Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Feature: Mott The Hoople & Ian Hunter

Hundreds of bands have tried to cop that Rolling Stones sneer, and hundreds more songwriters have tried to model the earthy poetic flow and hard-won wisdom of Bob Dylan. Mott The Hoople and its frontman Ian Hunter are perhaps the only ones ever to accomplish both at the same time, making music that explores emotional hills and valleys with penetrating insight, while delivering the whole package with a healthy dose of Mick Jagger swagger.

The saga of Mott The Hoople as a band could fill pages (and has); suffice it say, the five-man troupe of British rockers seemed star-crossed from their first gigs in 1969 through their semi-final implosion in 1974. From their debut through two years of storming live shows and meager record sales, Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs, keyboardist Verden Allen and rhythm section Pete (Overend) Watts and Dale (Buffin) Griffin built a reputation as one of the great live bands of their day -- and also as a band that could never quite put together an album that lived up to the promise of those memorable live shows. Just when oblivion beckoned, none other than David Bowie stepped in to help them record their most successful LP (1972’s All The Young Dudes), keeping them in the game for two more tumultuous years as the band flirted with glam-rock and first Allen, then Ralphs and finally Hunter departed.

Launching out of Mott as a solo artist in 1975, Hunter built a solo career marked by both very human missteps and moments of utter brilliance, a magnificently gifted songwriter who has typically been at his best when well-partnered musically, which he most notably was several times with ex-Bowie (and briefly Mott) guitarist Mick Ronson. After a relatively fallow period in the 1980s and 90s, Hunter re-emerged in the 21st century -- by which time he had reached his 60s -- with a pair of the best albums of his or anyone’s career in Rant (2001) and Shrunken Heads (2007).

Collectively, Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter have had a major influence on acts from Queen (who opened for them in 1973) to The Clash, whose lead guitarist Mick Jones idolized Mott and eagerly signed on to co-produce Hunter’s 1981 solo disc Short Back ’n’ Sides. With their place in rock and roll’s pantheon of historic and influential characters assured -- and a set of first-time-in-35-years reunion gigs lined up for this October -- Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter were a natural choice for The Daily Vault’s April 2009 Artist Of The Month.


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