This article is quite nice. I like the way the journalist gives us insight into who this female bass guitarist and band leader is through his descriptions of her throughout the interview. And believe me, Mrs. Suzi Quatro may be cute as a button, but she is not to be messed with!
Enjoy this treasure from 40 years back.
For your information, she happens to be a lady.
Delicate, feminine Charles Shaar Murray plays dialectical hop-scotch with hairy, muscular SUZI QUATRO. A Spare Rib special.
“Alistair…can you go through your solo again and count exactly how many bars you need for it?”
“Can`t we just leave it loose, Suzi?”
“No, because we`re gonna haveta get it exact for when we record it. When we play it live you can blow a bit, but for now I wanna know exactly how many bars you`re gonna take. `N remember that it goes C-G-C-G-C-riff and then your solo, now let`s try it again.”
Suzi Q runs a tough rehearsal, and the guy who`s copping most of the heavy-lidded stares is Alistair Mackenzie, her piano player.
For a kick-off he arrived two hours late and when he finally staggered in, looking mucho dishevelled and mumbling about demonic traffic wardens, he kept stumbling over his parts, forgetting where his solos were supposed to be, where the riff was, and even which key the song was in.
Over on the other side of the room, Suzi Q is perched on a compact rehearsal-sized Acoustic amp, half-hidden behind a microphone and a massive bass.
She`s pumping away on her axe, eyes closed and head nodding, with a cigarette clamped in her mouth and rapidly burning down a la Ronnie Wood. The observer, safely stashed in a chair next to her amp, is mentally taking bets as to exactly when the half-inch of ash on the cig is going to splatter all over her jeans. He has just decided that it`ll take precisely another 16 bars when guitarist Len Tuckey busts his G-string right in the middle of a solo that sounds so Jeff Beck that you`d `a sworn it was Mick Ronson.
Suzi unclamps the cigarette and deposits the ash neatly on the carpet. “Sheeeit, man!” she complains. “Right in the middle of a buzz!”
Tuckey is the guy on the cover of the first album who`s swiging brown ale with one hand while the other is tucked into the front of his jeans. He`s a taciturn hulk of man – a big, heavy, grouchy-looking mutha who`s actually pretty amiable, but who`d look unnervingly at home down a dark alley with a broken bottle in his paw and a sideways leer plastered across his mug.
He`s Suzi`s songwriting partner and – ahem – constant companion.
He`s also a pretty nifty guitar player and a singularly arresting visual counterpoint to Ms Q. I mean, she`s so tiny that she makes the average-size bass guitar look like a bull fiddle – and when Tuckey`s holding a Les Paul it looks like a toothpick.
You could go on fantasising and romanticising the whole trip in terms of beauty-and-the-beast and low-budget biker movies as per the cover of the first album, but one thing you can`t deny is that it works visually.
The only thing dumber than Len Tuckey done up in one of Brent Ferrule`s tuxes would be Len Tuckey dressed like one of The New York Dolls – `cuz it only takes one quick viddy to suss that he`s the kind of guy who likes to play “Apache” and “Walk Don`t Run” during breaks in rehearsal. Plus the Elvis impressions, of course, accompanied by lame gags about how he learned the songs off his dad`s records.
Talking of The New York Dolls (which nobody`s done for at least six months), didja know that Suzi`s big sister Patti (now Fannying for all she`s worth) was recently approached by the Dolls to join them? The connection was via Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan, who was for a while the only male member of one of the all-femme bands that Our Suze led in Deeeeeee-troit.
“I drove down to New York, went through all the musicians classifieds, found Jerry, and drove him back to Detroit. Two weeks later I hadda take him back. He was a good drummer, but he didn`t quite have the right feel for our band.
“Even in those days he was wearin` girls` shoes, `n the tightest pair of satins I`d ever seen, `n` make-up. He was way ahead of his time, because that was even before Bowie.”
While this section of the conversation is going on, Suzi, Len and yours adoringly are squashed into Suzi`s matchbox-size Merc wildly skidding in the general direction of beautiful downtown Watford, where the band are rehearsing some new Quatro-Tuckey toons prior to going into the studio.
Despite the dashing skin-tight-skin leathers she wears on stage, Suzi`s daytime clobber is such that she`d have a hard time beating out Tony Tyler in a fashion parade. On this occasion, she`s fetchingly kitted out in a striped roll-neck shirt, jeans, and a red anorak.
Tuckey is screeching along at 90, despite Suzi`s rather pointed remarks about 80 being completely sufficient unto the day. A corner and junction catch him on the hop, and the halt is a trifle jarring.
“Just practicin` for me racin`,” he mutters somewhat shamefacedly.
“Great,” retorts Quatro stonily, “but not while I`m in the car, okay?”
There is a brief and simmering silence.
“When you`re a Gemini,” she says later, “you run strictly on nerves, which is what I run on. I`m an adrenalin freak, which can be a great help sometimes, but at other times, when things go wrong, then your adrenalin turns to depression. Not just a regular depression, but a real heavy depression.
“When you`re a Gemini, you`re either high or low, with nothin` in between. Either all go or all nothin`. When you`re depressed you`re ready to kill people. I get very strange and very heavy. I find a million things wrong with everybody.”
Bet the band hate you when you rehearse them depressed.
“Oh Christ, yes. When the pressures get me down i unfortunately start to take it out on everybody else. I get very, very nasty. When we`ve been on the road for a couple of months and get drunk every night, then I start yelling at everybody in sight.
“But at least we can laugh about it the next time we see each other, because we`re all very close. I`ll say, `wasn`t I a bitch?` and they`ll all say, `Yessss!` I can really scream, then ten minutes later I`ll have forgotten what I`m screamin` about.
“When I scream, I scream, but when it`s over I`ll say, `Alright now, it`s all over, okay? Shall we go on to the next song?` – and everybody goes, `Oh my Gaaaaad, how can you switch on and off like that?` and I`ll say, `It`s quite easy, I`ve got an on/off switch right here…`”
True to her word, Suzi`s all happy again in less than 30 seconds.
“I was drivin` down here yesterday and this cop calls me over. He says “ere, myte`” (she`s developed quite a creditable London accent since she`s been over here) “`ere, myte, you sure you`re old enough to droive?`
“I said, `For your information, I happen to be a lady and I`m 24 years old!” He said, `I fort you wuz abaht seven`een`.”
Unit 4 + 2`s “Concrete and Clay” comes up on the radio.
“I used to have that on a `20 English Smashes` supermarket album when I was a kid. I`ve got about 250 albums at home that I stole from supermarkets.
“I useta go in there after school and grab about ten albums and stick `em in my school folder. I`d stay around for another hour or so, because they get suspicious if you leave too suddenly, but they can`t grab you until you get out on the street. They never ever suspected me… because I looked so innocent.”
The rehearsals are taking place in the back of a Watford music shop run by an ebullient French dude named Claude Venet. It`s quite a nice little place, with a far more ambitious selection of Gibsons, Fenders and the like than you`d ever expect the good burghers of Watford to have any real use for.
The slice of hardboard beneath Dave Neal`s drums is littered with a whole herd of fag-ends, enough coffee is consumed to give the assembled company the runs for the next six weeks, and Quatro`s cigarette is burning down next to her on the amp as she starts rocking out again.
Today they`re working on three new songs, “You Can`t Trust Love”, “Bad Bad Girl” and “New Day Woman”, and to one only accustomed to the record-and-TV edition of Suzi Q, they come as something of an ear-opener.
For a start, the band sound infinitely better than they do on record. The brash, tinny, superficial sound that they get in the studio is replaced by a driving, funky rock-and-roll feel and the arrangements are far less cluttered and messy.
The stiff, stilted Glitter Band style that drummer Dave Neal affects so irritatingly on record isn`t nearly as effective as the loose-limbed, straight-ahead groove that he`s getting into here, and which I suspect is far closer to his natural inclinations.
Mackenzie`s getting a nicely grungy clavinet sound, Tuckey trades off stripped-down Keefish rhythm and blitzkrieg lead, and Suzi`s singing almost completely eschews the hoydenish air-raid siren sound that shivers the tweeters out of pub jukeboxes all over the country.
And of course, Ms Q`s laying down some fair bass. In the tradition of her hero, Motown studio musician James Jamison who taught her the tricks of the trade back in Detroit, she holds up the bottom efficiently and effectively, keeping things interesting without trying to upstage the front line.
So why don`t it sound like that on record? Search me.
Or better still, search Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who`ve aimed Suzi into a solid market with unerring commercial sense, but have totally and consistently misrepresented the band`s live sound on record – and, while we`re working up some righteous indignation, have more or less caricatured her attitude and persona with hey-look-what-a-tough-little-hellcat-I-am songs which do nothing but trivialise her stance.
Still, by her own admission, she`d rather have a tweezer job done on her toenails than say anything against them.
