James Nuttall catches up with legendary rock singer Suzi Quatro in her Essex home to chat about her new studio album, No Control.
“This album seems to have a life of its own”, begins Suzi Quatro in her prominent Detroit accent. At 68, the original rock chick isn’t letting her eligibility for a pension get in the way of her work.
2019 marks her 55th anniversary in the music business and 46 years since the release of Can the Can, her first UK number one single. By the time the year is out, she will have completed two Australian tours, a UK tour, a German tour and various dates in Europe.
However, the reason we are speaking today is to discuss the most notable achievement on her calendar for the year – the release of her 14th studio album, No Control.
The woman who inspired the likes of Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde and The Go-Go’s may have a reputation as the wild one on stage, but in private she lives a very sedate life in the Essex countryside. Speaking from her 16th century mansion, we begin with how these recording sessions came about.
The Quatro clan has a history of being a showbiz family. Suzi’s father played in jazz bands, her mother was a singer. At the age of 14, Quatro formed a band with two other sisters and began life as a professional musician. Her daughter Laura sings and runs jam nights in Chelmsford, while her son, Richard, is currently working as the guitar technician for up-and-comer, Rat Boy.
No Control is somewhat a collaboration with Richard. The second child of Quatro and her first husband and former guitarist, Len Tuckey, Richard took up guitar in his early 20s and was the one who instigated this working relationship with his mum.
“He’s always wanted to do something with me and he’s mentioned it, lightly, now and again”, she explains. “He’s always done his own thing, Richard travels his own path, he always has done; he was in bands, he was a scratcher for a while and this and that. He was always a big fan of the original energy and attitude of Suzi Quatro – that’s what he buys into.”
“He came to me and he said ‘I really want to do some songs with you.’ I said ‘Okay, well show me what you’ve got’. He showed me a little bit of something, this is about three years ago, and I said there’s something there but you’re not quite ready yet, come back; he came back. He showed me Don’t Do Me Wrong and I said: I can work with that, I like that a lot.
“The next one he showed me was the beginnings of Bass Line and we went in the front room, he started to play me this riff and I started to do this bass-solo bass line. I said I like this, this is Bass Line and I’m going to do a solo through the whole thing. Then we just flew, it was not difficult, everything was organic.”
No Control marks the first set of Quatro/Tuckey composed tracks since 1982’s Main Attraction album. Except this time, it’s Len’s son who’s picked up the guitar. The 11-track LP boasts a lot of different colours, but with a very strong nod to blues – a genre Quatro has not really explored in the past. “Each song was a separate entity, actually. We didn’t try to go any which way, we just wrote and however it came out it came out. Each song is very organic, each song is very real and each song has its own face.”
One of the stand-out tracks is the Roxy Music-esque Love Isn’t Fair. With a funky horn melody juxtaposed against sombre lyrics, there is a bitter-sweet irony to this track. “A lot of people are picking that out”, comments Quatro. “It’s a feel-good song, but it’s got a serious message. I was getting a Blondie vibe, I don’t know why. It started with the bass line, that’s where that song began.”
Love Isn’t Fair also marked a line in the sand for Quatro’s working relationship with her son: “We had an argument, Richard and I on that song, which was our only one of the session. Because it’s a throwback to the 50s thing, I had originally taken the chorus in a different tempo and made it hippie-trippy; stopping the movement. Richard called me after a couple of days and said ‘Mum, if you don’t change this the song can’t go on the album. I said ‘Excuse me, whose album is this?’ He said ‘I feel that strong about it, you can’t break the rhythm.’
“I got a little bit annoyed but I put the phone down, I listened, and I called him back after about an hour and said you’re correct. That was a case of him getting his confidence enough to say what he really felt, and he really felt it. I stuck it to the beat.”
As is often the case, the title for the album changed during the project. When I spoke to Suzi in July, the working title was to be I Can Teach You to Fly, taken from one of the songs she and Richard had written together. “It went through a little metamorphosis, as things do as you develop it. I wanted I Can Teach You to Fly because Richard and I a lit had a moment out on the patio when we were writing. He was saying how buzzed he was, he’d never been involved like this in the creative process, you could see he was so happy. I just said to him ‘I can teach to to fly’ and I said oh m god, that’s the album title.
“Then, when I chose the picture for the album cover and they did what they did to it, which I love, I then thought this is not this album title, anymore. Rainer [her husband] said about one-word titles; Rumours, Bad etc. so I thought, okay, Leather. I sat with that for a few days and then I said the lead track is No Soul – No Control – I am me, even the picture says that. So, I said No Control and everyone said yes.”
