Suzi Quatro Interview: "I Realize That I Really Changed the Game for Women"
Image attributed to Sicily Publicity
Suzi Quatro was the first female bass player to become a major rock star. She reached #1 in the UK and other European counties and Australia with her singles “Can the Can” and “Devil Gate Drive.” Following a recurring role as bass player Leather Tuscadero in the hit TV series Happy Days, her duet “Stumblin’ In” with Smokie’s lead singer Chris Norman reached #4 in the US.
The documentary feature Suzi Q, which charts the 54-year career of the pioneering female rocker who burst onto the scene in the 70s, was set to open in theaters on July 1, 2020. However, with theaters closed, Utopia Distribution will host a Suzi Q virtual event on July 1, featuring the film and an exclusive Q&A with Suzi Quatro and a special guest (available for 24 hours only) in advance of the film’s traditional release on VOD and DVD on July 3, 2020. Visit Altavod's website for more info.
"I honestly didn’t play the gender, and I don’t play it now. I never have. I’ve never called myself a female musician. But because of the way the world has gone and because I was the first one to do it, I always have to use that term. But I don’t like to. I just don’t believe in gender. I’ve been like that all my life."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Suzi, it must be disappointing not to have your film released in theaters as planned due to the pandemic.
Suzi Quatro: I was so looking forward to the Frisco debut of my documentary in the USA. I had questions and answers set up. I had the flights booked and hotels. We had a band. We were going to do three songs, and then go on stage and answer questions. So that was a really big disappointment. It will go ahead virtually, of course. I’m not the only one to have things delayed. But it’s a shame.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are credited with being the first female bass player to become a major rock star. Is the main reason because women just weren’t supposed to be doing things like that 40-something years ago?
Suzi Quatro: (laughs) You heard my laugh. Didn’t that just give you the answer? (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes (laughs). So what was your motivation?
Suzi Quatro: You know, I’m not going to bullshit and say being a women musician was my motivation. It was not. Being a musician was my motivation. I really honestly did not do gender. Way back then and now, I don’t do it. I don’t see it. This goes right across the board, male, female, gay, straight. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t see any limitations. I just don’t. When people say that I kicked down the door, to be quite honest, I didn’t see the door. This is my attitude. Looking back to it in hindsight and seeing what I did do, I realize that I really changed the game for women. I didn’t know I was doing that, but I think that it had to fall to somebody like me to do, somebody who didn’t see the gender, didn’t play on the gender, didn’t play the sex card, just went out there and was natural. This is how I think it broke the mold. That’s how I see it anyway.
I’ve had this conversation with many famous musicians, mostly guys. I’ve had this conversation more than once because it makes me curious. So I said to these famous guy musicians, “When I came out on MTV, did it look like I was out there being a girl saying, ‘Hey, look what I can do, and I’m a girl?’” They said, “No.” I said, “Okay. What did it look like?” They said, “Just that you were being you.” I said, “Okay. Did you think to yourself, ‘Oh, look, she’s being sexy?’” They said, “No.” I said, “Okay. What did it look like?” They said, “Just that you were being natural, but luckily, it was sexy as well.” (laughs).
I honestly didn’t play the gender, and I don’t play it now. I never have. I’ve never called myself a female musician. But because of the way the world has gone and because I was the first one to do it, I always have to use that term. But I don’t like to. I just don’t believe in gender. I’ve been like that all my life.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And yet, you’ve also been described as a cock-rocker because of the way you move on stage.
Suzi Quatro: Which is even funnier (laughs). When Mickie Most discovered me, we were having a discussion when I first came to England. We stayed late after the office had closed, and we started to talk. Something he said just popped into my head, which is kind of the way I feel. He said, “Suzie, you cross all the boundaries.” I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “Well, you’re kind of asexual. The straights will like you, and the gays will like you. The guys will like you, and the girls will like you. You’re non-threatening.” That’s what he always said to me: non-threatening, which I’m not. I’ve never ever had that come back to me that any girl has noticed her guy looking at me. Now isn’t that strange?
So when you look at the psychology of all this, and I think that’s where you were going with that question, did you know on all the TV shows I did in the early days, I used to get in arguments with the TV people. They’d say, “Would you please put some makeup on for the show?” I’d say, “No.” (laughs) Because I didn’t want to play that card. I wanted to be taken seriously and never mind the gender.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is there a completely different persona behind the public one?
Suzi Quatro: Well, of course. Otherwise, you’re a mad person, you know. You have to have a public and a private. Sure. And I do definitely have both sides. I wrote my autobiography in two people because of that reason. I wrote it as little Suzi from Detroit and Suzi Quatro, and both people are as important as the other. Sure, there’s a private persona where I don’t walk around dressed in high heels. I’ve asked people that unanswerable question, “Which is me?” They always say, “Both of them.” But there is a divide, yes. In fact, I can explain it better by the fact that I have an Eagle room at home, a big Eagle room. It’s up on the third floor of my home, and you have to go up two flights of stairs to get to it, and the walls are crooked. It’s a 1590 house. You finally get to this heavy wooden door, and it says, “Eagle Room,” mind your head. You go in there, and you do everything as Suzi Quatro, and you come out (this is the important part), and you shut the door. I live my life by that story I just told you.
Yes, I have that huge part of me that I couldn’t live without, and then I have the private side. Right now, I’m on my patio. I’ve been writing songs all day because we got the next album coming up, and I’m just having a quiet time. Am I quieter? No. (laughs) I’m kind of the same person with the public performance thing, and the other side, I’m a Gemini. What can I tell you? I read poetry books. I’ve done a bit of everything. But the most central part of me is when I do my rock and roll. It has always come very, very natural to me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve said that you were psychic. What exactly does that mean?
Suzi Quatro: I’m a real true artist in the the strictest sense of the word. That means I’m extremely sensitive. I’m extremely sensitive, and because of that, my channels are open all the time, if you understand what I mean.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’re a highly sensitive person?
Suzi Quatro: Yes. Ridiculous. Oh, my God. Ridiculous. I wish I wasn’t, you know? As a matter of fact, my dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table here at this house one time when he was visiting, and he said something that upset me. I said, “Dad, that really upset me!” He said, “You’re going to have to toughen up!” I said to him, “How”? (laughs) I’ve never tried to toughen up, and even my husband says it to me. I said, “No,” because if I do that, I’m not going to be who I am. How can you toughen up? Emotions, feelings, by the very definition are things you can’t control. You can maybe learn to control your reactions to them, but don’t bullshit yourself that you don’t have the same feelings even though you’re hiding them a bit better.
I am sensitive. I do pick up on vibrations everywhere. If there’s any kind of ghost activity or this and that, I’ll pick up on it as soon as I walk in a place. But that just goes with the turf of being an artist, which I am. There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to accept it. Not everybody is that way, and that’s okay, too. But I see what I see, I hear what I hear, and I feel what I feel, and I don’t make any apologies for it. My belief is that everybody has the sixth sense for want of better words. Everybody’s born with it, but you get it knocked out of you. You say, “No, no, no, that didn’t happen.” So at the end of the day, you close it. I don’t want to close it. Even though I live here alone, I’m never alone (laughs). It’s fine.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You and your sister Patti were just 15 and 17 respectively when you were members of the Pleasure Seekers band in the 60s. How did you handle the temptations of drugs and sex at such a young age?
Suzi Quatro: I think that I was very fortunate in having the mother that I had. She was a strict Catholic. Everybody goes here and there. We all do as we’re growing up. But I never went too far wrong because her beliefs were always in me. She was my moral compass. Always. And she still is now. I’m told by everybody that knows me and knew my mother that I’m very much my mother’s daughter. So if temptations were there, and if I did succumb to anything, I’m a relationship girl. I’m not a drugger. I’m quite square. I actually do this job because I love what I do and not because I want sex, drugs and rock and roll. That’s not why I’m in it. So I’m pretty square that way.
I was married for 20 years to my guitar player, and then 27 years to my husband now. Way back in the day, I always had relationships. From the time I was 14, I had my first boyfriend. That lasted three years, and then I fell in love with a married man, and that was one of the black marks on my soul, as they say. Yeah. I’m pretty square when it comes to life in general. Pretty straight.
I don’t feel that need to be this crazy rock and roll person. I just don’t feel that. I don’t feel the need to get high and go on stage because going on stage is a high anyway. So that, for me, is the buzz. Going out there straight and thinking, “Oh, my God, I hope they like me,” I work and work them until they go nuts. I don’t understand people who need drugs or alcohol to get onto a stage. I’ve never understood it. Never. If you need to be high before you get on that stage, then you shouldn’t do it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is it true that Garry Marshall chose you to play Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days because he saw you in a photo his daughter had on the wall in her bedroom?
Suzi Quatro: It was his sister, Ronny Hallin. She saw the picture of me on the cover of Rolling Stone. They were looking, I think, for about six months. They had the script. I heard all this way after I got the job, you know. They knew Pinky was leaving, and they liked the Tuscadero idea, so they tried to find a “little sister” that could come in. They were looking for somebody who could be tough and vulnerable. And, hello, here I am. If you want to describe me, I’m definitely both (laughs). Then they had the idea to make it musical, too, then the offer came out, and they called me in Japan. I was on tour, so I went back and auditioned for the part and got it. It turned into two seasons, which was terrific.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did Garry Marshall ask you to do a spinoff?
