Francis Rossi

Status Quo's singer / guitarist / composer


'Pictures Of Matchstick Men' (1968), 'Down, Down' (1974), 'What You're Proposing' (1980) - three of the many hits Francis Dominic Nicholas Michael Rossi (co)wrote. The singer/guitarist is a founding member of Status Quo, formed in 1967. They are one of the longest-lived and, with around 120 million records sold, most successful rock groups in the world, have played over 6,000 shows to a total of 25 million spectators, opened the Live Aid spectacle at London's Wembley Stadium on 13 July 1985 and are listed in the Guinness Book of Records (four sold-out concerts in four major English cities within eleven hours eleven minutes on 21 September 1991). The band released their 100th single in 2013, was placed on the English bestseller list longer with the singles than The Beatles! Their 30+ studio albums have charted in the UK for over 500 weeks.

Francis Rossi

Status Quo's singer / guitarist / composer


Francis Rossi
Francis Rossi | ©

Francis Rossi (* 29 May 1949, London) is responsible as the (co-)composer/writer for most of the Status Quo songs (excluding the band’s well-known track 'Whatever You Want'). However, 'Rockin' All Over The World' (1977) and 'In The Army Now' (1986) - probably the two most famous Status Quo hits - were not written by him! On 31 December 2009, Francis Rossi was made a ‚Member of the Order of the British Empire‘ in recognition of his great musical achievements and outstanding charitable work. In 2019 his book 'I Talk Too Much – My Autobiography' was released. He has eight children and lives with Eileen, his second wife, on an estate in the southern English county of Surrey.

"True intuition is probably for truely talented people.“ This statement, made by Francis Rossi with a twinkle in his eye, implies that he does not count himself among the "illustrious" circle. "I just find that I’ve been very, very lucky with a certain style of melody that people like and buy. I don't consider them really true songs. They are just little pop-things, three- and five-chords-tricks. I am just lucky that they work sometimes and people buy it." When a performer refers to his intuition, it sounds to him sometimes like "I'm special." In his opinion a good idea is sometimes down to intuition, sometimes the adage "necessity is the mother of invention". The native Londoner, nicknamed "The GOMORR" (Grand Old Man Of Rock'n'Roll) and whose waxy likeness belongs to Madame Tussaud's 'Rock Legends Hall Of Fame', refers to his own experiences. „I found, when I get periods that I can’t write or do anything, then a project comes along. Because you have to do it and work on it, start a song, then I get quite excited about it. Usually it starts to flow and you get another one and another one. It doesn’t mean, they’re all good, but I find sometimes, you have to do it, even sometimes it is rubbish. Then you carry on and see what’s next.“ Once moving, something new will follow. In the event of a blockage, Rossi's advice as a professional for solving such a problem is simple: „Clear the pipe and it starts to flow!” And: “I suppose the more you do, the more likely you’ll find something. If you write a hundred, there’s more chance of having some good ones than there is as if you write two!”

Interview February 2015

„Whatever You Want“: "Status Quo prostitute themselves – everywhere at any chance!"

Magic in the music-room

That some places have a magical effect that stimulates creativity is something the very communicative, humorous guitarist/singer has experienced himself. "In the house where I‘ve lived for 34 years, at some time after 10 pm I intended to move upstairs in my music-room. For some reason there was a period of three to four weeks that happened over a series of years from about 20 minutes past ten until ten to eleven at night, I suddenly been playing and get something that’s good. I put that down and enjoyed this. During the mentioned time-period I had a whole bunch of ideas coming in.” Rossi, a crossword puzzle fan, also finds another aspect interesting in this context: “Quite often you’re at very light sleep, if you are really getting there, because the mind is doing the melodies that you’re messed with and you can’t stop that. So the torture comes in that you can’t stop. Quite often, when you’re making a record, you’ll be doing takes on a song during a day, then you think fine and go to bed. But all through the night the thing goes on. The torment is when trying to rest.” By the way: “In the place where I live now, this what I have described, happened once or twice.”

For Francis Rossi, it goes without saying that having creative phases is something highly satisfying. „When the creative juices are running, it gets you very excited. But suddenly they are gone for months, maybe even years. I need to write something, but I can’t do it. I don’t know where to start. I play chord-sequences I heard myself doing a hundred times or a note that I’ve heard too in Fifties and Sixties. It’s of the same style and nothing. But something suddenly grabs my attention. I say „Wow!“. It’s just slightly different and then I finish it! But in the final process, when you listen to it, it doesn’t prevent you from noticing that it’s ordinary. It wasn’t what one thought.”

