Susan Kay "Suzi" Quatro:2 (born 3 June 1950) is a British-based American singer-songwriter, bass guitar player, and actor. She is the first female bass player to become a major rock star. This broke a barrier to women's participation in rock music.:1–3
In the 1970s Quatro scored a string of hit singles that found greater success in Europe and Australia than in her homeland. But, following a recurring role as a female bass player on the popular American sitcom Happy Days, her duet "Stumblin' In" with Chris Norman reached number 4 in the USA.
Between 1973 and 1980 Quatro was awarded six Bravo Ottos. In 2010 she was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame. Quatro has sold over 50 million albumsand continues to perform live, worldwide. Her most recent album was released in 2011 and she also continues to present new radio programmes.
Career[edit source | edit]
Music[edit source | edit]
Early years and The Art Quatro Trio[edit source | edit]
Quatro says she was influenced at the age of six by Elvis Presley, whom she saw on television.:26 She also said she had no female role model but was inspired by Billie Holliday and liked the dress sense of Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las "because she wore tight trousers and a waistcoat on top — she looked hot".
Quatro received formal training in playing classical piano and percussion. She is a self-taught player of the bass and guitar. Her father gave her a 1957 Fender Precision bass guitar in 1964, which she still possessed in 2007.
She played drums from an early age as part of her father's jazz band, The Art Quatro Trio. Sources vary regarding whether her playing in the band began at the age of seven or eight, and whether the instrument played were bongo orconga drums. Subsequently, she appeared on local television as a go-go dancer in a pop music series.
The Pleasure Seekers and Cradle[edit source | edit]
In 1964, after seeing a television performance by The Beatles, Quatro's older sister, Patti, had formed an all-female band called The Pleasure Seekers with two friends. Quatro joined too and assumed the stage name of Suzi Soul; Patti was known as Patti Pleasure. The band also featured another sister, Arlene. Many of their performances were in cabaret, where attention was (initially) focussed more on their looks than their music. They sometimes wore mini-skirtsand wigs, which Quatro later considered to be necessary evils in the pursuit of success.
The Pleasure Seekers recorded three singles and released two of these: "Never Thought You’d Leave Me" / "What A Way To Die" (1966) and "Light Of Love" / "Good Kind Of Hurt" (1968). The second of these was released by Mercury Records, with whom they briefly had a contract before breaking away due to differences of opinion regarding their future direction. They changed their name to Cradle in late 1969, not long after another Quatro sister, Nancy, had joined the band and Arlene had left following the birth of her child.
Work with Mickie Most[edit source | edit]
Quatro moved to England in 1971 after being spotted by the record producer Mickie Most, who had by that time founded his own label, RAK Records. Most had been persuaded to see Cradle by Michael, the brother of the Quatro sisters who had assumed a managerial role for the band. In common with many in the record industry at the time, Most was seeking a female rock singer who could fill the void that the death of Janis Joplin had created. According to the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, his attention to Quatro was drawn by "her comeliness and skills as bass guitarist, singer and chief show-off in Cradle." She had also been attracting attention from Elektra Records and subsequently explained that "According to the Elektra president, I could become the new Janis Joplin. Mickie Most offered to take me to England and make me the first Suzi Quatro — I didn't want to be the new anybody." Most had no interest in the other band members and he had no idea at that time of how he might market Quatro. She spent a year living in a hotel while being nurtured by Most, developing her skills and maturing. Most later said that the outcome was a reflection of her own personality.
