Suzi Quatro is an American rock singer and songwriter. Inspired aged six by Elvis Presley, she had her first hit singles in the 1970s and has been called the first female bass player to become a rock star. Quatro, 66, talks to me about why she is back in Australia, what inspires her, and what it takes to make it as a entertainer.
Tell me about the tour.
It’s a Leather Forever Encore tour and I wasn’t coming back to Australia again … [but] I was like a drug addict and the buzz wore off and … I just couldn’t stand [being away] any more.
What is it about Australian audiences that you love?
It feels like family…that we’ve grown up together … I can’t explain it any better than that – it’s just there is a synergy between us.
What can the audiences expect from the show?
It’s unusual this time because about 10 years ago my husband, who is a promoter, had the idea to put himself and Andy Scott from The Sweet and Don Powell from Slade together in a supergroup and it didn’t happen. And then about two years ago it happened. So we made an album – half covers, half originals, just released on Sony – and then after the show was already booked, my husband then said, “Why not QSP, Quatro, Scott and Powell? Why don’t you guys be the opening act?” So I made opening act, which is nuts … It is, it’s like 27 songs a night. So that’s a lot.
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Yes, I get to the dressing room first, then I have to, in this order, hang my clothes up on the rail, put my boots up, everything is in order. Then I put my towel that I brought from the hotel on the table and put up with a little bit of makeup… then I get my deck of cards because in that 20 minutes before you go on stage I play Solitaire … I’m not really thinking about the game, I’m just like I’m a robot, so it makes me relax because that’s the most vulnerable moments, just before you go out.
What do you do when you know you’ve got to win over a crowd?
You look at them, you feel them, you see where each group of people is, where the hardcore are, where a lot of the convinced are, where the youngsters are, you find them and you talk to them, until they’re all looking. You just give them what they need, whatever part of you they want, you try to feel that and you give it back.
What is it about rock music that you love?
It’s natural … A lot of people have told me that it’s very authentic with me.
Did you always know you’re going to be in entertainment?
From six years old, when I saw Elvis Presley on television. [He was singing] Don’t Be Cruel… [and in] my little six-year-old brain I went, “Oh that’s what I’m going to do”.
How did your music talent develop?
I was always able to hold an audience… I always could feel that I had everybody in my hands.
You were the first female bass player to become a major rock star. How did you manage to break a barrier to women’s participation in rock music?
I had a family of four girls and one boy and we were all brought up to be very independent. I don’t think my dad wanted four dependent females. So consequently he pushed us that way: “You’re your own person” and I’ve always been my own person. So because I don’t consider myself a female bass player, I don’t allow anything to come into my sphere…
If you didn’t go down this career path, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t an entertainer, which includes everything, which is the acting, the writing, the TV, I would have probably gone into psychology or [being] a criminal lawyer… I love the way the brain works.
What’s your best advice to someone starting out in industry?
Do the gigs. The only way to learn this profession is to perform. That’s where you separate the men from the boys.
You’ve had so many hit singles, do you have a favourite?
Out of the ones that I’ve written, there are so many, I couldn’t choose. There is a new one on the new album QSP, called Pain, that is making people cry… I wrote it with Andy and it says we all have to feel pain sometimes, we all got to go there one time, we all have to walk that fine line. So it’s one of those that no matter who you are, you’re going to go through that, nobody escapes. It’s a pretty special song.
What’s your writing process?
98 per cent of the time, I get the title first because it suggests the instrument I should write it on, because I’m a pianist too and it suggests the tempo, it suggests the mood.
Where do you find your inspiration?
People. I don’t write fiction. So I write about what has happened to me, my feelings. I mean, I have a poetry book published worldwide called Through My Eyes. So I’m a communicator and a wordsmith, both things together.
When you write a song, do you automatically have a feeling whether it will be a hit or not?
Yes, you know as you are writing it if it’s going to be good. Sometimes you just finish it to finish the exercise. But this one, I just was playing the guitar to Andy over the phone. I called him at 8 in the morning and I said, “Listen…” So it was one of those: “Listen.” I had to show it. Those moments are great when you know you’ve stumbled on to a truth.
Is it hard to write about your personal experiences and share them with the world?
I like to do that because I think, especially if they’ve been painful experiences, it turns a painful experience into a gift, almost. You can share with other people.
Who is currently on your playlist?
I love Bob Dylan. In fact, we covered Just Like A Woman on this album. It’s one of the best songs I ever sang in my life. I like a lot of Motown music, I play that a lot, the early ’60s. I love the original rock n roll, I love doo-wop, I love Billie Holiday, Otis Redding. I also like John Legend.
What do you do in your time off?
I’m a movie-, glass-of-wine girl, with a huge screen, sit back and fly into the movie.
What is your favourite film?
Gone With the Wind is my favourite. It’s so cliché, but I’ve watched it maybe 200 times and I can actually do the dialogue.
What do you like to do during your time off in Sydney?
My husband and I go to some of the top restaurants. We went to Sepia, we went to Hubert, we went to the Quay, of course.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Jeez, I’ll be 71 then, still playing, but not driving myself crazy. I take it as it comes.
Will you ever retire?
You slow down. I’m 66 now, I’m not young any more. I’m not chasing youth, either, but I’m still able to go out there. I’m still a viable artist. I still feel like I have something to give. And as long as I have something to give, that’s my job to do that.
Suzi Quatro plays her Leather Forever show on February 14 in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall; $145.40
We went to Bistro Remy, The Langham Sydney
We ate Soupe Du Jour and Prawn Salad
We drank Mineral Water
Suzi wore a Thierry Mugler tshirt and leather jacket