Songwriter Interviews

Suzi Quatro

by Greg Prato

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"Suzi Quatro is, to my knowledge, the world's only female punk rocker."
-Charles Shaar Murray, NME, 1973

Quatro was raised in Detroit but missed out on that rock revolution, the one that gave us The Stooges and the MC5. When the British producer Mickie Most, in town to work with Jeff Beck, spotted Quatro in 1971, he offered her a deal on his RAK label. She took the offer and moved to England, where Most teamed her with the songwriting/production team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, hitmakers for The Sweet.

Back home, Quatro had to wear miniskirts and play "cabaret shit" if she wanted gigs, but the UK was more receptive to a leather-clad female rocker. In 1973, she toured with Slade and landed her first #1 UK single, "Can The Can." Another #1, "Devil Gate Drive," followed in 1974. This was years before The Runaways.

In 1975, Quatro was ready to break through in America, but America wasn't ready for her. Rolling Stone put her on the cover and Alice Cooper took her on tour, but she remained anonymous to all but the most musically literate Americans until 1977, when she was cast on Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero, the sister of Fonzie's old flame, Pinky Tuscadero. On her first appearance, she performed "Devil Gate Drive." In 1979, she finally had her first big American hit when "Stumblin' In," a soft-rock duet with Chris Norman of fellow RAK artist Smokie, went to #4.

In the UK, Quatro's second act was as an actress and presenter. A respected tastemaker, she had an independent music showcase on BBC Radio 2 called Rockin' with Suzi Q, and she played Annie Oakley in the West End production of Annie Get Your Gun. Quatro was always a songwriter, but her early tracks ended up as album cuts, per convention. Her later work showcases this talent more clearly and is on display in her latest studio offering, No Control, which rocks just as hard as her early classics. When we spoke with her shortly before the album's arrival, Quatro told the stories behind some of her key songs and discussed her time on Happy Days, including why she turned down a spin-off.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's discuss your new album, No Control. You collaborated on the material with your son, Richard Tuckey, right?

Suzi Quatro: I did. It was not planned, and it was unexpected. It was like an express train going down the track - it couldn't be stopped. Richard has done his own thing. He's a guitar player and has been in bands, and he goes out with bands on the road. He came to me about eight months ago and said, "I want to write some stuff with you." I said, "OK. What you got?"

He showed me one particular song - which was just a riff - which became "Don't Do Me Wrong." It was the first thing we went into the studio with and it worked so well I said, "Let's keep going." We spent time at the house here writing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and all of a sudden, we were doing an album, and it started to take on a life of its own. All the best things, you don't plan - they just happen. Life happens.

Songfacts: Where are you currently based?

Quatro: I am based mainly in the UK. I've been in the same house since 1980. I've been in England since 1971. I'm married to a German man, and we have a home in Hamburg. I go back and forth between the two homes, and I come back and forth to America.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind the album's first single, "No Soul/No Control"?

Quatro: It's been my mantra my whole life. All you really have is yourself and you shouldn't give that up for anybody - professionally or privately. All you've got is you. This is your little light, let it shine - nobody can take it from you.

Everybody has had it happen before where they've fallen into a situation or into a relationship where they try to take your soul and your control. And I say, "No soul, no control." Done. I'm me, you can't have this. This is mine.

Songfacts: What about the track "Macho Man"?

Quatro: It's about the macho man - I've had two or three that I've known in my life, and they haven't lasted more than a day, but it always left a lasting impression on me. The macho man that just is so caught up in being macho that they're afraid to show their feelings. And it's almost in a funny kind of way like they're a victim of their gender, which is a shame.

Songfacts: In your mind, where is "Devil Gate Drive"?

Quatro: It's the place where you go when you're a teenager, and your parents say, "Where are you going?" "I'm going out." "Don't you dare go to such-and-such."

That's "Devil Gate Drive," and that's where you go. Of course, as soon as your parents say, "Don't go," that's where you go.

