Suzi Quatro on the New Documentary “Suzi Q” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, April 17th, 2024  

Suzi Quatro on the New Documentary “Suzi Q”

Oft Imitated, Never Duplicated

Aug 17, 2020 Web Exclusive
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One of the rooms in Suzi Quatro’s home in England looks like a beachside sunglasses vendor. Professional displays line the walls, except instead of $5 plastic throwaway shades, they hold Ray-Bans—750 of them. Quatro’s husband of almost 20 years has been purchasing these collectibles for her and she loves them.

At 70, Quatro has the same vibe, the same smile, the same touchable quality she had as a teenager when she started as a touring musician as part of The Pleasure Seekers with her sisters and some of the neighborhood girls. She carried that—and the bass guitar that was almost as big and as heavy as her—over to Cradle, another girl group that morphed from The Pleasure Seekers, and then as a solo artist, where she was the most explosive.

Quatro was topping the charts everywhere in the world—other than her native United States—with super-sticky songs like “Can the Can,” “48 Crash,” “Devil Gate Drive,” “The Wild One,” and many more. Brandishing her bass and singing at the top of her lungs, in a painted-on leather jumpsuit with a super-pretty, girl-next-door face. As her recent documentary, the inspirational Suzi Q, comments, she was competing with Marc Bolan of T. Rex, The Sweet, and every glam rock band—of all men—in the ’70s, and giving them a run for their money.

Suzi Q is a detailed chronicle of Quatro’s life from her beginnings as the second youngest of a musical family of five children. It follows her from her hometown of Detroit, Michigan to the UK as a teenager and the shaping of her career into the superstar she is. It traces her professional and personal life including her three-year run on Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero, essentially playing herself. While there is no sex and drugs in Suzi Q, because there is nothing stereotypical about Quatro, there are no cover-ups and no fingers pointed either. Like Quatro herself, the documentary is about showing everything as it was, and is.

The heat from Suzi Q has sparked a biopic on Quatro, which is casting now, looking for the elusive Quatro vibe that must be inherent and cannot be acted. In the meantime, Quatro’s lyric book is on its way to being released and her home studio is being set up for recording her next album, the second with her son, Richard Tuckey. Their first collaboration together was 2019’s well-received No Control and ensuing tour. And if you’re looking for some tips on how to play bass, Quatro has bassline tutorials where she plays along her most recognized hits, as well as Sunday Specials where she plays songs stripped-down style, all archived on her socials. Our mission is to see if she’ll give us a peek into her famed “Ego Room.”

Lily Moayeri (Under the Radar): Your 2007 autobiography, Unzipped, and the documentary, Suzi Q, are both honest. It’s taken a long time for your story to come out in this way. Was it difficult to reveal this much about yourself, considering your efforts in separating your public and private life?

Suzi Quatro: I wanted to do this for a very long time. The main thing being I wanted to put the record straight. If you want to do a story about the first female—which I hate to play the gender card, but I am a woman—if you want to do a story about the first one, here it is, and you can’t tell it any other way. You can’t rewrite history. I did an aborted documentary about 15 years ago. A couple of people that were in it didn’t like what they said so they refused to give their permission thereby destroying the footage. About four and a half years ago, [Liam Firmager] called me from Australia said, “I’d like to do a documentary on you.” Funny thing was, he said, “I’m not a fan.” It made me laugh. That’s a nice icebreaker. He said, “Don’t get me wrong, I love your music. I’m not a ‘fan.’ I saw you on a television show and you fascinated me.” I thought if someone is going to do a film, this guy will be objective, he won’t be up my backside, and he will fight for his points because he’s quite strong about what he wants. I said I have editing rights because it’s my story, but I will not use them, even if I’m uncomfortable, even if I’m cringing, even if I’m crying. If it’s true, be it hurtful or not, truth is truth.

The documentary is the antithesis of the rock ‘n’ roll cliché cautionary tale. Considering your level of success, how did you not get screwed up on drugs or alcohol or end up in dire financial straits?

I am not, and never have been, an excess person. Neither of my parents smoke or drink. Dope doesn’t suit me. I like a glass of wine, a glass of champagne. I’m not a smoker. I don’t need to be that character. When I go on stage, I’m high. I’m happy. I’m performing. I’m giving so every last person is drained of their energy. Why should I go up there high when that’s the high? I don’t get it. I love what I do. I’m so lucky that I’ve been allowed to be in this profession, be successful at it and still love it after 56 years. I didn’t join this business thinking I’m going to be famous. That’s not even on my wavelength. I joined because I didn’t have a choice, because it’s what I had to do.

You say in the documentary that you got the tracks you run on from your mother and the performer side of you from your father. Do you attribute your sensible attitude to your upbringing?

It’s a big part of it. My mother is my touchstone. My father was a musician and he instilled in me that attitude of professionalism. I love what I do, but it’s a profession. You can use your parents as a reason for your downfall, which is bullshit because we all make a choice. Saying that, if you’re around alcoholic parents, you go one of two ways. You either join in, or you say, “I’m never going to do that.” My way was, “I like this example. It makes sense to me.” I took what I needed from both relationships. My mother was my moral code, 100% and my dad was my professional attitude. He said, “Whenever you’re on the stage, it doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people or 10,000 people, what you have to remember is, every person in that audience took money out of their pocket and paid for a ticket to see you. You have an obligation.” He was talking to all five kids. It went like an arrow of truth into me and I kept it my whole life. I thought, “People paid to see me. I’m going to go up there stoned or drunk? Why?” You’re seeing the bottle or the other drugs. You’re not seeing the artist. I like the edge. I like a little bit shit-scared just before I go out thinking, “Oh my god, can I win this audience?” It’s wonderful. It’s all part of the game.

