Hell Bent For Leather Tuscadero

A new documentary shines a long overdue spotlight on rock legend Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days (Art: Ron Hart)

Suzi Quatro is iconic.

The tiny girl with the big bass slung way low, the raunchy voice made for shouting rock ‘n’ roll anthems, the skintight leather jumpsuits, the choppy mullet hairdo, the gorgeous face with the pouty mouth and the bedroom eyes, the name that sounds entirely made-up, but isn’t. Yet, comparatively speaking, so few of her fellow Americans know who this blueprint for the aspirational rock star is.

Passing the 70-year-mark one month to the day before the release of her documentary, Suzi Q, this chronicle of Quatro’s life is both a long time coming and perfect timing. Directed by Liam Firmager, Suzi Q was shot from 2016 through 2019 and includes a mind-boggling amount of archival material from video to images to magazines to records and other artifacts. 

Suzi Q is a comprehensive account of Quatro’s life from birth in Detroit, Michigan to present day. Second youngest of five siblings, all of them musically inclined from their father’s side with their heads screwed on right from their mother’s side, Quatro began performing and touring as a young teenager with her sisters. She was picked out by British über-producer Mickie Most, who separated Quatro from her sisters, and took her to England by herself.

Suzi Q film poster

The hits came fast and furious. “Can the Can,” “48 Crash,” “Devil Gate Drive,” “The Wild One,” and more and more. Her success everywhere besides the US is astronomical and persistent. In every minute of footage—some of it cleverly shown on old tube televisions and through boomboxes and classic stereo components—she is super-cute, a natural beauty who doesn’t show any skin, and brandishing her bass like the bad-ass that she is. To quote L7’s Donita Sparks, “People who are attractive and not playing the sexy card, that makes them even sexier.”

Sparks is one of many musicians who provide an overarching perspective on Quatro in Suzi Q, not just in her time, but the impact she had on them personally and on music as a whole. From Debbie Harry and Clem Burke of Blondie to Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz of the Talking Heads, the Runaways’ Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and Lita Ford, the Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine plus Alice Cooper and Fishbone’s John Norwood Fisher, not to mention Quatro’s sisters, there are mic drop statements all throughout Suzi Q. Cooper: “Suzi was an innovator.” Harry: “Making the bass look like it’s a feather.” Valentine: “I’d never seen a woman with an instrument in a band.” Ford: “All that thunder coming out of this little girl.” Fisher: “Maybe girls were trained to not aspire to those things, ‘I can’t do that.’ It takes a Suzi Quatro to come along and say, ‘This is possible.’” Currie: “Young people—unfortunately for them–don’t really know Suzi, anybody that wants to get into this business should study Suzi Quatro.”

 

VIDEO: Suzi Quatro Live In Japan ’75

Refreshingly, Suzi Q has no stories of hackneyed rock ‘n’ roll excesses because Quatro, with her strict upbringing and scads of common sense was not going to get caught up in any of that stupidity. Even when her rock ‘n’ roll career wasn’t consistent, Quatro continued to create as an actor, a talk show and radio show host, an author. But it all comes back to the music, with Quatro releasing a rip-roaring album, No Control, in 2019 with her son, Richard Tuckey, as her guitarist. 

Suzi Q is bookended with scenes from Quatro’s packed-out concerts in recent years. Once a rocker, always a rocker. In every conversation in the film, Quatro is grounded and comfortable and not the least bit nostalgic. Her attitude is matter-of-fact as she retells her experiences in her steadfast Detroit accent. She is as cute and as likeable and as aspirational as she was when she was 17. She seems too good to be true, except that she is. 

 

VIDEO: Suzi Q film trailer

 

Lily Moayeri

Lily Moayeri is a music journalist who also covered television, art, fashion, and other facets of pop culture. She is a major contributor to the textbook The Guerrilla Guide to the Music Business. Find her work aggregated at Pictures of Lily and follow her on Twitter @PicsOfLilyBlog.

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