The iconic bassist tells us which artist she’d like to sub for, what she’s currently woodshedding, and what she’d be doing if she wasn’t a musician
Detroit-born Suzi Quatro has had a legendary career, from her breakout role in the all-female ’60s rock band the Pleasure Seekers to her upcoming album with KT Tunstall. Along the way she became a glam-rock superstar and platinum-selling artist, inspiring countless young ladies and lads to pick up the bass guitar. Also a successful author, radio broadcaster, and actress, she is well known for her three seasons playing Leather Tuscadero on the sitcom Happy Days. These days, at age 73, she’s been featured in the 2019 documentary Suzi Q, she released her acclaimed album The Devil in Me in 2021, and she’s about to release the first single from her record with Tunstall.From her home in the U.K., she took the time to answer our 10 Questions.
1. What’s something readers would be surprised that you listen to?
Billie Holiday. I often have a “box set evening” of her, and I can do a pretty fair imitation of her voice! When I am on my own, I listen to artists like Bob Dylan, lots of ’50s doo-wop, and lots of ’60s hit compilations, because those were my teenage years.
2. What’s one element of your playing that you most want to improve, and what have you been practicing lately?
Funny you should ask — if you go on YouTube and type in “Suzi Quatro Bass Solo, Live Praha, 1979,” you’ll see my bass solo from a televised concert that year. The clip has had half a million hits. As drummers changed and sets changed around, so did the solo, getting a little more polite and not as long. In the past few years, many people have asked me, why am I not doing that solo anymore? And not long ago, my husband stupidly said, “Oh, you can’t play that fast anymore.” The final straw was my drummer saying, “Why aren’t we doing that solo?” So, of course, it’s now back in the set. It’s physically demanding and requires immense concentration, but I’m playing it better than ever, which is a real surprise at 73. You can see the up-to-date version from footage of the most recent shows I did. So, to answer your question, I have been practicing my bass solo. And I can’t practice it enough!
3. What was the first concert that you ever attended?
The Beatles in Detroit, back in 1964.
4. What’s the best concert you’ve ever attended?
I have to pick two for two different reasons. Wayne Newton is Las Vegas in 1970. What an entertainer. I cried, I laughed, I danced, and I’ve never seen such an all-around talent. The other would have to be Don McLean. He got onstage with his acoustic guitar, and I thought, Oh, no…is this it? All of a sudden the show was over and I was a huge fan. His guitar and his voice are all he needs.
5. If you could have lunch with any bass player today, alive or dead, who would it be?
James Jamerson. I mean, come on, Motown. It’s a no-brainer. And I would jam with him, too.
6. If you could sub as the bass player in any band, what would it be?
Santana. Whenever I jam along to their early albums, I imagine playing alongside Carlos and his band. Without thinking about it, I play exactly the same bass lines.
7. What was your first bass?
We decided to start an all-girl band in 1964 after seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Everyone chose an instrument, and I was late to speak up, although I was already playing percussion and piano in school, reading and writing on both instruments. My older sister Patti told me that I would be playing bass. No problem, I said. My father gave me a 1957 Fender Precision with a stripe down the neck, a gold scratch plate, a sunburst finish, and a Fender Bassman amp to go with it. I still have it, and it still plays brilliantly. I had no idea there were smaller basses and smaller necks — I just learned how to play. It was and is the Rolls Royce of bass guitars.
8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about playing bass?
“It’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play that counts.” A quote from James Jamerson.
9. What the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you during a performance?
It was at a big festival in Finland, thousands of people. The set was over, and I was doing the big swan song ending — waving side to side, throwing kisses, bowing, making a meal of it. As I went to exit the stage stairs, there was a monitor that should not have been there, and over I went. Upside down, still wearing my bass and playing it, too, with my feet straight up and kicking. Ever since, it has been known as “Suzi’s Great Finish.”
10. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I would have been either a lawyer or psychologist. But it must be said that I am an entertainer, and this is not just me being a musician. I’ve done a whole lot of acting, including Happy Days for three seasons, Minder, Midsomer Murders, Dempsey and Makepeace, and Absolutely Fabulous, and I starred in Annie Get Your Gun in [London’s] West End. I did 15 years on BBC Radio 2, and I was nominated for Radio Broadcaster of the Year. I’ve published six books, two being poetry. My 2019 documentary Suzi Q is soon to be a movie. I have an honorary doctoral degree of music — I am Doctor Quatro according to Cambridge University. And very soon, the first single from my duet album with KT Tunstall is going to be released. Currently, I’m composing film music and working on songs for my next album. So, yeah, I guess I was meant to be a musician and entertainer. –BM
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