Robert Quine

TrackAlbum / Single
Betrayal Takes TwoBlank Generation
Off BlackOff White
Knives In The DrainQueen Of Siam
Let It BlurtSpy Records SPY 003
The Kid With The Replaceable HeadDestiny Street
Waves Of FearThe Blue Mask
Blind LoveRain Dogs
Don't Look BackLloyd Cole
GirlfriendGirlfriend
Head FirstBait & Switch

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Contributor: Keith Shackleton

Drop the needle on Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation LP and right from the start you know you’re in for a treat, when Ivan Julian’s ‘falling upstairs’ tritone intro to Love Comes In Spurts blasts into your ears. And right there with him, behind Hell’s bleat of a vocal, meshing his guitar expertly with Julian, competing against future Ramone Marc Bell’s drum thrashing, is an ordinary looking guy, making extraordinary noises.

Robert Quine looked like a management accountant on dress-down Friday: nondescript dull sports jacket and slacks, boring shirt, bald pate and ever-present shades. At 35 years old, not exactly a typical member of 1977’s Blank Generation. A Velvet Underground fanatic, influenced by Link Wray, Miles Davis, The Stooges and Brian Eno, he lent his electrifying skills to a tremendous variety of musical projects. It’s an insult to call him a sideman; he was much more than that. Through the 80s and 90s especially, if I heard some guitar that was off-kilter but sounded so unusual and original yet fit the song so perfectly, I’d grab hold of the record sleeve and read it: “Who’s playing on this? Oh yeah, Robert Quine … that figures.” Time and again.

His standout contribution to the Voidoids’ debut album is the blistering guitar scribbling at the centre of Betrayal Takes Two, and the fun continues on their sophomore release Destiny Street, guitar explosions, feedback and studio trickery aplenty from Quine on The Kid With The Replaceable Head.

He was ideally suited to sprinkle his instrumental magic over a number of records from the No Wave movement; a subculture reacting against the new wave, rejecting commercialism and drawing on experimental R&B, jazz and avant garde influences. He fit right in. Listen to the squall of James White and the Blacks’ Off Black, and Knives In The Drain, on the debut album from the provocative queen of Noo Yawk grand guignol, Lydia Lunch – Quine exploring the upper reaches of his fretboard to add blistering stabs and crashing block chords to punk-funk and big band swing.

When rock critic Lester Bangs wanted to make his own music, Robert Quine and Patti Smith’s drummer Jay Dee Daugherty were in the firing line. Bangs and Quine became good friends and though recording was pretty tortuous with someone as quixotic as Bangs, the Beefheartian stomp and grind of Let It Blurt is a total standout, with some great guitar interplay between the Contortions’ Jody Harris and Quine.

Perhaps inevitable, given his Velvets fandom and the New York connection, he spent around four years in Lou Reed’s band. 1982’s The Blue Mask is one of Reed’s strongest post-VU efforts – spurred along by Quine, Reed rediscovered his guitar. Quine says out of the four years, “the first week and a half was really great”. Two controlling characters created friction and eventually, what Reed wanted, Reed got, and it didn’t include Quine. But take a listen to Waves Of Fear and hear what happened when sparks really flew between them.

You don’t hear so much of Quine on Tom Waits’ classic from 1985, Rain Dogs. But he’s there, and Blind Love is included here because it’s not always about what a guitarist plays, but what he doesn’t play. Quine was a master at sensing the space in a song, knowing when to fit in and when to butt out, and here he gently meshes with Keith Richards to provide a perfect accompaniment to Waits’ growl.

His skills were on show again throughout the 90s, as Quine found regular work recording with John Zorn, Marianne Faithfull, Lloyd Cole and Matthew Sweet. The gently persuasive Don’t Look Back comes from Cole’s self-titled 1990 album, again a perfect display of Quine’s sensitivity. And Girlfriend (see clip above) … what can I say about that? Some of the most twisted guitar soloing ever to feature on a mainstream chart effort, from a guitarist’s album – Sweet, no mean slouch himself on the instrument, receiving extra six-stringed assistance from Quine, Lloyd Cole, Ivan Julian and Richard Lloyd of Television! It’s a terrific track from a brilliant record.

Late in his career, he applied his menacing twanging for free to a couple of tracks on a 2001 album by the sleazy juke joint legend Andre Williams, Bait & Switch. He knew Williams couldn’t afford him, but Quine thought him a genius. Hear them boogaloo the night away on Head First (and lend an ear also to the bluesy Bigger Than Greed Or Need).

Robert Quine wasn’t friends with many people, and he often rubbed them up the wrong way. He admitted he couldn’t believe people cared about him, though he was widely respected. Here he is talking to Lester Bangs’ biographer Jim DeRogatis: “I keep everybody at more than arm’s length. It’s just what you learn from trying to exist in the world. The world is a fairly unpleasant place, and if anybody doubts me, just turn on the news tonight. Anybody who has any sensitivity or intelligence is going to be fairly damaged.” You hear a residual anger too, most definitely through the Reed years, which in part accounts for him playing the way he did. Listen to the tracks again bearing that in mind, and you can hear his sensitivity, that fierce intelligence, that angst, all through his career. His music is the ultimate expression of his personality, and that’s all too rare.

Robert Quine – a site by fans for fans

Robert Quine 1942-2004 – guitarist’s guitarist

Robert Quine biography (AllMusic)

Read more of Keith Shackleton’s musings on music at his website, The Riverboat Captain.

TopperPost #423

4 Comments

  1. Douglas Quine
    Mar 18, 2015

    Keith – Thanks for the detailed review with a number of details that I’d not known. “Waves of Fear” remains my favorite. – Doug

    (See Doug’s fabulous tribute website to Robert here… Ed.)

    • Keith Shackleton
      Mar 20, 2015

      Thanks to you, Douglas, for all the valuable info on your site, which led me in a useful and interesting direction. Best wishes.

  2. Calvin Rydbom
    Mar 19, 2015

    Another Akron musician. My current book project deals with Akron post 1960. What’s really cool is the amount of musicians who have chimed in. I have so much information that I’ve got some interest to do a book on the Akron music scene.

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