I remember: Suzi Quatro

Joy Persaud

Suzi Quatro, 68, is an American musician and the first female bass player to become a major rock star. She’s known for such hits as “Can the Can “, “Stumblin In”, as well as her role on the popular sitcom, Happy Days

…My little sister who is nearly three years younger than me being brought home from the hospital. I was the baby up until that point, and I remember feeling extremely jealous when she came because everybody was saying, “Oh, what a beautiful baby.”

I was only three, so I was entitled to feel that way. Growing up, we were very close, actually—we had a good relationship—more than anyone else in the family. Nancy and I were good buddies.

 

…Biting Nancy’s fingers when she was in the crib. I would run upstairs, she’d be crying, crying and I could hear [the parents] saying, “What’s the matter with this baby?” And when I was about eight, I confessed—I cried my eyes out, saying that I was really sorry for biting her fingers.

 

…I liked school very much but I wasn’t one of those assiduous students, let’s put it that way. I had the ability to be one and I did well in all my aptitude tests but I was more concerned with being an entertainer from a very early age.

"I did well in all my aptitude tests but I was more concerned with being an entertainer from an early age"

 

…The first house that I lived in, in Detroit, was gorgeous—it had four bedrooms, was on three levels and had a big basement. It was a real family home. It had three pianos, and tons of musical instruments, as we were a musical family. It wasn’t one of the richest ones but it was a nice house. I grew up in Grosse Pointe, which is the ritzy suburb with many mansions. We didn’t have a mansion, but we had a very nice house. I can’t remember ever having my own bedroom until I got much older.

 

…My father was a musician and he played the keyboard. He also played the violin and the accordion. I have to say, all five of us [kids] were very musical. Everyone in the family can play more than one instrument.

 

…My best friend, Linda, is the girl I grew up with in Detroit. We have known each other since the age of four. We were little devils. We had a similar family—she lived one door away and they had five kids the same age, just like us. I met her when she moved in. I saw furniture coming in, went right up to the house and stood on the lawn and her opening words to me were, “Hey, get off my lawn,” so we always laugh about that.

 

…One of my wonderful ideas when I was seven was to get what we call potato chips—crisps—and spread them all over the kitchen floor, and slide. It sounded like a good idea. Linda’s mother came in and all I can remember was her looking at me and knowing it was my idea. But she didn’t say anything—she just put my snowsuit back on, zipped me up and sent me home. Where I got the idea from, I really don’t know.

 

…At the age of eight it started to dawn on me that whenever I got up to do my bit, whatever it might be, that I held this audience, and I realised that I had the entertainment gene in me. When you are little you see things like that and it was nothing to do with ego— I just remember thinking, Oh, I am holding this audience, so it became a part of my psyche.

 

…When I was 14, we saw The Beatles on TV and decided to form a band. We got a couple of other girls who were sisters, and another girl whose father used to play in my dad’s band. We all got on the phone and shouted at the same time about who would play what. I didn’t say anything for a while until I went, “What am I going to play?” And my older sister said, “You are going to play bass,” and I said, “Okay.” I didn’t even think about it. I went to my dad and asked him if he had a bass guitar and he gave me the Rolls Royce of bass guitars, which is a 1957 Fender Precision. I put it on and it was an another epiphany: I said, “Oh wow, this is me.”

 

…Within three months we had our first show, so I’ve now been doing this job for 54 years— a long time. The very first gig I ever played, the first time on the stage, I had the feeling that I had come home—that was pretty impressive. Rock ‘n’ roll is my first love but I’ve done a lot of acting as well as radio work on BBC2 since 1991. I’ve done TV, had my own talk show, done West End, written my own musical, became a published poet and my first novel came out in 2017. I’ve also written my autobiography and I’m gigging a lot!

 

…Being told by Jackie Collins, who gave me a quote for my autobiography, that I could write. She said, “You are really good.” I said, “If I want to write a novel, can you give me any advice?” And she replied, “Yes—just stick with what you know at the beginning”, and so I did. The Hurricane starts off with a rock chick and from then, it just flies. I use familiarity to create a character, but it’s totally different from me. It’s quite realistic and has a shock ending that nobody ever expects coming.

