FEATURE: Rock & Roll Queen Suzi Quatro – Seventies To Seventy
Words: Jeremy Gluck
Guest Writer (Director, Welsh Connections/SWND Records – Musician – Artist)
Coming up comfy in the suburbs of Ottawa – at that time still loveably pocket-sized – at fifteen, haunting the deletion bins of the record stores downtown one day began a strange manifestation.
Out of nowhere, usually for 99 cents each – $1.99 tops – appeared several albums on budget start-up Bell Records (later to become surreally high-class coffee table label Arista), which brought to North America a lot of the glam and glitter rock & roll of the era.
The Sweet. Showaddywaddy. Gary Glitter. And, yeah, Suzi Quatro: the chick rocker supreme, whose biggest hits (not least in Australia, where she chart-topped) ’48 Crash’, ‘Can the Can’, and ‘Devil Gate Drive’, co-defined the boss formula glam rock sound of regurgitated, reconstituted Fifties riffs, ludicrous lyrics, and sparkly, trebley production ready-made to distort any low-end record player speaker cone.
In those far off days, when real rock & roll was around but amidst the dreck of putrid pop and faux folk at times seemed somehow rare, an artist as raunchy as Quatro was to be prized.
’48 Crash’, especially, a screeching, squalling slab of mindless noise masquerading as music, with an excuse for verses carved from soap dissolved by a chorus towering in its inane glory, epitomised the peak Quatro sound.
Manic to the point of derangement, its droning intro whipped without warning into a staccato assault on the senses liable to induce migraine, stomping your being mercilessly. This was what rock & roll, in the immortal words of Lester Bangs, was at its best meant to be: “a pile of raving crap”.
My God, the sheer audacity of Quatro’s fantastic cathouse screams piercing the soul savagely. At this remove, watching Quatro in her prime perform ’48 Crash’, it’s impossible to ignore her attitude, beauty and, um, balls.
Furious and fabulous, in a tight leather catsuit, diminutive, her high register shriek shattering all decorum, sneering and pouting, a big bass rolling around her shaking hips, ’73 Suzi is sex and rock & roll as drugs. Memorable much?
Meanwhile, merely nearly fifty years later, pushing 70, Quatro drops a new album and, damn, it’s fine! Her sixteenth, ‘The Devil In Me’, co-written with her son Richard Tuckey, is a polished, purposeful affair, but no less rockin’ for it.
“Richard wanted this album to have a through line,” Suzi comments, “so that you could put any track on, and it just fit…he also said he wanted this album to be as important and ground-breaking as my first one. So that is how we approached this project, and that is what we accomplished.”
A word not used often enough now, this album is, well, sassy. A mind-blowing career behind her, with nothing left to prove – her influence on successive generations of female artists just one aspect of her ongoing impact – Quatro has found it in herself to once again pound in and out the Detroit smarts that informed her original hits. It’s serious fun, and a testament to the spirit of a woman and artist whose achievements bespeak a great talent and ambition.
Enthused by her new single, ‘I Sold My Soul Today’, I was privileged to send Suzi ten questions about her past and present. Her emphatic, resolute responses – my insistence on hammering in the “glam” nail a definite no-no – speak for themselves…
Growing up in Ottawa in the 70s (not entirely distant to Detroit, though another world) I became familiar and fell in love with your hits through the album deletion bins of my fave record stores. Was it a disappointment to you that your UK hits did not impact as heavily in North America as in your adopted country? Having said which, you had your revenge playing Leather Tuscadero on ‘Happy Days’, which must have been a blast?
Suzi Quatro: There was a small space of a couple of years,’ 73 to ’74, when the hits coming from Europe did not translate to the American charts. When I started to tour in ’74 all I heard on the radio was The Eagles and Linda Rondstadt. It was a little too early for me to be accepted into the U.S.A. market. Then of course ‘Happy Days’ happened, and I became a household name. And ‘Stumblin’ In’ too! Million-seller in the U.S.A.
SWND: To me, and many others, glam rock was one of the high watermarks of UK rock and roll. At the time, it must have been a remarkable experience to be part of a style and sound revolution. But glam had deep roots in rock and roll. How did working with Mickie Most, Chinn/Chapman and Rak Records impact you? ‘48 Crash’ and ‘Can the Can’ are fabulous rock and roll songs: how did you approach bringing your own imprint to them given they were written by formulaic pop hitmakers?
Suzi Quatro: I have never ever been glam rock. I have always been rock’n’roll. I only get put into this category mistakenly because I started to have hits in the glam era. I wore no makeup. Neither did my band, and I was dressed in plain black leather. Not glam. Re: Chinn/Chapman. We were the perfect fit. They would listen to ‘my’ original songs, which eventually also included my ex writing with me. Often boogie based and would go away and come up with the 3-minute single.
This situation worked great for a long time. Most of the albums and all B-sides were self-written. Since 2006 I have written all my own material, with a few partners too. Last two albums with my son Richard Tuckey, whose dad Len was in my band. There was nothing formulaic about it. They would write a song based on me and my personality. And give it to me to record.
SWND: What degree of input did you and your band of the time have into the most creative process? Did you feel that, as The Sweet apparently did, that as ‘production line pop’ you were being denied opportunities to showcase your own material?
Suzi Quatro: Absolutely not. I never felt that for an instant. We never ever did ‘pop’ songs. Wasn’t even suggested. We were, let me say it again: a rock & roll band. And this was prevalent.
My image was my own idea. Leather was my own idea. The jumpsuit was Mickie’s. My material was always showcased on every single album. As I said earlier. And every single B-side.
And various singles of my own have been released through the years. Plus, many covers of my own songs. I would never have put up with being in a production line of any kind. Just not my nature. I am a one-off.
SWND: [a previous quote by Quatro] “According to the Elektra president, I could become the new Janis Joplin. Mickie Most offered to take me to England and make me the first Suzi Quatro – I didn’t want to be the new anybody.”
It seems extraordinary now that – had your strong sense of individuality not prevailed – you might have been cast in the mould of Joplin. If anything, glam rock seemed to stand against just her style of music. Or am I wildly inaccurate?
Suzi Quatro: I always knew, even from a very young child, that I was a square peg in a round hole. I knew I had to find my own niche. And that is exactly what I did. I did not have a blueprint or a female to model myself on. Not at all. Elvis was my first hero since I saw him on TV at the age of five and a half.
Re: glam (grrrr)…I am known as the Queen of Rock & Roll! The glam happened around me. Not in me. I went with Mickie because he saw me as I was. And I always had a strong sense of who I was/am. This continues to this day.
SWND: Growing up in Detroit, famed for its outstanding rock & roll, R’n’B, and soul music, you must have been aware of the music the city spawned and perhaps witnessed some of its significant artists live? And what of the MC5, did you know or see them?
Suzi Quatro: Are you kidding?! We all grew up together. We all played the same shows together. We are from the same town and the same era. I saw the MC5 hundreds of times and played with them often. As I did all the Detroit acts. It is one of the best music cities in the world and I am proud to be from there.
SWND: You are an acknowledged influencer as regards female artists, including Tina Weymouth, Chrissie Hynde, Girlschool, and the Runaways’ Joan Jett. At the time you became an international star, female rock & roll artists were few and far between. How was it for you leading the charge?
Suzi Quatro: I did not know I was doing that. I didn’t go out to prove anything. I was just being who I was and not compromising. And that is why it was successful. It was simply being natural.
SWND: At the time, what did you think of glam? I find you a serious rock & roll artist and singer, and so much of glam was slight, frivolous, and parodic.
Suzi Quatro: I didn’t really think about it other than it was a little strange the way all the other bands were dressing up and wearing make-up. But saying that, there were some good acts.
I was doing what I was doing. No problem. I think they were having fun. Well, I hope they were anyway. My God if you’re going to put make up on and you’re a guy, you better enjoy yourself, eh! My band did not wear crazy flashy clothes or makeup. We all wore plain black leather. Done and dusted.
SWND: Your new album is a co-write with your son, Richard Tuckey. Tell us a little about your collaborations with him. It must be extremely satisfying to include in your parental role a working relationship with your son.
Suzi Quatro: It is our second album together. We got our feet wet with ‘No Control’, released to great critical acclaim worldwide in 2019. It was a wonderful album. Then the option was taken up for the second album.
Richard got his confidence and had a vision. I trusted his vision. I may have given birth to Richard, but he has given rebirth to me. I am now seeing myself all over again through his eyes. And it is very exciting.
SWND: Your new single and album are very energetic and energising. You seem as on fire now for rock & roll as nearly a half century ago. It’s an amazing arc to travel, from your hits to this new work. What have been the absolute highlights?
Suzi Quatro: Well, you’re talking 57 years here. So hard to pick highlights. I think just the fact that I have been doing this for so long and have remained feet-on-the-ground normal. That is my biggest achievement. And that I still totally love what I do, and it is not money motivated whatsoever. I don’t need to work ever again if I don’t want to.
SWND: Your transition to BBC radio DJ has been great to witness. A dream job, perhaps, for an artist who has done pretty much everything and has the gold records to prove it. And in April 2009, BBC TV selected you as one of twelve queens of British pop. You’re bloody rock & roll royalty! You don’t seem the type to retire?
Suzi Quatro: I am a communicator. Doing radio came very naturally. And I had a wonderful time for 15 years. Thank you for the compliment. And go and watch the documentary, ‘Suzi Q’. I think you will love it.
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