The self-titled Queen of Rock and Roll, Suzi Quatro, has just returned to the UK from her Australian tour, but she still made the time for a chat with MetalTalk. And what a conversation it was, covering reality TV, guitarists, and of course, Detroit. If you want to get a musician to talk, get them when they are jet-lagged.
Words: Mark Rotherham
Australia, to Suzi, is almost like a second home. “We’ve been in love with each other since 1973,” she says. “I’ve been there now thirty-eight times. It’s amazing.”
A run of shows down under included the By The C Festival and playing alongside Australian bands. One particular blast from the past was Baby Animals, who I saw in 1992 in Norwich, and they were amazing.
“Oh my gosh,” Suzi smiles. “Well, Suze DeMarchi [Baby Animals vocalist] is a friend of mine. I just love her. I didn’t know how she felt about me. I should have known because Mike Chapman told me years ago, but I didn’t retain it. She visited and ended up staying at the house for a night cause she was in the area. So I said come and stay, and it was so sweet because I took her upstairs on the third floor to what I call my ego room.
“It’s a very famous room, and it’s got everything in there. You gotta go down this crooked corridor and nearly bang your head. It’s very important, it’s got a big huge door, and it says ‘ego room.’ Mind your head on the way in, and it’s everything Suzi. If people go up there, they’re up there for days. Anyway, I took her in, and she started to cry. She said, ‘you just don’t know what this means to me.’ It was so sweet. Anyway, needless to say, she’s a good friend.”
As someone who has spent her career recording and touring, who would know better if the folklore story about televisions going out of hotel windows really happens or is just a made-up story?
“Well, I can’t say I’ve never done a room wreck,” Suzi says, “but I have to say it’s only been a few. Maybe three. And whenever there was a room wreck, I did it properly, and we did pay for it the next day, which of course, you must do because if you’re going to do damage, you pay for it.
“It wasn’t terrible, we didn’t throw the TV set out the window, but our drummer did pour water over the TV set, which made it explode, which was quite fun. But you know, the one that I remember is the one I kind of instigated. It was at the end of being on the road for seven months non-stop. Now, that’s gonna drive a sane person crazy, you know? And it was just letting off steam, which is a lot. I can’t say I condone it, but every now and again, we all get crazy, don’t we?”
Reality TV shows are a thing these days. “I’ve been asked to do every single one of them over and over again,” Suzi says. “The Jungle? I don’t think so. I mean, if I did something like that, I would do it to win, and I wouldn’t be happy unless I did. But I don’t think it’s for me. I’m quite competitive. Strictly Come Dancing I would do. I love that show. It would be interesting.
“I only ever did one, and it was sold to me as a documentary, but it turned out to be a reality show. I told the people I wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t what they said the show was. So I’m not big on reality things. I don’t need to do them. Can I put it that way? But like I said, Strictly, it’s just such a good show. And it’s not meant to be nasty to anybody. But then again, I said I would do it a few years ago. They have asked me at least three times, but I’ve never been able to fit it into my schedule, and I’m seventy-two now. I shouldn’t do it anymore, but who knows?”
Suzi is also an accomplished author, having recently published another book. “This is the sixth book I’ve published, she says. “Through My Heart is the latest one, my second volume of poetry. The first one was Through My Eyes, and I think it’s my finest work. I just dug, I dug so deep, and people have read it, and they said they cry over it, they laugh over it.
“I seem to have touched the nerve with this book with a lot of people, I think, because what we’ve all been through, and obviously we all got more introspective when we were locked in, we’re gonna go inside. Where else are you gonna go? You can’t go out, so you’re locked in. The truth is, you’re locked in yourself. You’re locked down, and you’re locked in.”
As an established artist, the Suzi Quatro name is her brand within the world of music, especially rock music. If a band, unknown or established, wanted her to join them and be part of the band as opposed to the central artist, you wonder if this is something Suzi would consider.
