Friday, 2 July 2010
During my time writing this website I’ve come to find that there are two distinct types of bass player: the steady, reliable ones who keep the beat and keep the peace between band members and the quirky, inventive eccentrics who drive the band into new areas all the time. Pete Quaife, who died aged 66 on Wednesday, June 23rd and whose name will be forever remembered for his pioneering work with The Kinks between 1962 and 1969, was both of these and more. A school friend of Ray Davies, Pete was nicknamed ‘The Ambassador’ for his many attempts to keep the peace between Ray and younger brother Dave but his distinctive bubbling bass style, glossy falsetto harmonies and quirky sense of humour also played their part in making The Kinks one of the most distinctive bands of the 1960s. Despite only playing with the band for a little over six years, Pete’s legacy was not lost on other musicians – during an interview just before his own death Who bassist John Entwistle picked Pete out as his favourite bassist of all time, saying ‘he literally drove the Kinks along’. As we’ll see, that stands for both the musical and the personal side of the band where Pete played a major part in the often rowdy band dynamics.
Pete was born in Devon on New Year’s Eve 1943 – which must have been a night to remember for his parents – and moved to London’s Muswell Hill when he was little. Pete quickly developed an interest in music – particularly in the American R and B arriving in Britain via import in the 1950s – and met his musical soulmate, Ray Davies, at secondary school. The pair ended up co-founding The Kinks, under their original name The Ravens, in 1962. As well as their similar tastes in music both Ray and Pete were studying art at college, with Pete training to be a commercial artist – a course that stood him well for his ‘second’ career after The Kinks. Things became a little more fractious when Ray brought his brother Dave into the group; even though Dave had been playing guitar for longer than Ray and was generally agreed to be the better musician the bickering between the brothers was there from the start. Legendarily, according to Dave at least, the band realised they couldn’t become a group with three guitarists and drew lots to see who would be the bass player – Pete lost. If this story is true then it seems incredible that such a fluid and inventive bassist was born out of an accident, for Pete’s distinctive style on their early records became a big part of the band’s early sound.
The Ravens spent almost two years touring the local clubs and school halls as a three piece without a drummer before securing the services of Mick Avory – who had played with an early version of The Rolling Stones – and a manager in Tito Burns. The latter hated the name ‘The Ravens’ and encouraged the band to come up with something ‘more Kinky’ that would be short enough to stand out big and strong on posters. The band reportedly hated their eventual name – The Kinks – but started enjoying a much bigger following across London and the name seemed to stick.
After a lot of raised hopes and disappointments were offered a three-single record contract with record label Pye in the Autumn of 1963 when Merseybeat had become big business and London-based record labels were looking for groups much closer to home. Now, fans will know well the up and down trajectory The Kinks’ career enjoyed over the next 30-year period before the band finally called it a day in the mid-90s. Things were difficult right from the start though as the band were placed with producer Shel Talmy, famous for being difficult with other bands such as The Searchers and later The Who, who rarely saw eye to eye with either the band’s musical skills or Ray Davies’ insistence on being in control of the band’s sound. The band were, however, still co-operative enough to record ‘Long Tall Sally’ for their first single, simply because it formed such a major part of The Beatles’ repertoire in 1963, even though the band had never heard of it and it never really suited their style. This non-charting flop was followed by a strong Ray Davies Merseybeat pastiche ‘You Still Want Me’, a driving song held together by Pete’s fluid bass parts, which sadly didn’t chart either.
