Songs of 74: Devil Gate Drive / Suzi Quatro

This year Radioinfo will take you back 50 years to the songs that charted in 1974. It was a mighty fine year for music.

I’ve been asked a few (many) times when I’d get to Suzi Quatro. After Australian DJ CYRIL‘s remix of Suzi Q and Chris Norman‘s Stumblin’ In became the most played song on local radio for the first half of this year I could wait no longer so y’all wanna go down to Devil Gate Drive?

Well, come on!

Ah-one, ah-two, ah-one, two, three!

There are few artists so beloved in his country by men and by women.

Suzi’s family name is actually Quattrocchi, which literally means four eyes, or bespectacled. She was born in Michigan and had a menagerie of siblings and foster children surrounding her growing up. After initially learning the bongos, her older sister Patti had Suzi learn bass guitar so she could be part of her band called the Pleasure Seekers. Suzi was 15, this was the 60s and they aspired to be an all girl rock band which was quite revolutionary at the time.

When Janis Joplin died in October 1970 record labels were hunting for another “Janis” to fill the void. The Pleasure Seekers had morphed into Cradle and added two more Quatro girls, Arlene and Nancy. Elektra Record had seen Suzi’s charisma on stage and were pushing to sign her, but even though she was only 21 she already knew she was worth more than what Elektra were offering, saying:

“According to the Elektra president, I could become the new Janis Joplin Mickie Most offered to take me to England and make me the first Suzi Quatro – I didn’t want to be the new anybody.”

There was no one like Quatro anyway. Most had already had a string of hits through his RAK label through the 60s with more mellow acts like Herman’s Hermits, Donovan and Lulu. He employed songwriters Mike Chapman (an Australian) and Nicky Chinn to write hits for Suzi and others, and did they what!

Suzi’s 1973 debut album, called Can the Can in Australia, included the No 1 Chinn/Chapman penned hit of the same name. A second album was quickly complied for 1974, called Quatro. So quickly that first UK pressings didn’t initially include Devil Gate Drive which would become Suzi’s second No 1 in the UK and here in Australia.

Fascinatingly Suzi had no real charting success in her home country of America. For one reason or another we and Europe totally adored the glam rock period of the mid 70s, pre disco. And Australia loved no one more than Suzi Quatro. Suzi herself has lost count of the amount of times she’s toured, as many as 30 times she thinks.

Thinks ebbed off slightly after the peak of Quatro and Devil Gate Drive. Because Smokie were also on RAK’s roster, and their biggest hit Living Next Door to Alice also a Chinn/Chapman composition, around the peak of Smokie’s success there was a party where Suzi and Smokie’s equally gruff lead singer Chris Norman were doing some kind of karaoke together with Suzi on bass guitar and Norman with his arm around her.

Mike Chapman looked at them an thought, man they’d do a great duet together. Later he went up to Suzi with the lines:

“Our love is alive”

Which you all will now know is the cold intro to Stumblin’ In. He asked Suzi what she thought, and whether she’d be interested in pairing up with Norman for a song, and she loved the idea.

Stumblin’ In, from 1978, became Suzi’s first and only US hit. It was perhaps also assisted by her role as the bass player Leather Tuscadero on the television show Happy Days. A role Quatro got without having to audition after legendary director and the show’s then producer Garry Marshall offered it to her after seeing a photograph of her on his daughter’s bedroom wall!

2024 marks 60 years active in the industry for Suzi Quatro. To know more, and again indicative of how beloved she is in this country, five years ago an Aussie made documentary called Suzi Q was released in Melbourne, endorsed by Suzi and taking you through the journey from Detroit to Devil Gate Drive and beyond.

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo.

Picture is from Suzi’s fan club Facebook page, with its 180K odd members.

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