How to decide between good and bad ideas or which idea is worth pursuing - the accomplished entertainer has no recommendations at all. Surprising for someone who lays patience, which is known to train forward thinking. His explanation: “In the old day I used to know that when an idea had the potential to be big. Back then I could rate whether one of our songs could reach a top 5-, top 10- or top 20-position in the charts.” This ability still exists with him, but „relates to a time when things were so much different. There was far less radio and tv-stations. Now there are so many, we don’t know the fuck where anybody is. We don’t know, who’s listening to what station, who’s watching what tv-station and we’ve to consider the power of the internet too. Coming back to the subject: It doesn’t mean that your intuition or the song is any worse, it’s just: How the fuck you get it there?”

Despite the fact that Status Quo's records have sold in the triple-digit millions, Francis Rossi believes that there is no such thing as a formula for success. „If we all knew what the success-formula was, the right way to do it, we just would do it. But we do not know the formula. You think that’s the way to do it and it doesn’t work. Then with something that isn’t necessarily supposed to be the correct way of doing, things happen and they work.“ One can only speculate and strive for this goal, but there is no guarantee at all. For, as so often happens, something that does not fulfil the usual criteria will also be successful. Why this is so remains a mystery." To back up his statement regarding the music industry, he refers to the internationally fanchised casting-tv-show "The X Factor". "Experienced people pick that guy plus that songwriter - all the perfect combinations put together by people who know what works. You put it out there and it doesn’t work. And then there is something that everybody thinks won’t work, does." This unpredictability is one of the joys of the music scene for the avid puzzle player. No doubt that the title of one of Bob Dylan’s classics says it all: “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. “It’s an industry and it’s not just art anymore”, Francis Rossi says. “It’s so much about marketing to be really honest. It’s kind of sad, but the logical progression from the Sixties and the Seventies. We are in capitalism. Nowadays if you’ve got marketing, you are likely to get through. I don’t think Lady Gaga thought that she looked particularly good dressed in meat at ‘The MTV Video Music Awards‘ in 2010, but the whole world saw the picture. We all said ‘silly woman’, but you then listened to her music. Luckily she makes some good product.”

When excitement turns into disillusionment

Status Quo, on the other hand, are the epitome of a hard-working formation. Since their formation, they have performed over 6,000 concerts worldwide. Being on the road almost constantly, how are ideas preserved? On an iPad or iPhone on tour, on a Mac while being at home. „There are bits and pieces like guitar-riffs that I have recorded on voice memos since 2010. Quite often I have a look through those and see if I am inspired again for a little idea, because it’s the moment. Most music is the same, the same chord-sequences, the melodies have been used over and over, but something makes you being astonished. And then you go further and further. You finish it, you’re excited about it and you record it. It’s all very, very good and it goes to the point of the release where nothing else you can do. You may hear that song on the radio and say ‘Oh, shit, it’s not good’.”

The fact that one's own work is always well received by the audience is important to the producer - at least as a rule. „Usually when one has finished a song, on wants people to love it. The joy with that is that I don’t care whether people like it or not. It’s like with one’s children. One loves them so much. I don’t care, if everybody thinks they are brats! They are mine and I love them.“

Whether art comes from skill, the British gardening enthusiast does not know. " I don't think that I am very talented and I don’t think Status Quo being very talented. Historically, when you look at some of the biggest acts in the world, they are the least talented. I can’t mention x-names, but certain people that you know, I know that they definitely have no talent. They can’t really play, but they fabulously turn out that song and this feeling.” Unlike most of their „entertaining“ music colleagues artists from the genre of classical music are properly trained and can read music. „But if one watches virtuoso musicians, who are - no doubt - fantastic, you’re only impressed by their brilliance, tricks and speed during the first three or four songs, but then ...?”

A team worker, who likes to be the leading edge

Francis Rossi, who as the son of an Italian ice-cream maker/seller loves pasta dishes and red wine, but as a typical Englishman favours tea, works on stage or in the studio with colleagues. That is why he sees himself as a team worker. However, certain conditions should be guaranteed: „Genuinely I like to write songs with somebody, but I like to be the leading edge. If you have a writing duo, where you don’t have one to conceive to the other, then it’s just friction. When I’m working with somebody, I still have the insecurity that I want someone else to bounce it off.”

