Our interview with rock icon Suzi Quatro
Suzi was raw. She came from a place so deep inside that she did far more than show that women could play music. She showed us we could be who we were if we believed enough in ourselves. She was the first and kicked the door for us gals.
– Cherie Currie, The Runaways
After being discovered by legendary British record producer Mickie Most (Lulu, Jeff Beck, The Animals, Donovan) Detroit native Suzie Quatro was stuck in a London budget hotel with a record deal but no gigs. She’d paid her dues, touring North America (including a USO trip to Viet Nam) with her sisters in the show band the Pleasure Seekers and the blues-based Cradle. She was the one chosen for stardom but here she was, bored and restless. Young British music fans in the early 1970s were also restless. By that point, the Beatles were ancient history. Rock was trending in a harder, heavier direction, preferably in a glam package. She continued to record, working with the songwriting and production team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. She toured the UK as the support act for Thin Lizzy and Slade. A single charted in Portugal. When she finally appeared on BBC’s Top of the Pops dressed in leather like a female Elvis, thumping on a gigantic bass guitar, it was a revelation and it changed everything.
Australian filmmakers Liam Firmager and Tait Brady spent nearly five years crafting Suzie Q (2019) from nearly four-hundred pieces of archival material and forty-two songs.There’s a stellar lineup of interviewees including Quatro siblings Patty, Nancy and Michael, Henry Winkler, Alice Cooper, former Runaways Cherie Currie, Joan Jett and Lita Ford, the Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine, Blondie’s Clem Burke and Deborah Harry and many more. It’s been a labor of love for director Firmager who met Quatro in 2015 when she was touring Australia convincing her to participate in a feature length documentary about her life and career. The goal was to go beyond the scope of the conventional “sex, drugs and rock and roll” rock doc. The team has succeeded magnificently.
The film begins with the musical Quatro family in the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, Art Quatro worked for General Motors, drove a Cadillac and played music on the side. His daughters and son followed his musical dreams, all eventually becoming successful. The sisters started the Pleasure Seekers with friends after seeing the Beatles’ appearances on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Legions of boys were inspired to form garage bands but far fewer girls. After a childhood studying piano and drums, the teenage Suzie taught herself the bass guitar, inspired by the black rhythm and blues of her Detroit hometown, especially the master bassist James Jamerson of Motown’s Funk Brothers crew.
Suzie Quatro is a true renaissance woman, having written poetry, novels and plays when she wasn’t selling out arenas around the world. What follows is our email exchange about her musical roots, starring in musical theater and on television, her favorite movies and making Suzie Q:
Suzie, I enjoyed hearing about your musical origins with your sisters and friends in the Pleasure Seekers (Great outfits, by the way!). One source says you were given a 1957 Fender Precision bass by your dad. Is that true? What was the process of learning bass guitar? You and your sisters saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, right? Were you learning from watching and listening to Paul McCartney and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones? Did you play along with records? Were you always able to sing and play at the same time? Detroit is such a great music hub with Motown and rock bands like the MC5. Were there local Detroit bassists and musicians who influenced you?
Suzie Quatro: YES OF COURSE IT TRUE ABOUT THE FENDER PRECISION, THE ENTIRE DOCUMENTARY IS NOTHING BUT TRUE. I STILL HAVE THIS BASS AND STILL USE IT AT HOME. I WAS ALWAYS PERCUSSIVE MINDED, PIANO (WHICH IS A PERCUSSION INSTRUMENT) AND DRUMS BEING MY TWO PROPERLY TRAINED INSTRUMENTS, THEN TEACHING MYSELF BASS AT 14. NO I DID NOT COUNT THE BEATLES OR THE ROLLING STONES AS AN INFLUENCE ON BASS. I AM A DETROIT GIRL AND WAS WEANED ON MOTOWN AND JAMERSON ONE OF THE ORIGINAL FUNK BROTHERS, THIS WAS WHAT I CUT MY TEETH ON. YES, I WAS ALWAYS ABLE TO SING AND PLAY AT THE SAME TIME, TO BE HONEST I NEVER EVEN REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT IT.. COUNTING PERCUSSION AND PIANO AS MY LEARNED INSTRUMENTS ACCOUNTED FOR ME BEING ABLE TO THINK MULTITASKING. I NEVER FOUND IT A PROBLEM, ALTHOUGH I AM TOLD IT IS DIFFICULT TO DO BOTH.. NOT FOR ME. RE LOCAL MUSICIANS.. WE WERE ALL AROUND AT THE SAME TIME, SO RATHER THAN BEING INFLUENCED, THEY WERE COLLEAGUES .. WE DID A LOT OF THE SAME GIGS.
