To almost every American about to read this story, I'll 'splain you all about the Mighty Quo.
Apologies at the top to all possible Huffington Post UK readers for the obvious expositional section of this piece. It's for my in-the-dark Yank brethren's sake.
But, first, let me introduce you to Jacob Elijah. Jake and I are dear friends, 49 years and counting.
Jake was/is, like me, a music-scholar, sorta-stoner brat growing up in Brooklyn.
We met in September of 1965, our first day as 7th graders in JHS 294, Simon F. Rothschild Junior High, smack in the middle of then near-ghetto, Clinton Hill.
We were two of approximately 80 white kids in a school of about 900 black kids, and maybe another 200 Hispanic boys and girls between the nasty-ass ages of 12 to 16 (lots of do-overs in Rothschild).
Those were, without a doubt, my favorite school years, even as I got popped in the eye and shook down for quarters and my bus pass, even as I had gloves and watches taken off my hands and wrists, never to be seen again... I learned how to be a New Yorker and I discovered a visceral, organic kinship.
I got through those three years known throughout the entire school as "Beatle," pronounced Beedoo. I had by far the longest hair of any male child there and I'd brought a guitar to school once or twice. That helped me a lot navigating the day. I was at least an interesting white kid. Jake, far more normal looking at the time, by necessity, became much tougher than me. He was, by the time we graduated to junior high school, fearless, within reason.
What happened at the Sunday matinee The Who performed at the Village Theater in late November, 1967, illustrates Jake's delicious luck and savvy...
He and I had, of course, rushed the stage as the lights went down for The Who. We were immediately separated for the rest of the show -- me about 20 feet from the stage halfway between Moon's kit and Ox's amps, Jake, way the hell over by the PA on Pete's side of the stage.
I had come out of that show extremely proud of myself. I'd snagged a PAIR of Keith Moon sticks, and one of them was really battered. Feeling quite the lad, I went looking for Jake to show off my glorious booty.
I found him outside huddled in a door way between the theater and Ratner's. He seemed to have something large under his pea jacket. His eyes were darting left and right in a crazed way.
"What the fuck is up, Jake?!"
He quickly opened his coat and flashed me the entire body of Pete Townshend's Gibson 335. Literally, the exact guitar in the uber-famous, uber-fabulous Baron Wolman shot of Pete striking The Birdman pose looked utterly bored and exhausted.
Pete had given it a real good whack, and the body just flew off the stage into Jake's arms with virtually no effort on his part.
Now, here's my slick Jakey.
He gets it under his coat in one second flat, and immediately started yelling, "Who got it?! Who got it?!" as he bolted for the fire exit.
Okay, that's Jacob.
To the tale in the headline...
So, a friend of my band, The Planets, then-rock journalist, now-songwriter/producer/guitarist, Jon Tiven, had come up in the world of rock journalism in '72 to '73 with lightning speed. He was constantly feted by every record label. On the Saturday this story took place, someone at whatever label was hoping to get Jon to write up ELO for one of the three or four major rock magazines he was regularly contributing to.
ELO were headlining at the Academy of Music on East 14th Street that night, the same venue where I saw The Rolling Stones with Brian Jones in November 1965, and that later became the world famous Palladium disco.
Jon had an open invite to bring as many people at he wanted to some PR wing-ding in the ballroom of a midtown hotel being thrown for ELO. Jon had invited me and Jake. What the hell... Jake and loved The Move, but, their offspring, ELO, was marginal for us. We went for shits and giggles. And the giggles were way operative. Considering how long ago it was, I have no idea where Jake and I had scored this reefer we'd been smoking all day, but it was delightfully lethal. Better than the "strong stuff" of the 21st century. Jake being Jake was walking around with a half ounce...
The fact was, we already had tickets for the ELO show later that evening.
Status Quo was the opening act.
This was, for us, not a just a gig we were looking forward to, this was a pilgrimage.
The Mighty Quo as they were/are known in the motherland, Jolly Old, were virtually an unknown band in the U.S.A. and had never played New York before. But, Anglophile snobs that we were, Jake and I had long been hooked.
For the many those who are unfamiliar, Status Quo was/is a British band whose evolution was precisely backwards to almost every other group in history... They started out a twee psychedelic pop band drenching their songs with crude "experimental" sonics and wound up the premier stripped down blues-rock boogie band on planet Earth... Except in the States, naturally.
For want off a better shorthand description, imagine ZZ Top (yay!) meets Credence Clearwater Revival (gonna vom!) fronted by two, thin-tenor very "English Ballad" singers, with a cookin' motherfucker of a rhythm section along the lines of a semi-brutal Wyman/Watts, really great roughhewn Telecaster solos, an absolutely punishing rhythm guitar, witty lyrics, great hooks...
