Exclusive interview by Karen Shaw
I caught up with rock legend Rick Parfitt, the musician who along with Francis Rossi helped form the massively successful British rock band Status Quo. After 50 years at the top of their game, Quo have leapt out of their comfort zone with their latest album Aquostic – Stripped Bare. The album features some of their favourite stripped-down Quo songs, the amps are turned off and it’s fully acoustic.
It’s a brisk day as I set off to the interview and I can’t help but wonder if Rick will turn up in his latest outfit, his new look, his birthday suit…
Unfortunately, he appears in his signature jeans (probably too chilly today!) and after settling down I ask him if after posing for their latest album cover in the nude, he was relieved he didn’t play the triangle!
Luckily for me he sees the funny side and replies: “Or the glockenspiel for that matter!”
The idea of the lads appearing in the ‘nuddy’ was suggested by rock singer Bryan Adams. “Initially when we went in for the photo session we went in wearing our underpants with a view to covering them up with the guitars but the photographer was like ‘No man, you’re not wearing your pants.’
“It’s somewhat risky I suppose. When we first thought about the idea we thought it would be a talking point. It definitely will. Then reality kicks in and you think ‘Hang on a minute, 66-year-old men naked on the front of an album cover? hold on here a little bit!”
Their latest album Aquostic – Stripped Bare is fantastic. It highlights all their favourite Quo songs but this time played acoustically and they sound (dare I say it?) even better. This is a band who have continued to entertain the world and their latest offering certainly won’t disappoint.
“I think it’s the same with some of the ballads on there like Marguerita Time and Claudia for instance. They’ve been somewhat suppressed by the whole heaviness of the electric guitars and volume. I kind of see this analogy where you’re walking down a path in the middle of the garden and on the left side of the path you’ve got bricks and the rubble that is the rock and roll side of it. Then on the other side of the path you’ve got nice flowers and trees which represents the acoustic side of it, so you can deviate off the path whichever way you want.
“You can listen to the heavy rock side or you can wander into the flowers which is the acoustic side. The contrast between Down Down the rocking version and Down Down the acoustic version really surprised me because I thought ‘Surely this isn’t going to work as acoustic’, but you put two acoustics together and play them in tandem like Francis and I do, and the whole thing starts to take on a different colour.”
As a child I attempted to play the guitar (to no avail) and wondered if there was a difference playing acoustic as opposed to his regular electric guitar…
“It’s my right shoulder. It’s a different animal, playing an acoustic. To actually play it in earnest you have to reach across the guitar as opposed to playing it on your hip like you do with a solid. So it’s a different technique and I’ve backed off a little bit because I steamed in and was trying to play it as hard as I could and it doesn’t work. Francis has got a really good rhythm wrist. He’s got a feather-like touch with playing rhythm.”
Despite Rick now sporting biceps that would put Popeye to shame, he loves their new acoustic sound and goes on to say: “You can teach someone to be technically good but a lot of it is in your own natural ability. Whether you’ve got it or whether you haven’t. They say practice makes perfect and I believe that is true because with any instrument you just never stop learning. You learn something every day. It really depends on how far you want to take it. With me personally, I’ve found my niche with stepping into the role of what I do with the band.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome and after a lot of trepidations I know we made the right decision by doing this album and by doing something different. We experimented with it a little bit and there’s the finished product. I think it’s going to lead us off in a different direction somehow. I’m not saying that we’re going to put the rock show down because we won’t yet. But the rock shows are physically demanding whereas the acoustic show you can just sit down and play your way through the numbers.
“You’ve got to believe that this is really what you want to do. You’ve got to have a certain amount of luck on your side. You’ve got to believe in what you do and you’ve got to be good. I would hate to be starting out nowadays, because music has become so forced and corporate-driven.
“I remember when we first started we’d phone Amen Corner up and say: ‘We’ve gone up one more position than you!’ It was all fun back then. These days, acts go on television and they might get one arena tour out of it. They won’t even win XFactor but they’ll get on the arena tour and get paid – which is not to be sneezed at – but what do they do then?
“You’ve been taken half way to heaven and all of a sudden you realise there’s a great big hole in your parachute. It must be soul-destroying. You’ve just got to be dedicated to what you do and realise that it’s not all beer and skittles.
“We have a saying: ‘it’s tough at the top. Getting there is one thing and staying there is another.’ So don’t expect it to be easy. You’ve got to be prepared for anything in this wild business of ours.
“Quo always set out to do as much work as we could. We were young, we were 18 years old and we had all the energy in the world. You can party and you can do a rock gig then you can shake off a hangover the next morning and get back on with it. I learnt over the years, with horror, the rock and roll life style will eventually catch up with you. It will. I’m very fortunate to just about be here and I’ve come out the other side completely clean and feel fit and healthy and ready to rock again. We’ve always been a hardworking band. That’s been the ethic of Quo, get out and play to the people. We are fit enough to still do this. We still have the motivation to get out there.”
“We’re going to do the rock set with a view to maybe taking the acoustic set in 2015. This year for the end of the year tour in Germany and the British tour we’re going to add something really quite different. It’s a great idea and fingers crossed that it will work. I guarantee you it will be different to any other shows.”
Their latest gig sees them flying to Germany and returning back to the UK ready to rock the nation, they’ll be heading to the Liverpool Echo Arena on the 6th December and then Leeds Arena on the 10th. Their December gigs feature Cockney rockers Chas and Dave as special guests, and Rick reckons they’re just right for the job.
“We’ve known Chas and Dave for a number of years. They’re like Marmite; you either love them or hate him. I love them. Ain’t No Pleasing You…I can’t wait to hear that track! They’re friendly down-to-earth guys and you get what you see on the tin. They’re a bit like us.”
That’s what I like about the Quo boys (men), they are incredibly pragmatic, there’s no airs or graces and their work ethic is second to none, which is obvious by the endless string of hits they’ve collected over the years. However, up until recently Rick’s personal life has been anything but consistent.
Rick married Marietta Boeker and had their first child Richard Parfitt Jnr in 1974, followed by daughter Heidi, who tragically drowned in the family pool aged two. Rick and Marietta divorced, and he went on to marry his childhood sweetheart, Patty. In 1989 they had a son, Harry. The couple divorced and Rick re-married again in 2006 to fitness instructor Lyndsay Whitburn. Two years later Lyndsay gave birth to twins Tommy and Lily.
“I’ve seen these two from birth. When I go out on the road I do it for a break,” he laughs. “We get looked after on the road, your food is cooked for you and there’s brews on tap. When I go home it’s like going to work. To say the kids are as beautiful as they are, they’re pretty full on.”
I have to bite my lip to stop chuckling when in a serious tone Rick goes on to say: “I enjoy watching the TV with the kids. I love Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom and Peppa Pig. It’s all good stuff. I watch a lot of children’s television, I love it. Curious George pisses me off a bit.”
With Richard and Harry I missed out on their first steps, first words. I don’t remember changing a nappy because in those days I was away most of the time and when I was at home I wasn’t there anyway because I was too tied up in my own world doing drugs and drinking. I was an absolute nightmare.
“My eldest Richard was frightened stiff of me when he was a child and that’s probably why he’s grown up so clean and into a nice young man. I know for a fact Richard’s never touched drugs and he very rarely drinks.”
Richard has followed dad into the rock business, touring as Rick Parfitt Jnr and the RPJ Band, playing lucrative gigs for the corporate sector.
“He’s playing around the world and the band is great and I’m not just saying that. I would be the first one to say ‘You’re not cutting it; you’ll have to get better.’ I get up with them sometimes and next year I’m doing some in America with him.
My second son Harry is a bit of a wild one. I think he’s got a lot of me in him and he loves to party and play the guitar. Recently he went up to our road crew and said ‘You lot can’t drink!’ He’s a broker out in Geneva. He’s doing really well for himself.
“Richard’s great on vocals and piano. I think he gets that from my mum. She was a veritable sort of Mrs Mills type player and I think that’s where my musical genes crept in. I play the piano badly. It would be nice one of these days to get all three of us on stage with Richard on vocals and me and Harry on guitar just for fun. There’s so much in the pipeline yet to do and I’m feeling really good about myself now that I’ve cleaned up my act. I’ve had my final warning and I’ve had my nine lives.”
Despite having his first heart attack in 1997, it was Rick’s second heart attack that made him reconsider his lifestyle.
“After I recovered after my first heart attack, I believed nothing could harm me and I was invincible,” he says.
“I was wrong and my last heart attack really did frighten the life out of me. It was incredibly painful.
Rick was on tour in Croatia last August when he was rushed to hospital. “I spent two days in hospital out there and they wanted to operate on me but I refused. I wanted to get back to England. I managed to get on a jet and fly home.
“My heart surgeon operated on me and gave me the alternatives. I’ve closed the door, bolted it, and welded it up when it comes to drinking, drugs and smoking. I’m clean now and I feel so much better! I’m not missing the cigarettes and I’m not missing the booze. I’ve drunk more water in the last two months than I think I have in the last ten years! It pushed me to the edge and the unbelievable thing about this is that I went for a full check-up a few weeks ago and my heart is only five percent damaged.
“With me it’s all or nothing. My surgeon told me if I wanted to have a few glasses of wine and a cigarette in the evening that’s fine. But he also advised that I’m the kind of person who can’t just have a couple of glasses of wine because it’ll turn into a couple of bottles, one cigarette will turn into a packet so he said it was up to me. I chose to shut the door to it all. Tommy and Lily are my greatest motivation.
“I’ve lived years doing the rock and roll life style and it’s fantastic, but I’ve missed out on a lot of things. Now’s the time to press the re-set button and I’m done. As far as drugs are concerned I haven’t done any for 14 years and haven’t smoked any joints or anything for 28 years now. I’m 66 now and funnily enough I’ve never felt fitter. I’m ready to rock again but in a much better way.”
His partner in crime Francis Rossi has been playing and partying with Rick since back in the day.
“We are close, but in a much different way. We used to be juvenile and fun with a very carefree attitude. We’ve both been through the mill together, we hit the drugs together, we stopped them together and now we have a good stable relationship and we know what we expect from one another. Francis has found it frustrating over the last few years with me drinking and smoking and letting the side down. We know when to give each other space now. We’ll go a day on tour without speaking to each other and there’s nothing wrong with that. On the bus I have the front half of it and he has the back.”
Rick’s parents were very supportive of his decision to become a musician. “They got me into the business. I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you if it wasn’t for my dad. Equally my mum was the musical one. I guess I get my musical side from my mum and the push and enthusiasm from my dad who encouraged me to go ahead.
“From the age of 11, I knew what I wanted to do so I didn’t feel the need to learn geography and history. I didn’t need to learn it because I was going to be a guitar player, to go out and be in the entertainment world and luckily I pulled it off. Cliff and the Shadows had an impact on me. When I first heard that sound and saw them play guitar that helped me to decide my career path.”
A bit of a surprise, that, since The Shadows and their clean-cut image are a long way from Quo’s image of denim-clad hellraisers. But it’s all rock and roll, isn’t it?
And as the lads themselves sing, Whatever You Want…