Q&A with Francis Rossi
Sheila Rene': Hello Francis. I've been messed up lately with time. Thanks for getting back to me.
Francis Rossi: We definitely had two Fridays this week. We left Australia at 7 PM Friday evening and arrived here at 1 PM Friday afternoon.
SR: You're only playing three shows this time.
FR: We're playing one in Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. It was all the agents idea I think. I don't know what will come of it.
SR: You never toured the U.S. much ever.
FR: We did in the early days of the band, but never a substantial tour..maybe four or five. The reaction would be good but we couldn't get much interest from radio.
SR: Guess what? It would be worse now.
FR: Yeah, I'll bet. It's the time of the two-week single. Everybody's into the two week single and then it's finished.
SR: That's true. Rocking All Over The World and Don't Stop are the albums you're tour behind now celebrating 30 years in the biz.
FR: The compilation and the cover album.
SR: Don't Stop was a lot of fun.
FR: I thought it was a bad idea at first because of the obvious stigma attached to doing cover tunes. It was really enjoyable to make and was very successful on our side of the world.
SR: You guys haven't really had to leave Europe.
FR: We've been very, very lucky.
SR: 120 million albums sold world-wide since 1962.
FR: Not bad going.
SR: Now we've got the tune, your biggest hit, "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" covered by Peter Steele of Type O Negative and Ozzy Osbourne for Howard Stern's movie soundtrack.
FR: I just heard about that the other week. I was talking to a guy doing an interview and he brought it up. I said who's Howard Stern? I didn't know of him then, but I do now. I understand it's doing quite well.
SR: It's doing quite well and being heard by many generations of music lovers.
FR: Suits me. I can't wait to hear it.
SR: I think people will now want to hear more of Status Quo. What is "Pictures of Matchbook Men" all about?
FR: To be honest I had not been married very long at that time. I was trying to write something while my wife and mother-in-law were out and I was fascinated with Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe." His chord sequences were different at that time and I did something with the guitar and those chord sequences and it just came out. Not many people know this and I don't say this in England too much but I had an idea ...pictures of something but I didn't know what. Back then it was pictures in the mind and pictures of this and that. My ex-wife came up with the title of the song but she doesn't know that. It was just off the top of my head back then. Everyone thought we were into drugs, but I didn't even know what drugs were at that point.
SR: You guys have had an awful lot of hits in your long career. There were 51 British hit singles and 22 were Top 10 hits. They're on this album, Rocking All Over The Years.
FR: We've been lucky let's face it.
SR: "Paper Plane," "Caroline" and more.
FR: It's all luck isn't it?
SR: Maybe, but I think in your case it's good writing and playing.
FR: Some people like it, I like it and we're lucky that a few more like it. We're very realistic in as much as if we sell three million albums in England which is very big news, but it means roughly 57 million people didn't buy it. I always think like that I'm afraid. When we first came to the U.S. the overwhelming feeling was of being so insignificant in such a large population. At the same time our manager said 'how would like an American manager?' and we all said 'no.' Instead of saying, 'we need representation in America. I'll give away 20% of the band which is nothing.' We should have had representation over here back then. The attitude of the band at the time was wrong. The old band had its magic here and there but it wasn't as good as the band we have today. All I ever wanted to be was famous. I can't pretend I wanted to be a musician. Perhaps I do now want to play better, but when I was younger it was just to be famous. I saw the Everly Brothers and I wanted to do that. In my 20s I was very adamant, I didn't need to learn anything and in the past five or ten years one of my sons is a particularly good guitar player and I felt ashamed that he was that much better than me.
SR: I was going to ask if any of your children will take up the musical cross.
FR: Number two and number three (I do them in numbers, it's easier) are in a band called Little Egypt and they're doing reasonably well so far. Like you said it's extremely difficult these days to get a record deal. I've got eight children in all. My eldest son works with us on the road. It's becoming nepotism rules here.
SR: For all the people who might find your name foreign and your music a mystery what albums would you send people to pick up to get caught up with your music now that it's back in the news because of the Howard Stern movie. Would it be this new compilation?
