Still giving people what they want Suzi Quatro rocks into Norfolk
- Credit: Tina K
The trailblazing star who has enjoyed a varied career taking in actress, poet and recently novelist, but on her to the Holt Festival she will be bringing rock 'n' roll in her trademark leather suit.
'I didn't know it was going to be sexy, is that naive or what!' laughs Suzi Quatro, reminiscing about how she came to adopt her trademark leather rock chick image. 'It was only when we got the pictures back that I realised 'oh yeah'.'
'I'd always been a huge Elvis fan from the age of six. Then I saw him on his Comeback Special in 1968 and decided leather was my thing. So when it came time to get an image for my first photo session, despite usually being a blue jean and T-shirt girl, I said I want to wear leather. I just thought it would be cute, and wouldn't need ironing. It never occurred to me it was sexy.'
That was in 1971 shortly after a 21-year-old Suzi decided to leave home in Detroit and come to the UK at the suggestion of Mickie Most, the legendary English record producer, who enjoyed a string of hit singles with acts such as the Animals, Herman's Hermits, Donovan and Lulu.
He had spotted her playing with an all girl group and immediately recognised he had a potential star on his hands.
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From a musical family, four girls and one boy, young Suzi had started playing at the age of six, playing bongos in her father's jazz band, the Art Quatro Trio,
'All of us five kids play various instruments but taught and self taught. I can read and write piano and percussion, self taught on bass, and yes, my father gave me my very first bass guitar back in 1964 when we started our all girl band.
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'At the age of 14, I started an all-girl band with my older sister Patti called The Pleasure Seekers. We changed our name to Cradle, got more serious and started to write our own songs.'
The decision to cross the Atlantic proved pivotal but her life could easily have taken a different path as the same week she was spotted by Mickie Most she was also offered a solo contract with Elektra Records.
'Jac Holzman, the label boss, wanted to take me to New York form a band around me and turn me into the next Janis Joplin,' she recalls. 'I chose to come over to England because Mickie said I want to make you into the first Suzi Quatro.'
It proved to be a wise choice. Can The Can stormed to number one in 1973, glam rock was at its height, and male groups were donning sequins and eyeliner. With her low-slung bass, leather jumpsuit, and minimum of make-up, Suzi stood out from the crowd. Between 1973 and 1980 she featured on the British charts for 101 weeks, selling over 55 million records.
'It was an exciting time,' she says. 'But you know I'd trained for it for nine years and before that even under my dad's influence about how it was a job and to always do it professionally. I've always had that attitude, so I wasn't overawed by the fame whatsoever. I just wanted to be the best I could and make sure I delivered the goods. I'm still like that now.'
Delivering the goods will be what she will be doing when she appears at the Holt Festival in Norfolk later this month, fresh from touring Australia with her 'Leather Forever Encore Tour'.
'I travel with a seven piece band and we do a combination of my hits and some favourite album tracks,' she says of what to expect. 'But I'm a big stickler for giving people what they want.'
She is looking forward to adding Holt's intimate Theatre in the Woods to places she has played. She names Berlin's Waldbühne as a favourite venue — 'a huge outdoor venue with 22,000 people and playing there was fantastic' — though she less keen on cruise ship tours. 'I'm not sure if I like them mainly because I haven't got sea legs. I'm one of those people who gets seasick in the harbour.'
Suzi has been cited a trailblazer by other female rock musicians including Joan Jett and KT Tunstall. 'Nobody had done it. Sure there were many female musicians, but rock 'n' roll with bass guitar by a woman hadn't been done,' she says. 'Yes it was male dominated. I didn't realise I was doing anything unusual, I always considered myself to be simply a 'musician'.
'Gender did not come into it. I grew up in a family of four girls and one boy and my father was a musician and we never did gender. Only later on when I kept getting asked the question did I see it as trailblazing. I did kick the door down and it did give female rockers 'permission' to be in the industry as something other than groupies and for that I am very proud.'
For all her success music has always only ever been one string to her bow. Living in a moated Elizabethan manor house deep in the heart of Essex, she has enjoyed varied career has also taken in acting in everything from Happy Days to Minder and Midsomer Murders. She has presented a long-running show on Radio 2 and was recently also awarded Doctor of Music at Anglia Ruskin University.
A decade ago she published her self-penned autobiography, Unzipped, and this has led to another creative avenue as a writer. She has published a collection of poetry, Through My Eyes, and recently a novel The Hurricane, the tale of a female rocker Alison Heart.
Its premise sounds familiar? 'Though it seems to be based on my life it does deviate quite a lot,' she is quick to point out. 'I'd always wanted to write a novel. My good friend Jackie Collins read my autobiography and said I could write. I told her I'd always to write a novel and she said I should, but start with what you know. So I started with this rock chick, Alison Heart.
'I had writer's block because I took Jackie's advice too much and I had modelled the character after my own family, with five kids, and that hemmed me in. But when I went back and deleted the family, made her an only child, and it just flew. All good writers use a bit of themselves, of course, even though it is fiction. You build on the dramatic bits.'
Her love of poetry goes back to the age of seven. 'I'm a big lover of the written word, Dylan being my absolute hero. I've always written and kept it knowing that one day I would publish a book of poetry and now was the right time. I'm still writing poems and there will probably be a book two.'
With more projects on the horizon, she adds: 'People often say to me 'you've had such a varied career', but I don't call it varied. To me it is about using everything that interests me and being an artist. Although rock 'n' roll was my touchstone I was never just going to do that. I don't like to be in a box. I don't mind a leather jumpsuit but don't put me in a box!'
• Suzi Quarto will play at the Theatre in the Woods as part of the Holt Festival in Norfolk on July 29. Festival details at www.holtfestival.org• The Best of Suzi Quatro: Legend is out on September 22