Film and TV

Ian Hunter on Mott the Hoople, Ringo Starr, and Mick Ronson

Calling that Mott the Hoople a band's band makes it sound like humans didn't like them. Oh, but they did. In fact they loved them, back in the days when they sold out halls all over England but no one bought their records and then again later when everyone did. If the only blip they ever registered was "All the Young Dudes," it would've been enough to enshrine the band's name forevermore but there was so much more to Mott the Hoople, the only band to really report on what being a rock star was like on the inside, when it was losing or when it was winning and it still felt like losing.

A fantastic new documentary directed by Chris Hall called The Ballad of Mott The Hoople (Redeye Label) has just been released on DVD and just getting glimpses of the band makes you grateful for every bit of footage that survives. Recently, I had a chance to chat with Mott songwriter/frontman Ian Hunter to promote an upcoming Ian Hunter and the Rant Band gig in Detroit. Natch, we spoke about Mott and beyond.

Up on the Sun: This documentary really makes you fall in love with the band all over again. And the footage of the reunion concert looked like it was a bit of a lovefest onstage, too.

Ian Hunter: It was great. The business aspect stinks, big time, but rehearsing with them and playing with them was an absolute pleasure. Hilarious. I was just wondering if that X-factor was there and it was there in spades.

Does everyone have different managers?

Yeah, It really is difficult to talk about and I'd rather not. Playing with the band was fantastic. They recorded the first night, which was a bit stupid. They should've recorded the third night, which was pretty good. In league with everything else that happened in that band that was typical.

They say it takes a man two to three years to get over heartbreak but a bad business deal goes on forever.

It does go on forever and you can't really talk about it because it's still happening. It makes Pink Floyd look like bosom pals. Mick Ralphs and myself are managed by a guy who co-manages Pink Floyd and he says we make Pink Floyd look like happy campers. When we get together, great fun.

Everyone in the band thinks they know best. It's not like it's just me, the ego in the front. We've all got egos and we're all pretty sure of what we believe in. And it being a diplomatic band with no leader, nothing gets done. And it's very frustrating for everyone concerned.

It seems pretty universally accepted that you were the leader and yet you left the band because you felt it was a democracy.

I did the interviews cause no one else would. I wrote songs cause no one else was. You just get put in that position and like "he's running it but it was not t like that at all.

Pete (Overend) Watts didn't do interviews for this documentary but every other member of Mott did. What's Pete up to these days?

Pete walks all over England. He likes quiet, eccentricities, sleeping bags, backpacks, and tents, that kind of thing. Pete Watts and Phally (Verden Allen), for guys who haven't played in a really long time, they played great. They played amazing. And Phally just wants the band to get back together. Mick Ralph's going out, he's got a blues band. And I've had the Rant Band for the last ten years.

I interviewed Bo Diddley in the '90s and he was still consumed with rage about being ripped off early in his career. Is it that way for you and the others in Mott?

Who hasn't been ripped off? My point being whoever ripped me off, they've reconciled it to themselves bit they didn't earn it. I know who did what. Simple as that. With Ronno (Mick Ronson), a lot of people would pitch Ronno ideas, he'd go in for a session and he'd help out, change one or two things around. On one or two occasions these song became big hits. And he never got paid. But he knew he did it. The guy who didn't credit him did reveal it years later when he was financially out of the woods, but he's got to live with that.

(Hunter was too much of a gentleman to mudsling and name the no-goodnick, but me being a loud mouthed Yankee, I can tell you it was none other than John Cougar of Mellencamp fame, who admitted in 2008 that he owes Mick Ronson for making "Jack and Diane" a hit. And he's not credited on the original LP for basically rearranging and saving that song from the scrap heap.)

The work is the main thing as long as you're living all right. Which we managed to do for a long time. There was a point in time when we did You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic and produced Ellen Foley and Mick was a notorious for going out and spending it. We actually had him by the balls for three months and my wife and his wife made him buy a house and made him buy a car while it was going good and that's how he got himself together.

At the height of Mott you wrote the myth busting "Diary of a Rock and Roll Star." Are there any myths that still survive about rock stardom to this day?

I have no idea. That book, it's like a rite of passage. It still sells. It's in about its 15th edition. So if you've got a first edition it might be worth a lot of money. Also, it might be worth nothing (laughs). I've seen people sell them for 250 bucks and I've seen it sell for $2 in a bin.

My copy probably wouldn't fetch too much as it has a rubber band to hold all the pages in that fell out one by one. It came out with the All American Alien Boy cover art

Ahh, that's a good one. A lot more photos in that one.

With recording technology being what it is, is it hard to make a record as filthy as "Rock and Roll Queen"?

In the past, you got drawn in that "Well, records got to sound like that or people won't buy them" flack. When in fact I think people buy passion more than anything, that's what they really buy. Look at some of these new bands and they sound so perfectly. I don't mind ProTools if you know how to use it. It can sound perfect and it can sound perfectly sterile. It can sound like a doctor's waiting room.

I wish you and the Rant Band could come to Phoenix. The last time I saw you here was with Ringo's All-Star Band. Is that gig a drag for you, knowing you can only do two or three of your songs a night?

That's a project. I had a lot of fun doing it, he's a great bloke. When someone rings you up from The Beatles on your answering machine it's kind of weird. I guess you have to do it (laughs).

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic