When rocker Ian Hunter looked at the itinerary for Mott the Hoople’s first U.S. tour in 45 years, he stumbled over Minneapolis as one of only eight cities on the schedule.
“We go to Cleveland, we go to Detroit. That’s what we do. Why are we going to Minneapolis?” Hunter said recently from his longtime home in Connecticut.
Mott, the cult-loved British glam-rock band known for the 1972 David Bowie-penned classic “All the Young Dudes,” played in the Twin Cities only once — opening for Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the old Guthrie Theater in 1971.
“They said it’s great there now,” said the well-traveled singer, who has been to the Twin Cities more recently as a solo artist and as part of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. “You’re happening.”
This tour reflects Mott the Hoople’s 1974 lineup, with guitarist Ariel Bender and keyboardist Morgan Fisher, plus five new sidemen including former Wings drummer Steve Holley.
There have been Mott reunion tours in the U.K. — including 2013 with four original members and Pretenders drummer Martin Chambers — but two co-founders have since died and another is incapacitated by a stroke.
On Tuesday at First Avenue in Minneapolis, don’t expect to hear any of Hunter’s solo signatures, including “Cleveland Rocks” and “Once Bitten Twice Shy.”
“That’s separate,” Hunter, 79, pointed out. “This is basically the ’74 live album. Half was done in London and half was done on Broadway.”
The U.S. tour came up as an afterthought. After playing a few U.K. festivals in 2018, Mott had scheduled a European tour for late April. Then a New York promoter made the band an offer and, before you know it, a handful of other gigs were booked.
Saved by Bowie
Nobody would be hearing about Mott if it weren’t for Bowie. After a 1971 tour on which they played dreadful venues in Switzerland — “converted gas tanks,” Hunter called them — Mott decided to disband. So bassist Pete Overend Watts reached out to his pal Bowie looking for a gig.
Wait, urged Bowie, an admirer of Mott. He would write some songs for them if they’d continue.
“David sort of made us his little project for a while,” Hunter said.
They actually turned down “Suffragette City” before Bowie himself made it a hit in 1972.
“The other stuff he was offering us were no better than what we were doing,” Hunter opined. All, that is, except “All the Young Dudes,” which he said was “a different kettle of fish altogether.”
What was the attraction for Bowie? Hunter figures it was Mott’s “roughness.”
“He thought I’d been in a motorcycle gang. Angie [Bowie’s first wife] told me this,” Hunter recalled.
The singer was surprised that Bowie became so involved with Mott.
“He was very unselfish at a time when he should have been selfish. He was just starting himself. But he was concentrating on Iggy [Pop], he was concentrating on Lou [Reed]. He was doing a lot of different things. You shouldn’t be doing that when you’re aiming at stardom yourself.
“On the other hand, he was probably the most ambitious person I’ve ever met. He didn’t miss a trick. Twenty-four hours a day. He was very generous with us.”
How he got to ‘Memphis’
Another Mott the Hoople hit was “All the Way From Memphis,” a Hunter original.
The singer, a self-taught pianist, said he composed it on the black keys of his piano because the white ones were broken. But he struggled for six months to come up with lyrics. Then he thought about a Mott gig in Memphis.
“In the afternoon, they’d told us we hadn’t sold many tickets. By the evening, they told us the turnstiles weren’t working properly. It had been sold out. Joe Walsh and Barnstorm opened for us. I ended up invading Elvis’ house about 2 in the morning afterward. All in all, it was memorable night. I got the lyric out of that.”
Mott the Hoople came together in 1969 when Guy Stevens, a record company executive who went on to produce the Clash’s “London Calling,” was looking for a new frontman to pair with an existing band.
“At that time, I thought I’d never get a chance to be a singer,” said Hunter, who was already married with children. “But Bob Dylan comes along and Sonny Bono. They were phrase singers. It was a way in. Guy Stevens was looking for a cross between the Stones and Bob Dylan when he put us together. He molded us. I suited him.”
On a Bender
Original guitarist Mick Ralphs, who suffered a paralyzing stroke in 2016, left Mott in ’73 to co-found Bad Company.
His replacement was Bender, whose real name is Luther Grosvenor. Hunter calls him “Luther,” but there is a real difference between the two.
“When you call him Ariel Bender, he goes off into this other persona. Luther is a tasteful songwriter and a tasty guitar player who played in some really great bands [Spooky Tooth, Stealers Wheel, Widowmaker]. Ariel Bender walks in and he’s off the wall. He’s crazy. With him, it became much more of a show.”
How Grosvenor got the moniker is one of those only-in-rock-’n’-roll tales.
Mott had “stunk” (Hunter’s word) during a TV performance in Mannheim, Germany. As the band walked down the street afterward, a very upset Ralphs kept bending radio aerials on parked cars. Then, inexplicably, he stuck his head in a horse trough filled with water.
“Lynsey de Paul, a singer at the time and quite big, was with us and she said ‘aerial bender,’ ” Hunter remembered. “I thought that was a great name.” He christened Grosvenor with it when the guitarist joined Mott.
Speaking of identity, Hunter is known for his blondish curls and sunglasses. Would anyone recognize him without them?
“No, they wouldn’t,” he quickly pointed out. “I know this ’cause I’ve done it.”
He flashed back to his 1981 solo album “Short Back n’ Sides,” produced by Mick Jones of the Clash. At the younger star’s suggestion, Hunter slicked back his hair and put on Jones’ shirt and jacket for the cover-photo shoot.
Afterward Hunter, sans sunglasses, went to a swanky New York bar and “nobody knew who I was, including my wife’s best friend.
“It’s great. Cover my head, take the shades off and I can go anywhere I like — no one’s bothering me.”