Put it this way, as an instant snapshot, Status Quo's version of "Roadhouse Blues" destroys The Doors version -- Dee (fuckin') Stroys It! Oh, and they also covered the Stone County Classic, "Wild Side Of Life," -- I mean, come on, cool above and beyond the call of boogie.
I have tried to come up with an analogous American band and can't.
In the United Kingdom and most of Europe, Status Quo are easily on par with the Rolling Stones, able to fill frickin' soccer stadiums every few years. Quo are, and have been for decades now, an institution, not a mere band.
They are/were also an intensely polarizing band. Man, you either loved Status Quo or you could not stand them. Amusingly, their fans bore the brunt of the criticism. For most snobs in the UK, being into Status Quo meant you were akin to a cave boy. They gave a shit. If you got it, you got it! Jake and I got it!
We Americans did hear the one-hit-wonder song of their earliest incarnation, "Pictures of Matchstick Men," back in 1967. That song can still be heard on Oldies Radio, now and then. I heard it less than a year ago. At the time, the band looked every inch the typical Brit grooooovy rock group... perfectly sculpted hair a la Daltrey, ornate and foppish clothes... I recall reading the lead guitarist and main singer, Francis Rossi, saying that when they first got signed to a label, they thought it would cure their pimples. Ummm, no. One hit single, and a quick slide back towards obscurity.
Sick of dressing up for audiences no longer showing up, they started walking on stage in their street jeans and t-shirts. They dumped most of their repertoire and started playing (bashing!) and writing songs in their beloved (and totally unfashionable, at the time) stripped-sparse blues-rock to no one but the bartenders all over the UK.
Except... word got around.
As they relentlessly toured, totally ignored by the notoriously harsh British music press, a genuine underground cult developed around them. They were packing every venue without a record deal.
The sorta-boutique Pye label finally got hip to what was going on and signed Status Quo. They released an overt ode to getting stoned on hashish (keep this in mind) called "In My Chair", a track as stripped down and raw as "All Right Now" by Free. A mid-tempo chugging thumper, perfectly capturing a stoned groove with the purest possible raw guitar tones, "In My Chair" wound up Number One in the UK for at least 6 weeks, just dominating the last three months of 1970. Just unrepentant elemental sledge hammer "Boogie!"
With one song, Quo went from forgotten flops to more or less the biggest band in the United Kingdom.
Over the next decade or so, Status Quo had at least another 20 top ten singles, more than half of 'em top five, at least five number ones. Some were almost-silly, boogie nursery rhymes. But, some were just fucking groove monsters with hooks and heads of steam that could knock down walls. And, it is most important to note, the Quo also had hot hot album cuts that showed off serious sophistication in writing and arranging, almost better than their sterling hit singles.
Okay, back to me 'n Jake...
We had shit seats for the Quo's New York debut that night, the band had been something of a last-minute addition to the bill. Lots of seats were already gone. But, we were going.
At the moment, though, we are standing in this ballroom surrounded by posers and canapé-scarfers, happily higher than anyone in the room, taking in the sights. As I recall, it was called "goofing" back then.
Suddenly, in the middle of goofing -- Boi-oi-oing!
"Hhhhhey, Jake... I just realized something. I bet this is the hotel ELO is staying in, right? Maybe this is where Status Quo are staying, too!"
"Oh shit, Bink! I bet you're right!"
"Jake, let's get them smashed!"
"Oh, man, gotta find a house phone. You call. Ask for Francis Rossi."
We now had a plan.
We left the ballroom and walked to the elevator bank, found the phone, dialed 0.
"Yes, hello, Francis Rossi, please..."
"One moment, sir."
"Hey, man, is this you, Francis?"
"That it is, mate."
"Well, me and my pal Jake just left this stupid ELO party and we're really big Quo fans. Gonna see you tonight. We were hoping to stop by to say hello for a few minutes."
"Well, that's lovely, room 1213..."
"Uhhh, great! Cool... [thumbs up to Jake] See you in a minute."
Up to 12 we went. 1213 was directly opposite the elevator bank. I knocked.
The door flew open so hard it banged against the wall.
Francis Rossi, lead guitarist/singer of Status Quo, actually wearing his trademark white t-shirt, dark vest and Levi's, in stocking feet, beckoned me and Jake in with cartoonishly overdone Cockney. To our shock and delight, draped across the far bed was the band's blondie, Rick Parfitt, Quo's rhythm guitarist/singer in his trademark faded denim shirt and jeans. We did not expect both our fave Quos
"'Ello, fellers! Pull up a bed. So, you're the Yanks who know who we are, eh?" said Rick.
"'Ave a seat, 'ave a seat, lads..." the pacing (actually, just way he does on stage) Francis pointed to his bed.
"We think you guys are one of the top ten greatest bands in rock history," blurted excitable boy me.
"Oh, Richie, did you hear that? I believe these boys are poofters."
"Fran, look at their feet. Granny patchworks, bofuhdum! You're dead on, mate."
Lots of laughter. They really did have Michael Caine's accent.
Speaking of shoes, tossed in the corner of the room were Rick's and Francis' Granny-Takes-a- Trip-style white platform shoes -- almost de rigueur in 1973.
I told them I was in a band, that I loved that they both played Telecasters, that that Fender was, in my opinion, the hardest guitar to control... that I owned one, too... blah, blah, blah. My bona fides established, gear talk commenced. Jake wound up momentarily excluded while three guitarists compared notes and talked shop.
"Uhh, excuse me, guys..."
Jake had pulled out his half-ounce laden baggie.
"You guys wanna partake? I mean, 'In My Chair' is about reefer, right? Hell, me and Binky are already there."
We were instantaneously in the middle of a Benny Hill skit.
Francis started yodeling, doing a spastic Irish jig. Rick jumped up and started singing mock-opera, just bellowing, while absurdly stiff-marching in a circle like a Buckingham Palace guard (shades of Ministry of Silly Walks even).
"D'ya 'ear that, Richie? He wants to know if we want to 'partake'..."
More ridiculous opera from Rick.
We must've been the first to offer since they'd been in the States.
Now they were both playing drumbeats on the walls, turning the TV on and off, opening and closing the drawers... just high hilarity. These two were incredibly silly boys.
Suddenly, Francis became a ramrod-backed butler, looking straight ahead.
"Jacob, sir, would it be an imposition t' invite the rivvum section up for a wee bit o' that herb?"
"Hell, no! Get 'em here!"
Francis got on the phone and used some code word I don't recall to explain what was going on in his room. Within three minutes, drummer John Coghlin and bassist Alan Lancaster were in the guitar boys' room, soon to be joined by road manager, fellow Quo songwriter, and harp player, Bob Young.
I think it should be pointed out at this point in time (yes, I'm doing Dale Jarrett) that this all happened one afternoon in the springtime of 1973.
41 years ago.
The members of Status Quo have been upright country squires, just shy of their Knighthoods, for a couple of decades at least. Right, barrister?
Along these lines, I think it's time you all know the truth... "fab gear" was The Beatles' code for "good hash." 100 percent true.
Jake and I commenced to roll about seven or eight bombs. We were well practiced. Mine were fuglee but worked. Jake's looked like cigarettes. We'd roll 'em, light 'em, pass 'em to whoever. It got to the point that the guy to your right was passing you a joint as you were passing one you'd just toked to the guy on your left.
"Cor, I just hit this one, mate! You fuckin' Yanks don't muck about, do ya!"
"Me bloody lungs're seared! Stop!"
Lots of coughing, but, no one was passing a joint without hitting it first.
Only Jake and I knew what was coming... tee hee!
The room quieted down.
Jake and I reiterated to Alan and John and Bob that we were huge Quo fans.
"Ohhh, yeah, thas great, man..."
Then, one of them muttered something like, "Fuckin' 'ell, I'm halfway to Jupiter..."
This was followed by at least 60 seconds of unanimous hysterics.
Jake, the fearless, acting the Brooklyn fool jumped up and yelled:
"Got your limey asses fucked up, motherfuckers!"
"That you did, mate, that you did."
More gushing laughter. It was fantastic reefer.
For a few minutes, everyone had kinda plopped into chair or on a bed. I was the only guy standing.
Suddenly, Francis jumped up off the bed where he'd landed a few minutes earlier.
"Hold on... Hold on..."
Francis was now staring intently at my... legs.
"Turn around, there's a lad..."
He then sidled up to me and mock-slyly said, "Look 'ere, Binky, what's yer waist 'n' inseam, old boy?"
I was wearing my favorite most worn out Levi Boot-cuts.
"36 length, 28 waist." Man, I was string bean!
"Look here, love, I want your jeans. I must have them. Sell them to me. I'm not asking you to give 'em to me. I want those jeans, man. Sell... me... your... jeans, Binky!"
After some laughing, with his bandmates taking this absolutely in stride, Jake and I realized he was serious.
"Okay, Francis, look, these are my favorite jeans. But... tell ya what. I'll sell them to you for $20 as long as Jake and I get to stand on stage during your set tonight. We have shit seats."
Francis looked to road manager Bob...
Weary Bob, he was the only one to stop after three or four tokes, looked at me with no love whatsoever and said, "The two of you, come to the stage door, bring the jeans, and ask for me. Tell them I'm expecting you."
John, Alan, and Bob soon took their leave, thanking us very much indeed with squinty red eyes and lips stuck to their teeth.
Jake and I stayed.
Silly Francis and Rick were now in just a riotous mood. The four of us were just whacked and loving it. I have no idea what we were chattering about, but, the two Quo guys were treating us like old pals, telling us road stories, answering our esoteric Quo queries.
The TV had been turned on. Edgar Winter was sitting at a piano.
"Hey, look, Fran, it's Edgar Winter, turn up the sound, man."
Mr. Winter was singing a somber ballad... "You're dying to live, but, you're just living to die..."
Francis looked at Rick... "Well, that's fuckin' depressing!"
Rick yelled, "Shit! Fuck! There's only one thing to do!"
Without another word, they both immediately went digging in their suitcases and got out applicator-included bottles of white shoe polish. They both grabbed their white platform shoes laying in the corner and started frantically polishing them in a super-silly manic way, furiously making "Vvroom Vroom Rrrrr Rrrrrr" noises all the while. It actually kinda took on a slightly desperate tinge. This was clearly some on-the-road ritual they had when they got bummed about being away from home.
This seemed like a good time to clear out...
"Hey, we gotta get back to Brooklyn to wash these jeans, guys."
The two Quo guitar men bid us a happy hazy adieu.
Five hours later, Jake and I were being escorted up to Status Quo's dressing room by a stagehand who'd let us into the Academy of Music on the 13th Street side. Theirs was the smallest room and the most flights up. We walked in and they already had their guitars strapped on -- Francis' famous dark green hole-drilled Telecaster and Rick's famous white 'n black Telecaster were less than eight feet from me.
Bob walked over, handed me a $20 and took my jeans, sorta sneering at me a bit. Fuck him.
Jake whipped out the bag of weed again, "You wanna get fucked up before you go on?"
They all started yelling at once.
"Oh my God, I'm just finally starting to come down!", said Rick.
"Get the fuck away from me with that stuff!", hollered Francis.
"Nooooooooooooo!", cried Alan.
But, all very up and funny.
In the next 90 seconds, we were all walking down the tiny staircase, me 'n Jake leading the way, with the band behind us yelling stupid shit, just like Spinal Tap, and the next thing Jake and I knew...
We were on stage at the Academy of Music!
The Quo's legendarily battered hodgepodge of amps, speaker bottoms with torn grill cloths made by one company, the beat-up amp heads made by another, all covered with their huge ugly "QUO" stencils, stood maybe 15 feet away. I'd seen photos of this motley mountain of gear. In person, it looked impossibly cool. Like a banged up but deadly Rat Rod.
Jake and I were barely even in the wings, almost, but not quite, right on stage, the 5th and 6th Quos. And it was cool. No one bothered us. The band clearly didn't give a shit that we were in their laps. We were with Status Quo.
People, I said it to them, I say it to you, these guys were one of the Top Ten powerhouse bands I ever saw. Ever!
Their stage vibe was Give 110%... Plus, they had this wonderfully odd blue-collar cockiness...
'We're fuckin' plumbers, doin' the fuckin' job right, mate. Watch and learn!"
The same kind of backwards "I'm just one of you" charisma that Ozzy Osbourne had in Black Sabbath. They took ordinary to Extraordinary.
They had a groove that made your head snap forward and back involuntarily. Just POUNDED into you. They ATTACKED! As elemental as granite. It was almost like what the Krshnas try to achieve, mindless bliss.
That night in New York, Status Quo sorta danced between out-for-blood and don't-give-a-shit. If you are into rock 'n' roll played by guitar bands, you know this is a combustible combination. They were killing it and not giving a rat's ass if anyone noticed.
Both Francis and Rick made tons of eye contact with me and Jake through the whole show, winking, pulling faces at us, while they stomped the stage... It was very very cool.
They went down well. Jake and I were not the only Quo fans in N.Y.C., of course, and a bunch of others had made it to the show. The Quo were definitely not ignored.
Jake and I congratulated and thanked each of the four as they came offstage past us on their way back to their dressing room. They were all jolly: "Very nice to meetcha, boys!" and "Thanks for the buzz!" with us before they headed back upstairs.
Road manager Bob asked us if we wanted to get to our seats.
"Ahhh, Fuck that, we saw the band we came for."
Bob then steered us to the stage door.
Jake and I were now on East 13th Street, hungry for pizza.