This Valentine's Day my wife got me a 180 gram 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of one of the essential American rock albums from the 1970s: Richard Hell and the Voidoids "Blank Generation".
I am too young to have lived the first wave of American punk, but I brushed up against it in high school in the late 1980's when my sister brought the Ramones into the house. This turning point paired with the Replacements, Dinosaur Jr, the Buck Pets, Squirrel Bait and Husker Du sent me on a whole new path in life that at the time was heavily centered in KSHE/KWK...for better and eventually worse. The mullet flag was flown.
Those records changed my life. I think I'd vote a different way, live in a different place, would have married a different kind of woman, etc. I'd be a completely different person had that music not changed my world view.
I know that sounds dramatic and cheesy, but it's true.
But, outside of the Ramones, I didn't get into NYC punk because it seemed kind of goofy to me. In my youth, I had a very rigid set of ideals. No synths, no goofy costumes, no stage shows that detracted from loud guitars, bass and drums. The New York Dolls look was the thing I thought I was rebelling against when the horrible hair metal had taken hold in the 1980's. I bought a lot of that pop metal crap back in the day, but I hate it so badly now. Thank god for youthful rebellion.
I've since forgiven all that, as I've laid to rest many of my ideals and rigid standards on what is and isn't posing/legit. I'm older now and more open minded than ever. But I've only recently learned to appreciate all the music from 1970's NYC.
I've gone into full research mode reading, watching and listening to everything I can from that period of American rock. I came out of research mode with the opinion that Blank Generation is one of the best of that era.
More than the influential, cool and timely look and vocal style of Richard Hell, the lead singer/bassist, it's the guitar sound in the Voidoids records that hooked me. I LOVE guitar bands and this band brought a sound that was so unique compared to the other stuff from that scene. It upped the level on skillful playing.
So when I unwrapped the record I was giddy to kick out the jams, lay this beauty on the turntable and spend some time not fast forwarding through two whole sides.
But another treat occurred when I broke the seal and unfolded the album cover, discovering a reference to St. Louis.
As part of a photo collage, a grainy photo of an envelope with a St. Louis address postmarked May 23, 1967 was prominently displayed:
Two questions had to be answered. Who is Robert Quine and is the building on McPherson still standing? I knew Richard Hell is from Lexington, KY and moved to NYC, but knew nothing about Mr. Quine nor his connection to St. Louis.
First, the address at 6188 McPherson: turns out the building is indeed still there right at Skinker and McPherson in the Skinker/DeBaliviere Neighborhood.
Most St. Louisans have probably been in the first floor of this building as it now houses the Charing Cross Branch of the St. Louis Public Library as well as a Snarf's Sandwich shop at street level.
The residential entrance is along McPherson, hence the proper address on the envelope in the image.
Next, who is Mr. Robert Quine, the addressee on the envelope?
Robert "Bob" Quine is one of two guitarists in the Voidoids. The guy with the ripping solos. And it turns out, he's one of the most influential and unique sounding guitarists of his time. I'll lay out the case for why in a moment, but first his connection to St. Louis.
Quine was born in 1942 in Akron, OH. He was a lifelong obsessive record collector and intense listener/student of music. He graduated from Earlham College, a small liberal arts school in Richmond, IN and then moved to St. Louis where he attended Washington University's law school in 1965, graduating in 1968 with his law degree.
Quine was likely drawn to St. Louis for more than just the law school as Chuck Berry and Miles Davis influenced him deeply. He once said "everything he did was just a variation on Chuck Berry" (source). He used to see Chuck and other blues greats around St. Louis. Here's a memory from a college buddy, Ralph Engelman:
Quine cut his teeth playing live in a band called Bruce's Farm which was inspired by early Rock and Roll and the Byrds. You could say Quine came into his own in St. Louis:
Around this time he discovered The Velvet Underground - a band whose influence would prove considerable to his development as a musician. He recorded VU when they played the Washington University Field House on May 11, 1969. The recordings are immortalized on the Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes including SisterRay and Foggy Notion.
He eventually moved to San Francisco where he continued to record the VU and became friends with the band. He continued to mature as a guitarist in California, playing and honing his unique sound. He gave up playing in a band for some time until he moved to New York City.
