Long before the phrase ‘girl power’ was coined, there was Suzi Quatro.
With her trademark black leather jumpsuit, shag haircut and a bass guitar that was almost as tall her, she stomped her way through the male-dominated decade of 1970s rock music, kicking down the door for the likes of Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde and Melissa Etheridge to follow – all of whom cite Quatro as a major influence.
Despite living in England for over 40 years – moving here from her native Detroit in 1971 – Quatro’s UK shows are few and far between, the last notable date being a headline slot at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2010.
Nevertheless, this October sees her headlining a nationwide arena tour, which will be calling at Leeds’ First Direct Arena on Sunday October 15.
The Legends Live tour will see Suzi Q headline a bill that also includes ‘70s heartthrob David Essex, as well as The Osmonds and Hot Chocolate. “It’s a nice package”, says Quatro in her strong Michigan accent. “It’s got people from the same era, so we’re all connected in a way; I was on the same label as Hot Chocolate in the ‘70s and I’ve known David Essex since forever. Plus, I’m headlining, so that’s the main thing.”, she laughs. “I like to headline, but when you’re doing this kind of tour you have to be respectful of everybody having their time. It will be a hit programme, and I intend to give the audience what they want; I’m very old fashioned that way.”
Quatro left school at 14 to go on the road with her first band, The Pleasure Seekers. She came to England at the invitation of Mickie Most, who offered her a solo contract. Her first worldwide hit in 1973 was Can the Can, which went on to sell over two-million copies. The next seven years saw her score a string of big-hitters including 48 Crash, The Wild One, If You Can’t Give Me Love and the party anthem, Devil Gate Drive. It is this No. 1 single that Quatro still calls her favourite: “I think Devil Gate Drive always has a special spot for me, because it’s one of those magical party songs and the reaction is always fantastic.”
I think Devil Gate Drive always has a special spot for me, because it’s one of those magical party songs and the reaction is always fantastic.Suzi Quatro
Ironically, I happen to be speaking to rock’s first lady on International Women’s Day. Although Quatro paved the way for women’s liberation in the world of rock music, she explains that women should feel liberated to do anything: “I’m a believer in being who you are – I’m not a feminist, I’m a me-ist. I don’t like to see anybody forced into a life they don’t want. That’s terrible for me. If you choose to be a housewife, god bless you; my mother was a housewife and I’m sure she wouldn’t have chosen any other life. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
Aside from Suzi Q’s music, she is also an accomplished DJ, having hosted shows on BBC Radio 2 since 1999. Quatro has also turned her hand to acting, playing Leather Tuscadero in Happy Days, starring in a West End production of Annie Get Your Gun, and even hosting her own TV chat show.
The last decade has seen her become an author, releasing her autobiography in 2007 and a poetry book in 2015. This year marks the release of her first fiction novel, The Hurricane.
Quatro’s latest musical project is her supergroup, QSP. Joining forces with The Sweet’s Andy Scott and Slade’s Don Powell, they recorded an album which was released in Asia and Australia to coincide with her recent tour down under. Their next mission is to secure a worldwide release date. “It jumped up to No. 23 in the Australian charts, we got really well received. We want it to be everywhere, so now we’re taking the success in Australia and trying to build on that.”
In 2014, Quatro celebrated 50 years as a professional musician. She turned 67 in June, but definitely shows no signs of slowing down. To quote this former ‘Rear of the Year’ winner’s take on retirement: “I will retire when I go onstage in my leather suit, turn my back to the audience, shake my ass, and there’s silence.”
Suzi Quatro appears with David Essex, The Osmonds and Hot Chocolate in Legends Live at First Direct Arena, Leeds on Sunday October 15. legendslive.org