With Lou Reed at the Bottom Line, ’84 one of his last shows w/Lou
Me, Jeremy Tepper and Quine, Hangover Hop, ’92. (photos by Michael Macioce)
It’s very hard to write about Robert Quine. Quine, (nobody, not even his wife or mother called him by his first name) was the best and most original guitar player of his generation, and the best player in New York City since Mickey Baker (one of his heroes).
Quine was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1942, and discovered rock’n’roll in the mid-50’s, catching the Caps’ (of Red Headed Flea) fame at the Fair Lawn Bowling Lanes in 1956. He saw Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly in ’57. He bought the Johnny Burnette Trio LP when it came out in ’58 (I have his copy now, one of my most treasured possessions). He soon got a guitar and learned to play listening to I’m Jimmy Reed, Rockin’ With Reed, and lots of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley records. He joined a band called the Counterpoints (with the sax player from the Caps) in which he played bass. A tape exists but Quine refused to ever play it for me because the sax player didn’t show that night. He refused to do the dance steps, or modulate the key during the cover of Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”– a man of principles even then. His family was rather wealthy and owned a factory that manufactured some sort of industrial parts. I forgot what they were exactly. His uncle was the philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine.
After law school (he took a law degree, passed the bar in California and New York but never practiced law) Quine moved to San Francisco where he attempted to join or form a band, however his short hair and straight appearance worked against him. He did see and tape the Velvet Underground in both St. Louis and Frisco and the best parts of those tapes where issued in 2003 by Polydor as a three cd box called The Quine Tapes. He first met Lou Reed in Frisco at the Matrix Club, bonding over their mutual admiration of Roger McGuin’s guitar playing.
Quine moved to Brooklyn in 1973 and friends attempted to get him a job playing with Art Garfunkel who punched Quine in the snout when Quine exclaimed “I thought Simon & Garfunkel were for people too dumb for Bob Dylan”. He moved to Manhattan, and settled in a tiny apartment on St. Marks Place, downstairs from former Modern Lovers drummer and Viet Nam vet Bob Turner. He worked writing articles for a law journal and briefly at the bookstore Cinemabelia where he first met Richard Meyers nee’ Hell. I think those were the only two real jobs he ever had.
It was Hell who had been an original member of Television and the Heartbreakers who gave Quine his first national exposure, building his band The Voidoids around Quine. Here’s a live version of “You Gotta Lose” (Hell was a better speller than the rest of the Heartbreakers who issued their first single “Born To Lose” as “Born Too Loose”). Notice Quine’s solo quotes the solo on Jack Scott’s “Baby She’s Gone”. Here’s their version of CCR’s “Walk On The Water“. He stayed with the Voidoids for two albums (although the recent re-issue of Destiny Street has Quine’s guitar parts erased and re-recorded by Marc Ribot and Bill Frissell) and a non-LP 45 (this is the b-side) and two European tours and when the band dissolved he was hired by Lou Reed on the recommendation of Reed’s then wife and manager Sylvia. Quine gives a hilarious recalling of Reed checking out his playing at CBGB in Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me (Grove, 1996), Reed threatened to punch him in the face.
Quine played with Reed on his best solo albums The Blue Mask and Live In Italy (where they played while being teargassed), most of his guitar parts on Legendary Hearts where mixed so low as to be inaudible. After Reed fired him he did session work with Marianne Faithful, Lydia Lunch (Queen Of Siam, her best) Tom Waits (Swordfish Trombone where Keith Richards’ overdubbed parts play off of Quine’s basic tracks), Mathew Sweet, John Zorn and many others. He produced Teenage Jesus & the Jerks first recordings. Quine recorded two duet albums, the first and best Escape with Jody Harris (of the Contortions and Raybeats) takes all its song titles from Three Stooges movies. The second, with Fred Maher- Basic is a collection of basic rhythm tracks with no solos. Quine loved weird chords and odd voicings, and this record is better for practicing guitar to than listening.
I first met Quine the day I moved to New York City, May 1977. I was staying in a loft in a basement on Warren St. (pre-Tribeca) called The Home For Teenage Dirt. It’s inhabitants were Lydia Lunch, Miriam Linna, the utterly crazed Bradley Field, Phast Phreddie Paterson (visiting from L .A.) and Todd Abramson (owner of Maxwells, he had arrived about an hour before me). It was also the Cramps rehearsal space. Jody Harris was the only other resident on the block and the Contortions, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the Erasers, and other bands practiced at his place.
