Suzi Quatro

SUZI QUATRO

INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY BOB GRUEN

 

Working hard for what one wants. A professional, a showman, or should I say woman… Never allowing no for an answer. Making it happen, and letting it be known… Suzi Quatro is what hard work is…The payoff, you know the answer… One of the Queens of Rock n’ Roll…With that said, not much more is necessary… except… Thanks to the powers from above… Thank You Very Much!!! – OLSON

“THERE ARE A LOT OF TALENTED PEOPLE OUT THERE. I DO BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN DO IT WITH HARD WORK, BUT IT TAKES THREE THINGS. YOU HAVE TO BE TALENTED. YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE BREAKS AND YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE PERSEVERANCE TO SUSTAIN YOUR SUCCESS.”

Hey, Suzi. This is Steve. How are you?
I’m doing fine, thank you.

Where did you come from?
I was born in Detroit. I’m half Italian and half Hungarian. The name is real. That was my father’s name and my mother is Hungarian. I come from a musical family.

Did all of your family play musical instruments?
Yeah. My father played many instruments and all of his five kids played many instruments. It’s not an unusual thing in my family.

How did you pick bass?
When we started our all girl band, everybody chose an instrument. Nobody chose the bass, so it was sort of given to me. I got a ‘57 Precision from my dad, and put it on, and never looked back.

What kind of amplification were you using then?
It was the original Fender Bassman amp that went along with the actual amp. You know the beige amp with the tweed cover. I had the Rolls Royce of basses given to me, so I think it was destined that I was going to be a bass player.

When you started playing bass, did it just come to you naturally?
Yeah. I played bongo drums first, and then I went to classical piano and then popular piano. I’m a very percussive person. I played drums in school as well in the orchestra. Everyone says playing bass and singing is supposed to be difficult, but I never thought a second about it. It just came natural. Maybe that’s because I played two-handed instruments all the time.

Did you learn to read music through piano?
Oh, yeah. I read and write piano and drums.

You’re a real musician.
I’m a real musician, but I’m self-taught on the bass.

Do you think it helped knowing all of the keys and notes to transfer to a string instrument like the bass?
I would recommend to any musician to learn the piano. It teaches you the basics. You get your chords, your scales, and your intonations. You get your orchestra with the piano. Anything else that you play after that is much easier. I would definitely recommend that instrument. I get more joy out of my piano out of anything else. I still love playing piano.

Now how did you get into the whole rock n’ roll scene? When I hear “48 Crash” and “Glycerin Queen”, there’s a lot of early rock n’ roll with a more suped up powerful approach.
Well, the big thing right now is my Elvis tribute. I just released on download an Elvis tribute single. It’s called “Singing with Angels”. It’s released on download all around the world in honor of his 75th birthday. I made that record in Nashville with The Jordanaires on backing vocals. I don’t have to tell you who they are, and James Burton on guitar. We’re talking serious pedigree here.

James Burton is an amazing guitar player.
He’s the best. I’ve had the song for a couple of years, but I waited to release it. I wanted to find the right moment. I got asked by my radio show, Radio 2, which is my BBC radio show that I’ve done for 11 years now. They asked me to do a very special personal documentary on Elvis, which I did. It was a big two-hour special show. I thought that would be a great time to release it, which I’ve now done. The reason that I wrote the song was because at the age of six, I saw him on TV on The Ed Sullivan Show doing “Don’t Be Cruel.” I decided at the age of six that I was going to be Elvis Presley.

[Laughs] I love that.
He was amazing.

Absolutely. What drew you to Elvis so much?
Well, I came from a big family, and one of my eldest sisters was watching with me, and she was just screaming. I was looking at her like, “Why are you screaming?” I was looking at the screen and he did that move and that was it. It didn’t even occur to me that he was a guy. I was just like, “I’m going to be him.” My dad came in and switched off the TV set, but I was hooked from that point on. All the way through my life, there is coincidence after coincidence tying me to Elvis. He’s been on my shoulder all the way through my career. I started the band at age 14, after watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. We were doing the covers and doing what we do. I was looking for an image and trying to find out who I am, and then Elvis does the ‘68 Comeback Special. That’s when I decided that I was going to wear leather. Again, he was a big influence. In 1970, Mickie Most came over from Detroit and saw the band. For the first time ever, I was taking a little bit of a backseat in the band, because we had brought in one of my younger sisters. I wasn’t singing lead, at that point, but I got up and did “Jailhouse Rock”. That got me a solo recording contract. So there you go, another Elvis coincidence. Then I made my first album and I covered “All Shook Up”. In 1974, I was on tour in America with my English band, and I’d had a few hits by this point. Elvis called me when I was in Memphis and asked me to come to Graceland, because he had heard my version of “All Shook Up” and I said, “No.” I wasn’t ready to meet him yet. I’d only had a few hits and I didn’t feel worthy yet. I thought I’d do it another time. Then I was in Tokyo on tour in Japan and they called me to come and audition for Happy Days, which I did. I met everybody and then went back to the hotel to wait for the phone call to see if I was successful or not. The phone rings, and I got the part for 15 episodes. In that same instant, the TV said, “The King is dead.” This goes on and on. When I came back to film the show, I found out my clothes would be made by Nudie, who was Elvis’ personal tailor. Finally, about three years ago, I broke my arm, six weeks before a sold out Australian tour. I’m a bass player, so I didn’t know what I was going to do. My husband said, “You can’t cancel because they’ve put in a lot of work and the tickets are gone, so you have to take a bass player.” So for the first time in my life, I hired a bass player so I could do this tour. Like my daughter put it, “It’s like Jerry Lee Lewis without his piano.”

How was that?
[Laughs] Well, I decided to do a little something different and special in the show. I did a little 20-minute unplugged thing right in the middle of it and talked about my life. Of course, I would have to talk about Elvis, but I didn’t have a song that was suitable, so I decided that I would write a song. I had the title “Singing With Angels” immediately. I brought down the Elvis box set because I decided to use song titles from his career. I was looking for rhymes and writing the song and it was coming out quite easily. When I got finished, I realized that, without even trying, the lyrics were in chronological order of his life. I don’t know how it happened. That’s my Elvis thing. I’ve had him on my shoulder my whole life.

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