The last gasp chance at fame and the big break through was a song called ‘You Really Got Me’, a bluesy song with a truly unique style that had begun as a riff Ray wrote at the family piano during a bleak evening trying to work out what to write for the band that would sell without ‘selling out’. This #1 song has been given lots of deserved credit down the years, from Dave’s truly sublime and passionate guitar solo to forming the template that would develop into first rock and roll and then heavy metal. However, one of the strongest parts of the record is Pete’s steady bass lines, ratcheting the tension up every verse as Ray’s narrator gets more addicted to his muse and first mirroring and then contrasting with Dave’s guitar work, adding a real angst and desperation to the recording. The result from all four players (session musician Bobby Graham filled in for Mick Avory, who was not yet considered to be up to speed on the drum parts) is incredible for musicians so young (Pete was 20 when it was recorded) and comparatively inexperienced. After a lot of arguments and the decision by Pye to let Ray record the song his way The Kinks’ early ear-shattering sound was born and still sounds like one of the most exciting things ever made from the first half of 1964. Yet even after this song made #1 and The Kinks were officially the biggest band in the world after The Beatles, the group members felt let down by their management. One of Pete’s best known stories amongst Kinks fans is that the morning after hearing the single had made #1 in Britain he was stuck in a hotel room wondering what to do about the holes in his socks – and wondering why there weren’t any lavish parties or servants in to help the band now they were famous.
Several hits followed – ‘All Day and All Of The Nigh’t, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Til The End Of The Day’, arguably the world’s first Eastern-influenced song by Western musicians, the pioneering ‘See My Friends’ and the band’s second #1 ‘So Tired Of Waiting For You’, which features Pete’s ear-catching bass opening. There also came two hastily recorded albums, ‘The Kinks’ and ‘Kinda Kinks’, both recorded under intense pressure in snatched recording sessions between UK tours. By the end of 1964 the band was already exhausted, trying to come to terms with the sudden switch in their lived from unknown has beens to the coolest thing happening in pop and rock circles. As even a cursory glance at a Kinks biography will tell you, the years 1964-65 were a peculiar time for the band who had been fractious from the start and involves several incidents that have gone down into folk-lore, from drummer Mick Avory hitting Dave Davies over the head with one of his own cymbals to Ray Davies’ nervous breakdown where he rushed into his music publisher’s office with an axe. The band also pulled out of as many gigs as they played in this period, usually because of what became to known as the Kinks’ ‘self-destructiveness’, which tended to rear itself whenever the band were on the verge of success.
All three members also resented Ray Davies’ controlling tendencies, drilling them through several takes of the same songs in search of some ‘special sound’ they might never find and Dave often came to blows with his brother over his control of the songs and the vision of the group. Although bands like ‘The Rolling Stones’ and ‘The Who’ were regarded as the ‘wild men’ of 60s rock and roll, the phrase should have really belonged to The Kinks, a band so explosive on-stage and off that many of their early fans wondered what on earth would happen next. Things weren’t helped by an infamous first visit to America where a bored and disillusioned band really played up on the plane over – and were promptly banned by the musicians union from entering the United States again until the 1970s, arguably robbing the band of their chance at the big time outside the UK. Through all this Pete did his best to keep the peace between the warring brothers and although nicknamed ‘The Ambassador’ by the other band members claimed later that he preferred to think of himself as ‘the base’ as well as ‘the bass’ of the group, the stabilizing influence who allowed the band to return to normal after one of their many fights and tried not to get too caught up in the back-stabbing going on.
The band continued to grow apart during the band’s ‘Mark II’ phase, when Ray decided to develop a less raucous and more noticeably English form of songwriting. Tracks like ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset’, showcasing Pete’s distinctive backing harmonies and burbling bass playing, followed and were every bit as successful as the band’s first brush with success. It was on the album tracks, though, where the band began to show their skills off a little bit more. Starting with the third album, 1965’s ‘Kinks Kontroversy’, Ray was already getting nostalgic and rushing headlong into the present while looking back fondly at his past and several tracks on this album contain Pete’s best playing, from the rock and roll throwback of ‘Milk Cow Blues’ to the calypso of ‘I’m On An Island’ and the Shirelles-like dollop of gloom ‘The World Keep Going Round’ (which also features Pete’s most distinctive backing vocals outside of ‘Waterloo Sunset’).
