Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published November 1st 2019
In cinemas November 20
There are very few people in the world of music that you can look back at and say that they changed things. In modern rock music, people will mention The Beatles, Nirvana, the standard ones. But there is one musician who changed the face of music and opened up the rock scene in a way none had ever done before, and whose effects are still being felt today.
That musician is Suzi Quatro.
And, to celebrate the life of this extraordinary artist, a new documentary has been released: Suzi Q (2019). Produced by Tait Brady & Liam Firmager; directed by Liam Firmager
This is, quite simply, a celebration of the life of Suzi Quatro. It is a fairly straight-forward, linear narrative of her life, especially her early years through to the seventies.
To summarise: We start with her beginnings in Detroit, and her early family life is covered. The affection for her family is evident and obvious, and it is returned from her family with caveats. We'll get to that. She was inspired first by Elvis, then by The Beatles. So, along with her sisters and some friends, they started an all-girl group The Pleasure Seekers where they sang and played the instruments. Suzi was put onto bass guitar.
This is one of the first things I had never heard before just listening to those early songs by The Pleasure Seekers, they had "it" when Suzi was only 14! Her father let her drop out of school young and as a young teen, she played in nightclubs. This is her first regret she feels she missed a chunk of growing up. The band went from strength to strength; her brother became a promoter and helped them along. They were regarded as the first hard rock female group. But the band struggled, then they became Cradle and Suzi took a back seat, sort of. Cradle struggled even more for success.
That was when Mickie Most came from England, saw Cradle, then took Suzi to Motown Studios with Jeff Beck and Cozy Powell to jam. Mickie then, through her brother Michael, decided he wanted to record just Suzi, not the band. The sisters and father were not happy about this. This is sort of glossed over the actual feelings of all involved. However, this was the start of the Suzi Quatro we know and adore. She struggled at first in England, but Mickie Most's family gave her support, and her family tried to help as well.
I should point out that the family element here is very strong; it is almost a celebration of family, but there is some conflict and tension, down to one of her sisters saying, "I'll never be a fan of Suzi Quatro." That resentment and regret runs beneath the interview sections with the sisters. It is stated a little at times, but it does feel that a lot of that could well have been explored a little more.
Len Tuckey, her guitarist and lover, enters the story. He is interviewed a lot through this. Also coming in are Chinn & Chapman enters the scene, the producers-extraordinaire of 1970s England. They put her bass playing at the forefront along with her singing, and her leather catsuit came from Jane Fonda's Barbarella. The record they recorded was 'Can The Can', the leather became the look, and it fell into place immediately, so much so that they appeared on Top Of The Pops in May 1973. Things now stepped up.
As a female singer, playing an instrument, fronting a band she was the first. She changed the way people looked at females in music. And she was not just a look: Her bass playing was excellent. However, bad publicity followed, accusing her of being a tool of male chauvinism. She instead transcended gender. Her influence on future female bands/musicians was incalculable.
Though not glam, she was seen as part of the glam rock scene. Her homecoming after 3 years away was tough; the family were not receptive. To make it worse, for a very long time she never cracked America. She married Len in 1976. Then Chinn-Chapman split and this hurt Suzi, and ended her US label deal. She then appeared in Happy Days, and that and the song 'If You Can't Give Me Love' gave her a little US success. She splits with Mickie Most and joins Dreamland Records, but it dies, and takes with it her album Rock Hard (my favourite Quatro song is the title track).
Things pick up speed here. Suzi was not a sex, drugs, and rock & roll person there were no hard drugs, she only drank beer. Joan Jett and Suzi get mistaken for one another a lot. Suzi and Len had two children, Laura and Richard. She stars in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway, then does panto and co-wrote a musical Tallulah Who?. Finally, she and Len split.
The documentary then rushes through the next 30 years to "today". She reflects on her past and looking back. It even sounds like there's regret there. Performance is now her life. We talk about Richard Tuckey (her son) and her writing songs together, which became the newest album No Control, which, it must be said, is quite a stunning work. And we finish with a song Cherie Currie wrote for the documentary, a celebration of Suzi 'Rock'N'Roll Rosie' and it is not too bad at all.
That's the story. And that brings up the main thing that I found did not quite ring about this it was very much a positive spin. This was not a "warts and all" look at her life. The tensions between the sisters, the father's cassette tapes sent to her, the break-up with Len there was so much glossed lover. Look, I do understand celebratory pieces, but after so many magnificent documentaries about music and musicians, it did feel a little light.
Having said that, as a look at the early years of the person who broke down the doors for females in rock and roll music, who challenged and overcame a lot of the male dominance, and who did things on her own terms, this is a perfect telling of that tale. Without Suzi, we would not have so much awesome music nowadays.
And the sheer number of people who appeared to help celebrate her life is phenomenal! These include: Clem Burke (Blondie), Alice Cooper, Cherie Currie (Runaways), Lita Ford, Deborah Harry, Wendy James (Transvision Vamp), Joan Jett, Don Powell (Slade), Andy Scott (Sweet), Donita Sparks (L7) , KT Tunstall, Kathy Valentine (The Go Gos), Tina Weymouth & Chris Frantz (Talking Heads), and the Fonz himself Henry Winkler.
Stylistically, even though it was a linear narrative though interspersed with pieces about her future influence there were some very nice touches. It was made in Australia, and is quite Australia-centric in tone at times. The footage from the early television appearances is very clean. Magnificently so. And there was a very cool and interesting use of television screens to show some of those clips. It was interesting looking at the chart placings which were flashed on the screen from around the world she did not do well in the USA for a long time! The interview bits with Suzi coming from different places does not give it the feel of just another interview bit done for the film, which helps it feel not contrived.
And, finally, I loved the little bits of her poetry that are interspersed throughout the film, her handwriting them in long-hand, personalising them even more than hearing her voice speaking them, acting almost as punctuation points.
This is a fine documentary looking at a woman who is not regarded anywhere as much as she should be by the world of rock music. She was and, indeed, is a performer who should be celebrated more. And maybe that is the point of this film. We need to celebrate Suzi Quatro and all she has given music.
"Let me be who I am " I think this quote sums up her life, and sums up the film.