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“One day I will meet my fate, complete my destiny/No pearly gates, no angel mates waiting there for me/Don’t ask me the reason why I take it to the wire/Just live it fast/This life’s a blast, sometimes you got to play with fire.” Despite what he felt in that song 'This is Me', which is taken from 2005's ‘The Party Ain’t Over Yet’ album, when Status Quo’s rhythm guitarist Rick Parfitt left this world on Christmas Eve, 2016, it’s certain that there were a number of mates waiting to greet him, because for them the arrival of Parfitt meant the party was only just going to start.
Out of all the unexpected celebrity deaths that helped make 2016 one of the darkest years that many of us have ever lived through, Parfitt’s passing should really have come as no great surprise. The guitarist had survived a number of heart attacks, including a quadruple heart bypass in 1997; the last attack just a few months prior to his passing resulting in his withdrawing from the band that he fronted with Francis Rossi for some five decades (Was there ever a more amusing and natural double act than Parfitt and Rossi?), but, when the news filtered through on Christmas Eve that it was a serve infection from complications to a previous shoulder injury that finally took his life, it still came as a shock.
Parfitt embraced the rock and roll lifestyle for so many years (and maybe took it to the limit just a little too often) and it had taken its toll on his body so many times - but still, we thought he was invincible. Apart from being an underrated guitarist, and his band being the butt of so many jokes through the years, Parfitt (together with Rossi) proved all the doubters wrong. The band was still filling out arenas at the time of his death. And there was yet another renewed lease of life for the band when they ditched the electric guitars, which were part of their trademark, and reinvented some of their songs in an acoustic setting.
I was never part of the Quo Army but loved those early Quo 45s. Even their early Pye albums struck a chord with this then young teen. ‘Matchstick Men’, ‘Ice in the Sun’, even Parfitt’s Bee Gee-inspired lead vocal on the ballad ‘Are You Growing Tired Of My Love?’- loved them all. Of course, this had nothing to do with the fact that while strutting home from Woking town one Saturday afternoon in my lime green, crushed velvet loon pants (no, not embarrassed at all), a Jag pulled up and Parfitt enquired where I had bought them. A minute’s conversation maybe, but a fan for life.
But honestly, like the early Bee Gees, Quo’s early forays into psychedelia have never been given the credit they deserve. But that short conversation has stayed with me all these years because that was part of the appeal of Status Quo. Parfitt was a true rock star; he wasn’t just playing at being one, he was one of those people who, when he entered the room, all heads turned. He had that star quality about him, but the Parfitt I met a few times through the years always had the time for a quick chat and was never less than friendly.
Also, although attending a Quo gig might not ever have been considered hip, I’ve never seen Parfitt (or the rest of the band for that matter) ever give less than their all on stage, be it playing in front of thousands at a stadium in London after driving Parfitt’s lovely mother Lily there, who was bopping away to the music with as much energy as those around us who were a third of her age, or in front of a few hundred in a small Swedish town with Chuck Berry as support.
Or even playing what was a local football club, also in a tiny Swedish village, the band weren’t just going through the motions. They were ensuring that the crowd enjoyed every second of their performance. The second he walked on that stage, any stage, Parfitt came alive and the energy he released was so infectious it was impossible not to feel part of the event. Quo were the approachable rock stars and they gave their not inconsiderable army of fans the feeling that they too could make it. For all his star quality, part of Parfitt’s charm was that his fans still felt they could go for a pint with him down the pub.
Much has been made about Parfitt’s rock’n’ roll lifestyle in the obituaries but strangely few have mentioned that he was, along with Rossi, awarded an OBE in 2010 or that he had to deal with the drowning of his two year-old daughter in his own swimming pool in 1980; who could blame him for maybe taking things “to the wire” after that?
Although it seemed that his touring days with Quo were over after his last heart attack, there was talk of a solo album and it appeared that he’d finally slowed down a little at least and was finally at the place he wanted and needed to be. Having heard a little of his unreleased mid-eighties album ‘Recorded Delivery’ way back then and my faded memory (sorry Francis) recalling that it wasn’t half-bad, it would have been interesting to hear what he had come up with. Unfortunately the party ended for Parfitt before we had the chance to hear any new solo work from him.
Rick Parfitt made a major contribution to what has become a British institution. He made a lot of people happy along the way and even though he had his own struggles, it appears that he always had time for the people who put him where he was. My own personal memory of him is on being asked if he wanted a cup of tea by his first wife, Marietta. He replied, “Yeah, as long as it’s not that Earl Grey stuff.”
He might have been a big rock star but he never forgot what a good cup of tea should taste like. You’ll be missed Rick Parfitt.
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Malcolm Carter pays tribute to Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt, who died on Christmas Eve at the age of 68
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