you put a bit of heat on?’ And Frame’ll go ‘no, don’t put the heat on for Christ’s sake.’ And so you sit there thinking ‘well, whose gonna win this?’ So you strike a happy medium, in as much as we’ve been together for going on thirty-four thirty-five years now. Whatever it is, you learn to cope with that kind of thing. And if you don’t learn to cope with it, that’s when you gotta split up. It’s like you and your Mrs, or whatever. You leave the top off the toothpaste, and she goes ‘will you put the top back on...’ ‘I can’t be bothered, you’ve only got to squeeze the bloody thing.... It’s little things. ‘Put the loo seat down’ ‘No, I like it up.’ That’s the point. It’s all those kind of things. And you experience exactly the same, on the road with five people, y’know? Not everybody can have it the way they want it. So you have to learn. It’s a lesson in life, to give and take.

‘Frame’? That’s what I call Francis. I’m the only one who calls him that. Nobody else does. Don’t know why. ‘F.R.’ = Frame.

So you’re saying those personal things are more important in breaking a band up than the usual disclaimer ‘musical differences’? Not necessarily. Well, with musical differences – of course, we do have them. But we’re able – with the modicum of talent we have, NO – I won’t say ‘modicum’, with the talent we have at doing what we do, we’re able to iron that out. ‘No, don’t play it like that.’ ‘Well OK, let’s compromise a bit.’ And we can do that. Because there are two guitars so we can afford to give and take a little bit. He wants to play it that way, one way. I can play it slightly another way, but it will still ‘tune’, we will still be literally ‘in tune’ with one another. And that’s part of how the Quo sound is created. ‘Cos I always play a different inversion to what Francis does, and he always plays it differently to what I do. But, at the end of the day, it all adds up to the same thing. Which is that sound. People say ‘how do you get that sound?’ ‘Don’t know’. And honestly we don’t. I can only say, I play it my way – he plays it his way. And it adds up to be the same. But anything musically that we do really fall out about – and from time to time you do fall out, but then you have to weigh up – well, really and truly, what is the best way to do it? So sometimes I’ll give, and sometimes he’ll give. And that’s how we’ve managed to hold it together.


Andrew Bown has also been in – or associated with Status Quo for a long time. Twenty-five years now. Since he left the Herd. Actually no, not quite – because he left them, and he did a thing on his own in-between. He had his own band. But he played piano with the Herd in the early days. And he’d come and play a bit of piano now and then for us, and eventually the Herd split, and Andy wasn’t really doing a lot – so, ‘jump in’. So in he came, ‘Cos on stage we missed that piano you did on there, we can’t play it.’ So he played one bit, then another bit – and then, of course, he was in the band. And it’s twenty-five years now, I can’t believe it. But he’s a great writer as well – Andrew, a clever writer, and some of his writing on this album is very very good. When we went in to do the album, we knew that we were armed with this excellent material. And funnily enough I’ve been – not a lazy little git, but I only wrote a couple of the songs, one of which didn’t make it onto the album, ‘cos simply – it wasn’t good enough, ‘cos the standard of the material which everybody came in with was – WOW! I heard a couple of the demo’s up front and knew that this was gonna be good, and so it’s turned out.

On the sleeve of your ‘Famous In The Last Century’ (2000) album there’s a photo of Francis framed against a back-drop photo of Elvis Presley, and you up against one of John Lennon. I interpreted that as a deliberate statement of your respective influences. No. Not really. It wasn’t. It was just the way it came out. I suppose it means lots of different things to different people. But in fact, it’s not really meant to mean anything. It’s just meant to be an attractive sleeve. I didn’t even know I was coming out with John Lennon behind me. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know the concept of the sleeve. Why – I dunno. It was one of those albums where you just kind-of leave it to the record company, and you’re quite happy with whatever they’re going to do. However – with ‘Heavy Traffic’, it’s been a totally different thing. The deliberation we’ve had over that sleeve! Well – we thought ‘Heavy Traffic’ – OK, how’re you going to do that? Obviously, well – you’ve got a white line down the middle of a road. With what – a traffic jam? Sitting in a car looking at loads of other traffic? Obviously you’d do that, wouldn’t you? So no, we won’t go ‘down that road’. Radar – let’s have a radar screen – with lots of dots on it, too many dots – ‘Heavy Traffic’, ‘cos then we can have the radar-dish on stage behind the kibuki, with the blue light going round – you know, before we go on! Yeah, good, but not quite right. This is all us lot sitting on the tour bus trying to come up with something. Then somebody mentioned elephants. And ‘how about if we had the elephants stampeding down a road with us running away from them?’ Yeah – now that could be good. So we sent the idea off. And we do these weird photo sessions – you’re running past the camera with this look of horror on your face. It was hilarious to do, because none of us are actors. It was very funny to try to pull this expression of being frightened of being trampled by an elephant! ‘Go on, pull a face – AHHH!’ We got this mock-up back – adjust that, adjust this, make this bigger. Until we got the sleeve that we all want. With these fucking great elephants charging down this street looking awesome, with us – like, fleeing from them. We’ve done all this. It’s another aspect to this album, we got so involved with it. It’s all tongue in cheek, but it’s a good sleeve.

There’s a line on the album that goes ‘as the Brown-Eyed Handsome Man says/ you never can tell...’, which neatly gets Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry references into the same verse. “Blues and Rhythm”. Well – I can’t actually comment on that lyric, because I didn’t write it, and I don’t quite know what the content is meant to be there, but you are very possibly right.

Then there’s the ‘Too-Much-Monkey-Business’ word-flow of “Digging Burt Bacharach” – which is not about Burt Bacharach at all. No, it’s more meant to be reflective of a time, many years ago, way back in the sixties, and early seventies. Cat-flaps and stuff like that. Lots of things that you don’t associate with now so much. The link-up between Bob Young and Francis again – they used to write in the early days together, then they had this ‘void’ for a number of years, and now the fact that they’re writing together again has been a great plus for the band. Bob is a great lyricist, no two ways about it, and with Francis’ quirkiness, they work. Rossi/Young works as a writing partnership. I wish I could find a partner that good to write with. But it’s great for the band.


‘Mojo’ magazine issued a 2001 4-CD box-set called ‘Acid Drops, Spacedust, & Flying Saucers’ which collects rare British Psychedelic vinyl, and you’re on there with “When My Mind Is Not Live” (B-side of “Ice In The Sun”), which I understand is the first-ever Rossi/Parfitt composition. Oh Christ. Probably – I don’t REMEMBER the first song I wrote with him, but it could well have been that one, yeah. It’s way-back when, isn’t it? I thought our first was “Poor Old Man” – it was around the same sort-of time. Or – oh god, way back – 1968, ‘when my mind is not live’ (he sings the line), nice song that, I remember it well. Psychological isn’t it – no, PSYCHEDELIC! which indeed it was in those days of the old – what did you used to call it? – ‘paint’ lighting, you’d get water-colour slides which would sort-of go around in front of a light. It was all that. And we were dressed up like Christmas Trees anyway. All the colours under the fucking rainbow.

At that time I was sitting at home in Hull – watching you on ‘Top Of The Pops’ doing all that. More-or-less the same age, only I was watching it and you were out there doing it! Yeah – ‘Matchstick Men’. It’s a great piece of footage that. I love watching that clip – not withstanding the fact that it’s in black-and-white, it looks great, and the way we were dressed!

It must have been an amazingly strange time for you. Well, it was amazing. Doors that had – the big doors of life were opening, if you like, weren’t they? Oh god, this sounds cheesy. But it was – HERE WE GO! But little did we know how far we were going to go. If anybody around that time had said ‘in thirty-five years time you’ll still be doing this’ I’d have laughed at them. You couldn’t have imagined that we would still be sitting here doing what we’re doing, and still getting a kick out of doing it. You’d never imagine it. But I think, in it’s way – it’s the way we still think. We’ve never really analysed it. We just do what we do, on a daily basis, we just do it. If we’ve gotta record, we just go in and record. We don’t analyse it too much. We try not to at least, because I think that can destroy it – if you try to become the thing that you are, if you know what I mean – does that make sense? Don’t try to be it, just do it. Just do what comes naturally, and that’s what we’ve always done. I’ve used one analogy for this band for many years. I’ve had this picture in my head – of Quo as this steam train, steaming down the track, and all these trends and this dance-music and whatever – nothing against it, but that’s for other people, it ain’t for me – and trends and bits-and-pieces that come-and-go, they just bounce off this engine. And this engine just keeps going down the tracks. I see that. That’s the way I’ve looked at it. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the picture-gram that I get.

