Suzi’s still going hell for leather
RICHARD BATSON Legendary rocker Suzi Quatro drops into Norfolk this Wednesday as her new autobiography, Unzipped, takes a candid look at her life. She spoke to Richard Batson about a life lived hell for leather.
When it comes to rock chicks, Suzi Q is the mother hen who hatched the rest of the clutch.
For when she bounded onto the music scene in 1973 with a leather jumpsuit, low-slung bass guitar and rasping American voice screaming Can The Can it set the feathers flying.
Top of the Pops was more used to sweet songstresses such as Dana, Mary Hopkin and Lynsey De Paul.
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Suzi broke the mould with an edgy attitude and tomboy look that also oozed sex appeal.
It was an image inspired by a glimpse of Elvis Presley on TV in 1957 before her disgusted dad turned off the set to protect the tender five-year-old.
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It was an image that would bring her worldwide fame, with the sale of 50 million records, but which also later became a pupa-like straitjacket she needed to shed in order to spread her creative wings by doing other things too.
For while Suzi may appear to be a straightforward, archetypal rock and roller - living a two-dimensional three-chord existence - the truth is rather different the more her life is unzipped.
It reveals a woman who is rebellious, outspoken and driven to succeed, but who is also sensitive, creative, spiritual, sometimes lonely and insecure - a guilt-riddled Catholic girl agonising over trying to juggle the roles of rock star, mother and wife.
In the book, Suzi Q, the rocker girl with balls, is regularly interrupted and interrogated by the girl she started out as - little Susie from Detroit.
Now 57 and with more than 40 years of showbiz under her studded belt, she told the EDP: “I am both people. And they are both worthy. I am Susie now. But when I pull on the jumpsuit I turn into Suzi Q - my attitude and stance change.”
Amazingly Suzi's surname was not made up by a record producer - but by an immigration official who changed her Italian immigrant grandfather's name from Quattrocchi because it was too difficult to pronounce.
Her childhood was shaped by her band-playing father's zest for life, and her mother's emotion, and saw 14-year-old Suzi and her sisters form a band called the Pleasure Seekers after seeing the Beatles storm America.
Producer Mickie Most singled her out in 1971 for solo stardom in London - meaning the teenager had the double trauma of leaving her family behind, and jetting to the UK despite a fear of flying.
The dream did not happen immediately and saw 18 tough months when the money ran out and she had to steal food.
But when the right song was found - Can the Can - and the right leather image, her world took off into a dizzy cycle of gigging and recording, including other hits such as 48 Crash and Devil Gate Drive.
Suzi's book reveals the rock and roll antics of trashing rooms, along with drink and drugs excesses - though she firmly resisted the latter.
She rubbed shoulders with stars, turned down an invitation to go to Graceland after a phone call from her hero Elvis, and was told by the Prince of Wales at a Royal gala that she had the best legs since Tina Turner.
It lays bare how she fell in and out of love with guitarist Len Tuckey during a 20 year relationship, then fostered a new one with promoter Rainer Haas.
Professionally she became trapped in the Suzi Q image, and was more fulfilled when invited to act in 15 episodes of hit TV comedy show Happy Days despite being type-cast as Leather Tuscadero, the tough-talking sister of Fonzie's girlfriend.
A successful spell as Annie Oakley shed her Suzi image, as did a transformation into the star of the musical she wrote about movie star Tallulah Bankhead. Today she combines gigging with fronting rock programmes on Radio 2.
“My heart and soul are in rock and roll but I enjoy the other things at different levels,” she said.
Privately the book reveals lonely nights at home as her marriage falls apart, the guilt of being away from her mother dying from cancer, a traumatic abortion and a devastating miscarriage, problems with getting pregnant, followed by the joys of motherhood and the tussles with a teenage daughter who has Suzi's rebellious streak.
“Parts of the book were painful. I have been honest. I have made mistakes but learned from them. I have done my best, given pleasure to people, and learned to shake hands with, and accept, myself through doing the book,” said Suzi.
She is still recording, and gigging, and still has dreams - to be in a movie, maybe a remake of western comedy Cat Ballou, and to write a novel.
Looking at today's female musicians, she likes the attitude of KT Tunstall, rather than the angrier Avril Lavigne.
“I was never angry. My music was just the sheer joy of rock and roll.”
And the woman who was Playboy Playmate of the Month 1975 and Rear of the Year 1982 and has vowed to only give up when, in her own words “I go on stage, turn my back, shake my ass, and there is silence.”
t Suzi Quatro is at the Jarrold store in Norwich on Wednesday, August 15 at 6.30pm. Tickets, costing £3, are available from customer services on Floor Two; www.jarroldthestore.co.uk
t Unzipped, published by Hodder and Stoughton, is £18.99.