Hunter/Ronson: Ian Reveals the Story Behind the Mott Breakup
by Lisa Robinson
Ian Hunter has been something of an enigma this past year. Just as he was getting Mott the Hoople off the ground in the United States (and I mean really off the ground, they had been stars in England for some time) he announced that Mick Ronson would join as lead guitarist replacing errr, flashy Arial Bender. You all knew who Mick Ronson was, he was Bowie's sidekick from the early days of those Spiders from Mars; guitar virtuoso, producer and arranger of some renown. So, a press conference was called. Ian dramatically announced Ronno's joining, and then within a few short weeks (and after a very, very brief European tour with Ronson as part of the 'new' Mott the Hoople), one heard that Mott had broken up and that Ian was in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Was was up? Mr. Hunter wouldn't say; following a brief hospital stay, and a few more weeks of what they call 'getting one's head together,' it was learned that he and Ronson were recording an album together, and planned to tour in the spring. Still hesitant to discuss the entire situation, Hunter released his 'solo' (duet?) lp, performed in Britain, and then when he was good and ready - decided to shed some light on all the mystery that has surrounded him these many months. We traveled all the way to London to talk to the man; he was at the end of the successful British tour, pleased with the reactions that the album was getting, and looking forward to emigrating to America where he now resides with his wife Trudy, in upstate New York.
HP: How's it been working out onstage with Ronson and you?
Ian: It's been working out great...you can see the holes there, it's early days. You can see the holes if you want to look for them, but somehow it's the kind of band where it really doesn't matter. But it is early days, it's a baby, you know? We'll know in a year because we've got to do an album of Mick's - so that the act will be like a whole catalogue. The tracks on 'Play Don't Worry' don't bear any resemblance to what he'll be doing in the summer - we can't actually record together on one label, so we have to do him working with me on mine and me working with him on his.
HP: Why do you call it simply the Hunter / Ronson band?
Ian: Well we couldn't think of a name for it! We didn't really try, actually - the whole thing has been a bit haphazard, that's why it's been so nice it's been working. We were both in such planned situations before. In the band with us we have Geoff Appleby, he's one of the original Rats from Hull - Ronson's band - he's the bass player. He's just been playing pubs the past few years because he'd had a bad car accident. So we just pulled him out of a pub and put him onstage - he shit himself! The drummer's a guy named Dennis Elliott who was in a group called If; he's a jazz inclined drummer which is something I always wanted to do, because he really swings. Pete Arneson is on piano, be he's been in the hospital so Blue Weaver's been sitting in with us. After Christmas we went into a little four track studio to see if they could record as good as they rehearsed with us, and then went into Air and the album took seven weeks. We sort of had to change everything in mid-flight. Because obviously I had been preparing myself earlier for another Mott album, and most of the stuff I'd done was Mott-ish material.
HP: How do you feel that this album differs from the stuff you did with Mott?
Ian: Mainly in the speeds, in the funkiness of it. It sort of swings, you know? Tracks like 'Once Bitten,' and 'Who Do You Love'...I love 'Once Bitten' because that's where I want to go. We're releasing it as a single here in England mainly because we like it...I think 'I Get So Excited' would have been the obvious single for England - but it's the one I lke the least.
HP: How do you feel about 'Shades Off' or 'Boy'...they're very revealing songs...more personal
Ian: I've done alot of personal stuff - nobody noticed! I've always wanted that to be in my songs. I've always admired songwriters - (At this point I tell Ian that I once heard 'The Road to Birmingham' in a record store in L.A. while on the road with Bad Company and I asked Mick Ralphs which Dylan song it was; having never heard it on any of his albums. 'That's Ian,' Mick laughed at the time. Ian laughed this time as well). Oh you should hear the first album...Lester Bangs wrote the most amazing thing about that album; he said he ran around the block three times, thinking Dylan put an album out under somebody else's name. See, I had never sung before in my life, and I figured that I'd do like him...because he nearly talks, and I thought that's how you learn to sing. But I really like to do ballads, slow songs...the one album I did where I did lots of those sold badly...nobody really wanted to know, they always want me to be this frantic rocker. I want to be writing songs when I'm forty five, fifty five, whatever, do you know what I mean? And I can't be doing 'All The Way To Memphis' all my life. But this band really has its own little magic, it's erratic magic...
