A year ago today we lost Rick Parfitt. A proper rock star, he was one of the loveliest musicians I ever met. We had been working on a show together at the time he died – An Evening With Rick – which with his new autobiography and solo album would have set him fair for 2017. But then he died last Christmas Eve.
So… I thought I’d show you this little biog I wrote for him just before he died. Nothing too deep, just bullet-points really. But hopefully with some of the real flavour of what it was like to know Rick. Merry Xmas everyone and god bless all of us.
When Rick Parfitt appeared on stage with Status Quo at what was supposed to be their farewell performance –at Milton Keynes Bowl, on July 21, 1984 – few amongst the 60,000 fans there that day truly understood why the band was breaking up – least of all, it seems, the band themselves.
Billed as The End of the Road show, “Up until the moment we walked off stage at the end, I’d sort of looked at the whole thing as a publicity stunt,” says Rick Parfitt now. “Then as the helicopter took off and I looked down at the crowd below, it started to sink in. This was no stunt. The band was over. Thank you and goodnight. I was heartbroken…”
With inter-band relations at an all-time low, behind the scenes his and Rossi’s personal lives were now in such drug-induced disarray friends privately expressed fears that one or both of them might die if they didn’t curb their excesses.
“The trouble was,” says Parfitt, “we were both completely gone in those days, so there was no one to apply the brakes. We didn’t know if we were coming or going and it didn’t matter, we didn’t give a fuck. Nothing mattered other than getting your next fix. We were gone and we weren’t coming back. Ever…”
The story of Status Quo was always essentially the story of two people: Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi: “The blonde good-looking one and the balding one,” as Rossi once said. Or: “A faggot and his friend,” as Rick jokingly puts it.
Parfitt continues. “These days, people see us as two peas in a pod; different sides of the same coin. But it wasn’t always like that and how we got there is still something I scratch my head about sometimes. All I know is, at some point the original band broke up but that, ironically, it proved to be the start of me and Francis really getting our acts together. First as people – and then as Status Quo.”
It was a rollercoaster ride that would see the band through some incredible highs – from opening Live Aid at Wembley Stadium with ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, to Rick nearly dying several times through multiple heart attacks and cancer scares, precipitated by two decades worth of drugs and alcohol abuse.
“Drugs are such a cliché,” observes Parfitt. “Like the one that goes: things have to get worse before they get better. Well, that was certainly true for me. Things got as bad as anyone could imagine.”
The lowest point, he reveals, came with the death in 1980 of his two-year-old daughter, Heidi, drowned in the family swimming pool.
“It took me a long time to recover from the death of my beautiful little girl. I remember going into the garden at night at screaming at God, crying hysterically, demanding to know why.”
Over the years the band broke up, got back together again, shed members, managers, record companies, wives, girlfriends. “Some people say you have to sell your soul to rock’n’roll,” says Parfitt. “There’s definitely some truth in that.”
At sixteen, Richard John Parfitt (b. Oct 12, 1948, in Woking, Surrey) was already a veteran of the “holiday-camp cabaret circuit” when he met Rossi. At the time, the fair-haired guitarist was going under the name of Ricky Harrison in a cabaret trio called The Highlights. Rossi was fronting his band The Spectres.
“My first impression of Rick was that he looked like a flash poof,” recalled Rossi. Rick, who in reality was neither camp nor gay, simply remembers watching Rossi and his group rehearsing and feeling jealous. “They were playing ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ and it sounded absolutely fantastic. I was terribly jealous because by then I was starting to grow up and want to do my own thing – just like they were doing.”
It was another two years before Parfitt joined the band as rhythm guitarist. Signed to Pye Records in 1966, they were about to enjoy their first Top 10 smash with the flower-power derived ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’, replete with trendy Carnaby Street “threads.”
Parfitt: “People say what are the highlights of your career and it’s obvious to say Live Aid or working with Prince Charles and all that. But for me the major highlight of my career was hearing the band on the radio for the first time. I nearly fainted! I literally went weak at the knees. I was like, ‘Mum! Mum! Come quick!’ No drug ever gave me a high quite as good as that one…”
A follow-up single, ‘Ice In The Sun’, also made the Top 20 but subsequent releases flopped. Ironically, it was their failure to produce more copycat hits that allowed the band to “try things our way”; ditching their ornate pop style in favour of basic, unpretentious, four-square boogie.
They also grew the bobs out of their hair, swapping their cod-psychedelic image in favour of the basic T-shirt-and-jeans look they have maintained ever since. “It was a very easy look to maintain,” smiles Rick. “The older and more horrible the jeans looked, the better. I think I wore the same pair for about ten years.”
Such determination finally found its reward in 1973 – the year both the ‘Paper Plane’ and ‘Caroline’ singles hit the UK Top Ten – and the next ten years saw Quo enjoy an unbroken run of number one albums and countless hit singles that are as well-known today as they were when they were first performed on Top Of the Pops. ‘Down, Down’, ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, ‘Again And Again’, ‘What You’re Proposing’…
By the start of the eighties everybody was familiar with the Status Quo sound. It didn’t matter whether you actually liked the jaunty riff to hits like ‘Whatever You Want’ or ‘Just Supposin’’, one listen and they would be stored in the memory forever, like a nursery rhyme.
“There’s no doubt a lot of our hits were what you might call ‘whistling milkmen’ songs,” laughs Rick. “Some people look down on stuff like that, but that’s what pop music is all about, isn’t it – making catchy songs? I did actually hear my milkman whistling ‘Whatever You Want’ once. I don’t think he even knew he was doing it or that it had anything to do with me. It was just something he had stuck in his head…”
But where other seventies rockers like Rod Stewart’s Faces or Thin Lizzy were eulogised for such populism, Quo were always stereotyped as being little more than ‘three-chord wonders’. An idea gleaned from their bloke-next-door image. By 1976, the sight of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi hunched over their guitars, their hair obscuring their fretboards, had become such an enduring one that the Levi Jeans company offered to get involved in the promotional campaign for that year’s ‘Blue For You’ album and subsequent tour.
Because of that, says Rick, even after several hit singles and albums, “we still never considered ourselves big. We always felt like underdogs. But that’s showbiz. Whether people think you’re a bunch of wankers who can’t manage more than three-chords, or that you’re the greatest rock band in the world – that’s all that people want really, the fantasy.”
By the start of the eighties, even the “perks of the job” failed to excite. “I fell into the lifestyle very easily,” Parfitt admits. “I thought it was fantastic, but it was the start of a downward spiral. For years I was completely out to lunch – it cost me huge chunks of my life and two marriages. I still meet people who say, ‘Remember me? I’m the guy who put the roof on your house’, and I go, ‘What house?’ I was drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, plus two or three bottles of wine and doing three grams of coke – every day.”
Life on stage and off became one long blur: “I only just remember doing Live Aid. I was already out of it before we even went on stage at midday! Francis was the same. I’ve seen pictures of it since of course and the funny thing is I look quite normal. You’d never guess I was so fucking gone I thought I was still in the pub…”
Nevertheless, the worldwide acclaim that followed Live Aid revived Quo’s fortunes. ‘In The Army Now’, in 1986, was their first single to go to No.1 for nearly ten years and with a new line-up behind them, Status Quo was about to be re-born as a new, much more family-oriented attraction.
First though, they had to sort themselves out. “It wasn’t easy,” says Rick. “For years, I was either totally up, or utterly and completely down. No middle ground; no time when you were ever ‘normal’. We didn’t do ‘normal’. We thought normal was sitting there in a darkened room for five days with an ounce of coke.”
Even when he had a quadruple bypass operation following his first major heart attack in the late-nineties, within days Rick had discharged himself from hospital, “then went home, bought four grams of coke and a case of champagne. I figured I owed myself a big night after that.”
What finally brought an end to such dedicated rabblerousing, he says, was “mainly just getting older, I think. I just couldn’t take the hangovers anymore. The gap between feeling good and feeling bad was getting longer and longer. In the end, it starts to frighten you. It was like Jekyll and Hyde. You’d think, god, where am I going to end up this time? I just couldn’t stand it anymore…”
As a result, here in the second decade of the 21st century, the name Status Quo has become a British institution – darlings of the tabloids, relentless fund-raisers for royal charities, headliners of Glastonbury. Loved by students, grandparents and big sisters everywhere.
“You look out from the stage some nights and you can literally see three or four different generations of Quo fans, all bopping along together. It all makes for this wonderful atmosphere at the shows. Like the best of both worlds – a rock gig and a right old knees-up down the pub!”
The personal cost for Rick Parfitt, though, has continued being high. His first marriage to Marietta ended after the death of their daughter. Then he went through a multi-million-pound divorce case in the nineties with second wife, Patty – before getting back together again.
Then, in 2008, Rick married for the third time and became a father, at 60, to twins: Lily and Tommy. “My relationships with women have all be unbelievably complicated,” Parfitt admits. “I’m still trying to figure them out myself! All I can do is be truthful and let people make their own minds up.”
Parfitt admits he never dreamed his career would last so long. “I remember Francis and I having a chat back in about 1973 where we agreed that if we could hold on to our success for five years and put fifty thousand quid in the bank, we’d have made it. If somebody had told me then that one day I would have tax bills for more than that I would have keeled over!”
But then Rick Parfitt has never let anything get him down for too long. He cheerfully recalls how, after a spell of insolvency in the mid-1980s, the first thing he did was buy a Rolls Royce. Then get Patty to dress up as a chauffeur and drive him down the Kings Road.
“I was sat in the back waving at everybody and people were waving back. It was great!”
He says his main regret about the collapse in June  which led to him leaving Quo and reconfiguring his life, was the five long months he was deprived of his driving license.
A petrolhead to rival Jeremy Clarkson, who swaps Bentley’s and Rollers as often as he changes socks, being unable to drive his latest love, a custom-built Porsche Panamera GTS, “nearly killed me all over again.”
However, having recently taken his driving test again and passed with flying colours he is now back behind the wheel.
“You couldn’t make up my life. People don’t now the half of it. Stand well back!”