So, what was it that compelled her son to write with her? “Richard came to me and said ‘Mum I need to write with you, can I show you some ideas?’ He was insistent. He said ‘I want to remind you of who you are and watch you smile’. And what a nice thing to say, that really went into my heart.
“He was somehow able to switch on the Suzi button. I think this was what he loved, not the original sound, the original energy; I think this was what Richard has always admired in me, so that’s the button he pressed. I do feel on this album that it’s a rebirth.”
Quatro and Len Tuckey divorced in 1991 after 15 years of marriage. After several years of being estranged, they became friendly again, so much so that Tuckey played on Quatro’s 2006 album, Back to the Drive.
While Len did attend many of the No Control recording sessions, Suzi, who has now been married to German-born concert promoter Rainer Haas since 1993, insists that all the guitar parts were played by Richard.
“Len was there for Richard, a lot of times he sat there. I think Richard thought he was a little bit of a security blanket for him. I said to Len, one time, would you like to play something; he looked at me for a few minutes and said ‘No, I want Richard to play everything.’ He was handing over to Richard, which is nice.”
Even in her heyday, the Suzi Quatro band were able to cut and mix a whole album in a matter of weeks. In the heady 1970s, when the likes of Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac would take a year to make one LP and spend millions, Quatro’s band were so well rehearsed they could do the same work in a fraction of a time.
Not much has changed in 40 years, as she explains they whole thing was done in under a month. “Unfortunately, we had a three week break while Richard and Mike went on tour with Rat Boy, so there was a break we didn’t intend on. It took, probably, about three and a half weeks altogether, maybe four. Once we were in there and rolling you couldn’t stop us, it was like an express train.”
The album’s lead single, No Soul – No Control, was released on February 15th. This is another track Quatro gives credit to her son for inspiring. “When he played me No Soul – No Control, he said ‘I have to show you this riff, mum, but I’m not sure if I should.’ I said why and he said it might be too heavy, I said show it to me. So, he showed it to me and I said, now there’s an interesting track.
“He said: ‘All I’ve got is no control of my soul,’ I said put it on a tape; I took it into Mike’s living area, sat down, and I’d say in a bout 15-20 minutes that song just flew out. Everything just came flying, I didn’t even have to work at it.”
When she started performing professionally, Quatro’s first band, The Pleasure Seekers, would often perform five sets in a single night. As she entered into the world of chart success and world tours, endless nights of screaming over PA systems and doing two-hour shows every night became part and parcel of her life.
This gruelling work seems to have paid off, with many critics saying she is singing better now than she did at the age of 28. Even Quatro, now a Doctorate of Music, is at a loss as to why her voice has endured so well. “I’m almost afraid to talk about it because I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t know why it is that I’m singing better than I ever did. My voice is stronger than it’s ever been; I can anything from a ballad to the screech. I don’t understand it because a lot of singers go through that thing where they lose their voices as they get older and I’m gaining it. Whatever it is, thank you God.
“Maybe all those old days of five sets a night does train your voice. You either sink or swim. I remember when we got down to one show a night when I had success and guys would complain, I would say ‘What are you complaining about? I used to do five shows a night.’”
Speaking of shows, fans around the world can look forward to hearing selected tracks from No Control making their way into Quatro’s live set. “To begin with, I’m going to take the most ‘Suzi’ songs and put them in because that’s the most accessible for an audience that doesn’t know them yet. I’m going to put in the single and probably Macho Man – that is a Suzi Quatro live song. I certainly want to get Going Down Blues in the set.
April will see Quatro headline the Legends Live UK arena tour, sharing the bill with David Essex, Bay City Rollers and Smokie/Showaddywaddy. Even in this much shorter set, she intends to play the single. “I have to do the single because the single’s out. But that’s all I have time for because it’s such a short show, and it’s not fair to people who’ve paid to hear what they want to hear.
“If it’s a big hit album, I’ll tour the album. Richard will be on guitar because that’s what he wants to do if we have some success with this. I would be remiss not to let him do that.”
Quatro’s strongest territory has always been Australia – a country in which she outsold The Beatles. Currently headlining her third Red Hot Summer Tour down under, she will be returning in October to play even more Australian dates. “I have a week in and around Sydney on a boat cruise, then I’m doing nine solo shows after that. It’s called the Back to Basics Tour. It’s my Australian band and it’s stripped down – it’s back to basics.”
One of the new tracks is titledGoing Home – fittingly so as Quatro sums up our conversation with this summation of the record: “I think this is one of the best albums I’ve done, it is like coming home. Coming home, but armed with the ammunition of everything I’ve learned along the way and then coming back to me.”
What is the message of this album? “I am in control of my life.”
No Control is released on March 29th on Steamhammer. It can be pre-orded here.
Tour dates can be found on Suzi’s official website.