Pete Quaife: Trailblazer Of The Modern Bass?
In this, the second of our features on the legacy of the original Kinks’ bassist Pete Quaife, Dave Jennings speaks again to Pete’s brother Dave about his career, influences and legacy, plus he gives us a heads up on some rediscovered post-Kinks work by Pete.
Pete Quaife belongs firmly to that golden generation of British rock pioneers who grew up in Post-War Britain listening to, and being heavily influenced by, a range of sounds from across the Atlantic. This is the generation that would spawn The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who as well as The Kinks and would, for most of the 1960’s, ensure the musical agenda was, to a large extent, being set by events this side of the pond. Quite simply, their musical DNA is inextricably present in the sounds we listen to today and will remain so as long as young people express themselves with guitars, bass and drum. Many of us were weaned on the tales of rock n roll excess that have also become synonymous with this generation and the ultimately tragically early circumstances in which they left us.
Pete Quaife was just as vital as any Jagger, McCartney or Daltrey but sadly is no longer around to hear the tributes that will undoubtedly be paid to The Kinks throughout their 50th anniversary. Pete however neither sought, nor relished, the trappings of fame and was contenting himself with the quiet life in Denmark when he finally succumbed to Kidney failure at the age of 66 in 2010. A quiet man, long since retired from the forefront of the music scene, but also a man whose influence is present every time a bassist puts his own stamp on a track, instead of just being content to hold down the bottom end. If you want to know why Pete’s bass is important, take a fresh listen to his playing on the epoch-defining sound of You Really Got Me, the pounding force of All Day and All of the Night, or the incomparable descending bass intro to Waterloo Sunsat.
There are any number of great bass players from this period in British music whose ability and innovation is there to enjoy in perpetuity at the flick of a switch. However, if such acknowledged greats as John Entwistle and Paul McCartney took note of his style and, certainly in the case of Entwistle, were happy to acknowledge him as an influence, then we are talking about a musician of huge importance.
Dave Davies said more recently of Pete’s playing, “Everything we did together just jelled, like magic. His playing was very intuitive. He was adept at changing styles, and always knew what the song needed. I never questioned for one moment anything he did. He also had quite a unique bass sound. It was supportive of the band’s guitar sound, and gave my playing a very solid platform.”
Pete’s story is every bit as fantastic as any rock and roll tale; one moment playing in one of a growing number of beat combo’s in and around the capital, the next catapulted into the maelstrom that was the musical and cultural explosion of the 1960s. It’s difficult for those not inside to understand the privileged, yet lonely, bubble that instant fame at this time brought. Likewise, it’s probably hard for those of us not born at the time, or too young to understand the enormity, of just how big an impact this burgeoning youth culture was having on a country that was in so many ways, particularly outside London, not equipped or even minded to accept it.
Here, in a second interview about Pete and his life, Dave Quaife gives Louder Than War an insight into this hugely significant period in music history and what life was like for those inside.
Louder Than War: It was a very different world when Pete and many others got into music in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Can you give us an idea of what he was listening to and how he got to listen to those sounds?
Dave Quaife: Dad bought a crystal set for Pete one Christmas which Pete tuned into when in bed at nights, we shared the same room and many a time he passed the earphones over to me to listen to a ‘snippet’ – it was usually the American scene – Buddy Holly (his life time hero) mostly but also a lot of 78 rpm Blues music from the states Dad imported – at great cost too!. Duane Eddy featured a lot (except ‘Stalking) which he abhorred, the skiffle bands were about as well which Pete listened to as well.
How did it go from listening to music to being part of a group?
Pete formed a loose band with Nobby Gardner and Allan Fitzgerald, mostly for fun but Pete I remember used to lay in bed at night telling me what the band he dreamt of should play. Much later on he met Ray and things started moving then.
Dave was kind enough to let me see an excerpt from Pete’s diary that brilliantly outlines how a massive moment in music history happened during an ordinary school day. They were also used as references for Pete’s book Veritas and the following extracts outline the beginning of The Kinks.
“After the class was finished for the day Mr.Gill our music teacher called out to Ray and me as we left the classroom. I can remember exactly where we were standing. I have always wanted to place some kind of plaque there as a reminder (Louder Than War – there is now) .
“He walked over and asked if he could make a suggestion.
“‘Yeah, alright, sure,’ we both said, unsure of what was coming next. What he then said was, as far as I am concerned, the actual beginning of the Kinks.
“’You two lads have a lot of talent,’ he said, ‘and I was wondering, do you think you could form a small combo and play at the upcoming school dance?’ We both ummed and aahed and shuffled our feet, looking everywhere else but at the Mr. Gill. It was Ray that made the final decision.
“’Er, look. Umm, can we let you know?’ he asked.”
After deciding they should go for it, Pete’s diary relates how Dave Davies was next to join
“Ray looked thoughtful for a minute before saying, ‘Well, you know my brother, Dave, plays guitar. Maybe we could use him in a group.’
“This came as news to me. I had absolutely no idea that Ray had a brother. In fact it was then that I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about his family at all.
“’Brother? You’ve got a brother and he plays guitar as well? Can he play?’ I asked, slightly confused, ‘I mean, it’d be great if he can cos it’d mean that we wouldn’t have to go round looking for another guitarist.’
“’No,’ said Ray, ‘no, Dave can play pretty good. Good enough to play in a group.’
“Then came the kick in the nuts. Ray introduced me to his brother, Dave Davies.
“I had never had anything to do with Dave before; I didn’t even know who he was! Of course the Davies family likeness was all too apparent but, as I said, I had never met Dave before. However, he was ‘known’ to me – as the biggest trouble maker in the school. Surly, aggressive and suspicious of all authority, I had often seen him putting out a cigarette in full view of the teachers in their common room, walking out of school in the middle of the afternoon and generally making a total nuisance of himself!
“I remember having a sharp pang of trepidation on meeting him as I knew that this was not going to be easy.”
However, forming a school band was one thing, going on from that to achieve instant fame around the world with what is still one of the most influential records of all time is totally different.
Can you give us a sense of what it was like when ‘You Really Got Me’ was such a big hit? Did life change for Pete and in what ways?
Dave Quaife: I remember it well, the preceding records were a flop, mainly because the record company did not get them the radio plays etc – it was difficult times then the only outlet was the BBC and their ‘censorship’ was very archaic.
You Really Got Me broke this spell – from one day to the next and the Kinks were born.
It was unusual then to have a good original song writer then and Ray showed his talent could shine through, the band worked as a true team – all adding their own styles which was harmonious within the band. The following days were in a spin of excitement and all had that they had achieved their goal. It was a whirlpool of fans, interviews, invites and offers – Pete was the one who kept his cool, doing most of the interviews – the spokesman in a way as he was usually picked out as the ‘down to earth member’ by the media.
The one thing I remember was than after the dust settled down the ‘business’ end reared its head and a sort of pressure was put on. A new record was required, plenty of ‘style’ people arrived and plenty of hangers on. Pete however still kept hold of his sensibility and basically carried on as if nothing had changed in his life…except more cash in his pocket, where the others bought cars Pete invested in a scooter, a GS 160 – later a SS180 (Vespas) that he used to go to gigs on, while the rest were driven by a roadie.
Pete’s style of clothing too, we call it Mod now, and at the time he took a lot of mickey taking but being Pete it was water off a duck’s back.
Instant celebrity often isn’t the most positive experience. What was it like for you having a brother who was suddenly so famous?
Fun to start with, going to gigs, backstage, fans knocking on the door – then the being ‘apart’ and shunned from some ‘friends’ at school. It took some time to realise this, but soon got over it and carried on as usual not mentioning the fantastic times during the holidays (and bunking off times from school!) – I met so many good people in the ‘trade’ as well and soon discovered that ‘pop stars’ were a good bunch of honest to goodness people.
All the Kinks, a couple of their friends turned up to my first marriage (of the shot gun sort) – that’s what it was like, how big a star, how famous you were didn’t matter a hoot then.
For bass fanatics, Pete’s bass is a very significant instrument in rock history. He played a Rickenbacker and is widely believed to be the first in the UK to own a RM1999. He is also a hugely under-rated innovator in the use of bass guitar in rock music. Can you tell us a bit about it and the influence Pete had on others?
Plenty of stories about how Pete got the ‘short straw’ of being the bass player, but the fact is he was ‘bitten by bass’ already before. He bought a semi acoustic Hofner Bass and, much to the consternation of our neighbours, went to town discovering what the instrument could and could not do. He would rectify it and bring the usual ‘thump’ up to a more melodious sound and also bring it to the foreground of the music not only in the studio but on stage too. The change from Milk Cow Blues to Bat Man is a very good example, and his sneaking in of classic music to an almost heavy rock number. Pete he giggled a lot about that!
John Entwistle of the Who was a fan of Pete’s and good mate within the scene. Paul McCartney was also impressed by his work on record and live with The Kinks. They both became good mates of Pete’s. I remember as well the Dave Clark Five Tour back then and the bassists in the other bands trying to copy backstage the You Really Got me bass line. Just didn’t sound right then – nor now.
Since Penny and myself started the Pete Quaife foundation we have been inundated with bass players, lead and rhythm players, song writers yep a whole lot of people in the business cover bands, amateur (who should be prof) – some famous then and now saying how much Pete’s bass lines, new rifts and playing has influenced them. Our album we have released has ended up unintentionally with a very good title in the end – Pass it on…
Those who believe a certain type of audience reaction came in with punk may be surprised to learn that little is new in music. From all accounts, Kinks shows could get quite lively. Can you give us an idea of what a live Kinks show was like in the early/mid 1960’s?
Very!! From the infamous ‘fight’ on stage, Dave doing a Chuck Berry and disappearing in the orchestra pit to the police doing a riot control, pistols drawn – batons out in the Danish glass concert hall in Tivoli. Never a dull moment at all – full of energy totally, just think what the press and news media would make of it now!! Sometimes I think this was the start of Punk, not far from it either.
