By LORRAINE CATTELL
Suzi Quatro was the first female bass player to become a major rock star and she took the UK by storm in the 1970s with a string of hits such as “Can the Can,””Devil Gate Drive” “48 Crash,” “If You Can’t Give Me Love” and “Stumblin.”
Quatro left a lasting impression, along with a trail of broken hearts as rock singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress and radio presenter. Many in the U.S. remember her as the tough-gal bass player, Leather Tuscadero, from “Happy Days.”
Suzi released her latest studio album No Control (on SPV/Steamhammer) earlier this year and she recently rocked her fans on an extensive European tour.
In an exclusive interview, Suzi chats about her new tracks, her tour, her life today, fashion and looks back at those early rock n roll days.
There are eleven new songs (plus 2 bonus tracks + CD) featured on the new album and on a majority of them, you have collaborated with your son, Richard Tuckey. What was it like to write and record tracks together?
It was a great experience and completely unexpected. We thought we were making demos and all of a sudden it got serious. He’s a talented writer and guitarist.
Can you describe some of the new tracks and what they mean to you? Some of them represent quite a contrast to your usual heavy metal songs.
Well, ‘No Soul/ No Control’ refers to how I feel about life and it has always been my mantra. The chorus in ‘I Gotta Hold Onto Me’ is very very important and I actually say the words on stage before I start the song. The track, ‘Love Isn’t Fair’ has another serious message because I’m always saying, “love isn’t fair”. It’s all in the lyrics. The nice thing about this is, it wrapped up in a very pretty, fun number and is musically framed so you don’t notice what the message is…..my favorite kind of composition. It started as a bass riff going down blues and I love love love this. It’s a real groove and one that eventually will work great onstage. It’s obviously, written about somebody in particular but I’ll keep that to myself.
Suzi Quatro – Can The Can
And the track ‘Strings’ with saxophone player, Ray Beavis?
A real favorite among reviewers and musicians. I showed my sax player four tracks where I wanted a horn arrangement. I played him this track and he asked if he could do something on this too. I honestly didn’t think it was a horn track, but wow! How wrong can you be! The song is important today as it transcends, race, religion, everything: we are all humans… this also started as a bass riff.
Can you tell me about those early days when you played in your father’s jazz band, the ‘Art Quatro Trio’? You were very young so what memories do you have?
My dad used to let me sit in sometimes playing the bongos. Watching him from a very young age influenced my love of performing. He was very charismatic. I’ve loved entertaining my whole life and I took to it like a duck to water.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you got your inspiration from Billie Holiday, the American Jazz singer and songwriter. Can you comment on that?
Yes. I remember growing up in a house full of music and starting way back with my dad’s era. I fell in love with Billie around the age of 17. Mainly, I loved her phrasing. She could sing behind the beat, till she nearly fell off. Then come right. She was fascinating and a true artist.
Where was your biggest venue and what’s your favorite song that you’ve performed?
That’s a hard one. I guess the biggest was an open-air concert in Philadelphia with 60,000 people. With regards to my favorite song, I could never pick just one. ‘Devil Gate Drive’ and ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’ are a couple. However, for a while, I closed my show with an acoustic version of ‘Desperado’ and I guess, in all honesty, this is another one of my favorite songs to sing.
Is there a moment that stands out in your career as especially significant?
Mm, so many! My first big concert where people pay just to see you was pretty damn good. It was like a first acting role. Then, my first radio show, first published book, and it was also pretty damn special being made an honorary doctor of music at Cambridge University. I’m ‘Doctor Quatro’ and it’s official!
How does it feel to be regarded as an iconic woman in rock music, someone who was a major influence on other artists of their generation and who paved the way for female rockers?
Somebody had to do it and it fell on my shoulders. I’m very very proud to be the first successful female rock n roll musician. Very proud indeed!
You continued your rock n roll career after entering motherhood. What was that like?
