The raucous chugging sound of Status Quo has been a constant presence for almost half a century of rock’n’roll, ever since the band gave up on the idea of playing psychedelic music at the end of the 1960s in favour of a grittier approach.
The singer and rhythm guitarist Rick Parfitt, who has died aged 68 from an infection, had been a pivotal member of the band even before it became known as Status Quo. He and his fellow singer/guitarist Francis Rossi constituted the group’s creative core, and between them set the band’s matey, wisecracking tone.
By the time of Parfitt’s death, Status Quo had notched up more than 60 hits on the UK singles charts and released 32 studio albums, as well as a string of live albums and compilations. In the process they became one of the most successful British bands of all time, scoring chart hits in every decade from the 1960s until 2010 and spending more than 200 weeks in the UK singles chart.
Among numerous career highlights, Quo were the opening act at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in July 1985, aptly kicking off with Rockin’ All Over the World, and were back at Wembley in 2007 for the Concert for Diana. In 1991 Quo earned themselves a place in the Guinness Book of Records by playing four arena-sized concerts across Britain in one day, and in 2005 Rossi and Parfitt cemented their status as household names by appearing in Coronation Street. In 2010 both were appointed OBE.
Born in Woking, Surrey, Rick was the son of Richard, an insurance man whom he described as a “drinker and a gambler”, and Lillian, who worked in cake shops. The family lived in a three-bedroom house on the Elmbridge council estate, and Rick attended Goldsworth school. Having started learning guitar at the age of 11 he left at 15 to try his hand in music. He got off to a promising start with a regular solo slot at the Sunshine Holiday Camp on Hayling Island in Hampshire, which brought him £5 a week.
By the time he first met Rossi at Butlin’s holiday camp in Minehead, west Somerset, in 1965, Parfitt was playing in a trio called the Highlights. Rossi was a member of the Spectres, who went on to release three singles on the Pye Records subsidiary Piccadilly. All were flops and, this being 1967, the band decided to join pop’s then burgeoning psychedelic wave, changing their name to Traffic Jam for the purpose. At the suggestion of their manager, Pat Barlow, they also decided they needed an extra vocalist and contacted Parfitt, who was happy to accept. Shortly afterwards they changed their name again to the Status Quo, to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s group Traffic.
The new lineup – Parfitt and Rossi plus the drummer John Coghlan, bassist Alan Lancaster and keyboard player Roy Lynes – immediately felt their luck changing as their single Pictures of Matchstick Men (1968), written by Rossi, reached No 7 in the UK and the Top 40 in the US. They had another UK Top 10 hit later that year with Ice in the Sun, but their debut album, Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo, failed to chart. The “the” was then dropped from their name, and when the follow-up long-player, Spare Parts (1969), also flopped, the group decided to abandon psychedelia and pursue a tougher rock sound, matched by an earthy jeans-and-T-shirts image. In 1970 they reached No 12 with the rollicking single Down the Dustpipe, but the ensuing albums Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon (1970) and Dog of Two Head (1971), their first without Lynes, were unsuccessful.
They signed a new deal with Vertigo and made the self-produced album Piledriver (1972). This delivered a hit with Paper Plane, a track exhibiting the classic Quo trademarks of churning guitars, super-simple lyrics and a 12-bar structure (doubled to 24 bars in this case). The album soared to No 5.
They had found a formula that worked, with production and most of the songwriting now handled by the band members. They systematically exploited it across albums which would appear at yearly intervals until 1983. Hello! (1973) was their first No 1 album and generated the Top 5 single Caroline. On the Level (1975) went straight in at No 1 and gave the band their first chart-topping single, Down Down. The following Year’s Blue for You also debuted at No 1, have being preceded by the Top 10 hit Rain. “It’s simple but I think it’s effective,” Parfitt said of the song, which he wrote. “It’s marginally different from the normal Quo stuff, it’s slightly more laid-back than anything we’ve done on single.”
Parfitt also hit back at the band’s critics. “People try to dismiss what we do but they can’t. People have terrible goes at us about the music being simple when it’s not really. It appears simple perhaps in its chording but generally, to actually play what we play and how we play it, it’s not simple. It’s bloody hard work.”