Quatro's first single "Rolling Stone" was successful only in Portugal, where it reached number one on the charts. This was a solo effort, although aided by people such as Duncan Browne,Peter Frampton and Alan White. Subsequently, with the approval of Most, she auditioned for a band to accompany her. It was also after this record that Most introduced her to the songwriting and production team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who wrote songs specifically to accord with her image. She agreed with Most's assessment of her image, saying that his influence, at which some of his artists - such as Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart - baulked, did not extend to manufacture and that "If he tried to build me into a Lulu, I wouldn't have it. I'd say 'go to hell' and walk out." This was the height of the glam rock period of the 1970s and Quatro, who wore leather clothes, portrayed a wild, androgynous image while playing music that "hinged mostly on a hard rock chug beneath lyrics in which scansion overruled meaning."[a]
In autumn 1972, Quatro embarked as a support act on a UK tour with Thin Lizzy and headliners Slade. RAK arranged for her to use Thin Lizzy's newly-acquired PA system during this, incurring a charge of £300 per week that enabled the Irish band to effectively purchase it at no cost to themselves. In May 1973, her second single "Can the Can" (1973) - which Philip Auslander describes as having "seemingly nonsensical and virtually unintelligible lyrics":1 – was a number one hit in parts of Europe and in Australia.
"Can the Can" was followed by three further hits: "48 Crash" (1973), "Daytona Demon" (1973), and "Devil Gate Drive" (1974). "Can the Can", "48 Crash" and "Devil Gate Drive" each sold over one million copies and were awarded gold discs, although they met with little success in her native United States, where she had toured as a support act for Alice Cooper. RAK artists had generally not succeeded in the US and her first album, Suzi Quatro, was criticised by Alan Betrock for its lack of variety, for its Quatro-written "second-rate fillers" and for her voice, described as "often too high and shrill, lacking punch or distinctive phrasing." Writing for Rolling Stone, Greg Shaw was also downbeat, saying that the album "may be a necessary beginning".
Musicians who acted as her backing band around this period included Alastair McKenzie, Dave Neal and Len Tuckey, with Robbie Blunt also being listed by some sources. Tuckey's brother, Bill, acted as tour manager.
With the exception of Australia, her chart success faltered thereafter until a change to a more mellow style produced the 1978 single "If You Can't Give Me Love" that became a hit there and in the United Kingdom. Later that year, "Stumblin' In", a duet with Chris Norman of the band Smokie, reached number 4 in the U.S. Both tracks featured on the If You Knew Suzi... album. A year later, Quatro released Suzi...and Other Four Letter Words, which she called her favourite album.[when?] This featured the hits "She's in Love with You", which made number 11 in Britain, "Mama's Boy" (number 34), and "I've Never Been in Love" (number 56).
Mike Chapman and Dreamland records[edit source | edit]
After Quatro's contract with Mickie Most expired, she signed up with Chapman.[when?]
In 1980 Quatro released Rock Hard; both the album and title single went platinum in Australia. "Rock Hard" was also used in the cult film, Times Square and appeared on the soundtrack album. 1980 also saw the release of Suzi Quatro's Greatest Hits, which peaked at number 4 on the UK charts, becoming her highest-charting album there.
Independence[edit source | edit]
Her last UK hit for some time was "Heart of Stone" in late 1982. In 1983 another single "Main Attraction" was released. It failed to chart but did become a sizeable[vague] airplay hit. She commented in an article in Kerrang! in 1983, after playing a successful slot at Reading Festival on 27 August, that she did not care about being in the charts, but was more interested releasing what she wanted; commenting that she started in 1964, and did not become famous for nine years "I would never accept having my career moulded by other people... I've kept working consistently even though I've not been in the charts." In 1985, her "Tonight I Could Fall in Love"/"Good Girl (Looking for a Bad Time)" single reached number 140 in the UK charts. Quatro also collaborated with Bronski Beat and members of The Kinks, Eddie and the Hot Rods, and Dr. Feelgood on the Mark Cunningham-produced version of David Bowie's "Heroes", released the following year as the 1986 BBC Children in Need single. "Can The Can"/"Devil Gate Drive" were re-released in 1987 as a single and reached number 87 in the UK charts. She was also part of the Ferry Aid charity single "Let It Be", which was a UK number 1, 13 years and 26 days after Quatro's last UK number 1.
In December 2005, a documentary chronicling Quatro's life, Naked Under Leather, named after a 1975 bootleg album, recorded in Japan, directed by former member of The Runaways, Victory Tischler-Blue, appeared. In February 2006, Quatro released Back to the Drive, produced by Sweet guitarist Andy Scott. The album's title track was written by her former collaborator, Chapman. In March 2007, Quatro released a version of the Eagles song "Desperado", followed by the publication of her autobiography, Unzipped. By this time, Quatro had sold 50 million records.
