Suzi Quatro returns to home ‘bass’
Rocker set to play Dick Wagner Memorial Concert
By Maria Allard
Posted March 22, 2017
DETROIT — Those who knew Dick Wagner best will band together March 24 at the Sound Board inside MotorCity Casino Hotel for the third annual “Remember the Child” Memorial Concert.
Wagner’s legacy for his two greatest passions — playing music and helping children — will set the tone for the evening when several rock ‘n’ roll stars take the stage. The guitarist and songwriter, who grew up in the Saginaw area, died in 2014 at age 71.
Wagner was once a member of the Frost, a band that drew a respectable following around Michigan in the 1960s. Wagner also worked with Lou Reed, Aerosmith, Kiss, Peter Gabriel, Burton Cummings, Mark Farner and Meat Loaf.
He, too, is remembered for playing six-string and co-writing songs with Alice Cooper, including for the 1975 record “Welcome to My Nightmare.” When Cooper’s band toured that year to support the album, it came with an opening act that was all leather and bass — Suzi Quatro.
“It was 85 shows or something,” said Quatro, who described Wagner as “one of the good guitar players, a very good friend and a genuine guy.” And that’s why Quatro will fasten her bass guitar, stack those amps and play her heart out to “Remember the Child” this Friday night. Quatro, a former metro Detroiter who has called England home since 1971, is one of many artists scheduled to perform.
Homegrown rocker ‘can’ do it
Quatro, 66, grew up on Torrey Road in Grosse Pointe Woods until 1965, when the family — her parents, three sisters and one brother — moved to Grosse Pointe Farms. Quatro was a student at Grosse Pointe South High School, but dropped out at age 16 to pursue her dream of playing music and “went on the road.” The singer, whose hits include “Can the Can,” “Devil Gate Drive” and “48 Crash,” has been rocking through the music business ever since.
“I’ve never stopped,” said Quatro during a telephone interview from England. “I love entertaining. I love communicating. I love creating.”
She was just 6 years old when she knew she wanted to be an entertainer after seeing Elvis Presley shake, rattle and roll on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The talented musician and songwriter plays bongos, piano and percussion, but as a teen found her calling as a bass guitarist.
“A band of girls got a band together. Everyone was talking over each other,” Quatro recalled. Some of the instruments were already taken when one of Quatro’s sisters said, “You’re gonna play bass.”
“OK,” Quatro thought. “I didn’t mind.” She learned to play on a 1957 Fender Precision Bass model courtesy of her dad.
“It’s the Rolls Royce of bass guitars,” the rocker said. After finding her groove, Quatro knew, “Yep, this is me.”
By the time the 1970s rolled around, Quatro was becoming a full-fledged rock ‘n’ roll star. At the time, the talented musician was in a field where not too many women had ventured, but that didn’t bother her.
“Nobody gave me a hard time,” Quatro said. “My personal attitude is I don’t do gender. It doesn’t occur to me I can’t do something I want to do because I’m a girl. I gave that confidence out.”
To date, the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends inductee has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide. For whatever reason, she didn’t have the success in America that she had in other countries.
“We spent a lot of time over here and not there,” Quatro said. “(Record producer) Mickie Most kept changing record companies.”
On U.S. soil, though, it was Quatro who put the “pow” in powerful when she played Leather Tuscadero on several “Happy Days” episodes between 1977 and 1979. Her stint on the show really consisted of “happy days.” She even keeps in touch with former castmates, including Ron Howard and Henry Winkler.
“That was such a big show. It was a good show with good people. A good family,” Quatro said. “People in America know me as Leather Tuscadero first and a musician second. It’s fine. I love it. I’m quite happy. Everyone knows who I am.”
Quatro has done other acting over the years, including playing Annie Oakley in the West End production of “Annie Get Your Gun” in London. In the late ’80s, she had her own talk show called “Gas Street,” which ran for a year. She also has appeared on television shows and had a radio show on the BBC Radio 2 in London.
In April 2013, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Detroit Music Awards organization. Quatro, a fan favorite in Australia, recently returned from her 32nd tour of Down Under in which the band played 19 shows, including a gig at the Sydney Opera House.
“It was amazing,” she said. A tour of the United Kingdom is slated for later this year.
Quatro is “so looking forward” to returning to play the Motor City this Friday night.
“I love Detroit. It’s in my DNA. I always miss it. I’ll always be a Detroit-in-England girl,” Quatro said. “I love my American fans.”
And fans may now refer to her as Dr. Quatro. In October 2016, the Michigan native received an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England.
“I am so humbled by it,” she said. “I dressed in a cap and gown.”
‘Remember the Child’
The Dick Wagner “Remember the Child” Memorial Fund is a nonprofit corporation that benefits the Children’s Miracle Network, Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The fund creates and supports music therapy for hospitalized children by providing instruments, teachers and funding, and the opportunity of learning to play a musical instrument.
Susan Michelson, Wagner’s business partner and manager for several years, said that to date $50,000 has been raised and donated in a combination of cash and musical instruments.
“We supply each hospital with violins, guitars, keyboards, and a broad variety of percussion,” Michelson said in an email. “Our cash supports the hiring of a board-certified music therapist, and our instruments are continually replenished. Upon request, we allow the children to take their instrument home when they leave the hospital. Interesting fact is that our most popular musical instrument for these kids has been the violin.”
Michelson believes Wagner is looking “somewhere from the heavens, smiling down at us” for keeping his charity work alive.
“He is so very proud and happy that we are continuing to share the love to help benefit the lives of others,” Michelson said. “We named the charity ‘Remember the Child’ after a song Dick wrote called ‘Remember the Child.’ The song is written from the viewpoint of a child, and about how everything that happens to you in childhood affects you for the rest of your life. After he left our world in 2014, I knew I had to continue his beautiful legacy.”
The Sound Board is located inside MotorCity Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Ave. in Detroit. For ticket information and a full list of performers, visit dickwagner rememberthechild.org. The concert starts at 7 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for an auction and more.
About the author
Staff Writer Maria Allard covers the school districts of Center Line, Fitzgerald, Van Dyke, Warren Consolidated and Warren Woods, and Macomb Community College for the Warren Weekly newspaper. She also covers the City of Grosse Pointe Woods and the Grosse Pointe Public Schools System for the Grosse Pointe Times newspaper. Allard has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University, and she is in love with the Rolling Stones.
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