Velvet Underground fan who became Lou Reed's 'scholar' and collaborator
Wednesday 16 June 2004
The most a music fan can usually hope for is a brief meeting with his hero. The American guitarist Robert Quine went from obsessively taping live shows by the Velvet Underground in 1969 to playing guitar alongside their former frontman Lou Reed on the albums
The Blue Mask (1982),
Legendary Hearts (1983) and
Live in Italy (1984).
Robert Quine, guitarist and songwriter: born Akron, Ohio 30 December 1942; married; died New York c 31 May 2004.
The most a music fan can usually hope for is a brief meeting with his hero. The American guitarist Robert Quine went from obsessively taping live shows by the Velvet Underground in 1969 to playing guitar alongside their former frontman Lou Reed on the albums The Blue Mask (1982), Legendary Hearts (1983) and Live in Italy (1984).
A founding member of the seminal New York punk group Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Quine also recorded with the British singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole and the power pop vocalist Matthew Sweet. An unpredictable and influential player who describe his piercing, searing solos as "98 per cent improvised", he also worked with Brian Eno, Marianne Faithfull, Scritti Politti, They Might Be Giants, Tom Waits and John Zorn.
Born in 1942 in Akron, Ohio, Quine was given a Django Reinhardt album by his parents and never looked back. Bitten by the rock'n'roll bug in the Fifties, he bought a Danelectro and then a Fender Stratocaster because that was the guitar Ritchie Valens held on the cover of his first album. "He was the catalyst. I spent hundreds of hours listening to his records. There was a certain jazz-like phrasing in his style that really intrigued me," recalled Quine.
He was mostly self-taught and was influenced by Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, James Burton, the bluesman Jimmy Reed and even the Shadows. He discovered Hank Marvin's group while studying in England in 1963 before going back to Indiana University. By 1965, Quine was studying Law at the Washington University Law School in St Louis, Missouri, to avoid going to Vietnam and was playing covers of instrumental hits by the likes of the Ventures, Duane Eddy and Link Wray. He loved the Byrds but in 1967 the Velvet Underground became his favourite group. "Lou Reed was a true innovator on the guitar and was never appreciated at the time. I completely absorbed his style," admitted Quine.
Quine passed the Missouri bar exams in 1969 and moved to San Francisco, where he attended every show the Velvet Underground played at local venues like the Matrix and the Family Dog. He met the band, who enjoyed listening back to the performances he had taped and talking music into the small hours. Having failed the San Francisco Bar on several occasions, Quine moved to New York in 1971 and began writing tax law for Prentice Hall Publishing. But he found his job boring, and in 1975 switched to working in a film memorabilia shop in Greenwich Village, where his co-workers included Tom Verlaine (né Tom Miller, guitar, vocals) and Richard Hell (né Richard Meyers, bass, vocals) who both played in a rock group called Television.
By 1976, Hell had gone solo with the backing of the Voidoids, featuring the dual guitars of Quine and Ivan Julian, with Marc Bell on drums. They released Blank Generation, an EP whose spiky title track defined the no-future ethos as much as Hell's much-copied ripped T-shirt held together by safety pins. In 1977, they signed to Sire Records, joining the Ramones and Talking Heads as leading lights of the New York scene on Seymour Stein's label. Issued in September 1977, Richard Hell and the Voidoids' début album, also entitled Blank Generation, remains one of the defining records of the punk era. In 1979, the Voidoids split up after touring with Elvis Costello and issuing the single "The Kid with the Replaceable Head". Quine briefly reunited with Richard Hell for the album Destiny Street in 1982.
Lou Reed's second wife, Sylvia, arranged a lunch for her husband and Quine, who came on board for Reed's album The Blue Mask in 1982. "We got along well and that was that. The Blue Mask was done totally off the cuff, improvised. Everyone was intensely listening to each other and it comes through," explained the guitarist:
I went from being just a fan to actually giving something back to him. Lou was great to work with, unless he turned on you. Then it was a nightmare.
In 1983, the upbeat "I Love You Suzanne" was an alternative radio hit in the US but Quine was dissatisfied with the mix of the album Legendary Hearts and, even though he toured with him in 1984-85, his working relationship with Reed became purely functional and he quit.
Quine spent the rest of the Eighties and the early Nineties working with the drummer and producer Fred Maher on recordings by Matthew Sweet and Lloyd Cole, most notably on Cole's post-Commotions albums Lloyd Cole (1990) and Don't Get Weird on Me Babe (1991).
In the Nineties, Quine became less inclined to tour and concentrated on studio recording for projects including collaborations with Tom Waits's guitarist Marc Ribot and the avant-garde composer and saxophonist John Zorn. Quine reflected:
I've burned a lot of bridges, personally and musically, and this led to some bleak times, but it's necessary. When a situation is musically stagnant, I get out, the only civilised option I have is to extricate myself
from the situation. I will leave people if they mix me off their records.
Three years ago, Universal issued a three-CD box-set of Quine's mono recordings of the Velvet Underground entitled The Bootleg Series Volume 1: the Quine tapes which received excellent reviews. "Robert Quine was a magnificent guitar player, an original and innovative tiro of the vintage beast," said Lou Reed:
He was an extraordinary mixture of taste, intelligence and rock'n'roll abilities coupled with major technique and a scholar's memory for every decent guitar lick ever played under the musical sun.
He made tapes for me of the juiciest parts of solos from players long gone. Quine was smarter than them all. If you can find more interesting sounds and musical clusters than Quine on "Waves of Fear", well, it's probably something else by Robert.
Following the death of his wife Alice last year, Quine suffered from depression. He was found dead in his Manhattan flat 10 days ago after a suspected heroin overdose.
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