HP: Do you feel in a way that you're starting again in any way?
Ian: Well, if you're asking me if we're going to sell our concerts out - I don't know, and I don't really care. But I do think I've put meself back about a year perhaps. I mean there might be some problems with promoters, or bands who don't want to support us because they don't think we're anything...but it's the kids that count, and the kids have never let me down in the States. And I think there will be a few surprises. But then again, maybe there won't be - and we'll have to tour a few times before it happens.
HP: Well, when I saw you and Mick - still with Mott, in Paris, it didn't seem to work, somehow...
Ian: We it didn't. We dropped a bullet...and unfortunately we did it in the public glare. But it really got so boring, because so much got written about all that. When I came and talked about Mick Ronson joining Mott, I meant every word of it at the time - I really thought it would work out. I haven't talked too much about it because I'm still confused about what happened. I mean I can clarify it for you one way, but then tomorrow I might tell you a completely different story. So if you read something else in a different paper, don't blame me! But anyway - it seemed that we had done the Mott album, and we'd done the Hoople album and I'd done a single with the last word on it was 'goodbye.' And I thought - well, something's going wrong here - it was really all over but nobody was saying anything.
HP: Well, were you just bored with Mott, did you feel you had taken it as far as you could go?
Ian: Well the whole thing - that whole Main Man thing, and the platform boots and all - it all seemed so out of date, very old fashioned to me. Mott was feeling old fashioned to me. But nobody was saying 'c'mon, we've got to find something else to do, we've exhausted this, now we have to find another direction in which to move...another area to progress, nobody knew. And I don't think anybody wanted to know, I think they all figured they'd leave it up to me. And I didn't want it left up to me - because I was tired, it had been left up to me for too long. I was completely knackered. When Mick joined, Mott was like a huge locomotive that I used to feel I was pulling along. And Mick started pulling along with me which I really respected him for, but many of the others resented him for it. 'Cause they'd been founder members, or they'd joined along the way. But what Mick was doing was saying 'well that's all over lads, we're onto something else...' well it wasn't going to happen. And in a way, I sort of re-joined the band with him, and I just didn't like what I saw. Not just the others, me as well, I just didn't like what I saw. And once when I felt that I got totally absorbed with it, and it got to the stage where I couldn't work with them again. When I flew over to sign the papers for the house I had bought in the States I just flaked out...there was no way I was going to go back, no way.
HP: Did you know that you still wanted to play, or perform?
Ian: No - I didn't know anything. I mean that's why we're doing such short tours now, to find out if I did want to perform again. I could do a hundred gigs in a row with this band...but I didn't know that, and we're really upset now that we only did fourteen gigs in England and we should have done sixty.
HP: Have you ever gone through really emotional traumas before like this?
Ian: Well...always! But - always, but never, if you know what I mean, not the real Big One. And they all sent me telegrams wishing that I was feeling well and all, but even then - no one said that it was going to change, and I knew it had to change. I gained something then, because I had always been so totally in control; I knew all the questions, I knew all the answers. this time I gained a bit of musicianship, where for once in my life I didn't know where I was - and I let me instinct take over, and my instinct said 'you ain't going to work with them no more.' But I just sat there...and in the end I went dumb, I didn't say nothing. Which is strange for me. And Fred (Heller, Ian's manager) was trying to find out how far gone I was. And I was pretty far gone.
HP: But you did no, didn't you, that you were going to come back...
Ian: No, I didn't know nothing, it was a good feeling in a way...then they put me in this hospital...I was just like...gone. I couldn't say nothing, really - I mean there wasn't anything to say. There's nothing to say now, really, it's just one of those things that happened. Anyway, I came out, and Bobby Colomby was going on tour and he offered me his house while he was away. And then Mick came over, and we started working...I wrote 'Boy' at that house...
HP: Is it about you, that song? Or Bowie...people think it's bout Bowie...
Ian: Yeah? Well, why should I let it go, then...it's about two or three different people really...a few people I'd admired...me!...it's really about alot of people. It's a long lyric, and I obviously couldn't do just a long lyric on Dave. Anyway - I had already rung up Mott and told them I had to leave. And their English manager called me up mad, and told me I was a spineless bastard...but I told him I had already told the group.
