Q THE MUSIC
Bass Player|December 2020
Kicking down boundaries like there was no tomorrow, Suzi Quatro owned the Seventies, with 50 million album sales, a primetime TV slot, and bass mastery that put most of her contemporaries to shame. But the decade wasn’t all about ‘Can The Can’, she warns: there was a whole lot of ‘Can’t’, too...
Suzi Quatro

I don’t know about you, but if I make it to 70 years old, I plan to do a whole lot of sitting around and doing as little as possible. Of course, this is a shamefully lazy attitude, as evidenced by the phenomenal work ethic of our cover star Suzi Quatro, four months into her eighth decade as you read this—and busier than ever. In 2020 she’s recorded an internet bass series, worked on a forthcoming biopic, promoted last year’s Suzi Q documentary, and written not one but two albums’ worth of songs.

“This is what I’ve done my whole life,” she tells BP. “When things get tough, I create. When my first marriage was going bad, I wrote a musical. Creativity, that’s what saves me every time, so I’ve been non-stop this year. I had something like 85 or 90 shows booked, even busier than last year, and of course they’re all postponed. As soon as we found ourselves in this situation, I built a studio out the back, and I said to my son ‘The option has been taken up by [record company] SPV for the next album, so now that we can’t play live, we’re going to write this album’ and that’s what we did. We wrote songs every single day, and now we’re recording it. It’s going fantastic. I’ve also released a coffee table-sized lyric book called Through My Words, and I’m working on two more books.”

Suzi Q, last year’s documentary about Quatro’s life and career, offered an insight into her character that was refreshingly free of any sycophancy, unlike so many similar productions.

“You should watch it,” she advises.

“It’s gone ballistic around the world. In America it was number two in the TV charts, with rave reviews, because it’s warts and all. It really shows what kind of person I am. I don’t do the bullshit compliments—that’s not me.”

Last time we visited Quatro in her country home north of London, we got to play her vintage Precision, a veritable warhorse from 1957 that hangs on the wall in a place of honour next to her fireplace. Does the old P appear on the new record? “It does,” she nods, “but I was given a Rios bass guitar, so I’ve been using that as well as the old P-Bass. Rios are making a Suzi Quatro model, the Wild One, as well.”

Appropriately for a Precision devotee, Quatro cites the master of that instrument as her primary influence. “I grew up in Detroit, so I was weaned on James Jamerson. He’s still the best. I very much take my style from him. I’m a cross between his style and boogie,” she says.

Were there any other female bassists at the time? “Only Carol Kaye, who’s been around forever. There were other girl bands that I saw when I was weaned on music back in the States, but none that I ever heard that I took anything from myself. Why would I? I had James Jamerson as my example of what good bass playing could be. You really can’t wish for better than that. I was weaned on Motown music, so it’s in my DNA. He did his fancy licks, but he didn’t overplay.”

Has anyone come close to Jamerson’s standard since then? Quatro considers this before replying, “It’s hard to improve on what he did, because you’re talking perfection. The drums, the bass, and the tambourine were what made the Motown sound. That’s hard to beat. I will say that Flea is a terrific example of a bassist from a more modern era. He was able to take all the normal bass-lines and put his own little twist on it, which is not easy to do.”

As this issue of BP is dedicated to exploring the far-offworld of the Seventies—the decade when Quatro became a star—we ask her how life was for a fledgling rock star back then. In that decade, it seems to us, the wide world of music was there for the taking. This is some way off the mark, says Quatro.

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