Guitar is the most common accessory for the leather rocker look, but Quatro plays bass, the instrument she was assigned when she joined The Pleasure Seekers with three of her sisters, including older sister Patti, later a member of the all-female group Fanny.
Songfacts: What did Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn tell you about "48 Crash" when they presented it to you?

Quatro: Nothing. I made up my own mind. I thought it was about the male menopause. It's crazy lyrics, but to me, that makes sense. And back then, Mike used to write kind of nonsensical lyrics. But it's one of the favorites around the world. So, I say it's about the male menopause.

Songfacts: What did you learn about songwriting from Chapman and Chinn?

Quatro: Well, I was writing songs way before them. In fact, they came to see my English band before I had success, and I was doing gigs - I was the opening act on the first Slade tour, and all my songs in the set were original. If you listen to the first album [1973's self-titled], the majority are my own songs.

They heard what I was doing, what I was writing, what I was representing. I was very boogie-based, very bass-based. And they went away and wrote "Can the Can." We had the arrangement where I could write the albums, and they would write the three-minute single - although I did have singles out myself, like "Mama's Boy." I didn't learn anything from their songwriting, because I always had my own thing. Whatever I did, I did.

Songfacts: Why isn't "Cat Size" called "Cat's Eye"?

Quatro: Because there was a thing in England in the roads that was invented - these little spotlights in the road when you're on a dark road - and they were called cat's eyes. I thought, What a great idea for a song, which is what I called it. But I wanted to be clever, so I called it "Cat Size" - just to be clever. But you've got the meaning right - it is something that sees in the dark.

Suzi played Leather Tuscadero on seasons 5 and 6 of Happy Days (1977-1979). In one of the episodes, Suzi/Leather fronts an all-female rock band and is joined on stage by two of the show's main characters, Richie and Joanie Cunningham, for a rendition of "Heartbreak Hotel."
Songfacts: What was it like performing on Happy Days?

Quatro: Terrific. One of the best experiences of my life. When I made the decision to do the show, it gave me a new lease on life. I made some good friends - Ronnie [Howard] and Henry [Winkler]. We're still in contact to this day, all the time. I was absolutely honored to be part of such an iconic TV show.

Songfacts: Were you offered a Happy Days spin-off?

Quatro: I was. But it was such a popular show, and I wanted to do more acting - which indeed, I have - and I didn't want to be typecast for the rest of my life as Leather, so I said no. If I had done one, that's what I would be for the rest of my life.

Luckily, I've done various other shows. It's hard to move away from the box once you're in it.

Songfacts: Did you write the song "The Fonzie," which you performed in the Happy Days episode where he starts a dance craze?

Quatro: I didn't write that one. I wrote "Believe," which is when Richie almost died on the motorcycle.

Songfacts: Why do you think certain rock acts became very popular in Europe, but didn't translate the same way success-wise in the US? Particularly in the '70s - you, T. Rex, Slade, Thin Lizzy, etcetera.

Quatro: Who knows? Music goes round and round, and where she comes out, nobody knows. I can only speak for myself, and in my particular case, my record company kept releasing my singles on different record labels, so it didn't give me that sort of home of a record label that promoted everything I did. It was always "chop and change, chop and change."

I was a part of the glam rock scene, but I don't think that glam rock transferred to the USA. I had lots of radio play with "All Shook Up" and "Skin Tight Skin," and "Can The Can" got in the lower end, but my biggest hit was a country-rock record, "Stumblin' In."

Songfacts: That doesn't seem to happen as much anymore. Because of the web, people are exposed to all the same music throughout the world at the same time.

Quatro: The web has opened everything up. There are no more secrets anymore. Everything has an equal chance - which is healthy.

March 5, 2019

No Control is set for release on March 29, 2019.

For more Suzi, visit suziquatro.com.

More interviews:

Glen Matlock
Wayne Kramer
James Williamson
Marky Ramone
Richard Hell
JJ Burnel

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Comments: 2

  • Scott from Australia It was a really nice interview with Suzi Q. Thanks.
  • Brenda Cunningham from Ocala, FlI really liked this interview! Left me wanting to know more!
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