A true Midwesterner, he never succumbed to the times in terms of a hippie or punk look. He never copped a poseur look. He never went New York Dolls-glam and even in the stylistic Voidoids, he stood out as "straight".
Quine eventually moved to New York in the mid 1970's where he met Richard Hell (Television/The Heartbreakers/The Voidoids) and Tom Verlaine (Television) at a job in a movie memorabilia shop. He and Hell hit it off and quickly became friends and eventually bandmates. Per The HoundBlog, Quine played Hell a tape of his band in St. Louis: "I believe this (Bruce's Farm) is the tape Quine played for Richard Hell when they first talked about putting the Voidoids together" (source).
From a 2004 Rolling Stone interview with Richard Hell by David Fricke:
Quine's work with the Voidoids is arguably his best work. However, his playing on Tom Waits "Rain Dogs" and Lou Reed's "Blue Mask" are equals. His work on Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" was incredible as well.
Quine plays on two songs: 'Blind Love' and 'Downtown Train' along with guitarists Keith Richards and G.E. Smith, respectively. "Some of the sessions were done with live musicians, but not with Keith Richards," Quine explains. "On the song you can really hear me on, 'Blind Love', I overdubbed to the basic track with a vocal on it - doing the little chord voicings on top and I guess Richards came in later, and you can hear him playing off me. On 'Downtown Train', G.E. Smith did the basic track, and I reinforced the rhythm part - the thudding rhythm guitar." Quine also played on a couple of tracks that did not make it onto the album. (source)
Quine on his Blue Mask sessions: "
"That album is totally unique. Lou just gave everybody a tape of the songs with him playing acoustic guitar," Quine says. "I was literally free to come up with whatever I wanted. Total freedom. We went in with no rehearsals. None of us had ever played together before, but it just clicked immediately. What you hear on the record is totally live. There are no overdubs, except on one track. Any mistakes that happen are on the record. If I take a solo I stop playing rhythm. It's the way they used to do things in the fifties. I'm especially proud of that record.
"I think the feeling of The Blue Mask is closer to The Velvet Underground than anything, because of the droning effect. See, a lot of his songs are in D, so I dropped my tuning a whole step and came up with different voicings to match and complement his. The priority was to stick to open chords, because they just sound better. That drone was an essential feature of The Velvet Underground, and 'Women' and 'The Gun' were especially like that." (source)
Quine's sound was unique and blistering. To me perfect and broken at the same time. Spastic yet perfectly clear. Calculated and flowing. He added such perfect sound and grace to the songs he played on. He never overshadowed or cock-rocked it. He added such space to his songs...soul. He was the cilantro on the street taco.
To me, his playing sounds like a factory machine. The sounds of a beautiful, elegant industrial device designed as a work of art from the Industrial Revolution. An aging machine, that's been re-engineered and fixed with duct tape and spot welds (what ever it takes) to keep that elegant machine true to its original purpose, but with the ramshackle genius of a Midwestern factory worker/engineer keeping the metal machine humming. Covered in patina of chipped lead paint and years of oil and grease. Functional yet elegant.
Here's a take from a fellow guitarist from the 1970s punk scene when comparing Quine to Tom Verlaine:
Well said, Pfeifer. In 2010, David Fricke, music critic for Rolling Stone named Quine as number 80 in the 100 greatest and most influential guitarists list.
I'm convinced his influence ran deep. Per my ears the next generation punk bands like Minutemen that took word play and serious playing to new levels had to have heard and felt Quine.
If I had to distill his work down to 5 songs to listen to in order to get a primer for his complex playing, I'd start with:
1. "Blank Generation" - Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation 1977
2. "Time" - Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Destiny Street 1982
3. "Underneath The Bottle" - Lou Reed, Blue Mask 1982
4. "Blind Love" - Tom Waits, Rain Dogs 1985
5. "Downtown Train" - Tom Waits, Rain Dogs 1985
I mentioned earlier that Quine recorded the Velvet Underground when they played the Washington University Field House in May, 1969. I learned from an article in Washington University's "The Source" that Barry Silverblatt, Quine's classmate and bandmate in Bruce’s Farm and one of his closest friends during law school helped him with the recording.
Per Silverblatt: “Those were different days. There wasn’t a lot of hand-clapping and stuff, it was more like being zoned out,” Silverblatt recalls. “After the concert, Quine was in seventh heaven. He thought it was great.”
I came across a kind remembrance of Quine from Silverblatt published on RobertQuine.com:
"Quine and I were the closest of friends for 35 years, ever since we met at Washington U Law School until his death. My wife spoke with him a few weeks before his death to invite him to my surprise 60th birthday party in Berkeley, California in June. He indicated that he was seriously considering coming; the next thing we knew, he was dead. I'm a guitar player, and Quine and I formed a band called "Bruce's Farm" in St. Louis. I could tell a million stories about our adventures in the band, and in law school, but the bottom line is that we had very similar musical tastes and fed off each other while fending off the horrors of law school during the Viet Nam years. I'm a fairly conventional player, who's capable of doing "happy hour" material, while Quine was strictly a rocker in his playing (although he knew more about jazz than anyone I've known). A mutual friend of ours once said that he thought I was a "better" player, but he'd rather hear Quine play anytime. I knew exactly what he meant and wasn't offended in the least. Quine had a unique style that although not technically adept, was somehow a synthesis of all he'd picked up from Miles, Bill Evans, Fats Navarro and countless others. He could not get past the death of his dear wife Alice, and although I tried to keep his spirits up as we spoke on the phone every few weeks or so, I suspected that the end was not far off. And though I miss him terribly, I am happy in the knowledge that, in the end, Quine succeeded beyond all expectation. I attended the Velvet Underground concert with him in St. Louis (captured in The Quine Tapes) in the late 60s, and we never dreamed that someday he'd be on stage playing with Lou Reed. Nor that he would be named the 80th best guitar player in the history of rock 'n' roll by Rolling Stone. Anyone reading this is probably aware of the other milestones in his career and the esteem in which he was held by the music community. He got to where he wanted to be, and I'm thankful for that. I just can't get used to the idea that he won't be calling to tell me about his latest musical discovery (or disaster). But that's my problem. —Barry Silverblatt; Berkeley, California
To learn more about St. Louis' effect on Quine and his development as a musician, I was able to connect with Barry Silverblatt, his college buddy and lifelong friend, to talk about his memories of Quine and St. Louis in the 1960's.
Barry and I spoke over the phone on April 10th.
Here's what I learned:
Barry was born in New Jersey, but grew up in Ferguson, MO and Clayton, MO. He pronounces Missouri "Missourah", so I knew he was credible. He went to Clayton High School and then the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He returned to the St. Louis area and went to law school at Washington University.
This is where Barry met Quine who was a year ahead of him. They were both at law school to get a deferment from the Vietnam War draft. Both did not particularly like law school but almost immediately became friends based on their mutual love of music. They started hanging out at Quine's apartment and listening to music.
They also hung out with the architecture students in Holmes Lounge near the quad in Wash U.
These architecture students tended to be artsy and into music, so they were kindred spirits. This is where they met Rick Davis who would become the bass player in Quine's first band, Bruce's Farm, joining Quine and Silverblatt on guitar and Bob Clark on drums. The band's name was taken from a college buddy who was leasing some property in rural Missouri outside of St. Louis.
Barry connected with Rick Davis to get some clarity on the band name and farm location:
"Bruce was Bruce Bryant from architecture school in my class, from Ithaca New York. He was the tenant originally renting the "farm" which was probably actually less than an acre property on a rural highway running north-south near (I believe) O'Fallon Missouri (I'm guessing about 30 miles or so West of St. Louis?)."
I asked Barry about the influences for Bruce's Farm:
"Quine was really an amazing guy in many respects. The first time I went to his apartment, you could barely walk through it because the floor was covered with orange crates filled with records. He had crate after crate after crate of music, and once he figured out I was into music and a guitar player, we'd be at his apartment 3, 4, 5 times a week. He'd drink gin and I drank bourbon. Even though there were thousands of records, he knew where each one was located."
Quine's apartment that Barry was referring to was not the place on McPherson, it was right off of Delmar, on Limit Avenue in University City, MO just west of the St. Louis border. Quine moved to McPherson later after graduating from law school.
Here at that U. City apartment, they listened to the Byrds, the Kinks and jazz. Obsessively.