In 1977 the group hired Pip Williams to produce Rockin’ All Over the World, from which the title track, written by John Fogerty, would become another Quo staple. Further milestones included Whatever You Want (1979), its hit title track co-written by Parfitt, and Never Too Late (1981), recorded in the same batch of sessions in Dublin with producer John Eden as Just Supposin’ (1980). 1+9+8+2 (1982) was their fourth and final chart-topping album, and saw Pete Kircher listed as the new drummer and Andy Bown, already a regular Quo sideman, billed as keyboard player.
The group disbanded temporarily in 1985, the Wembley Live Aid appearance being the last performance by this lineup. With the bassist John Edwards and drummer Jeff Rich, Parfitt made a solo album, Recorded Delivery, which was never released, though some tracks from it later appeared as Status Quo B-sides. Rich and Edwards now joined Parfitt, Rossi and Bown in a new-look Quo, though a lawsuit brought by Alan Lancaster had to be settled before normal service could resume. This left Parfitt and Rossi in possession of the Status Quo name, and they celebrated by releasing In the Army Now (1986), the title tune giving them a No 2 hit.
The group had passed their record-selling peak, but they continued to command a huge fanbase. In 1986 they played with Queen at Wembley Stadium, and toured Europe with them. They made a splash on the singles charts with two medleys, The Anniversary Waltz Part One and Part Two (both 1990), and hit the top spot in 1994 with Come On You Reds, though this was credited to Manchester United with Status Quo. Amid albums of new material, Don’t Stop: The 30th Anniversary Album (1996) and Famous in the Last Century (2000) were collections of cover versions.
Parfitt had never bothered to curb his enthusiasm for rock’n’roll excess, and in 2004 gave details of his penchant for drink-driving and drug abuse in XS All Areas, an autobiography that he co-wrote with Rossi. In 1997 he underwent quadruple bypass surgery after doctors warned that his partygoing lifestyle threatened to kill him. He was back onstage within three months. In 2005 he had tests for suspected throat cancer but was given the all clear. In August 2014 he fell ill while the band were on tour in Croatia, and needed to have further heart surgery.
His personal life, too, had been tumultuous. He met the 17-year-old Patty Beedon in 1968, but after two years he split with her and married Marietta Boeker. In 1974 they had a son, Richard, but their daughter Heidi drowned when she was two. “Life went on and you learn to live with it, but you never get over it,” Parfitt said.
The tragedy wrecked the marriage, and in 1988 Parfitt married Beedon. They had a son, Harry, in 1989, then divorced after Parfitt had a belated fling with Boeker, before reuniting in 2000. They parted for good after Parfitt secretly became engaged to Lyndsay Whitburn, a beauty salon owner, whom he married in 2006. Their twins Tommy and Lily were born in 2008. “The flip side of Rick is not nice,” commented Patty. “It’s a shame, because he can be such a lovely man.”
Meanwhile Status Quo’s career had evolved into a sequence of special events. In 1999 they mounted their Night of the Proms tour of Europe with a full orchestra, and in 2000 played in the Australian outback on a railway carriage of the Great South Pacific Express. In 2003 they played at the event party after the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, in 2007 they were at the rebuilt Wembley Stadium for the Concert for Diana, and in 2009 they played at Carrickfergus Castle and Glastonbury.
Quo reached No 10 with their Quid Pro Quo album (2011), boosted by a deluxe format edition exclusively available from Tesco, and followed up with a UK arena tour. Hello Quo!, a two and a half hour documentary about the band’s history, appeared in 2012, and was much more kindly received than Bula Quo! (2103), a comedy feature in which the band got mixed up with a murder mystery in Fiji.
The album Aquostic II: That’s a Fact was released two months ago. Like its predecessor, Aquostic: Stripped Bare (2014), which reached No 5 in the UK chart, it comprises songs from Quo’s catalogue in new acoustic arrangements. In 2015 Universal Music released the compilation Accept No Substitute!: The Definitive Hits.
Parfitt suffered a severe heart attack in June this year after a performance in Antalya, Turkey. Freddie Edwards, John Edwards’ son, stood in for him at short notice, and Richie Malone became his longer-term replacement. Parfitt announced his retirement from touring with the group, but had been planning a solo album and an autobiography for next year. The infection that led to his death followed complications from a shoulder injury.
Parfitt is survived by Lyndsay, Tommy and Lily, and by the sons, Richard and Harry, from each of his previous marriages.
• Richard John Parfitt, singer, songwriter and guitarist, born 12 October 1948; died 24 December 2016
This article was written by Adam Sweeting, for theguardian.com on Saturday 24th December 2016 21.33 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010