The ‘British Invasion’ of the US is another huge milestone in the development of rock music and is arguably a period still in need of a full re-assessment. What was it like for Pete and The Kinks on their tour of the US?
Wrong decisions were made, plenty of stories flying about as well but basically it was the Union in USA that put a stop to it all, The Rolling Stones all got a page boy haircut, the Beatles were too big and had excellent managers to stop things going wrong. The Kinks… well a ban from playing, bad management blamed but it was a combination of many things, political stuff generally. Pete, of course was very disappointed at all of this. USA was the place to be and would have made such a massive difference to The Kinks and how they are viewed today …
How big a blow was it for Pete and the band when they were banned from the US? Did he have any idea of why they were?
Pete took it in his stride as he usually did and kept a low profile when the mud was being thrown around giving everything, everyone the blame – smart move.
Internally, it’s probably fair to describe The kinks as being volatile at times. Pete seems to have been something of a mediator between the various areas where problems arose in the band? Was this something that came easily to him?
Pete’s nature since the day he was born and carried on throughout his life. It was the internal fighting, – and the bullying that finally got to Pete. He suffered a major break down from all this, and it wasn’t from not trying. I stayed with Pete during this time, such a sad time he was genuinely lost.
Village Green album, he would rush home, play the demo’s (at 78 to hear the bass lines) – re do them, make notes. He was very excited about this album indeed. It generally seems to be the album that is being recognised as a classic, even a Kinks masterpiece nowadays.
Pete was probably the first big name of the big British ‘60’s bands to leave, which must have been a huge decision. What sort of reasons were there for his departure?
As mentioned above – infighting, bullying and loss of confidence in the band. Pete said to me at the time he felt like an outcast.
Pete pursued a wide range of interests after leaving The Kinks, can you tell us a bit about them please?
Art, his main love after music he loved painting and ended up as an accomplished artist inCanada. He had a brief time with Maple Oak but never got in to it really, it was soon after his leaving the Kinks and the ’scene’ wasn’t just him then.Astronomy was also on his list alongside of his cartoons that were published in The Lighter Side of Dialysis.
Talk of plenty of re-unions for many years now, he never thought they would happen then or later – things were still volatile I suppose – and his health had been very bad the past years – he eventually ended up house bound and unable to travel.
How do you feel about a possible Kinks reunion this year and what form do you think it should take?
It has been a long time in the coming, a concert would be good for the fans, but it should include all those who have played at one time or another in the Kinks. It won’t be the same though as those energetic rough diamond days. The rawness will be missing.
Is there one particular Kinks song that stands out in your memories of Pete?
Difficult to say – some good epoch changing tracks like Wicked Annabella, I Gotta Move (nice bass runs in that) – never cared much for Days then neither did Pete then but times change. Their very first Album still sits in me and the single You Do Something For Me – an evergreen and reminder that things turn out good.
There’s a pretty special event in memory of Pete lined up at the Seven Dials Club in Covent Garden on Saturday May 31st, can you tell us a bit about that please?
Pete co-wrote and produced about ten hits in Denmark with Michael Julin, this was in the early mid 70’s. We were recently contacted by the studio owner and Michael that they had found the tapes… no question at all for us…. do it. And we have, we have put a cracking good band together who will back Michael at the Seven Dials, the music from the CD ‘Michael Julin/Pete Quaife Project Veritas’ mastered by the excellent Pete Maher of U2, and many other top liners fame.
Most of the tracks were written with Pete’s book Veritas – a rock and roll story in mind.Veritas will be launched to coincide with the CD party we are throwing. There’s a lot of fun, good music and feelings in store for everyone.
Dave, no one could accuse you of living in the past with your musical tastes and support for new bands via the PQF. Where would you place The Kinks in the history of rock music?
As pathfinders for Brit rock, the water mark of our unique rock heritage. Passing it on….
“Without Pete there would have been NO Kinks- we went to school together and shared the best times, growing up- we learnt music together as we went along , he was a great musician -you could always trust his playing, creative input, intuitive response to musical ideas-and we taught each other riffs and ideas and shared a common bond of Love, Loyalty and deep friendship-I am in a state of complete disbelief- I knew he was ill – but his cheeky intelligence and optimistic nature would make any one believe that he would Live forever- and in a way Peter Alexandra Greenlaw Quaife you will live in my heart and inner being FOREVER- God Bless you Pete- dear sweet generous – mad and Unique friend- I will never be the same-And I thank God for knowing and working with you – that you enriched and Blessed my Life with your sense of fun. wit, intelligence and passion; and optimism- A True musician- a True artist and an immensely gifted man full of life and love -who was never really given the credit he deserved for his contribution and involvement – – I Love You Pete ! The Kinks were never really the Kinks without you……”
Whatever form, if any, a Kinks reunion may take to celebrate their 50th anniversary, spare a thought for Pete Quaife, a quiet and creative man, the peacemaker of The Kinks, who played a hugely under-rated role in the story of British rock music.
For further info please visit the Pete Quaife Foundation website.
All words by Dave Jennings. Find more from him by visiting his Louder Than War author profile.