"He would say: 'have you heard this Sonny Stitt thing', and he'd pull out the record and know exactly where to drop the needle on the cut he wanted to play. He turned me onto all things. Bill Evans on piano, Jim Hall on guitar, all those people."
When it came to the Byrds, Barry said:
"I knew all the Top 40 Byrds numbers like "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Mr. Tambourine Man", but Quine knew all the exotica and had all the 45 B-sides that weren't on the proper records, etc."
You can go to YouTube to hear Barry singing and Quine getting his footing with the solos in the Byrds "Eight Miles High" recorded with Bruce's Farm.
Was the inspiration at the time coming from more of a jazz or rock place?
"Well it was both. My father was a jazz piano player. He'd come home from work and I'd sit beside him at the piano bench when he'd knock out jazz and swing tunes. But starting in 1954-1956, all of sudden, you heard people like Bill Haley, Elvis Preseley and Little Richard appearing on the radio and he (his father) had no interest in that. But I did. So I was kind of on a double track all the time. I'm 73 years old today and I'm still in a jazz combo and a rock band."
Bruce's Farm played Like A Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan), Satisfaction (Rolling Stones), Feel A Whole Lot Better, Why, Mr. Tambourine Man, Eight Miles High (the Byrds) Foxy Lady, All Along the Watchtower, Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix), Where Have All The Good Times Gone (the Kinks), Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry), Blue Suede Shoes, Heartbreak Hotel, (Elvis), Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino), So Fine (The Fiestas), Walk Away Renee (The Left Banke), Revolution (Beatles), Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly) and Backwards (a Quine original).
Where did Bruce's Farm play?
"Mostly gigs around Wash U including frat houses and private parties. The YouTube recordings came from a show we did in the parking lot of the architecture school at Wash U. They brought in a flat bed truck and we played there. There were a few thousand people there. Our drummer got into a fist fight with somebody in the crowd. Some idiot in the crowd yelled out: "play The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You!". I don't know where that came from, but our drummer who was a small guy got the microphone and proclaimed: "Texas...as a state...sucks!" Quine picked up his Fender Jazzmaster by the neck and raised it over his head as the heckler approached. A friend intervened and grabbed the guy before Quine was able to cold cock this guy with his guitar."
"Texas...as a state...sucks" will now be part of my internal mental lexicon. Thanks for the story, Barry.
Quine claims that he found himself as a guitar player in Bruce's Farm.
"I think that's true. Those were the days when you turned on the radio and there was a lot of album rock. If the band had a cut that was 20 minutes, they'd play the full 20 minutes. That was the kind of band we were. I'd take a five minute solo, and Quine would take a five minute solo and then we'd get back to the song. We'd stretch out a lot."
Another college buddy Ralph Engelman told the story of seeing blues shows with Quine "on joints on Delmar". Were you a party to these shows?
"No. I used to see Chuck Berry at a place called Club Imperial. I saw Ike and Tina Turner there. It was like a quarter to get in."
What was the vibe at Club Imperial? Were you the only white guy there? Were you welcomed or tolerated?
"I would never walk in by myself. There'd always be 3 or 4 of us. No, they were great to us. There was no racial tension between us. Now if there would have been some motorcycle gang guys, I don't know what would have happened. They knew we were all just young pups who were really into the music. Heck, they'd buy us drinks."
"I don't even remember there being clubs on Delmar. Blueberry Hill, none of that existed. When I went to Saturday school at temple, we'd walk the 2-3 blocks to the Loop and take the street cars down Delmar. There were just delis and drug stores. There was a strong Jewish presence. I don't recall clubs, and I stayed there until 1971 or 72."
If you follow St. Louis development news, the latest buyer of Club Imperial is seeking a demo permit for this historic place for some suburban shlock. Read all about it HERE and HERE. In a city that tries to assert itself as a Blues and Rock power house, it is amazing how little care there is for the places these people actually played.
A friend of Barry's recalled going to Club Riviera, a jazz, blues and soul club at 4460 Delmar.
Club Imperial is long gone and is now a vacant lot. It was owned by a civil rights leader, Jordan Chambers. I researched this club back when I was doing park blogs. Here's that piece on Chambers Park.
