"Rick Parfitt: Still Rockin’ All Over The World”
The origins of Status Quo lie in a London-based beat group called the Spectres. Francis Rossi (vocals, guitar) and Alan Lancaster (bass) were the core members of the Spectres from their inception, but after releasing three unsuccessful singles changed their style to psychedelia and adopted the name Traffic Jam. After that incarnation also flopped in August 1967 the group again changed their name, this time to Status Quo.
At first, Status Quo backed British solo artists, but it wasn’t long before the group’s debut single "Pictures of Matchstick Men" was released and quickly shot to #7 on the UK charts! Within a few months it was a #12 in the US as well! The immediate follow-up single, "Black Veils of Melancholy" was a flop, but "Ice in the Sun," written by former British pop star Marty Wilde, became Status Quo's second Top Ten hit in the fall of 1968. Over in America, the single barely registered, squeaking to #70 and was actually the last time the group would ever chart in the US.
Debuting their new heavy, bluesy boogie rock in early 1970 with the single "Down the Dustpipe" the single reached #12 in the UK, yet the full-fledged hard-rock album Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon didn't gain much attention. The group signed with Vertigo Records and their first single for the label, "Paper Plane" cracked the Top Ten in early 1973, while their first album for Vertigo, Piledriver reached #5. Later that year, Hello entered the charts at #1 while its accompanying single "Caroline" reached #5.
Throughout the '70s, each album Status Quo released went into the Top Five, while their singles - including the #1 "Down Down" (1974), "Roll Over Lay Down" (1975), "Rain" (1976), "Wild Side of Life" (1976), and a cover of John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over the World" (1977) - consistently hit the Top Ten and frequently went gold. During the 1980's more Status Quo albums spewed forth such as Just Supposin', Never Too Late, and both In The Army Now and Ain’t Complaining. Racking up a number of new Top Ten singles along the way, in 1994 the group had its second #1 hit of its career with the football anthem "Come On You Reds" (recorded with the football champions, Manchester United). By the mid-'90s, Status Quo had scored 50 British hit singles, which was a greater number than any other band in rock & roll's history.
And now, one of Britain’s most enduring and popular bands has recorded its first album of new songs in four years and its first album issued in the U.S. in sixteen long, long years will be released the same day the heavy boogie blues rock outfit launches its first U.S. tour dates since 1997! The new album, Heavy Traffic (Hip-0 Records) has already scored the band’s latest hit as ”Jam Side Up” entered the UK Top 20 upon its release last fall, an achievement which marked Status Quo as the first band with a Top 20 hit in each of five decades! Today, founding members Francis Rossi (lead guitar, vocals) and Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitar, vocals), together since 1967, are joined by Andrew Brown (keyboardist – 1976), John “Rhino” Edwards (bassist - 1986) and Matt Letley (drummer – 2000).
Chatting recently in San Francisco with the guitar legend himself, Rick Parfitt, I first wondered does it surprise him just how still uncontrollably successful Status Quo are as a band ? ”Well, it kinda does really. I’m pleasantly surprised, but I often think to myself if somebody had said to me 35 years ago that you would be touring the States in the year 2003, and you’d have an album up and running and doing well everywhere, I would have found it very, very difficult to believe. I think we’re very lucky and we’ve got a very loyal set of fans, but I have to say we have worked hard for it. And I’m not saying other bands don’t, but we do put a lot into it and it is our lives. And any sort of success towards our goal, if you like, is fantastic and lifts all our spirits, you know. I think we’re very lucky”
What’s your reasoning behind Heavy Traffic having ALREADY outsold the TOTAL UK sales for Under The Influence in less than a month and will most likely now OVERTAKE the TOTAL UK sales of Famous In The Last Century within the next couple of weeks ?! ”Oh yeah, well it’s a better album. This is the best album we’ve done certainly in the last twenty years. I think when everybody got together to do this album … I mean, we did it in a friend of ours’ studio. We didn’t go big on the studio or anything. It’s a private studio owned by Terry Britton who writes for Michael (Bolton) and Tina (Turner) and he just said use the studio. So, everybody just went in and was in a good frame of mind, the songs were good and for some reason we kinda went back to a style we kinda used in the 70s. Not thinking about it we kinda huddled in the middle of the room whereby these days normally you stand out on the edges by your screened off stack. But, we put a table in the middle of the room and all kind of sat there or stood there and it was like doin’ a jam, you know, and everybody kinda really got off, you know. I think we’ve brought the best out of the songs and it feels to me like the band has almost gone full circle again. It kinda feels like, wow, here we go again.”
