Suzi Quatro was the first girl I saw playing in a band. I was 9 years old. On a musical level, you could argue that there wasn’t anything very challenging about Suzi’s brand of 12 bar glam, but… on another level entirely, here was a girl, who was high in the charts, playing the bass and dressing like Elvis – in 1973. Game changer.
Like her glam contemporaries Bowie and Bolan, Suzi in her black leather outfits, and sporting a rocker’s shag haircut, inevitably pushed at some of those tired gender boundaries whether she set out to or not.
‘Man, the day I found out that Suzi Quatro wasn’t a dyke was the worst day of my life!’ – Joan Jett once told interviewer Julie Burchill.
More than just a unisex Glam Rock pin-up, Suzi was a tough, tattooed, leather clad, no-nonsense hell-cat, with the guts, skills and personality to take it all the way. Under the polished veneer of her Chinn/Chapman produced glam songs, there was always a grittiness to Suzi’s vocals, and a showman-like depth to her performances. Perhaps not immediately recognised (apart from by Jett) as being a pre-punk pioneer, but through the wisdom of hindsight, Suzi really was a one off; she played the boys at a (then) boys game, and won.
Raised in Detroit, Michigan, Suzi who had owned a Fender Precision bass from the age of 7, had initially been a member of the all girl garage rock band The Pleasure Seekers. Along with her sisters Patti and Arlene, they released their first record in 1965 when Suzi was just 15 years old. By 1968, they had signed to Mercury Records, and 3 years later in 1971, Suzi moved to London at the request of record producer Micky Most who would go onto release all of her major glam hits on his RAK Records label.
Her sister Patti, interviewed in the Austin Chronicle talks about the early days,
“Detroit in the Sixties was a Renaissance. Motown was the going thing, but [then] the whole town collided with acid rock and that produced the Detroit sound, this raw, seething Motor City music. We all grew up together – Bob Seger, the Stooges, MC5, Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. We were all infused with this rock city energy. It was very different than anything happening”.
Suzi’s glam rock output brought her to the attention of world. She scored 6 UK Top Twenty hits between 1973-74, including two Number 1s, with “Can the Can” and “Devil Gate Drive”. Never a simpering media pet, she can be seen here in action, standing her ground, during this especially strange and hostile interview with Australian TV, below.
The above barrage of negative questions was probably something Suzi dealt with every day, her face says it all. In response, she sits back, looks them straight in the eye through her Elvis aviator shades and gives back as good as she gets. Could you imagine any of Suzi’s contemporaries being grilled like this? Is this how they would have spoken to Olivia Newton John? Think not. There was something about Suzi that rankled the status quo, and that’s important.
Even so, some people might argue that Suzi did nothing at all to further the story of women in rock, and that it wouldn’t be until the advent of Punk that women really started to find their feet in a previously male dominated world. While we would agree that Punk changed everything, Suzi at the very least laid down some groundwork and inspired future rockers, especially Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde to pick up a guitar and form a band. Above all Suzi became a major reference point, and although her leather-clad rocking didn’t translate as easily into Punk as say Bolan or Bowie did, her singular, tom-boy, gutsy, rock and roll attitude gave us a lot to work with. Suzi we salute you!
Suzi has sold over 55 million records worldwide, and is still active with both touring and recording. She also finds the time to be an actress, radio D.J. and an author.
Suzi is remembered for playing the character Leather Tuscadero in the TV sitcom Happy Days, where she entertained the good folks at the diner with a band including back-up vocals by Joannie Cunningham.
She once appeared as a Penthouse centerfold – fully clothed.
She is a self confessed psychic, who hears dead people.
Producer Mike Chapman went on to work with Blondie on the LPs, Parallel Lines, Eat To The Beat and Autoamerican.