Before the early '70s, there were no solo women rock stars who played their own instruments, visible on the big stage. The Runaways and Chrissie Hynde came later but the credit for kicking the doors open to begin with belongs solely to Suzi Quatro. Yes, Fanny preceded her but Suzi was the first to do it on her own.
Suzi is a Detroit native that got her start in music when she and her sisters formed a band. Eventually she was noticed by the English music producer Mickie Most and encouraged to start a solo career in Britain. Hits like "Devil Gate Drive" and "Can the Can" followed and Suzi developed a huge and loyal following. American audiences may remember her from the recurring role on the tv show Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero.
Seventeen studio records later, Suzi is still immersed in music. She recently released her latest record, No Control, and it's a superb effort. I wanted to connect with Suzi to find out more about the record but she's in Britain while I'm in Canada so I had to settle for an email interview. Nonetheless it was a thrill to hear from this trailblazer about the new record and a few other topics.
antiMusic: You're heard laughing in the midst of several of the songs on this record. Can we assume that you were enjoying yourself with this project?
Suzi: Oh my god... it was sheer joy. I was flying free. I have not had this much fun in many years...or been this creative.
antiMusic: I've read that this record came about as a result of collaborating with your son. How did the decision to write with him happen and what's his background in music?
Suzi: My son, Richard, has been in bands since he was very young. He tried a few different things...sax, briefly... being a singer, briefly, then a d.j, scratcher. Then he finally picked up the guitar. He was in a real progressive rock band for quite a while until they disbanded. And in the meantime he quietly became very, very good on guitar and is an excellent 'riffer'. He has wanted to write with me for a long time. Then six months ago, it felt like the right time.
antiMusic: Give us a bit a bit of back story on how the songs all came together.
Suzi: He came to me and said quite strongly...'Mum, I need to write with you'. So I said. 'Show me what you have.' And he played me the riff to what became "Don't Do Me Wrong". I immediately said hey I can work with this. We made a demo...bass, guitar, vocal and drum machine. Then we did "Bass Line". Same thing. Then by the time we were demoing the third song I said, "Richard, this is serious. We are making an album. And that's exactly how it happened. It was a happy accident.
antiMusic: The best part of this record for me is the diversity in all the tracks. The first four tracks alone all go in separate directions while retaining the blueprint that is yours. Do you strive to really stretch your muse by including non-identical songs or do you just go with whatever comes to your mental drawing-board?
Suzi: This was the most important part of the creative process. Once I knew we were making an album, I said to Richard, "I don't want any blueprint. I don't want to try and write any particular kind of song. I just want to let it happen ORGANICALLY. I have used this word over and over again. This is what the critics are reacting to. It is a very real album. I wanted every song to stand on its own and have its own voice and own reason for existing.
antiMusic: "No Soul - No Control" is straight-ahead rock and roll. It sounds like, musically anyway, it might have come as a result of an especially hot jam. What can you tell us about this song and why it (partially) came to be the title track?
Suzi: This was a Richard riff. He nearly didn't show me because he thought it was too heavy. I was intrigued because it was a real unusual chord structure. I liked it right away. All I kept saying was, 'You can control my soul', which hit a chord in me. I stuck it on my iPad and went into the quiet part of the studio. I did the melody and lyrics in maybe twenty minutes. It just flew out and I insisted on putting down the vocal right away ---hair standing on the back of the neck time. It goes great live.
antiMusic: "Going Home" is a tasty splash of upbeat blues with a great chorus. Tell us about this one.
Suzi: This is another Richard riff. A great groove on this. I had an immediate idea for melody and lyrics and then we kind of threw this back and forth until we came up with what you hear. The reason behind it is that I am kicking out the person who is invading me. And I am going 'home' to me... where I belong. I have always said, you can be your loneliest with somebody.
antiMusic: Possibly my favourite song on the record is "Strings", Musically, it's got a great chorus with the piano and brass section adding a nice touch. Describe how the song came together and what the message is here.
Suzi: I had this riff for a long, long time, on bass. I've loved it forever but could never quite find a song around it. Then playing around about halfway through the album I started singing 'strings' with that funny voice. And I knew I had found the song.. or rather, the song had found me. It's very important in today's world...full of conflict, religion, terrorists, black, white, rich, poor.... and at the end of the day...we are all one race of people. It's a serious message.
antiMusic: Another of my favourites is "Love Isn't Fair" with its interesting island-vibe. Tell us how this one came about.
Suzi: This again was a bass riff. I was in our Hamburg home playing around and this riff came out. It sounded very commercial and I sang...'Love isn't fair'... and yep...had a song. I like this one in particular because you are grooving along feeling happy, drink in hand, on the beach and then all of a sudden you realise its a very serious message in a very pretty frame. My favorite kind of song. All the lyrics on this album are extremely important and have been actually quoted back to me in numerous interviews...which is very satisfying for an artist's soul.
antiMusic: "Macho Man" has got kind of a "Devil Gate Drive" feel. Lyrically, is this directed at anybody in particular? ☺
Suzi:, Every single 'male' interviewer has asked me this.. I have known a few macho men, albeit, that don't last long. It's a composite. In reality the macho man is the victim... of his machoness!!! (is that a word?) This is a great, great stage song... head banging all the way.
antiMusic: I also love "Bass Line" (I keep hearing "Venus" by The Shocking Blue in my head when this plays) with its trippy ambience. I bet this one would go over well live with a nice bass solo in the middle, How did this song come together?
Suzi: Richard showed me a nice cool chord sequence.. I pulled him into the front room and we plugged in. I immediately started to play 'lead' bass, which I normally don't do, but it was correct for this song. And I just said.. this is called, 'Bass Line'... double meaning intended...and a milestone for all bass players.. I PLAYED THE SOLO!!!! Hooray. About time eh!
antiMusic: I really enjoyed the QSP project. What did you take away from playing with Andy and Don? Might we see any further collaborations in the future?
Suzi: I LOVED QSP. We all did. We created an absolutely magical album. Never say never. We are good friends still
antiMusic: You moved to Britain in the early '70s at the urging of Mickie Most. A lot of British musicians have done the reverse over the years and taken up residency in the States, citing taxes and the weather as some of the contributing factors. What has kept you across the pond all these years?
Suzi: It just rolled out that way. I had two offers within a week of each other, to stay in New York --- sign with Elektra or to go to England and sign with Mickie Most. Jack Holstrum wanted to make me into the next Janis Joplin. Mickie wanted to make me into the first Suzi Quatro....a no brainer. Then things took their time and I put down roots. I wouldn't have changed a thing.
antiMusic: You come from a musical family and everybody plays a number of instruments. What prompted you to pick up and key in on the bass?
Suzi: When we started the first band, all the girls shouted real quick which instrument they wanted. I was too slow to speak up so was 'given' the bass.. even though I already could read, write, and play, piano and percussion. Lucky break because as soon as I started playing the bass, I knew it was for me. A real light bulb moment.
antiMusic: Excluding the despicable cold-shoulder from the so-called Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, your influence can be seen and heard from generations of musicians such as members of The Runaways and Girlschool. Is it satisfying to see waves of female musicians taking the lead in recent years and establishing solid careers in music, knowing that you were one of the trail-blazers who opened doors as a songwriter, musician, singer and performer in rock?
Suzi: Yes... it's very satisfying. And I'm happy to go down in history as the first. Nobody can take that away from me. But in reality, I don't really do gender. I believe in myself. This is my mantra, there is nothing you can not do if you really want to.
Morley and antiMusic thank Suzi for taking the time to do this interview.
Get your copy of the album here:
Visit Suzi's website here