Interview with the queen of 1970s rock ‘n’ roll and Happy Days star Suzi Quatro

Leather Tuscadero (Suzi Quatro) & Fonzie in Happy Days © to the owners

Leather Tuscadero (Suzi Quatro) & Fonzie in Happy Days © to the owners

The acclaimed role as a bass player Leather Tuscadero in the legendary American sitcom Happy Days, the massive hits Can the Can and Devil Gate Drive in 1973 and 1974, the super successful 1978 duet Stumblin’ In with Smokie‘s lead singer Chris Norman: in a career that spans over 50 years and registered more than 50 million records sold, the songs, works and acts that have made Detroit-born rock ‘n’ roll queen Suzi Quatro worldwide famous are just countless.

Suzi Quatro with a guitar - courtesy of SPV Records

Suzi Quatro by SPV Records ©

Born, bred and raised in Michigan in a family of Italian and Hungarian descent, Suzi started her music journey aged 14 as a self-taught bass player and singer under the influence of Elvis Presley in her childhood and The Beatles in her early teens. She moved permanently to the United Kingdom in 1971, where she released dozens of studio albums, compilations and live records and embarked on a myriad of tours, live shows and concerts: she has performed between 85 and 100 live gigs per year for around six decades.

After collaborating with her son Richard Tuckey on the 2019 album No Control, Ms Quatro was forced by lockdowns to take a break from her beloved life on the road; almost one hundred of her live shows were cancelled in 2020, so she decided to make the most out of her free time and team up with Richard again on a record released in 2021.

Her album The Devil In Me is a 12-track explosion of pure and powerful rock ‘n’ roll made up of bright vocals, saxophone, piano, drums and guitar, which offered the opportunity to arrange this interview with Suzi Quatro about plenty of things: the new LP, being kidded by The Fonz while shooting Happy Days, her collection of over 750 pairs of Ray-Ban sunglasses and her opinion about today’s so-called “feminism”, which is something absolutely refreshing: just try and guess what a woman who courageously deemed feminists “hypocritical” in 1973 may think of a society which just won’t stop assimilating the crimes of rape and sexual assault to the old as time and rather successful practice of knowingly sleeping around to get a showbiz career, making millions out of it and then realising 15 years later that you were “abused”.

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Suzi, what achievements are you most proud of?

I had such a long career, you know, it is all into Suzi Q, the documentary about my life, and so many people have seen that documentary. I’m pretty proud of becoming Dr Quatro, [Suzi Quatro was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music by Anglia Ruskin University in 2016], that’s pretty special especially because I didn’t even graduate high school, which makes it even more special – it makes me kind of giggle. And I think the thing I’m most proud of really is having such a long successful career and still being normal with my feet on the ground. This is the danger when you become like a pinup but you never had this in your mind. I was this good-looking girl and this was never in my mind. And then you become a pinup, and you would get very carried away with yourself, so it’s good that my kind of attitude just kind of evened me all out, and even when you get the applause of the show… well, I’m just happy. It doesn’t make me any better than anybody else. It’s just that I’ve been allowed to do this, but as I said, I’m very much feet on the ground. It has kept me sane. And I’m grateful. I’m grateful for how long I’ve been around, for how many fans have stuck with me how many new ones I have. I love my job. I’m not ego-driven at all. I’m just not. I still go out there every night when I work and I wonder if they’re gonna like me, and so you know you keep your equilibrium. And you know, craftiness is simple. I have a rule of thumb, the third floor of my house is called the ego room. And that’s where the ego lives. And it’s pretty funny, I had a big sign made for the door: ego room. You’ve got all the walls and the ceilings plastered with photos and posters and these around 8 million stage passes, plus videos, CDs, scrapbooks, suits that I used to wear, guitars – I mean, you can’t put your eyes anywhere that there is always something. And so you can go in there and enjoy, and then come out and shut the door. That’s why I sound ego-driven, it’s because I have room for it! I don’t visit it very often. The funny thing is it’s the quietest room in the house, which is really strange.

What do you think of the current state of rock music? 

You know, I’m in my seventies, so of course, I’m going to prefer more of the organic approach where you are all in the same room, where you’re playing the recordings and all that. I mean, mind you, now they do basic drums together and that’s how it’s done. Yeah, there’s some good stuff around, and there’s always going to be new talent coming around, but I grew up in the era where we did the shows. We did all the gigs, you know, and that’s a great way to learn your profession: you go out there and play the show at some little bar someplace, or some dirty club whatever, but you learn. And that’s not around anymore, especially not with reality shows that get people famous overnight. And that’s never how it should work, and you’ve got none of the tools to even deal with it because you haven’t done the homework. You know, talent shows are very good entertainment. They are. Everybody watches them. I think a lot of times people watch them to see the bad ones rather than the good ones! I have actually written two songs about reality shows: one on my last album, called Easy Pickings, and another one, called 15 Minutes of Fame, on a previous album. I don’t think they’ve had a good effect on the industry, I think that they have made a culture of artists in the business to be famous. And I think that’s wrong.  It’s just my opinion, my humble opinion, but you’ve got to get into business because you’re hungry. Because there’s a fire in your belly: you have to do it. You don’t have a choice, you have to do it. That’s the reason. Not to be famous. If you get famous as well, great. But that shouldn’t be your motivation.

What kind of music do you listen to, these days?

I kind of get stuck more in my teenage things, you know – I think most of us do. You do play what you grew up with because that really sticks in you. I play a lot of Bob Dylan. I play a lot of 1950s music, even though I was only a kid. I play Jackson Browne, I like Otis Redding – I love her. And I play a lot of Motown whenever I want to dance. And I play a lot of original rock and roll.

Is there a difference between American and British rock?

The feel. There is a feel in America that only Americans have – I don’t know why that is and there’s also a different feel in Britain. The British are a little bit stiffer, while America is more swings, while the British are just a little more rigid. Both are good, but as an American, that’s what I feel. But then again I was, you know, born and raised in Detroit, so you’re talking about one of the most important music cities in the world, so it’s kind of spoiled! You know, my influences were Elvis Presley from the age of five-and-a-half, Otis Redding and then Bob Dylan, he’s a huge, huge influence – another Gemini like me. I also liked a lot Billie Holiday. I know you can’t see the connection but she’s one of my favourites. And Motown, of course.

Which one of your songs are you most attached to?

Well, the most emotional one for me on The Devil In Me album is My Heart And Soul, the Christmas one which is a beautiful song and that was really just sung from the heart, you know, it happened just like that: the studio door was open, and it was annoying: I was annoyed for a minute because I was working on something else. And then I heard that track and it was honestly like I got shot in the heart. And I knew I couldn’t think if I thought it would ruin whatever that song was doing to me inside. So I didn’t think, I just went out and told Richard “Give me the microphone!” My son was surprised I was out there and he said “What do you want?! This is something I’m working on”, and so I was like “Put it up. And I got the first four lines straight from my heart, but there were no thoughts, just as if somebody said “you go!”, and so that sounds quite special to me, deep inside.

How do you feel when you hear one of your songs playing on the radio?

You’ll laugh at this. At one time, I was riding in the car, and that song came on the radio, I think it was She’s In Love With You, in 1979. And I was at a stoplight, and I said to the guy next to me “Roll your windows down!”. And I don’t know what I was thinking, but the record had just come out, maybe it was the first time I heard that on the radio, and so I wanted to share it with somebody! I was like: “Hey, I’m on the radio!”

Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

Um, I keep thinking Rod Stewart, I don’t know why I keep saying his name! It’s crazy, I never used to think about that before saying that I’d like to do a duet with him. But yes, I would, that would be good!

What was your dream job as a child?

I would have been in the arts, no matter what because I do act and I am an author and a DJ and everything that the entertainment profession is. If I wasn’t in this profession, I probably would have gone into psychology. Or be a criminal lawyer – but sure not a mathematician!

Do you have a favourite memory from your time starring in Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero?

It was just a great time. I did three seasons and yeah, I’ve got one funny story from my very first show. So, I never acted before and I was a little bit nervous. And there was an audience, so I was about to go out on my first show with an audience, I was excited but a little bit nervous because it was the first time. So, I was standing backstage ready to go out for my entrance into Arthur’s, and Henry [Winkler] ‘The Fonz’, came up to me and he said “How are you doing?”, and then he was like “You’re on now!” So I walked out and I did my walk, the Leather Tuscadero walk, I got to my merch where I was supposed to say my first line, the audience was there and the cameras were rolling, and then the director said: “Excuse me, Miss Quatro, what are you doing here? You got another page yet”. Henry had sent me out early on purpose. So I wasn’t nervous anymore, haha. It was brilliant, I thanked him so many times for that! I went back and he said “Now what else can go wrong? Go enjoy yourself!” and it was a good idea, really, I got huge applause when I came on at the right time!

You moved to London in 1971. What was the music scene like, back then?

Oh, geez. It was not very good. Well, not the bands, but the actual subculture. I used to sit in my little hotel room and try to find a radio station that played rock and roll music. They had private stations and all that but they were not very good, they got very good after that. I mean, there were a lot of acts and everything, but not really a TV show, nor had the Top of the Pops yet started, it was not as free and easy as in America where there was music on every corner and a lot of stations to choose from on the radio, a lot of TV shows: it wasn’t like that, and it took a while to catch up. And by 1973, things were popping again. It was a very different culture. I am always going to be the girl from Detroit City, and that’s who I am. I can’t lose it. I don’t want to lose it. I’ve kept my accent. And I’m never going to be British, I’m not British, you know, so I’m always going to be the odd one out here and that’s okay. I go back to America quite a bit and I’ve been back to Detroit a lot in the last 10 years. I was born and raised there and I didn’t come up here ’till I was 21. So, my character and my attitudes were all set by that time, and it doesn’t change. You know, this is just geographic, but I’m still the American here.

