Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Suzi Quatro: Walking through the fire to achieve success / Interview

Suzi Quatro in action. (Photo courtesy of Sicily Publicity)

By Andy

Lita Ford absolutely nails it on the head when she describes Suzi Quatro in the fist-raising yet gut-wrenching documentary "Suzi Q": "All this thunder coming out of this little girl."

With Australian filmmakers Liam Firmager and Tait Brady at the helm, viewers are transported from Quatro's hometown of Detroit -- where she performed with her sisters in The Pleasure Seekers starting in 1964 -- and then to England -- where she busted down the male-dominated music doors in 1973 with sterling rockers like "Can the Can," "48 Crash," "Daytona Demon" and more crucial tunes over the years.

It's painful to watch Quatro -- who sports a small frame but possesses a big bass, strut and attitude -- leave her hometown and sisters behind, but she winds up victorious while hammering away to make her mark and eventually pave the way for Ford's Runaways and copious other female musicians.

I spoke with Quatro, 70, via Zoom on Monday, with me in Seattle and she in Essex, England.

** We watched the documentary last night... pretty emotional. What were your thoughts while watching the documentary and having your life all there, and the highs and lows...was it pretty intense to watch?

Yes, for the watcher as well, for the audience. I mean I've watched it with audiences, I've heard gasps, I've heard the tears, I've heard the laughter. Sure, it's emotional because it's your life up there, blown up, huge. So what I've found -- I'm very very in touch and very hands on and very normal and down to earth -- but when you see something blown up on that screen, you cannot kid yourself about anything. It is what it is. Maybe a couple people I try to make excuses for, but I think, 'No, here it is. That's your life.' And I'm proud of my life, and I'm very proud I've made the documentary -- honest. It's my biggest achievement.

It's always been on my bucket list to do one, 'cause it's so much to put straight. My story needs to be put straight -- there's so much bullshit. (The director) said to me, 'First of all, I have to tell you that I'm not a fan,' and I went, 'Hmm, fine.' He said immediately, 'Oh, no, no, no, no... It's not that I don't like your music, I do. I'm not a fan.' Which is fine. So I said, 'OK, that's cool, so then why do you wanna do the film?' And he said, 'Because I saw you talking on a television show, and you fascinated me.' I thought, 'OK. If I'm gonna do this documentary, which is putting my life on the line, I wanna do it with somebody who is not at my backside, who will be objective, who will fight me on the points that he wants to get in there -- even if I don't agree with him.' So we made an agreement right from the start... I said, 'Of course, I will have editing rights because it's my life, but I won't exercise them unless what is being said is not true.'

If it's true, even if it's uncomfortable, it stays in. And as you watched the film, you saw there were lots of uncomfortable moments. When I've been with audiences on my premieres and Q and A afterwards, there were times in that film when I wanted to get on my hands and knees and crawl out of the cinema (laughs). No, no, don't go out, watch it -- those are the most valuable moments in the film, those were like all my cringe moments.

** To have it 100 percent honest like that, that's how we learn from our highs and lows in life and that's how we become who we are and how we advance in life. Hopefully everyone, including yourself, will come away with learning something... some valuable lessons there.

(Nods her head in agreement.) Judging by what everybody has been saying, including yourself, it certainly has been a teacher in a way, and for me, too. I put myself out there. I thought, 'OK, I'm gonna hurt on some of this, but this is what it is.' And what greater way then to just put the record straight with truth. That's the main word in my life anyway: truth. However hard it might be.

I have a little theory that I live by my whole life. Let's say you're upset with somebody else about something and you're reluctant to say it and they're reluctant to say it. It's so funny... you stick it on the table, 'Boom, there it is.' You know, it loses it's power because nothing is that important. It's such an important lesson to learn. I've never been afraid of the truth, and I've been a walk-through-the-fire kind of girl my whole life. 'There's the fire. OK, I'm gonna go through it. I know it's gonna burn me, but I will come out the other side.'

