Ian Hunter, All the Way From Connecticut
At 75, Ian Hunter could be living the quiet life in Connecticut with his wife Trudi.
These days, though, he’s been spending more time on the road with the Rant Band, a versatile group that’s been anchored by longtime drummer Steve Holley and multi-instrumentalist James Mastro since Hunter released the fiery rock album, Rant, in 2001.
On the phone from Connecticut one recent afternoon, it’s clear that Hunter is a little tired, and he lets it be known that touring isn’t his favorite thing right now.
“Oh, it’s fucking annoying,” he says. “I got back a couple of days ago and what was going on at Kennedy was just plain uncivilized. There are certain places that you have to go and there are certain traffic jams that you have to beat. Overall, the traveling is more of a problem than the gig itself. The gig itself is the easiest thing of all.”
Of course, it’s what Hunter has been doing since the late ’60s, when he signed on as the frontman of Mott the Hoople. It was an unlikely gig that transformed a 29-year-old working class family man into a glam-rock star.
But with his curly blond hair, signature shades, and Bob Dylan sneer, plus a little help from David Bowie’s “All The Young Dudes,” Hunter made Mott the Hoople ’70’s British rock legends, then went on to an influential solo career as a singer, songwriter and performer.
The author of such strutting anthems as, “All The Way From Memphis,” “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and “Cleveland Rocks,” as well as heartbreak ballads such as “Irene Wild,” “I Wish I Was Your Mother,” and “Ships,” Hunter has the rare gift of writing as easily from the crotch as the heart.
Asked if it seemed a little crazy to have songs from his catalog covered by the likes of Great White and Barry Manilow, Hunter balked a bit, saying, “Well you picked some extreme ones there, but yes, I guess.” Then added, “For me it’s harder to write the rock songs, especially the older I get.”
Before Mott the Hoople broke up in 1974, and Hunter moved to New York City, there was a brief period when guitarist Mick Ronson joined the band and helped lay the groundwork for what came next.
“That lasted five minutes because he didn’t seem to get on with the rest of the band,” Hunter says. “And I wasn’t getting on with the rest of the band, either, so we decided we’d split and just do the two of us.
“When we did the two of us, that was extremely good. It was great, really. But unfortunately, we had two different managers. And managers are very jealous people. They’re like wives, you know. We stuck it out for about a year and then we couldn’t really do it anymore.”
Hunter’s first solo period spanned the mid-‘70s to the early ’80s with a strong string of albums including Ian Hunter, All American Alien Boy, You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic, Short Back ‘n’ Sides and All Of The Good Ones Are Taken, and collaborators like the Clash’s Mick Jones, Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Jaco Pastorius and, of course, Ronson.
Then Hunter retreated for a time, seemingly confused and disillusioned by the changing state of the music business, and suffering from recurring health problems.
Hunter is candid in describing the difficult time he had dealing with Ronson’s death from cancer, in 1993, at the age of 46. But he says it’s the thing that got him going again: “It’s what I do and what I had to do because of it.”
Hunter’s first recording after Ronson’s death, 1997’s Artful Dodger, offered a loving tribute to the late guitarist in “Michael Picasso,” the “spider with the platinum hair.” After that came the Rant Band period, and another impressive series of solo recordings: Shrunken Heads, Man Overboard and the most recent, When I’m President.
And Mott the Hoople got back together not once but twice, for two successful reunions that Hunter remembers fondly if soberly.
“They’re great people in short spells,” Hunter says, finally laughing a little. “Me and (guitarist) Mick Ralphs have always got on fine, even though he left in the first place. But I kind of understood why. And me and Mick have always worked ever since, so we understand what’s going on. The other three are not really that well versed, because they stopped doing it at that time. But once you’re in the van, fantastic. Great fun.”
Asked if there will be ever be another reunion tour with U.S. dates, Hunter isn’t exactly enthusiastic.
“We always say no, you know. We’ve done it twice. It’s getting to the point where we physically wouldn’t be able to do it, even if we wanted to. In 2009, it was great, but since then Mick’s had two hips replaced and a lot of the others have had problems, too, as everybody does when they get into their mid-to-late 60s and 70s. And having said that, you’re definitely going back to school with your old band and the old songs, which can be tedious. I much prefer doing what I do now.”
To that point, Hunter says he’s almost always working on new songs, because he never wants to become as an oldies act.
“I try very hard. It’s motivation and it’s also life,” he says. “It was never a career for me. It was like, ‘Jesus Christ, I get paid for what I love doing.’ The art of life is doing what you want to do. Most people never get that privilege. The least you can do is respect it. So I try to do me best.”
Talking about the current tour with the Rant Band, Hunter says he’s been enjoying working with Wreckless Eric, who will be opening the show in Atlanta and other dates.
“He’s quite an amazing character,” Hunter says. “He really is. He’s opened for me a few times and he’s great. And if you’ve got time, just listen to his view of the world. He just has another way of looking at things. We walked into one club, about a 500-seater, a hardwood and chrome, modern sort of place, and I was trying to be positive about it. I said, ‘What do think, Eric?’ And he goes, ‘Ikea.’ ”
Hunter says his new website-only album, Ian Hunter and the Rant Band: Live in the UK 2010, doesn’t necessarily reflect what he’s doing on tour now.
“I did that record with the band and a string quartet. It’s really nice. It came out surprisingly well. I didn’t want to listen to it at first. But I listened to two tracks and thought, ‘I didn’t realize it was that good’ – and that’s the truth. Now, I’ll do a quiet set and then I’ll do a regular rock set. I put a thing out on the website asking, ‘What do you want me to play?’ And when it all came back, I wasn’t playing none of them. I like to do a bit of everything. We have 35 in the set and we do 20 on any given night. You have to do that, otherwise the band gets bored.”
Photo by Ross Halfin.