FR: Honestly, no. (laughing) That's not very good PR move is it? I think because that one has the singles perhaps it's good from that point of view, but people who are serious should hear the albums. They're more diverse in material. Criticism of the band has always been that the singles were all alike which to me was logical. Record companies would do that...pick the ones that were similar and the ones that had worked before. I suppose it would be better, which is a dream of mine, that people would take some of the albums.
SR: Piledriver in '73 and what else?
FR: Piledriver and Hello in '73 were quite good for the early period. Rock Til You Drop was very good for '91.
SR: You toured with Rod Stewart on Rock Til You Drop. He's still kicking out the jams.
FR: We did some dates with him. He's always at it. It depends on if he drinks or not. If he stops drinking he's good. We were under the same management for years. We broke at the same time in England. We had the wrong attitude over here. I don't know what was wrong with us. We were very anti-America. When I was growing up everything about the U.S. was new, fresh and modern. Whether it was because we had been struggling and had attained success again from Europe and elsewhere, but coming here we had to start over almost. We all found that difficult at the time.
SR: As far as reading the most realistic story of the band and the beginning would you suggest Just For The Record which came out in '93.
FR: Yeah, but I still think there are things that you can't really talk about.
SR: Only because they're still on the scene.
FR: We've had two or three books before that were written by other people but this one was at least Rick and I telling the stories. We were interviewed and we talked and talked and talked. Most of that book is 100% truth. A contradiction there about most of...never mind. It does talk about the new band. The new band has been together 11 years now. It's certainly longer than most bands survive and that's another thing I find that people mention a lot these days is the older bands. It just seems logical to me that if rock and roll was born in the 50s, grew up in the '60s and '70s, it's logical that it'll be older bands. I surprised there aren't more around. It's f**kin' hard work staying together sometimes. Once success comes along and money comes with it, then that tends to make people think they're better than they are. I've got money so I must be good which is completely wrong.
SR: I would have to say considering Status Quo's status, that it's an extremely successful status. You've made a good living on just doing what you like to do. That's success.
FR: Definitely. It's a certain amount of perseverance but it's luck. That's an understatement isn't it? A certain amount of perservering, but it's luck. I can't say that shear talent is luck and I've always believed that the best people aren't in rock and roll. The best musicians are entertainers.
SR: That's the word, entertainer, that separates the men from the boys. Just as we were talking about Rod Stewart. He's an entertainer for sure. That whole Live Aid show was brilliant.
FR: (laughing) Exactly. The whole thing was unique. Stewart kept pestering us. The first time he asked us we said 'no.' They wanted the older bands first and once that happened it just snowboarded. The feeling and the gig on the day was totally unique. The audience weren't just paying to see a show, they knew they were taking part in something. The feeling in the stadium was unbelievable.
SR: I taped the whole thing.
FR: We were also lucky to get the opening slot. We were either going on late with Paul McCartney and do "Rock and Roll All Over The World" or as the opener. I wanted to open mainly because I wanted to get finished to be honest. We made it on every newsreel in the world and everyone who was going to watch it would at least watch the first ten or fifteen minutes.
SR: Another big concert in '90, the Knebworth Fest for Music Therapy.
FR: That's another one that came off rather well, but it's funny. Rick and I did most of the promo on that before that show. We did some with Dave Gilmour, but the main question everyone was asking was 'Do you get nervous?' I don't get nervous, not anymore. On that show I was bloody nervous so I get extremely annoyed if people ask me that question now. I think that set was the fastest we've played really. We don't mind doing charities, those were worthwhile, but it has gotten to be a thing in England where the charity idea has gotten a little bit out of control.
SR: You guys were the first to work with Prince Charles Trust Concert.
FR: We used to dream about it when we were teenagers. We'd think how great it would be to ask Prince Charles to come and play cello on something on one of our songs. We never thought we'd actually do something with him. We're older now and we just take it as a gig. This royal thing is a bit strange to me. I hate that system. For a while he'd come to see us as part of his gig. The last time he came to see us, he stayed for some time and actually enjoyed the show.
