Ian Hunter has a new solo album coming out next week, and I couldn't be more delighted.
Chances are you don't know Ian Hunter by name, but you do know his songs. Although he never sold quite as many records as his most obvious influences—Dylan, the Stones, and David Bowie—or for that matter, even as his one-time Mott The Hoople bandmate Mick Ralphs did with Bad Company—Hunter's songs occupy a unique and permanent place in rock history.
The group Great White, for example, made a career out of covering Hunter tunes like "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" in the eighties (much the same way as their metal comrades Quiet Riot did with Slade songs like "Cum On Feel The Noize"). Even Barry Manilow hopped on the Ian Hunter bandwagon at one point, when he had a hit with a cover of the rare Hunter ballad "Ships." Latter-day fans like Joe Strummer and Mick Jones have also cited Mott The Hoople as a primary influence on the Clash.
But for those of us who love the man behind the curls and the shades, Ian Hunter's greatest days remain those he spent as frontman and primary songwriter for the great unsung seventies rock band Mott The Hoople. I once wrote a review of their great album Mott, where I described them as how Dylan might sound if he were backed by the Rolling Stones. The review so inspired a few members of my Journalism 101 class, that they formed an ad hoc fanclub called "Friends Of Mott The Hoople." Funny shit.
Later, when I was writing for another school paper in college, I got a chance to meet Hunter when I heard that area DJ Norm Gregory would be interviewing him for the afternoon show on local rock station KZOK. I immediately phoned Gregory and asked if I could come down and hang out, to which he agreed.
When Gregory was done with him, I sat Ian Hunter down in the lobby at the station and did my own interview. My greatest recollection of this was the way that Hunter chain-smoked throughout our conversation, and stacked his butts up end to end on the table (there was no ashtray). He also never once removed those trademark shades of his.
I also saw Ian Hunter play live twice, once with Mott The Hoople, and another time on a solo tour fronting the Hunter/Ronson Band with former David Bowie guitarist, the late, great Mick Ronson.
Due to their association with Bowie on the album (and titular hit single) All The Young Dudes, Mott were at the time being pegged as part of the seventies glitter-rock movement. And although the label wasn't necessarily an accurate one — as I said their sound was equal parts Stones swagger and Dylanesque poetry in motion (thanks to Hunter's voice and lyrics) — they definitely relished the role of glam boys in concert.
Bassist Overend "Pete" Watts was known as much for the knee-high platform boots he wore onstage as he was for his bass playing. As for Hunter, he played a variety of really cool looking guitars, including one that was shaped like a giant "H" and another that looked like a Maltese cross.
When I saw Mott the Hoople in concert, Hunter wasn't afraid to run head first into the crowd either. At one point in the show I saw, he even ran up the middle aisle with that Maltese cross guitar of his, plunked himself into a seat next to some poor unfortunate female, and barked "Move over you fucking slut!" into the mike. This was all in good fun, of course, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the female fan left with the band after the show.