Glycerine queen, forever!
Suzi Quatro talks fame, Fonzie, rock stardom and growing up in Detroit
Published: April 25, 2012
Suzi Quatro might've been playing with the Pleasure Seekers and, later, Cradle with her sisters in Detroit during the much-celebrated Grande Ballroom era, but it wasn't until later — after she was spotted by Mickie Most, the producer for Jeff Beck and Donovan, and shipped over to England during the T-Rex-led glitter era — that she started having such mega-selling hits as "Can the Can" and "Devil Gate Drive." She later starred as the popular Leather Tuscadero character in Happy Days, filling American boys with sexual tension, but she never quite managed to achieve the same level of popularity on this side of the Atlantic as she has in Europe, Japan and Australia.
However, she is justly being honored at this year's Detroit Music Awards. Sadly, she's unable to perform due to a bad fall from some airplane steps in Kiev that left her with a broken leg and wrist, but her sisters are partially re-forming the Pleasure Seekers. It should be a good night.
We spoke with Quatro before that fall about her eventful career. She's a feisty one too, still pushing and promoting herself like a newcomer.
Metro Times: Where in Detroit were you raised?
Suzi Quatro: We were raised in Grosse Pointe Woods until I was 15, then we moved to Grosse Pointe Farms on Seven Mile and Mack. My dad made sure that we grew up in a good area. When I was growing up, it was a good time. The cars were doing great. You had the Motown, and the white rock 'n' roll. It didn't change until the race riots in '67. Then, everything changed but up until that period, it was pretty damned good as far as I was concerned.
MT: Where did you summer?
Quatro: Most of the time, the people from the Midwest went down to Florida. We went there for Easter actually. Summer vacations were spent in Detroit, because the city has a fantastic summertime. It's really hot, and you're on the lakes. In Detroit, you have the extremes of each season, which is fantastic.
My dad worked in the daytime as an engineer at General Motors, and then in the evening he was a musician. Music was all I knew. We had five kids in the family, and we had access to every kind of instrument you wanted to learn. My dad had everything in the house. We had three pianos in the house — one on each floor. We had an organ, we had a bass guitar, a violin, an accordion, a harp, and basically whatever any of us expressed any kind of interest in learning, that was OK. We got the lessons. I actually play classical piano and percussion. I can read and write both instruments, and I'm self-taught on bass.
MT: You were in your teens during the Grande Ballroom-Motown period ...
Quatro: It was the best. Not only did I have Motown (which I was weaned on and actually that's a lot of my bass style because you don't get better than James Jamerson from Motown), we had the white rock happening. It was just a wonderful time. There was the Pleasure Seekers, Mitch Ryder, Ted Nugent, Iggy Pop just starting, Alice Cooper, Terry Knight & the Pack, the Rationals, the Frost, Doug Fieger from the Knack — what a brilliant time to be in Detroit. And we played at the Grande Ballroom and the Eastown Theater numerous times. Many times we played with Mountain. They always asked us to support them when they came into town. Looking back, and having been gone since '71, I would say that I was pretty privileged to be born and raised in Detroit.
MT: Tell me about the Pleasure Seekers ...
Quatro: I was only 14. I was a baby. I went straight into it. Everybody took an instrument, and nobody chose the bass so it was given to me. Luckily, my father had a bass guitar like he had everything else, and he gave me a '57 Fender Precision, to begin on. How lucky was I, that I had the Rolls Royce of basses, the hardest to play, and I didn't know it.
MT: Did you have trouble playing gigs so young?
Quatro: Well, we always lied. If I needed fake proof, I got fake proof, which is really kind of funny because I've always looked 10 years younger than what I am. It's just always been my way. So it's really stupid that somebody 14 they're gonna think is 24. Just a joke. But they let us play, and we played absolutely everywhere.
MT: What did your father think of his 14-year-old daughter playing to a room full of guys, with a name like the Pleasure Seekers?
Quatro: I know, we were asking for trouble. But I think there was safety in the situation because I had, at first, two of my sisters with me, and then one dropped out and another sister joined, and one of my sisters' husbands was managing us. I don't think he worried as much as maybe he should have done. None of us fought our family to be in rock 'n' roll, which is unusual. My father was all for it. He was happy to let us pursue our dream, which is what we did. I was never going to do anything else other than entertain and play rock 'n' roll. It was safety in numbers. That's not saying that nothing bad ever happened, but when you've got your sisters and your sister's husband, it's a little bit of protection.
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