THE PLEASURE SEEKERS
Photos provided by Patti Quatro Ericson
by Sam LeightyIn our culture, women are still too often see as objects. Probably not as brutally and forcefully as they would've been 300 years ago, yet I think it's a fact. The ladies do come up with inventive ways to fight back and there have been all kinds of liberationist movements talking about equality for women and other groups since the sixties and the seventies. And it's not as if these things have had no effect- maybe we will sooner or later arrive at a better egalitarian order. But like I said, the ladies themselves sometimes come up with subtle ways to combat being held back that will leave you dumbstruck. Originally, record companies and the industry in general didn't market female performers who played things like Stratocasters and Les Pauls or stuff like drum sets and Hammond Organs with Leslie Speakers. When I was 8 years old, there were remarkable female groups and singers out there like The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, Martha and The Vandellas, Barbara Lewis, Mary Wells, Irma Thomas, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey, Merilee Rush, Nancy Sinatra, Jeanie C. Rielly, Gale Garnett, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield and Marianne Faithful. They were singers primarily though, albeit great ones.
As special as these ladies were, female guitars and drums groups were few and far between. I can recall just a handful over the years on into the seventies. There was Honey Lantree who was the girl drummer for the British invasion band called the Honeycomb (the other members were guys). There was The Liverbirds who were big in America's early interpretations of the British Invasion. In 1966-7, two members of the Velvet Underground were women: Maureen Tucker played drums and Nico sang. In the early seventies, there were female heavy blues rock bands like Fanny who could really play the piss out of their instruments. There was April Lawton who was a great guitaist. And Bonnie Raitt, of course. Janis Joplin and Grace Slick were great singers in the late sixties era but they didn't play instruments much otherwise. The GTO's (Girls Together Outrageous), who were produced by Frank Zappa, deserve an article all of their own. In the blues and R&B years previous to The Beatles and Elvis, there were women who could play good electric blues guitar such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie- this is forgotten at times.
In the mid-seventies, female performers like Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett broke a lot of boundaries by playing Stratocasters and Les Pauls very aggressively and by singing about things that are not sugary or considered ladylike by some of their detractors. One of the greatest predecessors of all of these fine women was the 1964 all-girl garage band from Detroit called The Pleasure Seekers.
There was kind of a black lights and beer can collections teen subculture in the sixties and the seventies which existed throughout the country, especially in the Midwest and many people will agree that this subculture was at its peak in Detroit. All of the Midwest's various cities and regions produced great garage and metal bands but arguably most of the best came from Detroit (such as The Pleasure Seekers). The Quatro sisters lived in The Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe and they were the daughters of jazz musician Art Quatro. Patti Quatro formed The Pleasure Seakers in late 1964. In her memoir Unzipped, Suzie Quatro recalls getting the band's name from looking up the dictionary defination of a "hedonist" to find it says a "pleasure seeker."
The group originally consisted of Patti Quatro (guitar), Suzi Quatro (bass Guitar), Mary Lou Ball (guitar), Nancy Ball (drums), Diane Baker (keyboards). Eventually, Arlene Quatro replaced Diane Baker on keyboards and Darline Arnone replaced Nancy Ball on drums. Perhaps inspired by the British Invasion bands who always carried at least one member that played extra instruments such as harpsichord or dulcimer, the group featured Mary Lou Ball, an adept Mandolin player who along with backing vocals played rhythm guitar. Leo Fenn became the group's manager. Not long after the group formed in late 1964, Patti dared Dave Leone to let the group play at the teen club he owned in Detroit called The Hideout. Leone accepted the dare and gave them one three song slot on a Friday night for starters. Practice paid off. The girls held their own superbly, right away gaining a newly found following and they were asked to come back to the Hideout.
Dave Leone and Punch Andrews were the shakers and movers behind The Hideout. The Hideout was in three suburban Detroit locations in the mid sixties. The original location was in Harper Woods. Then they started having shows in Southfield. The shows in Southfield stopped because the local community didn't exactly approve. So instead they started having shows in Clawson until The Grande Ballroom in Detroit opened up. The Hideout locations were among some good locations for young kids to hear bands. People tell me greater Detroit was a very happening place for teen clubs then. There are about 40 or 50 major big cities in this country with populations in at least 6 or 7 figures and actually not all of them had these teen club scenes with live bands as did Detroit. These clubs were a break in the monotony of that "car assembly line" factory existance. Dave Leone and Punch Andrews never owned their own building site. Instead they rented halls. Of all the stories, the girls in The Pleasure Seekers could tell, the Detroit scene bands, MC5, Iggy, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, treated the girls respectfully and they all could see they were an exceptionally good rock and roll band. The girls can tell you all kinds of cool stories about those guys who they knew for years.