On 11 June 2010, she headlined the 'Girls night out' at the Isle of Wight Festival. Quatro was also inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame in 2010, following an on-line vote.
In August 2011, Quatro released her fifteenth studio album, In the Spotlight (and its single, "Spotlight"). This album is a mixture of new songs written by Mike Chapman and by herself, along with cover versions. A second single from the album, "Whatever Love Is", was subsequently released. On 16 November 2011, a music video (by Tischler-Blue) for the track "Strict Machine" was released onto the Suzi Quatro Official YouTube channel. The track is a cover ofGoldfrapp's "Strict Machine", but Quatro's version contains two lines from "Can the Can", referencing the similarity of the tunes for the two songs.
In April 2013, she performed in America for the first time in over 30 years, at the Detroit Music Awards, where she received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to her by her sister, Patti.
Acting and radio hosting[edit source | edit]
Quatro is known in the United States for her role as female bass player Leather Tuscadero on the television show Happy Days. Show producer Garry Marshall offered the role without an audition after seeing a picture of her on his daughter's bedroom wall. Leather was the younger sister of Fonzie's girlfriend, hot-rod driver Pinky Tuscadero. Leather fronted a rock band joined by principal character Joanie Cunningham. The character returned in other cameo roles, including once for a date to a fraternity formal with Ralph Malph. Marshall offered Quatro a Leather Tuscadero spin-off, but she refused, saying she did not want to be typecast.
Other acting roles include a 1982 episode of the British comedy-drama series Minder (called "Dead Men Do Tell Tales") as Nancy, the singer girlfriend of Terry (Dennis Waterman). In 1985, she starred as a mentally disturbed ex-MI5 operative in Dempsey and Makepeace – "Love you to Death". In 1994, she made a cameo appearance as a nurse in the "Hospital" episode of the comedy Absolutely Fabulous. She also was filmed in the 1990 Clive Barker horror film Nightbreed, but the studio cut out her character. In 2006, Quatro performed the voice of Rio in the Bob the Builder film Built to Be Wild, and appeared in an episode of the second season of Rock School, inLowestoft. She also appeared in the episode "The Axeman Cometh" of Midsomer Murders in the role of Mimi Clifton.
Quatro has also performed in theatre. In 1986, she appeared as Annie Oakley in a London production of Annie Get Your Gun and in 1991 she performed the title role in a musical about the life of actor Tallulah Bankhead. EntitledTallulah Who?, this musical was co-written by her and Shirlie Roden, adapted from a book by Willie Rushton. It ran from 14 February to 9 March at Hornchurch, England, where it was billed as "You’ll be amazed how Tallulah did it, and to whom –— and how often!" The show received favourable reviews.
Musicianship[edit source | edit]
Songwriting[edit source | edit]
She started writing songs alone, then collaborated with other songwriters (such as Len Tuckey and Shirley Roden), and now once again mainly writes songs alone.
Quatro's early recorded songwriting was deliberately limited to album tracks and the B-sides of singles. She said in late 1973 that "... album tracks are a very different story from singles. The two-minute lo-and-behold commercial single will not come out of my brain, but ain't I gonna worry about it."
She describes creating a new song: "From sitting at my piano in my front room, writing down a title (always first), picking up my bass, figuring out the groove, going back to the piano...working on the lyrics, playing electric guitar...and finally I type out the lyrics. Only then is it officially a song. Next it goes down on my tiny 8-track, me playing everything...this is the version all muso's use to get into the tune...then into the studio and we go from there.":2
Personal life[edit source | edit]
Quatro's paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant to the US. His family name of "Quattrocchi" was shortened by the immigration authorities because they found it too difficult to pronounce. Quatro's Catholic family were living in Detroit, Michigan when she was born. She has three sisters and a brother, and her parents fostered several other children while she was growing up. Her father, Art, was a semi-professional musician and worked at General Motors. Her mother, Helen, was Hungarian. In this environment, Quatro grew to be "extrovert but solitary", according to Norman, and she only became close to her mother after leaving the US for the United Kingdom.
Her sister Arlene is the mother of actress Sherilyn Fenn. Her sister Patti joined Fanny, one of the earliest all-female rock bands to gain national attention. Quatro has a brother, Michael Quatro, who is also a musician.
Quatro married her long-time guitarist Len Tuckey in 1976. They had two children together (Laura in 1982 and Richard Leonard in 1984) and divorced in 1992. Before 1993, Quatro lived with her two children in a manor house in Essex that she and Tuckey bought in 1980. She married German concert promoter Rainer Haas in 1993. In 2006 her daughter and grandchild moved into the manor house again. Toward the end of 2008, Quatro's children moved out of the house and she temporarily put it up for sale, stating that she had empty nest syndrome. Quatro continues to live in Essex, England.
On 31 March 2012, Quatro broke her right knee and left wrist while boarding an aircraft in Kiev, where she had performed the night before. She had to cancel her appearance at the Detroit Music Awards, where she was to be inducted into the Detroit hall of fame along with her sisters, scheduled for 27 April. This would have been her first performance in America for over 30 years. Quatro also had to re-schedule other concert dates, whilst some were cancelled altogether.
Attitude[edit source | edit]
In a 2012 interview, Quatro was asked what she thought she had achieved for female rockers in general. She replied:
Before I did what I did, we didn't have a place in rock 'n' roll. Not really. You had your Grace Slicks and all that, but that's not what I did. I was the first to be taken seriously as a female rock 'n' roll musician and singer. That hadn't been done before. I played the boys at their own game. For everybody that came afterward, it was a little bit easier, which is good. I'm proud of that. If I have a legacy, that's what it is. It's nothing I take lightly. It was gonna happen sooner or later. In 2014, I will have done my job 50 years. It was gonna be done by somebody, and I think it fell to me to do because I don't look at gender. I never have. It doesn't occur to me if a 6-foot-tall guy has pissed me off not to square up to him. That's just the way I am. If I wanted to play a bass solo, it never occurred to me that I couldn't. When I saw Elvis for the first time when I was 5, I decided I wanted to be him, and it didn't occur to me that he was a guy. That's why it had to fall to somebody like me.
In a 1973 interview, Quatro sympathised with many of the opinions voiced by the women's liberation movement whilst distancing herself from it because she considered that the participants were
... completely hypocritical. Their leaders stand up there and say, 'We're individuals blab blab blab,' and yet they're all in a group following like sheep. For me, I cannot put the two together ... I'm talking about the masses that follow [the movement's leaders who get press attention] and who have nothing at all to say. It gives it all a very phoney light. I hope they can find a way to apply it to their own lives, because grouping together takes away the whole idea of Women's Lib.
The interviewer, Charles Shaar Murray, considered her viewpoint to be "... somewhat anomalous, because unless the woman in question happens to be well known, she has no way of letting people hear her unless she unites with other women and then elects a spokesman." He also noted the apparent contradiction that Quatro seemed proud that girls were writing to her saying that they were emulating her look and her attitude. In 1974, Quatro believed that, unlike men, women were burdened with emotional responses and that it was more difficult for them to succeed in the music industry because they are more prone to jealousy and thus female audiences tend not to buy the recordings of female artists. Her unusually free use of swear words in conversation was often picked upon by interviewers in the 1970s, as have been her diminutive stature and boy-ish nature. In 1974, Philip Norman said that
Of all female rock singers, she appears the most emancipated: a small girl leading an all-man group in which she herself plays bass guitar. The image is of a tomboy, lank-haired, tight-bottomed and (twice) tattooed; a rocker, a brooder, a loner, a knife-carrier; a hell-cat, a wild cat, a storm child, refugee from the frightened city of Detroit.
By October 1973, she had featured as a centrefold for Penthouse. Unusually for that role, she was fully clothed, although the feature did include risqué anecdotal captions. Frith noted that while any publicity was a bonus, "Tit-talent spotters don't buy many singles and record buyers aren't yet that frustrated."
