Gary James' Interview With Francis Rossi Of
They have sold over 100 million records. They have recorded 64 British hit singles, more than any other band, 22 of which have hit the Top 10. Their first hit was "Pictures Of Matchstick Men", which reached number seven in November 1968. They have had more hit albums, 32 to be exact, in the British albums chart, then any other band apart from The Rolling Stones. They have made 106 appearances on BBC TV's Top Of The Pops, more than any other group. They have spent in excess of 7½ years, that's 415 weeks, in the British singles chart, the 11th highest ever! In 1998, they played a record-breaking series of 14 sellout shows to over 300,000 people at the giant Olympic Stadium in Moscow. In 1991, Prince Albert of Monaco presented the group with the Outstanding Contribution To The Rock Industry award at the World Music Awards in Monte Carlo. In their 39 year history it is estimated that they have played over 6000 'live' shows to a total audience in excess of 25 million people. That translates to the band having traveled some 4,000,000 miles and having spent 23 years away from home. In July, 2013, the group released their newest CD "Bula Quo!", Which also happens to be the name of their first feature film, also to premiere in July 2013. We are talking about Status Quo.
Guitarist Francis Rossi was kind enough to take some time out from what could only be called a hectic schedule to talk to us.
Q - Francis, in listening to your newest CD, "Bula Quo!", every song on the CD could be a hit. And I'm not just saying that.
A - That's very nice of you to say. When we were told we were doing the movie, our manager said "There'll be a soundtrack." Soundtracks are usually what you try to sell around the back of a movie. As we got further into the project, it's not like making a regular Status Quo album, certainly everybody felt we can do this and we can do that. Various songs came out. I like an album to have that kind of diversity. The album we had before, which was very successful, basically was in the key of A and most of the BPM (Beats Per Minute) were the same. Very well acclaimed, but I like an album to have a bit of light and shade. The so-called "classic albums" always had a light and shade to me. So, thank you for that.
Q - The only thing that seems to be missing is the system that used to be in place, Top 40 Radio. Maybe you can still get airplay with Sirius Radio, I don't know.
A - We do okay here in Europe, but obviously the way things have happened the last 15 to 20 years, plus the act is old. (Laughs). Radio has dissipated so much that everyone became a specialist, so in terms of us as a business, nobody knows who the fuck is listening to what. It's like when I was younger the idea of supermarkets were coming in and everything was modern to what we were getting. Before you knew it, you kind of wish you hadn't let that go. I think it's the same with our industry. The idea of more radio is great and specializing, yeah. But now, no one knows who is listening to what. One thing that was good about England years ago is we had radio 1, 2, 3, 4, BBC. I think the radio at one time had 21 million listeners, which was probably half the population, maybe a little less. So, you knew if you were in Scotland you were listening to the same track. I remember listening to a Beatles' track in the car when we were touring and you knew, this feeling, that people right at the tip of the South were listening. I quite liked that, the idea that in Top 40 you might find a load of songs that you felt were shit, but I still felt that was good for us. With specialized radio it means if you are a Blues fan, you are only going to ever listen to Blues. So, I don't think that's very good. I like music. I like Blues music. I like Country music. I like a lot of Italian opera. I like some Classical music. I like the odd Reggae song perhaps. I cannot say I like a particular genre of music. That station I said we had was given after we had the pirate radio. It was a Top 40 station, so it had to play what got into the charts, where as now that isn't even so. I don't know what happens in our business. I'm just lucky I'm still alive.
Q - When I say a lot of your success has been in Europe, you would agree, wouldn't you?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - I've interviewed bands, American bands that were around in the 1960s and they will remark, "If only we could have had a manager like Brian Epstein, I'm sure we could've had greater success." In your case, if you'd had an American manager, would you have had more success in America?
A - I believe so. A few things happened there. We'd been struggling around for a while, played everywhere and were building this following in Europe. So the approach was the same in America. We first landed in California and looked at the map and it made me feel so tiny in this corner. I'll never fucking do this. We grew up with American TV. So, when we first heard the telephone ring it was "Fuck! Wow!" Everything about America was sophisticated to us. Even your accents sound more confident than our accents. I remember being asked this question which was very cleverly put to me, "How would you like to have an American manager?" I said, "Fuck off!" However, the question should have been "We are not doing anything here." As soon as we left America, it went dead. There was no representation. He should have said we need representation there. You give away a percentage, which was a percentage of nothing at the time, only for that guy to work on it. Our manager at the time, who I loved dearly, he did not want to give it up. He wanted it himself, so that was a mistake. We had gotten so far and it was costing us so much money to tour in America that a younger band realizes or we used to think we can only last three to five years. It can't go any longer than that. And if after that three to five years we're sitting there broke after making all that money around the rest of the world and spending it in America, we took a view that it's best not to go back there anymore. It's not going to work for us. However, I think that was a mistake. We could have gone on to a point where we had been at least able to do 5000 seaters for three or four months at a time, whereas the best we can do is probably 1200 to 1500 here and there. We were never gonna take cheap productions there. We kind of gave up some years ago. We had two hits in America I think. When we played shows in America we'd get good reactions in some places and not so good in other places, which is good. It's the way it should have been. But there was things that you can play in America forever and still never repeat the same place. Well, that doesn't happen in Europe. We worked each territory, it built up and it worked. When we went to America it just kept nearly getting in. We'd go home after finishing touring elsewhere and it would go quiet again. There was no representation.
Q - When you were in London in the mid-1960s, did you realize as a musician you were in the best place in the whole world?
A - No. I don't think we were conscious of that. We had heard the whole thing about Britain and the Swinging '60s. It sounded like a bunch of PR stuff. Looking back now, you think "Wow! There was a lot going on." Some of the bills we have seen that we were on, the amount of serious acts that we were on with, you could see so many nights a week. We had this circuit, the back of pubs that would have a room that would probably hold 1200 people and bands would play there. You would see Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mott The Hoople, T-Rex and then UFO. It's only when you look back you think, "Shit, the amount of acts that were there was just phenomenal." But it wasn't like a conscious awareness, "Aren't we in the most hip place on the planet?" When I look back now, there certainly was a lot going on. It was a fashion thing, but I don't know if that's all young people, if they feel that now. I'm not 18. I don't really know. I was talking a few months ago with my wife and housekeeper about how people in this country used to bathe once a week. We would also defecate in the bath. Kids would sit in the bath. We would all sit in the same bathwater and wash. My wife thought I was just making jokes. She didn't realize, because in America you didn't have that kind of thing. To understand, we were escaping this postwar, black and white bomb site world. It was extremely poor here, compared to today anyhow. You were escaping. It was somewhere to go. Today I look at my own children. Why would they want to leave home? They have got a fabulous life. For them to get better, how much better can it get? It definitely could've gotten better for all of us. I remember Keith Richards saying the same thing, we were all trying to escape this black and white postwar world of England and Europe.
Q - Wikipedia says you have sold 128 million records. Your website says you have sold 118 million records. Which is it? Do you know?
A - One of those two. I don't believe any of that stuff anyways. We did a breakfast TV show this morning at the same stuff came out. He said, "What's wrong with that?" I said to the guy, "We just got fed up hearing it." He said, "Is it true?" I said, "I don't know." The entire world these days is led by PR. The governments have PR Departments. PR recently means bullshit, doesn't it? PR isn't necessarily the truth. I know we've sold over 100 million records. Whether it's 112, 118 or 120, I don't really know.
Q - It really becomes important when it's time to receive those royalty statements.
A - Yeah, well that's it. You still don't have a figure on the full figure. To say we haven't earned money would be lying. We've done extremely well.
Q - That's good to hear. Usually I get the stories about how much money bands have been ripped off.
A - Oh no, we've had our fair share of rip-offs. This is such a lucrative business, or has been. There was a thing a few years ago about Sting having lost $6 million that his accountant or lawyer or somebody took. He was being lambasted in the papers that he was a fool for letting this happen. I don't know anybody else on the planet that checks out their accountant, their bank manager, their lawyers. That's their gig. The same thing happened to us. I think we lost $7 million between 1979 in 1983, I think it was. But think about it, we didn't really notice. It's kind of ridiculous. Everybody is evil but the musicians, but that can't be true either, can it?
Q - You just have to find the right people and that's hard to do these days.
A - It is hard to do, but it's always been hard to do. You don't necessarily need a degree to be a Rock 'n' Roll manager. Some of them are extremely intelligent and well-educated and some of them are not. It's not the education that makes a Rock 'n' Roll manager or a showbiz manager. It's something else that makes a showbiz manager.
Q - This new film of yours that is coming out, this is concert footage?
A - It's mainly Rick (Parfitt) and I. We'd done this Soap in England and the guy we were given as a stunt coordinator taught us to fight on television, apparently a bit different than regular fighting. He said, "I'd like to make a movie with you guys." Eventually the script came together to make that thing. It's kind of silly humor, silly British humor. But we are supposed to go play a gig and this guy, Jon Lovitz is this criminal, Wilson, who has all these kind of get-togethers and they get him to play Russian Roulette. Obviously they die and they're harvesting new organs to sell all over the world. So that's quite topical from that point of view. We see that and they start chasing us and it's kind of silly humor. Some people say it's kind of like Dumb And Dummer, that kind of humor. Silly humor.
Q - You're going to have a big premiere for that movie.
A - Yeah, Monday the 1st (July 1st). I don't fancy all that. I hate all that, but it's part of the commitment
Q - That's PR again.
A - That's PR again, yes.
Q - You're Francis, but here in America we would call you Frank. Why aren't you known as Frank?
A - I know. My wife obviously comes from New York, so I got used to it. The other thing is in America people don't have a problem with Francis. In England they can't say it. So I get called anything but Francis. In the North of England it's fine, but anywhere near London they have a problem with Francis. They associate it with girls and homosexuals and unfortunately I'm neither one of those. I never liked Frank for some reason. I still have a bit of a problem with it. Frank to me was like Frank Sinatra. The more macho the guys are, the less likely they can say Francis. That's what I used to find at school. (Laughs).