Nancy Quatro (later the singer in Cradle) was Patti and Suzi's sister. She used to climb down out of her bedroom window to meet with Ted Nugent and also to go hang out at Creem magazine on Plum street. The Pleasure Seekers were one of the first Detroit bands to be out and touring the country. Patti Quatro recalls it was a Rennaisance of English Invasion and Motown colliding musically in those days which was one of the main combined influences fueling the scene. And Patti said the MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" was to her a "call to arms heard round the world." As time went by, the Quatro house in the Detroit suburbs played host to large numbers of rock musicians who came to play in Detroit on tour. The Quatro sisters' dad and mom understood what it's like to be a musician on the road and encouraged their daughters' creativity.
Record company executives wanted Las Vegas beauties in lavish costumes, wowing the crowds with tinkling arrangements of happy tunes and The Pleasure Seekers weren't having it for one goddam minute, period. The record companies thought they would fall in love, get pregnant, and not stick with it for long enough to make it worthwhile to invest any money in them. Audiences at the live gigs were interesting- the band was often greeted with skepticism and laughter and hoots of jealousy from females. As they started to kick ass onstage that "tee-hee" shit didn't last long. It changed into dropped jaws and enthusiasm.
The female's jealousy and antagonism would quickly morph into pride that sisters could have a rock and roll band and they could play great and be successful. A typical set consisted of covers including tunes by The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Motown and Stax/Volt stuff, plus lots more. The band's roadies were made fun of or were often aproached about liasons and hookups with the girls. They were sometimes called on to pretend to be boyfreinds so as to ward off pushy fans who were making agressive overtures to the band. There were times when they had to protect the band from strangers, trying to break into their rooms with all sorts of ploys.
The Pleasure Seekers' roadies had to contend with this bias often in the band's travels. Rednecks in those days could be awfully antagonistic over long hair. Anyway, there were male groupies who were, in fact, respectful too. Usually, they stood around with a gaping look on their face, never quite getting up the nerve to talk to them in person. They typically contented themselves with writing long love letters to the band's fan club. The band remembers fan letters from entire fraternities.
The Pleasure Seekers recorded a single in 1965 on the Hideout label called "What A Way To Die" b/w "I Never Thought You'd Leave Me." The tables are turned on "What A Way To Die" with the female side having the upper hand. It's an ode to teen sex and beer. The song really rocks with the girls doing "Twist and Shout" screams. "I Never Thought You'd Leave Me" is ballady and it features a Beatles and Searchers styled double tracked lead vocal and electric piano playing which would remind you of Daryl Hooper's playing with the Seeds. David Leone wrote the lyrics to both. Patti Quatro was 17 and Suzi Quatro was 15 at the time of the recording. Suzi is the lead singer on "What A Way To Die" and she sounds the way she would nowadays.
On a sad side note, Nancy Ball was one of the first people Patti asked to start a band with. Nancy was a very high energy drummer and she sang an awesome version of "Wild Thing" in the group's live shows. Nancy left after two years so she could finish her degree after which she persued a very successful career as a psychologist. It's unfortunate to report that she died in an accident in the nineties on a rainy night which was hazardous for driving a car.
Several other women were breifly members of the Pleasure Seekers. Priz Wenzell was on keyboards breifly in 1965 and again in 1966. Eileen Biddingmeier handled vocals, guitar and bass in 1966-1967. Sherry Hammerlee played rhythm guitar and sang. She was with The group for a very short time. Nancy Rogers played drums from 1968 to 1970. Pami Benford was on vocals, guitar and bass from 1967 to 1969.
Darline Arnone was a great drummer too. She was asked by The Slingerland Company to endorse drum sets, an accolade usually reserved for male performers. People who were at The Pleasure Seekers' concerts were bowled over by Darline's drum solos which always lasted over 15 minutes. They say she was technically a great drummer.
Diane Baker's father was a member of Art Quatro's band. She was a remarkably sophisticated electric piano player. As I've pointed out, comparisons could be made to The Seeds' Daryl Hooper and also to the electric piano playing of The Doors' Ray Manzarek.
Patti's lead guitar is the best too. She sounds like she's having fun while there are lots of other records CD's that don't sound like the personnel are having a good time. The rhythm guitar and the bass guitar are good and they aren't just used as props which sometimes happens musically.
The 'girls' also played on Robin Seymour's Swinging Time more than once. Swinging Time was one of those "kids on a dance floor with bands" TV shows which was broadcast from out of neighboring Windsor, Ontario and MC'd by Detroit disc jockey Robin Seymour. In fact, Swinging Time was a classic not unlike The Beat, Dewey Phillips' Pop Shop and Beat, Beat, Beat. Many people I come across from Detroit grew up watching Swinging Time and you can get videos of it from Videobeat.com.
As I mentioned earlier, these were women musicians in a loosening-up sexual era. There were always executives, club owners, etc. who felt that they were there for the taking. The Pleasure Seekers, and later Cradle, NEVER went that route. They always navigated the musical casting couch with careful but firm refusal. They figured any gig or contract had to be based on their musical abilities, and that was how they were brought up.
They did push the trend card in their costuming too. The girl's tailor was Darline's grandmother who was a former English showgirl and was very creative and avant garde. The band had some very risque costumes thanks to her.
The Quatro house also became a regular stop and hangout for bands coming through Detroit on tour. There were starving roadies living in the basement. There was a lot of jamming at the Quatro garage. One night in particular, Jack Cassidy and Jorma Kaukanon from the Jefferson Airplane started up jamming in the middle of the night- they were both on acid and they were playing super loud. The door opened up and it was Art Quatro, the sisters' dad in boxer shorts. There was a long pause. Then Art asked Jack and Jorma if they knew "B flat blues." Art proceeded to join the jam session.
The Pleasure Seekers also shared rehearsal space with Alice Cooper for a long time. Alice kept monkeys and boa constrictors. The monkeys sometimes got rebellious and threw shit. The Cooper Band and the girls would party till the wee hours after long rehearsals.
Back then too, Iggy Pop was James Osterberg back in Ann Arbor college days. At that time, he was a drummer and an interesting character even then. Nan Ball was The Pleasure Seekers' drummer and Iggy was her boyfriend. The Cradle song "Funny Man" is written about Iggy and his onstage schtick.
It was back in 1966 that the group started to tour around the country using Detroit as a home base. They shared the bill with everybody from Sam The Sham and The Pharoahs to The Yardbirds. Actually, they canvased the entire country and Canada extensively. In 1968, the girls signed to Mercury records. They had developed a killer stage act and it included a Sgt. Pepper and a Magical Mystery Tour segment. The garage/punk ethos and The Beatles in their "studio group" incarnation don't nescesarily mix but if you were around in those days you do remember how stupendously famous The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were. The group also did its own "Motown Revue" segment. The girls toured with their own light show because most places didn't have one available. The Pleasure Seekers were in demand as a concert band and they were on concert tickets with fellow Detroiters Bob Seger, Alice Cooper Band, the Amboy Dukes to name a few. They recorded a single for Mercury called "Light of Love" and "Good Kind of Hurt" in 1968. Both sides of the single charted.
There were also stories about wild run-in's with other bands, which Patti related in a recent e-mail interview. They remember The MC5 as being hilarious in the studio, with their manager John Sinclair lying down on the floor between the speakers, asking that the volume be turned up all the way. There was a crazy night in a lawn maze playing hide and seek with the guys from Mountain. Then there was jamming backstage with Page and Plant on "Stairway to Heaven" when they played Detroit. Patti jammed backstage with Jeff Beck in Toronto and there was a wild car ride in London with Jeff where Nancy thought she was going to get killed for sure as Jeff careened his way through the streets.
One night in NYC at the Gorham Hotel, the Pleasure Seekers were in residence with The Blues Magoos, The Who, Ted Nugent's band the Amboy Dukes and other assorted characters. The partying escalated with Keith Moon nailing his furniture to the cieling and he turned on the sprinklers as another band in our rooms let off some powerful aerial fireworks into a construction highrise next door. The whole highrise lit up the dark night sky and 15 NYPD cop cars arrived to check it out. Quickly, the cops were flowing through the Gorham Hotel, arresting nearly every musician in sight. The girls' manager threw them into bed with lights off, so they feigned sleep as the cops knocked on the door.
During The Detroit riots, the band was leaving for a Buffalo gig. The riots were advancing into their neighborhood. Art Quatro decided to lock up the house and come with the girls to the show due to the danger of staying behind in a volatile situation. At the gig, Chuck Berry was in their dressing room- he was on the bill with them that night. He was horseplaying with one of the girls and he was nearly on top of her. Art Quatro walked in the dressing room and hollered "what the hell are you doing" at Chuck.
The band recalls its most rewarding gig on a far east tour in Vietnam. They were asked to stroll through an emergency room of a military hospital facility with acoustic guitars. There were men from Vietnam being airlifted for surgery to another facility. The scene was just awful. There were men with arms and legs blown away, there were men with blood all over them- they were covered up in bandages and IV tubes. One man with blood in his eyes and arms blown away looked over at the band and smiled. He asked if they knew any Otis Redding songs. They played "Try A Little Tenderness." Patti Quatro says "we nearly lost it" as they performed the song.
