In her native America, pioneering female rocker Suzi Quatro is best remembered for her role as “Leather Tuscadero” on Happy Days, but in the rest of the world, Quatro was known—at least for a short time—as a chart-topping bubblegum/glam-rock superstar who sold 50 million records.
Her biggest hits came one after another starting in 1973 and she fit right in with the then-current glitter/glam rock scene and bands like The Sweet, Slade, Mud, T-Rex and similar acts. Pop impresario Mickie Most was her manager and the songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman wrote several million sellers for her including “Can the Can,” “48 Crash” and “Devil Gate Drive.” Clad from head to toe in black leather like a pint-sized Yankee Emma Peel, and wielding a bass that seemed HUGE compared to her, Suzi Quatro was an almost archetypal musical and style influence on female rockers who came in her wake like The Runaways, especially Joan Jett and Talking Head Tina Weymouth.
When I was a little kid, I had several of her 45s and would cut out pictures of her from magazines and tape them to my wall. Here is Suzi Quatro, at the age of 23, singing “48 Crash”—she was super hot, wasn’t she?
Suzi’s career began in her teens, in 1964, when the Detroit-born Quatro and her sisters formed The Pleasure Seekers, an all-girl answer to the Beatles. In contrast to her tall, willowy blond siblings and band mates, Suzi was short and brunette. The Quatros were obviously a musical family and their father was a band leader and talent booker who encouraged their talents. The first single was 1965’s “What a Way to Die.”
The Pleasure Seekers were contracted by Mercury Records in 1968. They were one of the very first all-female groups to get signed to a major label. This was at a time when you did not see a woman touching an instrument in rock music. They had a slick stage act that included a “Sgt. Pepper” section, as well as Motown numbers. They played the Michigan nightclub and college circuit alongside acts like Alice Cooper, The Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent’s band), and The Bob Seger System. A young Iggy Pop dated the group’s drummer.
Below, the Pleasure Seekers perform live on regional television in 1968:
In 1970, tired of the “Las Vegas” direction Mercury tried to push them into, they made some personnel changes, took the name Cradle and went in a heavier, more “Led Zeppelin with tits” direction. At one point Jerry Nolan, future New York Dolls drummer, briefly became the sole male member of the band.
Cradle left behind very little in the way of recordings, but Patti Quatro put out CDs by both The Pleasure Seekers and Cradle. There is a long, detailed interview with her about the history of both groups (and her tenure in Fanny, another group of hard-rocking women) in issue #31 of Ugly Things magazine. (You can buy both CDs and the magazine at the Ugly Things website.)
Suzi Quatro moved to the UK in 1971 to be groomed for stardom by Mickie Most, manager of Lulu, The Animals and Jeff Beck. She toured with Thin Lizzy before “Can the Can,” her second single reached number one in June of 1973. She was a huge star in Europe, Japan and especially Australia. Despite touring the US several times with Alice Cooper, she was never really able to crack the American market, except for the fact that she practically became a household name, more or less playing herself on Happy Days, as “Leather Tuscadero.”
Quatro’s only notable American chart hit was 1979’s “Stumblin’ In,” a duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman (another Chinn-Chapman composition). By the time the 80s rolled around, her musical output continued, but became more sporadic. She has appeared in several musical theater and television productions, including an episode of Absolutely Fabulous. She still tours, playing an average of 60 shows a year and presents BBC Radio shows. In 2007, Suzi Quatro published her autobiography, Unzipped. Two recent groups, Tuscadero and The Glycerine Queens are so-named in honor of Suzi Quatro.
Why isn’t Suzi Quatro (and Fanny, for that matter) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame???
Below, “Daytona Demon”—this clip is amazing:
“Can the Can”: