A pioneering female rocker, Suzi Quatro takes the spotlight in this documentary profile.
When Suzi Quatro became a star, in the early 1970s, it wasn’t at all usual to see a rock band fronted by a woman who wasn’t only a singer but also a musician in that band. And picture this: she has always insisted on playing a full-size bass, despite her small stature, five feet nothing. And there was her look, too: neck to ankles in a leather catsuit. It’s fair to say that she had an impact, both on the audience watching her (I was one). Many of the girls watching were influenced by her and later started playing rock music themselves. Some of them are interviewed in this documentary.
There were precedents, of course, and despite Germaine Greer in a clip from 1971 dismissing most of the all-female bands of the time, Liam Firmager’s film does point out a few, starting with the singer/guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who has some claim to be an inventor of rock and roll in the 1950s. In the 1960s there were The Liverbirds, part of Liverpool’s beat boom, and the Americans Goldie and the Gingerbreads, who were the first all-woman band to be signed to a major label. Early in the next decade there was Fanny, led by sisters June and Jean Millington and which at one point also included Suzi Quatro’s sister Patti. It’s also worth mentioning – as this film doesn’t – Carol Kaye, part of the Los Angeles based group of session musicians called The Wrecking Crew, and one of the most-often recorded bassists ever. But in terms of commercial success, Suzi Quatro was something new.
Susan Kay Quatro was born in 1950 in Detroit, one of four daughters. Her sisters Arlene and Patti had formed a band called The Pleasure Seekers and Suzi joined them, singing and playing bass, a Fender Precision her father had given her when she was fourteen. Their brother Michael did their publicity. The Pleasure Seekers released two singles before changing their name to Cradle, with Arlene Quatro leaving to have a baby and their other sister Nancy joining. However, while in the USA British record producer and label manager Mickie Most saw them, and he was quite clear who he wanted to work with, and that was their singer and bassist. It’s evident that that caused some resentment among the sisters.
Suzi Quatro moved to London and was signed to Most’s record label RAK. He teamed her with the prolific songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. (Chapman is interviewed here, Chinn not.) Her first single, “Rolling Stone”, strangely reached number one in Portugal but didn’t trouble the charts anywhere else. She also formed a band, her guitarist being Len Tuckey, with whom she began a relationship and later married.
Her next single, “Can the Can”, written by Chinn and Chapman, was released in June 1973 and reached number one in the UK. By now, glam rock was at its height and Quatro caught that strong wind and went with it, along with T Rex, Slade (with whom she had toured as a support act the year before), Sweet, Gary Glitter and others. She had two UK number ones that year and the next, the second being “Devil Gate Drive”. After that, chart placings became more intermittent as the glam rock trend faded, with “The Wild One” in 1974 and “If You Can’t Give Me Love” in 1978 being her last two singles in the UK top ten. In the US, her duet with Smokie’s vocalist Chris Norman, “Stumblin’ In”, reached number four in 1978. This is an Australian-made documentary, and she had a greater and longer commercial success in that country than in either her native one or her adopted one. The film’s origins shows in some of the interviewees and in the archive footage shown, so we get clips from Countdown as well as Top of the Pops. That said, most of her appearances at her peak on the latter show have been wiped, but we do get to see parts of two surviving performances.
As the hits dried up, Quatro moved into acting and is probably best known in the US not for her music but her role as Leather Tuscadero in two seasons of Happy Days. Further acting roles included the lead in Annie Get Your Gun on stage A later stage role was as Tallulah Bankhead in the play Tallulah Who? which she co-wrote. She and Tuckey had two children, but their marriage ended in 1992. Quatro continues to perform to this day.
Suzi Q is a straightforward run through this story from Quatro’s birth to the present day, made up of archive film and television footage, and interviews with the woman herself as well as friends, family members and fellow musicians – not all of them female – attesting to her impact and influence. Mickie Most died in 2003, but his widow Chris appears. As such, it’s certainly one for fans, especially those who remember her from first time round. The film’s tagline is “Trailblazer, Inspiration, Survivor” and that’s about right. It’s a film which does its job well enough, but not much more than that, though for many that will be enough.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum