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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

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1040 Abroad

The Devil in Suzi Quatro

Rocking through lockdown, with all its restrictions and forced separations, gave the girl from Detroit Motor City some unusual inspiration
Interview by Michael Burland
Published on December 17, 2020

Suzi Quatro

Hi Suzi, there’s a lot to catch up on since our last interview. There’s Suzi Q, a documentary about your life, and you're planning a tour next year, and a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and then you have your Christmas single – let’s start with that. It’s called ‘My Heart And Soul (I Need You Home For Christmas)’.

Yes, and if you haven't, you must watch the video.

Single Cover

I have, it's beautiful.

It is, isn't it? I've had people saying to me, you made me cry. And that’s the whole point. It’s an emotional song.

Your voice sounds beautiful on it. It's perhaps a little bit different to what people might be expecting from a Suzi Quatro record. It’s piano, it’s strings, it's slow. And as you said, it’s emotional.

Last year was high, high, high for me. The No Control album was out, the critics were loving it. My documentary came out and it sat at the top of Amazon for ages. I did 85 solo, sold out shows. This year should have been even better with 95 shows booked. My son Richard was on the road with his band, I was going to be out with mine, and the record company took up the option for the next album which I was going to do together with Richard. So ...lockdown! My husband Rainer is stuck in Hamburg and for five months out of the year we haven't seen each other. He's supposed to be coming here on December 23, fingers crossed.

I am a glass half full person by nature. I have a studio on the grounds, so I said to Richard, you're gonna work in the studio, I'm going to work on the patio, and we’ll write and record the album here. So, Richard's working out in the studio with his machines and stuff, putting down tracks. I'm sitting on the patio with my guitar. He had the door open, and I was a little bit annoyed because I could hear the music coming out when I was working on my own thing. And then this track, without any vocals obviously, came wafting out. And as magical as creation is – and you get a lot of magical moments in music - I don't think anything's ever happened quite like this to me. It was like an arrow shot in my heart.

I’ve been in the business a long time, but I knew that I was feeling something very special. I had to disengage my brain, so I didn't think at all, I just let it come out. I walked out there and said, Give me the headphones, put the microphone on and play the track. And the first four lines came flying out of my mouth, exactly as they are on the record.

It was like I got to the studio and somebody said, here's the top line, and the lyrics you're supposed to sing. God knows how that happens, but it happened. Richard looked at me and I looked at him and he said, Mom! I said, I know!. He said, it's about Rainer. I said, Yes, it is. And it just turned into this beautiful song. And it awakened in me ‘the Detroit’.

My next question was going to be exactly that – it sounds like a Detroit record, like it could be on Motown.

Very much so. As I went to sing it, there's no other way you could sing to that track. It's a whole different approach for me. And I put bass on it like Jamerson [James Jamerson, Motown’s stellar bass player].

The video tugs at the heartstrings – it cuts between you playing the song on a white piano, and home movies of your family at Christmas.

Richard had this great idea to use the front room in my house, and the piano that’s never moved since I moved in here. My kids grew up with that white piano. He suggested we get out the old footage. I did the taping of me playing and singing the song, then it was my job to go through all the family footage, and pick out what I thought was usable. I had to give it to the director for him to put it in the video. It was pretty tedious, because it's a lot to watch and you have to tell them second by second what you want to use otherwise they could use something you don't want. I had a headache! Five hours, I was doing this. And I was on the last tape, with about 10 seconds to run, and I thought, thank God, just switch off, I'm done. For some reason I didn't switch it off, I don't know why but something stopped me. And I saw some footage of Rainer that I didn't even know I had. If I'd switched off the video, that was the end of the film. I watched it, and I said, there’s the end of the film. I get a tear my every time I see it because it was his first Christmas with us - he was a little bit awkward, he just smiles… I wouldn't have seen that if I’d switched off the clip. Everything, from the conception of the song to the video just happened by instinct.

There's some magic going on there?

Oh yeah. I don’t think we wrote that alone.

What time of the year was it when you wrote it?

I know I was missing him a lot. It would have been April or May. I would have been gone from him for two months already.

Was it always going to be a Christmas record?

No, and that’s another thing that happened ‘by mistake’. I gave the track to Ray, my sax man, and said, I need you to do a horn arrangement for this. A couple days later, he phoned me and he said, I just, I love this track, your voice, the bassline. Then he said, I'm going to be radical. If you just had a couple of little references to Christmas, without being schmaltzy, this could be just the most magical Christmas record for this time. I was like, do I want to do this? So I listened to the track, and there’s a little bit where it now says “Wrap me in your charms, Wake up in my arms, But baby, make it home for Christmas”. That had slightly different words and funny enough I was never quite happy with that little bit. No wonder I wasn't – it wasn’t right yet...

It’s subtle.

The guy that mastered it at Abbey Road wrote me, it was so cute. He said, Congratulations, Suzi, you've done the impossible. You've written a cool Christmas hit. And it is, it’s classy!

Richard plays all the guitar and I had all my usual people that worked on No Control with me. After we finished the next album - which is now mastered and ready to come out in March, it's called The Devil In Me - all of them emailed me and said the same thing. Even my ex husband, who loves to come over and sit in while we're working said it - we did not think you guys could better No Control, because that was so great, but you've done it. I think it’s because Richard was vicious on this. He kept saying to me, I'm going to challenge you, and I want this to be almost a theme. And that's how it's come out. He said I want this to be as groundbreaking as your first album. So he did challenge me and we had a few creative differences. But we got a great album, oh boy!

Before the pandemic you were really busy, playing up to 100 shows a year normally. Is that going to carry on when we get back to normal?

Royal Albert Hall Poster

Yes. I am not ready to stop. Why should I? I don't stop, it's not in my DNA. I'll stop when I drop! We've got a few cancellations, most shows have been postponed, but fingers crossed we’ll tour next year. And I'm playing at the Royal Albert Hall on April 20, 2022. Yep, and it has to be said, the Queen of Rock and Roll is playing at the Royal Albert Hall! [laughs] I can’t wait.

Your documentary, Suzi Q, is really entertaining. But you lay yourself bare on it as well.

I insisted. The director, Liam Firmager came to me about five years ago and told me he’d like to do a documentary with me. He said, I must say first off, I'm not a fan. I went, interesting... He said, don't get me wrong, I love your music, but I'm not a fan. I said, That's fine, so then why do you want to do the documentary? And he said, because I saw you on a television talk show and you fascinate me. I thought, this is the guy to do it with.

I had editing rights because it's my life story but as long as what is being said is true and necessary, it stays, even if I wanted to crawl out of the cinema. was doing a personal appearance with a Q&A after and snuck in to the theater, to feel the audience and see how they reacted to it. Nobody knew I was there. There were at least six moments when I wanted to get on my hands and knees and crawl out, but I forced myself to stay there, and I can honestly say those are the best moments in the film. I didn't mind leaving myself there, even though it was hard. Some of the things my sisters said... but I thought, no, this is how they feel. So let them say what they want to say, you know?

We stuck to the truth. I said I don't just want talking heads saying how wonderful I am. To which my son pointed out, Talking Heads are on there saying how wonderful I am! [laughs] It's actually very funny. I cry so many times watching it with people. It's made me look at stuff I wasn't aware of. I didn't realize how important I was to so many women. I get it now. And it is humbling.

I was expecting Joan Jett and the other female musicians saying how inspirational you were to them, because nobody was doing what you did, in the way you did it, but when your sisters say how difficult it was for them when you left the band you had together, and went off to be a star in England and left them high and dry - they're honest about it. And you were honest to leave that in.

And they sent me a Thanksgiving tape [in which Suzi’s family vented their anger with her], which was the pivotal moment of my life. Getting that, that changed my life, you know that? That was hard. And I had to put it in because it could have, and nearly did destroy me. It wasn't nice, but it happened. I still have it in my safe upstairs. I’ll never get rid of that. If ever I need a reminder what made me determined, I have a listen.

Determined sums you up.

Funny, you should say that. I started to do a word cloud when the documentary came out. I asked people to describe me in three words and the word that gets sent the most ends up as the central word, bigger than anything else. The middle word has never changed. It's ‘determined’.

Which you had to be because although your records in the ‘70s were huge hits, number one in England, number one in Australia, all around the world, they didn’t make it in the US charts.

America didn't get that era. But so what? I did lots of touring, so I was always there. They knew who I was. ‘Stumblin’ In’ was a million seller. Happy Days cemented me, and even if they didn't know me till Happy Days, it was still me. Suzi Quatro playing Leather Tuscadero, playing a bass guitar, how close can you be? But something didn't translate. Debbie Harry said that she thought it was a little bit too early, and maybe it was.

You've sold 55 million records, so you're getting your just rewards - and now awards as well. You got the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award at the Detroit Music Awards, and you’ve been inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.

How ‘bout that! And they’re trying to get me into the ‘real one’. I guess maybe they'll get their act together eventually [laughs]. How can you not honor the first one!

Get tickets for Suzi's Royal Albert Hall concert at www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/events/2022/suzi-quatro

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