Suzi Quatro: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Suzi Quatro Interview

Feature Photo: courtesy of Suzi Quatro

An Interview with

Suzi Quatro By Andrew Daly

Leather-clad and bass in hand, they call Suzi Quatro “The Queen of Rock’ N’ Roll.”

More importantly, as a bassist and front person, Quatro is one of rock’s singular talents. Dating back to the early ’70s, Quatro began an incredible journey that saw the bassist blaze a trail for women as before she hit the scene; rock music was a space almost entirely dominated by men.

Quatro’s angelic yet rocking voice and galloping basslines burst upon an unsuspecting scene with her debut record, Suzi Quatro (1973). As the decade wore on, Quatro remained one of the genres defining figures behind the release of a string of classic albums, Quatro (1974), Your Mamma Won’t Like Me (1975), Aggro-Phobia (1976), and If You Knew Suzi… (1978).

Today, Quatro is still blazing a trail and, most importantly, rocking. Her most recent efforts, No Control (2019) and The Devil in Me (2021) show that not only does Quatro still have plenty left in the tank but that she is truly just getting started.

Quatro receiving beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to discuss her long career in music, her enduring influence, gear, views on gender, and more.

What first inspired you to pick up the bass? Who were your primary influences, and who influences you most today?

I always had a bass/percussion way of heating music. I started out on the bongos at age 7, and then I moved to the piano, which is classified as a percussion instrument. I moved to the bass after that. My primary influences were James Jamerson and Motown music, but also bands like Canned Heat. My style lies somewhere between jazz and boogie, and these days; my influences are all over the place. They evolve along with my style. I do have my own way of playing that’s very distinctive, but if I have to name a “modern player,” I’d go with Flea as someone whose style I love.

How important has the city and musical history of Detroit been to you and your career?

I was weaned on Motown, and I am still a huge, huge fan. I especially love the ’60s stuff. I have always said that there was no better bass/drum sound than on the records of that era. It’s perfect. Like I said, I loved James Jamerson, and I took a lot from his style of leaving space and playing in spots where you don’t expect it and then not playing in the spots where you do. Also, I have a great ear for creating backing vocal parts, and I used to sing along with Motown backing vocals more than the melody. It’s in my DNA.

What prompted your move to England, and how did that alter your career trajectory?

I was in an all-girl band with my sisters called the Pleasure Seekers. Mickie Most came to Detroit with Jeff Beck and Cozy Powell to record at Motown, and my brother got him to come and see the group. He liked the group but was especially into what I was doing, and he offered me a solo contract. So, I relocated to England in 1971, and by May of 1973, I had my first No. 1 hit with “Can the Can.”

Why did you choose to sign with Mickie Most over Elektra Records?

That’s right. I didn’t sign with Elektra; I signed with Mickie Most’s Rak label. The reason I went with Mickie is that Jack Holzman of Elektra wanted to make me into the next Janis Joplin, but Mickie wanted me to be the first Suzi Quatro. That was a no-brainer for me. Mickie saw me. I am nothing like Janis Joplin. I have never been, and I never will be. I had an offer from Elektra and the offer from Mickie in the same week; I went with my gut.

How did you go about putting your band together? How did they compliment you, and what went into the choices?

I was going stir-crazy while hanging around, writing, and recording. So, I put an ad in the Melody Maker and formed a band. I have a very good instinct about musicians, and that helped me a lot. At first, we were a trio, and then the guitarist left, and my drummer asked if his friend could audition. This was when Len Tuckey, who I ended up marrying, joined the band. Then my drummer left, and Dave Neal joined, who ended up playing on all my hits except “Can the Can.” After that, Alistair McKenzie completed the original lineup. When we first formed, there were no covers; it was all original songs.

Your image has been described as “androgynous.” Was that intentional? If so, what went into that aesthetic?

I have always been a tomboy and don’t really do gender. I don’t think of myself as a “female musician,” only a musician. I chose to wear leather because since I was five years old, I’ve been a huge fan of Elvis Presley. His ’68 Comeback Special is where I pulled my look from. I wanted leather, and Mickie suggested the jumpsuit, which I thought was great because, being the energetic performer that I am, everything stayed in one place [Laughs].

Can you recount the writing and recording of “Can the Can?” What was your approach, and what gear did you use?

I had Acoustic amplification with Reflex cabinets, which was the best bass sound available at the time. It was great, but it was notoriously hard to mic up on stage, as these speakers threw the sound out. Alistair had a wonderful Wurlitzer, but I can recall what Len or Dave used. Mike Chapman brought in his demo of “Can the Can,” and we went down to the basement, and the band put the song together. Each of us added our personal style to it, but the intro drum beat is my signature.

What memories do you have of touring with Alice Cooper?

Mainly that it went on forever [Laughs]. We did 80 shows, and we had already done 20 of our own shows in Canada before joining Alice Cooper on tour. Alice is an old friend, and there were lots of Detriot people on tour, so it was a love of fun. That tour brings back very fond memories, indeed.

The ’80s proved difficult in some ways compared to the 70s. In retrospect, how do you view that period of your career? Is there anything you’d change?

No, I don’t believe in that. Things roll how they roll. I had two babies, one in ’82 and one in ’84. I branched out by doing lots of TV spots and even had my own talk show for a year. I still toured constantly, which is something that has never changed. I got back into making records seriously around 1989, and I’ve never looked back since.

Which recordings mean the most to you and why? Which best represent you?

I think my first album was groundbreaking. Beyond that, I must bring it up to date and say that my last two records, which I made with my son Richard Tuckey producing, co-writing, and playing guitar, are amongst my best. No Control from 2019 and The Devil in Me from 2021 have the best critical reviews of my entire career. Richard made me see myself with a fresh perspective, and we are now a formidable writing team. We’re working on my next album, and Richard also produced my soon-to-be-released duet album with KT Tunstall.

How has your approach to the bass changed since your earlier years?

It’s all a learning process, and eventually, you settle into your style. I always try to lay it down properly, and when I introduce the musicians on stage, I always say the bass and drums are the most important. I feel that way because we are the engine, which is why I do a 15-minute bass solo every night.

What bass guitars are you using most often, and what other guitars do you have additional? Is there one that means the most to you?

I use a Fender Precision bass in the studio and a Fender Jazz bass on stage. I have a Rios, a Fender Bassman, and I still have my original Professional Les Paul recording bass. I have a couple of BC Rich’s. I hope I’m not forgetting anything [Laughs]. I don’t have a preference for vintage or new; it just needs to sound good.

As for the one that means the most, that would have to be my first bass, which my father gave me when I first began in 1964. It’s a 1957 Fender Precision bass with a gold scratch plate and a stripe down the back of the neck. It’s my baby.

What amps and other gear are you using?

I use Orange Amps these days. I must admit, I am crap with details. I don’t think it’s a tube amp, but I can’t be sure. I don’t go for details, just give me a good amp and my Fender, and I am off and running.

Do current trends alter your style and technique at all?

I stay true to my roots. That’s who I am. I am an artist, which means I am always inspired. It comes from within me; it’s the way I’m wired.

Looking back, what do you feel you’ve achieved for young female rockers and musicians in general?

Well, it’s a fact that I was the first female rock musician to have worldwide success. I knocked down the door because I didn’t see the door! But I am glad that I did, and if you watched the documentary about me, you’d see a ton of female musicians who credit me for that. It warmed my heart when I watched it. I believe I gave women permission to be different. But like I said, I don’t do gender. And if you do, then that’s how you will be treated.

Suzi Quatro Interview

Feature Photo: courtesy of Suzi Quatro

An Interview With Suzi Quatro: ClassicRockHistory.com article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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