Back in 1973. (Photo courtesy of Sicily Publicity)

** (In all of our lives) some moments you're extremely proud of, some moments you're kind of like, 'Ehh.' And some you cringe, but you know, it's you. It's part of you. And you need to live with it.

Yeah, you do, and you need to own it and you need to be proud of it. I don't do regrets, I never have done, but I've always learned. And I don't have any problem putting my hand up and saying, 'Hey, I'm an asshole on that one.' No problem at all, if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I don't mind. But one thing you can count on from me, and everybody that knows me really knows that I will always say the truth.


** What really got me... right at the beginning, there's a really great shot of you kind of side stage in the shadows, overlooking the crowd and obviously in a private moment. What are you thinking then before you take the stage and let loose and do your thing? Is it just kind of a nice private moment before you hammer away?

No. It's more a moment of fighting the war. It's a new audience. You know, they can be a Saturday night crowd. In fact, I read this from Elvis after I'd said it eight million times, I saw a documentary, he said the same thing --- Every audience is a new animal. You must respect them for that. You have to let them get to know you. You have to open yourself up. You have to be vulnerable. Try this, maybe they don't like that; OK, try this, maybe they don't like that. It's a whole process. There's a real moment where... my book is written as two people, my autobiography, 'Little Susie From Detroit' and 'Suzi Quatro: Rock Girl.' So, Little Susie is backstage, and she takes the bass and she walks out as Suzi Quatro... and they are both me, but they're two different people.


** And then going back to the beginning, how did you feel, maybe in a moment like that before you hit the stage? Kind of a similar attitude back in the early days?

Yeah, I think my attitude's always been the same. I always have the absolutely unshakeable knowledge, since very small, that I could entertain and I knew I could hold an audience. But it's how to entertain. Even before I go out, let's say we're at a big festival or whatever, I will always go out and peek at the audience before I walk on that stage. I'll peek through the curtains. I'll look at everybody, I'll see what they're doing. I'll feel them before I go out. I take what I do very seriously.


** (In the documentary) how does it feel to have such solid feedback coming from all those great people coming back at ya? Another emotional moment, I would imagine.

Every time I watch it, I go in tears. It's just humbling. The first thought that always runs through my head, 'You're saying that? And I did that?' (laughs) It's like a little kid, you know? It's quite something -- wow. I influenced so many people and I didn't even know it when I was doing it. It's amazing. I thank to God that I was allowed to do what I do and allowed to be successful. Everybody on this documentary that spoke, all the famous people, which kind of set it aside from other documentaries that I've seen, anyway, maybe you'll agree -- Everybody that was on my documentary, they were there because they wanted to be there. They said it with a passion. It wasn't just, 'Oh, yeah, she's great.' That isn't what happened -- they went the distance and that made me go, 'Jesus Christ, almighty.'

When I watched the rough cut and Debbie (Harry) came on and she said, 'And Suzi was so beautiful,' I wanted my voice to do a voice-over and say, 'Fuck off, Debbie!' (laughs) Which I think it would have been very, very, very funny... 'You don't tell me that. You, you do not tell me that.' But my director said, 'No, no, no, no, no. Let her compliment you.'

(Editor's note: Along with praise, comes a flood of tears. When Cherie Currie honored Quatro at the She Rocks Awards this past January in Los Angeles, the former Runaway broke out crying. Suze DeMarchi of Baby Animals visited Quatro in the UK to record and she stayed at Quatro's home; while there, DeMarchi began crying when she entered Quatro's memorabilia 'Ego Room.' While Quatro was participating in a Zoom interview for a documentary with Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's -- who also presented her with a Woman of Valor award two years ago in Texas -- and Currie, the two Quatro fans shed some tears.)

I said to Cherie the other day, 'I'm amazed.' I realize, I guess, and I have to say it how it is because I'm not a bullshitter... I didn't know that I was doing this, OK? I was just being me, but this is the effect it had. What I did was, without knowing it, I gave these girls who didn't belong anywhere, a place to belong. And that's why they were crying. That just made me go, 'What?' And all I did was stick to me. But that's, I guess, what it took to open the doors. I'm humbled by that. They cry and then I cry -- we all cry (laughs).

** And in turn, later on when you listened to their music, they give it right back to you. They influence you -- it's reciprocating. And they fire you up to even rock harder.

Sure. Back and forth and back and forth. You know, I love them all and I'm just so happy that I had the balls to stick to me. You could have fallen by the wayside at any point in my story, but, no.

Rockin' hard. (Photo courtesy of Sicily Publicity)


** What is it like recording that new album with your son? You're back at it again, still doing it. (She received rave reviews for 'No Control' in 2019, and there's a new album in the works.)

The option was taken up and we were discussing, 'How are we gonna do this?' He was on the road, I was on the road and then the lockdown happened. So then he's not on the road, I'm not gigging... there are no gigs. So I said, 'You know what? Everything happens for a reason, let's write the album.' So now we start actually recording it out there. We've demoed it and done the songs, like 16 songs during lockdown. And I'm still writing -- I'm doing two with Linda Perry, I did a whole album with KT Tunstall. Jeez, anyway so we started writing, it's great working with him. He pushed my Suzi Quatro buttons, big time. Yeah, because he grew up watching me, so he has it in his head who Suzi Quatro is. And undiluted, this is who he sees. He makes me revisit myself, which is great. We work well together. My daughter's a fine singer, too, but she's not really rock 'n' roll, she's more Aretha, Billie Holiday, that kind of thing.

I have not stopped writing. I've actually written a book during lockdown, too, which comes out July 27, called 'Through My Words.' It's the second book, the first was 'Through My Eyes,' my illustrated poetry book, big coffee-table sized. And I always had it on my bucket list to do a lyric book... so lockdown, 'Boom!' Done. And it's already No. 1 in the Amazon charts in Australia on pre-sales.

** Still hitting it big in Australia. They still love you, which is great.

They do. I think I have the record of the most tours of any international artist, I've done 37. We've always gotten along. I don't know what it is. I can't explain it. They kind of get me, and I get them. It's like my second home. But I wanna get back and tour America next again -- get me in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and do the tour, then I'm happy. Bucket list for myself ... or 'fuck it list.' (laughs)


** What was the first real moment where you knew you wanted to be a musician?

Jeez, well, I guess it would have been seeing Elvis Presley when I was 5 1/2 going on 6. On TV, we were watching the absolutely essential Sunday night viewing for all American audiences, which was 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' Big family I come from, so my eldest sister was nine years older than me, so I was 5 1/2, she was 15. He always brought on something for the youngsters at the end of the show, and on comes Elvis but I was distracted from him for a minute because my sister started to scream. I'm only 5 1/2 and I'm looking and I'm thinking, 'What's the matter with you? You know, why are you screaming?' Then I turned into the television and went like hypnotized, and I went into it -- a little lightning bolt -- and in my head, I thought, 'I'm gonna do that.' That's nuts. It's really inspired, and it happens that way. And then we saw the Beatles, we started a band, the bass was given to me, and I put it on I went, 'Yeah!' It was just correct.

When you go back into my history, nobody taught me how to stand, nobody taught me how to play, nobody taught me how to sing, nobody taught me how to have an attitude, nobody taught me how to entertain. It's just within this little frame here. I don't know why. I guess it's because I believe that's what I was born to do.


** What about your mindset early on, you're over in England, when you got that band together and you were kicking down those doors?

I was aware during that year of not having success yet, just being here with nothing, that there's a lot of girls out there being successful and I was aware that I wasn't like any of them. And you get tempted, 'Oh, maybe I'll just sing a little sweeter, stand a little more girly' ... No, no. And I just had to wait that year out and just stick to me, which is what I did, I had to have the balls to do that -- and then I made it on my terms, which is important.

Even in the first band when I was 14, when I sang certain songs, like a shock went through my body. I had no control over it -- it just happened. And this has gone on all the way through my career. I just have been, I guess, in tune with myself -- knowing what turns me on, and knowing that in turn, that's gonna turn the audience on.

