Rick Parfitt 1948- 2016
I’ve tried several times over the last few weeks to write a tribute piece to Rick Parfitt since his death on December 24th. Given the significant influence he had on my younger years I didn’t want his passing to go by without comment but I found it very hard to write something that gets across exactly what you want to say without sounding cliched and straying into banal platitudes. Hopefully this does the great man justice.
One of the greatest pleasures in my life was the moment at the start of a Quo show when the intro music, known as ‘The Drone’, started the band walked on stage and Rick Parfitt strapped on his white telecaster, took up his position usually just in front of the amps, legs apart and there was just a split second before he started to thrash out the opening chords to Caroline. That moment never failed to get the hairs on my arms standing to attention and was the prelude to me strapping on my air guitar and into full on head banging mode. Ask anyone who has been with me to a Quo show. You didn’t really want to stand beside me when a Quo classic was on as I entered my own little world, lost in the power of the music.
I learned of Parfitt’s death as I was coming out of the cinema on Xmas Eve, I checked my phone and saw the news headline ‘Rick Parfitt, Quo guitarist, dead at 68’. My heart sank and I just stopped in my tracks not quite believing what I was reading. Luckily my wife and son had gone to the bathroom and didn’t see that I had become quite emotional and I had some time to try and compose myself. It’s kind of weird that the death of someone you never met can have such an effect on you but Rick Parfitt was quite simply my first rock star hero and has been for nearly 40 years. Of all the icons who died in 2016 this was the one I felt the most.
Parfitt’s hero status was gained or rather confirmed back in May 1979 when as a young naïve 14-year-old I rolled up to the Glasgow Apollo to see the mighty Quo for my first ever gig. All thanks to the son of one of my mum’s friends who had procured a pair of freebie tickets because he worked at the hotel Quo were staying in. How he persuaded my parents to let me go I’ll never know but eternal gratitude. The Apollo itself smelt terrible, its décor was horrific, the bouncers were big and scary and the stage was 15ft high. I totally fell in love.
Quo were phenomenal and simply blew me away. It was the classic Frantic Four line up and it was rock music at its rawest and I came out of the show desperate for more Quo, live music and was the reason that over 37 years later I’ve been to nearly 800 live gigs including nearly 60 Quo shows.
That night it was also the 30th birthday of Francis Rossi and if memory serves Parfitt was wearing a white Bauer t-shirt with blue stars on it (This may have been a later tour). With his long blonde hair, he looked every inch the rock god and I just loved the way he played guitar with such a ferocity and intensity. I never ever lost that awe of seeing Parfitt play and where possible I always tried to make sure I was at his side of the stage at any Quo show.
The odd thing is since the 80s I’ve always had this strange love/hate relationship with Quo. I absolutely love the music they produced during the 70s and up to around 82/83 but when the Frantic Four line up gradually split up leaving Rossi and Parfitt to play under the Quo banner the recorded output thereafter left a lot to be desired as their music became, to me, a watered down version of what made them great. Despite that I still went to see them live to hear the classics and watch Parfitt play guitar.
When the Frantic Four line up got back together in 2013 to do a short run of dates I was in absolute dreamland and did 5 nights in a week, 2 in Glasgow and 3 in London. I never thought I’d get to see that line up play again and it was the icing on the cake that they decided to do it again a year later in 2014. Although this time after a back op I was restricted to 2 Glasgow shows and even then medical advice thought it maybe wasn’t the best idea but nothing was going to stop me and I even managed to get out my seat for a few songs. It’s quite difficult headbanging sitting down. I had planned on doing another 4 shows or more until the surgery intervened. Seeing the four together again after so many years was enough to bring a tear to a glass eye. Parfitt himself seemed to particularly enjoy these shows as this was the music Quo were meant to play. He was always a rocker at heart and these shows seemed to re-vitalise him as Quo dusted off some classics not heard for many a year.
All in all it is probably remarkable that Parfitt kept playing live for so long after quadruple by-pass surgery in 1997, a throat cancer scare in 2005 and 3 heart attacks over the years which would probably have seen most people retire and take it easy. On reflection the fact that he was still able to get up on stage and perform the way he did was quite a feat. He put everything into a show and is up there beside Malcolm Young as one of the greatest ever rhythm rock guitarists. I’d say he was the best but then I might be slightly biased.
When I heard he’d had his 3rd heart attack in June last year I just knew then that I had seen my last Quo show with Parfitt and at that point I just hoped he’d recover enough to live a long and happy life. Optimistically I wished he’d maybe recover enough to do the shows in December so we could say our farewells but it wasn’t to be. I did go and see Quo with stand in guitarist Ritchie Malone in July as I had already bought tickets but it wasn’t the same and with Rick not in his rightful place it was felt all kinds of wrong. I left the venue thinking that I had seen Quo for the last time. I even had a front row ticket for their December Glasgow show that I ended up getting a refund after it was confirmed Parfitt wasn’t going to play. I did head down on the night to see if I could pick up a mega cheap ticket as I reckoned it was probably the best Quo tribute act going but it wasn’t to be and I’m glad as it was a few days later Rick left us and I would have felt in some daft way that I’d cheated on him.
In the end Rick’s love of the rock n roll lifestyle finally caught up with him but what a life he lived and the adage ‘It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years’ should probably be applied in his case. He lived large parts of his life to excess and lived the rock n roll dream but like many others have found there is a price to be paid at the other end.
With the news after his death that Parfitt had plans to write a book with a supporting Q&A tour to promote it and also record with former Quo colleagues Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan he clearly had a lot to look forward to but sadly none of these plans will now come to fruition.
Fortunately, I’ve still got the records to remember Rick by and they’ve been getting a fair old blasting in the last few weeks. Parfitt was responsible for some of my favourite ever songs such as Rain, 45 Hundred Times, Mystery Song, Big Fat Mama among many others, but nothing will replace the sight of Parfitt in full flight live on stage. That simple pleasure now consigned to the memory banks, DVDs and you tube videos.
Richard John Parfitt, you rocked my world and life will never be quite the same again. Thanks for the music and the memories.