Sunday, September 8, 2019

"I'm Not Done:" A Chat with the Incomparable Suzi Quatro

As this writer learned firsthand while gigging there at the time, the summer of 2018 was an unusually beautiful time in England. While some hit the pubs, the legendary Suzi Quatro and her son Richard Tuckey went outside with an acoustic guitar and bass, an iPad recording app and lots of paper and let the nice weather fuel new musical ideas.

The result is Quatro’s 17th studio album, No Control (Steamhammer/SPV). Released this past spring, the record easily stands alongside her incendiary and influential early work and shows that she still has plenty to say – and plenty of power left in her sonic arsenal – at 69. Contrary to what the title suggests, No Control finds Quatro producing herself for the very first time.  

I had a complete ball. I never felt so feel and so able to create in my entire career. It’s just the most wonderful, wonderful feeling. I actually sent all the tracks to Mike Chapman, who was my producer for many, many years. I didn’t tell him that I produced it, because I wanted his real opinion. The first thing he wrote back was, ‘Great production.’ I was never so happy in my life! What a compliment from him.”

No Control also marks Quatro’s first-ever collaboration with Richard, one of her two children with ex-husband (and former Quatro band guitarist) Len Tuckey.

He’s always wanted to be in the business since he was a young boy. He studied at his dad’s feet for a long time. He tried saxophone, and that really didn’t work. He tried singing in a band, and that really didn’t work. He tried doing DJ scratching, and that really didn’t work. He got a guitar for Christmas quite young. We didn’t see it happening, but he quietly got excellent. All of a sudden, he was sitting here playing at Christmastime and I went, ‘What? When did that happen?’ I didn’t know he was so good. I think he was a little bit shy to show how good he got; he wanted to make sure he was good enough. He has wanted to write with me for maybe 15 years now. I always kind of felt like the time wasn’t right. This time, he came to me and said, ‘Mom, I need to write with you now.’ That meant he was ready – and I guess I was ready. He said something very strange to me; he said, ‘I want to remind you of who you are!’ I said, ‘Pardon me?!’ I think he had this vision in his head for a long time of the album I should make, and I let that be my guide. He pushed my buttons… I said to my son, ‘If we’re going to do this, I don’t want to push anything. I don’t want to force a song; I don’t want to force a direction. I don’t want to force anything. Everything that’s happening on this has got to be natural and organic. If a song is going in a direction, then that’s the direction it’s going in.’”

One of the album’s many highlights, “I Can Teach You to Fly,” sees the mother-and-son team delivering a pristine slice of British Invasion-flavored Rock that stays in your head long after the first listen.

It’s got a chomp on it that doesn’t quit! I was sitting outside with Richard. I had my acoustic bass; he had his acoustic guitar. The ideas were going back and forth. He said to me, ‘I’ve got to tell you something; I’ve got to be honest… I’ve never been so buzzed in my life. I’m enjoying this creative process; I didn’t know it could feel like this.’ I said, ‘I can teach you to fly.’ We both looked at each other, and we knew… When you’ve got that title, it just writes itself.”

Another track, “Easy Pickin’s,” offers a sardonic view on what passes for quality television these days.

I wanted it to be my take on reality shows, which I don’t think have been healthy for the industry. I put my neck out on the line quite a long time ago before it was fashionable to say this and said, ‘People are now getting into the business to become famous, and that’s not right. You don’t get in the business to be famous. You get in the business because you have to do it.’ I’m not going to be a hypocrite; I do watch those shows. Who doesn’t? Sometimes, they’re damn good entertainment – especially the bad ones. They’re funny. But the reality is that they’re not reality shows; they’re unreality shows. You get some kid who’s been working at a department store, and he decides he wants to be famous. He comes on – and you give him a production that even the biggest stars don’t get – in front of millions of people on TV? You call that reality? That’s not reality. That’s not how I made it.”

Quatro’s formula for making it was kicking ass during an era when a female Rock singer with a bass around her neck was still very much an anomaly. Nearly five decades and a slew of fellow groundbreaking artists later, she views the current scene of women musicians/performers with equal parts admiration and unease.  

There are a lot of good women out there, but I wish they’d put some clothes back on. I really do. That’s not what I fought for. The excuse is that they think they are in charge of their own sexuality so they can do what they like. But that’s not really what’s happening – not in reality. There are some talented people out there, and they don’t need to do that. Look at somebody like Adele. She comes out and just stands there and sings. That’s talent. You don’t need to be half-naked; you just need to be real. Sure, there’s a bit of sexuality in Rock ‘n’ Roll; of course, that’s always been there. But you’ve got to keep a little bit of decorum, leave a little a bit to the imagination and don’t let anybody force you into anything that you don’t want to do.”

This inner strength has kept Quatro active for more than 50 years in an industry known to chew people up and spit them out in 50 weeks. With one of the best albums of her career in the here and now, she remains the real deal – fearless, outspoken and forever ready to show the rest of us how it’s done.   

The number-one thing is I really love what I do. I never coast a show; I never go out there and just go through the motions. That’s just not in my character. I always say to everybody that I was put on this earth to entertain. That keeps me going, because I love the job. Also, I’ve got a lot to say still. I’m not done talkin.’ I’m not done getting ideas out there. I’m not done. I’ve spent a lifetime learning my craft, so why should I stop?”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions


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