A bona fide icon, Suzi Quatro has been the Queen of Rock n' Roll for over five decades. Not only a global legend who has sold over 55 million records worldwide, she is also a record producer, actress, poet, author and radio presenter. It all kicked started for her back in the early 1970s, with the release of a brace of chart-topping singles, and she’s barely sat still since. Readying a “highlight of my life” in a landmark celebration gig at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, we sat down with Suzi for a chat about her career. In Devil Gate Drive; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Suzi, how are you today?
Well you know what, at least everybody’s getting back to saying; “great”! For two years everyone when you’d ask that would go “yeah, okay”; ‘good’ had left the room!
And what a great way to kick thing off again, with a show at the Royal Albert Hall!
The Royal Albert Hall; the Queen of Rock n’ Roll! Wow! Isn’t that fantastic! I’ve been there and I’ve done big shows with a lot of people, but I haven’t played it by myself. It’s my solo two-hour show with an interval, and oh god, this is going to be one of the highlights for me of life, it is.
How did this special show come together?
Somebody contacted me and said they’d like to book us there, and I put them in touch with my husband who books me, and that was a couple of years ago now; you know how everything went [with the pandemic]. And oh my god, you don’t say “no” to that! I’ve played the Sydney Opera House, but this is a special one; it’s an iconic venue. I’ve been rehearsing for it, and I’ve got a good show prepared. I’ve been doing my living room sessions where I do my show; if anybody sees me out the window they think I’ve gone mad!
It must be special to do it in what has been your adopted home country for many years now; you’ve lived in England for a long time now, haven’t you?
I have, but I’m still the girl from Detroit.
You came from a very musical family, and played with your sisters very early on; it must have been almost a given that you’d end up where you are now.
It was kind of like a no-brainer, you know? I was going to be in this business from day one; from the age of five and a half when I first saw Elvis. I said; “I’m going to be him”; that’s what I said in my brain. I started on bongos, then went to classical piano, then went to percussion, and then at fourteen we started the band [The Pleasure Seekers], and that’s it. I was given the bass to play because nobody wanted it, and there was where the love affair started. The rest is history. I’ve been on the road fifty-eight years now.
The first bass you got was your ’57 Fender Precision that was given to you by your father, which you still have.
I do! And I love that story because I see grown men, musicians cry; they go green. When I tell them I was given, for my first bass, a 1957 Fender Precision, they just go; “what?!” It’s like your first car’s Rolls Royce, you know?! [laughing] Brilliant! And everybody always says; “well, why didn’t you play a smaller one?” I didn’t question the bass; I said to my dad; “do you have a bass I can use for starting a band?”, and he said; “here”. This is what he gave me, this is what I learned; I didn’t think; “oh, is there a smaller one, or a shorter neck?”; why would I? So consequently, I learned on the hardest and I became a very, very good bass player because of it.
You’re like Angus Young in a way, in that your size almost distorts the scale of the instrument; that probably made it even more iconic.
I didn’t think about it, but obviously when you look back on somebody who has had success and all that, you see how the elements work together. That’s the bass I was given, but yeah sure, it worked good, because its not a big bass; I’m a little bass player! Yeah, everything kind of worked; I was always a tomboy and that worked in my favour; I didn’t set out to be overly sexual, that worked in my favour; one of the boys, but cute with it, so I was non-threatening even, for the females. It just all worked in my favour.
You came up during the glam era; what was it like for you coming up at the same time as T.Rex and David Bowie?
It’s so funny, it’s said in my documentary [Suzi Q, 2019] by more than one person; I’m not glam whatsoever. I’ve always been just rock and roll, and I’m kind of like the opposite of glam, but you get lumped in with that because my hits started in that era. But I am based in rock and roll. I was the only girl around, but I don’t think of myself as a female musician, and I never have; I’m a musician, and I can be one of the boys, and I am one of the boys until you step over the line, and then you only do it one time.
You had incredible success with two number ones in the UK and worldwide in the early ‘70s; what was it like when that success hit?