Henry Winkler lights up when he talks about you? Have you stayed friends with him or other cast members of Happy Days?
Suzie Quatro: YES. I HAVE STAYED FRIENDS WITH HENRY AND RON HOWARD, AND DO COUNT THEM AS FRIENDS.. HENRY’S FINAL STATEMENT IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES… IN FACT EVERYONE IN THE FILM AFFECTS ME BECAUSE THEY TRULY ‘MEAN’ WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, IT WARMS MY HEART.
Until I watched the documentary, I wasn’t aware you were also a stage actress. It appears to come to you naturally. Did you have to train for that specifically with voice or acting lessons? Was it an easy transition to make after performing musically?
Suzie Quatro: HAVING GROWN UP IN SUCH A MUSICAL FAMILY, THE TRANSITION WAS COMPLETELY NATURAL. WE DID FAMILY SHOWS AT HOME ALL THE TIME. I ALWAYS KNEW I WOULD SPREAD MY WINGS AND DO WHATEVER THIS INDUSTRY ALLOWED ME TO DO..I HAVE MANY STRINGS TO MY BOW AND ENJOY THEM ALL… I AM AN ‘ARTISTE’..
Besides music, Detroit is, of course, known for its cars. I’ve read that your father was an engineer for GM and drove a Cadillac. Your music and muscle cars are a perfect fit. Do you recall what you drove in the 1960s and 1970s?
Suzie Quatro: WELL, I WAS IN BANDS FROM THE AGE OF 14, SO THE VEHICLE WAS THE BAND VAN… OTHER THAN THAT, I BORROWED MY DAD’S CAR TO GO AROUND THE TOWN. I NEVER OWNED MY OWN CAR WHILE LIVING IN DETROIT.
Your music has been used in countless movies, television shows and video games. Are there any of these that stand out?
Suzie Quatro: THE TOYOTA AD WAS PRETTY COOL.. ‘THE WILD ONE’.. EXCELLENT.. ALSO THE MOVIE TIMES SQUARE WITH ROCK HARD IN IT.. AGAIN.. PRETTY DAMN COOL
Since this is a film blog, could you also name some favorite movies and shows that you’ve enjoyed over the years and what you’re watching currently?
ONE THAT IS IN MY TOP FIVE IS DAMAGE WITH JEREMY IRONS… AT THE MOMENT I AM WATCHING GRACE AND FRANKIE.. FOR THE SECOND TIME.. IT IS RIVETING.. WELL WRITTEN AND WELL ACTED… AND VERY INTERESTING SUBJECT MATTER.
The good news is “The Girl from Detroit City” still rocks hard in black leather. Watch Suzie Q on the platform of your choice and see for yourself.
Music Coordinator BERNARD GALBALLY Archive Coordinator LISA SAVAGE
Sound Design EMMA BORTIGNON Sound Supervisor PAUL SHANAHAN Editors SARA EDWARDS, LIAM FIRMMAGER Cinematographer LIAM FIRMAGE Executive Producers STEPHANIE STEVENSON, JASON BYRNE, SHAUN MILLER, ADAM LA ROSAProducers TAIT BRADY and LIAM FIRMAGER Director LIAM FIRMAGER
The Official Teaser