But at that time you were part of a generation of bands who were making it up for the first time, borrowing bits from Blues, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry. But at least yours was a direct continuity to that Roots music. Lots of the bands coming along later were copying off you, and off your contemporaries. Yeah, well. And on it goes.


But it’s like copying a video, each time you copy it you lose a little more definition. I tend to agree with you. I hope, at the time that we did it, we hadn’t lost too much. And we kind-of – I suppose, we took it from Blues-based Rock. People like Fleetwood Mac, early Chicken Shack, and the Doors – “Road-House Blues”. When we first heard that! Frame and I were out in Germany and we were in a Club and this ‘dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-dum’ came on and I thought ‘Christ I like the sound of that. We’ll have some of that.’ There’s just something about that shuffle-rhythm, it’s just so infectious. And to enhance it, there was this couple dancing on the floor – and he would tell you exactly the same story here, they had that hip movement about them, and they were dancing so smoothly to this ‘dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-dum’ shuffle-rhythm. And I thought ‘we gotta do that.’ So – away we went, and that was what really got us into this kind of shuffle-thing which led to all sorts of other things. And we found an identity really, with it. Because, obviously – with “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, “Ice In The Sun”, and “When My Mind Is Not Live” and stuff like that, we hadn’t really found an identity. Even when we did “Down The Dust-Pipe” which went ‘dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-dum’ – the fast shuffle, we didn’t realise that that was going to be the nucleus of what we were gonna do in years to come. We didn’t really think about it, because that didn’t turn us on in the same way that this “Road-House Blues” type of feel did. ‘That feel – we’ve gotta get that, we’ve gotta nick, we’ve gotta have it.’ So we worked at it, and here we are, still working at it, if you like, or maybe we’ve finally got it now...? But we had no idea that we were gonna kind-of turn it into something that people would turn around and go – ‘ah, that’s Quo!’ And how flattering. Yes it is.

Of course, now you could merely have sampled the Doors’ track direct, and lost out on that creative ‘personalising’ process. Just as the dance-group Apollo 440 sampled you. I hate to say it, but I loved that. However it goes, I loved it. And we’re still tempted to go there on stage. They’ve nicked us, and we’ll nick it back. It’s the intro from “Caroline” – the opening riff, that’s it. And as you know – on that, we bring it right down, get a bit of audience participation going, and in that part we’re so tempted to voice their...whatever it is. But we don’t go there. Great – but they’ve denied it or something, haven’t they? the silly sods. If they’ve done it why don’t they just own up? We’ve had it analysed, and it is definitely my playing. That’s it. It sounds a bit flash – it’s not meant to be, but nobody plays the guitar like that. Nobody does it like that – and that’s definitely the Quo intro.

With “Caroline” you were the top Festival Band, around the time of Reading. Fast becoming one anyway. Yeah – we were topping Reading by then.


And I saw Apollo 440 recently at a Festival, with the massive audience laid about in various states of inertia, and when they got to play that “Caroline”-sample it had exactly the same effect on that crowd as your original did at those 1970’s Readings, it jerked them up onto their feet. Its sheer energy and clear definition. It works on that most primal of levels. It’s strange. There’s something about it, yes, that is very infectious. And again, we didn’t set out to create this. Whatever way you look at it, primitive form or whatever you choose to call it, people love it. It has an infectious ‘thing’ about it where – it’s quite simple, but it’s got to be played from the heart. If you play it like – you don’t give it 100%, it ain’t gonna work! We know this. When we go out on that stage – as you may or may not know, we always go out and really give it some. It’s a great release for us as well. You get out on stage and you can just let it all go. That – coupled with having an audience who really WANT it, and are really up for it...? It’s so – I don’t know. We’re not the only ones, obviously, to get that kind of reaction. But there’s something just so satisfying about it. You know at the end of the day, you come off that stage, and you think YES!!!! You’ve gone out and you’ve done your job properly. And what that does for your head is a lot. It really is satisfying to do what we do. But it must be played from the heart. It’s got to be. You can’t fake it. And the fact is – we do go out and play it from the heart. And because we do, that’s why it has the clout that it has. Because we fuckin’ give it some! If we didn’t – it wouldn’t mean anything. You can either do it 100%, or not at all.

