Robert Quine remembered
Marcia Resnick photo
A handful of songs into just one album, and Robert Quine had staked a claim as one of the most distinctive guitar sounds on the New York punk scene.
Quine was part of that small but influential coterie of musicians, artists-turned-musicians and assorted dilettantes that populated a seedy ex-biker bar called "CBGB and OMFUG" at 315 The Bowery, on the Big Apple's seamy Lower East Side. He was the principal guitarist in Richard Hell and the Voidoids, a unique quartet spitting out some of the New Wave's most disturbing music.
On the 12th anniversary of the passing of Robert Quine, we present this archived interview from May 2000.
The Voidoids were, by all accounts, a confronting and ferocious live experience - the officially-released live tape "Funhunt" confirms as much. As the singer and bass player, Hell's quavering yelp, intense presence and wired stage antics were in sharp contrast to Quine, the epitome of cool in shades and sports coat, a seemingly ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth. Working alongside underrated guitarist Ivan Julian and drummer Marc Bell (later to rise to fame as Marky Ramone), Quine's sometimes melodic, often jarring, lines gave flight to the embittered, poetic lyrics of songs like "Love Comes in Spurts" and the anthemic "Blank Generation". Tours of the UK followed as punk - in Europe at least - became a commodity.
They were lucrative times for some but not the Voidoids who dissolved in a sea of industry indifference and disinterest on the part of their singer, by then a captive of other distractions. A 1982 reformation album was well received but Quine was moving into other areas.
Critically-acclaimed solo work provided some satisfaction but it was an invitation from Lou Reed to join his band that occupied this hard-core Velvet Underground fan for the next five years. Quine became an integral part of Reed's recording and, eventually, touring bands. His work on Reed's 1982 effort, "The Blue Mask", a return to form after a run of indifferently-received albums, was masterful. The set contained not a wasted note and the critics proclaimed that Lou was back as a guitar player, swapping leads and relishing the presence of a duelling partner.
The relationship, however, soured after the less intense, low-key "Legendary Hearts" album where Quine's presence in the mix was minimal.. Briefly an equal, he had become a sideman but stuck in there as a member of Reed's touring bands. He was missing from the studio line-up for "New Sensations".
The ensuing decade was a busy time. Quine worked with Lloyd Cole and Hell, with the latter as a contributor to the Dim Stars project (with two members of Sonic Youth.) Playing with Matthew Sweet on a string of studio albums introduced this talented guitarist to a new generation, especially as the "Girlfriend" album was a breakthrough of sorts.
Robert Quine's been low profile in recent years but we were delighted to host him over a bourbon or two in the I-94 Bar , to talk about Bowery days, guitar greats, his time with Lou Reed and his plans for the future (which include a reformation of the Voidoids for a song to be available on the Net.) He spoke to Ken Shimamoto (with some background mutterings by The Barman, who was serving them drinks.) Our thanks to Alice Sherman for being Robert's designated driver on the Information Superhighway, and Michael Carlucci of Subterranean Records.
I-94: When and how did you start playing guitar? Are you self-taught?
RQ: I got my first guitar in 1958—an Orpheum F-Hole. I’d 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 tried—they 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 progressions—E, A, B7; C, Am, F, G—which was about all you needed back then—at least for rock & roll. Then I began to be able to play along with my favourite records, and that was it. Since then, that’s the only way I’ve 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 whatever—Link Wray, the Ventures, etc. And that’s the way it’s been ever since. I can’t 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 I’ll narrow it down to 10:
(1) Chuck Berry— No explanation necessary!
(2) Ritchie Valens—A total genius. Rene Hall did a lot of the solos on his records, and his stuff is great. But Ritchie’s 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 (1959–’62) 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. He’s one of those players with a "touch"—one note and you know who it is.
(5) James Burton —Certainly he’s well known enough, but he’s been pigeonholed more than he deserves. Yeah, he does the chicken-pickin’ thing, etc. But there’s so much more. That’s 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 (’58–to ’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 "I’m Feelin’ Sorry" (’58). His understatement and maturity on this track is astounding. I’ve taken what I could from him, but it’s "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 that’s 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 don’t. 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 it—I’ll 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 there’s 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 —He’s not a total obscurity, but he’s tragically underrated. He’s alive and well, playing better than ever, but I doubt that he’s a millionaire. In the late ’60s I knew that I had to advance my playing—particularly in the areas of string-bending and left-hand vibrato—and to that end I focused a lot on Albert King and Harvey Mandel. One particular aspect of Mandel’s 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.
I’ll 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. That’s 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 he’d 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, I’d hang around with them in the dressing room, sometimes playing them cassettes of stuff they’d done that night. It was a real privilege—something I’ll never forget.
I-94: How’d 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 Francisco—a real mistake. I failed the California Bar exam several times. San Francisco was a beautiful city, but I just didn’t 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 won’t fit in in New York, but it can’t 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 it’s 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t have minded being a Voidoid. Too bad. He obviously was very intelligent and talented and could have contributed a lot more if he’d been given a little more time.
I-94: You were familiar with Richard Hell’s 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 Hell’s 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 Verlaine’s 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 friend—I miss him a lot. We shared a lot of the same influences, but we didn’t 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 Spence’s Oar to Don’t Touch My Guitar by The Archies. I turned him onto a lot of good stuff too—the Otis Rush Cobra records come to mind. Sometimes he would come out with deliberately perverse statements such as "Hendrix wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 life—there’s just no other way to say it. There’s 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 approached—a respectful, scholarly tome that would have ignored Lester’s personality and problems; or a squalid, lurid exposé in which his achievements would have been barely included. But Jim’s 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 Lester’s writings.
His fans all have their favourite stuff that didn’t appear in "Carburettor Dung". For me—I’d 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). It’s very disciplined. He’s basically saying, "You’re 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 depressed—he 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, that’s it—bad 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 haven’t gotten the respect they deserve. Jazz purists hate them for the uncompromising brutality in the way they rock. They’re listening for solos, and often they’re 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 Beefheart’s 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 don’t think the Voidoids fit in at all in that musical scene. We just happened to be there. We were unique—for better or worse.
I-94: I’ve 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: I’ve sometimes gotten more credit than I deserved. Each guy’s 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 Hell’s 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 couldn’t 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 album—it 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 couldn’t 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 Suicide—their 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. I’ve 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 Hell’s 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 us—that didn’t help our attitude. Basically, all of us had pretty much lost interest at that point.
I-94: How’d you come to work with Jody Harris from the Raybeats? What’s 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 music—a great guitar player, very underrated. He’s 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 it—a rare thing nowadays.
I-94: Were you involved in any other musical projects in the immediate post-Voidoids era?
RQ: When the Voidoids dissolved in late '79, I floundered around for about a year. I did the album "Escape" with Jody Harris, an instrumental thing we're both proud of. In late 1980 I was briefly in a group called Deadline—Phillip Wilson on drums, Fred Maher and myself on guitar, Bill Laswell on bass, and Michael Beinhorn on synth. It was a great group, and we got a lot of good press. But there were some business disagreements, and we only lasted about four gigs. Shortly after that Fred, Bill, and I worked on an Eno record that didn’t materialise. It turned out that Eno was heading in a more ambient direction, which resulted in "On Land", a great record—the last record to really influence me.
I-94: What were the circumstances surrounding the "Destiny Street" album?
RQ: Hell got this offer, and we found some great musicians—Fred Maher, drums, and Naux, guitar. We rehearsed for a few days, then went in and did it. Got in, got out, and made a pretty good album. Played a few gigs and it was over.
I-94: How’d you wind up getting pulled into Lou Reed’s orbit in the early ’80s?
RQ: I'm going to be fairly brief about the Lou Reed stuff; it was covered very thoroughly in the biography of Lou by Victor Bockris. I just don't have much to add at this point. Anyway, Sylvia Reed was responsible for getting us together to have lunch in early '81, and we got along well, and that was that.
I-94: "The Blue Mask" was such an intense record. What was it like recording that?
RQ: "The Blue Mask" is one of the very few records I'm proud of. It was done totally off the cuff—improvised, everyone was intensely listening to each other—and it comes through. It means a lot to me. I went from being just a fan to actually giving something back to him.
I-94: Conversely, "Legendary Hearts" seems more subdued. What were those sessions like?
RQ: Whereas "The Blue Mask" was intense, "Legendary Hearts" was tense, and you can hear it—as much as is possible in that murky mix. The year before, Lou Reed had gone into "The Blue Mask" with a completely open mind—he was ready for anything. Going into "Legendary Hearts", he had a much more specific idea in mind: what he wanted us to play, what he didn't want us to play. Anyway, the atmosphere was not conducive to bringing out the best in the musicians, to getting a groove.
I-94: How was Lou to work with?
RQ: He was great to work with unless he turned on you. Then it was a nightmare.
I-94: You toured Europe with that band. I believe there are substantially better shows on tape than that "Live in Italy" thing RCA put out from the tour. Any that you know of?
RQ: There were no great shows on the "Live in Italy" tour. But the performances of "Heroin," "Martial Law," and "Some Kinda Love/Sister Ray" from the album are examples of that group at its best. I think the band's best playing might have been a show we did at Studio 54 in 1983. There must be tapes of it.
I-94: Just how long did it take for the relationship with Lou to turn sour? Can you put your finger on any particular event that marked the turning point?
RQ: The Lou Reed thing was over for me when I heard the final mix of "Legendary Hearts". I was in a state of shock, couldn't believe what he'd done. Unfortunately, I spent several painful weeks listening to it before I gave up. That record was no "Blue Mask", but it was much better than what came out of that final mix. I went on and worked with him a few more years, did some good live stuff occasionally, but it was totally over for me.
I-94: Someone told me that you recently encountered Lou in a guitar store. They said that neither of you spoke to the other, and the atmosphere was "electric." Care to comment?
RQ: Yeah, we ran into each other and did'’t speak. If I had to do it over again, I would have approached him, tried to make small talk, etc. He’s a difficult person, but he’s also a genius and could be fun to talk with. Once in awhile, I listen to "The Blue Mask" and can’t help wondering, "Gee, wouldn't it be great to go into the studio for a week or so and make another great record?" It’s been 15 years since I quit, and the anger I felt has pretty well dissipated. So there will always be some regret, yeah. He's playing guitar better than ever (listen to the track "Riptide"), and I know I am. But ultimately, we probably wouldn't be able to get along personally. It's just the nature of our respective personalities. Too bad.
I-94: Personality clashes with Lou apart, was it really Fernando Saunders’ bass playing that you found objectionable?
RQ: In the beginning, Fernando and I had to get used to each other's styles, but ultimately we both came to appreciate each other’s playing and got along really well together. The last band did a very long tour together: '84–'85. I pretty much didn't like the band. Lou had added a keyboard player who was completely incompatible with his music, and another drummer had replaced Fred Maher. Lou and I weren't getting along personally or musically, so I ended up playing more and more with Fernando. He's a great virtuoso and a very nice, decent person. We became pretty good friends.
I-94: The Dim Stars project…I thought Hell wasn’t overly extending himself but the cuts that you played on were by far the best. Were you happy with that album, and are there any prospects of ever working with Hell again in a musical context?
RQ: I worked with Hell on three different projects in the '90s, and the Dim Stars was one of them. The musicians were good, everybody was relaxed, getting along, but somehow the CD stinks. It was nobody's finest moment, that’s for sure. Not recommended!
I-94: How’d the Matthew Sweet connection come about?
RQ: Fred Maher introduced me to Matthew in '88 when I came in and laid down some tracks on "Earth". Then Matthew and I both worked for Lloyd Cole in '89 and '90, recording and touring, and we became pretty good friends.
I-94: What records/songs of his are you on?
RQ: In addition to "Earth", I’m also on "Girlfriend" (a good one), "Altered Beast" (a great one, though the mix was a little messy—the drums and Matthew’s vocals should have been louder), and "100% Fun". I came up with a lot of good stuff on that last one, but my guitar was pretty well obliterated from the record.
I played the CD once, never heard it again, and left a pretty brutal message on his answering machine indicating that I wouldn’t be talking or working with him again. I was very angry; I felt very betrayed. Too bad. He's very talented, and we were very good friends. Six years later, the anger is gone. It's just too bad things worked out the way they did. I like to think that someday we could maybe be friends again, maybe record together.
I-94: Did you do much touring with Matthew? Was his much-publicised fear of flying a handicap?
RQ: I hate touring and generally get out of it by charging too much. I played in public with Matthew only twice: on the David Letterman and Dennis Miller shows. So I didn’t have much experience with his fear of flying.
I-94: What are you doing musically these days?
RQ: Things have been pretty slow the past few years. I did a few albums for artists that never got released, some jingles, and a lot of demos, most of which came out on CD one way or another. Also, a track or two on various albums.
For a few years I worked with several talented singer/songwriters, playing "showcases" in clubs. But I decided I really didn't want to do that anymore. Basically, I belong in the recording studio—that's what I like to do.
The only touring I did in the '90s was in Japan: in '93 with a great singer named Sion, and last year with a very talented singer/songwriter/guitarist named Kazuyoshi Saito. That tour lasted five weeks and was definitely the nicest musical experience I've had in a long time. Great songs and an amazing band. Easily the best group I've ever played with—two guitars, bass, and drums. I recorded some stuff on his latest album,"Cold Tube". My best work on that is on the title song and one called "No Blues." We’ll be working together again, maybe in the fall. Recently some albums have come up for me, but I won’t "jinx" them by talking about them.
I-94: How would you characterise your approach to the guitar?
RQ: I try to be spontaneous and creative, and generally pull it off. I've had a lot of influences but somehow have managed to come up with my own touch, my own style. This can work for me, sometimes against me. I also make a point of listening to the lyrics. I try to play with them in a way that will move people, musically, emotionally.
I-94: How has your equipment evolved over the years?
RQ: In 1996 I switched from the Stratocaster to the Telecaster and finally mastered it, on my terms, at least. In the late '90s, Chris Cush of Mojo Guitars rewired a lot of Telecasters for me. My favourite right now is a Fender '52 reissue, with Seymour Duncan Antiquities pickups and a four-way switch. Rick Kelly of Carmine Street Guitars has been building some amazing Telecasters lately, and that’s probably what I'll get next. The Fender Reissue amps are great; also the Pro Junior and the Custom Vibrolux.
In the last six years, stomp boxes are better than ever. I'm guessing this won’t last forever. A lot of great stuff will probably disappear in the next few years, so…a word to the wise. I’ve been using an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man for about 21 years now, and nothing will ever replace it. The Carl Martin Compressor/Limiter is amazing. I love Tube-Screamers—they’ve made my life a lot easier. The Maxon 808 is the best example right now. Voodoo Lab does a lot of good stuff; I would especially recommend their Analog Chorus.
Prescription Electronics has done a lot of amazing things in the last six years. Their Yardbox is my all-time favourite fuzz, a sound I'd been searching for about 30 years. I'm a big fan of the Beck/Page Yardbirds sound, and this does it exactly! The Experience is a unique invention; I always bring it with me when I record. It's not an instant gratification thing—if a store allows you only five minutes to mess with it, you'll get discouraged. It does too many things to mention here but some examples are a massive '60s fuzz, fuzz with an endless sustain and beautiful octave effect, backwards-sounding solos, and broken speaker and amp sounds for the more demented. Just recently, Prescription Electronics came out with the Germ. It does two things: the best-sounding clean boost I've ever heard and an Eric Clapton Bluesbreakers sound.
I-94: What music are you listening to for enjoyment/inspiration these days?
RQ: I've been listening to a lot of Roy Buchanan. I'd like to recommend two albums because they're great and won’t be in print forever: "Buch and the Snakestretchers" (the Burlap Bag album)—just a bar band recorded live in '71, but probably his best playing on record; and "Malegueña" — a lot of obscure stuff, mainly of interest because it contains his last session. Despite those atrocious Alligator records, this CD proves he was still creative, still developing.
I’ve also been listening to bass player Joe Osborn a lot, playing bass and stealing what I can. Some of his best playing is on Art Garfunkel's "Breakaway" and America’s "Homecoming". A lot of friends of mine can’t get past the songs to hear what he's playing, so be warned!
I listen to a lot of jazz. I can’t play it, but it’s still a big influence on me. Lee Konitz's masterpiece "Motion" was re-released in a limited edition 3-CD set. But if you don't really like jazz, avoid this because it’s pretty "abstract."
I also like the Sonny Clark Trio album (on Time Records). I bought it in 1964 and never get tired of playing it. He plays with Max Roach and George Duvivier on this one. There’s a Japanese CD with four alternate takes, but it’s hard to find. It was out on Bainbridge for awhile with excellent sound. Most recently I’ve seen it under the title of "Blues Mambo"—bad sound, taken off a scratchy mono LP.
I-94: What recordings of yours are you proudest of?
RQ: I’m proudest of "Blank Generation" (Richard Hell & the Voidoids), "The Blue Mask" (Lou Reed), "Escape" (Jody Harris/Quine), "Basic" (Fred Maher/Quine), and "Valdun—Voices of Romantsch" (Corin Curchellas). Mark Ribot and I played on five tracks of the Valdun album in 1996—it really is a masterpiece. Hard to find in the U.S., though. Subterranean Records in New York tries to keep it in stock.
There’s a 1998 album by Reiss—"Vibe of Life". I barely play on it, but I’m proud of my solo on "Pale Blue Eyes." It’s an example of my "new, improved" Telecaster concept. Also, in 1995, Jody Harris and I did one track on "Come Together: Guitar Tribute" to the Beatles, Vol. 2. We did the song "Yes It Is," and I really like what we did on it.
I-94: If this is not asking for too many trade secrets, what sort of rig and FX set ups have you used down the years? What did you and Lou use to get those guitar sounds on "The Blue Mask"?
RQ: As far as equipment goes, what I use depends on the nature of the music I'm working on. Performing live onstage, my rule is to keep things as simple as possible! The chain is: (1) guitar, (2) tuner (Boss TU-2), (3) Tube Screamer and/or Yardbox, (4) Deluxe Memory Man, (5) amp.
As I said before, I like the Fender reissue amps:.
59 Bassman: A great amp. If you own one of these, replacing the solid-state rectifier with the proper tube rectifier really improves the sound; makes it less "brittle"-sounding.
63 Vibroverb: They only made this from '90 to '96. If you own one of these and want to drastically improve the sound, replace the ceramic magnet speakers with alnico ones. I used two Eminence 10-inch ALPs that used to be marketed by New Sensor. Everyone I know who owns the Vibroverb has done this, and agrees with me. But ultimately, these things are a matter of personal taste, and not everyone will agree.
65 Deluxe Reverb: This is the amp I've used the most in the last five years. It's a great amp to record with and doesn't weigh a ton. It's also loud enough to use in a club. I replaced the ceramic magnet speaker with an alnico oneÑan Eminence 12-inch ALK that New Sensor distributed. With the alnico speaker, the distortion is much smoother when you overdrive the amp.
65 Twin Reverb: Loud and clean; a classic sound, but it does weigh 65 pounds and this can be a drawback.
Pro Junior: A small amp (10-inch speaker) with just an on/off switch and a volume and tone control. Not a reissue. I've heard it used on a lot of recordings in the last eight years. It’s an amazingly great, large-sounding amp.
