There are some things you really don’t look forward to after a day at the office, and there are some things that absolutely get you through the day until home time, and an interview with Suzi Quatro is definitely the latter.
Suzi Quatro – Part One
Interview: Mark Rotherham
Having been lucky enough to review Suzi’s latest album and her Royal Albert Hall show last month, I couldn’t wait to hear Ms Q’s take on playing live, playing the bass, and while it should have come as no surprise, I also learned just how multi-faced she really is as a musician.
The Royal Albert Hall show was, for me, a great return to concerts following the pandemic. “I did four gigs out of ninety-five in 2020, and four gigs out of ninety-five in 2021,” Suzi told MetalTalk, “and the show at the Albert Hall was my first gig this year. But I did practice for it. I do my living room sessions. You don’t just assume everything’s fine. You do the show. I’ve got a live tape, and I do the show. I don’t practice it. I do the show.”
This is the full show, Suzi insists, at full volume stomping around her living room. “Everybody thinks I’m nuts,” she says, “but I’ll tell you what, I didn’t even look this much rusty [indicates a very small amount between thumb and forefinger] at the Royal Albert Hall. So that’s what it’s all about. You keep your chops up.”
The London show, as if it needed proving, shows that live is her thing. “It was just like being home. It’s been fifty-eight years now, so that’s my natural habitat. Not doing it is the difficult part. Doing it is just home.”
At the end of the first act on the London show, Suzi said that her mother gave her her life, and her father gave her her career. “‘He was a musician all his life,” Suzi says. “He worked at General Motors in Detroit in the daytime, and then every night he would play gigs, so he was a really hard worker.
“He brought us up in a musical family, five kids, and we all played various instruments. It’s not even anything to brag about because it’s so normal in my family. So I play percussion, classical piano, guitar, bongo drums and bass guitar. And we always did family shows, everybody would get up, and when it was your turn, you would do whatever you wanted to do.
“Then, when I was sixteen, and I’d been in bands for two years, my dad gave me my first bass guitar, a Fender Precision, which I love. And he pulled me aside and said to me, ‘I want to talk to you, Suzi. It looks like this is what you’re going to do with your life. What you’re doing, being a musician, it’s a profession. It’s your job. And whether there are ten people in the audience or ten thousand, every single person in there has gone into their pocket, taken out money and paid to see you, and you owe them.’
“So that went deep down inside of me, and you’ve seen me perform. So what went down was that it’s my job to make sure you go out of my show with a big smile on your face. He put that work ethic into me, and I don’t relax until everybody’s gone. And that’s what he left with me. My mother gave me my entire moral compass. And yes, I do like to thank them onstage.”
That was a very touching moment of the concert, that whole song, Can I Be Your Girl. “It’s hard not to cry when you do that,” Suzi says, “when you say that they’re dancing together, but it’s necessary to do.”
My partner and I both got a bit misty at that point, so it definitely had an effect. “Good,” Suzi enthuses, “that’s the whole point. As long as it had the effect.”
One of the many highlights of the concert was the drum solo just before Can The Can. Suzi put down her bass and joined the drummer on the drum kit. It was fabulous to see. “I just need to correct you,” Suzi says, “the drummer was sharing my bass solo.”
[Cue profuse apologies from the reporter]
“It’s actually my solo,” Suzi continues, “that evolved through the years into the drummer taking a part in it. He used to just mark the time, but then I had another drummer for a while, and he said, ‘why don’t I do the solo with you?’ and I thought, ‘Yeah!'”
Suzi’s bass solos are different every night. “He worked out how to orchestrate it every night so that it’s bass and drums,” Suzi says, “but it is actually my bass solo. As I say onstage, ‘let me introduce you to the bass player,’ and that’s me, and then I play. But the drums do play with me, it’s orchestrated.”
The bass solo is something she totally embraces. “I’ve always been obliged to, and liked, doing a bass solo,” Suzi says, “just so that people could see that I’m a really good player. That’s what you have to show them, kind of like watch what I can do.”
Suzi credits her new drummer for the idea. “We worked it out, and it became fantastic,” she says. “So, I’m able to go anywhere, but you have to be a good drummer to be able to do that because it goes from funk to swing, to five-four, to everything. So the whole point of the bass solo is to not be boring with it and to be very musical. And I think that’s what I accomplished out there, even a singalong, for Christ’s sake.”
The London show was very professional but still also very entertaining, and Suzi seemed to embrace the whole experience. Does she ever get nervous before going onstage? “Well, if you didn’t get nervous, there would be something very wrong,” she says. “And for me, it’s necessary.
“Let’s say I was due to do a gig right after the Albert Hall the next night, I would still be on the side of that stage going, ‘Oh my God, I hope they like me tonight.’ It can’t be anything else. You need that little edge. You need that little un-sureness. You can never go out there and coast it. You can’t take anything for granted because every audience is a different animal.
“You go out there, and you feel, every night, something different. Maybe they want the cute, maybe they want the heavy, and you just have to go out there and feel it and roll with it. I always sneak out before I go on and have a look, peep around the curtains, and see what’s out there. But no, I take it seriously. It’s my job to go out there and win you over. That’s my job.”
As Covid-19 problems begin to ease, Suzi is looking forward to getting the shows back on the road. “We are now doing all the postponed dates from 2020, 21 and 22,” Suzi says. “The first one is on 12 May, and then there’s a string of them all through Europe, and then I’m going to Australia for my 38th tour at the end of the year. Thirty-eight tours of Australia! Jesus Christ, count those hours in the air. I think I have the record for the most frequent visitor by an international artist.”
In Part Two, Suzi talks about working with KT Tunstall, pre-show regimes, Happy Days, her chance to work with Elvis and much more.