Tell me about the supposed Radio One ban on playing Status Quo records. I really don’t want to go there again. We’ve shut the door on that now. It’s gone. It’s done. It’s dusted. That’s it. They don’t fucking wanna (...mumble, mumble...) play us do they? But I’ve gotta be careful. I’ll be liable. But we weren’t just saying they weren’t playing us. They definitely weren’t. But life goes on after Radio One. Rightly or wrongly we had a pop at them. But we had to do something. Because it was a matter of principle. How dare they? Who do they think they are to just turn round and say ‘we’re not playing you’? What do you mean ‘you’re not playing us’? They’re just a bunch of (...pause – what, tossers? wankers?) – DJ’s. If we didn’t make the records they’d have nothing to play anyway. But we’ve survived. Through television. And Radio Two now, which is bigger than Radio One anyway. So they’ve kind-of shot themselves in the foot.

It’s strange to determine what is and what is not ‘credible’ when an Elvis remix gets to no.1 They won’t play Elvis – but they’ll play someone remixing Elvis. They won’t play Quo, but they play Apollo 440 sampling Quo. It’s bizarre. You just don’t know. They don’t seem to know where to plant the goal-posts, do they? They’re forever moving it. But having said that – I don’t listen to Radio One. Not because of what happened between us and them. But it ain’t for me. Call me old-fashioned. But I love Radio Two, there you go. I kinda like the music. They give me what I want to hear. And Radio One doesn’t.

Is the song “I Don’t Remember Anymore” – on ‘Heavy Traffic’, one of yours? No. That’s Andrew Bown. But I think he kind-of wrote it about me. Because I do the vocal on it. And nobody else COULD have sung it, because I suffer a bit from... er... memory loss – I was trying hard to think of the right word there – ‘insomnia’? No, that’s not sleeping. But I do. I suffer a little from that. And over the years, the way I’ve kinda lived my life – it’s no wonder! But it kind-of seems that the song is about me. And I’m quite happy about that. It’s a good line. A good lyric. And again – that’s another song that could just slot into the stage set like that (snaps fingers). We could end up doing most of this album on stage. There’s six new songs from this album going into the current set, and that’s unheard of. That tells us something about the album as well.


On that song there’s a lyric about being ‘an all-nite loon like Ronnie Wood’. Yes. I never really knew Ronnie until fairly recently. Just a couple of years ago in fact. I went to one of his art exhibitions. So we’ve met up. But there’s nothing more than that in it.

You played with the Faces early on when Ronnie was a member, I thought perhaps you’d met him around that period. It was the Smallfaces that we played with. Steve Marriott. Kenny Jones. Ian McLagan. And... er, Ronnie Lane.

But you played the Reading Festival with the Faces. Yes. We probably did. I used to knock about a bit with Rod (Stewart) in the early days. But I never got to meet Ronnie Wood back there, although I know his brother very well actually, Art Wood. He’s a pal of mine. Art goes in my local, and we’ve done a couple of gigs together – just, in the pub! He was in a cult 1960’s band called the Artwoods. They used to play the old Eel Pie a lot, didn’t they?

Status Quo made an almost surreal appearance on TV’s ‘Des O’Connor Show’ with the Beach Boys. I know. And what a coup that was. Well – to get Brian Wilson out of his house, let alone get him out of America at that time, was a real coup for us. But first and foremost it was a coup to get the Beach Boys. You know – we did this gig together, and we said, like you often do after gigs, ‘wouldn’t it be great to... we should do a record together’, and of course it never comes off. But this one time it did. We recorded a version of “Fun Fun Fun” together. We sent the tapes out. They were on tour. They always told us – and I have no reason to disbelieve them, that they went in and did the vocals – it was pitched quite high for them, straight after they’d played a gig. Because their voices were all ‘kicked in’. And they did it. Then a couple of nights after they’d played the gig they went into the studio and dubbed the vocals on. And I was kind-of surprised that they did it really. ‘Cos – really and truly, they’re a legendary band. They’re huge. The Beach Boys are massive. And the fact that they agreed to put the backing vocals on a Status Quo record – albeit one that they’d written! – and then the added bonus of getting Brian over. The publicity that it got. It was amazing. But it was impossible to try to have a conversation with Brian. Impossible. I found it so anyway. It was like ‘Hi Brian’. ‘Hi’. And that was it.

