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You're Never Alone
by Ken Sharp
Copyright © 2001 PopEntertainment.com. All Rights Reserved.
long hiatus from recording, ex-Mott The Hoople frontman Ian Hunter is back,
with one of the best records of his career, Rant. We spoke with Ian
Hunter about thirty years of rock and roll service.
Rant is one of this year's best albums.
We're getting a bit of play on Triple A radio but it's just not enough. And
where it is getting played on radio, it sells.
How long did it take for you to finish all the songs for the record?
Three years. Usually the first year or so I'll think I've written great
stuff but two weeks later I don't like it. It's a quality control thing. You
just keep writing and writing and discarding and discarding. But all the
time you're writing the writing muscle improves. After a couple of years all
of a sudden it starts kicking in and you start getting things that you
really don't want to get rid of. The first song I felt was too good to not
go on the record was "Morons." That was recorded in my basement apart from
the drums. A guy called Robbie Alter was stating with me, he plays on a
couple of tracks. He said, "Why don't you write one of those things that
you used to write in Mott?" And I said, 'What's the point to that?" And he
said, 'Well, you're the only person that can do that." So when he left, I
hadn't touched a piano in about ten years, the album before I did all on
guitar. So I started playing piano and that was the first one that came out.
The first line, 'We were morons the day we were before.' That was ii right
there. I knew I'd captured something that was running around in my head for
a long time.
"Dead Man Walkin"' is a standout...
It came about because there's a song on Rant called "No One",
it's the last track on the record. It's a four-chord song in B flat. I was
playing "No One," when I came to the fourth chord of the sequence, instead
of going to the F chord, I went to E flat by mistake. That's how "Dead Man
Walkin'" was born. It just developed from that. The sound of those four
chords is so eerie to me that I ditched "No One" and carried on writing
that. Andy York had heard "No One" on a cassette and he said we should do
that one as well. "Dead Man Walkin' is my favorite track on the album. It
falls together real nice. I'm not that great a singer. So you're not only
trying to write lyrics but something that suits your voice. Live, that song
is fantastic. I love doing it, it's just perfect for me.
Tell me about the line, "What am I supposed to do now, sink to the bottom
It's brutal self-assessment. If I cast myself back to when I wrote it, I had
no label. I had no musicians, I had no access.
With your track record with Mott The Hoople and as a solo artist, you're
not going to sink into obscurity anytime soon.
But sometimes you feel like that. That's how it was.
Speak about battling back from a long hiatus from recording, the
difficulty of regaining a larger audience.
I couldn't get a record deal. Rant was done on a very small budget.
It came in under seventy grand, largely due to people helping me out. People
working for cents on the dollar. A pro tools guy who worked on the record
figured out that I was paying him seven cents on the dollar (laughs).
But what can you do? That's what was confronting us? I really didn't like
the Eighties. I really didn't try in the Eighties. I wasn't very good. I
only got really serious about it again after Mick Ronson died. I thought
that I should be doing something with my life. I said to myself, You get a
free pass in life and you're really abusing it, you should get serious and
do something about it. That's been the motivation behind this. The
motivation wasn't to sell a load of records and be a big star, that wasn't
the motivation at all. The motivation was to get back up to the level, which
I set myself earlier on and then lost.
You wrote a bunch of songs for the new record which you later ditched. Do
you think your radar for what songs are good and what songs are of a lesser
quality has improved over time?
Yes and no. If you're asking me do I release what I want to release and does
it have the desired effect, yeah. Have I passed up on songs that may have
done better commercially? I don't know. That could be true. I'm only
concerned with quality control, I'm not concerned with commercial control.
I make a decent living anyhow, it doesn't matter.
Tell me about "Wash Us Away."
It seems to be a generational thing, a decade thing comes to mind. It's
about the succession of liaisons that take place throughout life. They
become more adult but they all pass.
Your book, Diary Of A Rock And Roll Star is a classic.
us what prompted you to write it.
I just got married so I was not chasing girls so that left open a lot of
time. I was never much of a druggie. There was a lot of hanging about. I
always had a real bad memory. I though that I would do a diary and just
record all of this in case I forget it all. At the end of the tour I was in
England. There was an author who had a contract for six books and he was
missing one book. I told him, 'I've got this diary, if that'll help you
out.' And that's how that got published. It was written as an exercise for
Can you cite some of the best times with Mott
I think the early years. The first album. Just the joy of actually having a
record deal and having a label that was interested in us. Then it sort of
went downhill for a couple of years. Then we got with CBS and "All The Young
Dudes" came out and that was quite fabulous for awhile.
How close was the band to splitting before you landed a hit with "All The
We broke up in Switzerland. When we quit, Pete Watts, the bass player, rang
up (David) Bowie looking for a gig. Bowie at that time was forming a band.
David said, "What do you want to join me for, you're with Mott The Hoople?"