Well, I insisted that the children come with me up until they got to proper school age and I had a live-in nanny because I worked nights. They came on tour with me all over the world and I didn’t change my world, they joined mine. It was and still is fantastic.
You have done a little bit of everything in your career from stage to TV to radio to songwriting. Has there been a part you’ve most enjoyed?
I’ve enjoyed every single opportunity that this business has offered me. I’m an artist and I need to be creative, communicate and entertain. It’s what makes me tick.
How did you feel about being inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2011?
Wonderful wonderful! It should have been the year before but I had an accident. I feel deeply honored.
After living in the UK for so many years, what are some of the things you love about it?
The people are so unusual and loyal. The country is quaint and I have a good lifestyle here.
I’m sure our readers would like to know about what you like doing nowadays in your spare time?
I’m a movie buff. That’s how I relax.
Without a doubt Suzi, you have made an influential and indelible mark on music and culture. How difficult was it back then in the 70s to break through in a genre dominated by men?
I didn’t find it difficult at all. My dad didn’t raise me with limitations. I was serious about what I was doing and that’s the vibe I put out.
Looking back over the decades, the vast majority of female artists such as Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Grace Slick and Pat Benatar were fierce and appeared aggressive. Were you influenced by this image even though your music stood out on its own?
I’m not sure what you mean? I didn’t have any female to look up to. There was no one doing what I was doing. I was the blueprint. I was just being who I am; always natural and not focusing on gender from day one.
In 1972, you embarked as a support act on a UK tour with Thin Lizzy and headliners Slade. How did you get on with other bands that you worked with?
We all became friends and they were good people. I’m still close with Don Powell, who I released an album with in 2017, ‘Quatro, Scott and Powell’. Also, Noddy of course! All great people, all of them.
In the 1960s miniskirts were regarded as a symbol of liberation especially in the heart of fashionable ‘Swinging London’. They also quickly became a major international trend. Although today they no longer have the power to shock, did you ever incorporate them into your rock attire?
I was in my first band and of course a sixties teenager so yes, I wore mini skirts. However, in all honesty, I was more of a T-shirt and blue jeans person. I was always a tomboy at heart.
The UK charts were inundated with glam rock acts in the early 1970s, with T. Rex, Sweet, Bowie and so many others who wore outrageous outfits, glitter and platform shoes. What was your response to this flamboyant visual styles of performers?
I enjoyed it for what it was but I was never glam. Not for my music and not with my outfits. I also didn’t wear any make-up at all.
We all remember the tight leather clothes you wore on stage. How would you describe your personal style today?
It’s the same. Very little make-up and, as I said earlier, just T-shirts and blue jeans. On stage, I still wear the plain black jumpsuit. It’s me.
What item in your wardrobe do you wear the most and on what do you spend the most: clothes, accessories, perfume or is there something else?
Clothes and perfume marginally as I’m not a wasteful person. I think my biggest expense is traveling.
What type of clothes, footwear or accessories would you never be caught dead wearing in public?
Although I can wear high heels very well, I won’t! I think it looks ridiculous to see a woman struggling to walk. As I said to my husband one time, “No man is worth it.”
How do you still keep looking young? Do you follow any beauty regime? Any tips?
I keep physically fit by doing Yoga, running and going to the gym. Of course, stage work is an aerobic workout. Food-wise, I’m a veggie with the odd steak thrown in. I drink lots of fruit juice too.
What would you say to your fans who are still following and idolizing you today?
I humbly thank them for sticking with me and my new album. ‘No Control’ has been proof of that. People all over the world are loving it and supporting it. It has already charted and I did the entire thing with my son Richard. This is the reason I am doing promotion at the moment.
Can you tell me something people would be surprised to know about you?
I still say my prayers at night.
Lorraine Cattell (Eyre) is a renowned international British Fashion Journalist. Her articles & interviews appear regularly in magazines & online publications across the globe. She also works in PR & Social Media.