banner ad
banner ad
banner ad


| 8 April 2021 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Suzi Quatro needs no introduction. The original leather-clad rock and roll star, she hailed from the seedy quagmire of Detroit (rock city) – during one of rock’s most fertile evolutionary periods. After shining in The Pleasure Seekers – where she honed her craft alongside her sisters, combining girl group melodies and nascent hard rock power – she grabbed eagerly at the offer of a solo career and moved to England just as glam rock was taking shape. The rest is history: 55 million-plus records sold, hit records for miles around the world, acting on stage and screen including a stint opposite The Fonz in Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero, novels, biographies, a recent documentary film, and much, much more.

70 last year and still managing to combine a fierce, almost intimidating self-confidence with a matter-of-fact humbleness, Suzi Q IS rock n’ roll. Fiercely intelligent and possessing a razor sharp memory, she will correct any interviewer whose research has been lacking, but whereas some stars crow endlessly about how great they are, Quatro is one of the few who don’t need to. The facts are the facts, and when she reminds you of her career achievements it’s not to big herself up, merely to clarify her story.

My video call to her house in Essex finds her in fine form, and happy for my punctuality.

“Ahhh good boy, you’re on time!” she smiles. “I really hate waiting. I am officially Dr Quatro, and I have no patients! This business is run on a schedule so, you know, for fifty-seven years you can’t be late for anything. Anyway, I’m ready and you’re my last interview today so afterwards I’m going to go and put my pyjamas on and get a glass of red wine.”

It’s 5:30 in the morning in Western Australia so a little early for the wine, and we have much to discuss – not least her killer latest album, The Devil In Me, the second she has made with son Richard Tuckey as co-writer, co-producer and guitarist. It’s one of her best albums ever, and that’s not just new release rhetoric.

I put it to The Queen Of Rock And Roll that she must be so proud of it, not only for the quality of the record itself, but also of her son’s contributions.

“I am beyond proud – and also beyond surprised! I’m going to nick a line that I read in Kurt Douglas’s autobiography, because it’s a great line: ‘If I’d known he was going to be so famous, I would have treated him nicer as a kid.’ I didn’t know all that [Richard] had in him because he never showed me. And we did No Control together [in 2019], which everybody loved – and we’d never written together before, so it was kind of, get your feet wet, you know? Let’s see how you write, see if you’re ready? What do you bring into the table?

“And that was such a critical success all over the world. People just loved it. Then they [Record label SPV/Steamhammer] took up the option for the next album. We were both supposed to be out on the road – all last year was going to be huge for me again, just like 2019 which was huge for me, with the documentary and everything else. Then… we’re locked down. Okay. So I said to my son, ‘you’re not on the road with your group. I’m not on the road with mine. We have a studio out there now. We’re going to write the new album.’

“Focus. I worked on the patio, he worked [in the studio] with the machines. I don’t work with machines – I work acoustically because I’m old school, you know. And he did say he had a focus for this album – he was quite belligerent about it. He said to me, ‘No Control is a collection of great songs. This album, we have to make as groundbreaking as the first one. I’m determined and I’m going to be vicious Mum: if it doesn’t fit, I’m going to say so.’

“And he was all about, in his mind, the vibe. The vibe. So whatever we were doing, he would be like this, [she makes a face indicating Richard would nod thoughtfully] or no [she shakes her head negatively], and he really stuck to it. And I started to really trust him. A lot of times he’d throw me riffs… you know, let’s put it this way. He’s 36 years old. I’m 70. So he brings in his 36-year-old generation of music. You know, whatever they do, how they write, it’s different to my generation, naturally, like each generation some things stay the same but some things change. And he started throwing me these riffs, you know, and I would be challenged because they weren’t my normal kind of riff. But I’d prepare and I’d start playing and I go, ‘oh yeah, oh yeah.’

“So I got into his way [of working] and started trusting what he was doing and then putting my bit on what I had to do. And in the end, what we ended up with was a perfect storm in a way, because he brought that 36-year-old with the energy and everything that entails, he also brought in his DNA, that he can’t get rid of watching his mum be Suzi Quatro for his entire life. So, however he saw me as he’s growing up, that’s in there and that will never go away. That goes way, way back [in him] – I mean, that’s how he sees me, as Suzi Quatro. It’s in there, you see it – and I brought my life now, my 57 year career, my seventy years of age, and all my experience of my life, to the thing.

“They say, you teach your kids to teach you. So I gave birth to him, and he’s giving rebirth to me. And I didn’t realise [at the time] that this was happening. But as we were going along, I realised I was starting to see myself fresh through his eyes. So it kind of lit me up again, and it’s just really worked out well.

“He’s taken a lot of my experience and this and that and just gone that way. Like My Heart And Soul [from the new album] – he had that fabulous track, and I just went out and sang. I didn’t even know what I was gonna sing – and I sang in a voice I’d never even used before. Love’s Gone Bad – that song wasn’t even for me! He was playing that track out there, and I left my patio where I was working. ‘I want that,’ I said, ‘what is that?’ He said, ‘it’s not for you.’ I said, ‘yes it is!’ He said, ‘I gotta give this to a rap artist.’ I said, ‘no, you’re not. I have an immediate idea for a vocal.’ And he heard what I wanted to sing. And he went, ‘okay, it’s yours.’

“So we can work well together. Not without a few arguments, of course. Of course, if you’re writing together… not arguments, sometimes just logistic differences. But I do trust him, because he is such a binary guy. He’s a vibey guy. And he really put his feet down, you know. And I always believe that when somebody really gets on something, that they really mean it, and you got to kind of trust it, you know. And he’s loving working with me, and I’m loving working with him. His Dad [Suzi’s former husband and guitarist in her band Len Tuckey] is his favourite guitar player, and we’ve somehow become this really good team. And I can’t say I saw that coming.”

‘Musical differences’ have ruined many a band or songwriting partnership, but in this case, Quatro insists that despite being twice her son’s age, having the experience to boot AND being his Mum, she never pulls rank on him, as it were.

“No, I never pull rank. I NEVER pull rank,” she replies emphatically. “That’s not my style. I will argue my point, but I’m not the kind that just says I’m right. I won’t do that. I’ll always listen, and we are doing it together. So sometimes he will say something, I wouldn’t agree with him, and I’d say, ‘why? Because I like this.’ Most of the time we came to the point where we agreed – though I had to teach him a little bit of studio diplomacy. He didn’t know about that, but that’s just experience.

“I was singing My Heart And Soul, and when you’re a singer or musician in the studio, and you’re doing what you do, you’re really naked, you’re vulnerable. I’m singing and people are listening, and what if it’s not very good. So all those things are coming through whatever you’re doing, and I was singing this vocal, and it was just beautiful, and I thought I was doing pretty good, and he stopped the song. He said, ‘you’re not doing it.’ Now I did pull rank that time – I got actually got defensive. I said, ‘what do you mean, I’m not doing it?’ He said, ‘you’re not giving me goosebumps.’ And I got mad, because there were people in the studio. I said, ‘what aren’t you getting from me?’ He said, ‘just a minute, just a minute.’ And he put the demo on in my ears, and what a difference – because on the demo, I had just gone from the patio to the studio and said, I got to sing on this quick and I just sang in this voice I’d never used before. I didn’t even know what I was going to sing about. And this voice came out – but when I was in the studio putting the finished vocal on, I was being Suzi Quatro. Totally different mindset. And he was smart to see that and smart to hear it and know what it was. I heard it right away [when he pointed it out], I got it. So I went outside, came back, put myself back in that space, missing my husband, and did it.

“So yeah, we had some stuff like that, but as long as you’re both going for the best possible product, it can never really be an argument. It could be a disagreement, but not an argument.”

I wonder if working with Richard on two albums now reminds her at all of some of the other great producers she’s worked with in the past, but the subject of production credits sends Suzi off on a slight tangent.

“Well, this production thing with No Control, I didn’t put my name on it, and I should have done. That was an omission on my part. Because Richard and me and Mike [Chapman] all produced that together. So this time, I put our names on there. The last time it was so funny. I was in the studio singing No Control, waiting, as is my normal, for somebody to press the button and give me some direction and say, ‘oh, that line was good, try a little bit more with this bit.’ Nobody was pressing any buttons… and I realised, I’m in charge. That’s why I called the album No Control. So on this one, we were aware that we are working at it together.

“A lot of times I need to finish lyrics off. I get a certain thing done, the riff, I play along and find a melody on the bass, I get my book out, and when I’m to that point I say, ‘right, leave me alone, let me sit with this.’ I go into the front room and I find the lyrics, I find the story. I always have to go down as deep as I can go, as you can hear by the lyrics [on this album]. I don’t like to write third person, I like to go right down to where I know what I’m writing about. It’s a very Gemini thing – your words are your tools. So, yeah, so every word is important, you know.

“Like Isolation Blues [another standout from The Devil In Me] – a great, great blues track and [Richard] said Lockdown Blues. I said no, no, no – Isolation Blues. It means more. And I actually sat on that patio and I went right down into the feeling of it. I thought, ‘what am I feeling like?’ I just wrote every line exactly [as it is on the record]. Everybody is relating to that song, a lot of people have picked it out now as a single, that every line was exactly how they were feeling. How can a song called Isolation Blues be so strong? Because [from the title] you’d think it would be a weepy – but it’s not. It’s in a bar, with drinks and so [that’s how] I gave it its strength. So in other words, [she silently mouths ‘fuck you’] to the isolation.”

Isolation Blues really does standout on The Devil In Me – as does Get Outta Jail. Not just great songs, both are zeitgeist-grabbing topical stories that summarise the frustrations faced as we all deal with the life changing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lyrically, Isolation Blues especially shows some vulnerability to Quatro, some cracks in her famous confidence and positivity.

“I dug in [for the lyrics for that one]. I usually do dig down deep for lyrics, but that one was, yeah, I went right down for that one. I didn’t want to hide anything. I just wanted to say how I’m feeling and I didn’t pull any punches. Like you just said, people are relating to it on that level. I’ve talked to a lot of interviewers, and finally one guy, I said, ‘why do you like so much?’ And he said, ‘because I’ve reviewed a lot of albums just now and they all have a COVID song on them, and they’re all contrived – and yours is not, yours is deep down from the heart.’ So I thought all right. My favourite line in that song: ‘I’m G ‘n’ T-in’ and getting so high, it’s an alcoholic lullaby’!

“Even people that don’t drink – they’re drinking right now.”

On that note, has all this time at home – apart from maybe a few extra G and T’s – allowed you to do anything else that you might not have done when you were touring and whatnot?

“Well, I bought this house in 1980. And I love it, but I never really had a chance to enjoy it before. So that’s one thing I got to do. I had the studio put out there – it’s got a big patio, I’ve got Suzi Q’s bar out there. And, you know, it’s a big house and I have really used every room. I’ve lived instead of packing my bag and getting on an airplane and onto the next show. I’ve lived.

“But, okay, I’ve done that now… I want my gigs back now. [she laughs] Been there, done that, got the t-shirt – can I go back to my gigs? I’m missing them! But I have used my time, yeah.”

We’re hearing the same – that a lot of people are spending time in their home or with their partners or kids, that they normally don’t get to see anywhere near as much.

“A lot of musicians, their partners are going ‘GET OUT’,” she says, laughing.

