Suzi Quatro

TrackSingle / Album
Glycerine QueenBell 45,477 / Suzi Quatro
Daytona DemonRAK 161
Can The CanRAK 150
48 CrashRAK 158 / Suzi Quatro
Devil Gate DriveRAK 167 / Quatro
Stumblin' InRAK 1C 006-61 907
The Wild OneRAK 185 / Quatro
All Shook UpBell 45,477 / Suzi Quatro
Rock HardDreamland DLSP 6 / Rock Hard
The Girl From Detroit CityThe Girl From Detroit City

Suzi Quatro photo 1

 

 

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Suzi Quatro playlist

 

 

Contributor: David Lewis

Only Marc Bolan was prettier – and he was a pretty, pretty man. She boogied harder than Bowie. She was as flamboyant as Freddie. The diminutive Dame of Detroit, Suzi Quatro kicked doors down, smashed glass ceilings and showed the men that she wasn’t “pretty good for a girl”. She was as good as, or better than, all of them.

She was an American but, like Jimi Hendrix, made it big in Britain. Born Suzan Kay Quatro (her family name of Quattrocchi had been deemed to difficult to pronounce) in Detroit in 1950, she remains tied to that most musical of cities. Like Hendrix, too, she was deeply influential – not like Hendrix in terms of developing a new way of playing her instrument, but in terms of what a woman was allowed to do. With very few exceptions, women were singers. They might accompany themselves on piano or strummed guitar, but they tended not to play bass, or lead guitar, or any lead instrument except vocals. She wasn’t the first female bassist but she was perhaps the first prominent one and, thanks to her, others soon started appearing. Carol Kaye springs to mind as a predecessor, but as great as Carol is, she didn’t rock like Suzi. And nobody really outside the industry knew who she was. Suzi exploded on the scene, after nine years of paying her dues. Producer Mickie Most watched her family band, but he was only interested in Suzi. So she moved to Britain. America wasn’t that interested in her, for some reason. But Britain and Australia and Ireland and Europe loved her. America came around eventually, and I’ll get back to that.

 

Glycerine Queen, written by Suzi and Len Tuckey, leads our list. Mickie Most had noticed she didn’t write singles – decent songs, yes, great album tracks – but not singles. He introduced her to the hit machine of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman – Chinnichap. She was given a crack band, which included Len Tuckey, her future (and now ex) husband.

Suzi has a rock and roll heart, a rock and roll soul and a rock and roll body. She plays that most rock and roll of instruments – the electric bass. Her small frame is almost dwarfed by it, but her personality is so big, it doesn’t matter.

Suzi understood that rock and roll is not about petty concerns: it was and is about being yourself, being free, being the best you that is. And if others don’t like that, that’s their problem. Also, while boys dressed like girls – makeup, teased hair, dresses – Suzi dressed like a biker. She bragged that her band didn’t wear makeup – they were real men. So, the androgyny ran both ways, though critics were harsher on Suzi being a tomboy than they were on Sweet, say, pouting through eyeshadow at the girls watching Top Of The Pops (or Countdown in Australia).

Daytona Demon is that most fundamental of rock songs, being as it is about boys, cars and rock and roll. The rhythmic breathing at the beginning is a nice touch, and Toppermost contributor Andrew Shields has suggested the riff anticipates God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols. Suzi boogies – no question. Few of the singles make much sense – the outstanding Can The Can is about – what? I don’t know. And I don’t care. Just make a stand for your man, honey. And try and can the can. Ok. I will.

The whirling dervish of a hurricane that is 48 Crash assaults you. It’s like a beating – hard, fast and what just happened? What’s it about? Suzi at the top of her vocal range, screaming almost incoherently about nothing and everything. What is a 48 crash? Is it a deconstruction of the Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, published in 1848? Silk sashes being worn by the bourgeoisie, it makes sense that come the revolution there’ll be a silk sash bash. The collapse of the American economy in the same year? The formation of the United Nations in 1948? Suzi herself thinks it’s about male menopause, which comes in at about the age of 48 apparently. Who cares what it’s about.

 

Devil Gate Drive is a bit more coherent. We still don’t really know what goes on. But maybe we do. Your momma don’t know where your sister will go – that place that teenagers know, but adults don’t. This is one of the songs that does make some sense. It’s the place where teenagers go, despite being forbidden to go there. Most towns have somewhere like this. Or at least rumours of places like this. And this is as good a place as any to introduce Leather Tuscadero …

Suzi Quatro photo 2

… the one person on Happy Days cooler than the Fonz. And the Fonz was the coolest person on TV. Cooler than the Big Ragoo on Laverne & Shirley. Cooler than Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter. Cooler than both Starsky and Hutch. The Fonz was so cool he could order high school boys into a public restroom and not have his motives questioned. Leather Tuscadero was cooler than Fonzie. Played of course by Suzi Quatro. I must have been about 10, so at the peak age. I already knew Suzi from her time on radio and TV here in Australia so she didn’t have to prove her credentials to me. But when Leather introduced the “good old rocker” Devil Gate Drive, I didn’t notice the anachronism of a song written in 1972 and performed in 1958 being described as “old”.

We all wanted to be Richie, Ralph or Potsie in the band at Arnold’s. When Suzi and Joanie Cunningham do the choreography we wanted to be Joanie. It’s a bit softer than the recording, with those stage musical harmonies, and a less aggressive rhythm section. Nonetheless, if I wasn’t already a rocker (and I was) that would have converted me. Also note, on the original recording, Suzi’s Elvis inspiration – “down on a-Devil Gate Derive”. Elvis was apparently a fan.

The Leather Tuscadero character was meant to progress to her own television show which would have been another spin-off from Happy Days; Laverne & Shirley was probably the most notable, though Mork & Mindy with later legend Robin Williams was also important.

 

But Suzi didn’t want to be pigeonholed. Success in America eluded her until Stumblin’ In, a duet with Chris Norman of Smokie in 1978. While few boogied or rocked as hard, Suzi is surprisingly effective in this lovely ballad. (So is Chris.) Fairly straightforward, though now and then, firelight will catch us stumblin’ in is notable less for its meaning than the gorgeous placement of the syllables on the melody. It was top 10 in America, rightly.

Back to boogieing. Two outstanding covers – The Wild One and All Shook Up show that Suzi knew her rock and roll. I love her defiant statement at the beginning of The Wild One, and All Shook Up was allegedly Elvis’s favourite cover.

The next one would fit quite nicely on Ziggy Stardust; Rock Hard has that Bowie vibe, but Suzi was a more committed rocker. We may as well take time here to acknowledge Suzi’s bands. Dave Neal on drums pounded out the intros like a man possessed – they were meant to get the audience going, and as far as I could tell, they did. Len Tuckey played guitar; Suzi and Len were married in 1976 and had two children before their divorce in 1992. Piano duties were filled by Mike Deacon and later Alastair McKenzie. Keith Hodge also played drums. Whatever the lineup, it was a crack unit.

 

As the years went on, she had fewer charting singles. She was involved in a musical about Tallulah Bankhead and played the lead in Annie Get Your Gun and did some television acting. However, she still continued to release records. The Girl From Detroit City is a great song. It was released on an 82-track retrospective collection in 2014 (which any Suzi fan should have) and tells Suzi’s story – how she “went out to conquer the world”. “Not bad for a girl,” she sings. Not bad for anyone really.

I’m finishing with a cover from Suzi’s 2005 album, Back To The Drive, Rockin’ In The Free World. Sure, Neil Young is great, but Suzi does an outstanding job. Ex-husband Len Tuckey is on guitar and some of that early 70s fire has returned. Not that much of the fire had left. But we are all of us a little mellower after 60, so I’m told. Some less mellow than others of course.

From her early rocking days in the 60s with sister Patti in the Pleasure Seekers, one of the few all-girl rock groups at the time, just think of all those women Suzi has influenced. Most prominently, perhaps, The Runaways – including Joan Jett and Lita Ford. The English band, Girlschool, looked up to Suzi and followed her example. The Go-Go’s and the Bangles are also in her debt. When we look at all those bass playing women – Tina Weymouth, Kim Gordon, Kim Deal… – and all those who followed, up to and including Esperanza Spalding and Tal Wilkenfeld. Suzi Quatro was there first, having kicked down those doors and smashed through the glass ceilings. She said she didn’t realise she was doing that – she just wanted what was on the other side – and the fact that she led a revolution doesn’t bother her. She’s glad she did.

Of course, as we mostly say in all of these posts, I’ve missed out on a large amount of Suzi’s career. But the Baroness of Boogie, the Queen of Rock, the Empress of Everything has too many achievements to compress into a Toppermost. So, start here – welcome to the dive – and once you’ve heard these, keep exploring. Then come back, and start again. Come on fellas (everyone, really), just one more time for Suzi.

 

 

 

Ian “Molly” Meldrum interviews Suzi Quatro (March 1981)

 

The Pleasure Seekers 1964-1969 … Suzi decamped to England in 1971, Patti Quatro joined Fanny as guitarist on their final album in 1974

 

Suzi Quatro poster 1

 

Official Website of Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro discography

Suzi Quatro Official Fan Club (Facebook)

Trailer for the “Suzi Q” 2019 documentary

Suzi Quatro biography (AllMusic)

David Lewis is Australia’s best jazz mandolinist, unless you can name someone else: then he’s Australia’s second-best. In any case, he’s almost certainly top 100. He is a regular contributor to Toppermost, and also plays guitar, banjo and bass professionally. More of his writing can be found at his rarely updated website. David is also the co-author of “Divided Opinions” and “Politics, Protest, Pandemic: The Year That Changed Australia”, both derived from an established podcast on Australian politics.

TopperPost #984

2 Comments

  1. Ilkka Jauramo
    Sep 17, 2021

    They say the opening line in a text is the most important – and the most difficult. It makes you read more or simply catch another book from the shelf. In this internet era the failure is just one click away. The opening line here is a masterpiece!
    As a classic educated person (says the man himself) I have always written Quatro with two t’s: Quattro. Now I learned the right way and the history behind the name.
    Mr Lewis pointed out that female musicians seldom play lead guitar or – like here – bass. So true, but is it something wrong? BTW There are and always has been a lot of female banjo players in the Appalachian Mountains.
    Suzi’s outfit and all … wow. Suzi in Finnish actually means ‘wolf’.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Sep 18, 2021

    Great Toppermost on an underrated artist. ‘Devil Gate’ remains such a great record. As an aside, it was through this piece that I discovered that Carol Kaye played on ‘La Bamba’ – but it was on rhythm guitar, not bass. Was also interested to discover that Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls had a brief stint as the drummer in Suzi’s band, Cradle.

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