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A passionate preservationist of three-chord, high-volume rock-n-roll, as well as a wickedly clever and observant songwriter, Ian Hunter was the lead singer and chief composer for the British glam-boogie outfit Mott the Hoople, which scored an enduring hit in the early 1970s with the David Bowie-penned "All the Young Dudes." Hunter fronted the band throughout its brief but potent time in the spotlight, rising from obscurity as a well loved but thoroughly ignored club act to the heights of rock music fame following the release of the anthemic "Dudes" in 1972. The band burned out almost as quickly as it arrived on the scene, splitting in 1974 before Hunter launched his solo career a year later. With former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson as his frequent collaborator-producer, Hunter became a witty, caustic commentator on the glories and excesses of the rock lifestyle as well as his own rough-and-tumble past. Though hit albums were sporadic at best, Hunter's gift for songwriting, as well as the unimpeachable rock credibility afforded by his tenure with Mott, allowed him to enjoy a career in music that continued unabated into the new millennium, often to critical acclaim. Ian Hunter's steadfast dedication to...
A passionate preservationist of three-chord, high-volume rock-n-roll, as well as a wickedly clever and observant songwriter, Ian Hunter was the lead singer and chief composer for the British glam-boogie outfit Mott the Hoople, which scored an enduring hit in the early 1970s with the David Bowie-penned "All the Young Dudes." Hunter fronted the band throughout its brief but potent time in the spotlight, rising from obscurity as a well loved but thoroughly ignored club act to the heights of rock music fame following the release of the anthemic "Dudes" in 1972. The band burned out almost as quickly as it arrived on the scene, splitting in 1974 before Hunter launched his solo career a year later. With former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson as his frequent collaborator-producer, Hunter became a witty, caustic commentator on the glories and excesses of the rock lifestyle as well as his own rough-and-tumble past. Though hit albums were sporadic at best, Hunter's gift for songwriting, as well as the unimpeachable rock credibility afforded by his tenure with Mott, allowed him to enjoy a career in music that continued unabated into the new millennium, often to critical acclaim. Ian Hunter's steadfast dedication to the foundations of rock-n-roll, as well as his talent for memorable songwriting, made him a favorite among devotees of the form at its loudest, purest and most exhilarating.
Born Ian Hunter Patterson on June 3, 1939 in Oswestry, a town in Shropshire country, England, he was the son of Walter Patterson, a Glasgow, Scotland-born policeman, and his wife, Freda. Hunter's family moved throughout the U.K. during his early years before returning to Shropshire to settle in Shrewsbury, its county town (administrative center). A passionate music fan from an early age, he fell in love with performing after winning a talent competition at a holiday camp with a rendition of "Blue Moon" at the age of 17. His strict father disapproved of his decision to pursue a career in music, which prompted Hunter to move to Northampton, where he joined his first band, The Apex Group. However, he left the act shortly before they recorded their first single, "Yorkshire Relish, Caravan," in 1958. Hunter played with a few more groups before his unsteady finances required him to take a day job, but soon returned to The Apex Group. However, he soon took issue with their rigidly formal stage presence and attire of matching jackets, and formed his own group, a more raucous act called Hurricane Henry and the Shriekers, which prompted his ouster from The Apex Group. His new act soon began playing the tough Hamburg, Germany club scene that had laid the foundation for the Beatles. In 1966, he returned to London to join The Scenery, for which he penned the single "To Make a Man Cry." The Scenery eventually transformed into the rock-n-roll revival act At Last the 1958 Rock and Roll Show, which cut a single for CBS called "I Can't Drive" before once again changing their moniker, this time to Charlie Woolfe before eventually folding.
By 1969, Hunter was gigging with a wide assortment of musicians, including early British rock hero Billy Fury and singer David McWilliams, while also digging ditches, writing songs for a publishing firm, and reporting for a local newspaper in order to provide for his two children by girlfriend Diane Coles. His fortunes appeared to turn around that year when he replaced Stan Tippens as vocalist for the band Silence. The group then signed with the legendary, hard-living DJ-turned-producer Guy Stevens, who immediately re-christened them Mott the Hoople, after the 1966 Willard McManus novel of the same name, and set about to channel the ferocious energy of their stage performances onto their debut LP. The eponymous record, released in 1969, was a critical success as well as a cult favorite among fans of traditional rock-n-roll, who flocked to hear their thunderous club appearances. But the album itself fared poorly, a fate also suffered by their next two records, Mad Shadows (1970) and Wildlife (1971). Frustrated by their lack of success, the band announced their split, only to be rescued from the precipice by longtime fan David Bowie, who offered the group their soon-to-be signature song. The mournful "All the Young Dudes," which was perceived as something of an anthem for the growing glam movement - though Bowie intended it as a more dire message about the end of the world - reached No. 3 on the U.K. singles charts and broke into the Top 40 in America.
Hunter and the revived Mott the Hoople would enjoy a slew of hits on both sides of the Atlantic for the next two years, scoring back-to-back Top 40 albums with Mott (1973) and The Hoople (1974). But turmoil was brewing within the band's ranks, specifically from guitarist and founding member Mick Ralphs, who felt that Hunter had seized control of the group's direction. He departed in 1973 to help form Bad Company, and was replaced by Luther Grosvenor, a.k.a. Ariel Bender from one of Guy Stevens' other acts, Spooky Tooth. Grosvenor was then replaced by Mick Ronson, Bowie's guitarist in the Spiders from Mars and one of the key architects of the glam sound, but the addition proved too late to save the band. Hunter had wearied of the in-fighting and pressure from bandmates and his label, as well as the toll taken on his health by constant touring and the excesses of the rock lifestyle. After publishing Diary of a Rock Star (1974), a critically acclaimed chronicle of his time with Mott the Hoople, he quit the band in 1974.
After relocating to New York in 1975, Hunter and Ronson began crafting his solo debut. The eponymous LP produced a No. 14 U.K. hit with "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," which later became a Grammy-nominated Top 5 single for the American rock band Great White. Following a tour to support the record, Hunter and Ronson parted ways professionally, spurring the singer to team with keyboardist Chris Stainton for his sophomore record, All American Alien Boy (1976). A more soul- and jazz-driven affair than its predecessor, it failed to generate sales, despite the presence of Mott the Hoople's onetime opening act, Queen, on backing vocals. Its follow-up, Overnight Angels, found Hunter returning to a harder rock sound, but the album fared even worse than its predecessor by going unreleased in America due to a conflict with its label, Columbia Records, over Hunter's decision to fire his manager, Fred Heller, prior to its release. He then produced U.K. punk band Generation X's second album, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1979) before reuniting with Ronson for his fourth solo album, You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic (1979). Featuring John Cale and members of the E Street Band among its guest performers, the record was a Top 40 release in the United States and produced a Top 10 hit for Barry Manilow who recorded the album cut "Ships" in 1979. The Presidents of the United States would later cover "Cleveland Rocks" as the theme for "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1995-2004).
The success of Schizophrenic spurred Hunter's new label, Chrysalis, to release a live album of the resulting 1980 promotional tour. The double LP release, Welcome to the Club (1980), which also featured four new songs recorded live in the studio, preceded a collaboration with the Clash's Mick Jones on Short Back N' Sides (1981). It proved a modest success, as did its follow-up, All of the Good Ones are Taken (1983), which earned some rotation on the fledgling MTV network with the music video for the title track. Ronson was featured on only one song from the album, due in part to his decision to quit the music business. Hunter himself would drop out of sight for the next half-decade, finally resurfacing in 1990 with Ronson to record YU! Orta for a new label, Mercury, with Chic's Bernard Edwards serving as producer. The record did little business, sending Hunter back into obscurity until 1992, when he emerged to pay tribute to Ronson following the guitarist's death from liver cancer that year. Hunter appeared on Ronson's posthumous album, Heaven and Hull (1994) before resuming his own solo career with 1995's Dirty Laundry.
Hunter soon settled comfortably into the role of elder rock statesman, releasing a string of well-regarded solo albums and live efforts, including 2004's Strings Attached, which featured a 20-piece orchestra, and The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nuthin' But the Truth (2005), which saw Hunter reunite onstage with Mick Ralphs alongside Queen's Brian May and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. This led to a full-fledged reunion with all five original members of Mott the Hoople, which performed a series of sold-out dates in London, Wales and Glasgow in 2009. Hunter also continued to maintain his solo career, releasing the hard-rocking Shrunken Heads in 2007, while taking an acoustic approach to Man Overboard (2009). The Mott the Hoople reunion shows appeared to inspire him to return to his roots for When I'm President (2012), which balanced his penchant for electrified boogie with slower, slightly wistful material.
By Paul Gaita
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