1: Which shock rocker recently covered your 1975 song ‘Your Mamma Won’t Like Me’ for his ‘Breadcrumbs’ EP?
“Oh, he’s a good friend of mine. I’ve know since I was 14 years old. It’s Alice Cooper.”
“I got asked to be part of that. He wanted me to duet with him. Besides being very busy, his producer didn’t want to make it a proper duet. So I said: either we do a duet or we don’t do a duet! I wasn’t interested in just singing a couple of lines. But we might doing another project together in the future because we’re good friends. When we were starting out together, his band used to have a farmhouse just outside of Detroit and we used to go there to rehearse.”
Didn’t you once shoot him in the face with an arrow?
“Well, we were having a rubber dart gun fight on tour – it was 75 dates so it was a long tour – and he hid behind the television set and peeked his nose out. And you can’t miss Alice’s nose! And I didn’t! (Laughs) He always tells me: the first thing he thought was ‘Ouch!’. The second was ‘Good shot!’ (Laughs)”
2: Which wasted rock star did you once throw out of one of your gigs for trying to muscle in on your mic?
“Oh, Iggy [Pop]!”
“He wanted to come and jam with me and I love Iggy. We’re friends but he was just a little bit worse for wear. Instead of jamming, he started to mess up the show a little bit so I had to get him removed. He probably won’t even remember it! Don’t forget, I’ve know him from when he started off as a drummer. There’s a real vein of talent from Detroit.”
You started playing bass in the ‘60s and were a trailblazer in the ’70s. Which bands were the most misogynistic to you rising up?
“I don’t do gender. I never allowed that kind of attitude around me. I didn’t welcome it. Because I took myself seriously, I got treated seriously – it was as easy as that. I was sure of who I was, what I wanted. You didn’t see somebody being weak about it thinking: ‘Oh gee, can I do this?’, so I didn’t attract that.”
3: Name the four current artists/bands you cover on your 2011 ‘In the Spotlight’ album.
Rihanna? Oh God, let me think now…I can’t remember now offhand! Who else do I do?”
“’That’s right! I did ‘Strict Machine’ onstage for a long time. Those songs were producer Mike Chapman’s choices. I liked them, so we did them.”
Did any of those artists give you any feedback?
“No, but I can’t help but feel Alison Goldfrapp was influenced by ‘Can the Can’ because ‘Strict Machine’ sounds very much like my track . It’s not a copy, but it’s got those elements in.”
You also cover Elvis’s ‘Hard Headed Woman’ on that album. Do you ever regret turning him down when he called you up in 1974 to invite you to Graceland?
“No. I wasn’t ready – I wanted to be on an equal level to meet him. I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe he was supposed to be a guardian angel to me. Obviously when he told me that my ‘All Shook Up’ was the best version since his own, that was a compliment and validation of the highest order!”
4: Who once told you: ‘You have the best legs since Tina Turner’?
“I didn’t expect him to say that at all! Anything but that would have been not surprising but that knocked me for six! (Laughs) Quite a few years ago, I was doing a television show for his charity – I agreed to do a sketch and tap-dance – never tapped before in my life! Dressed in a very skimpy outfit. He was going down the line after the show thanking all the artists and he did the stage-whisper back to me: ‘And you have the best legs since Tina Turner!’. I nearly died of embarrassment! I didn’t have a comeback for that comment because I never expected Prince Charles to say that. You wouldn’t, would you?!”
Anyone else unexpected a fan of yours?
“I did a television show in Paris with Petula Clark and she was punching the air with her fist when I was performing. I went: ‘Excuse me?!’ Because I would never have thought she’d be a fan.”
5: You played Leather Tuscadero in the sitcom Happy Days. But who did producers originally have in mind for the role?
“I think it was Debbie Harry.”
