A few choice words with trailblazing Suzi Quatro, queen of self-reinvention

Growing up in the 70s, it was hard not to be blown away by Suzi Quatro. A roaring, stomping, feisty pocket rocket in a black leather jumpsuit, she fronted an all-male rock band – but not as eye candy. Suzi played a huge bass, sang lead vocals, led the band and showed that women could be just as powerful as men. She re-wrote the rule book for the expected image of women in rock. New film SUZI Q charts the professional career of the Detroit-born star and it’s an absolute joy.

The film shows how Suzi was a total trailblazer and inspiration for a generation of women who were to follow, and includes interviews with many of them, including Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, Donita Sparkes of L7 and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads. Says Joan “Generations of girls picked up guitars because of Suzi Quatro”. Cherie Currie of The Runaways adds: ” Suzi was raw. She came from a place so deep inside, so unmistakeable, that she did far more than show that women could play music. She showed us that we could be who we were if we believed enough in ourselves. Because with Suzi there was never a question”.
In a brief but memorable interview I asked Suzi how she feels about rewriting the rule book for the expected image of women in rock music and being a trailblazer and an inspiration for women: “It feels wonderful… although it was not my motivation. My motivation was just being me… But that door needed to be kicked down. I kicked it down because I didn’t even see it”.

“She showed us that we could be who we were if we believed enough in ourselves”

The film charts her life after Can The Can and 48 Crash propelled her to fame across Europe and Australia (but never in the US), and the price she paid for success. In particular the long simmering family tensions and sibling rivalries that resulted from her stellar career over the ambitions of her sisters, with whom she’d been in a band before she was discovered and turned into a star in the UK. Exiled in Europe thanks to her success while forgotten in her homeland, the film shows in some ways she’s still paying a price – as are her siblings.

What strikes you most is Suzi’s incredible resilience. After they became parents, her rocker husband, a member of her band, struggled with her not being ‘sexy Suzi Q” and their marriage foundered. Both pragmatic and ambitious, by this point she had already turned her hand to acting and gained a whole new audience as Leather Tuscadero in Happy Days. In 1986 Suzi made her West End debut playing the leading role of Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ to great critical acclaim. She also hosted a talk show, still hosts radio shows, wrote poetry, performed in musicals and pantomime and appeared in a number of TV dramas. In 1991 Suzi realised a lifelong ambition by co-writing the music and lyrics to ‘Talullah Who?’, a musical about notorious actress Tallulah Bankhead.

I ask her if these career changes came from necessity (being a mum of two), or whether she yearned to keep learning. “ I was always evolving. Never did I sit on my past laurels. Otherwise I wouldn’t have continued and done so many things within the industry. I am growing still”. Suzi did what was needed in order to survive – but also loved seeing what could be achieved if she stretched herself. And remarkably at 69 she’s still touring, writing and recording. Still evolving to this day.

Refreshingly unconcerned with how she looks (remarkably good actually), says Suzi “I’m happy to be the age I am. Ageing is amazing. With it comes experience”. Suzi is giving live Q&A’s at screenings Oct 7-Oct 11. Catch her if you (can the) can.

For more info on the film, and for details of Live Q&As with Suzi this week, click here.

Words: Marina Gask

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