“You’re late,” Suzi Quatro says in that rock ’n’ roll voice familiar from hits like Devil Gate Drive, 48 Crash and Can the Can.
She has been sitting by the phone waiting for my call. It’s not a good way to start an interview with rock royalty.
Chastened (and a little star-struck), even though it’s exactly the time for which the call was booked, I mumble something about confusing time zones. It sounds a lot like the dog ate my homework.
But Quatro still has time to talk – and talk fast – about her upcoming Adelaide gig and final tour of Australia, the place she calls her second home.
“I’ve been coming here so long it’s like we’ve all grown up together,” she says.
“From the beginning Australia has always got me and I’ve got you; we’re like family … there’s a special bond with Australia.”
Her first concert here, at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion in 1974 when she was just 24, remains a highlight.
“It was the first time I’d been Down Under and it was pandemonium. You look out into the crowd and you think: ‘I’ve done it. I’m here.’
“I remember the noise the crowd made. It was just crazy.”
The tour was so successful that she returned again the same year, and she’s been back almost 30 times since. But after celebrating a half-century in the music business last year, and with the release of a double album of music from throughout her career as well as a poetry book, Quatro has decided this will be her last Australian tour.
She promises it will be a “foot-on-the-gas” two-hour production, a night to remember with “tears, laughter and lots of rock ’n’ roll” – performed with a 10-piece band including two back-up singers and Australian musicians.
The show is likely to include more recent music, such as new single The Girl from Detroit City, as well as the hits that fans remember from her early years.
Between 1973 and 1980, Quatro sold more than 55 million records and featured in the British charts for 101 weeks. She also became a familiar face on TV, starring as Leather Tuscadero, Fonzie’s rocker girlfriend and younger sister of Pinky, in the American sitcom Happy Days.
She grew up in a musical family, playing bongos in her father’s jazz band as a child and then studying classical percussion and piano, before becoming the bass player in her sister’s band at the age of 14. She says her parents helped instil in her a professional attitude. Music was a planned career; “it wasn’t sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll”.
“My first love was Elvis Presley, who I saw when I was six. I had an epiphany and I knew I was going to be just like him. It sounds crazy but that’s how it was … it didn’t matter what else I did, I was going to come back to that.
“At 14, I strapped on the bass and that was just it.”
As a female bass player with sass aplenty, the young Quatro broke new ground in the rock industry, but says she “never played gender”: “I think because I took myself seriously, so did everyone else … I never went up there as a woman playing the bass, I was just a person playing the bass.”
Asked her views on today’s young musicians, Quatro reels off a string of singers whose talent she admires, including Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. But there’s one thing she has an issue with …
“I don’t agree with how far the dress code has gone. I’ve said it before and no one wanted me to say it and now everyone is saying it. I said, ‘What are you guys doing? This is not what I fought for?’
“I just think it borders on soft porn and I don’t know where it goes to after this. It’s worrying … and they don’t need to do it because they are talented.”
The trademark skin-tight, leather pantsuit Quatro herself once wore was probably considered pretty risqué by some – but that was then and this is the age of Wrecking Ball.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is Quatro’s love of live performance. She enjoys shaking her “ass” as much as ever she ever did and says the final Australian tour certainly doesn’t mean the end of her live career.
“I always love it – I wish I could say I’ve grown out of it now, but I haven’t.
“I love what I do. I love to entertain people – that’s what it’s all about.”
As we wrap up, she apologises for the interview being rushed, but you get the impression Suzi Quatro does everything fast. We’ll barely hang up before the next journalist calls. Hopefully they won’t be late.
Suzi Quatro will perform at the Thebarton Theatre in Adelaide on February 3.
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