“I got very busy on the social media as soon as the lockdown came – because my whole thing is connecting with people. That’s what I do, either on the stage or in my songs, I connect. I couldn’t do it on the stage anymore, so I did daily Instagram posts with a picture and a philosophical message. And I’ve done it every day since like I began. I did 50 Suzi Quatro masterclass basslines. That was hard work. Because I asked which songs would you like me to do? [The requests] took me back to 1973! So I found myself having to relearn them – and hey, you know, you’re not getting paid for doing all this work, but they loved it, so I was able to give something back. And I did some Sunday specials, where I stripped my songs back and played them on the piano where I wrote them. I do my daily Facebook posts every day. So I’ve really been trying to uplift and entertain, even though I can’t do it on the stage.”

That is your default setting, after all.

“I’ve done that for 57 years. To just stop is like cutting my arms off. I’m a glass half-full natured person anyway, so you’ve just got to find your way through it. This is funny story – I’ll tell you. Every morning it’s a ritual, for my Instagram site I pick a picture. Suzi’s thought for the day, usually philosophical, then I go on my two Facebook sites, and I communicate. I have my coffee, that’s my first thing. One morning I said, morning, everybody, blahdy blahdy, blah, and then: ‘depression. You’re not getting in this door, so don’t you come knocking!’ I don’t know why I wrote that – but that evening, at about midnight, I was up in bed and I hit the wall. And you know what I mean – because we’ve all hit the wall. Everybody’s hit the wall. So I just let the tears come, and the next day I put on Facebook, ‘big mouth Suzi!’ Because I said that, and I didn’t realise that it must have been brewing. I said it like it’s just a glib statement, like, ‘oh, you’re not getting in here.’ And it was coming. And I must have known it subconsciously that it was coming and making light of it, but it came anyway. So I shared that. And that actually helped a lot of people. I said that I’d hit that wall, I hit that wall with everything I got and I let the tears out. You know, you can’t be happy all the time. It’s not possible. Anyway, ‘you’re not getting in the door’ – well, it got in the door. I didn’t even hear it knockin’ – it just came straight in!”

In the last twelve months if anyone hasn’t felt it, then I think there’s something wrong with them! It’s been very, very full on. Here in Australia we’ve been extremely lucky, and have dodged the worst of it, but it has still meant heightened anxiety and been traumatic for everyone, pretty much.

“I have a lot of people I know over there, so I keep up with everything in every single state and yeah, I can’t wait to get back there. I miss Australia. It’s my second home.”

In the past four or so years Quatro has released no less than three great studio albums – the two we’ve discussed, No Control and newie The Devil In Me, and also the excellent but underrated QSP album with Andy Scott and Don Powell of Sweet and Slade fame, respectively. Her previous three studio albums before that took a total of thirteen years. She previously mentioned the term ‘rebirth’ when talking about Richard’s creative input, so can we safely assume that the Glycerine Queen has a lot left in the tank?

“I’ve got SO MUCH left to say, I’m sorry to say,” she says with a mischievous grin and a chuckle. “You know, I’m just not done. I’m fired up. I’m driven. I’m not just going to stop – I can’t stop. I’m working on my fifth book as we speak. I wrote and published my Through My Words, which is a illustrated lyric book I wrote and published it during lockdown. I’m working on my fifth book and my sixth book, two together, and I’m writing with Richard for the next album. Because it’s here [she taps the side of her head]. So I can sit on that piano and I don’t run out of ideas. I guess it’s just how I’m wired. I’m always trying to create something, you know.”

I asked Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick this question last week when I spoke to him. Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper and Suzi Quatro have all released absolutely great albums already this year, all in part inspired by lockdown. Why do you keep doing it, when some of your peers – and I’m thinking of Gene Simmons of KISS for one – insist that rock is dead, and there’s no financial point in releasing new music?

“Because I’m not money motivated,” Quatro states unequivocally, without hesitation. “That’s why. I never was. I’ll go and play at a pub for nothing. I did all that stuff on the internet for nothing. I’m not money motivated, I do what I do because it burns in my soul like a fire, and that fire will never go out. And now you see the passion in me! I love what I do. I don’t care if I get paid for it or not. I will still do what I do.”

That is fantastic to hear, of course, but it must also inspire financial roll-ons in the sense that having new music out there and getting new fans must help with tour ticket sales ultimately [when tours are back].

“Yeah, but you know, I’m at a stage in my career where I really don’t have anything else to prove, it’s been that long. You get your core audience, and then you get the new ones that see you on the internet and all that and for the past four or five years, I’ve built myself up to the level that I always wanted to be on. I’m doing my my favourite kind of shows: solo, two hours with an interval, and I play seated venues. I love it. I can take you from A to Z. I can do a song with the piano, I can go play the drums. I can do the bass and drum solo. I can do a ballad. I can rock the house. I can make you swing from the chandelier and go home happy. It’s my favourite kind of show. And I’ve only gotten to this kind of show in the last five years, and it’s what I always wanted to do, what I always wanted to build to. I still do other festivals and all this other stuff, sure, but I am a many-faceted artist, and I like to show my many facets.

With time running out, I beg for the chance to squeeze in a couple of quick last questions, and Ms Quatro is generously happy to oblige. You’ve said you have nothing to prove. You’ve sold over 55 million records. Tell me about The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…

“I’m laughing [and she is] – I’ve actually got to the point now where I think I’m in better company not being in it. It has become a joke, that’s the only thing I’ve got to say. I’ve said it a million times and it’s boring to me now. I’ve got awards coming out my backside but [not being in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame] is just plain silly.

“It’s up to them, you know. If they want to they will, I actually don’t care anymore. I got over it.”

If you take yourself back to your childhood growing up in Detroit, and back to playing with your sisters in The Pleasure Seekers, even back to the Can The Can and Devil Gate Drive era – would that vintage Suzi be happy and proud of who you’ve evolved into today?

“One million percent. Oh God, one million percent. I’ve been able to evolve into the artist I always wanted to be. Don’t box me in! I’ve still kept the edge. I’ve still kept the rock. I’ve kept it very real. This is why I’m still here – because I’m not manufactured. I’m very real. But I’ve been allowed to show all my colours.

“Yeah, that’s what I always wanted. I wanted to always be everything I could be.”

No-one could deny that Suzi Quatro has been exactly that her whole life, as a trailblazer for not just women, but for musicians, actors, creative people everywhere. Her excellent latest album, The Devil In Me, proves that unreservedly.

“Yeah, my documentary [Suzi Q, directed by Australian Liam Firmager] kind of humbled me. Just before we go, I’ll tell you a good story to end on. I can’t pretend that I knew what I was doing – I can’t, I was just being me. I didn’t know I was gonna kick down doors – I was just being me. I knew I didn’t fit anywhere. I didn’t. Everywhere I looked even when I was a kid. Where do I belong? Nowhere. So I defined my place. I made my own place.

“I snuck into [the film’s] first premiere in London, and watched it with the audience before I was due on stage. I’d never seen it with an audience before, and I was standing at the back so they wouldn’t see me, you know. And so you’re hearing and feeling their responses. And all the women on the documentary [are saying] it’s all because of me and blah, blah, and the girls keep coming out and I was in tears every time they said something nice. I was going, ‘oh my God.’

“So, the next day I called Cherie Currie from The Runaways. I said, ‘I went to my first London premiere last night of [the documentary] Suzi Q. I just realized something – that by me doing what I did, I gave women all over the world permission to be different.’ And she said to me, ‘and you just got that?!?!’ Every time I tell that story it makes me sound just the way she said it – like, ‘you idiot!’

“Isn’t it refreshing that I had no idea? That’s the one thing I’m most proud of – that I’ve been around 57 years, I’ve enjoyed ridiculous success, and my feet are still on the ground.”

The Devil In Me is out now.


Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad