ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 23, 1988
By Steve Newton
Whatever happened to Ian Hunter, the former leader of one of Britain’s most influential pre-punk rock bands Mott the Hoople: the corkscrew-haired singer with the ever-present shades and Cockney twang; the gifted songwriter who penned such classics as “All the Way from Memphis”, “The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and “Roll Away the Stone”?
And what about Mick Ronson, the former guitarist for David Bowie’s unforgettable Spiders from Mars band; the one with the muscles and platinum hair who used to do rude things with his white Les Paul while Bowie did even ruder things onstage during the glitter-spangled glory days of glam rock?
Where are they now? You might well ask. Where are they when–more than ever–we need genuine rock heroes to save us from the hordes of fast-buck phonies flooding the airwaves? Next Friday (September 30) they’ll be at 86 Street. Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson together. In a Vancouver club. On a weekend.
There may be a God after all.
As for where they’ve been, the Georgia Straight caught up with Hunter in New York recently and got the story straightened out.
“After the last album that I did, [1983’s All of the Good Ones Are Taken], CBS wanted me to do another one, but they’d stiffed that one, so I didn’t see any point in carrying on. Part of the deal I did with ’em was they gave me a 16-track, so I started learning to record. I wanted to get to the point where I knew enough that I could argue with people and get what I wanted in the studio.
“Then I started to write again, and the writing was pretty poor. I realized it was probably something to do with the fact that I lived in Rolling Acres in upstate New York. So, two-and-a-half years ago, I moved back into New York City, and the writing started to improve.
“Then I started going up to Canada to sing with a guy called Roy Young, and the last time I went up there I invited Mick to come along. After a while, it kicked in–whatever it is that me and him do that works–and we decided we should get back to where we were around ’75. Lean and mean, you know. So we got a band.
“At first we were just going to do two weeks of live shows, just to see if we could do it–’cause me and Mick have run-ins now and again; we don’t get on all the time. But his attitude is great at the moment–and I think mine is too. We’re going out there ’cause we want to, not for any other reason. Might even want to prove something. I don’t know what.”
Hunter doesn’t have to prove anything to his die-hard fans, the ones that totally embraced Mott the Hoople and then followed his up-and-down solo career, which kicked off with a bang on his self-titled ’75 album but never got any better than that. Mick Ronson played guitar and keyboards on that record, did the arrangements, and co-produced it along with Hunter.
A New Yorker like Hunter, Ronson has also been out of the spotlight in recent years. He’s kept busy in the studio, though, producing acts like Vancouver’s own Payola$ (1982’s No Stranger to Danger) and, more recently, country artist David Lynn Jones. Considering his glitter-rock beginnings, and the rollicking boogie he recorded with Hunter, it’s rather surprising that Ronson has been spending so much time in Nashville of late. But it’s just a natural progression for him, he says.
“I’ve been involved in all different kinds of music, and I think one has to do that,” he explains. “I always find it a great shame if somebody’s real short-sighted and only plays one type of music and that’s all. I find that a bit sad, you know.”
Both in their early forties, Hunter and Ronson have seen a lot of what the rock world has to offer. They played 20,000-seat stadiums in the mid-’70s, but are now on the club circuit again. Hunter says that doesn’t bother him a bit. “Clubs are what I like to play,” he says. “I don’t like playin’ big places. I feel at home in clubs, and I like people up close, where I can see ’em.”
Ronson says he can’t wait to get back on the road and rockin’ again, and the excitement in his voice underscores that desire. Hunter is looking forward to it as well. “It’s an opportunity to give my undivided attention to music,” he says. “Very often, when you’ve got a couple of wives and three kids and dogs and God knows what else, your attention can get swayed. And I really enjoy touring for the camaraderie–a bunch of guys together, you know. I’m somewhat of a chauvinist.”
Hunter and Ronson will be accompanied by three musicians from Toronto–a drummer, a keyboardist, and a 22-year-old bassist whom Hunter enthusiastically compares to the late, great Jaco Pastorius (whom he played with on his ’76 All American Alien Boy album). Ronson expects the band to be “smokin'” by the time it gets to Vancouver on its nine-week tour. And he boasts that buddy Hunter is still quite capable of rocking out. “I think once it’s in your system, that basically it’s always there.”
On the recording front, Hunter says he has nine songs set for the next Hunter-Ronson album, which he hopes to start recording in January and have out by the summer of ’89. Currently there are a number of record labels haggling over the upcoming release, and if–as Ronson says–the old Hunter spark is there, it could well be comeback time for the veteran rocker.
But as for a Mott the Hoople reunion, don’t hold your breath.
“I don’t particularly want to do it,” says Ian. “A couple of ’em want to do it–in fact I got a call a few days back. But it seems a bit funny after all these years to do something like that. It’s like, ‘All the Young Dudes’? Quite peculiar.”
A Mott the Hoople reunion wouldn’t be possible at this time anyway, unless guitarist Mick Ralphs split up with the latest incarnation of Bad Company–a group that certainly hasn’t impressed Hunter with its new material.
“I don’t like the record,” says the straight-shooting singer. “I think they’re all great players, but I don’t like the record.”
And how does he feel about the state of rock music in general these days?
“I don’t really concern myself with it, because when I first started out, I loved Bob Dylan, and I started sounding like Bob Dylan. Then I loved Bowie, and I started sounding like Bowie. So I hardly ever listen anymore.
“To me, what sells Ian Hunter is Ian Hunter–or what doesn’t sell Ian Hunter is Ian Hunter. So I might as well just do what I’m gonna do, and sooner or later things’ll kick in.”