Suzi Quatro,
The TVD Interview

Suzi Quatro knows exactly who she is and what she wants. That’s the impression she gives, even on a crackling Skype call across the Atlantic. I spoke to her in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, before either of us had any idea just how crazy the next six months would be. “It’s pretty scary,” she said, when I asked her how she was staying sane back in those early days. “I’m trying to be creative, I’m working on the next album with my son right now… and taking a six mile walk [with him] every day.” As she and the people who know her best readily attest, she’s always raced through life at a breakneck pace, and at 70, she shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to working on a new album with her son, Richard Tuckey, she’s planning to put out another book, maintaining a presence on social media, and even cleaning up after herself. “Of course my cleaner can’t come so I’m going against my religion to clean it myself. I have to have music on when I clean so I’m dancing around to my Motown,” she says. “That just makes it a little quicker, when you can do the Temptations, you know? I was cheerful for about the last two weeks but that seems to have gone away…”

We chat about her other musical influences and what’s stuck with her since the Sixties: Otis Redding, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, and (of course) Elvis Presley. “The music that you listen to as a teenager really stays in your heart forever,” she says. “I saw [Elvis] on TV and knew I was going to do what he did.” Her preferred medium? Vinyl, of course. “Nothing quite like it. The old days you’d go and flick through the sleeves and hold it in your hands… just fantastic. There’s a whole new vibe in vinyl. It’s beautiful in its imperfection.” The same might be said of Quatro’s whole career.

She talks about her favorite tunes with the same electric energy that made her a household name in the music business in the 1970s, singled out for stardom by Mickie Most. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t… getting up and doing a number,” she tells me. “I was always a performer, always, from a little girl. And in fact that’s what I put on my first passport [with the Pleasure Seekers]. I was the only one that put down ‘entertainer’ as profession… It says a lot about my mindset back then.” This, in her own estimation and that of the friends and family who populate her upcoming rockumentary, Suzi Q, is the leitmotif of her life: uncompromising ambition. Suzi Quatro was determined to be a star.

When filmmaker Liam Firmager approached her about the project, he said, “‘I’m not a fan… but I saw you on TV talking and you’re fascinating,’” Quatro tells me. “He would be objective and he would be hard and he was and I said to him, okay, let’s do it, and the only thing I’ll stipulate is I don’t want one of those talking heads how-wonderful-I-am documentaries… my life has not been easy, the journey has not been easy… If something is true, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for me, it stays in. And I stuck to that. There are some uncomfortable moments, you know? And when I was at the first premiere I went to in London, I sort of snuck in and I saw it on the big screen for the first time. And there were moments I wanted to go on the floor and crawl out of the cinema. And those are the best and most important moments in the film.”

Firmager’s Suzi Q begins in more or less the same place our conversation does: with Quatro’s musical awakening in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the suburb where she and her sisters formed their first band with a few other girls on the block. “They couldn’t get the Detroit out of them,” Alice Cooper says of his first impression of the Pleasure Seekers. “They were… hard-rock girls.”

Her bandmate-sisters, Patti and Nancy, as well as her promoter-brother Michael, appear throughout the documentary to testify to her talent—and her tendency to alienate her collaborators. When she grew impatient with the family band’s lack of forward momentum, she accepted Most’s offer to leave Detroit and go solo. “It devastated them, you know,” she says in the film. “And it devastated me emotionally. I was in bits that I was leaving but I still was going.”

Those first years in London, she struggled with her solitude. “I didn’t do anything, didn’t know anybody, I didn’t go anywhere, and that was probably the lowest point in my life,” she confesses in the film. “Mickey gave me my shot, I was determined I was going to make it no matter what, but I very often cried myself to sleep.”

Her determination paid off in 1973 when, with a backing band and a black leather catsuit inspired by Barbarella, she finally had a hit. “I didn’t have a blueprint,” she tells me, of the rise to rock stardom she’d pursued for so long. “I had to just kind of wing it, and the way I winged it was to stick exactly to who I am. That was how I got through. I didn’t compromise for anybody or anything.”