Custom Vibrolux: Not a reissue, but very "vintage"-sounding. A lot of people share my opinion that it's the best amp Fender has come out with in 35 years.
One other gadget I use a lot is the Electro Harmonix 16-second Digital Delay. I like to make atmospheric loops on recordings with it. They haven’t made it for about 16 years, but there are other machines that do the same thing. The "Boomerang" is probably the best at the moment.
Back in 1981, when I played on “The Blue Mask” album, I used a Fernandes Strat, the Deluxe Memory Man, and a Peavey "Bandit" amp. On the song "The Blue Mask," I added an MXR Distortion+, an MXR Envelope Filter, and an MXR Dynacomp. Lou Reed used a plexiglass Strat-type guitar with a Legend amplifier.
I-94: Have you heard the re-mastered version of The Blue Mask? Is it radically different in your opinion?
RQ: "The Blue Mask" CD sounds great; it's just the original two-track mix, digitally remastered.
I-94: What work plans do you have in the immediate future? Any thoughts of guitar teaching or are you actively seeking work on other fronts?
RQ: As I said, there are several albums coming up this year that I should be playing on and prefer not to mention them until they actually happen. I just played bass (!) on a few tracks for Judah Bauer (of Blues Explosion). He’s recording a solo album. The bass has always intrigued me, I love playing it. As far as teaching guitar goes, I've tried to do it a few times, but I'm no good at it. I'll continue to make a living playing the guitar. Sooner or later, the calls come in.
I-94: What’s the talk about a Robert Quine web site?
RQ: People have suggested a web site. I thought about it, but somehow can't bring myself to do it. Doing interviews now and then is enough "publicity" for me.
I-94: You mentioned Kenny Paulsen among early guys who influenced you. I remember reading an interview w/him in Jazz & Pop ca. ‘70 where he talked about being a junkie; he was in a band called Dirty John’s Hot Dog Stand that made a record for Polydor (?) around that time. Wasn’t he Canadian? Prior to his Freddie Cannon stint, didn’t he play with Ronnie Hawkins (after Robbie Robertson left)? It seems like a lot of crucial guys came out of that Ronnie-Dale axis.
RQ: Well, you obviously know a lot more about Kenny Paulsen than I do. I spent a lot of time listening to the "Tallahassee Lassie" 45 on 331/3. I'd love to see the Jazz & Pop article.
I-94: As a non-jazz player, what specifically do you get from listening to jazz guys (whether "straight-ahead" like Sonny Clark or super-"out" like ‘70s Miles)?
RQ: It’s osmosis. You play a jazz CD over and over and hopefully something will sink in. It's about learning how to structure a solo, about chord substitutions (for me, Cecil Taylor and Bill Evans). The best way to introduce yourself to Cecil Taylor's chord concept is an album he made in 1958 with John Coltrane and Kenny Dorham. The last version I saw of it was called Coltrane Time, on Blue Note. They play standards, so it's easier to hear Taylor’s ideas on chord substitutions.
I-94: This only just came to notice [message about Hell recording a new song for www.MusicBlitz.com with all the original Voidoids as musicians, Robert Quine, Ivan Julian, and Marc Bell]. Any truth to it, or anything else you could tell us?
RQ: Yes, it's true. Ivan, Marc, and I will be doing a song with Hell.
I-94: Looking back over your career...any regrets?
RQ: No! I've burned a lot of bridges, personally and musically, and this has led to some pretty bleak times. But it's necessary—at the very least you create a vacuum which can lead to new experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise. When a situation is musically stagnant, I get out. I can't tell the people I work for how to mix their records. If things are bad, the only civilised option I have is to extricate myself from the situation.
I-94: Since this is for the I-94 Bar, we always ask—what do you like to drink?
RQ: Jim Beam Black Label.
After the death of his wife Alice in August 2003, Quine committed suicide by heroin overdose in his New York home on May 31, 2004. His website is here.