WHEN SUZI Q MET KT AND THEN AH THE DJ
as Norman Warwick listened in
Monster Radio´s AJ the DJ and I were colleagues in Lanzarote Creative Writing Group for a while. That group still convenes, albeit only informally, since its facilitator Sue Almond returned to the UK after many years of living on the island of Lanzarote. Nevertheless, I can still tune in to Monster Lanzarote Radio fm to hear Aileen Hendry, for that is her real name, talking ten to the dozen in her Scottish brogue to her tens of thousands of listeners.
I was slightly surprised when I tuned in this week to hear her introduce The Perfect Storm and the programme´s guest, Suzi Quatro, as AJ was catching her breath and seemed almost stuck for words. AJ (right) admitted that, her thumbs up notwithstanding, she was nervous about meeting a singer-writer she holds in high regard, and even before they began their conversation Aileen was explaining to us why she was feeling unusually nervous. She said she was even unsure if she would get through this interview today because she was so aware of Suzi Quatro being a rock star who has played all over the world. AJ described Suzi as trail-blazer and pioneer for being one of the very first women to ever grace a stage with an electric guitar in her hands.
AJ then shared the news that Suzi has recently collaborated on an album with the wonderful KT Tunstal, and having had a sneak listen, AJ said their two voices worked well together,on the album, Face To Face, which features Suzi´s voice in a very different way from her usual rock and roll approach.
The album (left) was released only a couple of weeks ago but is already climbing the charts, and to demonstrate why, AJ played Shine A Light, the first single from the album. It is true that the voices fit brilliantly, and the guitar-led song had the twosome sounding to me a little like my favourite female duo of Pat Shaw and Julie Matthews.
AJ came back after the song to inform us that Suzie had started out in her long career in a band called The Pleasure Seekers (inner right) , and we were to be treated to a piece of music from that band, and so we heard Suzi at the age of only fourteen singing lead vocals on What A Way To Die !
This was a young band making an exciting sound by fusing so many influences together, blazing guitars, rock vocals and echoes even of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. I don´t know if there is a copy available commercially, but I´ll check that out with AJ you be assured of that.
Amazingly, though, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Suzi´s biggest, and introductory hit, Can The Can and, as AJ informed us, boys all over the UK including me, and the states had posters of her on their bedroom walls. AJ intimated that there were a few Monster Radio Presenters-to-be amongst them.
Suzi will soon be out on tour to celebrate this notable anniversary, (notable not only for her length of service , but also for how well Can The Can, and indeed so much of the Suzi Quatro catalogue has stood the test of time. She will be playing gigs up and down England and on 12th November she will be playing in Cardiff. AJ played Can The Can and the point was proved.
At the conclusion of the track AJ was ´beside herself´ to introduce the, poet, writer, actor and iconic musician, Suzi Quatro. In their opening gambit AJ simply asked Suzi if she was still the girl from Detroit. It was a good question as Suzi has been living in the UK since 1971. Nevertheless Suzi feels one should never lose their roots, and besides nobody ever mistakes her accent for English !!
AJ then took Suzi back to that 14 year old self with The Pleasure Seekers, and asked how come Suzi was driven towards music from such a young age.
Apparently Suzi was one of five children among whom she couldn´t even claim bragging rights because they all still play a minimum of three instruments, as does Suzi, who started out on classical piano and then guitar before she ´found´ the bass at the age of fourteen. It felt so natural to her that it became her instrument of choice and she has been playing it now for almost sixty years.. This daughter of a professional violinist father thinks her first musical reference point was Elvis Presley, as she can remember seeing him on tv when she was only five, and announced ´I´m going to do that !´
She told AJ that seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show and hearing her then 14 year old sister screaming at the screen was an awakening..
It set her on a path she still follows.
Suzi also recalls that she was given a set of bongo drums when she was around eight years old, and only a couple of years later learned how it felt to perform live in front of her siblings and parents at birthday parties etc.
Although she couldn´t articulate it at the time, she realised that whatever her skill set was, she could hold a room. The career path was set there and then.
So AJ reminded us all of where it had all begin by taking us back to that tv appearance by Elvis on which he sang Don´t Be Cruel, so that Suzi could re-live her first crush !
When AJ asked Suzi to recall how it felt like to be putting together a band at the age of fourteen and to describe the conversation she had to have with her parents to make that happen.