I went outside to have a cigarette and Quine came walking down the street with Lester Bangs and Richard Hell, both whom I already knew a bit via phone. It took about four years of bumping into each other over the oldies and rockabilly bins at record stores but eventually (I think around ’83) we exchanged cassette tapes from our 45 collections and soon we were fast friends, we talked on the phone nearly every day and made a ritual of Saturday dinner in Chinatown which lasted for decades (except when he was mad at me, he could freak out over the slightest thing, although he’d always eventually apologize and give me some treasure from his record collection as penance). He was one of the funniest motherfuckers I’ve ever met. He loved to use the word “little” as a term of condensation i.e. “I saw your little friend at the guitar store today….”. He would make a noise from the back of his throat like a chipmunk being stepped on that always drew strange looks from women. He was heavily into handwriting analysis and could spot a nut, liar, or thief via their penmanship. I always showed him handwriting samples from whatever girl I was dating, and he was always dead on even if he had never met them. The few times I ignored his warnings I would live to regret it. We turned each other onto a lot of great music, the one he kept coming back to was Robert Wilson & the Groovers’ “Cranberry Blues” because it reminded him of Thanksgiving 1957 when all cranberries were recalled for some reason. I didn’t know much about jazz and he turned me onto Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, and Miles Davis among others. He made me a 120 minute cassette of electric Miles circa 1972-4 (Get Up With It, Pangea, Agartha, the rare 45 “Molester”) that I played for exclusively for two winters running. I remember the day that the U.K. Ace label released the six CD Little Richard: The Specialty Sessions box set. I’d just put in seven hours on the street as a bike messenger and just wanted to take a bath and pass out, but Quine showed up at my door with a copy of the box for me and a bottle of Jim Beam Green Label. We listened to the whole box and drank the whole bottle. Later we went out to cop and ended up with fentanyl (remember Tango & Cash anybody?) instead of what we really wanted and both almost died. My super found him on the sidewalk on East 11th St. and put him in a cab, his downstairs neighbor found him in the door way and dragged him upstairs and got him into his apartment. New York used to be more fun. I introduced him to Billy Miller at Norton Records and he got to play on Andre Williams’ Bait & Switch LP, as a Fortune Records nut it was one of his proudest moments. Billy told me when Quine took a mandolin like solo Andre yelled “Go Italian”!
He also appeared as a hustler in the 1992 film White Trash and can be seen in several live Lou Reed video releases, as well as playing himself in a 1980 film called Blank Generation starring Hell.
I don’t remember the exact date but it was August of 2003 around 6:15 PM when I got a call from Quine. “Alice is dead”. I packed enough drugs to sedate a herd of camels and headed to his loft in Soho (where he’d moved a decade earlier, he still hadn’t unpacked his records). His beloved wife Alice Sherman was dead on the floor, laid out in front of the bathroom door, she’d died in the shower, her heart gave out from a combination of overwork, anti-depressants and xanax. Quine was in shock. We were told we needed to find a doctor to sign the death certificate and it being a Friday in New York City in August every doctor was in the Hamptons so we had to wait six hours for the city Medical Examiner to officially declare her deceased, then another ten hours for the meat wagon to take her body to the morgue. As the sun rose I took him to where me and my wife were living in the West Village, an open space with a sleeping loft and no walls. Quine was shattered, although since he asked if he could raid my wife’s vitamins I assumed he wouldn’t kill himself, at least not then. He stayed five or six days and despite the trauma had my wife in stitches when he wasn’t crying his eyes out.
Quine’s last ten months saw him sink into a black depression. Without Alice he could not fend for himself. He didn’t know how to use a computer, pay his mortgage, health insurance, electric bills. His benders got worse and the come downs unbearable. Man, he was a mess. We had a Thanksgiving dinner that year at my house for twenty people and he passed out in his food twice. In early 2004 one of his neighbors hired him to record a soundtrack to a film (which I’ve never seen and don’t even know the title of), these were his last recordings and reflect his tortured state of mind. Here are four excerpts:
film music 1
film music 6
film music 7
film music 9
In May of 2004 he took his own life. I believe it was an assisted suicide. There was at least one person who stood to benefit from Quine’s death and my guess is that is who administered the hot shot (thus canceling out a $20,000 debt; moral: no kindness goes unpunished). For those who knew Quine my suspicions are directed at the one he always referred to as “pizza face”. He never learned to use a syringe and was way too much of a wimp to shoot himself up. There were fifty empty glassine dope bags and a note in his handwriting that said “Robert Quine: 1942-2004”. His recently amended will was missing. Also fifty bags won’t fit in one shot, it probably took two or three, he definitely had help. Had there been no one around to shoot him up, he would still be alive today. I truly believe that. The week before he died he had been on a coke bender and the come down from that made his depression even worse, the person who helped him knew this, but he also knew Quine wanted his $20,000 back and there was no way he was going to pay it.
Quine didn’t live to see the release of the un-issued Link Wray Cadence LP, the alternate takes of the Buddy Holly Decca sessions, the Miles Davis’ On The Corner box set, and the alternate takes from the first Velvet Underground LP, things that would have made him very happy.
I’ve never really talked about Quine since his death, at the memorial I tried to be as vague as possible. Now I’ve said my piece on the subject I’ll try and hold my tongue (and typing fingers) for good.