Bassist John ‘Rhino’ Edwards has been holding down the bottom end for Status Quo for over three decades. A member since 1986 joining in time for ‘In The Army Now’ – the album that relaunched them into a new era – Rhino has survived the changing tides of the band, including the death of founder member Rick Parfitt last year. About to hit the road with his solo band Rhino’s Revenge, we caught up with John for a chat about the band, the future for Quo, the passing of a friend, and much more besides. On the level; Eamon O’Neill.
How are you doing today?
I’m dreadfully hungover, but thank you for asking.
A man of your rock and roll vintage shouldn’t get hungover, surely?
I’ve been hungover for the last two days, mate, and I’ve decided that I’ve got to do something about it, so I’m not going to drink tonight. We’ve got a show, and it’s no fun doing a show when you’re hungover. Since Rick [Parfitt]’s not been there, I’m doing a lot of singing, and all of a sudden the microphone’s looking like a serpent!
You’re on the road with Status Quo now, but you’re gearing up for some Rhino’s Revenge dates; you must be excited to be taking the band on the road.
I am. I’d be more excited if more people wanted to come and see it, but it’s okay, I’m not complaining. It’s like the Irish jazz musician who was only in it for the money; if I was only in it for the money then I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m just looking forward to going out and playing with people of that calibre, who are really enjoying it. We’ve only had one rehearsal and we start rehearsing again before the first gig, but they’re loving it. It’s really thrilling for me, because they are people I really want to play with.
Although for live work the band differs, you kept it very much in the family on the second Rhino’s Revenge album.
Yeah, I’ve been doing it with my kids, which is great. Obviously, you can imagine the vibe. On my ‘Rhino’s Revenge II’ album, that’s me and my kids, basically; that’s me and my sons and my daughter. What a fantastic time that was doing that; going away to a studio to record. But I do think that people would take it a bit more seriously, I think, given the pedigree of the players that I have live – not that my kids aren’t wicked!
What was it that made you decide to do something outside of Status Quo?
My writing efforts were basically with Status Quo, but about 1996, I wrote this song, and I played it to a friend of mine, and I said; “I don’t know what to do with this, because I really like it, but it’s not suitable for Quo”, and he said; “Well why don’t you do an EP?” And he was the guy who produced it – he’s actually did a lot of production for Quo, Mike Paxman, and it just turned into an album. I used to play with a girl called Judie Tzuke, and whenever I had a bit off spare time, I just went over to her studio. I did all the templates for them and then we put the drums on, and that was that. But, I’m really thrilled with both of my albums, I have to say. There’s probably one song that I skip off both of the albums, so that can’t be bad – not that I ever play them!
‘Take ‘Em Down’ is being released as a single; it’s quite a hard hitting track.
I just think, in a way, it’s the times we live in. It’s the job of an artist to reflect life really, and I just watched the battle for a town called Kobane, and I just thought the Kurds were showing such incredible bravery. That’s why I wrote it. I actually wrote it walking along a beach on a really hot day in Sussex, and I came up with the line “take 'em down”, and it didn’t take long from there. If you’ve got something to write about, it’s not that difficult. I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
It’s obviously important for you to do something different, and not replicate what you’re doing in Status Quo.
Yeah, I mean, I love being in Quo, I really do, but if you listen to the songs on my album – like ‘Take ‘Em Down’, you could hardly Imagine Quo doing that, really.
Last year it was thirty years since you joined Status Quo; did you ever imagine that it would last that long?
Well, I’ve always had an inbuilt belief in my own ability, so it was never an option for me that I wasn’t going to have a successful career playing in big bands. I never failed an audition. I met an old friend recently from one of my early bands, and he said; “We all thought if anyone was going to make it, it would be you. You were keener than any of us.” If I didn’t do that, I’m sure I would have been in prison a few times by now. I was quite a problem child; I had special schools and all that, but bizarrely, rock and roll, as such, has saved me, as opposed to being the ruining of me.
You were originally signed up to work on a Rick Parfitt solo album, but ended up joining Status Quo.
It was being a session player, I suppose, was how it came about. It nearly didn’t happen because my car died on the way to a session at Chipping Norton Studios that I’d been asked to do, and it would have been cheaper for me to just blow out the session and go home, but I thought; “No bugger that, I’m going the keep doing it”. So I got there, albeit a tad late, and the producer said; “if you’re interested, I’ll do something else with you”, and the guitar player on that was Pip Williams [Status Quo producer and songwriter], and Pip asked if me and Jeff Rich [Status Quo drummer 1986 – 2000] would like to do a couple of tracks on Rick’s solo album. We were just going to do one or two tracks, but it gelled so well that we ended up doing the whole of his solo album. So when Quo got back together again, because Francis [Rossi, Status Quo band leader] didn’t want to work with Alan Lancaster [original Quo bassist], Rick said to Francis; “I’ve got these two guys, I think they’d fit perfectly”, and here we are, thirty-one years later.
When you joined it was quite a different Quo that emerged; a very shiny and polished band compared to the earlier incarnation.
When I joined the band, that was the direction that I think that Francis and Rick were willing to go in, and also the record company. Don’t forget, in those days, record companies had a big influence, and I think they were thinking about the band becoming a pop band again and maybe having a go at breaking America. Of course, when ‘In the Army Now’ was a big success, then it was sort of a no-brainer to continue along that path for a while. Funnily enough, we’d actually recorded the John Farnham song ‘You’re The Voice’. It had come out three times before and done nothing, and we thought, after ‘In the Army Now’, that would be perfect; “that’s it!”, and as we recorded it, we watched it going up the charts until it was a hit, which was a real pisser.
That’s never been released, has it?
Oh, that’s back in the days of tape. I mean, it was never mixed; it would be rough as a badger’s arse, I think! We used to take a lot of time recording in those days.
‘Ain’t Complaining’ from 1987 is probably the band’s most pop-oriented album.
Well you know, it’s of its time. ‘Burning Bridges’ is on that album, and I didn’t even think it should have been a B-side, so what do I know?! It’s one of the most popular tunes we do now, and it’s a very Quo, catchy song. When the record company were thinking more along the America lines, they wanted something glossy.
Moving on, and the loss of Rick Parfitt must have been devastating for you.
It was weird, having already literally seen him dead in Turkey [after collapsing following a gig in June 2016], when he had a heart attack. Myself and Francis were with him, and the paramedic just looked at me, put her finger across her throat and just said; “Dead”. And then they resuscitated him.
Were you and Rick close?
When he was in England, he was living near me, so I would go around and see him fairly often. We had been very close, Rick and I, very, very close. He moved to the town I live in because I told him to. He was looking for somewhere to live after a couple of years of me being in the band and I said; “You want to come and live in Teddington, it’s great here!”, so he did, and we were the ‘Teddy Boys’, as we knew each other. There was a time, up until he moved to Spain, when we were very, very close, but when he met [third wife] Lyndsay, he changed a bit as a person. But in the band, Rick was the one I was closest to, and obviously it was still a dreadful shock. I was literally in shock when I heard about it. I got an hour’s notice. I was talking to Lyndsay, finding out what had been going on, and as I was talking to her, she got a text from the hospital saying; “You’d better come now”, and he was gone, half an hour later.
It’s no secret that Rick had put his body through a lot over the years.
I always used to think in the band; “Okay, who will be first to go”, and I don’t know why, but I never thought it was Rick. He used to say to me; “I’m made of steel”, but you know, you can only ignore your body so many times. The bottom line, really, is I’m feeling like it’s that scene from ‘The Life Of Brian’; “he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”, and that’s the kind of vibe I’m on with Rick at the moment. He was the architect of his own downfall, and I think he would be incredibly pissed off to know that he was dead.
As well as being your friend and bandmate, Rick was also your song writing partner in Status Quo.
Well yeah, and then he started writing with someone else and the songs weren’t as good, in my opinion. He started writing with Wayne Morris, who is very good, but I just don’t think the songs were very good, to be honest. The thing about Rick and I; he would provide the inspiration, and I would provide the perspiration. So, because of that, there was a lot of quality control, especially on the later songs. I wasn’t going to let any shit go out, especially lyrically. Lyrics are very important to me; they convey a mood.
It must have been bittersweet for you when Rick’s place was taken, for a while, by your son Freddie.
Freddie only did twenty shows with us, and it was brilliant, but he’s got his own band, and he just decided that he would rather through his lot in with them, even though he gets [financially] in a month with them what he was getting on a gig with us. But I’m so thrilled for him that he’s decided to do that. I miss him on tour like mad though. He’s twenty-six, and I’m sixty-four, and he doesn’t want to be working with his old man, really, I don’t think.
Did you go and see any the ‘Frantic Four’ shows, where Status Quo performed with their original line-up?
Yeah, a lot of it was my idea. I said to them; “You really ought to - you’ve got some unfinished business here, you lot”. I went to see them, and I’ll be totally honest with you; it was appalling. They were really crap, I’m sorry; I don’t care what anyone says. But I have to say, it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. It didn’t matter that they weren’t good; there was so much love in that room, it was amazing. The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. Musically, it was a mess, but Rick was really good. Rick kept that band together.
The regular version of Status Quo returned to play a truly barnstorming set Download Festival a short time after the ‘Frantic Four’ reunion.
I was pleased that they didn’t ask for the Frantic Four for those gigs. Yeah, we had a lot of energy there. We’re doing Waken this year, and we did Hellfest the day after, or two days after Donington. The thing is with Quo, especially at a metal festival, the tunes are fantastic, the songs, so it’s a bit of light relief from all that growling.
There seems to be a real dividing line between fans of the old Quo, and the ‘new’ one.
There was a time, around 2003 when we did an album called ‘Heavy Traffic’, where I think we really did give the classic line-up a run for its money, big time. We were amazing for a while. But we closed the old message board down because the people who liked the old band were just ruining it for everybody, and so we thought we’re not going to take this anymore. All these keyboard warriors.
Status Quo last year announced the end of electric performances.
We’re loud – I like it loud! The electric tour, I wish we’d thought of the title that Deep Purple thought for their farewell tour, which is called ‘The Long Goodbye’ – that’s fucking brilliant! It’s whatever we decide, really. I know there’s stuff in for next year, and I think there’s other stuff slated for Francis that doesn’t involve the band, so I’ve no idea.
Finally, can you see Status Quo continuing on and on, following Rick’s passing?
I’ll refer you to my previous statement; what will be, will be. None of us can foretell the future. You never know what’s around the corner.
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'Rhino's Revenge II' is available now via the band's website.
Rhino's Revenge 2017 UK Dates:
May 5 - The Iron Road, Evesham.
May 12 - 100 Club, London.
May 13 - The Holbrook Club, Horsham. (Tickets via telephone only: 01473 751150).
May 18 - Bootleggers, Kendal.
May 20 Ivory Blacks, Glasgow.