"It was at Club Riviera in St. Louis that Miles heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play, the two most talked-about jazz musicians at the time with their revolutionary bebop style. He had heard their recordings, knew every note and had come to idolise “Diz and Bird”. During the session he was even invited to join the band as third trumpeter, an experience which showed him the light, now destined to move on and develop his own music-making." (source)
Quine was a huge Miles Davis fan.
I asked Barry about the Velvet Underground show at the Wash U Field House that are immortalized on the Quine Tapes.
"Did you hear me laughing in the background? It's amazing how good the recording turned out, we just had those stupid recording devices with those big push down buttons and it recorded on a cassette."
Quine completed law school in 1968 but was still in 1969. Quine and Barry took that bar exam together in Colombia, MO in 1969. So Quine was still living there when VU came. He finally left in 1969-1970 for California.
I asked Barry about his and Quine's thoughts of St. Louis in the 1960's.
"St. Louis was square. They have a rich jazz history and Chuck Berry's from there and Miles is from Illinois, so they had a rich music history. But you know, I suspect you're the same, when I meet people from say Cincinnati I ask 'so how was Cincinnati?' and they say I couldn't wait to get out and it was so lame. I think with the exception of L.A. and NYC, everyone thinks where they grew up was lame and they need to go somewhere more glamorous. So that's pretty much what I thought about St. Louis. I wasn't very happy about coming back once I'd been at Ann Arbor for 4 years. And I think Quine pretty much felt the same way."
Do you still feel that way about St. Louis? (Barry's sister is still here, so he's aware of modern day St. Louis):
"I don't think of cities in those terms anymore. A place is what you make out of it."
So you say St. Louis was straight. I've heard Quine described as straight in a scene (NYC punk) that was anything but. I've heard his presence described as a "deranged insurance salesman"
"That's perfect. That is exactly right. I grew my hair out eventually, so I was beginning to look like a hippie. But Quine NEVER did that. He wasn't interested in that. I mean the people who came to see us play were hippies, rolling joints and dropping pills. To the extent that the hippies were of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane set, Quine was not at all interested in that. In fact when he moved to California, he got fed up quick with that scene and left for New York."
I will interject here and say I know feel even more connected to Quine. I have zero tolerance for jam bands. And punk rock was a direct rebellious response to the self-congratulatory jam bands and bloated organ solos and meandering, melody/harmony-less noodling. Godspeed Quine and punk rock energy and desperation.
"Punk rock didn't exist when we were together. It didn't exist yet. I mean, we thought WE were the punks, you know. We were the odd balls playing music and not getting jobs in offices and all that sort of thing. It was only a year or so in NYC for Quine before he hooked up with Hell and those folks, so punk rock was in the future for us at the time we were playing."
After Wash U., Barry got drafted even after his deferment. He applied to be a conscientious objector. He came to the end of the road with his appeals and was approaching the age limit. The draft board granted his conscientious objector status due to his age and sent him to Columbia, MO to work at a hospital. He drug his wife and life to Columbia, showed up for work at the hospital only to be turned away by the staff administrator who claimed he didn't know why the military was sending all these people to him, he had no jobs because there were so many conscientious objectors. So he enrolled in philosophy graduate school at Mizzou. He then moved to San Francisco for 15 years then Washington State, and back to California where he met a woman in Berkeley, married her and he's been there since.
Barry never really got into punk. But, he hooked up with a friend in California with a former Wash U mate who was in a band called Country Porn, who played country music with explicit lyrics, led by a guy called Chinga Chavin. Barry claims it was basically embarrassing, but he played with them for a couple years anyhow and eventually moved on to country rock including Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson with the influence of the Byrds and Gram Parsons in the background.
"Out here they call it high-octane Americana".
Barry stood beside Robert Quine and played with him before he went on to lay down some of the best guitar work of the 1970s and 80s, adding to NYC's punk rock legend.
Here's the best of the best I purchased for my research and to learn more about Quine's influence on Rock and Roll:
Also: Encounters with Quine - Tim Quine, Rubber City Review
St. Louis is a place that matters and has touched people's lives and been a back drop for incredible creativity over the years.
Robert Quine passed through and both took and left something here. His ghost will always be with me when I walk the streets of the west side of St. Louis and the Loop just west of the city.