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From Detroit To Devil Gate | Suzi Q Lives!

24 August 2019

“I think like a man but have the emotions of a woman, and that’s really dangerous.” Suzi Quatro

In September this year a music-related documentary will get a worldwide release, one which is long overdue. Suzie Q is the work of Melbourne-based Director Liam Firmager, and Producer Tait Brady who has spent the past 5 years completing this film which looks into the career of seventies rocker Suzi Quatro. The documentary features insights, in addition to Suzi herself, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry, Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Joan Jett and Cherie Currie (The Runaways), KT Tunstall and numerous members of the very musical Quatro family. 

Suzi Quatro, quite simply, was the first female rock star to break into the mainstream, beautiful, sassy and wild all in one. Every young guys fantasy and fear, influencing generations with not just her music but her attitude. Central to the story is Detroit, the Mecca in the late sixties which brought forth the explosive sound of proto-punk, home to countless garage bands. Artists such as MC5, Iggy Pop and The Stooges along with Rare Earth blazed a scene of noise which resonates still today. Detroit was also the birthplace of Susan Kay Quatro. Thousands of miles away from the European music scene which she erupted onto in 1972. Arriving just as glam rock was in its ascendance, and the straightforward rock sound was in the charts. The leather clad, rebellious, musical banshee carried a precision bass almost as big as she was. Still, Quatro managed to rack up a string of hits in the UK and across Europe, sealing her credibility as a female, rebellious rock star.

Suffering the same faith as countless from the era, ignored in the States, her home country, and like so many others the dawn of punk halted her appeal. Nevertheless, Suzi Quatro paved the way for female musicians to be taken seriously in the rock industry, forging a screaming path along the way for all from The Runaways, The Go-Gos to the Bangles. Quatro’s exposure to music started at the tender age of eight, playing drums in her fathers band, The Art Quatro Trio. But it was with the band Cradle where she was talent scouted by UK producer and manager Mickie Most.

The void Janis Joplins death had left in 1970, where a new heroic female voice was needed, brought Quatro attention already from Elektra Records who were already knocking on her door. But the credibility Most had along with the contacts, meant a plane trip to the UK was the best option for the twenty-one-year-old Suzi Quatro. Her first major exposure to the European music scene was a 1972 tour in support of Thin Lizzy and Slade, this was the reputation building. The bass playing, biker chick, with the high-pitched shrill voice was immediately accepted into the arena of seventies rock, the magnetism was undeniable.

Quatro signed to the RAK label, Most’s own company and released a lukewarm first single, “Rolling Stone”. It failed to chart everywhere except Portugal, where amazingly  it reached number one. The first album simply titled Suzi Quatro was released in October 1973 only managed a number thirty-two spot on the album charts. This followed on from her second single “Can The Can” released in June of that year, her first number one in the UK, along with hitting the same height in Germany, Switzerland, and Australia.

The third single “48 Crash” again a number one in Australia only managed to  break the top-ten across Europe. The establishment of the Suzi Quatro brand had begun. Her second album Quatro, released a year after her debut was met with a mixed critical reception, regardless of critics it climbed to number one again in Australia. From this album came her final UK number one “Devil Gate Drive”, though managing top-ten in most parts of Europe. Unfortunately, like so many others of the day the momentum Quatro had was not relaying back through her album sales, and so a decline slowly started.

Her third album, Your Momma Won’t Like Me, released in May 1975, made little impact on the charts. The aura of appeal was drifting and the constant criticism of the vocal being too high to make sense was a major factor. As no maturing, or mellowing was happening, a change in direction was needed to a more relaxed sound, but this was another two years away with the release in December 1977 of the album, If You Knew Suzi... A more gentle approach to the vocals, which yielded Quatro her highest charting album in the US, reaching number 37. Helped by the single release, “Stumblin’ In”, a duet with Chris Norman of Smokie reached a high number-four on the US charts.

Not the end of Suzi Quatro by any means, her glam rock exposure did not transfer across the Atlantic to the States, but the top-five US hit did open a door to acting. Suzi reinvented herself and appeared in the sitcom Happy Days for two years between 1977-1979, playing an almost biographical role under the name Leather Tuscadero. This relayed the singer into the homes of the country she could not break during her musical career peak, and in turn exposing them to the singer as a  brand if not her style. 

Realistically, concerning units shifted, Suzi Quatro has sold over 50 million albums worldwide, putting her well ahead of the most bands of her original era. When every other star of the time preferred to dress flamboyantly, almost as to appear alien-like, her style was carved from Marlon Brando in the Wild One mixed with the raw intensity of Elvis Presley. And since 2006 she has begun releasing albums again, starting with Back To The Drive and this years No Control. The latter a return to form as Suzi channels her bombastic brand of rock and roll into the twenty-first century. 

Suzi Quatro is not just another glam rock force that went out of style as punk dawned, she was the scream of a revolution, one that continues right up to this very day. The fact that Suzie Q, the documentary is released now is a testament to her longevity, and is so needed to inspire future generations with her fearless attitude. What it will do however is separate the ethereal rock star and the person behind the bass. Looking into the life of a woman who grew up surrounded by music, who has seen highs with lows, whilst refusing to quit and fade away into obscurity…long live Suzi Quatro.