SR: In '96 you played the whole Don't Stop album with some big stars including Brian May, who is one of the most underrated guitarists alive today.
FR: He's also the nicest guy you'll ever meet as well. Totally unaffected and extremely pleasant. He still wears his clogs. Everybody stopped wearing them in the '70s but not him. He doesn't care.
SR: Eric Clapton was on that show with the Beach Boys. It must have been a great time.
FR: It was indeed and it came together out of the blue. I wasn't keen on it at first but I came around. It was enjoyable to make. Everyone knew the melodies of the songs and on covers you have to right on. Brian came to my house and we sent some stuff to the Beach Boys and they did some stuff. They came over and did two weeks promo in Europe with us. We became a ten-piece band for a while.
SR: Every ten years it's a different period in music. It turns just that quickly.
FR: It's true isn't it?
SR: You have out a solo album now as well called King Of The Dog House.
FR: That was strange because when we did the first four tracks which we did at my house, the "King Of The Dog House" and "Oh, Darlin" and two other tracks which were particularly good everyone got excited. We got to work on the album a bit more and the producer...a friend of a friend...had never had success before so it went to his head. He suddenly got to be a star and eventually there were wrong mixes and all sorts of things went wrong from there. I just put it all down to experience now. It could have been better than it is but, that's life, isn't it?
SR: You bet. Hopefully we all live and learn.
FR: It was a learn on that one I'll tell you.
SR: Any chance you'll do another solo?
FR: I'd probably like to but I shouldn't think Virgin would take up the option on the contract because so many things went wrong.
SR: The big rumor on the websites for Status Quo is that you'll come out with a new album in '88, I mean '98.
FR: I keep doing just what you did. It sounds recent enough doesn't it?
SR: I mean '98 and that you'll tour.
FR: We're working on material. Just before we left on this tour we broke up at Christmas. We always break up at Christmas time and until we left to come out here we were doing new material. I want to try and take more time over the material. We usually do x amount of songs in a period and we go to record them and that's that. Then I get together with my songwriting partner again later. This time we've already done ten songs and we'll be able to go over them again. I've already started cutting them to bits and I'm hoping that will improve the material. Perhaps we may get a show at doing a second batch as it were. We're all preparing to do something album-wise.
SR: It says that it would be made in the older more rocking-style of Status Quo. You guys have never compromised a second on your music.
FR: It's great to talk about making this kind of album and that kind of album. I have to see what the material is going to be first. You put that down and then you say what kind of album it'll be. So far it seems quite rockin' I suppose. To me the ultimate Status Quo albums were, apart from the two you mentioned earlier Piledriver and Hello. When someone says raw to me I think rough. The Rock Til You Drop and the Thirsty Work album is where we should roughly be today.
SR: Are your fans getting younger and younger?
FR: We just toured Japan and Australia and we haven't been to those places for about 18 years. We really didn't know what to expect. We expected polite applause from the Japanese, but I didn't know what to expect from Australia. It always seems, throughout Europe, although we draw people of 40 and 50 years of age and sometimes older, we still seem to have the younger people in the front. I find it flattering and fascinating. It's certainly good for the band, but it's very hard to understand why younger people will turn out particularly because of the way the press speak about any older band. You don't expect all that. We have a lot of kids that show up in QuoOasis T-shirts. They like Status Quo and Oasis too. That's the bonus. We also see a lot of older fans who bring their children who are five and six years old. When we were younger, the idea of being an act that could entertain people from five and six years old to 50+ years old was crazy. You very much wanted to be the 18-25 year old crowd which now as I look back is totally stupid.
SR: It has always been like that.
FR: When the punk movement came around I remember we were in the Marquee in London finishing Rock and Roll All Over The World and it was next door to the club. There was a punk band on and I was 26 or 27 years old and this guy about 18 or 19 turned around and said 'f**k off you boring old fart.' I thought to myself am I this boring old fart? There should be young angst but I don't see why people of my age shouldn't like a younger band and people of younger ages shouldn't like musicians in their 40s and 50s. You just like the music or you don't. Age is irrelevant.
SR: Are you looking forward to the U.S. dates?
FR: Very much. I feel better about being here now than I used to feel. It's a more positive attitude in the band generally.
SR: There's nothing like a positive attitude.
FR: I'm more that way the older I get.
SR: You're still a Fender man.
FR: I'm afraid so. Leo Fender before he died, made a GNL series of guitars. I just stayed with this guitar. It's next to me now and goes everywhere with me. I've got two or three GNL's that are really superb. My old Telecasters were a love/hate situation. I'm not one of those people who want to be buried with his guitar. It's a piece of wood with strings to me. I've heard that there are people who would kill for their guitars. That's a bit much. There's a guy who used to play in YES, whose name I've forgotten, who always talked about wanting to be buried with his guitar.
SR: Well, if he believes in "the other side" theory, he'll be prepared having carried his favorite guitar with him.
FR: I do believe in that spiritual thing in going over and so on. If you do none of this material shit is going to be any good to anybody.
SR: What are you the most proud of concerning your 30+ years in the business?
FR: Just hanging on, I think, in the face of adversity I suppose. I'm always aware that most people don't like you whoever you are. 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.
SR: You've got some festivals planned for May and June.
FR: Festivals in Scandinavia and Germany are popular. They're good days out. We've become what we call "semi-pro." We work the weekends and we get the week off.
SR: Now that we have the Internet? In 1962 when you started, Internet what?
FR: That's getting serious for sure. In fact in '67 and '68 when we were touring the hovercraft hadn't been around long, we figured that cars would be floating and that we would possibly by the '90s have some sort of time travel. I always fantasized that we'd be able to come off the side of the stage, get in this box and go straight to our own bathroom, shower and be home. You could hang out a couple of hours with the guys and have a drink and then go home to your own bed. It just didn't happen yet. I'd love that I promise you.
SR: I would too.
FR: The only thing I don't like anymore is the traveling, the hotels and all that shit.
SR: That was always terrible.
FR: When we were younger it was still fairly new. Hey, I'm on an airplane mum. I've seen hotels and busses.
SR: Has the Internet helped peak interest in Status Quo that you know about?
FR: From what we can tell there seem to be little unofficial websites all over the place. It has come home to us that there are more people out there than we thought who are interested in the band. Our management is very keen in England, in particular, in the idea of the Internet because there's this whole rip-off thing over there. If you buy five tickets to Quo shows you'll have to pay a booking fee on each ticket and if you purchase by credit card you pay the booking fee and the credit card fee. That's ripping people off big time. Lots of record companies are getting very worried because there are a few acts like David Bowie and others who have advertised their gigs on the Internet and sold them out on the Internet.
SR: That is correct.
FR: The idea now is people are saying why don't we do this with records? You can sell them to the people cheaper and this is before we start downloading them. People get the product cheaper and the band themselves make more money. You bypass the record companies who for years have had this love/hate thing with musicians. All that is definitely coming on and there has to be a lot of executives who're getting extremely worried.
SR: I'm excited about all the possibilities.
FR: I think the people will really benefit by it. Record companies will become redundant as lots of other big businesses. Let's go straight to the people.
SR: What's the best song you ever wrote?
FR: Oh, shit! I was proud of "Pictures..." at the time. In 1980 something I wrote called "Marguerita Time" was a country-rocky thing. I was very keen at the time on country and I remember being desperate to get it released. The band, at that time, weren't sure if it was too soft or too this or that.
SR: Track 17 on the compilation.
FR: I thought it was going to change so much and do so much for me. It was a bit hit at Christmas, it was lovely and I enjoyed it, but as the whole thing with this business is, you go and do another one. In any other business in the world you get to the top of your tree and you can lay back a bit. I've done that now you think. If you're a president or a prime minister you do that gig and then they look after you. In rock and roll or show biz, you do that big hit and then they ask where's the next big hit? I realized that with "Marguerita Time." It didn't do what I thought it was going to do for me. I had to find another one. I had to find another one.
SR: Well, Francis I really appreciate your time and your saving my ass by letting me do this interview a day late.
FR: No problem. I'm very happy to have had this time with you.