Interview With Suzi Quatro

Watching Suzi Quatro shred on the bass while singing lead makes you think that there are two different performers on the stage doing those roles. Her bass playing is autonomous and sovereign, and her vocals and audience interaction are first rate. Suzi Quatro the bass-player and Suzi Quatro the singer and audience-leader rarely interact with each other, which increases the mystery and the intrigue of her live performances. For these reasons, I worked long and hard to organize an interview with Suzi Quatro. Her musical talent is astounding. She makes playing bass and singing simultaneously look as easy as lying on a beach and reading, or playing at cheekybingo.com and enjoying a coffee at the same time. She does it naturally, breezily, all the while making great sounds and holding the entire audience in thrall.

Here we go.

Singing Bassist: Which Bass Players and Singers would you consider to be your influences?
Suzi Quatro: Bass Players would be Jamerson from Motown and the bassist from Canned Heat (Larry Taylor), he was really good. Those are about the only two, really. Among Singers it was Elvis Presley, Otis Reading and Billy Holiday.
SB: You’re presently promoting a single which you have recorded and released in time for Elvis’ 75th birthday…
SQ: Its a tribute to Elvis called “Singing With Angels”. It came out for download on January 11. I recorded it in Nashville with James Burton on guitar and the Jordanaires on Backing Vocals.
SB: Very cool. You more or less began your career as a singing bassist. Did you ever have any apprehension about fulfilling that role?
SQ: No, not a moment’s concern. It came very naturally to me. Maybe because I am ambidexterous. I played bongo, then I played piano, also two hands. Then I played proper drums on a kit. So I didn’t even think about singing and playing bass.
SB: When you went to London to stake out a solo career, did you ever consider recruiting a bassist and just continuing on as a singer?
SQ: Oh God no. Never. The only time I ever used a bass-guitarist was when I had a broken arm and I had a sold-out Australian tour, booked, and I had to go, so I had to take a bass-player.
SB: Why do you continue to enjoy playing bass and singing? Is there a certain band-dynamic which you particularly enjoy?
SQ: Well its what I do. I am a bass-player singer. It would be like Paul McCartney going up there without his bass… I am a bass-player singer-songwriter.
SB: What do you like to have in your monitors?
SQ: Well, I’ve got in-ears. I like a blanket mix, naturally, of everything. Quite a bit of drums, because the drums and the bass have to be identical together. I like to have my bass slightly higher so that I don’t over-play. And of course my voice right up there. A blanket-mix underneath.
SB: You mention in your autobiography that your song, “She’s in Love with You” was rare in that it was the only song on which you had to practice in order to bring the playing and singing together.
SQ: Yeah, its the only song I ever had to do that with, and the reason being is, its a “machine type” bass-riff. It doesn’t move, just like a machine, its relentless. And the vocal is behind that, the vocal goes behind the beat, and the bass-riff is exactly on the beat. I don’t think about it anymore while performing, but when we first did the song, I had to go over it a few times. Eventually it just slots in.
SB: Was that practice solo, or with the band, in order to get that syncopation down?
SQ: No I just practiced it on my own, just played it and singed it until it just felt right, until it slotted in. Once you get those types of things down you wonder why it was ever a problem.
SB: Do you find yourself slowing down the playback and then gradually speeding it up?
SQ: No I don’t slow it down, no. You should do it as it, but like I said, its the only song that I ever had to put any thought into singing and playing that I ever did.
SB: Do you play bass at home on your own or do you play more piano on your own?
SQ: I play bass all the time at home, especially when I am getting ready for a gig. I put on one of my live CDs and play along with that. I’ll go through the whole show like that in my front room. When I’m writing I tend to sit with the guitar or the piano.
SB: You never play the bass-guitar with a pick. Why not?
SQ: I am not natural with a pick. Even when I play guitar, I don’t use the pick. I’ve always been a plucker, that’s the way I am. I don’t like the sound of the pick on the bass-guitar. I like the thump of the fingers on the strings, that’s how I like it to sound.
SB: You rarely look at your fretboard. Do you have any specific techniques for avoiding looking at that?
SQ: No techniques. I play piano without looking at it either. I think you just get to know your instrument. Once you’ve learned piano, that’s your basis for everything. You can then play any instrument, the piano is for learning.
SB: Do you record in the studio as a band in the room, every member playing simultaneously?
SQ: We try to, yes. I prefer that. You’ll put down a scratch vocal, which will do as a guideline for everything. Usually the vocal does go down separately.
SB: Which is more important for singing and playing, group rehearsal or solo practicing?
SQ: I do it all together, you have to play all the time, in fact I will do some playing today. You have to keep playing all the time to keep your fingers calloused.
SB: Do you have any general recommendations for bass-playing singer-songwriters?
SQ: I don’t like to hear somebody play the bass as if its a guitar, as if they’re a frustrated, failed guitar-player. The bass is the musical note of the bass-drum. You got to work with the drums to make it sound right. The bass and the drums drive the band, that’s the engine.

What I learned from this interview was that, singing bassists who start off by playing piano are already equipped with an internal sense of syncopation. Even between the two hands on the piano, there is a large requirement of muscle memory. Singing pianists are especially capable of picking up the bass guitar and playing and singing.
This personal discovery has made it apparent that the material of this web resource is meant primarily for singing, band-leading guitarists who want to switch to bass guitar and sing lead. It is primarily for these types of performers and songwriters that I am researching and publishing this material. Alas, the one-sentence version is:

Syncopation for Strummers

A very large “Thank You” goes to Suzi Quatro for her time and insight for this article, and for the inspiration leading to the discovery of the niche which I am looking to reach. This interview really helped refine the overall aims of this project. For this, I am truely grateful.

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