America wasn’t quite ready for Suzi Quatro.
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It was 1973. At one end of the spectrum, Carly Simon was releasing her “You’re So Vain” reflections on Warren Beatty, Marvin Gaye was topping the charts with his sexual healing of “Let’s Get It On,” and rock was a typical boys club that was getting coated by a glam- and disco-fused era. Then there was Suzi, a petite, bass-playing monster with her teenage “Can the Can” growl of Put your man in the can honey.
In Suzi Q, directed by Liam Firmager, Quatro’s life is unraveled from her Detroit upbringing singing alongside her sisters in a ’60s psyche-rock outfit, her eventual move to England, and her “Happy Days” break.
Back home in Essex, England, Quatro is ready to go—jogging. Once she’s done with this interview, she’ll be off running. She’s always been running. “Nothing is slowing down,” says Quatro. “I must’ve been about 8, and I remember I went for my physical and then I heard my mom talking to the doctor afterwards. I was eavesdropping, and he said to my mom, ‘Mrs. Quatro, whatever you do, do not give that girl vitamins.’”
That doctor managed to capture her true essence early on. “It kind of explains me in one sentence,” laughs Quatro. “I’ve always had that kind of energy level, and I don’t where it comes from. I play hard. Then, I need to sleep hard when I sleep. But when I’m awake, oh boy, I’m awake.”
Quatro, who just turned 70—celebrated with her two children (from first husband and early bandmate Len Tuckey) and separately with her husband, who lives in Hamburg, Germany—is working on a new album with her son, Richard, a follow up to 2019’s No Control, is piecing together the script for a feature film about her life, and just released a lyric book.
“It’s been a very creative time for me, which I’m happy about,” she says. “I don’t like to waste time.”
A documentary was always in the cards, and something Quatro has wanted to do for nearly 20 years. She first started working with The Runaways bassist Vicki Blue on a film nearly 18 years ago. Unfortunately, the remnants of the film remain in Blue’s vault since some of the people interviewed decided they didn’t like what they said and refused to sign the release. Then Liam Firmager came along in 2016. From the start, he told Quatro that he wasn’t a fan of her, which made him the perfect man for the job.
“He called me and said, ‘I would like to do a documentary about you. I want to tell you first off, I’m not a fan,’” says Quatro. “I went, ‘okay, this is an interesting icebreaker.’” She asked him why he wanted to do the film, and Firmager said he saw her on television and was fascinated.
“I thought this is the guy that I want to do my documentary,” says Quatro. “He would be objective. He won’t be up my backside agreeing with everything I said, and fight for his points. I wanted to do a real documentary— raw, honest, and even those cringe moments, and there’s plenty of cringe moments. If it’s real, it stays in the film, and I’ve stuck to that religiously.’
One cringe-worthy moment was an appearance on “The Russell Harty Show,” when the show’s host decided to smack Quatro’s derrière on camera. After being dubbed “rear of the year” in a UK magazine, Quatro’s initial reaction was to whack him, but since it was done in fun, she let it go for the sake of TV.
“If he had done that backstage, he would have been on the floor, but he picked his moment on camera,” says Quatro. “I have had no problems kneeing somebody in the balls. I even bashed a guy over the head with my bass. That’s my normal reaction. You’ll be singing soprano for the rest of your fucking life.”
That tough as nails personality drives the narrative of Quatro’s life, from growing up around the pulse of Motor City, one of four daughters, who she eventually performed with as The Pleasure Seekers in 1965. Suzi Q moves through Quatro’s personal struggles, including the resentment of breaking from the family band at 17 to pursue her own career in England and recording her debut, self-titled album with Chinnichap, the label made up of pop producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn—the former a longtime producer of Quatro’s albums—and her later work on Broadway and as an author.
Intricately weaved around Quatro’s personal and professional world, Suzi Q is an insightful mastered piece about a master musician who burst into rock before her time. Her influence is evident in the documentary as The Runaways’ Cherie Curie, Joan Jett, and Lita Ford, Alice Cooper, Deborah Harry, L7’s Donita Sparks, and even her “Happy Days” co-star Henry Winkler reminisce on Quatro’s legacy.
She is the rockstar that made Tina Weymouth (appearing in the film with husband, and fellow Talking Head, Chris Frantz) realize that yes, she could be in a band with men, then played the idol to Curie and the rest of The Runaways. Standing no more than 5-feet tall with a bass that looked bigger than her tiny frame, Quatro never fell into the male-female thing. She just wanted to be a musician.
“I do me,” says Quatro. “There’s a difference. I’m not a women’s Lib-er. I’m not a Me Too movement. I’m a Me-ist. I want to be what I want to be. My choice. My way. No compromise.”
Outspoken and unapologetic of her opinion, Quatro isn’t thrilled with the trend today where artists—particularly women—are half naked or overly sexualized. “Even though you’re deciding to dress this way, it doesn’t mean it was your choice,” says Quatro. “Look at your psyche, and look what you’re playing to. I’d like to see there be a little bit more decorum and fewer nearly soft porn videos. The reason I say is because this is not what I fought for. I fought to be taken serious as a musician, which is why I didn’t even wear makeup.”
When Quatro was hitting England’s “Top of the Pops,” she remembers being asking to put makeup on. Her brisk answer was no. “And I would stick to that,” she says. “I wear makeup, sometimes, but I don’t want to play that card. I want to play the musician card, and I have every right to do what I’m doing the same as you do. That’s why I don’t do gender.”
Gender was never in the deck, but Quatro admits to using her “feminine card” sparingly. “You know when you’re at a ball game and they’ve got that little penalty card on the back pocket to give the players a foul. Well, I keep my feminine card in my back pocket, and when somebody has fouled me, I pull it out and I use it,” she says. “There’s a line that you don’t cross with me. If you do it once, you don’t do it again.”
She sold millions of records and had hit songs internationally, yet never tapped the United States. Her big, American break came when she landed the role of Fonzie’s love interest on “Happy Days,” the bass wielding rock star Leather Tuscadero in 1977, a role that would last three seasons on the iconic show.
“America just was not quite ready for what I was doing,” says Quatro. “Every place else was crazy, but I did my tours in 74, 75, 76, and everybody knew me and I got a lot of airplay and I sold a lot of albums. I just didn’t have the hit singles, but people knew me when ‘Happy Days’ came in, so that was the game changer. However it worked in America, it was still Suzi Quatro breaking down the door, even if she was playing with Leather Tuscadero.”
Everyone has their path, believes Quatro, and hers was rock n’ roll. “Your path is your path,” she says. “I didn’t worry about it, because I was selling millions of records everywhere. Seriously, everything has a rhyme and a reason, and now America is rediscovering me.”
Working on No Control with her son Richard was eye-opening, because it was the first time that she wasn’t being produced by anyone. “I was producing it, and nobody was in charge, but me and my son, and what a feeling of freedom that nobody is gonna stop me,” says Quatro. “I just flew, and this album reflects the artistic freedom that I was feeling. My son, without knowing, pushed my Suzi Quatro buttons.”
The album and documentary opened a new chapter in her career. “I felt like I was being heard as the artist that I had become on this album,” shares Quatro. “And everybody’s knowing the story. They’re knowing the backlog. They’re seeing where I was, how I was, how I did what I did, and how difficult it was. I didn’t waltz in and become famous. That’s not how it happened.”
When thinking of regrets, Quatro says she wouldn’t change anything. “I don’t do regrets,” she says, yet reflects on the rawness of sacrificing time with her family, and seeking validation from her siblings. “I can only be who I am,” says Quatro. “I am one of those people that’s always going, going. That’s just my nature, but you know, you do leave a chunk of you behind. I was in such a hurry to do what I was going to do that you leave a part of you. Whenever I go back to Detroit it brings it all up again, I don’t think I could have changed the way I was.”
Right now, Quatro feels more in control of her destiny. She’s always writing and is a true artiste, a poet. In the film, scenes transition as Quatro reads excerpts of her own poetry.
“I am very lyric-minded,” she says. “Everything happening in my life, comes into me, and everybody says the same thing, ‘you speak poetically.’ I do speak poetically and I don’t know why. It’s just me.”
She adds, “I just can’t seem to stop. Whatever happens to me. I either put in a poem or a song.”
At times speaking in third person, Quatro says she has evolved beyond her early days of figuring out who Suzi Quatro was. “I think in the earlier days when Suzi Quatro just started to happen, you’re conscious of what that person is, so you tend to go a little bit towards that look or that feel of that sound,” she shares. “Now I just write. No Control is a perfect example of that. Sometimes I go to piano, because that’s my orchestra. I’m not a good guitar player. I’m a bass player, so when I want to write to something a little bit more simple and hard edge, I play the guitar.”
For more than 56 years, Quatro says she has been on the road. Today, Quatro is using her time wisely. She’s already written 14 tracks for the next album, and released an illustrated lyric book, “Through My Words,” a take on her 2014 book of poetry “Through My Eyes,” and she’s putting the finishing touches on a movie script. (Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus, and Melissa Roxburg are some names being tossed around to potentially play Quatro.)
“I can’t tell you what it is, but I know that I have a certain vibe,” says Quatro. “You can’t act this vibe. So whenever I meet the person who they want to play me, if I feel that vibe, yes. If I don’t know, I don’t care if you’re the best actress in the world, you can’t fake what this is.”
Of the documentary, Quatro is most proud. It’s something she has wanted to do for years. “It’s just unbelievable,” she says. “I’m so glad I did it and I’m here, and I’m so glad I made it real.”
Now, it’s time for the next Suzi Quatro chapter. And she’s ready.
“I’m ready,” says Quatro. “My bass is in tune, and I’m fit, so let’s go.”