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SUZI QUATRO: LOOKING BACK, STEPPING FORWARD- INTERVIEW BY TEDDIE DAHLIN 

 
Like most kids, back in the 70’s, I would religiously watch Top of the Pops on TV and listen to the count down of the top 40 chart hits on the radio every week. It was the highlight of my week and not to be missed. T Rex, The Sweet, Mott the Hoople and Hawkwind would be blasting out of our house, with me cat wailing along at the top of my voice. Can anyone remember Hot Chocolate’s Errol Brown sobbing his way through ’Emma Emmaline’? It made me cry every time. Then in 1973 something different happened. Wizzard had a huge number 2 hit with ’See My Baby Jive’, just behind ’Blockbuster’ by The Sweet who were number one. Suddenly a girl was in the charts. Not just any girl singing sweetly about love, which was the norm up until then, but a black leather clad American girl with a huge bass guitar telling us to ’Can the Can’. She was different to anything I’d seen before. Great voice, fantastic image and all the boys in my class fancied her. Suzi Quatro hit the UK charts with a lot of noise. She broke barriers for womens participation in rock and roll music and led the way that others, inspired by her style and music, have since followed.

After a string of hits, which included the number 4 US chart hit duet with Chris Norman (Smokie) ’Stumblin In’, she tried her hand at acting. Suzi played the part of Leather Tuscadero; the leather clad, bass playing sister of Fonzies girlfriend in the US sitcom Happy Days. She acted on Minder with Dennis Waterman, Dempsey and Makepeace and even had a role in Absolutely Fabulous, to name but a few. Suzi is still rocking and rolling and we had a talk about the ’absolutely fabulous’ career she’s had so far.  

TEDDIE: Who were your early influences in music ?

SUZI: First Elvis. I was 6, year 1956. Then Otis Redding, then Billie Holiday. On bass; Jameson from Motown and Canned Heats player.... excellent!

TEDDIE: How old were you when you knew you wanted to perform for a living?

SUZI: Age 6. Something bit me. Elvis again, I ‘knew’ I would be like him...crazy and young as it sounds.

TEDDIE: Did you have any female role models back then?

SUZI: Mary Weiss from Shangri La’s was pretty cool. Also Billie Holiday was a big hero of mine. I got into (Janis) Joplin quite late.

TEDDIE: Your first band in the early 60’s was with your sisters Patti and Arlene and later Nancy called The Pleasure Seekers. Did you all aspire to be rock stars, or was it more a desire to perform that brought you together musically?

SUZI: I can only speak for myself. I never had any other job in my entire life but entertaining, and I have never stopped; not even when I was pregnant. I’ve been touring and working non stop since 1964. In 2014 it will be 50 years as a professional. What my sisters and I did share was out upbringing, which was very ‘Show Biz’. We all had tons of music lessons. It was a natural thing for us all to do. I was never ‘that’ concerned though that it had to be all girls. I just had to play!!

TEDDIE: You signed to Mickie Most RAK lable. How did that come about? Did he come over to see you in the US?

SUZI: Pleasure Seekers became cradle for about 2 years. Elektra Records came to see the band. I got offered a solo contract, the same week Mickie Most came to see us, and again; solo contract. I decided on England because Mickie ‘saw’ who I was. This was the best decision of my life.

TEDDIE: Mickie Most is famous for making some of the biggest names in the music scene in the 70’s. Was it easy to work with him?

SUZI: We are both Gemini’s, so we understood each other. He could be difficult, but then so could I. I give as good as I get, Rest His Soul, I miss him. He was my Svengali and I loved him, as a father figure. He made my dreams come true.

TEDDIE: Did you design your own image, or did you let Most lead you in any way with how you wanted to come across and what sort of music you wanted to do?

SUZI: Nobody ever leads me. In fact, I led Mickie. I insisted on leather; he was against it... (1968 Elvis Comeback Special made my mind up) Although, he did come up with the jumpsuit idea. Chapman (record producer/songwriter) led me musically. I was also the tomboy. I again insisted that I get a boy band together. I always knew who I was.

TEDDIE: In 1972 you and Thin Lizzy supported Slade on a UK tour. What was that like? I have this impression that Phil Lynnot was a down to earth and nice guy and Noddy Holder would be the funny man. Am I right or were they different to their public images?

SUZI: Phil was a very nice guy. A little lost all the same. He tried to live to the Rock and Roll life, and that’s what killed him, but for sure a nice man. Noddy; yes very funny...and another Gemini. We are good friends to this day.

TEDDIE: Did you have a lot of fun in general on tour back then?

SUZI: Way back then; of course, if you mean the Slade tour. I didn’t have a hit yet, so it was exciting. The hits would follow soon though and I was completely ready; mind, body and soul.

TEDDIE: Then in May 1973 you had a huge success hit with Can the Can. When you recorded the song did you know it was a hit?