I heard Brian Wilson being interviewed by Johnny Walker around time of the Jubilee concert. I think he’s come out of his shell a bit recently. At saw him at the Palace. Did you see the gig he did at the Palace? He sat and played. He looked well. Bless him for being out there and having a go, because he has been to somewhere that most of us will never go. We went to his house in Beverly Hills. And it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. You’re in HIS house. And his wife – who is very good for him, looks after him, makes sure nothing goes wrong – she invites us in, shows us through into the lounge where he’s sort-of sitting there playing the piano. And you got the very strong feeling of ‘what are you people doing in my house? Why are you here?’ And we sort-of went ‘Hi Brian’. And after ‘Hello Brian’ there’s not really a lot to say. He carried on playing the piano and we kind-of... hung out. But there’s still an incredible aura about the man. Knowing what he’s written. The BEACH BOYS! Consequently we’ve done quite a lot of gigs with them since, and they’ve done gigs with us over here and over in Europe. It’s been a good relationship. We’ve got to know them really quite well. And they’re fabulous. They’re so good.


What was your own level of involvement in the drug scene when you started out in 1968? Were you a participant? No. We missed it. Just missed it. ‘68, ‘69. Just kind-of missed it.

But LSD was supposedly an essential ingredient of psychedelia. Yes. But no, we weren’t part of any of that. I didn’t – we didn’t ever, well – I didn’t even smoke a joint until – I don’t know, late ‘69 I suppose. I sort-of started smoking joints around then. I don’t know how I started. It was just the thing to do. Everybody was. But I never got into acid. I’ve never been ‘on a trip’ in my life... and having seen Brian (Wilson), I’m really pleased that I didn’t go there. And Peter Green (of early Fleetwood Mac) as well. He’s... out there as well. Peter walked into a recording session of ours some time ago. A good number of years now. Thereabouts. And he just kind-of walked in. We’re halfway through a take, and – ‘there’s Peter Green’! You’re certainly inhibited about playing your three fucking chords when he’s standing there…!

Not if they’re the right three chords. Yes. Nowt wrong with that. But you didn’t really know what to say to him. I didn’t. It’s just... the situation’s a bit tricky. Nice enough bloke. Great player.

The drugs scene is a good illustration of the difference between the perception of being in a band at that time – and the reality. Ian Hunter once told me that when Mott the Hoople started out he’d only ever smoked the occasional joint, but that he never encountered heavy drugs until he got to America. That’s right. Same with us. Frame (Rossi) and I were in LA, at a party up in the Hills. We were invited up there by the record company. And there’s the ash-tray full of.... y’know, the legendary tale of the ash-tray full of coke. And sure enough, there it was! ‘Hey you guys – just help yourself’. We’d never tried it. Shall we have a go? Yeah, why not. Ten minutes later I said to Frame ‘has it done anything for you?’ He says ‘no’. I said ‘naw me’. We didn’t get anything off it. So we thought we’d best have another try. So we had another try – and that was the start of a really.... CHRIST!!!! A decade of fucking abandonment, you know. Mad. It got really fucking mad. 

John Peel wrote the sleeve-notes for your May 1975 EP ‘Roll Over Lay Down’. I know he did one. I’d forgotten it was ‘Roll Over Lay Down’. He was a big fan. He probably still is (John Peel died 25 October 2004). Through the 1970’s Peel-ly was fantastic for us. Our stuff was right up his street. And he was great to us. He would always be the first one to play our albums. He was largely responsible for putting us to no.1 with those albums. An awful lot of people used to listen to the John Peel Show, as they probably still do. It was the programme for the ‘Heads’. Haven’t seen him for years now actually. I know he’s still working though. Is he on Radio Two now? I tend to listen to Whispering Bob Harris now when he does a Country Music Show on Thursday evenings. Fantastic. But he was great to us as well with ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’. We used to do that quite a lot, yeah. And if you made the ‘Whistle Test’ – I mean, you were the nuts, weren’t you? – just to get on there! They were great times. But I’m very vague on a lot of it, because around that time it was all starting to kick in. Life was going a little bit mad.