Pete said, "We split up." David went on this whole crusade to get the band
back together again and he offered the band "Suffragette City". I didn't
think it was strong enough because radio was closed to us, kind of like now
actually (laughs). Then he came back with "Dudes."
Weren't you forced to change the lyrics from "stealing clothes from
Marks & Sparks" (a department store in England).
We got to change it because there was some kind of weird law in England. It
was rubbish. I had to fly back and change the one line to "stealing clothes
from unmarked cars."
While "All The Young Dudes" gave the band new life, don't you think that
it also presented the band in a more glam-rock light than what you truly
We were desperate. We were running out of options. It's all very well
talking about it in hindsight, 20/20, but at the time everybody in the band
went for it hook, line and sinker including me. We didn't know where it was
gonna lead, we just thought, it's a hit, we need a hit!
How was Bowie as a producer?
He was great. He'd just been working with (Tony) Visconti so he'd learned a
lot as had (Mick) Ronson. David's work in the studio was very quick and very
intense. We learned an awful lot from David and Mick.
I know that you're a big Dylan fan, as you can tell by your lyrics and even
your voice. Share your thoughts on Dylan, the artist.
He's the best, as simple as that. A couple hundred years from now I don't
think they'll be talking much about people in our business but I think
they'll be talking about him.
Your partnership with Mick Ronson led to some amazing records. Can you
characterize your working relationship with Mick?
Mick said it the best when we were at a radio station in Canada. A bloke
asked him, "How do you and Ian work?" And he said, "I play a bit of guitar,
and he comes in singing and when he stops singing I'll play a solo. Then
I'll stop when he starts singing again and when he finishes singing again we
stop" (laughs) Mick came from the song. He would try and write a song within
a song rather than going up and down the fretboard at ninety miles an hour.
He was an extremely melodic, very classy, quality player.
your memories of when Queen opened for Mott The Hoople on their first U.S.
I remember they were abused with crap and they were very upset. The people
just didn't get it. Fred (Mercury) was very impatient. Fred wanted to take
over the world immediately. They came to me and said, "What do you think?" I
used to walk in when they were doing their last two songs which was "Keep
Yourself Alive" and Liar." So I only knew two songs but I knew that they
were both good and I said, "You're not gonna have a problem, you'll be fine.
It's just the world takes time to adjust." If you have songs, and they did
have songs, usually you're gonna be alright and they were. To this day, I
have a great relationship with the guys in Queen.
Tell me how you became a member of Ringo Starr's All Starr Band?
David Fishof, the bloke that puts the whole thing together, rang me up. It
fit between the two tours that I was doing. I'm doing an American tour in
the fall and I was doing an English tour in the spring. And it fit. So I
thought it would be fun, that it would be interesting.
With some of the Eighties artists that are part of the band (Howard Jones
and Sheila E), I'm a little puzzled how it's going to sound.
I've said that to a couple of the people that rang me up and they say, "It's
the same every year. People always ask 'How is this going to work?" but
somehow it always does." I love Sheila E. The only thing that kept me going
in the Eighties was Prince. She's amazing. One of the things that really
struck me about wanting to do it was Sheila E, actually. It's not that I can
play her stuff, I'm not very good at all. It's just really interesting. Her
stuff is really difficult to play. I might do one song off Rant like
"Still Love Rock And Roll" or "Purgatory" and a couple of the older ones.
I'll probably do "Cleveland Rocks."
Are you excited to be playing with a Beatle?
Oh yeah, that's a tingly feeling. Ringo rang up here and I was still in
England. I came back here and Ringo was on my answering machine and it was
like, "Wooh! It's weird (laughs)" Then he rang me again and we had a
chat. Everybody's told me he's a great guy.
Music in 2001 seems to be very specialized, there's rock, and then
there's rap, there's country and then there's adult contemporary. In the
70's you could hear Mott and then The Carpenters on the same radio station.
The window of what people were being exposed to on a musical level back then
was a lot broader, your thoughts?
Record company greed caused this whole thing to take place. They did not
support radio. There used to be thirty-two spots before you went in,
thirty-two spots when you came out. Some bright spark said 'Give 'em
sixteen." And then somebody said, "Give them eight in and eight out." And
somebody said, "Give them four in and four out." Radio began to depend more
and more on corporate funding and less and less on record company funding.
Corporations found out if they bought the radio stations it was better
business than renting them. At that time, corporations were paying too much
for TV. They reverted to supporting radio as the record companies were
moving out. So now you have corporate radio stations who don't' know what to
play. Now they've got to get people to tell them what to play. Then you have
these consultants who are now running one hundred and fifty stations so now
"the Philly Sound" is no longer "the Philly Sound". The Detroit sound is no
longer the Detroit sound, blah, blah, blah. Now we're in a situation these
days where one guy says to eight hundred stations, 'this is what you play.'
This is why you've got a tight playlist. Disc jockeys are no longer disc
jockeys, program directors are no longer program directors. There are
exceptions to the rule but in the main in division one in American music,
this is what's happening. It's strictly corporate.
us Let us know what you
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