So you don’t feel British.

Not in the slightest. The only thing I’ve learned is their sense of humour because it’s a great sense of humour, really great. You have to get used to it as it’s a different sense of humour to Americans, it’s wonderful though, and you pick up a few phrases here and there – but nobody ever mistakes me for British. And I do feel Italian and Hungarian only when I go there: when I go to Italy I feel that in my blood, and when I go to Hungary I feel that in my blood. My mom and dad were both very proud of their bloodline.

What do you think of Brexit?

Well, I’m American, so I always thought of Britain as being Great Britain because it was on its own. That’s how I always felt about it. I never thought of Great Britain as part of Europe. I didn’t grow up that way so I thought I’m just on that level alone without getting political about any of that. I just think it’s nice because the British voted for it. That’s what they wanted and I believe in democracy. They wanted to be back on their own and that’s what happened. So I think it’s a good thing.

In your 1973 interview with the New Musical Express, you labelled the women’s liberation movement “completely hypocritical” back then. What do you think of today’s ‘feminism’ and the various shapes and forms it has taken?

Um, I think it’s good that there are certain movements that allow frightened women to speak up. I think that part is good, but the flip side is that if I was up for a movie part – and I’m talking about Harvey Weinstein now – well, if I was up for a movie part and I got asked to go to a hotel to meet the director, and I walked in, and he came out of the bathroom in a bathrobe, I would not be there very long. I only comment that I think women are smart, you know, use your brains: we have great instincts – women have great instincts. I’m not talking about when somebody gets forcibly raped or something, that’s a totally different thing, and there’s nothing you can do about that if it happens and you don’t even know what’s going to happen. But you have to be using your brain in situations: you can feel it when you walk into the room if it’s not right. Sure you can, sure you can. My God, you don’t need a job that bad, I tell you! But I am glad that there is a thing where they can speak up, as long as that’s not abused, you know, and not used because somebody does something and then they feel bad about it, and then they cry and are like “Oh that happened to me and I didn’t want it”. That’s the bad part, but I’m all for equality, I’m all for people speaking out, you know. I don’t like abuse. Nobody does.

What does the album The Devil In Me mean to you?

Well, my son and I put out the first album together in 2019, which was No Control, and that was a huge, huge success – critically, people just went nuts. So, obviously, the partnership was good, and last year the company took up the option and my son should have been on the road, and I should have been on the road too. But then we all know what happened with the lockdown, so I said to my son: “Okay, they’ve taken up the option, so we both would have been busy now, but we are not. So we have the atmosphere, I have a studio”. I built a studio luckily just before lockdown, and so Richard went out there and worked with the machines – I worked on the patio because I’m old-school and I don’t like to work with the machines, I’d rather sit there acoustically and do what I do and so I started to write. And so it came together very, very easily, it’s actually a very diverse album, and we wanted it to be as groundbreaking as my first-ever album. And everybody I’ve talked to has said to me “It’s your best work!”, and I’m so pleased about that. So it’s been really, really well-received, really well-received. Yeah, we are on fire! It must have been six months ago now that I said this as we were talking, I said “oh boy, the angels guard the devil in me” – and Richard went “Oh my God!” and I was like “Oh my God!”, and so I wrote it down. And it’s very much inspired by stuff my mother always said to me, you know – she always told me that I was the shyest of the five kids but also the most mischievous. And I am. So I tried writing the words for that, and I did and I kept trying to find a word, something musical, and I couldn’t get it, I just couldn’t get it, and then my son was working on the last track for the album. And he had this little riff – and he said “What do you think?” – and I said, “I like that”, so he sent it to my computer. So here’s what he does, he sends me the riff. I get my acoustic bass, I get my songbook, I listen, I play, and I start flicking through the book and seeing if something jumps out that belongs to that song. Yeah, just as if my mother was still alive. The lyrics that I couldn’t find any music for, start to fall out of my book. And they landed on top of the table. I went “Okay, so, these are the lyrics”, but you know, it’s just strange it would happen but I looked at that and I started to sing it along with the song, and it was perfect. Perfect. So it happened how it happened.

Suzi Quatro and her collection of 750 pairs of Ray-Ban sunglasses

Suzi Quatro with some of her collection of Ray-Ban sunglasses

May I ask about the piles of sunglasses behind you?

Oh, I have a collection of 750 pairs of Ray-Ban, which my husband did for me – they go all the way around the office and things like that. And they go from the 1940s up to the present day. They are all Ray-Ban but I also have some other ones – but on the wall here is all Ray-Ban, it’s a beautiful collection. I love it when I come down in the morning I go and see what pair matches my outfit for the day… I mean, that’s probably the most exciting part of my day right now!

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