´I didn´t have to argue. Dad was one million per cent behind me but there was paperwork to deal with, the hire of transport, instruments, rehearsal rooms and accommodation. There was a number of times when the whole band would stay at my parents´ house with me, and my mother would say that must have been her life-sentence, having to listen to all our rehearsals´
Suzi charted the path of The Pleasure Seekers (a name chosen over her mother´s suggestion of ´the five little chick-a-dees´,) as that of a hard-working well organised club act with a rock attitude. They knew how to give the club customers what they wanted from top forty to soul etc but after a few years they were invited to play at á hippie festival and couldn´t quite deliver in the way that audience wanted.
A few years of working to club audience had left them slightly out of touch, but not so much that they couldn´t recognise a new trend and whole different opportunity.
They swapped a few places on the line up with front player Suzi actually going to the back on the drums. Some tie-dye t shirts and more introspective lyrics and the job was done. In fact that re-jigged line up even went to Vietnam to entertain American troops, and Suze even has bitter-sweet memories of visiting the wounded in field field hospitals.
In fact those memories cued up Suzi´s second choice of songs to accompany this interview. Otis Redding´s version of Try A Little Tenderness is stil one of her favourite soings. it is one she had sung as Suzi Soul in The Pleasure Seekers and that than, coincidentally, been requested by a badly wounded soldier on one of those Vietnam hospitals.
Throughout this period with the band it was not ego that had Suzi ´waiting to be discovered´, but rather the mature and certain knowledge the she had something of the X factor, whatever the X factor may be.
She didn´t quite know it then, but Mickey Most (right) was about to enter her life.
In fact Mickey Most was the second person in a week to offer her a solo contract after seeing her perform with the band. Suzi had already had a verbal offer a few days earlier from Elektra Records who, she said, wanted to turn her into the next Janis Joplin. Two offers for a solo contract was an opportunity knocks opportunity, signalling her time had come. That did not necessarily make her decision any easier to deliver. She wanted to sign with Mickey because he was offering her the chance to become the first Suzi Quatro, but Suzie was nevertheless tearful and upset when it came to explaining it to the band.
Once the decision was finalised and I came over to England I cried myself to sleep every night for the first year or so, because I was alone. I was alone as I could be, Suzi told AJ. After coming from a loud vibrant family background and having spent usch a time as member of a band, I was really, really alone. There was never a question of giving up and going hme though. I was on theight path and still knew where I wanted to reach´ .
AJ then guided Suzi back to her first transistor radio, which came late, Suzi explained, because she was one of five children. Despite warnings not to play her radio in bed, Suzi waited till all other occupants of her home were asleep and pulled the radio from under her pillow and tuned in,…..and their first song she heard was Surfing Safari by The Beach Boys.
Even now, half a century or so later, the song jumped out of the Monster studio just as it must have leapt out of that transistor radio. All energy, all fun, and a real rock roll sound to surf along to.
Then AJ played Carole King´s So Far Away off the Tapestry album,…which had been her solace on those lonely nights in a one room flat in Earl´s Court flat. These were obviously emotional memories for Suzi but she reinforced her earlier statements that she would not return to the USA until she had enjoyed UK success.
Throughout that period Mickey Most was trying his very best to make things happen for Suzi but the right songs and the right gigs just couldn´t be found. In the end, Suzi reminded him that she had been a band-member for many years, and she thought she should put a band together and gig for all she was worth, if only as an escape from the loneliness of that one room flat.
She put together what she still considers a REAL band, that could really rock, and she began writing her own songs. Suddenly Suzi and her band, which included her ex husband, was playing all across the student circuit. Their first real tour was as openers for Slade, and those fifteen minutes every night really honed their sound until Mickey then proposed that he would hire the Chapman and Chinn song-writing duo, already a formidable pairing by then, who would, he said, be able to listen to Suzi´s own material, complete with some excellent songs, but no ready-prepared singles. Mickey Most said the duo wee skilled at listening to an artist´s voice and delivery techniques and could then create a song, as a single, in that image.
Suzie recalled that she had been a tomboy, but a ´cute´ one, as a kid and that she has been politically correct all her life. The ´leather, gender neutral´ style as AJ called it was just a projection of her natural self. Asked whether she had to stand up for herself in a male oriented culture of sixties pop nusic, Suzi laughed that she was born with a tattoo on her forehead that said ´don´t mess with me´.
In terms of other temptations that might have been offered from the dark side of the pop-culture, Suzi reminded us she was born and raised a catholic, into a good family. Aside from a dabble or two at pop parties she never indulged on the drug scene.
Once the UK success bandwagon began rolling Suzie was able to return to the States for tours and gigs. Her albums sold well over there but the UK single hits didn´t seem to follow suit. Nevertheless, her first gig on her return was in Detroit, where the fliers boasted Blue Oyster Cult and Kiss as the support acts.
This part of the conversation became a delightful trip of gloriously funny anecdotes about her family´s reactions to ¨Susan´s success.
Eventually, AJ turned the topic to Canned Heat and their UK and US hit On The Road Again. This was a special request by Suzi, to remind her of Canned Heat, that throbbing bass rive and the skills of the band members. Their sound had Suzi determined to make sole instrumentals sound exciting, interesting and daring, something she certainly did from then on.
It is now fifty years since Can The Can was a hit and so the fiftieth anniversary tour will see Sizi takes in lots of dates. I don´t know if our All Points Forward reporter, Peter Pearson,
might catch the one at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, but if so I´d love to publish his review ! Suzi is perhaps not the normal cup of Americana tea we prefer here down the Sidetracks And Detours, but she was very much a part of my youth. I have to say, too, that it never ceases to amaze me the names that fall into the overlaps on the Venn diagrams of music. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a diverse soundtrack for this programme was developing..
Now AJ was ready to add another song to that playlist .It was another that had been cued up by Suzi for her, and I was amazed to hear an introduction to Going Home Is Such A Ride. by Dory Previn. The song had been shown to Suzi by Mickey Most as an example of a lyric ´without a single wasted syllable´.
Suzi described herself as an artiste who is only fulfilled when communicating or entertaining. That might well explain the seven books that include two volumes of poetry, the autobiography that is told in all her own words under the wonderful title of Unzipped, and a documentary called Suzi Q that rested for a loing time at the top of the Amazon charts. She is also an accomplished actor: in her early years she was frequently in Happy Days, (she is still internet friends of Henry Winkler and Ron Howard) and then, later, on stage in Annie Get Your Gun at The Aldwych Theatre in London.
The singles she recorded might surprise you with their subject matter,….surely any man´s ego would wilt to learn that 48 Crash is about male menopoause. !
AJ posed some interesting questions about other career paths Suzi might have chosen had she been forced to and these included psychiatry or being a crime-lawyer and Suzi left us in no doubt that she commits 300% to whatever she does, and it was certainly true that today, between them on a two hour radio show, AJ and she were delivering encyclopeadic biography.
The sound track continued being created as AJ referred to another Suzi recommendation of Marvin Gaye performing How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You. My own preferred version of that is actually by Junior Walker and The All Stars, albeit for romantically sentimental reasons
That was followed byChuck Berry Sweet Little Rock And Roller, a song that, not only by its title but also it seems to by some particular lines, could apply to the Suzi Q we have learned so much about on this programme.
It perhaps spoke of something, though, when the station manager stepped into the studio for the last couple of minutes of The Perfect Storm. He bravely teased information out of Suzy about her rear of the year award in 1992, I think. He also asked her to give a name check to a mate of his who he remembers buyng Can The Can all those years ago.
AJ still had a little way to go the reach the end of the path she had so carefully prepared, diverted from but then had returned to in giving the dialogue a linear narrative. She was now not only at the closing chapter of Suzi´s career to date but was also about to turn the page to new chapters yet to be written.
Suzi reported proposals still under consideration for a mini series or documentary about her life, that she would be excited to be involved in. So, watch this space, seemed to be the message.
Although she thought it was slightly morbid to play the song that Suzi says she would, a long ways hence, like to be played at her funeral, AJ nevertheless asked her why this song matters to Suzi.
Ms. Quatro then eulogised about how massive the song is in all that it conveys: When (not if) I Fall In Love, sung so beautifully by Nat King Cole and with the same undoubted certainty that Suzi always knew her time as an artist would come.
Together AJ The DJ And Suzie Q had devised a playlist of 12 songs that perfectly capture Suzie Quatro, and we list those tracks below. I hope readers, and AJ and Suzi will forfive me for adding the theme from Happy Days, (a call from halcyon days, even now) and my favourite song from Suzi as Annie.
SIDETRACKS AND DETOURS
WHEN AJ THE DJ MET SUZI Q
Can The Can Suzie Quatro
Shine A Light Tunstell/Quatro
What A Way To Die The Pleasure Seekers
Don´t Be Cruel Elvis Presley
Try A Little Tenderness Otis Redding
Surfin´Safari The Beach Boys
So Far Away Carole King
On The Road Again Canned Heat
Going Home Is Such A Ride Dory Previn
Theme from Happy Days Jim Haas And Session Singers
They Say Its Wonderful Suzi Quatro as Annie in Annie Get Your Gun
How Sweet It Is Marvin Gaye
Sweet Little Rock & Roller Chuck Berry
When I Fall In Love Nat King Cole
You can find a recording of this interview including music, in the archives at Monster Radio Lanzarote fm.
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