- 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This is the full previously-unpublished transcript of an interview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...!’
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”