The first wave of punk musicians may deserve credit for ripping down new doors for women in rock, but Suzi Quatro began weakening the hinges in the early 1970s as the first woman bassist to break through to mainstream audiences.
The Detroit native was born in 1950 to a musical family (Quatro may sounds like a glam rock-era stage name, but it’s actually a shortened version of her Italian immigrant grandfather’s last name, Quattrocci). A classically-trained pianist and percussionist, Quatro first played live as a child with her father’s jazz outfit, the Art Quatro Trio. She later taught herself guitar and bass, a decision that changed the course of her life.
After the Beatles changed youth culture forever, Quatro and her sisters Arlene and Patti formed the Pleasure Seekers in 1964. The Detroit-based garage band was one of the first rock groups to feature an all-woman lineup, alongside Goldie and the Gingerbreads and Isis. Patti Quatro also had a stint in the pioneering all-woman band, Fanny.
Following a lineup change in 1969 (with sister Nancy stepping in for Arlene, who had started her family), the Pleasure Seekers’ briefly changed their name to Cradle, and by 1971, Suzi Quatro was courted as a potential solo star by British record producer Mickie Most. Her first single, 1972’s “Rolling Stone,” was an instant number one hit in Portugal, which started a trend of international success. A year later, “Can the Can,” was released; the glam/hard rock track remains one of Quatro’s signature songs to this day.
Only “Stumblin’ In,” a 1979 duet with Chris Norman of soft rock band Smokie, cracked the U.S. top five, but Quatro continued to enjoy commercial success outside of her home country, netting number one singles in the U.K., Ireland, Australia and Germany. In the states, Quatro helped reshape public perception of women rockers on Happy Days, bringing her music and style into millions of homes as the recurring character, Leather Tuscadero (who led and played bass in the fictional band, Leather & the Suedes). Her stint as a television star showed that rowdy rockers—just like the Happy Days’ massive audience— also waxed nostalgic for youth culture’s glory days.
Quatro’s tales of wayward lovers, street wisdom, and fast cars have continued to inspire far beyond glam rock and power pop’s heydays, and through it all, she’s stayed true to her roots. She’s released 16 studio albums across five decades; her latest, 2017 album QSP found her collaborating with two fellow glam legends, Sweet guitarist Andy Scott and Slade drummer Don Powell.
For her immeasurable role in proving that women rock ‘n’ rollers belonged on the concert stage and network television, Quatro ranks among the most important figures during popular music’s seismic creative shifts of the 1970s.