Influence[edit source | edit]
Views of journalists and reviewers[edit source | edit]
In August 1974, Simon Frith spotted a problem with the formula that was working outside the US, saying that
Suzi's facing a bit of a crisis: Chinn and Chapman, having proved their point, are losing interest in her. She's never had their best material (they don't play many games with her) and each of her singles has been less gripping than the one before. Unless they suddenly imagine a new joke, she's in danger of petering out and she lacks the resources to fight back. None of her own musical talents has been needed and so they've been ignored (except on the throwaway B-sides) and while Sweet and Mud have their histories and themselves to draw on for support, Suzi's present has nothing to do with her past and her group was formed only to play Chinnichap music. Mud may become a top cabaret act and Sweet a respected rock group, but Suzi will only be a memory. Mickie Most's skill in the '60s was to make pop music out of British blues and R&B and folk; Chinn and Chapman's skill in the '70s has been to make pop music out of an audience. As this audience ages and changes, so will its music and Suzi Quatro will have been just an affectionate part of growing up.
In 1983, journalist Tom Hibbert wrote that Quatro may have overstated her role as a leading light among female rock musicians. He said that
... it was in the wake of the 1977 punk revolution that the traditions of rock were turned upside down and female musicians truly came to the fore. But Suzi Quatro, with her tomboy sneers, her bass guitar and her stompingly persuasive teen-tunes, had at least laid down a challenge to the male-dominated rock orthodoxy. On stage in the Eighties, Quatro was still conveying energy and excitement – and she still lacked class."===Views of scholars[edit source | edit]===
In his 2008 paper Suzi Quatro: A prototype in the archsheology [sic] of rock, Frank Oglesbee writes that "The rebellion of rock music was largely a male rebellion; the women—often, in the 1950s and '60s, girls in their teens—in rock usually sang songs as personæ utterly dependent on their macho boyfriends...". He describes Quatro as "... a female rock pioneer, in some ways the female rock pioneer, ..., a cornerstone in the archsheology of rock." He said she grew up to become "the first female lead singer and bassist, an electric ax-woman, who sang and played as freely as the males, inspiring other females."
Philip Auslander says that "Although there were many women in rock by the late 1960s, most performed only as singers, a traditionally feminine position in popular music". Though some women (like Quatro herself) played instruments in American all-female garage rock bands, none of these bands achieved more than regional success. So they "did not provide viable templates for women's on-going participation in rock".:2–3 When Quatro emerged in 1973, "no other prominent female musician worked in rock simultaneously as a singer, instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader".:2 Auslander adds that in 2000 Quatro saw herself as "kicking down the male door in rock and roll and proving that a female musician ... and this is a point I am extremely concerned about ... could play as well if not better than the boys".:3
People and bands influenced by Quatro[edit source | edit]
Quatro has influenced various female musicians. Examples are:
- Chrissie Hynde, the founding member and lead singer/guitarist of The Pretenders, cited Quatro as a major influence. In 1999, Hynde appeared on Quatro's episode of This is Your Life and recalled interviewing her, in a toilet, when she was an NME journalist. Quatro then took her to see her gig in her van and Hynde was impressed by Quatro's energy and personality.
- Tina Weymouth is a founding member and bassist of the New Wave group Talking Heads (formed in 1975 in New York City, USA) and its side project Tom Tom Club. Talking Heads was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famein 2002. When Chris Frantz was unable to find a bass player interested in joining the group, he encouraged Weymouth to learn to play bass by listening to Quatro albums.
Satire[edit source | edit]
A Spanish rock band called Suzy & los Quattro released two albums on No Tomorrow in 2006 and 2008; in the tradition of Ramones and the Donnas, all of the bandmembers except for Suzy Chain list their last name as Quattro.
A Danish band called Suzi & Quadratrødderne released two CDs: Glimrende (Excellent) and Absolut Nødvendigt..! (Absolutely Necessary ..!). Suzi was played by Ricky Rocket. Unlike Quatro and her band, Suzi & Quadratrødderne dressed in glam rock style.