Updated: Nov 26, 2020
Music Contributions: Original member of The Pleasure Seekers, one of the earliest all-female bands signed to major label (1968, Mercury). After she went solo in 1970, she quickly established herself as not only tough and sexy, but an instrumentalist and bandleader, inspiring dozens of young women to see themselves in a similar light. She is the original female rocker bandleader.
Biography Highlights: Born in Detroit in 1953, music was a part of her life from the start. Her father introduced her to percussion (she even played at some of his gigs--he was a bass player--so you know that instrument was in her blood), piano, and drums as a kid. She then taught herself bass and guitar. Her parents were quite different from each other, Dad the party animal, Mom the homemaker. As for Suzi, "Well, I got Dad's zest for life and Mom's heart -- I think like a man but with the emotions of a woman." The Quatro household was all about showbiz and with three other sisters (Nancy, Patti, Arlene) ready to perform, it seems every gathering became an excuse to do some sort of performance.
Her inspiration to become a rocker came from seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show in 1957. Her sister Arlene started screaming the moment he broke into "Don't Be Cruel". Suzi sat mesmerized. Of course, in walked dad, he looked at the girls, then the screen and immediately turned off the TV, "That's disgusting." But it was in that moment that Suzi Quatro was born. "It never occurred to me that Elvis was a man -- I just knew I was going to be like him."
The next moment of inspiration came in 1964 at the age of 14. Of course, the Quatro family was once again watching the Ed Sullivan Show. This time it was The Beatles. Suzi recalls that during the performance two friends called and Patti said, "Hey, why don't we form an all-girl band?" All the girls chimed in about what instrument they would play. Suzi, being the youngest, was left with the bass. Of course all the instruments they had were cheap, except the bass Suzi's dad gave her: a 1957 original Fender Precision. It took her a bit to learn but she finally got it down. Her hero was the great Funk Brother, James Jamerson, Motown's studio bass player (listen to his bass track on the Four Tops' Reach Out, I'll Be There).
The Pleasure Seekers got a regular gig at The Hideout, a local teen night club. They will eventually share the stage with Bob Seger and Ted Nugent, among others. In 1965 the Hideout label put out their first single "Never Thought You'd Leave Me" b/w "What a Way to Die." They toured the U.S. and in 1968 they signed with Mercury and issued "Light of Love" b/w "Good Kind of Hurt."
While playing with the Pleasure Seekers, Suzi was discovered by producer Mickie Most (Herman's Hermits, The Animals). So she moved to England in 1971 to start her own band. While battling the idea that she was the new Janis Joplin or Grace Slick, Suzi was simply going to the the first Suzi Quatro. She fit in perfectly with the new glam rock of the time (T. Rex, David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, Slade, etc.). In 1973 her second single, "Can the Can" hit #1 throughout Europe and Australia.
All through the rest of the 70s, she released several records and numerous hit singles, all with a strong glam rock feel. Sadly, her popularity was limited to the UK and Australia. It wasn't until 1978 that she finally had her break out single in the U.S., a duet with Chris Norman titled "Stumblin In", which reached #4 but didn't chart in the UK. It is interesting to note that there is an inverse relationship between the UK and the U.S. with all of her music; if it does well abroad, it won't do well here and visa versa.
Oddly enough most Americans know Suzi not through her music but from her stint as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. She appeared on 7 episodes from 1977 to 1979, playing a character that was essentially herself.
Another aspect of Suzi Quatro that has to be admired is her tenacity and her ability to continually reinvent herself. She has continued making records, releasing her sixteenth album in 2017. She has appeared in several television shows in Britain in the 80s and 90s. She has also performed in theater, playing Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun and Tallulah Bankhead in Tallulah Who?. In 2007 she wrote a memoir of her life, entitled Unzipped. Definitely worth a read. More recently she has hosted two radio programs on BBC 2. She was a born entertainer and it seems she will continue in that vein as long as she is alive.
It is a crime that she is not in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. She was the first woman to lead a band not only as a singer but as an instrumentalist. That role model inspired so many others: Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Joan Jett, The Runaways, Girlschool, Chrissy Hynde (The Pretenders), Kathy Valentine (The Go-Gos), KT Tunstall. Based on her influence alone she should be in the Hall.
There is a documentary of her life being released in 2020.
(All quotes are from her memoir, Unzipped.)