"I didn't give a s**t about singing in an all-girl band. They could've been monkeys as long as they could play"

…Detroit has always been a huge music city, especially in the 1960s, at the advent of Motown. It was an absolutely wonderful musical city to have grown up in. We had famous people in our house non-stop. I was in the band since I was 14 and we played gigs with all these people. My brother was a known musician and he became an agent for quite a while so he promoted all these bands, hence, we all knew each other really well.

 

...My role models were male. I don’t do gender, I never have. I just don’t think about male, female— I never even called myself a female musician. I remember singing in an all-girl band, which was my sister’s idea—but I didn’t give a s**t about singing in an all-girl band. I didn’t care who was in the band either way—they could have been monkeys as long as they could play.

 

…Seeing Elvis on television the first time when I was six and having an epiphany when it occurred to me that I was going to do what he did. It’s a crazy, young age for that to happen but that’s exactly what happened. It was an internal [realisation] but I kept being a fan all the way through and when I started the band, we did Elvis songs. It just kept rolling and became a tradition of mine to cover at least one Elvis song on an album.

 

…In 1974, I was in America with my English family. I had some hits under my belt, and I got a call at my hotel in Memphis from Elvis’s people. He came on and invited me to Graceland, which sort of freaked me out. He’d heard [my version of] “All Shook Up” and said it was the best version since his own and would I like to come to Graceland—but I turned him down. I wasn’t ready yet. I never actually met him face-to-face but I don’t regret it because I eventually wrote a very important song about him—Elvis imitators do it and it is played at funerals. It has become quite a “beneath the radar” song that everybody knows, called “Singing with Angels.” It was a tribute to him.

"I am a 'walk through fire' type of person. I don't hide from pain, I will go straight into it and get burned"

…When I was on Happy Days. It was my first ever acting job and it was something I had wanted to do for a long time so when this offer came along, I took it and it was a great decision. I’m really glad I did it; it gave me a lot of joy. I played a very popular character—Leather Tuscadero—and I received the second most fan mail after the Fonz, which is quite something. It was a brilliant show and I am still in touch with them all—it was a great experience.

 

…Acting in Minder, Dempsey & Makepeace, and recently on Midsomer Murders. Acting is the same instinct as music—it’s about communicating by speaking instead of singing the lyrics of a song. It’s the same performing instinct.

 

…Being inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame—it was great to be recognised in my home state. It’s always nice to achieve something but my greatest award came in October 2016 when I became an Honorary Doctor of Music—I received my award at Cambridge University and that’s hard to beat. They just contacted me and said, “Would you be willing to accept?” I said, “Are you kidding? Of course I would.” It was a very humbling experience.

 

…My husband, Rainer Haas, was a promoter. We got together pretty quickly—three months from the first kiss to getting married. He basically looks after me now—we don’t use the word “manager”—because I am very independent, but he looks after me. We are actually quite a good team; if we argue, we listen to each other. I will listen to reason; if you can tell me how I am wrong, I’ll take your suggestion. He always says I am unmanageable. He goes, “You don’t need to be managed because you’ve got a brain yourself.”

 

…Mickie Most was my manager for quite a long time. We are both Geminis so we were very similar, but not very easy people. We are very complicated—we have quicksilver moods, but we got along well, Mickey and I. We understood each other completely and we talked the same language. I worked with him from 1971 up until he died. He was my luckiest break—he’s the one who discovered me and the band in Detroit and offered me a solo contract.

 

…My toughest time was probably the year that I was single after I split from my first husband, Len Tuckey, because when you are with somebody for that long it’s very hard to break up; we had two kids as well, which makes it even more emotionally difficult. He left the house in October, then in December my mother died, and ten days later my ex mother-in-law died. It was a really confusing year. I got through it by spending a lot of time alone and working out who I was and just becoming stronger, and comfortable with myself. You have to go inside yourself. I am very much a “walk through the fire” type of person. I don’t hide from the pain, I will go straight into it and get burned but my strength comes from walking back out the other side.

 

…My mother always said “never say never,” which always stuck with me. I try not to put the blocks down, because if you do that then you don’t allow yourself to change and I am very open to everything. All my channels are always open. I try not to have any regrets because I believe that every mistake you make is meant to teach you—you have to have your life‘s lessons. So I try not to regret, I try to learn. I’ve always been the kind to analyse—have I done wrong, why I did it, what it means to me now—and I don’t do it again.

 

Suzi is performing in the Legends Live UK Tour in April. Book now via legendslive.org