What of your upbringing did you bring to raising your own children? You do say in the documentary that you didn’t want them to be “famous person’s brats.”

My daughter was about five so my son would have been about three. A photographer came into the house to do a big session with me. I said, “Go in the kitchen, sit down, have a cup of coffee.” I went upstairs and got ready, leather suit and a little bit of makeup. I came downstairs and my five-year-old said to me, “Mummy, are you going to be Suzi Quatro now?” That signaled to me that they knew the difference. I don’t know how I managed to convey it, but I did. I was Mum. But I was Suzi Quatro. Both. That’s an easy walk to walk.

Feminists would love to claim you, but you’ve said repeatedly that you “don’t do gender.” How do you manage circumstances related to gender that you don’t have control over?

I’m a me-ist. When I got my honorary doctorate—Dr. Quatro, amazing, I didn’t even graduate high school—I gave a speech at Cambridge University. I said, “If I can get this, your opportunities are endless. Your job in life, be you male, female, Black, white, rich, poor, doesn’t matter, we all have a little light. Your job is to go inside and find that little light and switch it on and let nobody switch it off.” That light has nothing to do with gender.

It’s only in recent years that issues of sexual harassment and abuse have been addressed head-on with the #MeToo movement. It doesn’t seem like you allowed yourself to be a victim of anything like that, even though you were a young teenager when you first started touring and there weren’t any women doing anything remotely close to what you were doing. How did you deal with scenarios of potential sexual misconduct?

I’m going to clarify this because it’s my personal mantra and I’ve lived by it. I’ve been with guys, all the time, one of the guys, a tomboy, I can tell a dirty joke. But, and this is what I teach females—and if you don’t do this, you’re an idiot—I keep my female card in my back pocket. It’s there all the time. You know when you’re in a football game and the referee holds up the penalty card? That’s what I do. If I’m with somebody and they step over that personal line of my sensibilities, the card comes out and then I’m a woman and I use it at that point. I don’t have to be butch and cheap and tawdry and be undressed to be strong. I do not. I will play the game up to the point where it goes on my territory. This is what I try and teach women: guidelines. There are certain no-brainers in life. I’ve watched girls in this business and I’ve had to have words with them sometimes—famous people that I don’t want to mention. “What are you doing? Be proud of who you are. You don’t need to compromise. You don’t need to be that skanky. You don’t need to do that.” I’ve said that I don’t know how many times in my life.

There is a shocking moment in the film when a talk show host turns you around and slaps your butt. You seemed to take it in stride. What was happening there?

That’s the perfect example of what we’re talking about. I’d just won “Rear of the Year,” a big thing here, and I was quite proud of that. I do have a nice ass, I always have, so I don’t mind. I always try and back into a room when I can. It’s a live television show. I’m a professional. I’m out there to do my best possible interview. He picked his moment. The cameras are running. I didn’t expect it. I have to say, he didn’t do it mean, he wasn’t nasty. He did it kind of cute, and he was gay as well. If you watch it again and watch how I turn around, I turn around slow and while I’m turning around, my brain is going off like lightning bolts. “Do I hit him? Do I knee him in the balls? We’re on live TV, let it go,” and I sat down. If he had done that backstage, he would have been singing soprano for the rest of his life. My card should have come out, but not on live TV. Then the press would have gotten a hold of it and they maybe would have said, “Oh Suzi Quatro, how precious is she. He didn’t mean anything.” It could have turned the other way. All this was going through my head. He thought it was funny. But it wasn’t funny.

What do you think it would be like if you were trying to come up as a musician now?

It wouldn’t be any different. I don’t think anybody’s come through this exactly like me. I’m not saying it because I’m anybody special, I’m a one-off. I’m hard to imitate. I would do it the same way because all I’m doing is being me. That doesn’t change with the time.

And what is this “Ego Room” of yours?

I don’t take my ego off the stage. I have an Ego Room in my house. This is an old 15th century manor house, nothing is straight. I am, none of the walls are. You go up two flights of stairs, get to the third floor, it’s crooked and you nearly bang your head. It’s really quite precarious to get to the Ego Room. You get to the big heavy wooden door and I had a metal plaque made that says, “Ego Room: Mind Your Head.” It’s the most peaceful room in the entire house. Every available space is covered with pictures of me. You’ve got CDs, you’ve got scrapbooks, you’ve got videos, guitars, all my leather suits. Everywhere you look is Suzi Quatro. I go up there to watch a video, to do some research. Whatever I go up there for, when I come out of that Ego Room, I shut the door. I don’t need to be the rock star off the stage. I never have done. This is how I handle my life. When I need it, it’s there. It’s a way of being balanced in this profession, which is a business of excesses. People are always asking me, “What’s your biggest achievement?” I say, “Being in this business as long as I have, with the success I’ve had, with my feet on the ground.”

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