BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
PHOTO BY HARRIE VERSTAPPEN
ANY CHANCE FOR A FULL-SCALE REUNION OF THE original Kinks; singer-guitarist Ray Davies, lead guitarist Dave Davies, bassist Pete Quaife, and drummer Mick Avory faded away on June 23, 2010 with Quaife’s death from kidney failure. Co-founding the legendary British band with the Davies brothers in 1961 and staying until 1969, Quaife provided a pulverizing bass sound to such manic early classic cuts as “You Really Got Me,” and “All Day All Of The Night,” as well as the highly-regarded late-’60s albums Face To Face, Something Else By The Kinks, and The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society.
Born Peter Alexander Greenlaw Quaife on December 31, 1943 in Tavistock, England, he met the Davies brothers while all three were attending Muswell Hill’s William Grenshaw Secondary School. Says Dave Davies, “I remember Pete, Ray and myself practicing guitar in the front room of my parents’ house. There was a school dance coming up, and we foolishly thought, ‘We can do that.’ So we got the gig, came in, threw a few chairs together, and all plugged into one small amplifier. We were just doing instrumentals at the time, very influenced by the Ventures and Johnny and the Hurricanes.”
Following the addition of drummer Mick Avory in early 1964, Quaife and company became one of the top new “British Invasion” bands. In comparison to the innocence of early Beatles’ records like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You,” the Kinks’ breakthrough hit, “You Really Got Me,” sounded raw, primal, and dangerous.
After leaving the Kinks in 1969, Quaife helped form the ill-fated country-rock band Mapleoak. Following one dismal year with the outfit, he abandoned the music world for good at just 26, turning his focus to graphic art. Despite the fact that his final years were clouded by chronic kidney problems, Quaife maintained his humor, as evidenced in 2005 cartoon book, The Lighter Side of Dialysis.
Quaife’s Kinks co-founder Dave Davies remembers his late musical partner and close friend with deep affection.
Were you surprised by Pete’s recent passing?
To be honest, I didn’t realize how ill he really was. I knew he was ill, but I thought he would be able to hang in there until he was able to get a kidney transplant. Either way, it was very sad. I know we should mourn his passing, but we should also celebrate his life.
In your autobiography, Kink, you revealed that in the group’s early days, Pete was forced to accept the role of bass player from losing a lots’ drawing.
That’s right. Ray wanted to be Chet Akins, I wanted to be Eddie Cochran, and Pete wanted to be Hank Marvin [of The Shadows]. None of us really knew anything about the bass guitar back then.
Being that Pete’s fame coincided with such great British rock bassists as Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman, John Entwistle, and Paul Samwell-Smith, was he intimated by any of their abilities?
If he was, he never mentioned it. I think he was greatly admired by his contemporaries, like Paul Samwell-Smith. John Entwistle cited him as one of the great bass players of the period.
What was playing music with him like?
Everything we did together just jelled, like magic. His playing was very intuitive. He was adept at changing styles, and always knew what the song needed. I never questioned for one moment anything he did. He also had quite a unique bass sound. It was supportive of the band’s guitar sound, and gave my playing a very solid platform.
Was he more at ease playing with a pick, or with his fingers?
It all depended on what the song was. If it was something mellow like “Waterloo Sunset,” he would use his fingers, but for the rock stuff, where the sound had to be tighter, he’d use a pick, and maybe dampen the bridge with the palm of his hand.
Describe an unusual recording session with him.
“Dead End Street” was a big favorite, because both of us played bass on it. Pete played the descending line, and I played the counterpoint.
Wasn’t a similar technique employed on the band’s previous record, “Sunny Afternoon?”
The way I remember it, Pete and I were standing around an upright piano Ray was playing, and I said, “That is such a cool riff, the bass should follow it.” It was the sort of texture that later became apparent in the production of pop music and rock songs; the doubling or tripling of bass lines, with piano and guitar. It became quite a way of cultivating a mood.
What type of bass was Pete playing on the early Kinks recordings?
He used a semi-acoustic Hofner that used to cause a lot of feedback; you can hear that moaning bass feedback on “You Really Got Me.” After he started making a little money, he went out and bought what he called a “proper” bass—a Rickenbacker 4001, and then a Fender Precision Bass. Pete used to favor the Rickenbacker for live work, and was using a Vox T100 amp both onstage and in the studio.
Didn’t Pete then switch to playing a Gibson EB-3?
Yes. Pete liked it better because he had small fingers, the neck was smaller, and he could play it like a normal guitar. Ray and I didn’t like the sound of it, though. It was that Jack Bruce sound, which wasn’t right for the Kinks’ music. The tone was fluffy and all over the place, where a Fender had a more rigid, solid tone.
How well did his Danelectro bass work for recording purposes?
It sounded great, but had no bottom end. It was a very twangy sounding instrument— like a bass version of the banjo—and it was only good for certain things.
Would you agree that Pete’s incorporating the melody from Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” into “Wicked Annabella,” was brilliant?
I always thought that was one of the coolest things he did with us. It showed his creativity, and the unusual ideas he had. Even now every time I hear it, I have a little chuckle to meself.
In your opinion, what prompted his leaving the band?
I think he felt a little squashed between me and Ray, and probably felt he wasn’t being allowed to express himself the way he thought he should. Ray was really starting to hone his craft in the late ’60s, and was becoming more controlling on how he wanted his songs to sound. He was developing a more demanding way of playing, and maybe he expected Pete to flourish more. Pete was very creative himself, and needed his own space.
What do you now consider Pete Quaife’s most important overall contribution to the Kinks?
Mainly helping us start the band, and becoming the glue behind all of us. In the early days, he was the cohesive bonding that helped Ray and me work together better. Pete was crucial to the DNA of the Kinks, and things were never the same after he left. We were great friends who really respected each other’s lives, and I’ll honor his memory as long as I live.