Greetings again from the darkness. “Home is where the heart is.” That’s a two thousand year old phrase whose sentiment has multiple interpretations. It’s the phrase that came to mind while watching Liam Firmager’s profile of Suzi Quatro, the pioneering female Rock ‘n Roller. She started as a middle-class Detroit girl who went on to have a huge international career, though her music never really clicked with the U.S. audience. The emotions from and towards her family are even more complicated.
Playing a bass guitar that made her look even smaller than her diminutive 5 foot frame, Quatro was quite the stage presence in her leather jump suits (inspired by Jane Fonda’s character in BARBARELLA) and constant motion. Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s admitted that she had never even thought about women playing instruments in a rock band until she saw Suzi. Most of the interviews here have a similar thread: Suzi Quatro was a main influence for such female rockers as Cherie Currie and Lita Ford of The Runaways, KT Tunstall, Debbie Harry, Tina Weymouth of The Talking Heads, and of course, Joan Jett. We hear from each of these musicians as they pay tribute to their trailblazer. When Suzi is described as “the quintessential rock ‘n roll chick”, it’s obviously a term of respect.
The film has a bit of a disjointed structure and uneven flow, but that doesn’t diminish the message. Suzi Quatro was a daring ground-breaker. We get some of the backstory regarding her family, as she credits her mother for instilling Catholic morals, and her dad for passing along his performing gene. But it’s the sisters who provide the most insight. These are the type of sisters who didn’t tell Suzi about an offer from renowned music producer Mickie Most, because they didn’t want her to quit their band and have success without them. It’s these same sisters who, almost 50 years later, refuse to give Suzi the respect she so craves.
Alice Cooper speaks to her influence, and Henry Winkler recalls her time as Leather Tuscadero, a recurring character on “Happy Days.” We also hear from Len Tuckey, Suzi’s guitarist and first husband, who offers insight to the band and the person. There is also a segment (with a clip) on her success in the stage musical “Annie Get Your Gun”, and, on a personal note, we learn Suzi is the aunt to actress Sherilynn Fenn (“Twin Peaks”).
Suzi Quatro has sold over 55 million records in her career … and she still plays live gigs today (well at least prior to the pandemic). The driving ambition that motivated her to pursue her dream is still there, although she admits “most girls gave up music to have a life.” We see her in 1973 and in 2019. The leather and the energy are still present, as is the mystery of why she was so much more popular internationally than in her home country. The film touches on the male-oriented business and the sexism that occurred. There is footage of a stunning moment on a British talk show where the host actually slapped her on her leather-clad derriere. Imagine that moment today! Was Suzi Quatro ahead of her time, or did she come along at just the right moment? Either way, the professional success contrasted with the unresolved family issues, make this more than a standard rock bio. It’s a history lesson with a moral to the story.
Available on VOD July 3, 2020