One of the most successful bands in the world, especially in its native Britain, Status Quo has been performing for more than 30 years. Quintessential rockers, the group is a legend—remarkable for its longevity, popularity, and impressive record sales. The “Quo,” as they are called, have sold more than 125 million records internationally and have had more than 50 number-one singles in Britain, a figure higher than that of any other band in rock history. A blues-rock quintet (or quartet, depending on the era), the Quo are fronted by lead guitarist/vocalist Francis Rossi and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Rick Parffit.
The group is known for boogie rock, in which 12-bar blues progressions are performed in a rock style. In addition, the band is identified by its characteristic sound—basic, loud, and heavy, but with catchy melodies; its image—long hair, T-shirts, blue jeans, and white tennis shoes; its concert presentation—heads down, with all of the guitarists lined up together; and its rabid fan base. The Quo have inspired generations of supporters, dubbed the Quo Army, who faithfully buy their records and attend their shows. The Quo Army are credited with inventing “headbanging,” a gesture in which appreciative fans flop their heads up and down in time to the music.
For the Record…
Members include Andy Bown (born on March 27, 1946), keyboards, guitar, harmonica, bass; John Coghlan (born on September 19, 1946; left group, 1982), drums; John Edwards (born on May 9, 1953), bass, vocals, songwriter; Pete Kircher (born c. 1950; left group, 1985), drums; Alan Lancaster (born on February 7, 1949; group member, 1962-85), bass, vocals; Matthew Letley (born on March 29, 1981), drums; Roy Lynes (born on November 25, 1943; left group, 1970), keyboards; Rick Parffit (born Richard Harrison on October 25 (some sources say October 12), 1948; joined group, 1968), rhythm guitar, vocals, songwriter, producer; Jeff Rich (left group, 2000), drums; Francis Rossi (born Francis Dominic Michael Rossi on May 29 [some sources say April 29], 1949; joined group, 1962), lead guitar, vocals, songwriter, producer.
Group formed as the Spectres in Beckenham, Kent, England, 1962; signed record deal with Piccadilly (later Pye) Records, 1966; released single “Pictures of Match-stick Men,” 1967; band reinvented itself with current name, sound, and image, 1970; signed with Vertigo, a subsidiary of Phonogram, 1972; released album Hello!, 1973; released “Down Down,” first U.K. number-one single, 1975; played Glasgow Apollo Theatre, released popular concert album Live!, 1977; played inaugural Prince’s Trust concert, 1982; announced retirement from touring and participated in Band-Aid recording, 1984; came out of retirement with new lineup, 1986; released second number-one single in U.K., “Come on You Reds,” 1994; played three countries in one day and four British shows in 18 hours, 1999.
Awards: Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Award, 1981; BRIT Award, Outstanding Contribution to British Music, 1991; World Music Award for outstanding contribution to the rock industry, 1991.
Addresses: Record company —Universal Music (U.K.) Ltd. Management —Simon Porter, Duroc Media Ltd., Riverside House, 10B12 Victoria Rd., Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 2TW, England, email: [email protected] Agent —Neil Warnock, The Agency Group of Companies, 370 City Rd., London EC1 2QA, England. Website —Status Quo Official Website: http://www.statusquo.co.uk.
Status Quo are lauded as particularly exciting live performers and as a terrific cover band; they have recorded songs by a number of diverse rock, R&B, folk, pop, and country artists. The Quo served as the model for Spinal Tap, the self-proclaimed “loudest band in Britain,” in Rob Reiner’s comic rockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap, (1984).
Despite their chart success and passionate, loyal fan base, Status Quo have received a mixed reception among some rock music aficionados. Stereotyped as “three-chord wonders,” the group has also been derided as musicians of limited skill that play plodding, repetitious music for unsophisticated audiences. Although the band has achieved great popularity throughout the world, it has yet to catch on in the United States. Their only American hit was the single “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” a psychedelic bubble-gum tune that features trippy lyrics, a Vox organ, and a phased-out, persistent guitar riff. This song, released in 1967 and later covered by Ozzy Osboume for the Howard Stern film Private Parts in 1997, is generally considered a pop masterpiece.
After its psychedelic period, the Quo redefined themselves and developed an instantly recognizable sound: the thunderous Fender Telecasters of Rossi and Parffit, a driving beat, and songs perfect for foot-stomping and playing “air guitar.” Since then, the Quo has kept to this same basic formula, which not only helped foster their monumental success, but made them objects of derision as well. Rossi and Parffit’s songs, with occasional contributions by other band members and collaborators, are commended for their melodies, insightful lyrics, interesting key changes and harmonies, and infectious sound. Ranging from barnstorming rockers to quieter ballads, the group’s influences include folk, skiffle, early rock, and country music. Several compositions by the group, such as “Caroline,” a song by Rossi and Bob Young, are considered classics.
Matchstick Men Caught Fire
The genesis of Status Quo began in 1962 when Alan Lancaster, a member of the orchestra at Sedgehill Comprehensive School in Beckenham, Kent, England, asked fellow orchestra member Alan Key to form a traditional jazz band. Key asked his friend Francis Rossi, then calling himself Mike, to join. They became a beat group called the Scorpions, with Rossi and Key on guitars and Lancaster on bass. After losing Key and adding drummer John Coghlan, the Scorpions changed their name to the Spectres and started to write original material.
While playing at Butlin’s holiday camp in Minehead, the band added keyboardist Roy Lynes. While there, Rossi also met Rick Parffit, who was singing and playing guitar in an act with this twin sisters, and decided to work with him. In 1966 the Spectres signed a deal with Piccadilly Records (later Pye Records) and released three singles, all of which failed to chart. They changed their name to Traffic (not to be confused with the band fronted by Steve Winwood), then to Traffic Jam, then to the Status Quo.
In 1967 Parffit joined the group, which released the single “Pictures of Matchstick Men”; it became a massive hit. At the insistence of its record company, the band began dressing in Carnaby Street gear, such as satin vests, frilly shirts, and frock coats. The group released its first album, Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo, in 1968. This record, which showcases the Quo’s psychedelic pop sound, yielded another popular single, “Ice in the Sun.” However, their subsequent pop/psych record, Spare Parts, failed to make an impact, and the Status Quo began to be viewed as a novelty act.
By 1970 the Status Quo decided to toughen up their sound and image. They grew their hair long, donned jeans and sneakers, and began to play no-frills rock. As Status Quo, they released the boogie-influenced hit single “Down the Dustpipe” and the bluesy album Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon, which also received notice; soon after, keyboardist Lynes left the band. The following year the band released Dog of Two Head, an album now considered the birth of their signature sound.
The Quo played two important outdoor music festivals, the Reading Rock Festival and the British Great Western Festival, events that helped to cement their reputation as an authentic hard-rock band. Status Quo left Pye Records, signed a deal with the Phonogram subsidiary Vertigo, and begin to build a solid following. In 1973 they released the self-produced Piledriver, a studio album that captured their live sound; the single “Paper Plane” began a string of hits that lasted through the mid-1980s.
The Quo then released Hello!, a record often considered their best. Entering the British charts at number one, this album, Rossi’s favorite Quo recording, is especially vibrant. In 1975 the single “Down Down” was the first to reach number one on the British charts. In 1976 the Quo teamed with Levi Strauss and Company to promote their album Blue for You; one of the first sponsorship deals of its kind in Britain. Another album released that year, Status Quo, reached number 148 in the United States, the only Quo LP to chart in America.
Changes to the Status Quo
In 1977 Status Quo released Live!, an LP of the band in concert at Glasgow’s Apollo Theatre that is acknowledged as one of the best live albums ever recorded. In 1982 drummer John Coghlan left the band and was replaced by Pete Kircher. The same year, the Quo became the first rock group to perform at a charity benefit attended by royalty: the inaugural Prince’s Trust concert at the Birmingham NEC, at which Prince Charles was present.
In 1984 the Quo announced their retirement from touring. Rossi and Parffit participated in the Band-Aid recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and keyboardist Andy Bown became a full-time member of the Quo after several years of part-time status. In 1985 the group opened Live-Aid—at the time, the largest live event in music history—by performing John Fogerty’s “Rockin’ All Over the World.” This marked Alan Lancaster’s last appearance with the Quo; later, he filed an unsuccessful injunction against Rossi and Parffit seeking to prevent them from using the group’s name without him.
In 1986 the Quo returned with a new rhythm section, bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and drummer Jeff Rich, and decided to come out of retirement. In 1990 the Quo celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the meeting of Rossi and Parffit, releasing their compilation album Rockin’All Over the Years, which became the band’s fastest-selling album. In 1991 the Quo received the BRIT Award and the World Music Award for their contributions to music. That year the group also earned an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for playing four shows in eleven hours, eleven minutes in Sheffield, Glasgow, Birmingham, and London; Rossi and Parffit were also immortalized in the Rock Legends Hall of Fame at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London, England.
The band signed with Polydor Records in 1992, followed by Rossi and Parffit’s autobiography, Just for the Record, for Bantam Press, the following year. In 1994 Status Quo had its second number-one single with “Come On You Reds,” a song recorded with the Manchester United Football Club for the Sport-Aid benefit. That same year the Quo charged BBC Radio One with ageism for refusing to play “Fun Fun Fun,” a remake of the Beach Boys hit; the courts however, ruled in the station’s favor.
In 1997 Parffit underwent a successful quadruple bypass. Two years later, he’d recovered enough for another concert marathon: the Quo played three countries in one day and four British shows in 18 hours; in addition, they performed at a benefit concert in Munich, headlined by Michael Jackson, for the aid of Kosovan refugees. In 2000 Jeff Rich left the band and was replaced by Matthew Letley. In 2002 the Quo’s single “Jam Side Down” reached number 17 on the British charts; they also released the album Heavy Traffic and went on tour to support it.
The Quo Achieved Status
By successfully changing their direction, developing a grass-roots following supported by constant touring and exciting live shows, and maintaining a large, devoted audience through their appealing music and consistent approach, Status Quo have become a rock legend. They also have been praised for their commitment to their craft, despite indifference from record companies, radio stations, and music fans.
They are not without detractors, however: The Quo have also been denounced as boring, predictable, formulaic, unfashionable, and unadventurous; their music from the 1980s and 1990s has been called limp and over-produced. Writing in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden summarize the Quo quandary: “The worst band in the world, or true progenitors of working-class punk heavy metal? Status Quo are Britain’s very own Grand Funk [referring to the Michigan hard-rock outfit], almost universally condemned by rock cognoscenti, but supported by a veritable denim army of banner-waving, head-shaking British fans.”
Generally, however, the Quo are recognized as an institution, a band that creates unpretentious, likable music that transcends trends and appeals to a wide variety of listeners. A critic in Guitarist noted, “Quo ARE rock ‘n’ roll. After years at the butt end of a million three-chord-wonder gags, this band is what many a guitarist and bass player would really like to be, whether they care to admit it or not.” Gary “Pig” Gold of MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide concluded that the Quo “is nothing short of the first and last rude word in loud, denim-clad, beer-soaked, and stripped-to-the-basics music-making. While trends duly come and go, and myriad challenges to its throne rise to briefly boogie then vanish, Status Quo seems destined to persevere well into the next century at least.” Asked by Sheila Rene of HardRadio what he is most proud of after 30 years with Status Quo, Francis Rossi answered, “Just hanging on, I think, in the face of adversity…. I’m quite proud that we’ve managed to hang on and we still sell out shows. We’re extremely lucky that we can do that.” In an interview with Ram Samudrala on his website, Rick Parffit perhaps summarized it best: “[l]f the party’s flagging, put on some Quo.”
Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo, Pye, 1968.
Spare Parts, Pye, 1969.
Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon, Pye, 1970.
Dog with Two Head, Pye, 1971.
Piledriver, Vertigo, 1972.
Best of Status Quo (compilation), Pye, 1973.
Hello!, Vertigo, 1973.
Quo, Vertigo, 1974.
On the Level, Vertigo, 1975.
Blue for You, Vertigo, 1976.
Leve!, Vertigo, 1975.
Rockin’All Over the World, Vertigo, 1977.
If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Vertigo, 1978.
Whatever You Want, Vertigo, 1979.
12 Gold Bars (compilation), Vertigo, 1980.
Just Supposin’, Vertigo, 1980.
Never Too Late, Vertigo, 1981.
1+9+8+2., Vertigo, 1982.
From the Makers Of … (box set), Vertigo, 1982.
Live at the NEC (concert album), Vertigo, 1982.
Back to Back, Vertigo, 1983.
12 Gold Bars, Volume Two (compilation), Vertigo, 1984.
In the Army Now, Vertigo, 1986.
Ain’t Complaining, Vertigo, 1988.
Perfect Remedy, Vertigo, 1989.
Rock ‘Til You Drop, Vertigo, 1991.
Rocking All Over the Years (compilation), Vertigo, 1991.
Live Alive Quo, Vertigo, 1992.
Thirsty Work, Polydor, 1994.
Don’t Stop, Polygram, 1996.
Whatever You Want: The Very Best of Status Quo (box set), Polygram, 1997.
Under the Influence, Eagle, 1999.
Famous in the Last Century, Universal Music, 2000.
Rockers Rollin’: Quo in Time, 1972-2000 (box set), Polygram, 2001.
Complete Status Quo (box set), Reader’s Digest (U.K.), 2002.
Heavy Traffic, Universal Music, 2002.
Bogdanov, Vladimir, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, editors, All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music, All Media Guide, 2001.
Buckley, Jonathan, Orla Duane, Mark Ellington, and AlSpicer, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, second edition, The Rough Guides, 1999.
Clifford, Mike, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, fifth edition, Harmony Books, 1986.
Graff, Gary, and Daniel Duncholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Hale, Mark, Headbangers: The Worldwide Mega Book of Heavy Metal Bands, Popular Culture, 1993.
Hardy, Phil, and Dave Lang, Encyclopedia of Rock, Schirmer Books, 1987.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, third edition, Muze UK Ltd., 1992.
Logan, Nick, and Bob Woffinden, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony Books, 1976.
Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, D.K. Publishing, 1996.
Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1995.
Guardian Unlimited, August 2, 2002.
“Don’t Stop! (interview with Rick Parffit),” Ram Samudrala Website, http://www.ram.org (October 1, 2002).
“Interviews: Status Quo,” Guitarist, http://www.guitarist.co.uk (October 2, 2002).
“The Quoratory: The UK’s Biggest Unofficial Status Quo Website,” http://www.quoratory.uk (September 10, 2002).
“Status Quo,” HardRadio, http://www.hardradio.com (October 1, 2002).
“Status Quo,” Rob Steele’s Official Website, http://www.robsteele.demon.co.uk (September 10, 2002).
“Status Quo,” Super Seventies Rocksite, http://www.superseventies.com (October 2, 2002).
Status Quo Official Website, http://www.statusquo.co.uk (September 29, 2002).
—Gerard J. Senick
sta·tus quo / ˈstātəs ˈkwō; ˈstatəs/ • n. (usu. the status quo) the existing state of affairs, esp. regarding social or political issues: they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
[Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy.