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Interview: SUZI QUATRO

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The indisputable Queen of Rock, Suzi Quatro, is back in Australia for yet another tour. We’ve seen her here on a regular basis since the early 70’s when she blasted to the top of the Australian charts with hits like ‘Can The Can’ and ‘Devil Gate Drive’. So, exactly how many times has she toured this country, anyway? Even Suzi herself is unsure. “I don’t know.” she told me when I asked the question in our recent interview. “Everyone keeps telling me 23 and I think that’s the minimum number!”

That’s a lot of tours and a lot of years in the business. Music has seen many changes since 1974 and the digital revolution has had a substantial impact on the industry. What effect, if any, have these changes had on Suzi’s music? “Well, each era of music carries its own particular sound with it. That goes without saying, you know, and the very early 70’s… that whole era. Of course, you progress with how the equipment progresses but, basically, I’ve always been a rock act and it doesn’t matter what the technology is doing, I always sound like a rock act because that’s what I am.”

Suzi Quatro is definitely, first and foremost, a rock act but her talents have not been confined strictly to music, as she explains. “I’ve always done a little bit of everything. I never wanted to do just one thing in this business. I mean rock and roll is my bread and butter. I live and breathe it, obviously, but I also loved acting. I’ve been able to do plenty of that. I did ‘Happy Days’, I did, oh God… I have to think of everything now… ‘Minder’, The West End, I’ve done ‘Dempsey and Makepeace’, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, ‘Midsomer Murders’, I’ve had my own radio show on Radio 2 on  BBC . I’ve written my autobiography. I have my own talk show.  Basically, I’m an artist but I’m an entertainer. I’m an entertainer, communicator.”

At one stage, she even co-wrote a musical. “I did. All about Tallulah Bankhead.” The singer responds enthusiastically. Is that something she would consider doing again? “It is something I would do again. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved writing the musical. I loved playing the role. I was able to put all my piano training into play which was great. Absolutely! For sure!”

Suzi counts Elvis Presley as her No.1. musical influence. “Otis Redding was a big influence. Everything of Motown for my bass playing – I took all my style from there. Billie Holiday for my phrasing. Classical music played a big part too. I mean, I was raised on it so when you hear some of the songs I write, you know, I write on piano. Everything had an influence.  I’ve heard music since I can remember.”

The singer’s admiration for Presley is obvious. In 2005, she recorded a tribute to Elvis, ‘Singing With Angels’.  “It’s out now, finally, just for the tour though. It will probably be released properly on my next album that I’m doing with Mike Chapman (who, as Suzi points out, was born and raised in Brisbane.) We’re doing a new album together but I’ve been doing it in this country for a couple of years now and, (due to) public demand, we’ve just done a limited edition just available at the gigs for the Australian fans. And that is my tribute to Elvis. It was done with James Burton (who played guitar in Elvis’ band from 1969 – 1977) on guitar and The Jordanaires (Elvis’ backup singers) singing backup.”

Recording the song with such legendary members of the music industry is obviously a highlight in Suzi’s career. Are there any others that spring to mind? “Too many to mention!” she laughs, “I guess your first No. 1 is always a big one. Oh God! I can’t even think. Everything along the way has been a highlight, to tell you the truth.”

Over the years, Suzi has had many hits and recorded many memorable songs. With such a wealth of great material to choose from for her live shows, I asked if she had a personal favourite to perform on stage?  “Well, ‘Devil Gate Drive’ is one of those special ones that captured a party atmosphere and there’s only very few of those records, you know. I call it a guaranteed ‘crowd getter upper’ or, if you’re at a party, nobody’s dancing, there’s a few of those records, you put them on, and everybody’s gonna get up – it’s one of those.  And ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, I really like a lot because it was so different and I think that was probably Chinn and Chapman’s best song that they ever wrote. It’s a beautiful song..  beautiful lyrics… beautiful.”

Speaking of beautiful songs, I mentioned one of my personal favourites from several years ago, a lesser known track, ‘Free The Butterfly’.  Suzi agreed. “Oh, I love that. In fact, on that album, ‘Back To The Drive’, that’s some of my finest writing because it was 15 years in the making. It was all about my life, basically. Every song had a reason it was written so you got my heart and soul on that album. I could never do that again. I could never write those songs again.” she explains and, with refreshing honesty, adds “That was written for my ex husband. That was me trying to tell him that we were going to get divorced.”

‘Free The Butterfly’ was also the name of a self-help CD that Suzi recorded with her friend, Shirlie Roden.  “She’s a sound healer and she asked me to do some workshops with her, which I did, and it was quite an interesting experience.”   I asked if she felt that this particular exercise had been helpful to her in her life. “Oh I do. Definitely.”  she assured me. “I think that, whenever you do something like that, you realize that most people really have the same kind of problems. It doesn’t make any difference.”

Life on the road can be very hectic. Is there ever time to just relax and take in the scenery along the way?  “Well, I’ve been travelling the world for a lot of years now and I’ve had a lot of time to see everywhere. You don’t get a lot of time on the road, no. And, anyway, I live like a nun when I’m on the road because I’m always watching my voice and getting my sleep but  I do get around and I do see places. I’ve seen most of Australia now. A day off for me is having a nice, leisurely dinner and a nice glass of wine and then going to sleep.”

Iimagine there must be a few funny stories about some embarrassing moments on the road. I was keen to hear one from the Queen of Rock. “Oh God, there’s millions!” the singer paused to think for a moment before choosing one to share with us. “OK, there was one when I was… it was in Finland and it was at the end of the show when I was doing my big… I call it my ‘star’ ending, you know, waving, taking 3,000 bows, being the big diva going off the stage, which makes it even funnier. So, I’m waving, waving … the kids are going nuts, I’m just about to exit the stage and I fell over the monitor. So, as I’m doing the big ‘star’ bit, I was upside down with my head in the monitor, feet up in the air, bass guitar still strapped on and it was – I’ve never seen my band laugh so hard. For weeks afterwards, they laughed. Nobody helped me because nobody could move, they were laughing too hard!  And they all called it my great ‘Finnish’!” she laughs. “It was very funny actually.”

With all the time the singer has spent in Australia over the years, I wondered if she had any favourite Aussie songs.  “I used to always like that ‘Jump in my car, I wanna take you home’.” She sings the line from the TMG hit from the mid 70’s, adding a few riffs for good measure. “I knew him too. (Ted Mulry) Very nice guy.”  We shared our mutual respect for the late Ted Mulry and Suzi continued. “I took that song back to England for Mickie Most to hear it and he recorded it with Chris Spedding.”

Are there any projects in the pipeline? What is next for Suzi Quatro? “I’m making a new album with Mike Chapman which is very exciting. He’s taking me back to basics. He’s made me give him control. I’m not allowed to say anything so I’ve allowed him to shut me up. I trust him,”  she declares confidently. “He told me he knows what he wants to do and so I’m going to let him do it.”

 by: Sharyn Hamey


 Copyright © 2009 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved

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