by Sini, 16th Feb 2010...
We remember Suzi Quatro as a jumpsuit-wearing glam/boogie rock goddess from the 1970s who was very much ‘one of the boys’ when fronting her otherwise all-male band. Not many know that when her first hit ‘Can the Can’ was released in 1973, she had already been performing for nearly ten years. The road to stardom was long and rocky (read Suzi’s autobiography Unzipped to find out more) and required her to relocate to England to work with famed producer Mickie Most. Nevertheless, the story started back in 1964, when 14-year-old Suzi formed an all-girl band with her sister Patti in Detroit, Michigan.
According to Suzi’s autobiography, the Quatro sisters were inspired to form a band after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (it seems most garage band stories start like this!) The first line-up featured Patti on lead guitar, Suzi on bass, Mary Lou Ball on rhythm guitar, Nancy Ball on drums and Diane Baker on piano. Vocal duties were at this stage shared, even though Suzi sang lead on most numbers. However, between 1964 and 1969 the group had several line-up changes and became even more of a family affair as two more Quatro sisters joined the group (Nancy as lead vocalist and Arlene replaced Diane on piano).
Whilst it has been commonly thought that the band were named after a 1964 Ann-Margret film, Suzi states in Unzipped that the group in fact took their name from a dictionary; the definition for ‘hedonist’ caught their eye and they thus became the Pleasure Seekers. Their first gig was at a popular local teen club called The Hideout, and the band soon became a well-known live attraction at the club. The Hideout was the place to be for teenagers in Detroit in the mid-60s, and other acts that played regularly included The Underdogs (remembered for their fantastic version of ‘Love’s Gone Bad’), the Four of Us (featuring young Glenn Frey of The Eagles!) and Bob Seger before his 1970s heyday.
The Hideout empire also boasted a record label, which released the Pleasure Seekers’ classic 45 ‘Never Thought You’d Leave Me’/’What a Way to Die’ in 1965. Both of the songs were written by Hideout maestro Dave Leone, and while the single pretty much bombed in the 60s, it has later become a much-valued collector’s item. ‘Never Thought You’d Leave Me’ is a driving but melodic (and melodramatic) garage girl number which proves that, by garage rock standards, the girls were rather accomplished on their instruments. The song was sung by drummer Nancy, and featured girl-group style vocals – there is even a spoken part à la the Shangri-Las in the end of the song. ‘Never Thought You’d Leave Me’ is a great piano/vocal-driven number, but the real treat here is the garage punk smash ‘What a Way to Die’.
Most girl garage songs from the 60s are stylistically somewhere between garage rock and girl groups, and they deal with boys, dating and the inevitable heartbreak. ‘What a Way to Die’ was something else: a song about heavy drinking performed by a bunch of teenage girls (in this context it is hardly surprising that the song didn’t become a hit in the US)! The narrator boasts: ‘When I start my drinking/my baby throws a fit/So I just blitz him outta my mind/with seventeen bottles of Schlitz!’, and remarks that even though her boyfriend has a body that makes her ‘come alive’, she’d still rather drink beer. All this is rather risqué for a young American girl in 1965. Musically the song is repetitive (especially for the drummer) but effective, and young Suzi’s vocal delivery suits the track perfectly. She growls in her lower register and spits out the lyrics with such punk arrogance that very few garage vocalists from the era were able to do the same – eat your heart out boys!
After their mid-60s Hideout days, the Pleasure Seekers became a more professional act. They toured all over the US, and played with the likes of Chuck Berry, Eric Burdon and Gladys Knight and the Pips. They were signed to a major label (Mercury Records) for a while, and even entertained the troops in Vietnam in 1968. Nevertheless, national and international success evaded them. Musically, they became remarkably poppier (just listen to 1968’s ‘Light of Love’), but by the end of the decade they had changed their name into Cradle and started playing hard rock. Suzi moved to England in 1971, but Cradle soldiered on until 1973 when they called it a day.
In the late1960s, Michigan became a hotbed for loud and nasty-sounding rock ‘n’ roll bands such as the Stooges and MC5 who came from a similar garage band background as the Quatro sisters. For me it is a shame that the Pleasure Seekers did not take a similar path – I have a feeling they would have rocked out big time!