“I did the project with my friends Andy Scott and Don Powell Quattro Scott and Powell, and we put an album out. So we were a group, and we went to number 16 in Australia. We did very well everywhere, actually. But I don’t know. I would have to consider who it was when the offer came up and what it would mean to me at that point.”
Elvis has always been an influence on Suzi. “He’s been on my shoulder since 1956 when I first saw him on TV,” she says, “and I’ve felt his presence the whole time. There are a lot of Elvis epiphanies I’ve been on throughout my life. I turned down the chance to meet him, and I don’t think I was supposed to meet him. There’s a beautiful tribute song called Singing With Angels. That’s my tribute to him I did with James Burton and the Jordanaires at his studio.
“At age five, when I saw him on TV, a little light bulb went on in my head, and I found myself thinking at that young age, I’m going to do that. Don’t ask me why? You can’t explain it. It just is what it is.”
Are there any Elvis songs that Suzi would not cover? “I’ve done a lot of them. One I would love to do is Love Me Tender. I just would. I think I’ve done all the other big ones. It would be all the early stuff that I’m mostly related to. I’ve done Mystery Train on stage, but I haven’t recorded it. I’ve done Jailhouse Rock on stage, but I haven’t recorded it, but Love Me Tender, I’d like to give that a shout. It’s just so bare. I like bare songs, you know?”
Back in the day, the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend and Ritchie Blackmore quite regularly trashed their instruments on stage. Is this just a guitarist thing?
“I think it’s a stoned thing,” Suzi smiles. “I guess it was theatrical, but I don’t understand it. I can’t pretend I understand it. Why would you destroy an instrument? But then, you’re talking about the sixties. Crazy days, everybody’s getting high, and then, you know, I guess if an audience is reacting, then you’re going to do it because of the audience. But I don’t get it. I would never smash up my bass.”
Lemmy from Motörhead once said he considered himself more of a deep guitarist than a bass player. “I would call him a frustrated guitarist,” Suzi says. “To me, I’m really boring with it. A bass player is a bass player. You’re there to hold the group down and give the bottom end. If you want to be a guitar player, be a guitar player. There is no middle ground. Either bass player or a guitar player.”
Fast forwarding to today, what bass guitarists does Suzi look at today and think to herself, ‘I really like what they’re doing?’
“I like Flea,” she says. “So much so that I heard a track on the radio, and I said, ‘oh, I like that. Who was that?’ My granddaughter said, ‘that’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers.’ Maybe a month later, I heard another track. I was with my granddaughter, as always, and she said, ‘it’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers.’ And then I was by myself, and a track came on that I didn’t know, and I said to myself, that’s got to be Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it was, so I recognised his bass playing. I like his style.
“Of course, my favourite is James Jamerson from Motown. I don’t think you can beat those sixties Motown hits for bass and drums. You can’t beat it. To me, it’s the best. I have my own style. I’ve got a little bit of jazz swing in me from growing up in my father’s era, listening to his era play. It wasn’t the same age, but he played more jazz and swing, so I got that in my head, and I got boogie very much in my heart and soul, and when I want to lay down the rock and roll, I can lay it down.”
Suzi is a finger bass player. “‘I think with a pick, you completely lose the relationship with the bass. With your fingers, it’s got flesh against the string, and you can make it soft, you can make it hard, you can tease it. It’s just such a different way. The pick is so harsh. It sounds harsh. I’ve done pick bass parts with my fingers quite easily all my life, and I refuse to change it. I don’t like a picked bass. The bass started with stand up, and they didn’t pick it.”
In one interview, Suzi said she would invite Jesus to a fantasy dinner party. Who else would be on the guest list? “Oh gosh, I’d like Oscar Wilde there. He would be funny, and with Jesus, too, that would be great. Elvis would be there, Billie Holiday. I’d like Martin Luther King there. He would be nice to have, and Bob Dylan. And there you’ve got a lot there for a good debate and arguments and a good time.”
