Documentary, not rated, 98 minutes, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, FandangoNOW, 3 chiles
For a woman who’s practically a rock ‘n’ roll archetype, Suzi Quatro got a raw deal. Despite being considered rock royalty in Australia and the United Kingdom, the Detroit-born bass guitarist and band leader never really made it big in the United States. When Quatro came onto the scene in 1973, America wasn’t yet ready for a diminutive tough girl fronting a band of male musicians.
Suzi Q, a documentary directed by Liam Firmager, fills in the details of Quatro’s life and groundbreaking career.
Even if you don’t think you know Quatro, you can probably picture her. In her prime, she was a tiny rocker chick in a leather jumpsuit, wailing on the bass and scream-singing like no one ever told her she shouldn’t be loud. You might be thinking of Joan Jett, but Quatro came first. She played with her sisters in 1960s girl groups The Pleasure Seekers and Cradle. When record producers wanted the teenage Quatro to record an album on her own, she never looked back.
Quatro’s biggest hits were “Can the Can” and “48 Crash” in 1973, “Devil Gate Drive” in 1974, and “Your Mamma Won’t Like Me” in 1975, but it’s possible that even major fans didn’t hear these songs in the United States. Hearing her in 2020, her sound is hard rock and sort of pre-punk, with flashes of Elvis and Chuck Berry.
Suzi Q is structured around old performance footage and still images, as well as current interviews with numerous legendary rockers, including Jett, Alice Cooper, Lita Ford, Debbie Harry, and Donita Sparks, who talk about Quatro’s talent and influence. Her sisters are less impressed. They still harbor resentments, and Suzi harbors them back. We also hear from Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on Happy Days. Quatro appeared on seven episodes of the show, from 1977 to 1979, as Leather Tuscadero, a bandmate of Joanie Cunningham’s.
It seems that when Quatro attracted attention in the United States, it wasn’t for real rock ‘n’ roll. Her only top-10 hit in the United States was 1978’s “Stumblin’ In.”
Suzi Q is a solid documentary about an unfairly overlooked musician. The performance footage is fantastic. But it gets bogged down by too much information about who produced which album and when, and — surprisingly — by too much modern-day Suzi. She tells too much of her own story, and she shares bits of her journaling that would have been better left on the editing room floor. The documentary opens by telling us that, to date, Quatro has sold 55 million albums worldwide. Nevertheless, she seems to believe that she never really got the success she deserved. On some level, she’s right. But at this point in time, her music is much more interesting than her grudges.