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Suzi unzipped

PUBLISHED: 13:38 20 August 2010 | UPDATED: 14:53 20 February 2013

Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro

For the past 27 years Suzi Quatro has lived in a sumptuous Essex manor house, surrounded by a host of friendly ghosts. Pat Parker went to meet the original queen of rock

SUZI Quatro lives in a beautiful, moated Elizabethan manor house deep in the heart of Essex. Hares chase each other on the lawns; there is a pond, an orchard and a walled garden. You feel as if you're miles away from civilisation, but in fact Chelmsford is just down the road.

I am ushered into the house by her driver, who promptly asks me to remove my shoes (Suzi is evidently house proud). The walls of her living room are adorned with gold discs and bass guitars, mementos of her long rock career.

Suzi has lived in the manor house since 1980, when she bought it with her then husband Len Tuckey, for years her guitarist and song-writing partner. Their children, Laura, 24, and Richard, 22, grew up here and attended Chelmer Valley High School.

Finally, I am led into the grounds to meet Suzi. She is 57, but looks great. All that strutting on stage with a heavy bass guitar has kept her in good shape.

She has just written her autobiography, Unzipped, following on from last year's highly personal album, Back to the Drive. 'The obvious next step was to write my life story,' she says. 'It was the right time.'

The book deals with several sensitive issues: the hurt she felt at her family's apparent jealousy after she left for England to record with producer Mickie Most; the loneliness she felt during her first 18 months here, and the slow, painful disintegration of her marriage to Len.

Throughout the book, there is a sense both of spirituality (Suzi claims to be psychic) and guilt, much of which derives from her Catholic upbringing. At 18, she had an affair with an older, married man, and later had an abortion. She writes in the book, 'When I get to those golden gates, that lost child is the sin I will pay for.' She still prays on her knees every night.

She was born in Detroit, the fourth of five children. Her mother was Hungarian, her father Italian. His father's name, Michael Quattrocchi, was shortened to Mike Quatro by New York immigration officials. Suzi Quatro is no stage name.

She has inherited traits from both her parents. 'I got my mother's emotions and fighting spirit, and from my dad, that zest for life, that sense of fun. It makes for a nice rounded person.'
Suzi's father, Art, was a car worker by day, but a musician at night. He taught all his children to play a variety of instruments, as well as to read and write music.

As the second youngest, Suzi seems to have felt somewhat overlooked in this multi-talented family. 'I was always seeking attention,' she admits. 'The $64,000 question is whether I didn't get enough, or needed too much. It's probably a bit of both. But I was one of those kids who really needed to be heard. That need for attention is one of my demons. It still drives me today.'

Suzi was just 14 when she and her sisters formed a girl band called thePleasure Seekers. Suzi played bass because it was the only instrument left. She practised until her fingers bled.

The girls gigged with the likes of Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper, before performing for the troops in Vietnam. Suzi's mother agonised over sending her out on the road at such a tender age. 'She told me shortly before she died that she regretted letting me go to a life that was full of temptations. But she knew if she'd held on to me, she couldn't have kept me for long. It was better to let me go and live my dream.'

Suzi's brother, Michael, eventually persuaded British record producer Mickie Most to see the group. He spotted Suzi's talent, and wanted to offer her a recording contract in England as a solo artist. It would mean leaving her sisters behind. Her family were devastated. But Suzi wasn't going to let this opportunity slip through her fingers. At the age of 21, she arrived in England, despite her family's disapproval.

There followed 18 months of loneliness and poverty, crying herself to sleep every night, while Mickie tried to find the single to launch her career. He rejected nearly all her songs. But she wouldn't admit to her family just how unhappy she was. 'I didn't want them to think I was failing, so I told them everything was great. The only way I got through was by emotionally closing down.'

Did she ever regret the decision to come to England? 'Not for one millisecond,' she says. Her drive to succeed overcame her guilt and her loneliness.

Finally, Mickie enlisted hit song-writers Chinn and Chapman to come up with a catchy three-minute single, Can The Can. What Suzi needed now was an image. A huge Elvis fan, she was determined to wear leather. Mickie reluctantly agreed, but suggested a jump suit. Suzi agreed, thinking it was practical. 'I just thought it would be cute, and wouldn't need ironing. It never occurred to me it was sexy.'

Can The Can stormed to No. 1. It was 1973, glam rock was at its height, and male groups were donning sequins and eyeliner. With her low-slung bass, leather jumpsuit, and minimum of make-up, Suzi stood out from the crowd.

Hits such as 48 Crash and Devil Gate Drive followed. In 1976, she married her guitarist, Len Tuckey, who came from Romford. They found their Essex manor house four years later.

The moment Suzi walked through the door, she felt a strong sense of deja vu. 'I knew my way around the house. I knew every twist and turn. It felt as if I'd lived there before.'

She firmly believes she lived in the house in a past life. She says the house contains numerous ghosts, but she finds them comforting, not frightening. 'I'm never alone, and I'm happy with that. This house protects me. I belong here, and when I die, I want my ashes to be scattered here.'

While Suzi was touring as a rock star, Len was happy. It was only when she ventured into acting that the cracks in their marriage widened. 'I don't think he had a problem with me being the big star, so long as he was standing on stage next to me. But when I started to branch out into other things, I think he had a problem.'

Len spent much of his time out shooting or partying. Eventually, despite touring and recording together, the pair lived virtually separate lives. But Suzi's Catholic upbringing made her reluctant to divorce.
'For six years I tried to turn things around, but I couldn't. I had to make a horrible decision. It was really sad, and it bothers me to this day. Divorcing was hard because we had two young children, but the marriage was irretrievable.'

Today, Suzi is married to German promoter Rainer Haas. For much of the year, they live apart, Rainer in Germany and Suzi in Essex, although they share a home in Mallorca. Despite this, the marriage works, and she seems happy. And, despite their past troubles, she and Len are now close friends. 'He lives just 15 minutes away, and he still comes round to cook Christmas dinner for us.'

The old guilt surfaces when she talks about her children. When they were young, she frequently took them on tour. 'It was a strange life for them, and I'm not sure if it was great. But for me it was better than leaving them at home with a nanny.'

She knows the divorce hurt them, and at 19, Laura had a baby, Amy, whoSuzi dotes on. Laura now lives in south London, while Richard still lives at home, and plays in a band.

Despite approaching 60, Suzi has no plans to hang up her bass just yet. 'I have at least three more albums in me. I want to do a movie, write fiction, and keep entertaining people, which is the very air that I breathe. After all, I'm still young. My dad quit at 89!'

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