SUZI QUATRO: “I Set My Path And That Was Where I Was Going And Nobody Was Going To Stop Me”

Suzi Quatro 2017 live at Lieder am See.
Foto: Stefan Brending / Lizenz: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0 de

It’s 50 years since Suzi Quatro sat on top of the charts with “Can The Can” and now she hits the road to celebrate that landmark moment with her biggest tour in years where she promises to deliver the hits, the album tracks and songs old and new from across a recording career stretching almost 60 years. Mick Burgess called up the original leather Rocker to talk about the tour and Face To Face, her latest collaboration with KT Tunstall.

In a couple of weeks you are touring the UK. Are you looking forward to playing over here again?

I am very much looking forward to it. The tour is to celebrate 50 years since “Can The Can” was Number One. It’s amazing, where did all that time go.

You play a few shows over here first and then a few in the Baltics before coming back for your final show at The Glasshouse in Gateshead on 14th December. That’s quite an unseal routing for a tour?

It’s certainly not the worst. I once came from Tokyo to Brighton. Can’t beat that one.

You’ve played up in Newcastle a few times over the years going back almost 50 years to the City Hall and Mayfair. Do you remember your first shows up here?

It was probably before I’d had my success and I was on the first national Slade tour. Mickey Most, my producer, got me on that tour. I hadn’t had any hits at that point but he was good friends with Chas Chandler who managed Slade and who was also in The Animals. Mickey had produced The Animals so he called him and said he had a new up and coming star. I was added to the tour on the opening slot and I got about 20 minutes and we played Newcastle on that tour. I’ve been to Newcastle millions of time since then.

Are you seeing more younger people coming to your shows these days rather than just your fans from the 70s?

I’m seeing a lot more younger people at my shows now. It’s gone down to the next generation. I get everyone from 70 down to 16. People even bring their kids now.

What sort of setlist will you do?

I will cover music from right across my career. I always include some stuff from whatever my latest album is. It’s a very entertaining two hour show with an interval. You’ll get all your favourite hits and all your favourite album tracks and it goes from 1973 to 2023. I have a nine-piece band including a horn section so it’ll be a blast.

You have just released an album with KT Tunstall called Face To Face. Are you pleased with the reaction so far?

It’s been fantastic. It’s been made Album of the Week on Radio 2 and you can’t beat that. We also picked up an award from Jools Holland too and the album has charted everywhere. The critics have been ridiculously positive and everybody seems to love it. It really seems to be touching people which is great.

How did you and KT first meet?

It’s one of those things that just happened. It is like it was meant to be. We met at an Elvis’s TCB band concert and we said hello. I was watching my documentary Suzi Q and there she was and I had no idea she was a fan. The guy who did the footage for “Shine A Light” asked if I wanted to be introduced to KT and I said yes please. She called me and invited me down to lunch and by the end of lunch she asked me to write a track with her. She sent me a riff and I wrote a track around that so she sent me another one. By that point it was obvious that something was sparking. I invited down to my house to stay. She stayed for three or four days and we wrote together. It was a very natural, we had a lot in common and had a lot to talk about. Every time we talked about a subject we became closer and came up with a song. It all happened very quickly. We both just grabbed the moment and wrote some songs. We realised that it was something very special and we became really good friends.

What was your plan when you started working together? What were you looking to create or did the album develop organically over time?

It happened as it happened. It was a very natural, organic thing. We developed a trust which lead to us becoming emotionally naked with each other which lead to some terrific songs. The good thing was that nobody was driving the car. We let the creativity do the driving.

What sort of lyrical themes are you exploring on this record?

It is a very personal album. We touch on family, on relationships, on religion and fame. We’d sit on the floor and talk about something and go deep into it and both of us throwing our ideas and opinions and then at that magical point, the instruments come out and we start turning those ideas into a song. The last track that we wrote was ‘Face To Face’ and that explains who we are and what our relationship is. It explains in a lyric how we get along with each other.

The album is called Face To Face. Is that how you recorded in the studio – together in the old school way?

We recorded the basic tracks together in the studio. KT had to go back home after a while so with the vocals I sang all of the songs. I then sent her those with the tracks and sent them to KT and told her to sing the parts that she wanted to do and take my voice out. When she went in to do her vocals she had it all worked out perfectly. I think she felt which lyrics meant the most to her and which ones I did with conviction. I completely trusted her on that.

There’s some beautiful, tight harmonies on there especially on “Truth As My Weapon” and “Illusion”. Was it planned that way?

Everybody has mentioned the blend of the voices. The funny thing is, that I asked KT that when we were recording, did she realise that our voices were blending together and she said she had no idea and neither did I. The good thing about that is, if we had been aware that we were blending, it might have seemed manufactured but it wasn’t, it was totally natural. We were both just singing and we had no idea that this was happening until everyone and their mother pointed it out. People have mentioned Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby Stills & Nash and you only get that blend with close sisters and brothers. So there you go, we’re connected somehow way, way back.

Will that put pressure on you for the follow up now that you know you have this connection?

We’re both organic people. I won’t even allow myself to think about that and if we make another one, I’ll just let it roll.

There’s some nice orchestration on “Illusion” too. Whose idea was it to include those and are they live strings or synthesisers?

Those are live strings. My son, Richard, produced this album so he put all of these finishing touches on it even the fiddle part on “Damage”, which I love. He’s a very humble guy and has produced my last couple of albums. We had a listening party at a neighbour’s house and they loved the fiddle part. Me and KT didn’t want that on at first but Richard insisted and now I think that makes the song. He heard it and that’s what a producer should do.

There’s only really “Good Kinda Hot” that tips its hat to your more rocky roots. Was it refreshing to you to be able to move away and head in a different musical direction?

That was the second track that we wrote after we did “Overload”. These two are definitely at the Rockiest Rock edge of the album. I’ve always done a ballad or two on my own stuff. This was something new. It’s not me and it’s not her, it’s the combination of the two.

The album is 10 songs and 32 minutes long. It’s almost like an old vinyl record. Was this the idea, to have 10 songs where there’s absolutely no filler which leaves the listener wanting more?

We didn’t plan on that, but it does have that feel. It just happened by accident.

Do you hope to tour with KT at some point to play most of the album together on stage?

That would be great if we’re ever in the same place together. We’re both very busy and it would have been great to have her up on stage on my tour but she has her own gigs in America at that time but hopefully it’ll happen at some point. If either of us is near to the other then we’ll be up there on stage together.

You’ve been pretty prolific over the last few years with four albums in five years. Is it important for you as an artist to remain creative and move forward?

Absolutely. I am unashamedly an artiste and I always have to be creating something. I’m now working on my second book, I have released two poetry books and I’m working on my new album and I’m about ten songs in up until now. I am a creative person and that’s what drives me.

You recently did an album with Andy Scott of Sweet and Don Powell of Slade as QSP. Do you have any plans for another one?

We’ve talked about it and if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. It’d be great to do it as they are very dear friends of mine.

When you first hit the charts with “Can The Can” in 1973 you’d already been around for a few years. Did you wonder whether your moment was going to come?

I never doubted that my moment would come. To be in this business and to keep going with all the rejections you have to have that self-belief. I set my path and that was where I was going and nobody was going to stop me.

How did you react when you first heard that news?

I went through a little bit of an ego trip for about 24 hours but everyone needs to do that and I passed through it and came back down to earth with a bump and never went there again. I think most people go through the first time they are Number One.

Did you feel when you made your first appearance on Top of the Pops that you’d made it?

Sure. That show changes your life. I thought that it was everything I thought it would be and it was worth all of the work that I’d put in. I had a case of champagne delivered to my door and the phone was ringing off the hook. It was a very exciting time. You never forget your first time.

Your song “Shine My Machine” is your tribute to your home town of Detroit. Detroit has such a huge musical legacy from Motown Records, Madonna, MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad. KISS even penned a song “Detroit Rock City” as a tribute to the City. What is it about Detroit that has resulted in such a rich legacy?

Detroit is a special city. The only way I can describe it is that it is an on the edge city. It has an electricity about it and it has a foot on the gas attitude with no brake. There’s so many good people from Detroit and with Motown, that’s a story on its own but then you also have the Detroit Rock ‘n’ Roll scene too.

You’re a bit like Sweet in that respect in that your own songs had a harder edge like “Shine My Machine” and “Half As Much As Me” and to many are preferred to the obvious hits. Do you feel that they represent you more as an artist than the songs by the outside writers?

Not really as we used to crossover sometimes and I’d forget which part I wrote and so would they. One time in the studio I was recording “Mama’s Boy” and at one point I stopped and said “Mike, give me some breathing space” and he just turned to me and said “Suzi, you wrote this”. They never gave me a song that they’d written for somebody else. They always wrote songs tailored for me and my personality. They had their finger on the three-minute single. It was a very good combination that worked and lasted for many years. Now of course I write everything myself.

Back in the early ’70s most of the male groups wore more make-up and glitter than the girls of the day. What did you make of all of that at the time?

I always think that it’s funny that I got caught up in all that as I was never Glam myself. I didn’t have any make-up on and wore a plain black leather suit. I think I was lumped in with all that because I had my big hits during that era. I was more anti-Glam. I was the opposite of what Glam Rock looked like and sounded like. I was much more of a Rock ‘n’ Roller.

How do you feel now looking back on your career?

I’ve been in the business now for 59 years professionally. I never came into this just for a day. This is what I am going to do was always my attitude and this is what I was doing for the rest of my life although I’ve added lots of things to it but it’s always in the entertainment and creative industry.

What about the future what are your plans for the coming months and into 2024?

I got to Australia for the 38th time next year and I’m writing for the new album and I’ve got my third poetry book on the go and I’m just finishing my second novel.

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  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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