And remaining in the hypothetical world, if Suzi were to become the mayor of Detroit, who would she give the freedom of the city to? “Wow, that’s a big one. I think Martha Reeves. I know her, and she really loves that city and does a lot of work for that city. She still lives in the city, and she deserves it.”
Suzi has always said that she was never glam rock, although she became successful at the same time. Does she mind that many people define her this way, even today? “I really don’t care,” she says. “I know better, and most people that know better say so. Even Mike Chapman, in my documentary, says Suzi was never glam, and he produced it. So if he doesn’t think I’m glam, then nobody should think it. As I said, it just happened at the same time, but it’s okay. I guess you gotta call me something, but really my title is the Queen of Rock and Roll, and that’s how I go on stage, agreed?”
I agreed. When I saw Suzi play at the Albert Hall earlier this year, it was Suzi, interval and more Suzi. I’m not complaining, but I did wonder why there was no support band. “I prefer doing my own show,” Suzi says. “I like to know that everybody’s there to see me, and it feels like an intimate thing. You’re all here for me, and it’s comfortable. I don’t have to wait for the support band to be finished, and hope they don’t overrun. I like my own shows. I can take you on a journey. You went on a journey, didn’t you?’
I sure did, and it was really good. “It’s entertainment,” Suzi says, “and it’s that’s what I like to do. I like to entertain.”
Going back a few years to 1988, I saw a band called Cinderella come over and play live in Britain, and when they landed in the UK they were allowed in, but all of their equipment wasn’t. They had a choice, cancel the tour, or plan B, which was they borrow their entire set, tour kit and instruments from a very helpful British band. Has Suzi ever had a similar or equally huge last-minute shock on the road?
“There’s been a million of those, and things like that happen all the time,” she says. “The one that just came to mind when you said that was we were booked at the Vienna Opera House. This is in the days when you travel with all your own equipment, and they delayed the equipment at the border. So we’re waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally, it arrives about half an hour before doors open. So I helped everybody unload the equipment and put it on the stage. The show must go on.”
You were your own roadie that night? “I was my own roadie,” she smiles.
The last concert I was at a couple of weeks ago was Nightwish, and I was really impressed when Floor Jansen came onstage. She was just so assured and in control, as if she lived there. Do you have to have that assurance to become a performer, or does becoming a performer give you that assurance?
“Entertainers are born entertainers,” Suzi says. “They just start entertaining. But you do hone your craft as you go along. I always knew I could do what I did, but you know, each gig teaches you something. I’m still learning now at 72. I could teach myself, but you must know that the key essential thing that you must know, which I did know, was that I can hold an audience. I learned this as a very young girl. I can hold an audience. It doesn’t matter if I do a sketch or a joke or a dance, or what. I can hold an audience, and then you build on that. You have to believe in yourself, but at the same time, you never take it for granted that you’re gonna be great. That’s a big mistake.”
With the tour finished for now and Uncovered released, as well as the new book, there is the exciting prospect of more music next year. “I’ve got a duet album coming out with KT Tunstall next spring, all ready and recorded,” Suzi says. “Everything is set to go. It’s magic, real quality. We really created something between us. Next year, I’ve got a UK tour. The dates are yet to be announced. A big one with big places.
“I’m working on a film, dance music, believe it or not, with my son. And once this duet album is out, then we’re gonna start writing for my next album, which could be very interesting. And excuse me for sounding so pretentious, but I’ve nearly finished my second novel. Lots is happening.”
My confession and apology to Suzi was that I had not seen her documentary. But in quite a few interviews, I’ve read that she said you loved what Henry Winkler said about her right at the end.
“Right at the end? He says, ‘Susie Quatro had a dream in Detroit in 1964, and she’s still living that dream, and that’s amazing.'”
As always, Miss Q was gracious and detailed in her answers, and as always, the answers leave more questions to ask in future. We’re all now looking forward to the album collaboration with KT Tunstall and, of course, that upcoming UK tour.