“But in the end, she didn’t fit the bill – and I did. Doing Happy Days was one of the best decisions I made. I love acting, found I could do it, and am still very good friends with Henry [Winkler, who starred as The Fonz] and Ronnie [Howard, who played Richie Cunningham]. On the first show we did, I was nervous because I’d never acted before and it was in front of a live audience. I’m standing behind a door waiting to make my entrance into Arnold’s. Henry asked if I was nervous, then said: ‘Don’t worry – you’re going to be great! Go! You’re on!’. So I walked out as Leather Tuscadero, cameras are rolling, hit my mark and the director said: ‘What are you doing here? You’ve got another page yet’. So Henry had sent me out on purpose. I got back and he was on the floor laughing and said: ‘Now go out and enjoy!’. The little shit! But it did the trick – and got rid of my nerves immediately.”
6: Who did your dad once knock out in the dressing room of The Pleasure Seekers, the band you were in with your sisters?
“That’s Chuck Berry!”
“He was playing around and he threw one of the girls on the sofa – my dad got the wrong idea, but he was in fact playing around.”
“My dad made us feel like we could do whatever we wanted to. I think it was probably because he had four girls and only one boy so he raised us to be very independent – he didn’t want four dependent females. And I was anything but! I’ve made my own way since 14 years old.”
7: What is name of the fictional rock diva you played in the 2007 Midsomer Murders episode ‘The Axeman Cometh’?
“Oh God, now what’s it called…?”
“Now just a minute! I remember the part because I had to make my eyes go dead. Oh my God, I can’t remember the name!”
…NG. You portrayed Mimi Clifton in an episode where ‘Badger’s Drift plays host to the Midsomer Rock Festival – with murderous consequences!’.
“That was a good role to play! That’s where I (Spoiler alert!) get electrocuted by a microphone, isn’t it? I had to die about ten times to get all the camera angles right. It was crazy! And then they had to carry me out on a stretcher. How unsettling is that? I’m a good actress and want to do more. I’ve turned down a lot of roles, because they’ve been cameos – the only cameo I’ve ever done is in Absolutely Fabulous. I rejected a film role that David Bowie ended up doing because it required a nude scene.”
8: Which 1999 Orbital track samples your 1974 single ‘Devil Gate Drive’?
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Did they really? I had no idea! I’ll have to Google that. I missed that.”
What music are you currently listening to?
“I like Ed Sheeran a lot and Liam Gallagher’s new stuff is terrific. I met Liam at an airport once. When we shook hands, I told him immediately: ‘Don’t try and be an idiot with me!’. And he was so respectful (Laughs).”
9: Who once said in an interview that the day she found out you weren’t a lesbian was “the worst day of my life”?
“Oh, that was Joan Jett.”
“That’s so funny! How could she even think it? I was with my ex all the time! It was so sweet she said that – she thought it was the biggest disappointment of her life! (Laughs) Well, you can imagine, can’t you? That you’ve got a crush on somebody and then found out they’re straight! I always liked Joan. She was such a big fan and I was so relieved when she formed a band. I said to my publicist: ‘If anybody needed to form a band, it was her.’”
“My androgynous image was just me. I’m a no-makeup person. I’ve always been more of a tomboy. Nothing about me is manufactured – it’s just who I am and why I’m still here doing what I do.”
Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, but you’ve yet to receive the accolade…
“I think it’ll happen eventually – maybe soon now. It really is remiss of them. How can they not have me in there? I was the first. And that’s what they stand for. It’s dumb of them but maybe they’ll fix it. I’ve got enough awards to keep me going but I only get annoyed because it’s just disrespectful not to honour the first female to have success. It’s just stupid to me! I’ve stopped trying to understand it!”
10: Which guitar legend did you and your dad once pick up when his limo broke down?
“He had a joint in the back seat and this electric hair and my dad was very square – so it was strange (Laughs). Nobody said anything all the way from the airport to the hotel. I’m pretty sure my dad was in shock!”
The verdict: 6/10
“Good! I’m happy with that. I think that score’s excellent.”
The documentary ‘Suzi Q‘ is in selected cinemas until December, or available on DVD.