1966 should have been a great year for the band: they’d successfully negotiated the band and manager difficulties of 1965 and Ray’s songwriting was riding the crest of a wave with no less than three top three hits that year (Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, Sunny Afternoon and Dead End Street). The current Kinks album ‘Face To Face’ is also highly regarded by Kinks cognoscenti, containing several very whimsical and yet very powerful tracks that could have never have been recorded by any band other than The Kinks, even if Pye had angered Ray by telling him to take out all the sound effects he had lovingly prepared to link all his songs (and they Sgt Pepper got there first...) But the band had yet another major problem when Pete broke his leg and foot in a road crash on June 3rd that year. Pete, having had enough of being stuck in a van with the bickering Davies brothers, had decided to travel in the equipment van with band roadie Jonah Jones and was injured when the van hit a truck passing in the opposite direction. The rest of the band, travelling down the M6 from a gig at Lymm, were stunned when they heard the news and promptly cancelled another set of tour dates – many of which had already been postponed twice due to band fights and Dave Davies being poorly with tonsillitis.
Pete later recalled this enforced time away from the band as a ‘lucky break’ and probably lengthened his long-term plans with the band. Pete is still sufficiently annoyed with them all, though, to formally quit The Kinks on September 11th, a full three months after the accident, and promptly moves to Copenhagen with his girlfriend Annette Bitten (who just happened to be the cousin of Dave Davies’ first wife, Lisbet), to be about as far away from the group as possible. The other Kinks, meanwhile, quickly found out what life was like without Pete being there to mediate between the band and reluctantly struggled on without him (legend has it that Dave lured Pete out of his ‘retirement’ when the band were recording either ‘Dead End Street’ or possibly the B-side ‘Big Black Smoke’ because ‘the band can’t get it together without you’). Perhaps because of this move – or because of his reluctance to leave everything British behind – Pete moved back to London and began negotiating his way back into the band he founded, officially rejoining The Kinks on November 14th that year.
With the four original members back together 1967 looked rosy for the band. The Kinks not only recorded ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and their well-regarded album ‘Something Else’ but Dave Davies surprised everybody by scoring two really big hits with ‘Tears Of A Clown’ and ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’. Things were looking up for Pete as well, who secretly married Annette that January and the band agreed to take things easier in 1967 in order to give them more time to enjoy their newfound domesticity (Dave married later that year; Ray had already married in 1965). Even in this year, however, there were frictions: Pete injured his leg again that February after climbing a French mountain following a gig in the vicinity and Pete also had an anxious moment in May when his wife suffered a traumatic childbirth, although thankfully both mother and daughter pulled through.
Things come to a head in May 1968 when Pete, trapped in the studio while Ray runs through re-run after re-run of the band’s last big hit ‘Days’, suddenly flips, grabbing the tape box out of the engineer’s hand and crosses out the title, replacing it with the word ‘Dazed’. Ray is reportedly furious that his fellow musicians aren’t taking his work ‘seriously’ (Pete often doodled between takes in this period to keep himself from boredom) and this causes a major rift between the two which festers over the next few months. While Pete, Ray and Dave have all given their own version of this event over the years – Pete claims this is just an elaborated story, although it takes place in the autobiographies of both Ray and Dave, and that pair agree on hardly anything in their books about the band - what’s clear from all three parties is how dissatisfied with the band Pete was growing. ‘Days’ is often seen as a fitting end to the original band by critics who are unaware that its actually about Ray moving from his childhood home/area in Muswell Hill and effectively ‘saying goodbye to my childhood’ and it actually causes the split more than anything. Nevertheless it proves a fitting farewell to the band’s terrific run of singles with their original line-up and as recently as this week Ray sang a moving version of the song at Glastonbury, dedicating it to Pete.
Against all the odds, the band manage to record one more album together and despite being a huge flop at the time ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ has gone down as being The Kinks’ most influential and rounded album. The band also pretty much unanimously regard it as their favourite, with Pete recalling many years later that it was the only time during ‘his’ period of the Kinks when they worked as a ‘proper’ band, offering ideas and arrangements to Ray for his material instead of being told what to play. Certainly it’s a fitting end for Quaife’s period in the band, with his playing different on almost every track, from the proto-heavy metal riff he nicked from JS Bach for ‘Wicked Annabella’ to his own favourite Kinks track ‘Animal Farm’, an epic mini symphony whose bass line runs just slightly out of step with the rest of the song, giving it a suitably disjointed, urgent feel that makes it one of the band’s classics in this period.
In another surprising twist, Pete finds that the record press have announced his quitting for him, after a reporter notices him filling up a car with petrol at a station close to his home and presumes he’s looking for another career. In actual fact, Pete is helping out his younger brother who has just purchased his first car, but as the press latch onto this story more and more it seems the way is paved for him to quit the band for good. However, Pete technically stays as a member of the band throughout the quiet last half of 1968 (the band’s inactivity is cited as one of the reasons he quit in a late 60s interview) and takes part in rehearsals for Ray’s next magnum opus ‘Arthur’ in 1969. One of his last sessions for the band was for ‘The Ballad Of The Virgin Soldiers’, a theme tune for a Ned Sherrin film Ray was commissioned to write in 1969. Despite sounding completely unlike The Kinks, Pete was hired by Ray to take part and nervously took his place amongst the enormous John Schroeder Orchestra hired for the occasion. One of the Kinks’ favourite ‘band’ stories came when one of the veteran musicians kindly came over to Pete and told him he was holding his sheet music upside down and offered to put it back for him!
Nevertheless, Pete officially leaves the band in March 1969 after promotional activities for the band’s latest single ‘Plastic Man’, a song which Pete actively hates and has reportedly been replaced on by John Dalton once again. The song is a comparative flop, even given the lesser sales Kinks singles have been getting throughout the decade, and as early as the following month Pete is recording with a new band, Maple Oak. Pete comments to the press that he ‘felt like a second rate hired musician, having nothing new to say about my musical abilities, my career or my life’. Ray Davies, however, can’t quite believe his friend has left for good this time and is still denying reports of a split to the NME a full month after Quaife has been seen gigging with the band, trying several times over the next few months to get Pete to re-consider and finish the ‘Arthur’ project. He does concede defeat later in the year, however, and calls his friend a skilled but ‘true amateur’ who entered the music business out of friendship rather than a search for fame.
Maple Oak sadly never took off despite their promise, releasing just one hard-to-find single – Son Of A Gun – in 1970 and the London-born veteran Quaife soon found himself out of sorts playing with the Canadian newcomers who were going through all the same mistakes and traps the Kinks had navigated their way through earlier in the decade. After a year Pete left the band (he doesn’t appear on the band’s eponymous album of 1971) and moved back to Denmark with his wife Annette, switching careers to become a graphic artist – just as he’d always intended to do in the early 60s before rock and roll got in the way (you can see some of Pete’s drawings in the excellent Kinks discography ‘You Really Got Me’ by Doug Hinman, where his caricatures of the band and jokes about the music business are as spot-on as his bass playing). Pete then ended up marrying second wife Hanne in the late 70s and moving to Canada in 1981.
Pete only turned to playing in public three times more, once at an ill-fated Kinks reunion in 1981 when Quaife was only persuaded to make the stage after a heavy drinking bout the night before, once as part of the band’s 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and finally as part of Kinks tribute act The Kast-Off Kinks in Sweden in 2004. However, he still played bass with his local church group in Canada until he moved back to Denmark three years before his death. According to press reports, Pete became poorly with renal failure as long ago as 1998 but this news only came to the attention of Kinks fans when the bassist published a book of cartoons about life on kidney dialysis machines, ‘The Lighter Side Of Dialysis’, in 2004. Pete was also working on a book called ‘Veritas’ during the last years of his life, a fictional account of his early life in Muswell Hill and the complicated path to fame of a local rock band which came close to being published by Penguin Books at one point, although he did get to see an exhibition of his artwork ‘Imageworks’ in Philadelphia before he died. Alas we never did get to see the much talked about, much delayed four-way Kinks reunion, which was being discussed as long ago as 1996 when the band allegedly booked studio time to record some songs together. In the blog at his official website Dave Davies spoke for many fans when he claimed ‘in my naivety I always thought that we would work together again’.
