Throughout his astonishing career, Ian Hunter has produced a matchless repertoire of exciting music combining homage, honesty and killer hooks. As the lead singer and focal point in Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter established himself as an incredibly inventive songwriter with his gritty and thought-provoking songs, paving the way for the original wave of punk rock. As a renowned solo performer he has also succeeded with an eclectic catalogue of superbly intelligent albums and an immensely dedicated following.
Ian Hunter’s musical passion was first ignited by Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and he appeared in various early British bands, mainly as a bass player backing Billy Fury and Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee. Hunter also worked as a provincial journalist and later a staff songwriter in Denmark Street at the musical heart of 60s London.
In 1969, Ian auditioned for a group named Silence that had morphed from several 60s bands in Herefordshire, England. The audition was supervised by Guy Stevens from Island Records and Hunter was asked to join the group, none of them realising at the time that the singer-songwriter would soon become their most valuable asset. Stevens swiftly signed the re-vamped Silence to Island Records whose impressive blossoming roster already included Traffic, Free and King Crimson.
Guy Stevens was crucial to Mott’s development and without him they would never have existed. His vision for the band was a unit that combined the primal power of the Rolling Stones with the cool lyrical prowess of Bob Dylan. Razor-thin, balding and bearded, Guy was a burning flame, a catalyst and a passionate instigator; he became Mott’s inspirational mentor and had a propensity for generating and procuring names that was profound. He changed Silence to Savage Rose and Fixable then swiftly re-christened the band Mott the Hoople after a book by American author Willard Manus. Guy’s other identities and titles included Procol Harum, The Heavy Metal Kids, Sticky Fingers and AC/DC.
With Mott, Ian recorded four
albums for the Island label between 1969 and 1971 - Mott the Hoople, Mad
Shadows, Wildlife and Brain Capers. The records featured a range of astounding
Hunter compositions including ‘Backsliding Fearlessly,’ ‘Half
Moon Boy,’ ‘Walking with a Mountain,’ ‘I Can Feel,’
and ‘The Journey’, often allowing the band to break new ground.
Four albums and three singles made no real impression on the charts, but
Mott’s performances were frequently explosive and they were acclaimed
by an utterly devoted following. Failure to gain mass acceptance led to
growing frustration however and the band split in Switzerland in March
1972. Mott was forced to play a final tour for Island while David Bowie,
a secret admirer of the group, learned of their demise and
During this period of revitalization, Mott the Hoople moved to CBS/Columbia Records and released the critically acclaimed David Bowie produced LP All the Young Dudes. The album’s distinctive title track instantly became a huge hit, propelling the group towards a mainstream audience and catapulting them into the British Top 10 and the American Top 40. ‘All the Young Dudes’ is still classed as “the definitive glam anthem”, but the song possessed a darker apocalyptic side, linked to Bowie’s sci-fi parable told on his Ziggy Stardust album of the period. David had written something very special but it was Mott’s treatment and particularly Hunter’s vocal embellishments that made it such an infectious, classic track.
The band considered engaging
Mike Leander, Roy Wood and even John Lennon to produce their next LP but,
encouraged by Roxy Music who was recording For Your Pleasure in an adjacent
room at Air Studios in London, they took the reins themselves and delivered
their masterpiece. Mott is still regarded as a classic album of the 70s
chronicling the trials, tribulations, inspirations and desperation of
rock and roll. Hunter blazed across the front pages of the world’s
music press as Mott the Hoople’s popularity soared. The Mott album
hit #7 in the UK and #35 in the USA and the band enjoyed sellout
After band members Verden Allen and Mick Ralph left Mott, Ian became the undisputed group leader and virtual sole songwriter, composing some fearsome and percipient songs for Mott’s final studio album including ‘Marionette’ and ‘Crash Street Kidds’. The Hoople (UK #11 and US #28) contained an eclectic mix and marked a solid progression and in the spring of 1974, Mott played another lengthy American tour and became the first rock band to sell out a week of Broadway concerts in New York. Hunter’s book Diary of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star, (written on Mott’s 1972 US tour) was published and subsequently acclaimed by Q Magazine as “the greatest music book ever written.” It was a peak period for Ian and the group but pressure was building and the band started to dissolve. Later that year, Hunter quit and Mott the Hoople ceased to exist.
In 1975, Ian launched his solo career with an exceptional debut LP Ian Hunter that included another hit single ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ and exceeded all post-Hoople expectations. The follow-up, 1976s’ All-American Alien Boy was a virtual concept album as Hunter laid bare his frustrations about England and his thoughts on being hit by America where he was now resident. ‘Irene Wilde’ and ‘You Nearly Did Me In,’ the latter with Queen on backing vocals, were particular high points. A third and final CBS LP (before a move to Chrysalis Records), Overnight Angels, garnered excellent UK reviews and contained the song ‘Wild ’N’ Free’ showing that Ian could still rock with more power and intelligence than the punk rockers of the time. 1979’s You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic, one of Ian’s best albums contained ‘Bastard,’ ‘Standin’ In My Light’ and ‘Cleveland Rocks’ (which went on to become the theme song for the 90s ABC hit series The Drew Carey Show). The Schizophrenic album was one of Chrysalis’ biggest sellers and 1981s Short Back N Sides was another forward-thinking progression as Hunter invited Mick Jones of The Clash to assist with production on his “garage album.”
28 years on, Ian has released six further acclaimed studio releases including All of the Good Ones Are Taken, YUI Orta, Dirty Laundry, The Artful Dodger, Rant and 2007’s Shrunken Heads, another return to form that received much critical praise and resulted in successful international live work. Now, in 2009, Hunter extends his astounding repertoire with his New West Records debut Man Overboard. Recorded in Pawling, New York, Ian’s thirteenth solo album features 11 new songs covering the amazing range of emotions and observations that we’ve come to expect. Man Overboard was produced by Hunter and Andy York (guitar and backing vocals - John Mellencamp) and the superstar players featured on the record include Steve Holley (drums and percussion - Wings and Joe Cocker), Paul Page (bass - Dion), Jack Petruzzelli (electric guitar - Rufus Wainwright and Joan Osbourne), James Mastro (electric guitar - Patti Smith and John Cale), Andy Burton (piano and organ - The Db's). Many of the band members played on Ian’s Shrunken Heads sessions. Hunter: “When we did Shrunken Heads, I felt like we had a good thing going so I wanted to revisit the experience before anything changed, and that’s what we did on Man Overboard.”
Britain’s top music magazine Classic Rock put “Babylon Blues” at No.1 on their play list prior to release and remarked: “Shrunken Heads re-established Hunter as a major artist- newie Man Overboard could be the one to get him hits.”
Over the years, Hunter has rejected lucrative offers to reform Mott the Hoople and join Uriah Heep and The Doors and we should be thankful for that as his commitment to his craft enables Ian to produce further new and refreshing work as heavily presented on Man Overboard. In October 2009 however, the original Hoople line-up of Hunter, Ralphs, Allen, Watts and Griffin will re-group for five shows at London’s HMV Hammersmith Apollo in celebration of their 40th Anniversary. The venue is highly appropriate as Mott played two sold-out performances at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973 and created sensational headlines. Towards the climax of the band’s second set, a riotous debacle exploded when roadies and fans fought with stewards to prevent the theatre management lowering the safety curtain on Mott’s swashbuckling show. Rock ‘n’ roll madness ran rampant and the episode remains a dramatic illustration of the band’s power at their zenith. The British music press raved about the show with front page coverage and headlines: ‘Mott Riot - Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to stay!’ In 2009, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll is back’ and the legendary Hammersmith Odeon is sure to be “hazy, shell-shocked and crazy” once more, when five iconic figures take to the stage and recreate their glorious music for thousands of assembled Dudes, young and post-young!
Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople have been cited as major inspirations for numerous artists including The Clash, Kiss, R.E.M., Oasis, Motley Crue, Blur and Primal Scream. Hunter's influence on modern rock and roll music has been immeasurable, with over 150 different cover versions of his songs and he has worked with many musical legends including Queen, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, Mick Ronson and Ringo Starr's All Star Band.
With the release of Man Overboard, Ian Hunter remains a remarkable testament to the cult of personality that he continues to command 40 years after joining Mott the Hoople where he was the musical powerhouse and visually arresting focal point in one of rock’s most important and valuable bands. His solo repertoire, spanning almost thirty five years, contains some of the most eclectic and intelligent lyrics ever penned in rock and roll and he remains a unique and priceless figure on the musical and cultural landscape.
Campbell Devine - Author of
All the Young Dudes - Mott the Hoople & Ian Hunter - The Official
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