‘Energy,” says Suzi Quatro, ”is something I’ve always had almost too much of. When I was a kid they told my mother, ‘Don’t give her vitamins.’ I’m not hyper, but I’m just this side of it.”
In Australia for ”anywhere between the 25th and 27th time” since first touring in 1974, Quatro is doing 21 shows this time around, and clearly has no intention of slowing down just yet. ”I can’t exist without playing live,” she says.
Still, she’s 61. At some point, surely, she’ll decide to hang up the leather jumpsuit, the denim jacket and the bass guitar and call time on a career that, she says proudly and a little shockingly, will turn 50 in 2014. ”I don’t know what’s going to happen when I don’t play any more,” she says. ”I dread that.”
Quatro’s Wikipedia entry describes the string of mid-’70s hits that made her famous as ”a hybrid of glam rock and bubblegum pop”. The description is not entirely inaccurate – her writer-producers, Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, not only penned Can The Can,48 Crash and Devil Gate Drive, they were responsible for taking Sweet and later Racey to the top of the charts, too – but it does her a massive disservice. For Quatro was not just the archetypal rock chick, she was the prototype.
When she first started playing in her home town of Detroit in 1964, she had no role models to inspire her. ”There was no blueprint before me,” she says. ”But I didn’t do it to be a trailblazer, I did it because I was being myself. I didn’t look at gender, it didn’t come into my brain.
”I put on the bass, it felt natural; I screamed, it felt natural; I put one leg here, one leg there, it felt natural. It was obviously stamped on my head from birth that this was what I was going to do, but it was never calculated.”
She was 14 when she started playing, and she says she’s never had another job. It’s not just habit that keeps her going, though; she’s just released a new Chapman-produced album, In The Spotlight, and feels like she’s got some sort of mojo back. ”It’s getting rave reviews,” she says proudly (Quatro doesn’t do false modesty). ”I’ve gone back to the beginning. If I were making my first album again today, this is what it would sound like. It’s a rebirth.”
A slightly messy one, it must be said. Half an hour after we talk, Quatro takes to the stage at the Gershwin Room as a special guest on RocKwiz, and plays one of the songs from the album, a cover of Goldfrapp’s Strict Machine. It’s a bass-heavy number that turns the disco beat of the original into a glam rock thump reminiscent of (and with a small nod to) Can The Can. The crowd goes predictably and genuinely wild.
So, too, does Quatro. Typically, it takes about 50 minutes to shoot an episode ofRocKwiz; this one rolls on for close to 90. She’s jetlagged, and struggles to get her answers together, but she’s hyper-competitive regardless. No matter how many reminders host Julia Zemiro drops about there being nothing at stake, Quatro is in there with an answer. And when she hasn’t got an answer, she’s got an anecdote – about Elvis, about acting (most famously as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days), about her father punching Chuck Berry‘s lights out. And when she hasn’t got an anecdote, she’s got a blue joke.
In the liner notes to her new album, Quatro signs off with ”In the spotlight (you betcha, just try to get me out)”. The title track (written by Chapman) features the lines: ”But lovin’ you/Has put me in the spotlight too/And in your spotlight/I don’t know what to do.” You get the feeling that in the Quatro household, there’s only room for one star.
She’s been married twice – first to Len Tuckey, the former guitarist in her band, and for the past 18 years to German promoter Rainer Haas. With Tuckey, she had two children (now in their late 20s, they are both musicians, as is her 10-year-old granddaughter). The 24/7 arrangement with Tuckey, she says, ”destroyed us in the end”.
Now, she and her husband live in separate countries – he’s in Germany, she’s in England. ”I went from one extreme to the other,” she adds. ”Ask me which I prefer.”
OK, Suzi, which do you prefer? ”The one now. But maybe before I wouldn’t have had the security to live like that. I’m much more sure of myself now.”