“That`s absolutely right, because they`ve done very well by us. They`ve worked very hard, but we`re only two albums and six singles old. I`ve always said that if we could get this band`s live sound down then it`d be great. I`d like to do a live album, but then the quality wouldn`t be any good, and you can hardly ever get real good quality on a live album, apart from things like `Get Yer Ya-Yas Out`, which has to be one of the best live albums I`ve ever heard.
“But it`s difficult, because when you`re up there you`re bouncin` around and singin` flat and your voice is croakin`…of course, that`s what makes rock-and-roll. We must all progress together, though…”
The lowest point on the perimeter of Suzi Quatro`s bass is almost exactly level with her knees when she stands up. The head is level with her ears. Her right arm is almost fully extended to let her fingers do the walkin`.
Her wrists are almost startingly thick and muscular, as are those fingers. For smooth, dainty hands and well-kept nails, eight years of bass-playing is not a recommended therapy.
“The Sunday Mirror called me up for an article they were doing on how the stars kept their hands lookin` nice. They asked me what I did, and I said, `I play bass with `em.` And they never even mentioned my name in the article!
“Hey, didja know that I could never be an air stewardess because I`m too short? You haveta be at least five-foot-two so`s you can reach the racks. Besides, at the first sign of turbulence I`d be hiding under the chairs…
“I saw myself on TV a lot in Australia and I still can`t say my S`s right. I had terrible diction when I was a kid. I useta say, `my name ith Thuthie Quatwo.` I did speech training and I still can`t say my S`s.”
You can`t be an air stewardess because you`re too small, you can`t be Sir John Gielgud because of the S`s, you can`t model nail-varnish because of the rock equivalent of dishpan hands, so if you can`t be in the rock-and-roll business there sure ain`t no place else to go…
“Please God, let me be a rock star…if they don`t let me be a rock star I`ll probably end up killing someone.”
The world probably lost a great mugger when Suzi Q got rich and famous, but she`s playing it very businesslike, sitting there on her amp bathing in the bass vibrations buzzing their way up her spinal column and thumping on that massive Gibson Ripper.
“Len, don`t play that riff with him…let the drums and piano do it by themselves and then come in with me on the answering bit. Can you play this bit with me going up in thirds? I don`t think that B-flat sounds quite right. Maybe if you do it in minors…alright? Let`s go through that again.”
As she turns her head, you see this peculiar blue-black ring on her nose and cheek curving around her eye. It looks like someone whacked her in the eye, but it`s just a birthmark. For some reason it doesn`t show up in photos.
Still, it`s things like that that give a face personality, and it certainly puts a different perspective on those cute snubnosed features.
Suzi Q is unmistakably a leader.
She always knows exactly what she`s doing, exactly what everybody else is and should be doing and exactly what sound she wants.
Neal, Mackenzie and Tuckey recognise her authority and have unbounded respect for her leadership and musicianship, and they don`t give her any back talk. Sure, they make suggestions, and their suggestions are received with that strong spirit of mutual respect, but Suzi is head honcho and one hell of a hard taskmaster. What you call professional.
But of course that`s unfeminine – isn`t it?
To be sensitive and observant in long dresses and tinkle away at an acoustic guitar or piano is okay, and being a tortured funky ol` earth mother is okay too – but Jesus Christ, what the hell is Quatro trying to prove, stomping around in leathers humping away at that goddam monstrous bass? I mean, she`s so butch, y`know?
Wrong and double wrong.
If you think Suzi Quatro is obnoxious, you`d have a halfway decent chance of making a reasonable case for it, because she`s an upfront little broad and she shoots her mouth off a lot. But that`s more because she`s a Yank and has an archetypal rock-and-roll personality and is therefore not overly-inclined to go in for coy self-deprecation.
No aw-shucks about this kid, Jack! Quatro has a loud mouth on her, but no louder than most male rockanrollers.
And that`s where cometh the proverbial crunch, because it isn`t so much that she`s trying to come on like a guy as she`s simply behaving in an archetypal rockanroll way and women just don`t do that.
If you think that she`s unfeminine, though, that`s a whole different ball-game. It also means that you`re going to haveta stop tossing words like “feminine” and “masculine” around until you`re prepared to state exactly what character traits you`re talking about, and whether you`re talking about, and whether you`re going to abide by the same cripplingly narrow definitions of “masculinity” and “femininity” that have screwed both men and women up for God knows how long.
I`m not going to trot out that “everybody is bisexual” nonsense that every oafish fool who ever wore sequins on “Top Of The Pops” uses to give intellectual substance to his posturings, but if you`re going to claim that energy, determination, aggression, leadership and the desire to get down and whip it out on stage with a gynormous Gibson bass are exclusively limited to the male, then bro`, you really are a male chauvinist, and sister, you`re selling your own possibilities right down the river.
Quatro has defined her own role, which is something that any human being has a right to do if they`ve got the brains and the willpower to pull it off – and I really don`t care that she doesn`t write her own singles.
A couple of weeks ago, my old buddy Nicky the K, as part of his three-volume epic on Joni Mitchell and Uvver Wimmen, gave Quatro the fast brush-off in approximately a hundred words.
For the benefit of those of you who were callous and insensitive enough to have lost our January 11 issue, voici Kent in action replay:
“There`s Suzi Quatro, the girl everybody wants to dig – an image superficially bloated with potential, but really just Penthouse punk fodder – all lipsmacking hard-on leather, free-wheeling hell-cat raunch projected via a bunch of Chinnychap readymades. Aw, come on now. And she looks too much like Rick Derringer to let the fantasies get truly torrid.”
Right. All Quatro`s ever had in Penthouse is a short interview accompanied by a standard publicity photo, and the whole thing occupied considerably less space than Ian Hunter`s interview in Club International.
Those leather suits wouldn`t even raise an eyebrow if she wasn`t a woman, and as for the Chinn and Chapman stuff, I`d agree that, whatever they`ve done for her commercially, they ain`t doing her no good at all in artistic terms – though I get an argument from Suzi when I mention the subject to her.
And Rick Derringer? Come on yourself, man. Carly Simon`s a dead ringer for Mick Jagger, but no-one`s ever suggested that she wasn`t a fine-looking fox, even though she`s hitched to one of the world`s ace drips.
No, the principal reason that people object to Quatro on ideological (as opposed to musical) grounds is that she represents a kind of aggressive sexuality – a style of feminine macho (and if you think that`s a contradiction in terms then it`s your turn to be Mr. Jones) that most men – and most women – are totally unprepared to cope with.
“When I grew up, I was told night and day, `You`re strange. When are you gonna start wearin` dresses and quit bein` a tomboy and climbin` trees?`
“I had fun climbin` trees. So why should I stop? Because at a certain age you`re supposed to wear dresses? Bullshit!
“That`s what I`m tryin` to fight against. I`m not butch an` I`m not ultra-feminine. I`m just me. And I think that`s good enough for anybody in this world.
“Femininity is usually thought of as being a weakness. People say, `oh, she`s a girl – she`s weak`. It all runs together. All women have this side to them if you give `em half a chance.
“Men have also been conditioned into thinkin` that they`re somethin` that they`re not, and that`s somethin` that the rock- and-roll business today has such a good chance of curin`. Neither men nor women haveta follow that certain set of rules.
“In my life, everything is done 50-50 with whoever I`m with. If a guy enjoys cookin` he should do the bloody cookin`. If a girl enjoys it, there`s no reason why she shouldn`t just because she doesn`t want to be a typical housewife. It all gets so silly when you get down to that level.
“I just thank God that I`ve been fortunate in that respect. I`ve always done what I`ve wanted to do, and I`ve expected other people to do the same. I accept people as they are.
“What I fight against in our society is all that turnin` down of the noses at anything different – turnin` down the noses at Suzi Quatro because she happens to wear black leather and play rockanroll music, turnin` down the noses at the NME because they say nasty things.
“I`m not an idealist, either. I`m just sayin` `live and let live`. If you can make somethin` just a little better, then do your little bit.”
You`re just an old hippie, aintcha, Suze?
“No, I`m not a hippie, because a hippie believes that you shouldn`t have any money and that you should live off the fruit of the earth. I happen to like my comforts…”
There`s another dozen or so fag-ends on the floor. Mackenzie`s got the riff down and Quatro`s starting to bounce a little on the amp.
C-G-C-G-C-G-riff. Then the solo. Exactly fourteen bars.
Stencilled on the guitar-case slung behind the amp is the legend: “Suzi Quatro. Handle with care. Fragile.”
Don`t you believe it.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Bob Dylan, Eric Burdon, Barclay James Harvest, Ian Hunter, Billy Preston, Roy Wood, Nils Lofgren, Tommy Steele, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Little Beaver, John Coltrane, The Soft Machine.
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