Is that the reasoning behind Heavy Traffic being your first US release since 1987’s In The Army Now ? ”Well, it is that, but also in all honestly, it’s a fair product. It’s a good product, but a lot of its been down to management and stuff, you know. I don’t think it’s been looked after properly over the last few years. There’s new management in place now for the last couple of years and as soon as you take on somebody new and you’ve got a good product things are bound to change. So, there we are now playing Brazil, playing Mexico, and here we are in America and it’s about f**kin’ time somebody got it together and sorted it out for the band. It’s not really down to us to say where we go and what we do, but everybody’s working now and everybody’s got it together and with this good product everything seems to be on the up now. The band’s working well, it’s very happy and life’s good.”
Is Status Quo still the same stable unit that it’s always been ? ”It is very stable at the moment, yes. It’s more stable then it’s ever been right now. I mean, Francis and I are there. I mean, we’re on the mantelpiece and we sit there, you know what I mean. The latest edition to the band is Matt Letley and he is such a class act on the drums. He’s just sort of put the band in a pocket that it wasn’t in before somehow and we’ve had four drummers in the band and this guy is just so good. It’s just made the band a better band and I can’t see, I honestly can’t see this line-up changing at all now ! We couldn’t get it any better. It is really in place. With “Rhino” Edwards on bass, Andrew Brown on keyboards, Francis and me and now Matt Letley on drums, I mean, it’s just a pleasure to play with the band again, you know. It really does feel like it’s all sparkling new again. It’s really great at the moment.”
Why choose Heavy Traffic to be the name of the album ? ”Well, it just came up by chance. We were sitting there and there was no song called ‘Heavy Traffic.’ There were two songs, both written by Francis Rossi and Bob Young and neither of them were really up to much. They were sort of alright and it was quite late on in the album and they were like almost – and I won’t say afterthoughts – but they were gonna be some of the last tracks that we recorded. And so we’re sitting there one day and “Rhino” came up with the idea to put the two songs together and suddenly ‘Heavy Traffic’ had become evident that that’s what these two merged songs were gonna be called. And then the producer turned round and said, ‘That’s the f**kin’ album title’ and we all went ‘Yes’ straight away, you know. It’s just funny how things happen and it’s good when it’s got some spontaneity about it like that.”
And where did the goofy idea come from to have Elephants on the cover sleeve ?! ”Nobody thought about it at first, but as soon as you call it that (Heavy Traffic) all sorts of pictures conjure up in your mind for the album sleeve. The world kinda opens up in your pictorial thoughts and we thought it was so obvious to put traffic signs and motorways and so we kicked it around for a bit and somebody just said, ‘Well, what about Elephants ?’ We all thought ‘Elephants’ ?! Because, you know, this was completely a self-contained idea so we thought put it on a computer, sling it all together and see what it looks like … and there it is. We all had a good laugh when we first saw it and so that’s basically, in a nut shell, the story.”
One track above all others stands out and that is ‘The Oriental’ ! Tell me more about this delicious song ! ”I knew you were gonna say that,” he laughs. ”Somebody said in England, not so long ago, whoever wrote that’s gotta be either a genius or a madman.”
And what’s your verdict ? ”Well, I think a bit of both ! It was an idea of John Edwards and he just came up with this thing in ‘The Oriental’ and I saw him most days in the studio, pondering over these words. And when they were written and when he was narrating them to us, you’re going, ‘You’re joking ! You can’t use that ! It’s just so cheesy.’ But then when you put it with the riffs that Fran came up with and the overall feel of the track and then you lace these words along it - well, of course it’s come out a bit tongue in cheek - but you know so many people have picked up on it. You can’t be serious, but it’s not serious. It’s meant to bring a smile to your face, you know and indeed the lyrics do. And, funnily enough, it’s the same with the fans. We see all the time in the audience banners and shouts for ‘The Oriental’ and so we’ve got to rehearse it up.”
What new tracks will be in your live set ? ”We’ve got four tracks from the album (Heavy Traffic) we’re doing now. We’ve got ‘Solid Gold,’ ‘All Stand Up,’ ‘Creepin’ Up On You’ and ‘Heavy Traffic’ and the next one to be rehearsed up will be ‘The Oriental’ and it will be very interesting to see how it goes down live.”
