(Posted May 24, 2000)
I-94: When and
how did you start playing guitar? Are you self-taught?
RQ: I got my first guitar in 1958an Orpheum F-Hole. Id always loved the sound of the guitar, long before rock & roll emerged. My immediate motive was chord stuff, like the riffs on Everly Brothers songs like "Bye, Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie." But the few guitar teachers I triedthey basically knew nothing about rock & roll, and they certainly despised it. So that was a dead-end street, and I just gave up the guitar for a year. Back then very few people played the guitar, but in the fall of 1958 "Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio came out, and suddenly a lot of people I knew owned a guitar. They showed me usable chords and progressionsE, A, B7; C, Am, F, Gwhich was about all you needed back thenat least for rock & roll. Then I began to be able to play along with my favourite records, and that was it. Since then, thats the only way Ive learned. I've never liked sitting down with the guitar by myself. It always has to be playing with records: sometimes trying to steal licks, sometimes just jamming with the recordings. The three Ritchie Valens albums kept me going for about three years. By then I was ready to pick up whateverLink Wray, the Ventures, etc. And thats the way its been ever since. I cant read music aside from chord charts.
I-94: Who were your formative guitar inspirations/influences?
RQ: My influences were all the great players from the late 50s and the late 60s. There are too many to list, but Ill narrow it down to 10:
(1) Chuck Berry No explanation necessary!
(2) Ritchie ValensA total genius. Rene Hall did a lot of the solos on his records, and his stuff is great. But Ritchies solos influenced me more. Some highlights are "Fast Freight," "Big Baby Blues," "From Beyond," and "Boney Maronie." And despite what you may have read, Ritchie definitely did the solo on "La Bamba."
(3) Link Wray "Rumble" was a revolutionary record in every way. The stuff he recorded for Epic (195962) is classic. The CD "Walkin With Link" covers this period.
(4) Mickey Baker Best known for Mickey & Sylvia, but everything he did from 52 to 62 (when he moved to Paris) is classic. Hes one of those players with a "touch"one note and you know who it is.
(5) James Burton Certainly hes well known enough, but hes been pigeonholed more than he deserves. Yeah, he does the chicken-pickin thing, etc. But theres so much more. Thats him on the original version of "Suzie-Q," at the ripe old age of 15. "Genius" is a much overused word, but it certainly is warranted in his case. The Ricky Nelson stuff (58to 68) alone is worthy of endless study. A not too well-known classic of this period is "Stop Sneakin Around" (62). His tone, authority, harmonic conception on this track alone makes him immortal. Another classic is "Im Feelin Sorry" (58). His understatement and maturity on this track is astounding. Ive taken what I could from him, but its "difficult," to say the least, to really nail his stuff; you have to take into account his unique picking style (flat pick plus two finger picks) and his insanely light string gauges. And thats just the beginning.
(6) Roy Buchanan He was a very big influence, long before I ever knew his name. His first recording was "My Babe" by Dale Hawkins in 1958, which was the year I bought it. But it took me 14 years to figure out it was Buchanan on it! A really big influence on me was an instrumental: "Potato Peeler" by Bobby Gregg and His Friends (62). I bought it when it came out but had no idea who the guitar player was until the early 70s. By 62 he was in his early 20s, and his style was completely developed.
(7) Jimmy Reed Not too much to say here: you either dig him or you dont. Certainly, he could never be accused of "virtuosity." But his approach is subtle in some way, and his "attitude" is beyond reproach.
(8) Albert King Again, there it is: you can take it or leave itIll take it. "King of the Blues Guitar" (Atlantic) and"Years Gone By" (Stax) are his ultimate statements.
(9) Jeff Beck His Yardbirds stuff and his first two solo albums ("Truth" and "Beck-ola") are my favourite things of his. The virtuosity is there, but theres a healthy dose of dementia happening. The album cover of "Having A Rave Up" was the reason I got a Telecaster in 1968.
(10) Harvey Mandel Hes not a total obscurity, but hes tragically underrated. Hes alive and well, playing better than ever, but I doubt that hes a millionaire. In the late 60s I knew that I had to advance my playingparticularly in the areas of string-bending and left-hand vibratoand to that end I focused a lot on Albert King and Harvey Mandel. One particular aspect of Mandels approach that fascinated me was his concept of sustain. He has always been somewhat secretive about what "gadgets" he used. But I would guess he was having his amps customised with a built-in compressor as early as 68. A good example of this sound is "The Snake" from around 72 (Janus)total sustain, but clean sustain.
Ill stop with these 10, but there are hundreds more, from Hendrix to the totally obscure Kenny Paulsen ("Tallahassee Lassie").
I-94: When you saw the Velvet Underground in the late 60s, what was your impression of them? Did they influence or affect your musical approach in any way?
RQ: By the time I saw the Velvet Underground in 1969, I was already totally influenced by their albums. But seeing them live was inspiring. I had moved to San Francisco that year, and in November they played there several weeks. Fame-wise, they were hardly on a Stones/Beatles level. Thats unfortunate, but it made it not so difficult to meet them, hang around with them, etc. They were relatively happy, getting along well. And Lou Reed was going through an especially creative period. He was writing a lot of new songs, including "Sweet Jane," "New Age," and "Ride Into the Sun." Each night hed improvise new lyrics, on the spot! And best of all, I got to spend a lot of time talking about music (influences, new directions, etc.) with Lou Reed. I went to all the performances and taped them on my cassette recorder. Between sets, Id hang around with them in the dressing room, sometimes playing them cassettes of stuff theyd done that night. It was a real privilegesomething Ill never forget.
I-94: Howd you wind up in NYC in the early 70s?
RQ: I went to law school in Missouri, and passed the Bar exam there in 69. Then I moved to San Franciscoa real mistake. I failed the California Bar exam several times. San Francisco was a beautiful city, but I just didnt fit in there in any way. So after about two years I decided to move to New York. The way I looked at it was, "maybe I wont fit in in New York, but it cant be worse than San Francisco."
I-94: As someone who was a participant in the NY "scene," what did you think of "Please Kill Me"?
RQ: Once you accept the fact that its not really concerned with the music, "Please Kill Me" is an excellent book, an excellent history of the "scene." Obviously, I was aware of the "sleaze" factor at the time, but I was still shocked when I read the book.
I-94: Was Peter Laughner in your orbit of acquaintances in those days?
RQ: I met Peter Laughner a few times in 1976, but he was quite hostile to me, so I didnt pursue it. I was disappointed because I was from Akron, and when I used to visit my parents in the early 70s I would see a lot of his writing in local music papers, and we shared a lot of the same opinions. But people that knew him told me not to take his hostility too personally. I guess he desperately wanted to be a part of the New York music scene and wouldnt have minded being a Voidoid. Too bad. He obviously was very intelligent and talented and could have contributed a lot more if hed been given a little more time.
You were familiar with Richard Hells Television/Heartbreakers work when
he first approached you about making a band. What did you expect, going into
a band with Richard?
RQ: I really liked Television and the Heartbreakers and Hells influence on them. But when he approached me about forming a band, I had no idea about what musical direction he had in mind. My only clue was that he thought I would fit into what he was planning to do. I know he really admired Verlaines and Thunders playing and that my playing covered a lot of the same ground, from Chuck Berry to Albert Ayler.
I-94: You had a friendship with Lester Bangs after he moved to NYC. Can you talk a bit about him?
RQ: Yeah, Lester was a good friendI miss him a lot. We shared a lot of the same influences, but we didnt sit around listening to White Light/White Heat or Raw Power. Those were things we had absorbed on our own long ago. So we would try to turn each other onto various "nuggets." He turned me onto a lot of great things, from Skip Spences Oar to Dont Touch My Guitar by The Archies. I turned him onto a lot of good stuff toothe Otis Rush Cobra records come to mind. Sometimes he would come out with deliberately perverse statements such as "Hendrix wasnt any good," and I would shut him up with the two takes of "Red House" from the Are You Experienced? album. Another time, he suggested that Albert King was "useless," so I turned him onto "Cockroach," a track from Years Gone By.
Some of the stuff Lester was enthusiastic about, I just couldnt appreciate. The Clash is a good example. I highly respected his opinions, to say the least, so I ended up buying the first three Clash albums, twice, but I just couldnt get it. We both liked Mingus, so he spent a lot of time subjecting me to The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, but I never "got" that one either.
Anyway, Lester was a beautiful, highly flawed, brilliant person. He embraced lifetheres just no other way to say it. Theres a biography that just came out about him called Let It Blurt! by Jim DeRogatis that I think does him justice. There were many ways the subject could have been approacheda respectful, scholarly tome that would have ignored Lesters personality and problems; or a squalid, lurid exposé in which his achievements would have been barely included. But Jims biography balances everything pretty well. For people who never really got to know him personally, it does the job. I hope it will lead to a few more volumes of Lesters writings. His fans all have their favourite stuff that didnt appear in "Carburettor Dung". For meId like to see the classic Lou Reed interview that appeared in Creem in 1973. Another favourite of mine, also from 73, was his review of "Raw Power" (for Hi-Fi Stereo Review, I think). Its very disciplined. Hes basically saying, "Youre gonna hate this record, but "
I do have one problem with this biography, however: It leaves open the possibility that Lester might have committed suicide. No way!!! I was a pretty good friend of his and spent about four hours talking with him the day before he died. Yeah, he was depressedhe had the flu. But he told me that he wanted to go to Mexico that summer to write a novel. Basically, Lester died because he just goofed. He made a mistake, thats itbad luck.
I-94: Lester wrote about the influence of 70s electric Miles Davis on your playing. What elements/aspects of that music caught your ear?
RQ: My favourite electric Miles albums include "On the Corner", "Get Up With It", "Agharta", and "Pangaea". These albums still havent gotten the respect they deserve. Jazz purists hate them for the uncompromising brutality in the way they rock. Theyre listening for solos, and often theyre just getting textures. On the other hand, hard-core rock & rollers are turned off by the jazz elements. Personally, I think these records have a lot in common with the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, and I think Lester heard that too. The song "Rated X" from "Get Up With It" is a classic example of these qualities.
I-94: The interplay between you and Ivan Julian seemed at times to suggest an awareness of Captain Beefhearts Magic Band. Was that intentional?
RQ: No, there was no Captain Beefheart influence at all. When we read the comparisons in the late 70s, we were all totally puzzled.
I-94: How do you think the Voidoids fit in with what was happening musically in NYC? What were you trying to accomplish musically?
RQ: I dont think the Voidoids fit in at all in that musical scene. We just happened to be there. We were uniquefor better or worse.
I-94: Ive read that you were pretty much the bandleader in those days. What was the interpersonal dynamic like between the guys in the original four-piece?
RQ: Ive sometimes gotten more credit than I deserved. Each guys influence would vary drastically from song to song. But we did listen to each other, and argued a lot, at least the first year and a half. All of it was built around Hells vision, and that contributed a lot to the songs jerky rhythms, which some people compared to Beefheart. Hell was very driven and ambitious during the early period, knew exactly what he wanted. But there were times when he couldnt communicate to us what he was hearing in his head, and that could lead to frustration for everybody in the band. Fortunately, we were able to turn out that one great albumit holds up.
I-94: What was Hell like to work with?
RQ: I pretty much covered that in the last question. As I said, there was musical squabbling, but it paid off in an album we were all proud of. In the beginning, the two of us were both frustrated with each other. I couldnt get exactly what he wanted from me. Ultimately, what he wanted from me was me, not Tom Verlaine or Johnny Thunders.
I-94: What other NYC bands did you like/respect?
RQ: There were a lot of really great and really horrible groups. My favourite from that scene was Suicidetheir first album.
I-94: How did you guys wind up touring the UK with the Clash? How did your expectations compare with what you experienced there?
RQ: I think Sire set up that tour. Ive talked about that experience in a lot of other interviews. Suffice it to say it was completely horrible and left the band quite demoralised, to say the least!
I-94: You once commented that the Voidoids "could have gone on indefinitely," in spite of Richard Hells lack of interest. Was that comment based on creative or fiscal considerations, or a combination?
RQ: When I said we could have gone on "indefinitely," I was totally referring to fiscal considerations. We had some agency sending us around to do gigs, and it paid fairly well. By then it was obvious that no record company would touch usthat didnt help our attitude. Basically, all of us had pretty much lost interest at that point.
I-94: Howd you come to work with Jody Harris from the Raybeats? Whats he doing now?
RQ: I met Jody in early 75, when we both worked at the Strand bookstore. We spent a lot of time listening to records and playing guitar. He has an amazing ear for musica great guitar player, very underrated. Hes been working for a legal firm for about ten years. He still plays a lot but got sick of trying to make a decent living in the "industry." He plays occasionally with The Band of George, basically the same group he played with in 76: The Screws. Sometimes they play at a place called Nomoore (on North Moore in Tribeca). They just play for the fun of ita rare thing nowadays.
ON TO PART TWO