Mott The Hoople - Biography
BY J Poet
There was a Mott the Hoople before Ian Hunter joined the band, but it was his presence, and the idea of group manager Guy Stevens to combine the sound of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones that made the band unique in rock history. Hunter’s gruff vocals and telling insights into the music business carved out a unique niche in the annals of pop music. No other songwriter has ever been able to capture the ins and outs of big time show business, and its affect on both band and fans, like Hunter. Even the most self-conscious lyrics were delivered with an arch humor and the kind of scathing insight that can make art out of even the most commonplace observations. The band struggled for years, and then became “overnight sensation” in 1971 when David Bowie wrote “All The Young Dudes” for them. After four years at the top of the rock heap, the band exploded as Hunter and lead guitarist Mick Ralphs moved in different directions. The remaining members continued on without their leaders as Mott for a few years but finally called it quits in 1978.
Ian Hunter was born in 1939 in Oswestry, Shropshire, an agricultural town near Birmingham. When he heard Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard on the radio he picked up a guitar. He felt his raspy, untrained voice wouldn’t get him far as a singer, so concentrated on building up his guitar chops. Hunter started playing professionally as the bass man in the band of Freddy “Fingers” Lee, England’s answer to Jerry Lee Lewis, who encouraged him to write songs. After a few years, hunter moved to London landing a songwriting gig for a London music publisher. Roger Glover from Deep Purple was in the next office, but the company didn’t know how to market the rock songs they were writing.
The other members of the recently renamed Mott the Hoople had been playing an energetic, but rather generic brand of hard rock in their hometown of Hereford. Nonetheless, they landed a record deal with Island on the strength of their live shows, even though their manager, Guy Stevens, didn’t like their lead singer. Stevens put an add for a singer the British newspapers and Hunter showed up. Hunter had never fronted a band, nor had he sung in public before (which may be why he started wearing shades), but Stevens was convinced he could do the job. When he heard some of Hunter’s songs, he knew he’d found the right man for the job.
The first four Mott the Hoople albums were record in three years, mostly in small studios, without much of a production budget. Still, Hunter’s Dylanesque vocals and the bands hard rock attack showed the promise of what was to come. Mott the Hoople (1969 Island UK, Atlantic US) includes one of Mick Ralphs’ best tunes “Rock’n’Roll Queen” and some good covers. Mad Shadows (1970 Island UK, Atlantic US), was dark and introspective, not a fun rock album at all, but it showed Hunter’s growing confidence as a songwriter. Wildlife (1971 Island UK, Atlantic US) their self-produced third album is a bit quieter, almost a hard rock folk album, while Brain Capers (1971 Island UK, Atlantic US), produced again by Guy Steven is their first truly brilliant album, full of great hunter originals like “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”.
The albums grazed the bottom of the charts, but the singles they released went nowhere. Overend Watts heard Bowie was looking for a bass player and applied for the job. Bowie was a Mott the Hoople fan, although the band didn’t know it at the time. He talked Watts into staying with Mott and told Hunter he’d write them a song. He offered them “Suffragette City” and “All The Young Dudes.” They chose “Dudes” and Bowie came on board to produce their next album All the Young Dudes (1972 Columbia).
Dudes defined the sound of glam rock and became an international hit.
For the next few years, 1971 – 1975, Mott the Hoople was one of England’s finest rock bands, due in no small part to Hunter’s songwriting prowess and charismatic stage presence. Their stage show was unbelievable and Hunter started writing classic rock tunes by the dozen. Mott (1973 Columbia) was named Record of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine and included “All the Way from Memphis” and “Ballad of Mott the Hoople”, both monster radio hits. The Hoople (1974 Columbia) was another classic, although Ralphs left the band while it was being recorded. Ariel Bender (nee Luther Grosvenor) stepped in for about a year but didn’t work out. He was replaced by Mick Ronson, from Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust band, but tempers frayed, and the endless touring had taken a toll. Hunter and Ronson left to start a new band and Ralphs had already taken off with his new band Bad Company. Ralphs had offered his new group’s first smash, “Can’t get Enough of You Love” to Hunter, but he didn’t think it fit his style.
After thinking through their options, Morgan Fisher, Overend Watts, and “Buffin” Griffin hired singer Nigel Benjamin and guitarist Ray Major and continued on as Mott, releasing two records- Drive On (1975 Columbia) and Shouting and Pointing (1976 Columbia) The band continued on for a few yers more as the British Lions while Hunter and Ralphs went on to new commercial and artistic highs; however, in 2008 the original line up got back together a played a successful reunion show.