SUZI: Yes! I had chills all over me. It felt like a number one, and when I put the scream on...well, that was it!

TEDDIE: Was there a time back then, before Can ‘The Can’ was top of the music charts that you doubted you would ever make it?

SUZI: No. I always believed in myself and my destiny.

TEDDIE: ‘Can The Can’ (1973) was followed by ‘48 Crash’ (1973) and ‘Daytona Demon’ (1973) and my personal favourite ‘Devil Gate Drive’ (1974). These were instant hits and sold over a million copies each. What was your life like at the time? Was it crazy with all the fans and the media circus?

SUZI: Yes, crazy for sure. But lucky for me I was brought up ‘in’ the business so I didn’t take all the crazy fame stuff seriously. I was a musician, a singer taking my job seriously and determined to deliver 100% every time.

TEDDIE: There was a lot of drugs going on in the music industry at the time. Still is, but I think we are probably better educated these days about the dangers of drugs, but it was pretty usual in the 70’s. Did you ever over indulge in any excess?

SUZI: Nope. Not my style. Never has been. I’m a lightweight. I have a great cellar, but I get drunk after one glass of wine....oh well...

TEDDIE: You’d become a huge rock star in Europe and Australia, but the US wasn’t taking much notice to begin with. Did you think “fuck it, then...” or did it make you all the more determined to make a name for yourself in the US?

SUZI: US? Long story. But the short version is; we started to tour USA in 1974. We did a lot of tours and sold a lot of albums, but (Mickie) Most kept changing labels, so there was no build up of me as an artist, and I didn’t have as many hit singles there. But I am assured, if I decided to tour USA, even now, I would sell out.....

TEDDIE: In 1978 you released the album ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’ and it was another instant hit in the UK, but the duet ‘Stumblin’ In’ with Chris Norman (Smokie) reached no 4 in the US charts. You finally made it, how did it feel?

SUZI: Great! Although I was always touring there, now I have a million seller, so yes fantastic. Best part was my dad put it on ‘his set’. How funny is that?

TEDDIE: You were the first female bass player to become a major rock star. Did you find your gender a hindrance at all before your success was a fact?

SUZI: I don’t do gender. I never have. I was simply doing what I had to do. I took myself seriously, therefore everyone else did.

TEDDIE: You broke barriers for women’s participation in rock music. Was that ever an issue for you, or were you thinking more along the lines of getting your music out there?

SUZI: Sooner or later somebody had to kick the door down. It fell to my shoulders. It was fate. I just happened to do the kicking, and proud to change the way that women were perceived, although I can’t say I planned it. I was simply being true to myself, which is probably why it did fall on me to do it. I wasn’t trying to be male or trying to prove anything. I was just being me and it worked...Thank God.

TEDDIE: Do you have any idea about what a huge influence you have been and still are to people out there?

SUZI: Yes...I hear it all the time from artists past and artists present and I am humbled by it. Wow!!! Little Suzi from Detroit....

TEDDIE: The 80’s brought us ‘Rock Hard’ and ‘Suzi Greatest Hits’, which peeked at no 4 in the UK charts. You then went on to collaborate with Bronski Beat, members of The Kinks, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Dr Feelgood. And you started acting. Tell me how you got into the acting thing? Did you always want to try it? Was it an ambition?

SUZI: I always wanted to do ‘everything’ show business had to offer. Acting, TV, Theatre, and I have. Great! If I have a second love, it is acting. Love it, Love it, Love it.

TEDDIE: And you are doing some DJ’ing as well for the BBC?

SUZI: BBC? Some DJing? Well I have been a big part of the station since 1999, even nominated for a Disc Jockey of the Year award. I now do specials, instead of weekly shows, documentaries and anything else that takes my fancy. I’m a communicator.

TEDDIE: You’ve had a long and successful career. Is there anything in the pipeline now? Anything exciting that you want to share with the fans?

SUZI: Lots and lots. I am putting out a poetry book. Cover portrait of me by Romero Britto. The book is called ‘Through My Eyes’. It’s something I have been doing since age 12. I’m very proud of it. I have quotes from lots of famous people, who’s opinion matters on the back. It’s very important to me as they quoted ‘after’ they read the poetry. I have my own design of Xmas cards, available through merchandise site starting in May. Something I have done for years. I have my second one of my one woman show in September called Unzipped; A Journey Through My Life, with clips, photo’s and music, and my fiftieth anniversary coming up. To celebrate there will be a 4 CD Box Set, an anthology, which we are working on now. Mike Chapman will do X2 new tracks so it’s all very exciting. I’m not happy unless I’m creating.

Thank you so much for the chat.  I look forward to the box set especially and wish you well with all your other future ventures. 

www.suziquatro.com

Interview by
Photos supplied by Suzi Quatro