Rossi does not mince his words and proves to be an exceptionally amusing interlocutor because of his wealth of experience presented with much humour, on the one hand, and his astonishingly pronounced capacity for self-criticism on the other. He doesn‘t hide the fact that his career was accompanied by long cocaine and alcohol excesses. In the meantime, however, the creative musician is health-conscious (daily gym sessions, swimming, 100 push-ups). According to his own statement, he has never been confronted with a lack of intuition, inspiration or ideas when a deadline approaches. "Usually the deadline makes it work, because you need to do this. I have often said, give us 15 to 20 minutes and we’ll come out of a room with something. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, but it doesn’t mean it’s bad either. Some of the most successful things I have written, were done in a few minutes. Some weren’t. They took weeks and months!” For some years now, the clay pigeon shooter has reached the point where he no longer wants to put pressure on himself. "I got to point where I don’t rush them anymore. I just think, see how that goes.” There was one song that probably took him nearly two years in all. “It did come up a bit and a bit. But it wasn’t that I was struggling to do it like I must finish that song, because there was no reason to do it. Perhaps it’s better to have a reason to do it. You know, I am and lots of us are lazy. When I have to do it, things happen."

How about creating the ultimate, perfect work? „We’re still trying to make that one”, Rossi explains. “If we take that question into universal context: You keep saying it keeps going and going. But your mind says that it can’t keep going, it has to come to an end. But our mind also says, if it comes to an end, what’s behind that? What’s next? So the same thing happens with your work and success. I suppose there’s a case that in the end you say, I don’t know where to go anymore. I do find that at the moment, but I might get into something tonight and it all seems new again. Even if you do achieve worldwide success, what is frustrating about that, is that there will be someone who says ‘That is shit!”.

Status Quo polarise. While in Great Britain they have the status of a national institution and are not only loved there by their fans, their opponents constantly accuse them of moving stylistically within a very narrow framework and producing their good-times-boogie-rock according to a pattern that varies only minimally. Rossi knows enough of this criticism and therefore deals with it openly when people confront him with the common question ‘Why do you do stuff similar?’ The koi-carp-collector counters: “Because like everything else that you’ve enjoyed, you want to go there again. Same with us. If one thing is successful and there’s the demand for more of the same, only if one pretends one has got integrity, one would reply ‘I can’t do it!’ Of course, one can! It’s the logical progression otherwise there wouldn’t be follow-ups to successful movies. As much as all of us on the planet, even if some say, I don’t like the same thing over and over again, I reply: You fucking do! We watch movies that basically the good one wins in the end. But we like to think, and maybe there are some people out there, it’s not this way. It’s like the big joke in the ‘Spinal Tap’-movie, when the band has lost its audience and the manager says: ‘We’ve a more select audience nowadays.’ In other words: There’s nobody there!”

For securing that there is still demand for a follow-up, one can argue whether such product that is prepared according to the same recipe for success must be labelled as “recycling” or “logical progression”. “There’s a fine line, whether you’re recycling or not”, Rossi remarks and justifies his statement with logical arguments. “Whatever is recycled doesn’t matter to me, if the song, the movie or whatever is great. You wouldn’t say, because it’s recycled, ‘I don’t like it.’ The real reason is to be found somewhere else: “Everybody has his own self-image on oneself: I can’t like that because I’m like this. Therefore I’m not supposed to like this or that. Even if I do, I can’t admit it, because I shouldn’t.” Such an attitude is quite absurd If you take a closer look at it. Francis Rossi: “I don’t see why one should excuse oneself for what you like – whoever you are.”

Returning to the subject of “recycling a formular of success”: “When we say ‘recycled’, we have to state: the entire music is recycled. 12 notes – one way or the other somebody is recycling someone else’s - somewhere, somehow. Blues-stuff is complete repetition. Every single blues-player is playing the same licks - however, somebody plays them in a particular way. The thing about music generally is that you don’t really know what it is, why you like it.” In that genre especially, notes the unpretentious artist, it is often not at all clear why the listener likes something. It‘s attraction, he suggests, probably lies in the fact that it touches the essence of human beings in a fundamental, not to say animalistic way. The bottom line is precisely this: is the melody appealing - yes or no? In this context, a piece of advice from his childhood comes to mind: "I was told: As long as the postman or the milkman can sing your song, that‘s perfect!"