Has your NEXT cover album, Rockin’ All Over The Riffs been completed yet and if so, is this new delay gonna harm it in any way upon its eventual release later this year ? ”Yeah, it’s completed, but we’re not mad about it because I don’t think – certainly the hardcore fans – they’re not very mad about us doing covers albums, you know. We’ve done a few in the past to keep things going, to keep the profile up and stuff like that, and I suppose in a way they’re fun to record because you know what you’re dealing with, but I don’t think it’s great for the fans. We’re not overly excited about this album, although I have to say – and when you hear it you’ll know what I mean – it is a very, very good covers album and it is the best one, I think, we’ve ever done. And again, I put that down to the fact that the band is playing like it is and Matt Letley. I have to put it down to that, but it is good, but I’m not mad about it.”
So why’d you make it in the first place ?! ”Well, it was all to do with the record deal. I would have thought that Heavy Traffic would have been enough to secure the record deal, but they’re very finicky these days. And as it happens, Heavy Traffic has been successful enough to have secured the deal, but I don’t think they were that confident when it started out. So, they had to put in this clause were we do an album of covers to, and no pun intended, literally cover their arse ! So, that’s why the delays happened, but I would be quite happy if this album weren’t to come out, but I dare say that it will.”
Sum up in a few words both the inspiration behind - and the mood at the time - whilst recording these classic Quo songs:
‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ - ”Let’s get famous”
‘In My Chair’ - ”Joints and being out of it”
‘Caroline’ - ”Great opening song”
‘What You’re proposing’ - ”Liked it at the time, but went off of it quickly !”
‘Living On An Island’ - ”Yeah, it’s a true story about doin’ a tax year on the Island of Jersey”
‘Whatever You Want’ - "Fantastic day. Did it in a day. Bit out of it and a bit drunk !”
‘Dear John’ - ”A bit of a negative, really. Quite enjoyed it but it never really moved me”
‘In The Army Now’ - ”Loved it. Best record, technically, we’ve ever made and was #1 for four months in Russia !”
’Jam Side Down” - ”Well, out-and-out pop song.”
’Solid Gold’ - ”Love it. It’s literally, a very, very solid song. A good Quo rocker. Fantastic for the stage set and goes down very well.”
’Jam Side Down,’ the first single off Heavy Traffic released in the UK goes straight into the Top 20 ! The machine keeps rolling !! ”Yeah, yeah, but if you’d have heard the demo you would never have believed it could have done that. I mean, we looked at it the first time and went ‘No, we can’t do that’ and put it back on the shelf. But, then we thought that we might be looking a gift horse in the mouth here, and we tried it again and we just ‘Quo’d’ it up, didn’t try anything fancy, and out it came and in it went ! Simple as that, really.”
Where did the bands name originate ? ”Well, years ago, in about 1967, we were rehearsing in the Lambeth Walk in London under a Gas Showroom and our manager came in and said we had to change our name. We were gonna call ourselves the Muhammad Ali's, ‘cause he was the champion at the time or we were gonna call ourselves The Queers. We thought that we gotta have something that it’s gonna make people will remember it, you know. And he came in and said that he’d seen this name in a shoe and it was Quo Vardis and we went,’Yeah, it’s alright’. And we sort of kicked it around and none of us had a clue what it meant and then somebody said Status Quo and we thought, well that’ll do! So, we went into the Gas Showroom called the Traffic Jam, ‘cause we had to change the name ‘cause of Stevie Winwood (Traffic), and we came out as Status Quo ! And none of us knew what it meant, but we thought that sounds cool so that’ll do.”
Are you still playing your white Fender Telecaster, 1965 model with all the original Fender pickups, etc. ?! ”Absolutely. It’s my rock-n-roll Range Rover. It’s a really tough, great, hard guitar, because I’ve modernized it – well, I say ‘modernized’ it, but I’ve converted it - to exactly how I want it.”
Why ‘convert’ such a classic at all ? ”Because I hit a guitar really quite hard. Yeah, I give it quite a whackin’ on stage and I think it’s the only guitar that can take it, you know. A Gibson would be a little too flimsy for me as would anything else. I mean, even if you drop it, it just kinda laughs at you and when you pick it up it’s in tune and you just keep playing it. It’s a fantastic work horse.”
