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THE FAST TIMES OF SUZI QUATRO GETS ANOTHER RIDE TO DEVIL GATE DRIVE IN WIND BACK WEDNESDAY

November 5, 2019

Wait, didn’t she announce her retirement? Back in 2014?

 

Two more shows this week – in Newcastle and Sydney – to round off the third (or is it fourth?) tour since then, and a documentary opening later this month, not to mention the near certainty that she’ll be back next year or the year after, suggest that report may have been premature.

 

But then, as Wind Back Wednesday uncovers from 2015, retirement was more marketing than real for Detroit’s pioneering bass dynamo. She’s too busy, and too impatient, for that.

After this interview Suzi Quatro is off the gym. Of course.

 

You don’t play for 50 years, touring Australia for the past 40 of them, while wielding a bass guitar and still looking more than ready to slip into a leather jumpsuit, without effort. And Quatro has never lacked for effort. Or leather jumpsuits.

 

That was true when it was punishing touring and recording schedules in the 1970s and ‘80s when a string of straight ahead rock-with-a-glam-touch songs by the writing/producing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, like Can The Can, Devil Gate Drive and 48 Crash, made her the anti-Olivia Newton-John of pop.

 

(Don’t tell me you didn’t see ONJ’s transformation from bobbysoxer sweet girl to sexy leather temptress in Grease as some kind of nod to the Detroit woman who was the Daytona demon while our Livvie was asking have you never been mellow.)

 

It was true still with more touring, more TV in England – Midsomer Murders a bit bloodier than her first appearances on Happy Days - and more theatre into the ‘90s and then, from the turn of the century, a radio show, alongside more touring and occasional recording. And more touring.

Meanwhile, the generations of girls and boys who had seen her bust the mould had gone on to form bands of their own, from Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, right up to the 21st century where KT Tunstall mimicked her for a cover photo and Alison Goldfrapp’s electro glam album Black Cherry featured the song Strict Machine which is a straight lift of Quatro’s style - a compliment repaid by Quatro who has included a cover of Strict Machine on her recently released box set, including a lyrical link to Can The Can.

 

She may no longer play the Fender Precision bass her jazz musician father gave her in 1964 when, aged 14, she hit the road with her sister Patti –it’s packed away in her moat-surrounded house in the English countryside, along with a room full of music trophies and memorabilia – but there are some things that stay unchanged for the 64-year-old.

 

“I was born, cursed or blessed, with a lot of energy. I'm always having to run it off,” says Quatro, who despite the decades of manor house living, the past 20 of them with her German businessman second husband, sounds as Detroit now as she did when she first landed a record deal.

 

“I'm not hyper, but I am close to it. My mother had five kids and the family doctor said about me, don't ever give any vitamins [she laughs throatily], which I find hilarious.”

That energy made it easier for her, brought up Catholic and pretty much a straight down the line person when it comes to drugs, to deal with and keep up with music industry types powered by speed and coke in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Though maybe they found her hard to handle when the ‘luudes kicked in later.

 

"My favourite comment, when I'm walking down the street or some shopping centre by myself – and I say it to myself - is the whole world is on Valium. It seems nobody moves at my pace, or thinks at my pace. I can't stand to be behind anybody. In traffic or walking in a crowd, I'm the one muttering behind you, ‘oh for Christ's sake will you get out of the way’. I drive people crazy. I drive myself crazy.”

 

So how could she possibly cope with life after touring and making music?

 

"I can't see that ever happening. I'm always going to be involved somehow.”

 

And this is where the marketing runs into the reality somewhat.

 

Though the promotional line for her upcoming tour is that this is Quatro’s final Australian tour, which is true enough for now – “This year I celebrated my 50th year in the business and it just felt like the right time to take my final bow,” says the press release quote - any suggestion that this might be part of a farewell tour is firmly quashed.

 

Quashed while being publicised quite neatly at the same time, by a practiced professional.

"This is the final Australian tour [but] I am not hanging up my suit anywhere else yet,” she says. “It’s my 50th anniversary and I thought what a perfect time [to mark the end of long distance touring] and there’s a four CD box set chronicling my career from ‘64 up to the present day, with a new single, called The Girl From Detroit City, which is a great single, Mike Chapman wrote it.”

 

There’s also going to be a book of poetry, Through My Eyes. Then more touring for as far as the eye can see and even a promise that if the nostalgia market was to demand a return to her Happy Days character of Leather Tuscadero (who of course you remember was the sister of the Fonz’s favourite, Pinky Tuscadero, and had a band called Leather and the Suedes) she would “be there with bells on”.

 

“I’m rolling it along as I go. If I feel good, if it feels right, if the suit still fits ....” she says. “I'm not stopping working, I'm not stopping recording. I will continue to rock for as long as I can."

 

The new single written by Chapman isn’t merely a link to the past, for he has been involved with her in some capacity up to and including her 2011 album In The Spotlight, even as she took over the songwriting again in the 1980s. But it did tap into that past with Quatro calling The Girl From Detroit “my life in a song”.

 

Not that you’re likely to hear it on the radio of course where the classic hit stations rarely venture into female-fronted rock bands – t’was ever thus – and the new music stations have troubles with anyone aged over 30.

Does she get frustrated that she may have songs as good as the golden years but can't get them heard? Not really, maybe because she's too busy – including a twitter and Facebook presence - to stop and worry.

 

"With the Internet now, people hear your stuff all the time: I've got about 85 pages on YouTube,” Quatro says, adding that she will occasionally respond directly to people through social media, declaring herself "very approachable” and happy to have that regular and immediate response from fans rather than waiting to see how an album charted or how a tour would sell to know what people thought.

 

"With me being the communicator that I am, it's been a nice turn. That you can interact, I like that, I love that.”

 

The communication may be new-styled but is playing live any different now than how it was in 1974 and 1984 and even 1994?

 

"Live I've always been the same. I have the old-fashioned attitude my dad instilled in me from a child: when you get up there if you don't give 300 per cent you've got no business being on the stage,” she says firmly. "When you are having your first hits there is a lot of pressure; now the only pressure I feel is to make sure I get to bed in enough time to get enough sleep to keep my voice in top shape. My voice has improved, Mike Chapman told me that. Everybody who hears me tells me that.

 

“A lot of people lose their voice as they get older, mine has got more strength. I just don't do the rock 'n' roll lifestyle of the stage. I'm sensible."

Does she have any vices left?

 

"I like my glass of wine but I get drunk very easily because I'm little. I'm a cheap date but it has to be a good glass of wine."

 

That sounds more like a quick date than a cheap date.

 

"Those are your words,” she laughs. “Not mine.”

 

Cheap or quick, these may be the last dates for us anyway, so for the final show she’ll play here what is the song she wants to go out on? What would be the definitive final statement from Suzi Quatro?

 

"I don't want to give it away because the final moment is going to be quite tearjerking, but the final big hit in the show will be Devil Gate Drive, which is that song.”

 

"Hey, you all want to go down to Devil Gate Drive? Well, come on"!

 

Suzi Q opens on November 21. Suzi Quatro plays Newcastle Entertainment Centre, November 8, Enmore Theatre, Sydney, November 9 and 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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