In 1977 Status Quo brought in producer Pip Williams to help them clean up their act. The result was a hit album and a best-selling single — 'Rockin' All Over The World'.
Never mind that long-standing joke about the band members' inability to play anything other than the same three guitar chords, as parodied in the self-mocking title of their most recent album, In Search Of The Fourth Chord. The fact is, Status Quo have enjoyed more than 60 chart hits in their native UK since 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men' reached number seven in 1968 — the most of any rock group in history.
Along the way, they have made the transition from the pop psychedelia of the aforementioned single (their only Top 40 hit in the States) to their hard rock boogie of the early '70s and, commencing in 1977, the more polished and commercial sound that, despite alienating many of their hardcore followers, has, to date, helped Quo sell around 120 million records worldwide. Not bad for a group of South Londoners who, as formed by lead guitarist/vocalist Francis Rossi and bass player Alan Lancaster, started life as the Scorpions way back in 1962.
Drummer John Coghlan joined the following year, by which time the Scorpions had evolved into the Spectres, and the line-up was subsequently augmented by Roy Lynes on keyboards and, in 1968, Rick Parfitt on rhythm guitar. At that point, having undergone several more name changes — from Traffic Jam to the Status Quo and, finally, Status Quo — the band hired tour manager Bob Young who, as an unofficial member of the group, would go on to write a number of songs, most of them in collaboration with Francis Rossi. These included 'Down Down', which became Quo's first chart-topper in 1975. Nevertheless, after multi-instrumentalist Andy Bown was subsequently recruited to take over on keyboards — Roy Lynes had left in 1970 — the denim-clad musicians opted to depart from the rough and ready music that had built them a huge fan base on the UK live circuit while earning them plaudits for the self-produced albums Piledriver (1973), Hello! (1973), Quo (1974), On The Level (1975) and Blue For You (1976).
"They were under immense pressure to clean it up a bit," says Pip Williams, who brought a fresher, more pop-oriented patina to Rockin' All Over The World, the 1977 album that dispensed with Quo's trademark 'wall of sound' — comprising an in-your‑face mix of pumping bass and hard-edged guitars — while spawning a title track that has proved to be their best-known and best-selling single; a rollicking cover of a composition by ex‑Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty. "Quo used to record with [engineer] Damon Lyon-Shaw at IBC on [London's] Portland Place, and it was a case of 'set up the stacks and play loud' in the studio," Williams continues. "For better or for worse, I can see the appeal of that, but they had never had any success in the States after 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men', and so the idea was to bring in someone who could clean things up a bit and make them more commercial with, perhaps, an American slant."
As an aside, Williams advances a theory that Quo's Stateside lack of success may have been due to a couple of factors: the band's own reluctance to build a following by performing as a low-billed support act at the same time as they were headlining in Europe; and Rossi and Parfitt's relatively understated, buried-in-the-track lead vocals that may be of limited appeal to Americans used to the oversized, soulful voices of British rock singers such as David Coverdale and Roger Daltrey.
"This is just an opinion, but who knows?" Williams remarks. "All I know is that I was brought in to do a job and that for 30-odd years I've had flak from Quo fans for the stuff I've done with the band. I mean, I'm 'twixt the devil and the deep blue sea. Whatever I do, I can never bloody win."
The producer of acts ranging from The Moody Blues and Dr Feelgood to Uriah Heep, Shirley Bassey and Barclay James Harvest, Philip 'Pip' Williams was born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, in 1947 and played guitar for a number of different soul bands throughout the 1960s, while also working as the musical director on Al Green's British tours and serving as an MD for Jimmy Ruffin. Then, at the start of the next decade, under the patronage of producer Phil Wainman, he became one of the British industry's most in-demand session guitarists, playing on records by glam rockers the Sweet and Mud, as well as on the Walker Brothers' hit, 'No Regrets'.
At the same time, courtesy of a short course in harmony and counterpoint at Leeds College Of Music, he was also a prolific pop arranger — his credits in this field would come to include the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the Kinks, Barbara Dickson and Ringo Starr. (Indeed, in more recent years, in addition to producing the Finnish symphonic metal group Nightwish, Williams has had the opportunity to further indulge his love for orchestral arranging, as well as becoming a course leader teaching music technology to BA and Masters degree students at Thames Valley University.)
But although Williams was known in the early '70s primarily as a musician and arranger, when Decca A&R exec/producer Dick Rowe witnessed Williams' passion for his work — which extended to the then-unusual habit of entering the control room to listen to playbacks of his session-guitar contributions — he asked him if he'd be interested in producing. Williams immediately replied, "Too bloody right I would!"