During your career you’ve been labeled as ‘The Wild Old Man of Rock 'n Roll,’ but what did you have to go through to get that label ?! ”Yeah, the ‘WOMORR,’” he laughs. ”Well, I wasn’t so old in the 70’s,’ he laughs, ”it kinda crept about in the late 80’s, I suppose. Because Fran is the ‘GOMORR’ – he’s the ‘Grand Old Man Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ – and I’m the ‘WOMORR.’ And, yeah, we kinda lived up to it through those years really. It was a pretty wild life generally, in particular on the road. We kinda lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle really and I don’t need to elaborate as you know what I mean. It all happened.”
What are your memories for when you opened Live Aid in ’85 ? ”Well, fantastic and we’ll never forget it. It was just one of those gigs that was so special. I mean, it really did feel special. There was a great atmosphere in that stadium that day at Wembley where everyone was there to have a great time. But you were so aware that everybody was behind the cause, you know, because they knew what was going on. The publicity side of it was so huge throughout the world and so with everyone kinda aware of this there was a great spirit knocking about in the stadium that day. It was just one of the most fantastic things to be the first band to walk on there and I shall never forget that. I was actually quite nervous. Normally I don’t really get nervous as such with Quo, but that day I was nervous. And when you walk out there you become aware of the magnitude of the whole thing. I shall never forget that. I mean hundreds of TV cameras in front of you and you realize that you are playing to the world! It was quite awesome.”
And talking of “… playing to the world” the next year you then played three different countries in under 24 hours ! ”We did, yeah. We’re mad, aren’t we?” he laughs. ”Why did we do that,” he asks rhetorically. ”Never again, I’ll tell you that!”
Was it that much of an effort for you? ”Well, yeah. I think we did Knebworth (England) first that day, and then jetted off to Switzerland and then Denmark, but I don’t know why we did it. I suppose it as kind of a publicity thing, you know, but never again. It was unbelievable, and it was the same when we did four, full-blown arenas in one day in England (Sheffield Arena, Glasgow SE&CC, Birmingham NEC and Wembley Arena) for the Rock Till You Drop album ! Because, you see, nobody’s gonna really help us. People aren’t gonna go round blaring it about that we’ve got a new album out, so we have to make people aware of it. So, we do things like that like ‘Rock Till You Drop’ tour ….. and we f**kin’ did as well ! Four shows in a day, it’s just too much.”
In 1997 you had a quadruple- heart bypass operation, but I’m assuming now everything has been going swimmingly in the past few years ? ”Yeah, it always goes in fours, dunnit,” he laughs. ”But, I don’t wanna look at it flippantly, ‘cause I had a fantastic team work on me and it was wonderful. I was fine one day and the next day I was in the f**kin’ hospital having this bloody op ! I couldn’t believe it. It really came as such a shock to me, but I suppose now, reflecting back on it, I suppose kind of with the lifestyle I was leading that something was gonna give.”
And everything’s okay now? ”Oh yeah, absolutely. I kinda look at it as a midlife replant. Everything’s been renewed and I’m ready to rock again, you know. I’ve been absolutely fine and it’s been seven years now."
Yeah, I know. Time flies, doesn’t it ?! ”Doesn’t it just,” he laughs. ”My mum always used to say to me, ‘You wait till you get over forty’ and she was absolutely right, but when you get to fifty, …. f**k me does it go fast ! I mean, I was only fifty the other day; I remember the party and I’m fifty-four now. I can’t believe it. It’s flying past!” he laughs again.
What is your personal favorite Status Quo song of all time? ”Probably, ‘Rockin’ All Over The World.’ I love it. It’s just a great song. It’s always great to perform live and it was a massive hit and so I’m not the only one as everybody seems to agree with me !”
And what would be the one Status Quo song that you would love never to have ever recorded ?! ”’What Your Proposin,’” he adamantly responds. ”I don’t like doing it live ‘cause it just doesn’t kind of work. There’s just something about that song that is awkward, but I don’t know what it is! I thought it was an alright song that I thought came out alright on record, but it was a bastard to do live and we haven’t done it for years now and I don’t think we ever will again!”
And, finally, sum up Status Quo in three words ”Good, rockin’ blokes!”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
To check them out on their American tour or to find out more information on their album Heavy Traffic just click here:
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