It’s amazing when you’ve been working at it. I had a nine year apprenticeship working in my bands, and then all of a sudden we had a number one. All I can say is it was worth it. When it happened, I just said; “yeah, this is what I want”. I always knew I was going to do it for my whole life. It’s pretty amazing to hit number one for the first time, and the record company sends you a case of champagne, you get mobbed at the local pub and, oh boy, amazing! And I kept thinking; “I did it! I did it! I DID it!”, and I did it just by sticking to ‘me’, and not trying to be anybody else. And I was stubborn about that, even to the leather; Mickie [Most, producer] didn’t want me to wear leather, and I said; “I’m WEARING leather!”, and I knew exactly who I was, and it hadn’t been done. What I was doing hadn’t been done, and even if I hadn’t been successful, I would not have changed being what I am.
You’re a fiercely proud bassist.
I’m an organic bass player which I think is important. I didn’t go from guitar and not be able to play guitar and go to bass instead because there’s less strings; I started on bass. So, what was it somebody said to me? One of my musicians, we were talking about music after the show, and my drummer at the time, I’ll always remember this, he said; “Suzi, whatever you play on bass, is right”. Now, that’s a big complement. So I don’t overplay. I do leave space where there needs to be space; there are moments when I just rip and show off which you have to do, but I am of the old fashioned school where the bass and the drums are the engine of the band. If you haven’t got that, you’ve got nothing to build on. We drive the car, okay? It’s the engine, so I take that seriously, and I work closely with the drummer. It’s good that I play percussion myself anyway. I am a percussive bass player, if that makes sense.
Like John Entwistle of The Who.
Yeah, I have similar style to him too; I have a little bit of boogie in me, he done a lot of walking, and the old fashioned rock and roll.
Back to that early fame, and I’m guessing there was Suzi-mania; what was it like with that level of recognition?
My god, if you haven’t got that, you haven’t succeeded. It’s funny you should say that, I made up my mind when I first got mobbed, yeah, you have to be careful where you go and everything, but I thought; “okay, do I want to be a famous person with sunglasses and a baseball cap on? Or do I want to find a way to handle this fame and still be able to walk the streets?”, and I decided on the second one. So sure, you have to choose where you go and everything, but how it usually goes, I even go around here all the time, and it happens all the time; a person will walk by me and do a double take, and all I do is I just nod my head. Done. The moment is over. They just wanted to know it was me; yes it is! You just have to be careful if there’s drunk people around, then it can get stupid; my mouth is lethal!
During your career you’ve sold an incredible 55 million albums.
I know. It’s more now; that was the last count before ‘No Control’  and ‘The Devil in Me’  came out. That charted everywhere, so it must be much more than that now. But yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it?
Do you still have all your platinum and gold albums?
Oh god yeah, are you kidding?! I’ve got that all over my dining room, all my records; they make great decoration. And up on the third floor of my house, I have, it’s a famous room now I call the ‘ego room’, and I’ve even got a sign on the door and it says; “Ego Room: Mind Your Head”! In there, I have everything; I have clothes, bass guitars, posters all over the walls, stage passes, videos, scrap books, CDs, and the big red book ‘This is Your Life’, everything. You go in there and you enjoy it, then you come out and you shut the door, and that’s how I live my life.
Do you remember the first gold disc you got?
Yeah, that would have been in England for ‘Can the Can’ . That would have been the first one, and then I got loads of them. Obviously, everywhere you go on tour they bring you another gold record, you know? So, it’s fantastic.
Back to the Royal Albert Hall show, and who have you got playing with you?
I’ve got some guests coming out which I don’t want to say who, but the band’s been together for about five or six years now. So, it’s regular people; it’s the nine-piece band including me. I’ve a horn section. But it’s nobody you would know; these are just good players.
Does it amaze you that you’re celebrating fifty-eight years in the business with this show?
That’s a lot of riding in vans with the equipment in the back, and a lot of crappy food, and just a lot of wonderful gigs!
What’s next for you after this show?
I’ve got a lot of gigs that have been postponed for the two years [of the pandemic], and that’s starting in Europe after the Royal Albert Hall. I go to Australia again at the end of the year; it’s tour number thirty-eight! Are you kidding me?! Thirty-eight times I’ve been there; I hold the record for an international artist coming to Australia.
Where do you find you have the most devoted fans?
I think it’s Australia. They really do love me. I belong to them!
Suzi Quatro plays London's Royal Albert Hall on 20th April 2022. For tickets, click here.
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