Peter Quaife: Remembering the unsung hero of The Kinks

11 June 2024, 16:33

Peter Quaife in 1965
Peter Quaife in 1965. Picture: Getty

By Tom Owen

Peter Quaife, the original bassist for the iconic rock band The Kinks, remains one of the less celebrated figures in rock history despite his substantial contributions.

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His musicianship and character played a pivotal role in shaping the Kinks' early sound and dynamic. Quaife’s journey with The Kinks, his influence on their music, and his life beyond the band are deserving of recognition and respect.

Peter Quaife was born on December 31, 1943, in Tavistock, Devon. He grew up in Muswell Hill, London, where he would meet the Davies brothers, Ray and Dave, who would become his bandmates in The Kinks. The trio shared a passion for American blues and rock ‘n’ roll, which led to the formation of The Kinks in 1963. Mick Avory also joined on drums.

Quaife, a self-taught bassist, was instrumental in the early success of The Kinks. His solid, driving bass lines provided the foundation for the band’s distinctive sound. Alongside Ray’s lyrical prowess and Dave’s innovative guitar work, Quaife’s contributions helped to define the band’s style.

The Kinks’ early hits, such as ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day and All of the Night’, showcased his ability to anchor the band’s frenetic energy with his steady, rhythmic bass playing.

The Kinks’ Rise to Fame

The Kinks quickly rose to prominence with their raw sound and rebellious spirit, which captured the essence of the burgeoning British rock scene. Their 1964 hit ‘You Really Got Me’ is often cited as one of the first songs to feature a distorted power chord riff, a technique that would become a staple in rock music.

L-R Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, Ray Davies, Mick Avory
L-R Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, Ray Davies, Mick Avory. Picture: Getty

Quaife’s bass playing on this track and others was characterized by its simplicity and effectiveness, driving the music forward with relentless precision.

Throughout the mid-1960s, The Kinks continued to produce a string of successful singles and albums. Songs like ‘Tired of Waiting for You’ and ‘A Well Respected Man’ further established their reputation.

Quaife’s role in the band was crucial during this period, as his musical chemistry with the Davies brothers helped to create some of the most memorable tracks of the era.

Quaife, who was also regarded by many fans as the best-looking member of the band, was often their spokesman.

Departure and Life After The Kinks

Despite the band’s success, internal tensions and personal conflicts began to take their toll. In 1966, Quaife was involved in a serious car accident, which led to his temporary departure from the band.

During his absence, The Kinks hired John Dalton as a replacement bassist. Although Quaife returned in 1967, the seeds of discord had been sown.

The Kinks
The Kinks. Picture: Getty

In 1969, Quaife made the difficult decision to leave The Kinks permanently. He cited dissatisfaction with the band’s direction and a desire to explore new musical avenues as his reasons for departing.

His exit marked the end of an era for The Kinks, who would go on to achieve further success without him. However, Quaife’s contributions during their formative years remained an integral part of their legacy.

After leaving The Kinks, Quaife formed a new band called Mapleoak, which enjoyed moderate success in Europe. However, his post-Kinks musical career never reached the same heights.

Quaife eventually retired from professional music and emigrated to Canada, where he pursued a career in graphic design and cartooning. He maintained a low profile, although he occasionally participated in Kinks-related events and interviews.

At the time of his death, Peter Quaife had no formal ties with The Kinks, but he remained passionate about his time with the band and often participated in fan gatherings. He also joined the Kast Off Kinks for a few songs.

Quaife lived in Canada for over two decades, but in 2005, after his marriage ended in divorce, he moved back to Denmark to live with his girlfriend Elisabeth Bilbo, whom he had known since she was a 19-year-old Kinks fan. They were engaged at the time of his death.

The Kinks - You really got me (1965) HD

In 2005, Quaife was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame with The Kinks, marking the last reunion of the four original band members. However, in December 2008, he firmly stated that he would never participate in any Kinks reunion. By March 2009, Quaife announced he was permanently retiring from public life.

Quaife, who had been undergoing kidney dialysis for over ten years, passed away on June 23, 2010, at the age of 66. Two days later, Dave Davies expressed his profound sorrow on his message board, praising Quaife's friendship, personality, talent, and contributions to The Kinks' sound, noting that he "was never really given the credit he deserved for his contribution and involvement."

Ray Davies dedicated his June 27 performance at the Glastonbury Festival to Quaife, performing several songs from the Quaife-era of The Kinks in tribute. During the performance, Ray emotionally acknowledged, "I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for him," and was visibly moved as he sang the opening line to 'Days'. Mick Avory remarked that Quaife's departure was a significant loss for the band, noting that it "made a big difference."

Legacy and Influence

Peter Quaife’s influence on The Kinks and rock music cannot be overstated. As the band’s original bassist, he helped to lay the groundwork for their early success and played on some of their most enduring tracks. His style was marked by a focus on melody and rhythm, which complemented the band’s dynamic sound.

Quaife’s departure from The Kinks did not diminish his impact. His contributions during the band’s formative years were crucial in establishing their identity.

The Kinks in 2005
The Kinks in 2005. Picture: Getty

The raw energy and innovative spirit that characterized The Kinks’ early work were, in no small part, due to Quaife’s bass playing and musical sensibilities.

In later years, Quaife’s legacy was honoured by his former bandmates and the music community. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Kinks in 1990. Despite his relatively short tenure with the band, his contributions were recognized as essential to their enduring legacy.

Peter Quaife may not be as widely known as other members of The Kinks, but his role in their early success and his influence on their music are undeniable.