Suzi Quatro: Yes, he did. But I did not want to be stuck into that mold. People would say, “Oh, she’s Leather Tuscadero.” It was enough that I was Suzi Quatro, you know. That’s enough. That’s the image I’m going to go to my grave with, which I’m happy to have. But I didn’t want to do Leather Tuscadero the same way. I wanted to do different kinds of roles. I wanted to spread my wings. I didn’t want to be boxed in. If I had done a spinoff, I would’ve been Leather Tuscadero for the rest of my days. Not that it’s a bad thing, you know. I am still close with Henry Winkler. I remember him talking about that a lot, and that he could never step away from Fonzie. And he’s an actor. That’s his profession. That must be very hard for him.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Henry’s just a super nice guy.
Suzi Quatro: Oh, I love Henry! What he said at the end of my documentary was one of my favorite things in the entire film because he was a zillion percent sincere. Not that everybody in it wasn’t. It makes me cry when I watch it because they are all sincere, but Henry was a little bit different when he talked.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Cherie Currie and Debbie Harry are also featured in the film. Are they good friends?
Suzi Quatro: I love them dearly. Debbie is a friend. We go out for dinner whenever we meet. We have email contact. Cherie is a very good friend. I just love her to pieces. I wanted to add something on the documentary, but I wasn’t allowed to, but I think it’s very funny. There’s a part in there where Debbie says, “And she’s so beautiful!” I wanted my voice to come in as an overdub and say, “Fuck off, Debbie!” (laughs) The director said, “No, you can’t do that.” But wouldn’t that have been very funny?”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Yes. I would have definitely laughed.
Suzi Quatro: Oh, fuck off, Debbie! (laughs) How can Debbie call me beautiful?
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How can she call anyone beautiful, right? (laughs)
Suzi Quatro: Exactly (laughs). I just love what she said. She was so sweet. I have an email she sent me. I had it printed, and I cut it out and put it on my little board behind my desk. I sent her my poetry book, she she wrote back and said, “Suzie, whether you know it or not, you’re a true genius in every sense of the word.” Now, I won’t tell her to “fuck off” on that one (laughs). I’ll take that one. But what a thing to say. What makes it different for me when I’m watching the film is that everybody that appeared in it did so because they wanted to be in it. They were compassionate and honest and open, and you felt it from them. You felt it when people said things. They weren’t just talking. They wanted to be in it. It makes me teary-eyed when I watch it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You recently turned 70. Any regrets about the life you’ve led thus far?
Suzi Quatro: My mantra is to try not to have regrets because I do believe that even the bad stuff is supposed to happen to teach you something. We all have lessons to learn. The only one that comes to mind that I wish I could change is that I chose not to go see my mother on the last few days of her life because I lived here. She lived in Texas, and I’d been back and forth to see her. She was dying from cancer, then it got to the end, and I talked to my little sister, and she said, “You saw her three months ago.” I said, “Yes.” She said, “You saw how bad she looked. Well, that looked healthy.” I talked to Mickie Most about it. I said, “Shall I go back again and see her? She’s now in her last days.” He said, “No, because you can’t handle it.” So that’s a little bit of a regret.
My husband keeps saying to me that I did the right thing that I had a good memory of her and not a horrible one. But that’s maybe one regret. If I had to do it again, I’d go and see her. I just didn’t want to see her like that. I talked to her on the phone. But other than that, I regret a marriage breaking up. I’m still good friends with my ex. As a good Catholic girl, you always carry around the guilt because marriage is forever. So all that kind of stuff. But basically, I try to learn from everything bad that’s happened to me. If it happens more than once, you haven’t learned the lesson.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Out of all of the songs you’ve written, which one is you?
Suzi Quatro: I’d say “No Soul/No Control” is me. That’s my personal mantra. There’s another one you can only get digital. You can Google it. It was on the album No Control as a bonus and unplugged cut, and then I’ve recorded it as a digital single. It’s called “Heart on the Line.” That’s probably one of the best songs I’ve ever written. They’re in my heart and soul. “No Soul/No Control” if you want to know me, and if you want to know my inside vulnerable part, it’s “Heart on the Line.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are working on another album?
Suzi Quatro: Yes. I did the last album with my son. It was completely unexpected. It just happened. I don’t know how, but it did. So we’re writing for the next album. The lockdown was really good for me. I have a little studio in my garden, so we can demo it. It’s along the same kind of thing as No Control. That was a completely organic album. I didn’t follow any rules or try and be any particular way. I just let every song speak for itself, and we’re following the same path now.
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