Rantin’ and rollin’

Oct 6, 2004 at 12:00 am

Something’s festering in today’s musical climate and it reeks heavily of nostalgia. Why else would we being seeing several questionable resurrections of great yet mislaid rock bands from the early ’70s? Could it be that the lack of sparks in the current rock ’n’ roll landscape has inspired the old-timers to get up and show all the young punks what’s what? Could it be that house payments simply need to be made? Maybe they’re just feeling a bit nostalgic? Who knows?

But one gang from that glamorous era you won’t see cashing in on said nostalgia and reuniting any time soon is Mott The Hoople.

Drive-by history lesson: Mott, best identified stateside for their David Bowie-penned glam anthem, “All The Young Dudes,” was an early ’70s powerhouse Brit band that fused blues, rock, metal, folk and glam into one majestic crash. They gave the world both melancholic back-alley ballads (“Saturday Gigs”) and booming sing-alongs (“All The Way From Memphis”) and were hugely influential (see the Clash, etc.). The sunglassed, fro-haired singer-songwriter-guitarist Ian Hunter, a rock ’n’ roll star in the purest form — elegantly threadbare and literate, street and cosmopolitan — fronted Mott. Hunter, alongside Marc Bolan and Bowie, made up one-third of the day’s holy U.K. glam trinity.

Hunter left Mott in 1975, embarking on a solo career that, in many ways, was an extension of the Mott manifesto — that unwavering faith in the power of rock ’n’ roll. Since, Hunter has released classic albums over the years including All American Alien Boy, You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic and the overlooked gem Dirty Laundry. His most recent, 2001’s Rant, is elegiac and biting, and beautifully executed.

If anything can be taken from Mott and his solo records, it’s that Hunter rarely pays attention to musical trends. And he shows no desire to merely rest on past glories.

When asked recently about the chance of a Mott reunion, the soft-spoken but articulate and chatty Hunter says, “No, not really.” Then he laughs: “I think we’re the only complete band left aren’t we? All the old dudes!”

Hunter’s on the phone from his Connecticut home and we’re talking the recent reunions of the Stooges and the New York Dolls.

“I don’t know — once you get into that trap, it’s difficult to get out of it. When I recently did those last series of shows with Ralphs (Mick Ralphs, ex-Mott guitarist) over in England, the Mott thing came up. They [the promoters] said, ‘If you change your name to Mott the Hoople, we can up the ante tremendously.’ But it was just the two of us, and once you call yourself Mott The Hoople, everyone expects all Mott songs.” He pauses, then he adds, “I spent half of my life trying to come out from under the cloak of Mott — I don’t see any point in going back.”

Hunter is looking forward to a mini-Midwestern tour, which includes a rare Motor City appearance this week. It goes without saying that a Detroit and Hunter coupling equals a kick-ass rock ’n’ roll show. A night in 2002 is a good example. A highlight was witnessing the throng change the chorus of Hunter’s hit “Cleveland Rocks” to “DE-TROIT ROCKS.” And not even the rude boom-tss-boom-tss of the techno blaring from the Shelter downstairs — which had disrupted Hunter’s moving tribute to his longtime collaborator Mick Ronson (RIP) — could piss on his parade. In response to the subterranean thump, Hunter stood up from his keyboard and led the band into a thunderous rendition of Mott’s classic “Roll Away The Stone,” which extinguished the basement thump and had the crowd roaring. It was a beautiful —and symbolic — rock ’n’ roll moment.

In fact, Hunter has many memories of playing Detroit. He tells of a time when he and Ronson played Cobo Arena in the late ’70s and the backstage scene was invaded by giants: “All these enormously tall people came into the dressing room who I assumed were basketball players [Cobo was home to the Detroit Pistons then] and there was mountains of cocaine … it was insane,” he says. “I was never into that sort of thing, it [the coke] did, however, all disappear and I don’t know where it went!”

Back in 1986, Hunter’s Canadian tour finished up at California’s in Windsor. After the show Hunter was “dropped off at a motel in a dodgy part of Detroit. That was the name, motel. I had all of the tour money on me as they had paid me off — thousands of dollars — and the door of the motel, which looked like someone had kicked it in, wouldn’t close. I was absolutely knackered. So I slept with an open door with pockets full of money in this rough area — I was scared shitless!” The singer can only chuckle at the memory.

Hunter admits that he “was never a road hog,” and says that his disinclination to tour the States at any great length throughout the ’90s meant fewer younger fans getting into his music. (In Europe, where he’s always toured extensively, there have been influxes of new fans).

“The last [U.S.] tour for the Rant album was great, but it didn’t seem new. There were all of the old people but no one else was coming out and that was my fault because I hadn’t really kept in touch with them over the years.”

Trying to survive amid shifting musical trends in the ’90’s — before nostalgia made the old new again — there was little demand for a Hunter tour stateside. “I was gone as far as the business was concerned,” he says.

These days, the 58-year-old Hunter likes to go out on the road in short stretches — nothing too lengthy. He says he finds it difficult to write while touring. “I can’t write while on the road. You go out and live it and then you come back and assimilate it.”

Hunter is measurably excited about the U.S. release of his upcoming double CD-DVD on Sanctuary records, Strings Attached. In a new twist on a mixed bag of several Hunter-Mott faves, a full orchestra backs the singer — but it’s nothing maudlin like Rod Stewart’s recent foray into orchestral meanderings. “I put the vocals down and they took it without any backing guitar or piano and added on from there.” While the album is out in parts of Europe, there’s no set release date yet in the United States (“They started it in January and are still farting about.”)

A U.S. resident since 1975, Hunter appears to be content with his laid-back home life when he’s not in the studio or on tour. Hunter has always had the country gentleman in him. His life, in fact, sounds downright idyllic; he mixes his work with walks in the country near his home. And for someone who has written such timeless tunes as “When The Daylight Comes,” “Irene Wilde” (“A true story!” he says), “I Wish I Was Your Mother” and countless others, Hunter is remarkably modest about his skills as a songwriter. He’s still in awe of the, uh, magic of songwriting now as if he had only just begun. “It’s a nightmare with me. It comes out in bursts when you don’t expect it — no logic to it whatsoever. I haven’t an idea what I’m doing, never did and I never will. It’s the hardest thing in the world for me to talk about.”

He may not be able to talk about it, but, goddamn, are we lucky to have his songs!

Ian Hunter and his Rant Band appear Sunday, Oct. 10 at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale). Call 248-544-3030 for info.

Ricky Phillips is an area freelance writer and musician. Contact him at [email protected]