Susan Kay "Suzi" Quatro (born 3 June 1950) is a British-based American singer-songwriter, bass guitar player, and actor. She is the first female bass player to become a major rock star. This broke a barrier to women's participation in rock music.
In the 1970s Quatro scored a string of hit singles that found greater success in Europe and Australia than in her homeland. But, following a recurring role as a female bass player on the popular American sitcom Happy Days, her duet "Stumblin' In" with Chris Norman reached number 4 in the USA in 1979.
Between 1973 and 1980 Quatro was awarded six Bravo Ottos. In 2010 she was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame. Quatro has sold over 50 million albums and continues to perform live, worldwide. Her most recent album was released in 2011 and she also continues to present new radio programmes.
Quatro says she was influenced at the age of six by Elvis Presley, whom she saw on television. She also said she had no female role model but was inspired by Billie Holliday and liked the dress sense of Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las "because she wore tight trousers and a waistcoat on top — she looked hot".
Quatro received formal training in playing classical piano and percussion. She is a self-taught player of the bass and guitar. Her father gave her a 1957 Fender Precision bass guitar in 1964, which she still possessed in 2007.
She played drums from an early age as part of her father's jazz band, The Art Quatro Trio. Sources vary regarding whether her playing in the band began at the age of seven or eight, and whether the instrument played was bongo or conga drums. Subsequently, she appeared on local television as a go-go dancer in a pop music series.
In 1964, after seeing a television performance by The Beatles, Quatro's older sister, Patti, had formed an all-female band called The Pleasure Seekers with two friends. Quatro joined too and assumed the stage name of Suzi Soul; Patti was known as Patti Pleasure. The band also featured another sister, Arlene. Many of their performances were in cabaret, where attention was (initially) focussed more on their looks than their music. They sometimes wore mini-skirts and wigs, which Quatro later considered to be necessary evils in the pursuit of success.
The Pleasure Seekers recorded three singles and released two of these: "Never Thought You’d Leave Me" / "What A Way To Die" (1966) and "Light Of Love" / "Good Kind Of Hurt" (1968). The second of these was released by Mercury Records, with whom they briefly had a contract before breaking away due to differences of opinion regarding their future direction. They changed their name to Cradle in late 1969, not long after another Quatro sister, Nancy, had joined the band and Arlene had left following the birth of her child.
Quatro moved to England in 1971 after being spotted by the record producer Mickie Most, who had by that time founded his own label, RAK Records. Most had been persuaded to see Cradle by Michael, the brother of the Quatro sisters who had assumed a managerial role for the band. In common with many in the record industry at the time, Most was seeking a female rock singer who could fill the void that the death of Janis Joplin had created. According to the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, his attention to Quatro was drawn by "her comeliness and skills as bass guitarist, singer and chief show-off in Cradle." She had also been attracting attention from Elektra Records and subsequently explained that "According to the Elektra president, I could become the new Janis Joplin. Mickie Most offered to take me to England and make me the first Suzi Quatro — I didn't want to be the new anybody." Most had no interest in the other band members and he had no idea at that time of how he might market Quatro. She spent a year living in a hotel while being nurtured by Most, developing her skills and maturing. Most later said that the outcome was a reflection of her own personality.
Quatro's first single "Rolling Stone" was successful only in Portugal, where it reached number one on the charts. This was a solo effort, although aided by people such as Duncan Browne, Peter Frampton and Alan White. Subsequently, with the approval of Most, she auditioned for a band to accompany her. It was also after this record that Most introduced her to the songwriting and production team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who wrote songs specifically to accord with her image. She agreed with Most's assessment of her image, saying that his influence, at which some of his artists - such as Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart - baulked, did not extend to manufacture and that "If he tried to build me into a Lulu, I wouldn't have it. I'd say 'go to hell' and walk out." This was the height of the glam rock period of the 1970s and Quatro, who wore leather clothes, portrayed a wild, androgynous image while playing music that "hinged mostly on a hard rock chug beneath lyrics in which scansion overruled meaning."
In autumn 1972, Quatro embarked as a support act on a UK tour with Thin Lizzy and headliners Slade. RAK arranged for her to use Thin Lizzy's newly acquired PA system during this, incurring a charge of £300 per week that enabled the Irish band to effectively purchase it at no cost to themselves. In May 1973, her second single "Can the Can" (1973) - which Philip Auslander describes as having "seemingly nonsensical and virtually unintelligible lyrics" – was a number one hit in parts of Europe and in Australia.