Work followed with folk groups, trad jazz outfits, even an African percussion band, and although none of these records earned Pip Williams much in the way of royalties, they did help him to learn his new craft. Thereafter, he produced projects by Geordie and Mud as one of the first ever producers to actually have his own manager. This was David Walker, who shook things up at the record companies and, in the process, earned his client considerably more than the going rate. When Williams was then approached by an old acquaintance named David Oddie to work with rock singer and songwriter Graham Bonnett, this paved the way for his introduction to Status Quo.
Oddie was part of Quo's early management company, Quarry Productions. So, after Williams subsequently produced Bonnett's first solo album, and in light of the fact that Bonnett was also on the Quarry roster, it was hardly surprising that the record came to the attention of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt. Both men loved its guitar sound — the vast majority of which featured Pip Williams playing his vintage collection of Gretsches, Les Paul Standards and Strats, going through some classic Fender, Marshall, Gibson and Vox amps — and the result was a meeting between them and Williams at Rossi's house in early 1977.
"We got on like a house on fire," Williams now recalls, "and that's when we spoke about doing an album together."
For tax purposes, this had to take place outside of the UK, and so in the early summer of 1977 the band members and their new producer all flew to Ireland, in order to work at a Dublin studio that had been recommended on the strength of Rory Gallagher having previously recorded there.
"It was an absolute hoot," Williams remarks. "It was like a village hall, with hardly any on‑board gear, no isolation and some appalling monitoring. I remember sending my assistant, Keith, to pick up a pair of JBL 4320s that I had, but they weren't enough to correct the sound, so we aborted the whole thing.
After going through a list of Eastlake/Westlake facilities in Europe, time was booked at Studio Bohus in Gothenburg, Sweden. The fact that Pip Williams has no problem recollecting when the Studio Bohus sessions commenced is for a very good reason.
"We'd been there just a day or two in order to get acclimatised, and then, on the very first day of recording, Bob Young woke me up and said, 'Good morning, Pip, it's nine o'clock and Elvis is dead.'"
From the first day the band spent in Studio Bohus, Williams was aware that there was virtually no natural ambience.
"Nothing escaped the little guitar traps, the little area where the bass cab was, or the drum booth," he states. "That's what accounted for the sound of that album, although there's also another very considerable fact to bear in mind: the longer than usual running time meant we had to cope with inner-groove distortion when the record was cut, while also shaving off the low end. What's more, it was mixed on Auratones for American AM radio, so that it would sound great coming out of little speakers. Still, we had a great time making that album, and the guys loved recording tracks like 'Baby Boy', on which Rick played my Vincent Bell electric sitar. They were tickled pink to not just be doing the 'wall of sound'. After all, the Graham Bonnett album that they loved had mostly been recorded at a Westlake studio, the Manor, and thanks to a briefing from their manager, Colin Johnson, they definitely knew what the record company wanted. So, whether or not it was a conscious decision on their part to make the 'wall of sound' disappear, they knew perfectly well that this album was going to be very different.
"Studio Bohus had a Harrison desk. It was very small, with maybe 32 channels in-line — possibly only 28 — and Francis loved it so much that he bought one for his studio in Purley and he's still got it. The meat and potatoes — the EQ sections — were fantastic, and those desks are still very sought after. That desk had one of my favourite-sounding EQs, even though my favourite all-time console is an API, like the one they still have at RAK, the one that 10cc had at Strawberry South and also the one at Threshold in London, which is where we subsequently did some dubs with Quo."
John Eden engineered the sessions since, at that time, Pip Williams didn't handle that side of things unless extra fingers were required on the faders during the mix. His prowess behind the console would emerge later on.
"I knew exactly what I wanted EQ-wise and I knew all about frequencies," he says. "I knew that 1k would put some more slap into a pair of congas. However, even now I choose not to engineer my own stuff. I like the idea of working with a great engineer, sitting back and producing. My producer's hat involves arranging, orchestrating, directing the performances, producing the vocal. In all truth, hundreds of producers who are around these days don't have a clue how to produce a vocal. When you're working in the box, when you're working with Logic and Pro Tools, it goes a lot beyond that. Producing a vocal is a fine art, and it takes many years to acquire the experience of how to handle vocalists and not just treat them like another instrument. To me, that's always been incredibly important.
"Producing a rock band like Status Quo, I suppose it made a huge difference that I was a good guitar player and a trained musician. That enabled me to talk to them and say things like, 'Hang on, it'll work better if you put the seventh in the bass here instead of just the root.' I was able to sit down with Francis Rossi and work through solos. He played all of the solos on the Rockin' All Over The World album, and in some cases he said, 'I loved the solo you played on the demo. Teach it to me.' I would be encouraging them, and the interesting thing is that for every single album I've done with Quo I've been in the studio with them when they've done the backing tracks. That might amount to me singing the guide vocal with obscene lyrics just to keep the vibe up, and in the old days it was also about conducting John [Spud] Coghlan. John, a dear friend of mine and a great drummer in the early Quo, wasn't that brilliant at remembering a song's routine.