The struggle with validation

Catchiness and often simple structures are trademarks of Status Quo songs; in line with this, their performers cultivate a down-to-earth, folk image and are virtually the prime example of a "peoples‘ band". In all these years, Status Quo have delivered some mediocre songs naturally, admits the passionate jeans- and trainers-wearer. According to his opinion, "Again And Again", their hit single from 1978, belongs into that category. “I think Status Quo had some wonderful moments and their records covered with lots of shit. That’s nearly the same with every act in the world. Maybe The Eagles and The Beatles didn’t do much shit, because I like their stuff. Somebody else might think different. How things are judged, is frustrating. You pick a song you think is great. I find you a guy, who says ‘Oh no, that’s shit.’ We love to say things are ‘great’ or ‘shit’, because if I don’t like it, it must be shit rather than saying ‘I don’t like it, but I don’t care.’ If I like it, it must be great. Oh, no: You just like it! But we like to validate something by saying it’s great or not.”

Search for the absolute in the realms of reality

The dog owner struggles with the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder: "When I was younger, I thought that you would be successful and everyone would like you. But success is not absolute. That is what I find frustrating. There is always someone who says ‘Oh no no’. The older I get the more frustrating I find that. I’m looking for the absolute. I would love (to create) that song that everybody just loves. There isn’t one. And there probably won’t be one. There won’t be a movie, there won’t be a book, there won’t be a woman, there won’t be a man (of that kind). It’s just because we live in the realms of relativity. Well, how can you ever find the absolute? We’re looking for the absolute. I would love to make the album that everybody just has to have. But what happens next? I don’t know. Fuck, probably oblivion.”

Although their opponents dub them the most uncreative group in the world and see an almost inexplicable phenomenon in the "Abba of heavy metal" (Melody Maker), their success, which has now lasted around half a century, speaks for Status Quo. "To be successful, to enjoy broad, positive resonance and to be honoured with a World Music Award or BRIT Award like we were, is super - on the one hand," Francis Rossi reveals. "On the other hand, the whole thing - at least in my eyes - is also frustrating" and in the same breath points out what he considers to be the biggest burden: „You can get to the top, get an award and then...what?“ Thinking about an answer, the man becomes philosophical. „It is strange that everyone talks about trying to live in the moment of now, when all we do is talk about the next or the previous moment. I am no different. I’m on stage and think: One more song and I have finished it. Yes! I have achieved it again. On the bus being so happy that the show is over, I thought: This is pathetic. The best few moments you have is just after you have finished work.“ Because of that he wonders whether the entire planet feels the same way. „We’re all going, going, going.“

Interesting what Rossi said in an interview with ‚The Irish Independent‘ on April 25th 2012: "Once you are successful and you’ve got the gold, it’s about trying to hang on to that bloddy gold. Holding on to it, is much harder than getting it!“ And that‘s just isn’t it: „Once you get to a peak and you can’t get better, somebody comes along and does one better than the previous one. It’s rare, but it happens." Obviously that is the much-cited exception that proves the rule. Those who are not among these lucky ones simply have to try again to scale the summit a second time.

Constant greed to be successful again and again

Rossi himself is a driven man. The following statement suggests this: "I've had a lot of success, but that is not enough! If you would have asked me when I was twenty ‚Do you think, if you would have 40 hit-singles, would that be enought?‘ I would have said ‚Of course it will.‘ But it isn’t. I think we’ve released over 100 singles, 60 or 70 of them hits (remark by the editor: Status Quo received the entry "most hit singles in the UK charts" in the "Guinness Book of Records" on 1 September 2005.). Isn’t that enough? I would think so. Looking at it now, I’m talking to you as if I would talk about somebody else. I would say ‚Wow, that is surely enough.‘ But it isn’t. Whether it is the insecurity or the show-off in the performer, he wants you to play with his willie again. Thank you. Play with it again, please. It never gets to an end. That’s frustrating. I’m hoping, I’ll get to the point where it’s enough. I hope, but I just don’t know.“

