Ian Hunter

Guitar Prognosticator
Guitar Prognosticator

Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock N’ Roll Star is a fascinating look at early-1970s bands, music, and guitar collecting. The book, a journal of a U.S. tour by his band, Mott the Hoople, written to promote All The Young Dudes, was published in 1974. In the book, Hunter includes anecdotes about pawnshopping for instruments with lead guitarist Mick Ralphs (VG, November, ’99) and other band members. More than 30 years later, his observations about certain brands and models seem to have been validated – and the prices that such instruments commanded in ’72 will make collectors wistful for the good ol’ days.

Hunter recently told VG that he has appreciated electric guitars since he saw Buddy Holly in the mid ’50s. “Those Strats looked like something out of Barbarella,” he said.

He learned to play on Höfner instruments, and Rosettis, “…which had plastic fingerboards that fell off 48 hours after you purchased ’em!”

The band that would become Mott the Hoople was formed without Hunter in Hereford, England. Lead vocalist Stan Tippins was more of a “white soul singer,” according to Hunter. “They had to make a change, so Stan became the tour manager, and they auditioned for singers,” he recounted. “(Producer) Guy Stevens set me up. It was dodgy for about the first six months – I wasn’t completely keen on the band, they weren’t completely keen on me, but just as we were about to call it a day, things started working.”

Stevens produced the band’s first four albums, which were definitive examples of early-’70s British hard rock. 1972’s Brain Capers included raucous proto-punk songs like “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” and “The Moon Upstairs,” preceding the genre by a half-decade. And Hunter says they were indeed written and recorded out of anger and frustration.

“Guy was winding us up,” he recalled. “It was a crazy, frustrating time, ’cause we weren’t getting any airplay, and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.”

The band would ultimately break out internationally with its fifth album, the aforementioned All the Young Dudes. Subsequent personnel changes included keyboardist Verden Allen’s departure and Ralphs’s migration to Bad Company following the next album, Mott. (Bad Co’s “Ready for Love” was originally done by the Hoople on Dudes). Ralphs was replaced by Ariel Bender (a.k.a. Luther Grosvenor from Spooky Tooth), who was onboard along with keyboardist Morgan Fisher when the band did its final studio album, The Hoople, and a live album. Mick Ronson joined just prior to the band’s demise. When Hunter left, he took Ronson with him, and several members carried on as simply “Mott.”

Asked about the guitars he used during the earliest days of Mott the Hoople, Hunter said, “I was using Guilds at the time; they were given to me. We used to throw ’em around a bit, and they’d replace ’em. I also used a Les Paul Junior.”

As for the rare Thomas Maltese Cross guitar he played onstage, Hunter recalled, “Me and Ralphs found that in a pawn shop in San Francisco. We got a lot of mileage out of it. And it was a terrible guitar, but it looked amazing! The guy I sold it to took the scratchplate off, and inside was the name of the guy that built it, and a $5 bill!”

Hunter reportedly also had a rare Sardonyx guitar, which he described as “a weird-looking thing; it looked like a sled.”

As for further details regarding pawnshopping, Hunter credits being British with enhancing the band’s purchasing power, citing stores near the Fort Worth Stockyards.

“They wouldn’t like the look of you, but when you opened your mouth, they knew, and they always had a relative or knew somebody who’d served in England in World War II, and you could get insane bargains down there,” he recounted. “We saw Juniors and almost any other kind of Gibson. Melody Makers were $75; Juniors, $90 to $125.”

Since departing Mott in the mid ’70s, Hunter has recorded numerous albums. Some of his songs were hits for other bands, including Great White’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” and the cover of “Cleveland Rocks” heard each week on “The Drew Carey Show.”

He has come to favor Les Pauls, particular Juniors, noting the model’s simplicity; “…two knobs, one pickup. It’s not like I’m a brilliant guitar player – I’m a singer/songwriter and a rhythm guitar player.”

Asked about whether his songwriting begins on guitar or keyboard, Hunter noted, “It varies. It comes out of nowhere, and lands wherever it lands – could even be bass. It’s good to play instruments you don’t really know how to play, but the more you get to know an instrument, the more you’re gonna know where to go.”

Hunter’s recent U.S. release, Strings Attached, was recorded with a symphony in Norway. The effort came about because Hunter was urged to record some of his older material with an orchestra, and cited European respect for veteran musicians “that they believe in” as the reason it was done. The songs are unique and should interest Hunter’s longtime fans, as Hunter also used a rock band and played guitar on the recording. He says he is pleased with the results.

Another recent live DVD, Just Another Night, was recorded at the Astoria, in London, and has been released in Europe only.

Ralphs has gone on tour with Hunter for the last two years, and Hunter, now a U.S. resident, is continuing to write and record. Watch for other musical efforts from a veteran who appreciated vintage guitars (and still does) more than some folks may have realized.

Above Photo: Rick Gould

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.