HP: Well how could they have possibly not known something was different?
Ian: This is what amazes me, I rang them up, and they didn't know. I tried to tell them in so many ways, and I think I myself didn't even know, that's probably why I went down the way I did. This is suddenly beginning to sound like one of those afternoon dramas! And when I was struck down was when I realized that I was never going to play with them again. I mean maybe they don't mean that much to anybody else, but they meant alot to me because I was an idiot on the street when I joined them. And there were times in the beginning when they really stood behind me...but of course, I really felt that if they saw that I was going down the way I was rapidly, and they didn't take notice, then they were taking me for granted, and if they were taking me for granted, then bollocks. And Mick kept tellng me that I had money in my pocket and I should blow the whole lot...and so I did, I put all my money into making that album and buying that house, and now I have to work! I mean my future isn't assured, like it was with Mott. Mott was gonna do okay for three or four years, by which time I would have alot of money in the bank. But every gig counts to me. I can't just sort of think 'I'll do that tour, I just don't want to do it, but I'll do it' - because when I get to it, every gig is life and death to me. I go through a thousand dramas every gig. And I hated the thought of another Mott tour. I just would have walked off after the first gig. Ronno was really great, cause he kept saying well - it's all over, you know it's over, so go on - what are you going to do next? And I just said, 'I don't know...' and he said he'd do it with me, I shouldn't worry. The record company people and business people around me were wonderful. I'm sure they were all worried, but they really were great.
HP: To get back to the combination of you and Mick at present - do you both feel that you give the other what you need? His solo albums really weren't right...
Ian: Well, he feels the same way. See, Mick is a star, but he really becomes a star when he's with someone else. Like Leon Russell - who was a great star with Joe Cocker, but then on his own didn't really make it. And he needs somebody to bounce off...cause the chicks are screaming for him every night, it's really amazing. I got put into that front man situation...I really was a writer, and I wanted to write. And I don't know if I really liked that front man thing. This way we have two mikes right next to each other and we both sing, and it takes some of the pressures off of me. I like it this way. And this way we have alot more chicks, Mott was always a guys band.
HP: How do you feel about moving to America? Why did you choose to?
Ian: Well - I don't know, the world is so small...I don't feel that I'm from anywhere, really. I mean if you can't be seventy five years old and say that you've seen the world...what good is it. You know we kept moving when I was a kid - my father was a policeman, and maybe they didn't like him very much! because we kept moving...I had quite a nomadic life by then, and so it follows through. Trudy's family is so amazing. There's not a town in the States you can go to where there isn't one of her relatives...and what they do is when they come in from Austria they set them up and they look after each other. So it's like I'm coming in, and they're all fixing the house and stuff...they're getting together there and having paint parties! Americans are amazing, they'll turn anything into a party. It's like a masochist's version of a pool party.
HP: In your book you wrote that her parents were a bit strained with you when you first met them...
Ian: Well, I'm never one really to get too emotionally involved with people. I'm a bit cold, actually. Not on a chick level, or anything like that, but with my own parents...you know, you are different than your dad, you live different lifestyles. And it's hard to tell them why you do things the way you do.
HP: Do you have kids?
Ian: Yeah...but I'm a lousy father really...they're great though...even though I don't see them that much (We're talking about his former marriage, Ed). The little girl bollocks me all the time, tells me what an idiot I look like, and stuff...see I was a bricklayer's helper, and I was always getting in trouble and things, and then I decided I wanted to get involved with music. And I guess I got terribly selfish and just fell in love with the whole thing. So - my former wife knew all this, and she just didn't want to go along with it...she didn't like the idea of it at all, and she was her own woman. But kids are amazing, their muscles and their minds are like rubber - and they can adjust to any situation really easily. You know though, I've had a good life; up until now I think I've done everything sort of backwards but it's been good. And I hope it continues that way...I don't know what's going to happen next. And I like it that way. I want to do other things. I want to paint again...I want to be in a film, but I'm not in any particular hurry. Right now there's a baby there, the Hunter / Ronson band, and it's got to be weaned...so we'll give it a year, right now it looks really good. We'll change a few nappies and we'll get it right in the end.