Both Davies brothers have paid their respects in different ways. Ray, booked to play Glastonbury just a week after his friend’s death, dedicated many of the songs to his old partner including a surprising version of ‘You Really Got Me’ sung with a choir, a strident ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and a moving finale of ‘Days’, the song that all but broke the band up, when Ray could barely keep the tears from his eyes during the moving chorus: ‘I bless the light that shines on you, believe me, and though you’re gone you’re with me every single day, believe me’. Dave Davies’ post on his official website reads: ‘Pete was a great musician – you could always trust his playing, creative input, intuitive response to musical ideas and we taught each other ideas and riffs and shared a common bond of love, loyalty and deep friendship. I am in complete state of disbelief – I knew Pete was ill but his cheeky intelligence and optimistic nature would make anyone believe that he would live forever – and in a way Peter Alexander Greenlaw Quaife you will be in my heart FOREVER. God bless you Pete, my dear sweet generous mad and unique friend...The Kinks were never really The Kinks without you’. Many fans will, I am sure, concur with that.
♫ There are many classic Pete Quaife bass lines spread across the six albums the bassist made with the band during his seven years with the band. What follows is a selection of our favourites:
5) Dead End Street (A-side 1966, now a bonus track on the ‘Face To Face’ album): One of the most melancholy of all Kinks tracks, this Ray Davies song about grinding poverty and lost causes is firmly rooted in the bass and brass heavy sound The Kinks give him. Pete’s chugging bass line wonders up and down the scales without ever finding a solution and adds much to this bleak song, before firing into an angry burst of melody on the uplifting chorus.
4) Milk Cow Blues (‘The Kinks Kontroversy’, 1965): This cover of a sleepy John Estes song is well regarded as The Kinks’ last real burst of unbridled noise, as Ray and Dave trade guitar lines and vocals about how their woman’s doing them wrong. What’s less well known – more noticed, under all that wonderful noise – is how much Pete’s bass playing is spurring the brothers on. It’s Pete who signals when the track is moving from its fast and frenetic to its slow and tightly taut bluesy sections and his switch from chugging the same lines over and over to letting fly near the end is a key part of this recording’s brilliance. Listen for the way Pete calmly switches back to the same old riff again at the end, rooting the song and suggesting its cyclical nature of the singers’ love-hate relationship even while they are attacking each other via vocal and guitar parts.
3)I’m Not Like Everybody Else (B-side 1966, now a bonus track on the ‘Face To face’ album): Ray’s quietly angry song which sticks up for outsiders everywhere is surprisingly menacing for The Kinks and is given to brother Dave to sing. Another song based on a cat-and-mouse approach, which swaps between joyous abandon and anger, Pete’s bass again plays a key part. This time it’s Dave’s stinging electric guitar that hols down the slow-motion attack while Pete’s bass line is all over the place – swapping melody lines and tempos in its desperate attempt to flee the claustrophobic sound. You can hear Pete joining in with the backing vocals too, adding his distinctive sound to the Davies brothers mix.
2) Wicked Annabella (‘The Village Green Preservation Society’, 1968): A track from Pete’s favourite – and last – album with The Kinks, this song is built on a curious bass riff that has been the envy of many Kinks fans over the years, working as it does in counterpoint to the more straightforward guitar and drum passages. Pete revealed years afterwards that it was based on a chord progression by Bach and was his idea for shaping the song after the band thought it needed something extra special. Forget ‘You Really Got Me’, this song is the real start of heavy metal, with Pete Dave and Mick cooking up quite a storm between them on this song about a witch who prowls around the village green at night.
1) Waterloo Sunset (‘Something Else’, 1967): Everybody knows this song as a Ray Davies classic with a sublime Dave Davies guitar part – but would it really be as special without Pete’s contribution? The opening flurry of cascading riffs owes as much to Pete’s part as it does to Dave’s, stepping down the chord changes one at a time until reaching some sort of resolution in the laidback verses. Listen out too for the end when Pete starts travelling up the scale, completely unexpectedly, as if to sum up the heavenly aspects of the Waterloo Bridge. The other Quaife special in this song is the backing harmonies – never again would Pete’s part be so prominent and that’s a shame, because his distinctive oohs (high, but not quite as high as Dave) are a key part of this song’s success. The Waterloo Sunset really wouldn’t have looked quite so beautiful without him there.
And that, sadly, is that. Join us next issue for another look at the world of Alan’s Album Archives when we’ll be going back to our usual mix of music in all shapes and forms. See you there!