INTERVIEW with SUZI QUATRO "I think I was born with a big set of balls… its in the dna."

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Suzi Quatro is one of the very first women in heavy rock n roll. With her leather jumpsuits and knack for songwriting, she became an inspiration for future rock gods like Joan Jett and Tina Weymouth. She got her start in the late 60's, had a successful reoccurring character on Happy Days, and of course is still putting out great music and playing the bass like it is second nature. These things and more make her one of our favorite artist and role models. Today marks the release of her 17th studio album titled No Control, which must be a play on words. If its one thing we know about Suzi, she is always in control!

You have an incredible history and you are acknowledged as being the very first women to break the barriers for a place in Rock N Roll. You were the first songwriter, bass player, singer and spokesperson for what was to become an entire generation of women who proved women were just as good as the men. Talk about the challenges you had to face in your early days of your solo career.

A: I came from a musical family so going into the business no matter what my gender was never an issue. 4 girls one boy, and a father who played music too. We started an all girl band when I was 14.. this was my path from the first gig onwards.. its now 54 years later!!. I have always been confident about who and what I am and have never considered myself a ‘female’ musician.. simply a musician and lived my career accordingly. Although it was indeed unique and unusual for me to be a female bass player to other people in the business for sure.. especially because I was the first to do this.. I commanded respect and always received it. The challenge is not from those around you, but from yourself. Once I came to the UK and resettled forming and male English band, I stepped up to the plate and became the boss.. My motto is .. ‘walk softly and carry a big bass!”… one of my favorite self penned songs from my BACK TO THE DRIVE album, is called “ I don’t do gentle”.. that says it all.

Was there ever a situation where you felt you were being exploited because of your gender? I assume managers, record company executives and press might not know what to do with you back then. You also maintained a sexy but “clean” image as opposed to the Runaways whom could be looked at as exploited when they came out. How were you able to keep creative and image control in that time period?

A: Again , its all about how you perceive yourself. I always took what I was doing seriously, and never ever felt the need to blatant about my sexuality, but rather, simply let it shine from within. Yes, although the jumpsuit is a sexy outfit, I was always and still am, totally covered. Maybe I am just a very self aware person, or maybe I have been lucky, but, nobody ,record execs, etc, ever made me do anything I didn’t feel was write, or for that matter even tried. When I read what I have just wrote, its no surprise that ‘breaking down the door’ fell to me. This is the kind of attitude it took, in hindsight.

Speaking of image, you really inspired many future women in rock with your one piece leather outfits. It became a signature look for you. Did you come up with that idea? How did you feel when you saw others wearing it?

A: I was a huge Elvis fan from the age of 6…. Roll in in years in 1968, comeback special.. I decided I would also wear leather and bought my first motocycle jacket.. roll on to 1973, Can the Can was ready to be released (which became my first number 1), Mickie Most and I talked about image for the upcoming photo session, I adamantly said I wanted to wear leather, which MIckie was against as he thought it was old fashioned.. I got my way.. hooray.. and then Mickie suggest a jumpsuit . I thought this was a very ‘sensible’ idea, as I am a very energetic peformer and everything would stay put onstage.. it wasn’t until I saw the photo’s that I realized it was indeed ‘sexy’.. that was a lucky accident. I still wear it now. I ‘feels’ so right when I zip it up and become Suzi Quatro. My autobiography is called Unzipped!

Let’s discuss songwriting. You did write a lot of your songs but you also had male songwriters write for you as well. Did that bother you at all? I always wonder about that as I find it strange men think they can write songs about how a woman feels.

A; I write a lot of my own material, always have done.. I was signed as a singer/songwriter/ musician back in 1971… and remain exactly that. I was lucky to enjoy , and still enjoy, a very close relationship with Mike Chapman, who back then was partnered with Nicky Chinn, ‘the’ hit writers of the day. They never wrote a song and brought it to me, they wrote a song ‘for’ me.. tailor made if you like. That’s why it worked so well. Mike was definitely inside my head and still is. Sometimes we can’t remember who wrote what. We are working on another project together. You say find it it strange that men can write songs about how a woman feels,.. not if they are strange men!!

You wrote about topics ranging from suicide to dealing with a lazy boyfriend. You sang about men with egos, and ending relationships with cheating boyfriends. Topics like these were not common at the time, let alone with rock n roll music being played with it. Where did you songwriting inspirations come from?

A; I know.. I always had a real unusual take on life , still do. In fact one of the first songs I recorded with Mickie in the UK was a song I wrote called ‘ain’t ya something honey’.. which is real strange for that time. It about a woman being totally in charge.. taking the male part if you like. I do have a very soft ballad part inside, and this often comes out too if you look at my back catalogue.. I think what your getting at is… I am ‘never’ the victim. I think I was born with a big set of balls… its in the dna. And usually , even the sad songs are hopeful. Listen to Free the Butterfly. And, I am always honest in my songs, I do not write fiction.

How did women respond to you in general? Did you find jealously because you were around the rock n roll guys? Did you have male groupies?

A: I have always had a huge female following.. straight and gay, and still do. The only jealousy I find is in a private, happens quite a lot, we are meeting people and the man is a little too attentive to me, and the woman will set out to flirt with my husband, this happened with both husbands and still happens today. Its just something I have to put up with. They want to prove something I guess. Professionally, all is good. Privately… there is jealous among those closest to me… and again, just something I have to put up with. Talent can be a red rag to some people.

At what point did you realize the magnitude of your influence on other women in rock n roll?

A: After my first hit I guess, once the dust had settled. All the interviewers would focus on this and I started to see that what I did was a little ‘unusual’. Not to put too fine a point on it. I was always being pushed into Women lib issues which I avoided like the plague because I always believed it was a believe in yourself issue. Life only does to you what you allow it to do!!. End of story.

What did you think of punk and heavy metal, the women involved in those music scenes?

A: all phases of music are necessary and they all leave their mark. I began it, punk took it to the next level, and heavy metal is heavy metal… once the door was kicked down, there were no rules anymore… and for that , and the women who took me as an inspiration and followed me down the road..I am extremely proud and happy to have been the instigator. HOORAY..

You played a rock star on Happy Days, which is so cool. What did that do for your career? What was it about acting that you enjoyed?

A: I have done many acting roles , Happy Days was my first, refer to my autobiography. I always knew I could act and in fact my career could easily have veered off in that direction, but music took hold first. I love immersing myself in a role, I don’t act, I become. This sit-com gave me a new lease of life. A good decision. I am still in touch with Ron and Henry. Good people. Honored to have been a part of the iconic show.

As the first woman to really break the barriers, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?

What is the best advice you have been given regarding your career? What advice would you give, not just women, but anyone who wants to be in rock n roll?

A: I have to combine these last two questions as they are , in my mind, rolled together. My advice to any woman /girl wanted to come into the industry is the following.

Professionally, learn at least one instrument properly, this will stand you in good stead. Do as many live shows as possible coming up the ranks, live work is invaluable , it hones your talent. Stay away from excesses.. if you want to be around a long time you have to take care of yourself, always. Most important, always give 200% onstage.. otherwise you have no business being up there.

Personally…. As much as I don’t do gender, I maintain my write to draw the line of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Stick to this and you will have ‘respect’… and that is the most important thing.

#bassplayer #rockicon #SUZIQUATRO

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