Just the Old Dude

A newly released two-CD anthology of Ian Hunter's solo recording only tells half of the rest of the story

"It never hit me like a bullet, but I began to slowly realize that the very thing I always wanted wasn't what I really wanted at all," he says. "'Cause all it was was a limo, a huge stage miles away from people and a hotel. People laugh when I say it's boring. It just seemed too cocooned. But you carry on because now you're responsible for people's wages, people's wives, people's kids, the whole little empire that you've got. I was glad when it stopped. It was the right thing to do."

"But Mick [Ronson] and me are both very normal sort of people," he says, still affectionately referring to his deceased partner in the present tense.

Removed from the stress of Mott and the stigma of having to glam it up, the pair started work on Hunter's first solo album almost immediately after the split. "I left Mott, and about a week after, Mick left and we both came over here to the States. Mick said, 'In the state you're in, you should make a record,'" Hunter says, laughing. "And he was right."

Ian Hunter: Still backsliding fearlessly.
Ian Hunter: Still backsliding fearlessly.
Hunter with Mott: "We'd come from the backwaters of England and didn't know how anything worked."
Hunter with Mott: "We'd come from the backwaters of England and didn't know how anything worked."

Being Hunter's musical foil was a relief to Ronson as well. The former Spider, still under the reins of Bowie's manager Tony DeFries, was being reluctantly pushed into the spotlight. But Ronson never craved front-man status. When the call to join Mott came, he'd just released a second solo album titled Play, Don't Worry, which some critics suggested should've been called Play, Don't Sing, which, as it turned out, suited Ronson fine.

"He was too far from his amp; it was a pain in the ass singing," Hunter explains. "He just decided he didn't want to do it. So we formed a band. Nice lean four-piece, with none of the arguments. Everything was free and clear for a while." The pair even dealt with having two separate managers who didn't seem to agree on anything.

"Mick went after the first album because the way DeFries wanted to work it, Mick was getting more for making my album than I was. And I wouldn't go for that, so Mick wandered off (to play with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue) and I did All-American Alien Boy without him. And that was scary 'cause I was producing myself. So I did simpler songs and I got people who knew what their own sound was, because I didn't know if I could produce it, either. And that kind of effectively ended my career in the big time. Oh, yeah. People hated it. They don't hate it now, but they did then. Which doesn't help," he chuckles.

Hunter's contention that people who loved his rockers disliked his ballads seems to have germinated with Alien Boy. Suddenly there weren't any fast numbers, and the odd up-tempo song was the title track, a "Young Americans" rewrite complete with squeaking David Sanborn sax and girlie vocals. Against that backdrop, Hunter delivered a rapid-fire "Subterranean Homesick Blues" verbiage that comes dangerously close to predicting rap-rock, albeit a watered-down version.

The album contained more than its share of great ballads, like "Irene Wild" and "God (Take 1)" and "You Nearly Did Me In" (where Hunter is bolstered vocally by Queen). But the impression people came away with was that Hunter had gone soft like every other singer-songwriter in L.A. who didn't know his way around a power chord.

"It needn't have been a surprise if the label had the sense to explain to people what they were gonna get. It was only a surprise because it wasn't marketed properly. It came out as just another album."

That marked the beginning of a long series of managerial and label switches for Hunter. "It just didn't make any sense to me after that. Up until then, there'd been a bit of creativity involved in how it was done. The only time it worked after that was You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic for Chrysalis. They did a great job over there. I don't think people realize how much management and labels are involved in the success of something. Especially nowadays, it ain't gonna get heard no matter how good it is unless you have people that know where to put it and how to do it."

Hunter acted as his own manager for the next record, Overnight Angels.

"Columbia in America wouldn't put it out because I didn't have a manager. But England didn't care if I had a manager or not." Nor did the English care much for the record, a sentiment Hunter shares. The sessions were plagued by problems from the start, culminating in a fire which erupted at the house where Hunter and the band were staying and recording the album.

"I woke up one morning and it was, 'Run for your life!'

"A lot of things happened during the course of that record. We got shot off the road. People didn't like us . . . it was a bad time, bad record. Producing it was Roy Thomas Baker, who was crazy. I don't blame Roy. He did what he did and I didn't have the sense to realize that I'm a lot warmer artist than the other ones he's produced: the Cars, Foreigner or Queen.

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