"Can the Can" was followed by three further hits: "48 Crash" (1973), "Daytona Demon" (1973), and "Devil Gate Drive" (1974). "Can the Can", "48 Crash" and "Devil Gate Drive" each sold over one million copies and were awarded gold discs, although they met with little success in her native United States, where she had toured as a support act for Alice Cooper. RAK artists had generally not succeeded in the US and her first album, Suzi Quatro, was criticised by Alan Betrock for its lack of variety, for its Quatro-written "second-rate fillers" and for her voice, described as "often too high and shrill, lacking punch or distinctive phrasing." Writing for Rolling Stone, Greg Shaw was also downbeat, saying that the album "may be a necessary beginning".
Musicians who acted as her backing band around this period included Alastair McKenzie, Dave Neal and Len Tuckey, with Robbie Blunt also being listed by some sources. Tuckey's brother, Bill, acted as tour manager.
With the exception of Australia, her chart success faltered thereafter until a change to a more mellow style produced the 1978 single "If You Can't Give Me Love" that became a hit there and in the United Kingdom. Later that year, "Stumblin' In", a duet with Chris Norman of the band Smokie, reached number 4 in the U.S. Both tracks featured on the If You Knew Suzi... album. A year later, Quatro released Suzi...and Other Four Letter Words, which she called her favourite album. This featured the hits "She's in Love with You", which made number 11 in Britain, "Mama's Boy" (number 34), and "I've Never Been in Love" (number 56).
After Quatro's contract with Mickie Most expired, she signed up with Chapman.
In 1980 Quatro released Rock Hard; both the album and title single went platinum in Australia. "Rock Hard" was also used in the cult film, Times Square and appeared on the soundtrack album. 1980 also saw the release of Suzi Quatro's Greatest Hits, which peaked at number 4 on the UK charts, becoming her highest-charting album there.
After Chapman's Dreamland Records folded, Quatro was left without a label.
Her last UK hit for some time was "Heart of Stone" in late 1982. In 1983 another single "Main Attraction" was released. It failed to chart but did become a sizeable airplay hit. She commented in an article in Kerrang! in 1983, after playing a successful slot at Reading Festival on 27 August, that she did not care about being in the charts, but was more interested releasing what she wanted; commenting that she started in 1964, and did not become famous for nine years "I would never accept having my career moulded by other people... I've kept working consistently even though I've not been in the charts." In 1985, her "Tonight I Could Fall in Love"/"Good Girl (Looking for a Bad Time)" single reached number 140 in the UK charts. Quatro also collaborated with Bronski Beat and members of The Kinks, Eddie and the Hot Rods, and Dr. Feelgood on the Mark Cunningham-produced version of David Bowie's "Heroes", released the following year as the 1986 BBC Children in Need single. "Can The Can"/"Devil Gate Drive" were re-released in 1987 as a single and reached number 87 in the UK charts. She was also part of the Ferry Aid charity single "Let It Be", which was a UK number 1, 13 years and 26 days after Quatro's last UK number 1.
In December 2005, a documentary chronicling Quatro's life, Naked Under Leather, named after a 1975 bootleg album, recorded in Japan, directed by former member of The Runaways, Victory Tischler-Blue, appeared. In February 2006, Quatro released Back to the Drive, produced by Sweet guitarist Andy Scott. The album's title track was written by her former collaborator, Chapman. In March 2007, Quatro released a version of the Eagles song "Desperado", followed by the publication of her autobiography, Unzipped. By this time, Quatro had sold 50 million records.
On 11 June 2010, she headlined the 'Girls night out' at the Isle of Wight Festival. Quatro was also inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame in 2010, following an on-line vote.
In August 2011, Quatro released her fifteenth studio album, In the Spotlight (and its single, "Spotlight"). This album is a mixture of new songs written by Mike Chapman and by herself, along with cover versions. A second single from the album, "Whatever Love Is", was subsequently released. On 16 November 2011, a music video (by Tischler-Blue) for the track "Strict Machine" was released onto the Suzi Quatro Official YouTube channel. The track is a cover of Goldfrapp's "Strict Machine", but Quatro's version contains two lines from "Can the Can", referencing the similarity of the tunes for the two songs.
In April 2013, she performed in America for the first time in over 30 years, at the Detroit Music Awards, where she received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to her by her sister, Patti.
September 2013 Suzi is currently working on an anthology 6-CD box set with her record company CherryRed records in the UK. This will have some new material on it, Suzi has said that Mike Chapman has written her another hit which will be nicely placed into the anthology of hits that he has already written for her with Nicky Chinn. The Anthlogy yet to be titled is scheduled for release in the first half of 2014.
Acting and radio hosting
Quatro is known in the United States for her role as female bass player Leather Tuscadero on the television show Happy Days. Show producer Garry Marshall offered the role without an audition after seeing a picture of her on his daughter's bedroom wall. Leather was the younger sister of Fonzie's girlfriend, hot-rod driver Pinky Tuscadero. Leather fronted a rock band joined by principal character Joanie Cunningham. The character returned in other cameo roles, including once for a date to a fraternity formal with Ralph Malph. Marshall offered Quatro a Leather Tuscadero spin-off, but she refused, saying she did not want to be typecast.
Other acting roles include a 1982 episode of the British comedy-drama series Minder (called "Dead Men Do Tell Tales") as Nancy, the singer girlfriend of Terry (Dennis Waterman). In 1985, she starred as a mentally disturbed ex-MI5 operative in Dempsey and Makepeace – "Love you to Death". In 1994, she made a cameo appearance as a nurse in the "Hospital" episode of the comedy Absolutely Fabulous. She also was filmed in the 1990 Clive Barker horror film Nightbreed, but the studio cut out her character. In 2006, Quatro performed the voice of Rio in the Bob the Builder film Built to Be Wild, and appeared in an episode of the second season of Rock School, in Lowestoft. She also appeared in the episode "The Axeman Cometh" of Midsomer Murders in the role of Mimi Clifton.
Quatro has also performed in theatre. In 1986, she appeared as Annie Oakley in a London production of Annie Get Your Gun and in 1991 she performed the title role in a musical about the life of actor Tallulah Bankhead. Entitled Tallulah Who?, this musical was co-written by her and Shirlie Roden, adapted from a book by Willie Rushton. It ran from 14 February to 9 March at Hornchurch, England, where it was billed as "You’ll be amazed how Tallulah did it, and to whom –— and how often!" The show received favourable reviews.
More recently Quatro has hosted weekly rock and roll programmes on BBC Radio 2. The first one was Rockin' with Suzi Q. Her second programme was called Wake Up Little Suzi.
She started writing songs alone, then collaborated with other songwriters (such as Len Tuckey and Shirley Roden), and now once again mainly writes songs alone.
Quatro's early recorded songwriting was deliberately limited to album tracks and the B-sides of singles. She said in late 1973 that "... album tracks are a very different story from singles. The two-minute lo-and-behold commercial single will not come out of my brain, but ain't I gonna worry about it."
She describes creating a new song: "From sitting at my piano in my front room, writing down a title (always first), picking up my bass, figuring out the groove, going back to the piano...working on the lyrics, playing electric guitar...and finally I type out the lyrics. Only then is it officially a song. Next it goes down on my tiny 8-track, me playing everything...this is the version all muso's use to get into the tune...then into the studio and we go from there."
Quatro is currently working on an anthology with her record company CherryRed records in the UK which should be released in the first half of 2014. It will be a 6-CD box set and it will feature material from her very early days up until 2014 where there will be a few new tracks one written by the legendary song writer and producer Mike Chapman. Heaps of great photo memrobillia of Suzi throughout the years.
Quatro's paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant to the US. His family name of "Quattrocchi" was shortened by the immigration authorities because they found it too difficult to pronounce. Quatro's Catholic family were living in Detroit, Michigan when she was born. She has three sisters and a brother, and her parents fostered several other children while she was growing up. Her father, Art, was a semi-professional musician and worked at General Motors. Her mother, Helen, was Hungarian. In this environment, Quatro grew to be "extrovert but solitary", according to Norman, and she only became close to her mother after leaving the US for the United Kingdom.
Her sister Arlene is the mother of actress Sherilyn Fenn. Her sister Patti joined Fanny, one of the earliest all-female rock bands to gain national attention. Quatro has a brother, Michael Quatro, who is also a musician.
Quatro married her long-time guitarist Len Tuckey in 1976. They had two children together (Laura in 1982 and Richard Leonard in 1984) and divorced in 1992. Before 1993, Quatro lived with her two children in a manor house in Essex that she and Tuckey bought in 1980. She married German concert promoter Rainer Haas in 1993. In 2006 her daughter and grandchild moved into the manor house again. Toward the end of 2008, Quatro's children moved out of the house and she temporarily put it up for sale, stating that she had empty nest syndrome. Quatro continues to live in Essex, England.
On 31 March 2012, Quatro broke her right knee and left wrist while boarding an aircraft in Kiev, where she had performed the night before. She had to cancel her appearance at the Detroit Music Awards, where she was to be inducted into the Detroit hall of fame along with her sisters, scheduled for 27 April. This would have been her first performance in America for over 30 years. Quatro also had to re-schedule other concert dates, whilst some were cancelled altogether.
In a 2012 interview, Quatro was asked what she thought she had achieved for female rockers in general. She replied:
In a 1973 interview, Quatro sympathised with many of the opinions voiced by the women's liberation movement whilst distancing herself from it because she considered that the participants were
The interviewer, Charles Shaar Murray, considered her viewpoint to be "... somewhat anomalous, because unless the woman in question happens to be well known, she has no way of letting people hear her unless she unites with other women and then elects a spokesman." He also noted the apparent contradiction that Quatro seemed proud that girls were writing to her saying that they were emulating her look and her attitude. In 1974, Quatro believed that, unlike men, women were burdened with emotional responses and that it was more difficult for them to succeed in the music industry because they are more prone to jealousy and thus female audiences tend not to buy the recordings of female artists. Her unusually free use of swear words in conversation was often picked upon by interviewers in the 1970s, as have been her diminutive stature and boy-ish nature. In 1974, Philip Norman said that
By October 1973, she had featured as a centrefold for Penthouse. Unusually for that role, she was fully clothed, although the feature did include risqué anecdotal captions. Frith noted that while any publicity was a bonus, "Tit-talent spotters don't buy many singles and record buyers aren't yet that frustrated."
Views of journalists and reviewers
In August 1974, Simon Frith spotted a problem with the formula that was working outside the US, saying that
In 1983, journalist Tom Hibbert wrote that Quatro may have overstated her role as a leading light among female rock musicians. He said that
Views of scholars
In his 2008 paper Suzi Quatro: A prototype in the archsheology [sic] of rock, Frank Oglesbee writes that "The rebellion of rock music was largely a male rebellion; the women—often, in the 1950s and '60s, girls in their teens—in rock usually sang songs as personæ utterly dependent on their macho boyfriends...". He describes Quatro as "... a female rock pioneer, in some ways the female rock pioneer, ..., a cornerstone in the archsheology of rock." He said she grew up to become "the first female lead singer and bassist, an electric ax-woman, who sang and played as freely as the males, inspiring other females."
Philip Auslander says that "Although there were many women in rock by the late 1960s, most performed only as singers, a traditionally feminine position in popular music". Though some women (like Quatro herself) played instruments in American all-female garage rock bands, none of these bands achieved more than regional success. So they "did not provide viable templates for women's on-going participation in rock". When Quatro emerged in 1973, "no other prominent female musician worked in rock simultaneously as a singer, instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader". Auslander adds that in 2000 Quatro saw herself as "kicking down the male door in rock and roll and proving that a female musician ... and this is a point I am extremely concerned about ... could play as well if not better than the boys".
People and bands influenced by Quatro
Quatro has influenced various female musicians. Examples are:
- Chrissie Hynde, the founding member and lead singer/guitarist of The Pretenders, cited Quatro as a major influence. In 1999, Hynde appeared on Quatro's episode of This is Your Life and recalled interviewing her, in a toilet, when she was an NME journalist. Quatro then took her to see her gig in her van and Hynde was impressed by Quatro's energy and personality.
- Tina Weymouth is a founding member and bassist of the New Wave group Talking Heads (formed in 1975 in New York City, USA) and its side project Tom Tom Club. Talking Heads was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. When Chris Frantz was unable to find a bass player interested in joining the group, he encouraged Weymouth to learn to play bass by listening to Quatro albums.
Quatro had a direct influence on The Runaways and Joan Jett.
Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist, KT Tunstall, commented in a 2008 interview that the cover photo of her studio album Drastic Fantastic (2007) is based on Quatro.
On 24 October 2013, Suzi received the Woman of Valor Award from the organization Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women (MEOW) for her role inspiring and influencing generations of female musicians. The award was bestowed by Kathy Valentine (formerly of The Go-Go's) at a dinner in her honor in Austin, Texas, at the Austin Renaissance Hotel. Suzi performed five songs with a local band that included her sister Patti and Tony Scalzo of the band Fastball on "Stumblin In".
A Spanish rock band called Suzy & los Quattro released two albums on No Tomorrow in 2006 and 2008; in the tradition of Ramones and the Donnas, all of the bandmembers except for Suzy Chain list their last name as Quattro.
A Danish band called Suzi & Quadratrødderne released two CDs: Glimrende (Excellent) and Absolut Nødvendigt..! (Absolutely Necessary ..!). Suzi was played by Ricky Rocket. Unlike Quatro and her band, Suzi & Quadratrødderne dressed in glam rock style.
Quatro's music covers several genres. Some of them are listed below:
- Hard rock
- Female cock-rock. Auslander analyzed Quatro's live performances of "Can the Can" plus "Breakdown" and concluded that she performed as a cock-rocker. He writes that
- Pop rock
- Garage rock
- Country rock
- Psychedelic rock
- Motown sound
- Suzi Quatro (1973), RAK Records (Can the Can in Australia) – number 32 UK, number 2 Australia, number 5 Austria, number 40 Holland, number 72 Italy, number 142 United States
- Quatro (1974), RAK Records – number 1 Australia, number 15 Germany, number 5 Holland, number 5 Norway, number 126 United States
- Your Mamma Won't Like Me (1975) – number 42 Germany, number 16 New Zealand, number 21 Norway, number 146 United States
- Aggro-Phobia (1976)
- If You Knew Suzi... (1978), RSO Records – number 24 Sweden, number 37 United States
- Suzi...and Other Four Letter Words (1979) – number 4 Norway, number 36 Sweden, number 117 United States
- Rock Hard (1980) – number 22 Norway, number 165 United States
- Main Attraction (1982)
- Annie Get Your Gun - 1986 London Cast (1986), First Night/Pinnacle
- Oh Suzi Q. (1990)
- What Goes Around (1996)
- Unreleased Emotion (1998)
- Free the Butterfly (1998)
- Back to the Drive (2006), EMI – number 78 Switzerland
- In the Spotlight (2011), Cherry Red
- Live and Kickin' (1977) – Japan & Australia only live album; re-released as double CD in 1990 in Australia
- The Suzi Quatro Story – 12 Golden Hits (1975) – number 33 Sweden
- Suzi Quatro's Greatest Hits (1980) – number 4 UK, number 38 Sweden
- The Best of... (1984) – limited to RSO years
- Highs in the Mid-Sixties, Volume 6 (1984), AIP Records – The Pleasure Seekers
- The Wild One – the Greatest Hits (1990)
- The Gold Collection (1996)
- Greatest Hits (1999)
- The History (2010), Cradle – distributed by CD Baby
- What a Way to Die (2011), The Pleasure Seekers – distributed by CD Baby
- The Essential (2012)
- Happy Days (seven episodes, 1977–1979)
- Minder (one episode, 1982)
- Dempsey and Makepeace (one episode, 1985)
- Absolutely Fabulous (one episode, 1994)
- Midsomer Murders (one episode, 2007)
- Guest appearances
- Countdown (six episodes, 1997)
- Gene Simmons' Rock School (one episode on series two, 2006)
- Trust Me – I'm a Beauty Therapist (in October 2006)
- Australian Idol (one episode as guest judge, 2009)
- RocKwiz (one episode as performer and quiz contestant, 2011)
- Bob the Builder – Built to Be Wild (voice of Rio Rogers, 2006)
Honours and awards
Bravo is the largest magazine for female teenagers in German-speaking Europe. Each year, the readers of this magazine select the Bravo Otto award winners.
Quatro has won the following Bravo Otto awards:
- 1973 Gold for female singer.
- 1974 Gold for female singer.
- 1975 Bronze for female singer.
- 1978 Bronze for female singer.
- 1979 Bronze for female singer.
- 1980 Silver for female singer.
Queens of British Pop
In April 2009, BBC TV selected Quatro as one of twelve Queens of British Pop.
- Disco (Quatro is in eleven episodes plus two retrospections of this German TV programme)
- Official website
- Suzi Quatro at the Internet Movie Database
- Detailed Suzi Quatro discography
- The Pleasure Seekers band info
- SUZI QUATRO – UNZIPPED! – Quatro reads from her autobiography on BBC Radio 2 – streaming audio
- Suzi R&R Hall of Fame Mission, authorised by Quatro
- Tallulah Who? entry in the Ovrtur database of musicals, includes a list of the song titles
- Back To The Drive album launch gig (Adobe Flash) at YouTube (streamed copy where licensed):
- "Back to the Drive" at time 0:00
- "15 Minutes of Fame" at time 4:15
- "I'll Walk Through the Fire with You" at time 8:26
- "No Choice" at time 13:17
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Image from Discogs