The veteran British rocker talks Mott and
his new album, dishes on former labels and former Beatles, and even dips into
history lessons and presidential politics.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
The history is well documented. A promising British band
named Mott the Hoople gamely struggles to find an audience, releasing five
superb albums of unrepentant pre-punk Rock ‘n’ Roll, only to find themselves at
the precipice of break-up due to the apathy of those they were hoping to
embrace. Then their savior swoops in in the guise of David Bowie, hands them
one of the most enduring Rock anthems of all time in the form of “All the Young
Dudes,” and suddenly the band is reborn. They go on to make their masterpiece,
titling that album simply Mott to assert the fact the brand is viable again,
but subsequently dissolve a few years later, leaving their legacy intact.
Tousle-haired and wearing his ever-present shades, Ian
Hunter remained at the helm throughout those turbulent years that found
frustration trumped by triumph. When he left in 1973 –leaving behind not only
an exceptional stock of songs, but also a candid document of life on the road
entitled “Diary of a Rock Star” — a promising solo career lay before him.
Still, in the world of Rock, nothing is a given. His solo catalogue includes
several classics — “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” “Cleveland Rocks,” “All the Good
Ones Are Taken,” and his poignant tribute to his one-time ally in arms Mick
Ronson, “Michael Picasso” — but after 20 albums, this tireless musical
journeyman still struggles to get his due.
Not surprisingly then, having just turned 73 (!) this past
June, Hunter continues to opt for doing what he’s always done best — that is,
pounding out hook-laden, riff-ready, wholly unrelenting rock ‘n’ roll. These
days, the sandpapery vocals that early on sounded rather Dylan-esque come
across in a gravelly, weathered rasp, slightly vulnerable perhaps, but no less
defiant. Notably too, his just-released latest album, When I’m President, marks Hunter’s most consistent effort yet, a
solid, straight-ahead set of songs that evokes the heady days of Mott at its
prime. And despite the fact that he now wraps his rockers around more
thoughtful themes, there isn’t a single song that doesn’t boast an exceedingly
Blurt spoke to Hunter from his home in Connecticut, where we
found him preparing for an upcoming tour. Even though he’s lived in the U.S. for
the past 30 years, he still retains an affable, soft-spoken, unmistakable blue
collar British accent, suggesting he remains just an average bloke still
working at his trade. “The boys are downstairs rehearsing,” he remarks before
commencing the interview. Even at his age, it’s clear he’s still concerned with
The title of the new album gives the impression that you are immersing yourself
in the politics that precede the run-up to the presidential election. Was that
the impetus for this new set of songs?
IAN HUNTER: Not really. It’s all about the misinformation
that surrounds presidential politics these days. It’s kinda like it’s just a
bunch of guys sitting around in the pub talking. It’s either too much
information or not enough.
a knack for coming up with these incredible ready-made refrains and these
amazing hooks that you seem to pluck right out of the ethos. In fact, ever
since that first Mott album, when you guys did your instrumental take on “You
Really Got Me,” you seem to instinctively know how to capture these snappy
refrains. So we’re going to ask you outright — how do you do it?
Maybe it’s just a quirk in my DNA. (laughs). The fact is, a
lot of it just sort of comes to me. Still, the actual ideas behind the songs
are the most difficult thing for me. Sometimes you get a line or two, maybe the
beginning of a melody. Then it all starts coming together and a basic idea
forms out of that. But the words themselves can take months.
say it wasn’t presidential politics that inspired this album. So what did?
I read a lot of books about American history, mostly about
events that transpired between 1840 and 1915. I find it fascinating. In
England, the history is thousands of years old, but in America it’s still
relatively fresh, like you can reach out and touch it. For example, Wyatt Earp
died in 1929! I was born in 1939! That’s how close I feel to it. I find that
fascinating. It really fires up my imagination.
a song on the album entitled “Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse).” Being that you’re
British, it’s kind of unusual to imagine you singing about Native Americans.
I’m all for the underdog. I’m really big on that. So the
song is about the last chief to come in and surrender to the American
government. He came in after Geronimo. He led the Sioux Indians and he was
always a very honorable man. There’s never been a photo of him because he
refused to have his picture taken. He was afraid that if he did, it would cause
him to disappear. He was an incredibly courageous and principled man.
song “Saint” also seems to carry a historical thread.
Yes, it takes place in the 1860s in New York City. It was a
really exciting time, kind of like the 1960s were for our generation. The
subject of the song – the Saint – is a beggar who used to be in the Union army
during the Civil War.
continued tomorrow, in Part Two…