Which bands of that period did you respect? I used to love Mott The Hoople. I remember going to see them play at the Oval – in the ‘Surrey Tavern’ it was called. And they were grouped around one another on stage. They stood in a circle…

Was that with Mick Ronson? Yeah yeah. When Ian Hunter was playing keyboards and stuff. And – Fender (Luther Grosvenor aka Ariel Bender) – whatisname? was on bass. He used to freak me out. He looked great. And the band stood all grouped in a circle on the stage, crouching down while they were playing. I’d never seen that before. And I thought they were marvellous. I thought they were great around that time. Who else did I go and see…?

Ian Hunter told me how uncomfortable he felt wearing all the Glam gear when they went through that career-phase. We never wore the glitter. But there was a fair bit of fucking hair-spray flying about! That, and the old paisley jackets and stuff. But no – we never went any further than that. Funnily enough I saw Dave Hill (of Slade) the other day. ‘Dave Hill’s Slade’ as it is now. They supported us on a gig in Germany – or somewhere.

You supported Slade on an early tour. Yes. We actually supported them in Australia. And – oh god, it was amazing to see them again. Slade maybe hasn’t got the power it used to have. But Don Powell’s still in there. And Dave hasn’t changed a lot. Physically he has – but his mental attitude towards it all hasn’t. He was a bit of a strange boy in the early days. And... nothing’s changed really (in a humorously thoughtful tone)! But it’s nice to see them all again. To see them out there still having a go. But it makes me feel really proud of what – with the greatest respect, Slade aren’t in the same class as they used to be, whereas we are still there and still one-hundred-percent committed to what we’re doing. And hopefully, we’re about to break out again! We’re ready for it. We’re THERE. I don’t know how to put it without sounding flashy. It’s a credit to us – really, that we’re still here. It’s a very strong album. There’s another one coming out as well. It’s going to be called ‘Hot Riffs’, and you wait till you hear THAT! It’s a covers album, it’ll be released for Christmas, it’ll be TV-advertised and hopefully it’ll do well. We didn’t really want to go in and do it, did we? We didn’t want to. But the record company ‘nudged’ us, shall we say. ‘Alright then’. So in we went. And... it’s like no other covers album we’ve ever done. Or that I’ve – indeed, ever heard in my life. We’re all really thrilled with this album, and I can’t believe that I’d be sitting here saying I’m thrilled with a covers album. But give it a listen. It’s really kicking arse…

RIFFS(Universal), issued December 2003, is made up of ten covers – including “I Fought The Law”, “Born To Be Wild” and the Kinks “All Day And All Of The Night”, plus five new versions of their own old hits – “Down The Dustpipe”, “Whatever You Want” and “Rockin’ All Over The World”


Status Quo: 'Heavy Traffic' album



Album Review of: 
‘HEAVY TRAFFIC’ 
by STATUS QUO 
(Universal Music TV) 

A new Quo album is the least envied assignment in Music Journalism. And sure enough, the album’s first four opening bars tell the entire tale. To venture further is only to reveal this unique brand of all-British Rock stripped down to its minimalist thong. But it’s engagingly unpretentious. Sure, Quo know their limitations. But they work damn well within them. So what did you expect – a Hip Hop album? A Free Jazz experiment? There are fourteen original tracks, with a strong – if unpretentiously autobiographical feel to them. ‘I started gigging in my early teens,/ sewed the great leather patches on my velvet jeans,/ got my first Fender Telly/ got my Marshall stack’ is probably pretty much as it happened (“Blues & Rhythm”). “All Stand Up” is a straight-ahead audience-participation rocker with a catchy hook chorus. The single “Jam Side Down” fades into some close Everly-style harmonies about failed love with some tortured metaphors about ‘I’ve got a butter heart/ you made it melt’. A rhyming jokiness taken to possibly racially offensive extremes (if you could only bring yourself to take it seriously), on “The Oriental” introducing ‘Mea from North Korea’ a ‘raver of eastern flavour’, and ‘May Wong from Hong Kong’ who ‘if you ever get some, you want another one, and another one’. Ho-Hum! Elsewhere they slyly rewrite John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” into a blues-sleazy “Creepin’ Up On You”, include a harmonica-driven “Solid Gold” and an acoustic riffing rural-themed “Green”. Yet the Rock-life is what this album is really about – ‘if it hits you right/ just do it again’, which is pretty much what they’ve been doing for three decades. And yes, their three chord changes still chime as meticulously as synchronised gear-shifts. If this album did not exist the effect of its absence would be well below zero. It won’t change lives. It alters or advances nothing. It’s a further episode of what went before in an enduring Rock ‘n’ Roll Soap Opera. The Quo are not for now or then. The Quo are for life.

Status Quo: The Heavy Rock Years



Album Reviews of: 
‘IF YOU CAN’T 
STAND THE HEAT’ (1977) 
‘WHATEVER YOU WANT’ (1979) 
‘JUST SUPPOSIN’’ (1980) & 
‘NEVER TOO LATE’ (1981) 
all by STATUS QUO (All Universal) 


Yes. As Soap Opera’s go, Francis & Rick are in a strange no-place. As other bands of a vaguely similar longevity – Kinks and Who, only increase their retro-value, name-dropped by everyone from Kaiser Chiefs to Thrills, the Quo get to guest on ‘Coronation Street’ as Les Battersby’s pet-band. Quo’s legacy is apparently limited to Oasis’ much-maligned “Roll With It”, or to a psychedelic TV-ad for Gordon’s Gin, to such an extent that it’s difficult to know who this ambitious lavishly-packaged re-issue programme (with bonus tracks and demos) is targeting. Yet Mark Radcliffe describes them as ‘design classics’ and these are Quo’s peak-years albums, spanning ‘Live Aid’ and their celebrity pinnacle, spawning hit after hit, not all of them conforming to that familiar three-chord stereotype – such as the slow lilting “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (on ‘Never Too Late’) or the stoned glide of “Living On An Island” (on ‘Whatever You Want’, the strongest of these albums). And true enough, their essential instinct lies in a solid respect for those early radio-days when Rock ‘n’ Roll was ‘delivering us from the days of old’, when ‘you couldn’t find a rhyme ‘cos you couldn’t find the time’ (“Again And Again”). And from there, evolving their sound by layering Everly Brothers harmonies over Chuck Berry-derived R&B for a Lumpen Rockariat fan-base. And, after all, before it got high-jacked by intellectualisation, isn’t that what Rock was all about? Repetitive? Of course it’s repetitive. But when they do that relentless heads-down no-nonsense boogie-thing it’s impossible not to grin yourself stupid. Admit it.

Published in:
‘SONGBOOK no.7: Summer 2005’ 
(UK – August 2005)


CD Review: Status Quo 'Quid Pro Quo'



Album Review of: 
‘QUID PRO QUO’ 
by STATUS QUO (Tesco) 

One escape route from the major-label downloading file-sharing meltdown dilemma is to opt out of the conventional music industry-structure entirely, and distribute through other outlets. Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and James Taylor sign to Starbucks. And Tesco Enterprises launches its CD brand with Mick Hucknall, Nadine Coyle of Girls Aloud… and now, Status Quo. But in every other way, this is no radical departure for the Quo, did you really expect it would be? I mean, Quo are just about as predictable as your weekly checkout receipt anyway, right? And this CD is high on their signature sound. But can they still deliver? Listen to “Two Way Traffic” and it’s undeniable, a ‘work-work bizzy-bizzy bang-bang 25-hours a day’ boogie. “Let’s Rock” which is both a manifesto, and a recapitulation of their finest glory-day’s moments. And isn’t “Anyway You Like It” another way of saying “Whatever You Want”? With Tesco corporate-sponsorship, Every Little Helps, so they add their 2010 overhaul of their “In The Army Now” too. On this evidence, no La-di-das, they’re in rude health. In the interests of free-market competition we are legally obliged to point out that other supermarket chains also operate in your area.

Published in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ 
Vol.2 Issue.28 (July/Aug)
(UK – July 2011)