"If we worked on a song really quickly, like 'Rockin' All Over The World', I would be sitting there, saying, 'Right, we've got a middle eight coming up, Spud. Don't forget to play a fill... Cymbal crash into the solo... Oh, you forgot it. Never mind, we'll overdub it...' That's often what my guide vocal would sound like. Quo are one of the few acts I've produced where I've physically been in there, a part of them. We'd get to the fade and I'd say, 'C'mon! Give it one more! Fours on the kick, Spud! C'mon, drive it!' That's how I produced Quo, encouraging them and vibing them up. And they were totally comfortable with that.
"I'm actually bitterly disappointed that there has been stuff said by Alan in recent years, claiming that there was dissatisfaction among the group members with my work methods. In interviews, John Eden has come out in my support and said that, at the time, none of them showed any dissatisfaction whatsoever with anything that I did. In retrospect, they'll make the same criticisms as I do about the albums that I produced, but that wasn't the case at the time. I didn't stand there with a gun to their heads, saying, 'Do this! It's going to be like this!' Everything was done with their total approval.
"It was only later on, when Alan was out of the band, that he started getting bitter and all of the vitriolic stuff came out. That was a shame, because I loved Alan."
"They'd actually rehearsed quite a few of the songs at Alan Lancaster's house. He had a huge garage overlooking the pool, and we did a fair bit of routining there before we started the sessions, although not to the extent of rehearsing the life out of everything. Still, this was unusual, because for subsequent albums we didn't really do all that much rehearsing, if any.
"On Rockin' All Over The World, for each song we'd get a basic backing track. At that time, there was a trend for double-tracking the basic rhythm guitars, so we'd do that and then we'd cure any 'Borises'."
'A Boris' is common music parlance for a bluff ('Oh, I meant to play that!' 'No, you bloody didn't.' That sort of thing.) The term was coined by Mr Pip Williams in honour of Soviet pentathlete Boris Onishchenko, who was disqualified for cheating at the 1976 Summer Olympics when, during the fencing tournament, it was discovered that his sword had been rigged to register a hit without actually touching an opponent. "We had a huge laugh the night I introduced that term," Williams recalls, "because there were different grades of Boris. There was a five-star Boris, where everyone in the band was fooled, along with the producer and the engineer, and this went down to a two-star Boris, where not even roadies were fooled, and a one-star Boris, where not even the drummer was fooled.
"So, anyway, we'd lay down a backing track, do a Boris check, drop in any little parts, and then, as a matter of course, Francis would double-track the rhythm guitars. We'd subsequently come to realise that less is often more, and on later albums we didn't automatically double-track every guitar, but that was still the procedure back in 1977."
All of which returns us to the focal point of this article: 'Rockin' All Over the World', which, in addition to rising to number three in the British pop charts following its release in September 1977, was used by the BBC to advertise its coverage of Live Aid in 1985. Three years later, with Pip Williams once again at the helm, the song was re‑recorded as 'Running All Over The World' in support of another all-star charity event, Sports Aid, while 2003 saw Status Quo reaffirming the song's popularity by way of yet another re-recorded version that appeared on their Riffs album.
"Before we even went into the Gothenburg studio, Colin Johnson told me, 'I've spoken to Rick and we fancy doing 'Rockin' All Over The World','" recalls Williams. "As far as my memory serves me, the original idea was Colin's, although Rick presented the song to the rest of the band after a week or two of the sessions in Gothenburg, and I remember that Alan Lancaster wasn't that mad about it.
"This was one of the songs that hadn't been rehearsed, but we played the original by John Fogerty and it wasn't rocket science. So we ran through it a couple of times, and although it sounded raw and we didn't even have the piano intro, we did a take before breaking for dinner at around five in the afternoon. After dinner, we worked for another five hours and got up to about take eight, but every so often I'd go back to that first pre-dinner run-through that John [Eden] had fortunately recorded, and eventually I said, 'It's got it. It's as rough as a badger's arse, but it's got it.'
"One of the things Quo were very good at was being able to say, 'There's the take,' but in this case they said, 'Well, there are loads of Borises on it, Pip.' I said, 'I'm amenable. If you want to go on all night, another day or another two days, then that's fine with me.' As you know, with rock bands things often go full-circle, and you'd better record the first take because it will always have something. It's a bit like waiting for a London bus — you can be there for hours and then the take will come along. Or it can happen quickly. Take one of 'Rockin' All Over The World' was brilliant in terms of its lilt.
"If you analyse that recording very carefully, it's got something that the old Chuck Berry tracks used to have: ostensibly, a straight eight quaver rhythm to which the drummer plays a shuffle. What happens is that it lollops along with a bass line that is quite free, and together with the guitars this creates a really great feel.
"After I proposed using the first take, we did the usual Boris check and cured all of the guitars, with Francis double-tracking them. We also dropped-in a few bass notes and overdubbed a load of cymbal fills before they said, 'We haven't got a f*cking intro!'
"I therefore had John put up a bit of spare two-inch, and then I asked Andy Bown to go and play some sort of Jerry Lee Lewis piano intro. Which is what he did, while asking, 'Something like this?' I said, 'Something exactly like that.' So, we recorded him, tightened up his part through editing, spliced it onto the front of the song, and there was the take."
While the mixing for the Rockin' All Over The World album was done at Marquee Studios, the one exception was its title track, which the record company wanted to release as soon as possible as the first single.
"Marquee wasn't available, so we mixed that on Auratones in one session at Threshold, starting at midnight and finishing at eight in the morning," says Williams. "Francis Rossi called me later that day, and when we asked one another what we thought of the track, he said, 'I think it's tremendous.' And he was right. It sounded great even on a tinny radio.
"I remember when we first played the finished album at the Phonogram HQ just off Marble Arch, and the company's MD, a lovely guy named Ken Malliphant, had us all sit there with his entire staff and the press people in one of the big playback rooms. I was crapping myself, but he was a great boss for vibing people up, and when the record finished being played he said, 'Have we got an album or have we got an album? Guys, f*ck off out there and sell it!' In subsequent years, you'd never get that kind of vibing up at the record company. It was exciting. Although there have recently been suggestions about remixing the album to try to fatten up the sound, I kind of like preserving the historical moment. It is what it is, and I'm still immensely proud whenever I see clips of Live Aid to know the song that I produced kicked off one of the biggest events in music history."
Label: Vertigo Released: 1977 Producer: Pip Williams Engineer: John Eden Studios: Studio Bohus, Threshold
The tape machine used at Studio Bohus was an Ampex MM1200, along with an ATR100 quarter‑inch, and Williams reports that while everything went to tape fairly cleanly, Rockin' All Over The World was one of the first UK albums to heavily feature the Aphex Aural Exciter.
"At that time, you paid by the minute for the Aphex," he says. "You would have to fill out a sheet, detailing how many minutes of music it was on — everybody lied about this, of course — and I think it was just a novel idea that they came up with to make people think that they were really getting something special. It was ludicrous."
While Williams opines that, in some instances, he, John Eden and Status Quo may have gone overboard in terms of using the Aphex, they made solid use of the Studio Bohus mic collection.
"Everything was closely miked because separation was the thing," he explains. "The guitar amps were close-miked with Sennheiser and/or Shure dynamics, and there were also close mics on the kit, with an [Electrovoice] RE20 on the kick — to this day, that's still my fave bass drum mic — and a pair of [Neumann] U87s as overheads. I also know we used an 87 as the main snare mic for a few tracks, because Spud [John Coghlan] dented a few. Then there were 87s out in the room for ambience, though on most of the songs their two tracks were lost to provide code for the rotten Allison Research automation. Remember, you had to bounce the code back and forth between the two tracks as you updated the automation moves! Even now, John Eden and I can recall the sheer frustration of having to redo mutes as the inevitable delay got worse and worse!"
"We did a lot of overdubbing at Threshold studios, and the dubs for 'Rockin' All Over The World' were done amazingly quickly," explains Pip Williams. "The Hammond went on, I did some wailing slide guitar on the end and Rick played a solo. He never usually got to do that. He played the first solo and Francis played the second one.
"I've always said that Rick is one of the greatest rhythm guitar players in the world, and the interplay between him and Francis is fantastic. When people hear a Quo shuffle, they think, 'Oh, that's easy to do,' but it bloody well isn't. I can do it after 31 years because I know what they do — Rick tends to play very tight down strokes, and alongside that Francis will be a little bit limper-wristed with the right hand; a lot more up and down. Put those two together and you've got that lilt."
As for Francis Rossi the vocalist, Pip Williams refers to him as "without doubt the best double‑tracker that I've worked with in my entire life. We would get to the point where he'd do vocals and some lines would phase, forcing us to do them again. We'd always record him with an AKG C414 and, generally, a Urei 1176, and he'd do maybe a couple of lines at a time, or a verse, patch it up, and then it would be easy to double-track it. We have occasionally recorded Francis with a U87, which has a faster transient response than the C414, but his voice suits the C414, and to this day that's his first choice of mic, using a Drawmer 1960, which is brilliant."