Checkin' out the crowd. (Photo courtesy of Sicily Publicity)


** You've done so many things... obviously music and then acting, writing, everything. What would you consider your biggest accomplishment and why?

I've done everything within the entertainment profession, which is what I love. I'm an unashamedly artiste. I'm a communicator, I'm a creator, I'm an entertainer -- this is who I am. I would say my biggest accomplishment is to be 70... 56 years in the business, and still have my feet firmly planted on the ground.

** You feel just as passionate about everything as you were from the get-go?

Ridiculous. More so. I just wish I could say I've grown up, but I can't say it. (laughs) Otherwise I'd be lying -- I don't lie.

You know how you get strong? I'll tell you something, this is a good idea for a song. You get strong by not being afraid of being weak.


** What would you consider a killer bass line? Not necessarily yours, but maybe just a bass line that has really stuck with you?

Well, the one that amazed me and I've used it in many tutorials and on my radio shows is 'How Sweet It Is' by Marvin Gaye, and that's (James) Jamerson. It's a little trick that I play, I'll tell whoever I'm gonna play the record to, I do it all the time and it works every time: I'm gonna play this for like 10 seconds and then I want you to hum me the bass line. And they hum the bass line and it's nothing what you heard. It's completely different. 'Cause Jamerson was a master of space. (She hums bits of the bass line.) And you're waiting and you think you've heard all these notes and you didn't hear 'em. And when you try to jam along with that and you think you've got it -- he does the phrasing, (and you think) 'I'll get it next time,' he doesn't do the same phrase. He drives you mad, Jamerson's great.

** And what about a vocal performance, something that just knocked you out?

God, there's a lot of them. Well, what just came to my head, it's an old Billie Holiday track called 'Them There Eyes.' And I had the pleasure of doing it with an orchestra at an awards ceremony. Believe it or not, she's one of my favorite singers. I learned a lot about phrasing from her.

** You have a son and a daughter. What's the best advice that you feel you've ever given them?

Mine was always about love. I said it to my son, he's very sensitive, I used to say to him all the time, 'When you meet the right one, you'll see it in their eyes and you won't need to ask any questions.' And he's met the right one now, which is good.

** What about for an up-and-coming musician? You dial it back to when you were 14. What would you tell someone who picks up a bass or a guitar, how would I make it?

First of all, this is not a business for the faint-hearted, it's a hard business. You have to be so focused. It's not sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll -- it's being a professional. If you can't be that, then don't get in the business. Go join a hippie commune or go get stoned somewhere, but don't litter the tracks. And if you're gonna play an instrument, make sure you play it, learn it. You should learn properly at least one instrument. I know two that I read and write and play, which is percussion and piano. I play classical piano, taught myself bass, but once you've learned piano you can learn anything -- it's kind of like your orchestra. If you're on the stage, leave your ego there, 'cause that's where it belongs.


** What's your go-to bass nowadays?

I always play on the (Fender) Precision at home. What I started with, 1957 Precision was my first bass. And I learned on the hardest one. I didn't know that, of course, I was given that by my father, so I just thought, 'OK, this is the bass I have to know.' I didn't know there was a smaller bass, I didn't know there was a lighter bass. So consequentially, I ended up a very good bass player 'cause I learned on the hardest. That's my choice in the studio. On stage I play a Fender Jazz, just because when I'm doing my solo, it's a slighter smaller neck and I've got a little hand. I've got a couple of acoustics there, I've got a couple of fretless. I just got a new guitar from Rios Guitars and he's making me a Suzi Quatro model. I'm pretty much Fender but I have been through many others and then ended up back home.

**  If you could go to dinner with one person, who would that be?

You're not gonna believe it when I tell you: Jesus. I've always wanted to meet him. Can you imagine? Talk about X factor. Can you imagine that magic he must have had, you know? Forget about what you think he was or who he was, doesn't matter. He must have been charismatic with a capital C. And I'd love to have a discussion with him. And he could bring the wine! (laughs)

Pure gold. (Photo courtesy of Sicily Publicity)

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