Pioneering female rocker Suzi Quatro was on tour in the U.S. in 1974 when the call came.
She was touring to promote Suzi Quatro, her debut album for Mickie Most’s RAK Records in the U.K., which had been produced by the unparalleled, fabulous, evil-genius songwriting team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn the year before. The album contained the well crafted Chinnichap compositions “48 Crash,” “Primitive Love,” and “Can the Can” but also included a cover of “All Shook Up,” chosen as the third single. Quatro had loved and emulated Elvis Presley – strikingly in her trademark black leather – since seeing him on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 when she was six years old. From that moment, unlike other little girls who went nuts upon seeing him for the first time, she wanted to be Elvis.
She was in a Memphis hotel room when she received a call from Elvis’ “people.” And, bless her heart, she had a panic attack. Talk about being “all shook up”!
Suzi said in a BBC interview this year:
I was on tour in Memphis and he had heard my version of “All Shook Up.” His people got in touch with me in the hotel room. Then he came on the line [open-mouthed shock] and he invited me to Graceland. He said, “Your version is the best since my own. How would you like to come to Graceland?” And I said I was very busy, no thank you.
The situation was, as BBC producer Mark Hagen later described it, complicated. Elvis was once again a bachelor, but Suzi was already romantically involved with her guitarist and songwriting partner, Len Tuckey (Surely a one-time pass could have been granted so that Suzi could hang out with the King?!)
Suzi discovered that she had been given the part of Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days on the day that Elvis died, August 16, 1977. She was devastated that she had turned down his invitation and would never have another chance to meet him. The regret has haunted her ever since.
During her memorable seven-episode stint on Happy Days from 1977 to 1979, Suzi sang “All Shook Up” and “Heartbreak Hotel” on the show, wearing a $2000 fawn jumpsuit made by Ukrainian “rodeo tailor” to the stars (including Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, Gram Parsons, and Elvis), Nuta Kotlyarenko, a.k.a. “Nudie” Cohn. Her trademark jumpsuits were actually Mickie Mosts’s idea, not a tribute to Elvis.
[Mickie] came up with the jumpsuit idea, which I thought was a great idea. I wanted leather, without a doubt… I swear to God, I had no idea it was going to be sexy… It didn’t occur to me. I remember saying to him, “Oh, that’s really sensible. I can jump around and nothing will come out and I don’t have to iron it.” And then when I saw the pictures back, I went, “Ohhhhh.”
In 2009 Suzi finally made it to Graceland, when Mark Hagen made the documentary Suzi Quatro’s Elvis for BBC Radio 2. Suzi visited Elvis’ birthplace, all of his homes, talked to many of his childhood friends, and stopped in at Sun Studios on Union Ave in Memphis. It was already an emotional experience before she even reached the front gate of Graceland.
I was in tears many times as I traced the footsteps of Elvis Presley who was, and is, the reason I do what I do.
She added her name to the stone wall filled with fans’ tributes running along the front of Graceland, thirty-five years late.
Suzi Quatro outside Graceland, below:
All of Quatro’s ‘Happy Days’ numbers below. She gets her Elvis on, backed by Richie, Ralph Malph, Potsie and Joanie at the 2:50 mark :
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Your Mamma Won’t Like Me’: Suzi Quatro, the Original Riot Grrrl