The group went into the studio to record an album for Mercury but they considered that they were being marketed as a Las Vegas styled act when they wanted to do more original and heavier material. And so in 1969, the Pleasure Seekers turned into The Cradle. The Cradle was a different band from The Pleasure Seekers. Nancy Quatro had joined on lead vocals and Arlene Quatro was now the manager. The Cradle was writing and playing much heavier songs than The Pleasure Seekers and they were now traveling all over the country as an opening act for heavy bands and at rock festivals. The Pleasure Seekers were a very cool band but The Cradle were much more blues-rock heavy and more modern for what was going on at the time.
Jerry Nolan was brought back from NYC as the new drummer for the Cradle upon Nancy Rogers leaving the group in 1971. He was the only male member to ever play with the Quatro sisters bands. It was a short alliance. A couple of months later, Suzi Quatro was signed to RAK records in England and Cradle continued on with a sister duo joining up. Jerry Nolan went on to play drums for the New York Dolls and the girls remember him fondly. That sister duo was Lynn and Leigh Serridge. Lynn and Leigh joined forces with Nancy and Patti Quatro after Suzi got signed to a solo contract in 1971. The two of them had been on the road extensively at ballrooms and pop festivals. They had toured in the far east and Vietnam. Lynne sang and played bass and organ. Leigh played drums and she was considered by her peers to be one of the stronger female drummers to come out of Detroit. Leigh was a great singer with her own style too. After Cradle, Lynne went on to front "Lynne and The Rebels" a country rock group and Leigh was sought after as a vocalist and sang for various Detroit Bands for a long time after Cradle disbanded.
Patti and Nancy Quatro continued with the Cradle after Suzi split, then Patti joined brother Mike Quatro's MQ Jam Band co-producing and recording an album Look Deeply Into The Mirror. The Quatro sisters have reunited for special TV and concert projects through the years. The History a newly remastered album of music from The Cradle was released in 2010. What A Way To Die a newly remastered album of music from The Pleasure Seekers was also released in 2011.
Today, Arlene Quatro has a daughter, actress Sherilyn Fenn. Arlene left the music business and authored a book on health, and too, she became involved with environmental issues.Nancy Quatro turned to music management, forming N. Glass Management and managing the band Overscene. In 1974, Patti Quatro joined Fanny and played on their Rock and Roll Survivors album and their two singles. Patti left Fanny in 1975. She continued to pursue studio work on several albums and musical side projects over the years. She has also worked as a model. Suzi Quatro has had an extensive solo music career. She is also an author, a stage actress and a radio deejay. She had a starring role on TV's Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero. As much as I love the music of the mid-sixties, there weren't many female guitar slingers until punk rock and related styles began to make their gradual inception 'circa 1975-1976. The Pleasure Seekers were a notable exception.
But don't just take my word for it about the Pleasure Seekers- here's some testimonials from people who would really know (cribbed from a fan-page fold-out). "The Quatro girls were the first all-female band that played instruments well and forerunners for many bands to follow. One kick-ass band."- Dennis Thompson(MC5). "You girls play with more balls than most male bands we play with"- Leslie West (Mountain). "The five girls displayed an energy and versatility uncommon in most groups today...the instrumental work was excellent in all cases"- Record World, 1968. "The Pleasure Seekers were also the first and youngest all-girl rock band signed to a national lable"- Doc Lehman (Bangagong). "The Pleasure Seekers are beautiful-both musically and physically... in fact they play and sing with more power than most of the new male groups around"- Cashbox, 1968. "The girls excel in everything. Their combination of musicianship and showmanship makes them one of the best acts I have ever seen in my entire life"- Pat O'Day (promoter), 1968.
The Pleasure Seekers and Suzi Quatro are due to be inducted this year into Detroit's Hall of Fame at an awards ceremony on April 27, 2012. The group will be detailed in an upcoming film She Rocks which is due out this year. There are two CD's of their music available: one is the Cradle's The History (from 2010) and the other is the Pleasure Seekers What a Way To Die (from 2011). These are limited edition CD's and they are taken from live gigs on a two-track machine. The tapes have miraculously survived time. All songs are previously unreleased except for The Mercury and Hideout songs on The Pleasure Seekers CD. Check them out. You'll be glad that you did.
I would like to thank Patti Quatro Ericson for her help in putting this article together.
For The Pleasure Seekers CD and The Cradle CD, try www.CDbaby.com. For more information about The Pleasure Seekers/Cradle/The Quatro Sisters try www.quatrorock.com.
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