The mystery of „how to do it“

Status Quo count amongst the few acts that keeps the ball rollin’ for such a long time. Even their career sometimes went like a roller coaster ride, they always could rely onto a solid fan-base and score again. Despite having experienced that Francis Rossi knows some, but no definite answers what’s the cause when you’ve been successful for a very long period of time and it suddenly stops. “There are many, many reasons. I think sometimes things happen in the background and people fall out. In bands the chemistry is no longer, so that they can’t work. Or that whole style that you have, becomes passee and then that’s gone. But that wouldn’t explain the success of Status Quo, The Stones and lots of acts that have been around. I think, things change in decades. And you hear things through the decades. Why Status Quo, The Stones, Bruce Springsteen or U2 still manage to get alright? It’s the whole thing about our business. If we could figure out ‘This is the way you do it’, everybody would just do that. But there’s always the angle that you thought it would work and it fucking didn’t.”

„The Spice Girls completely used the music-business against itself and became huge with very little talent!“

The fact that one person succeeds and another doesn't, despite having the same ability, is not a matter of talent. „You never can tell.“ To prove his point, the co-author ("XS All Areas"/"Status Quo: The Autobiography") and amateur film actor ("Bula Quo") points to The Spice Girls (record-sales in excess of 53 millions!). "They weren’t good singers – noone of them. Noone of them were particularly beautiful. They couldn’t really move. But they took the world by storm. I still don’t really understand, but everybody tells me, they were fantastic.“ Francis Rossi is „afraid that it’s all marketing.“ The best thing that they did from his point of view: „They completely used the music-business against itself and became huge with very little talent!“ In his opinion „the truly talented people aren’t on stage, they aren’t on television, they aren’t showing off, they’re at home – the very, very talented. If you just would have music, the talent would work, but it’s called showbiz!“

"Status Quo prostitute themselves - everywhere at any chance!", admits Rossi bluntly. „Some people have the integrity, they will not prostitute themselve, credit to them, but then you just fade into oblivion usually“. But not so for Status Quo, because "anything that keeps Quo alive, you end up doing.“ Two examples of overarching marketing in different areas: The band rewrote their tracks "Down, Down" and "Whatever You Want" for the advertising campaign of the Australian supermarket chain "Coles" in the direction of "special offers" as well as "large range of goods" according to customer wishes; at the English „Wychwood Brewery“, their own beer-brand called "Piledriver" was launched. However, those who are so business-minded are not spared disappointments. "Sometimes you go into a project, knowing we are good at it, and we do it. Then you come out the other side and recognise: Oh, fuck, that was a mistake!", Francis Rossi reveals. But that's not a problem for him, because the next challenge is coming up soon."The X-factor-generation can’t do that. Status Quo, The Stones and many more acts have fallen flat on your face, but then you get up and try again.“ He doesn‘t know what keeps him going. „I don’t think, it’s integrity. I probably think, it’s insecurity. I don't know, what else I would have done, if I hadn’t done this. It has given me a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement.“ In short: „It has given me life!"


"In one of my first home studios at the time, I was visited by a guy called 'Cosmic Cowboy'. He built all sorts of crazy guitars. Little did I know that whenever he was short of cash he would contact me to sell one of his guitars and then quickly disappear. That's how I came into possession of a model called 'Fly'. I immediately tested this guitar in the studio and, for whatever reason, put a capo on the fourth fret. I started playing, I liked it. The sounds reminded me of gospel or a song by the Crystals like 'And Then He Kissed Me'. At the beginning I played very slowly, but then I sped it up. That's how the intro of 'What You're Proposing' came about. The following basic melody came to me quickly, although the chorus was still missing. When I had it together, I went to bed. The next morning Bernie Forst, my co-author at the time, came over with his family. Everything was pretty chaotic. I told him the story from the night before in all the confusion and let him listen to what I had recorded. He liked it, leaned against the kitchen buffet and had the whole song lyric on the subject of 'When something is suggested to you' done in less than ten minutes."

"What You're Proposing" (release-date: 3.10.1980, singles‘ chart-position: UK - 2, Switzerland - 2, Netherlands - 4, Sweden - 3, Austria - 4, Germany - 3, Belgium - 7, Norway - 4, Ireland - 2, Australia - 12, New Zealand – 10.

My favorite work: Cover "Status Quo: what you're proposing"

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