You might know her as Leather Tuscadero from the hit show “Happy Days” or as the girl who sang the duet “Stumblin’ In” with Chris Norman, which hit the Billboard charts in 1979. These are only only two of Suzi’s many accomplishments. Suzi is the forerunner to women-fronted rock bands. Lead singer, bassist, and songwriter, Suzi blazed the trail for everybody from the Runaways to Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders) and even had a strong influence on Joan Jett’s solo career.
Suzi, who was strongly influenced by Elvis Presley, played in a rock band called the Pleasure Seekers, which included her older sister Patti and two friends. The band recorded several singles and went through a series of personal changes before disbanding. Suzi went on to create a successful solo career, beginning with her 1973 self-titled album, She’s also had a successful acting career, she’s a popular radio show host, and the author of a book of poetry and her autobiography “Unzipped.” There may be a lot of successful women in rock, but there can be little doubt it started here, with the girl who put the leather in leather, Suzi Quatro.
Carl Hose: First of all, thanks for giving me the opportunity to ask you some questions. For those who aren’t aware, you came before the Runaways. God bless the Runaways, but you are the original Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Do you give much thought to your place as one of the first, if not the first, female role models in rock?
Suzi Quatro: Well, at the risk of blowing my own horn, I am the first to have success as a female rock and roll musician. I take my place in history. I set the pace. Every single female musician I have met since has thanked me. But not the queen of noise, more the queen of rock and roll, that is my title, and yes, very very proud, and I feel a part of every woman who has come after me. Take a bow, girls, and keep on rockin.
CH: I first became aware of you as Leather Tuscadero on the TV show “Happy Days.” How do you feel about that role in hindsight? Do you ever get tired of hearing about it or do you embrace it?
SQ: I am very proud to have been a part of such an iconic series. I always wanted to act as well as play in my band, and this gave me the opportunity. I had been having world-wide hits since ‘73 and was more than ready to spread my wings. Still in touch with most of the people. In fact, both Ron Howard and Henry Winkler gave quotes for my autobiography in 2006 “Unzipped,” and Henry for my poetry book “Through My Eyes” in 2015.
CH: If I’m not mistaken, and I could be, you were offered a spin-off of your own and you turned it down. That’s quite ballsy for a young, budding star. Is that true? If so, do you regret the decision or did it turn out to work to your advantage?
SQ: Don´t forget, I was not a young, budding star. I was already successful. But I didn’t want to be typecast. Henry and I discussed it many times. I wanted to do more, which I did. The “West End” TV series in the UK, etc, so I was right.
CH: The next time I became aware of you was through a duet you sang and played on called “Stumblin’ In.” Believe it or not, I didn’t get that the vocalist on this tune was also Leather Tuscadero. I simply didn’t put two and two together. How do you feel about the song now? How did the recording of it come about? Can you tell me about the version of “Stumblin’ In” found on the album “What Goes Around”?
SQ: We were at an award ceremony in Germany. Mike Chapman was there too, at an after-hours VIP party. There was a band on stage. I felt like singing, as I usually do. I grabbed Chris (Norman) and pulled him up. Mike thought how great we looked together and sounded together. He wrote the song that night. I was in the studio making my next album so we went in and did it. We did vocals live, face to face. It’s authentic. “What Goes Around” was a re-recording of lots of my hits, so we pulled somebody that Mickie Most was working with in to do the vocs with me. I am very proud of this song. It’s one of their best. So funny, Americans think if me first as Leather. It’s the only place in the world where this happens. I had been touring there very successfully since 1974. Madison Square Garden, you name it, I played it. So strange. Just shows you how big that show was.
CH: My next run in with you was an album called “Rock Hard,” which I still listen to today. What can you tell me about the red bass on the cover of that album?
SQ: Yes, I was sponsored by BC Rich. I created this one. Love it and still have it, plus the jumpsuit. They must be worth a fortune. Was prettier to look at than to play, though. Too many gadgets. I like a simple bass.
CH: When I discovered the album “Rock Hard” it dawned on me, hey, this is Leather Tuscadero, this is the girl who sang that sweet song “Stumblin’ In,” and she’s this killer rocker chick who plays bass. That’s when I realized how truly multi-talented you are. Do you see the distinction between these three “versions” of Suzi Quatro, or are they all one and the same?
SQ: I am an artiste through and through, and multi-talented as you say. I play several instruments, read and write classical guitar and percussion, and am self-taught on bass. I write books, poetry, have acted in the West End, musicals, written my autobiography, I’m an award-winning DJ on BBC Radio 2 since 1999, I have my own talk show on TV, and I have my self-drawn X-mas cards for sale. Not to be bragging, just trying to give you the picture. I am creative and have a need to entertain and communicate in whatever guise this takes. All the “versions” are me, just different sides.
CH: When you came up, a girl playing bass (or any instrument in a rock band) was not something you saw often. I’ve always preferred playing bass over guitar, and seeing you play it back then was just amazing. I was fascinated not only that there was a “girl” who played bass, but that she actually played killer bass lines, not just straight eighth notes. What got you into bass?
SQ: I come from a musical family. We all play more than one instrument. Not a big deal. We had family shows with skits at every celebration, b-day, X-mas, Easter, whatever, and we had sing a longs. I loved it that my dad did these vocal bass lines. I found this the one that resonated with me. When we formed our first all-girl band, the Pleasure Seekers, everyone took an instrument. My sister Patti said, “You are playing bass.” Great, I thought, just what I love. My dad gave me one at age 14!!!! For my first bass guitar!!! A 1957 fender precision and fender amp. It was destined that I would play well.
CH: Wow, great birthday present. I think I read somewhere that you write songs, but you are better with the deep cuts and not writing the singles. Is that correct, and if so, does it hold true still?
SQ: I have written quite a few singles in my time, but they were always recorded in such a way that they did not interfere with the A sides, which was the arrangement we had at the time. Successful arrangement it was too. I don´t like to limit myself to trying to be commercial, though. I like to just simply write as the mood takes. There are some real gems on my albums. I have been told this by everyone. “Singing with Angels” just came to mind. This is the Elvis tribute I wrote, recorded in Nashville with James Burton and the Jordanaires on bvs, and it’s stinkingly commercial.
CH: Who are some of your favorite performers today? Are there any that particularly stand out?
SQ: Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars . . . love both these guys.. Eminem. Love Adele, Rihanna. After a real low, good artists are on the scene once again, thank god.
CH: I’m going to put you on the spot. Which ex-Runaway’s solo material do you prefer, Joan Jett’s or Lita Ford’s?
SQ: Joan had that killer hit “I Love Rock and Roll,” a real anthem. Who doesn´t love that? But Lita Ford is a musician’s musician. And her albums reflect that. We are all friends from way back. Way before Joan had a band, she was a huge fan. I am proud to have been their inspiration. Must have done something right.
CH: Any of your tours through the years that still stand out today?
SQ: So, so many. The Welcome to My Nightmare tour, old friends from Detroit, and it went on forever. First big UK tour, first big European tour, and by far my final Australian tour, this year, 2015. I came back satisfied, which I never thought I would be. Sold out, 23 shows, perfect two and a half hour set, perfect band . . . I was at the top of my game this year. Voice was better than ever. It was simply perfect. No other word for it.
CH: What do you think about the current state of the music business, such as it is or isn’t? Has technology hurt or helped us?
SQ: Some parts are good, but bad part is, it has taken away the organic part of “playing together.” This is a shame. The little speeding ups and stuff on the old records were what gave it its charm. Still, technology marches on and we must follow.
CH: What is the one song you wish you’d written?
SQ: So many. Hard to pick one, but I guess I would have to say “When I Fall in Love.” I think it captures the romantic in all of us perfectly.
CH: If you could play with any band, who would it be and what would your role in the band be?
SQ: I would be the bass player for sure. Probably in the Funk Brothers. Jamerson, he was my absolute hero. . . .
CH: What’s coming up for Suzi Quatro fans? What are you working on?
SQ: Lots and lots. Of course the 82 track box set came out end of last year to celebrate my 50 years in the business . . . now in my 51st One of the nicest packages I have ever seen. Also working on a new group. Just started and we’ve recorded an album. Band is called Quatro, Scott, and Powell. Album will be called “Power 3.” Andy Scott, original guitarist from Sweet, and Don Powell, original drummer from Slade. We have created something quite special. Also, there will be another album for me down the road. I continue to tour and do what I love doing. I have been blessed with a very long, successful career and I am forever grateful for that. I still love going on stage and sending everyone home with a smile on their face.
Contact Suzi Quatro online:
website: Suzi Quatro Official website
Facebook: Suzi Quatro Official Fan Page