Rock 'n' roll was not exactly a female-friendly field in 1964.
There were the odd exceptions, such as Wanda Jackson, and certainly plenty of female singers in vocal groups, while blues, R&B and jazz certainly welcomed their share of estrogen into the genres. But down 'n' dirty, guitar-playing rock was a boy's club.
Then Patti Quatro (now Ericson) of Grosse Pointe, one of popular Detroit bandleader Art Quatro's four daughters, saw the Beatles play at Olympia Arena and decided it was time to bust the gender line.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks," Ericson remembers. "Just watching everyone around me crying and screaming...I was in a trance. I was like, 'Wow, I want to do this.' "
And she did -- with more than a little help from family and friends. Ericson had already been playing music with a drummer named Nancy Ball and hanging out in the burgeoning Detroit rock scene with pals such as future SRC band members Glenn and Gary Quackenbush. Post-Beatles she and Ball started a band called the Pleasure Seekers, enlisting younger sister Suzi Quatro on bass ("She played my dad's (Fender) Precision, which was as big as she was at first.") and adding guitarist Mary Lou Ball and keyboardist Diane Baker.
The Pleasure Seekers, which morphed into Cradle in 1969, became rock's first acknowledged all-female band and an influence on generations of women in rock who followed. The group will be honored with a Distinguished Achievement Award on Friday, April 27, at the 21st Annual Detroit Music Awards, with several members reuniting to perform.
Suzi Quatro, who went on to greater fame as a solo artist and actress -- including a role as Leather Tuscadero on ABC's "Happy Days" -- and as a radio and TV personality in Britain, where she now resides, was slated to appear and receive her own Distinguished Achievement Award. But after breaking her right knee and left wrist at the Kiev airport on March 31 has left her homebound, though she's be with her former bandmates in spirit -- and via a video acceptance she filmed for the ceremony.
"I grew up in a four girls/one boy family, so I personally never thought about (rock as) a 'boys' club," says Quatro, 61, whose brother Michael is also a musician. "I have never been concerned with gender past, present or future -- which I guess in hindsight is why I was able to do what I finally did and have success around the world..and get taken seriously.
"After that it was definitely easier for girls, which I am happy about."
Ericson says that from day one the Pleasure Seekers' set out to show they were sincere about their rock 'n' roll, with no intention of being a gimmick or novelty. "If you listen to the girl band genre of those years, it was very girly sounding, very tinkly," explains Ericson, 62. "We never sounded like that, probably because of Suzi's voice and growing up in Detroit. The energy we grew up with playing with the homeboys and where that took our musicality...We were never about playing 'girly.'
"We were ballsy from the get-go."
But it wasn't easy. Playing mostly covers -- and later doing shows dedicated to Motown and to entire Beatles albums such as "Magical Mystery Tour" -- the Pleasure Seekers "had to kick down a lot of doors," according to Ericson. "They didn't think girls could rock out on guitars...especially the music executives," she says. "They always wanted us to go with T&A, Vegas, wearing lavish costumes. And they always thought you'd get pregnant, get married, fall in love. They didn't want to put the money behind it, ever. They felt safer with men."
The Pleasure Seekers "dared" the late Dave Leone to book the group for its first show at the Hideout club he co-owned with Bob Seger's manager Punch Andrews. Leone eventually acquiesced, giving the band its first three-song set with two weeks' notice. Roaring through "Louie Louie," "Twist and Shout" and "Little Latin Lupe Lu," the group "went down incredibly," according to Ericson. "We took the stage amidst ridicule and laughter, but then the guys flooded to the stage and their girlfriends were trying to pull them away."
The group never had problems with fellow musicians, however, who Ericson says were "incredibly supportive." She lists Jeff Beck and Mountain men Leslie West and Felix in particular as "mentors," while the rest of the scene treated the Pleasure Seekers -- which went on to add younger Quatro sisters Arlene (the mother of actress Sherilynn Fenn) and Nancy -- as peers.
"They were the real deal," remembers John Drake of the Amboy Dukes, who will present the group with its award at the DMAs. "There wasn't anything you could take away from them. They were a lot of fun to work with. They were treated as equals by all their male counterparts."
Leone and Andrews put out the group's first single, "Never Thought You'd Leave Me Alone," on their Hideout Records label, while the Pleasure Seekers signed a national deal with Mercury Records for "Light of Love" in 1968. By that time, however, the group was feeling the changes that were taking place in music, and wanting to be a part of it.
"Detroit was breaking a new sound, heavier music and the hippy scene and all of that," Ericson says. "We'd been on the road playing our covers and the 'Magical Mystery Tour' set and the Motown revue, and we came home to this big change. Everything was in a different place, so we decided we had to do a change. We had to play catch-up, quickly."
That led to a new name, Cradle, and more original material. "It was heavy," Ericson remembers. "(The songs) had relevant lyrics, time changes, intricate harmonies. We just got more deeply into the music." But that wasn't necessarily to everyone's liking.
"Cradle tried to get serious and do their own stuff," Suzi Quatro says. "I thought it was directionless because of this. Too many cooks. Lots of jamming, hours on one riff. I preferred (the Pleasure Seekers) by far." And even Ericson, more than 40 years later, notes that, "the Pleasure Seekers was our heart, and Cradle was our soul."
Cradle lasted four years and was on the verge of recording when British producer Mickie Most plucked Suzi from the group to be a solo artist in 1971. "Mickie didn't want to deal with girls," Ericson remembers. "He bided his time and then grabbed Suzi and put her with a bunch of guys. Leslie West always says (Most) took the chicken way out."
Cradle continued for another couple of years; its final drummer, the late Jerry Nolan, went on to the New York Dolls and was the only man to ever play in the Pleasure Seekers/Cradle universe. Ericson joined the all-female group Fanny and then spent time as a session musician and a model; she now resides in Austin, Texas, while she and her husband operate the Starflight Travel agency, whose clients include AC/DC, Aerosmith, Diana Ross and Weezer.
The two bands' music has been compiled on the Pleasure Seekers' "What a Way to Die" and Cradle's "This History," both sold via CD Baby. The groups will also be featured in the upcoming documentary "She Rocks," which is currently in production.
The Quatro sisters have periodically joined Suzi to provide backup vocals on her albums and appear on "special TV shows and stuff like that." "Once you're singing as sisters you never lost that," Ericson says. "You can get together and go right to the harmonies." But the DMAs honor puts a spotlight on 10 years of "pioneering" whose impact is still evident in the larger contemporary music industry.
"We haven't played together in a number of years, so everyone's all revved up for it," says Ericson, who will be joined on Friday by her sister Nancy, drummers Darline Amone and Nancy Rogers, Lynne Serridge and 4 None Blondes bassist Christa Hillhouse, who's filling in for Suzi.
"It's very personal for us. It was a rough road back then, but we love to see women now carrying the flame for women to be able to rock. We really feel like we did something."
The 21st Annual Detroit Music Awards take place at 7 p.m. Friday, June 27, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Performers include the Pleasure Seekers/Cradle, Amy Gore & Her Valentines and Gorevette, Black Milk, Ben Sharkey, Savage Grace, Paulina Jayne and the Planet D Nonet. The Pleasure Seekers/Cradle and Saint Andrews Hall will receive Distinguished Achievement Awards, while Detroit Dog Rescue will receive a Special Achievement Award. Tom Daldin from PBS' "Under the Radar Michigan" hosts. Tickets are $25 and $20. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.detroitmusicawards.com.
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