Despite being heralded as one of the first women to make it in rock and roll, she seems somewhat reluctant to take up that mantle. “I don’t do gender, I never did, and I don’t do it now,” she says, a sentiment she repeats in Firmager’s film. “I never called myself a female musician. I just said, ‘I’m a musician.’ And the reason I kicked the door down was that I actually didn’t see the door.” While she consistently resists the suggestion that her gender defined her persona, the fact that so many female rock and rollers who followed in her footsteps mimicked her style seems to argue the opposite.

Her advice for women in rock is similarly contradictory and unexpectedly old-fashioned, considering her rejection of traditional gender expectations. “If you’re female in this business, one thing you have to be conscious of is to only use the female card when your morality is danger,” she says. “And for Christ’s sake put on some clothes.” The remark smacks of internalized misogyny—unsurprising for her demographic, perhaps, but it’s odd to hear it coming from a woman who wears a skintight leather jumpsuit unzipped to her navel in her most iconic portrait (incidentally, the same image featured on most of the promotional material from the film). Why she thinks young female musicians should be more modest goes unsaid.

But Suzi Quatro has always said what she thinks and never heeded the naysayers, even when that meant burning bridges. Since she first took the music scene by storm in 1971, she’s proved herself time and again—not just as a rocker, but as an actor, composer, and lyricist.

Not many people, in entertainment or anywhere else, can reinvent themselves so many times and remain so certain of their identity. Not many artists can say they’ve opened for Alice Cooper, played Annie Oakley on Broadway, and written a musical about Tallulah Bankhead. (And her skills continue to surprise; by the end of our phone call, she’s asking for my star signs and making some very astute observations about my own artistic tendencies.) Maybe it’s that unshakeable sense of self that makes her so undeniably versatile.

“My key thing is I have to be creative and communicating and entertaining,” she explains, before paraphrasing some advice her father gave her when she was still playing the bass with a gang of girls in Grosse Pointe: “When you go on that stage, one thing you have to remember is that every person in that audience has taken his hard-earned buck out of his pocket and paid to see you. It is your duty to entertain him.”

Whatever resentment may have festered in the Quatro family over Suzi’s singular success, it seems safe to say that in this respect, at least, she’s done her father proud. Suzi Q is a fitting monument to her career—not just as a rocker, but as an entertainer par excellence.

And she’s far from finished. “I would like to put a lyric book out,” she says, when I ask her what’s next. “And of course, writing the second album with my son, which we’ve already begun. We’ve got about four or five songs ready to go now. Just trying to keep on keeping on.”

Also in the pipeline is a motion picture, for which she’s writing the script. “It’s been on the cards for quite a while, since the documentary came out and caused such a furor,” she says. “I got contacted by some people who said they’d like to do the movie, so we signed the thing… As much as the documentary is the truth, the movie will be even more.”

Still, that’s not all. Quatro will not rest until she claims her crown, as the tagline of the documentary suggests. “Get me into the rock and roll hall of fame,” she says, when I ask about her hopes for the future. She’s surprised it hasn’t happened already. “Doesn’t it just mind-boggle? To me it’s a no-brainer.”

Coming from anyone else, such unabashed self-assurance might be off-putting, but big attitudes and big egos are as rock and roll as sex, drugs, and leather pants, and after fifty years in the business Suzi Q isn’t about to lose any ground. She doesn’t just want that crown. She’s earned it.

With theaters closed, Utopia Distribution will host a Suzi Q virtual event on July 1st featuring the film and an exclusive Q&A featuring Suzi Quatro and a special guest—available for 24 hours only—in advance of the film’s traditional release on VOD and DVD on July 3rd. To purchase your ticket for the July 1st event powered by Altavod, please head here.

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