Taking advantage of the time off in the early days of the pandemic, Ian Hunter hunkered down in his Connecticut home studio to craft a few dozen new tunes. Initially unable to develop the songs beyond demo status, Hunter’s friends and admirers around the globe joined the cause from their home studios, contributing to an album roster that reads like a who’s who of modern music.
With collaborators including Ringo Starr, Slash, Mike Campbell, Todd Rundgren, Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, and a slew of others, Defiance Part 1 might be the most star-studded original album ever recorded.
Your fans were thrilled when it was announced you’d written a cache of new songs. How’d they come about?
The pandemic fueled it. We did the Mott ’74 tour in 2019, then four nights at City Winery (New York City) for my 80th birthday. Shortly after, I woke up with tinnitus and Covid hit around the same time, so I was stuck in the house. I started writing. At the same time, I was talking with (friend and photographer) Ross Halfin, and he said, “Slash fancies doing a track, Billy Gibbons, too…” It just sort of fluked its way on from there. My manager, Mike Kobayashi, knows everybody in the business, and now I do, too. Some volunteered, some we asked. For example, Andy York and I were in the basement doing “Bed of Roses,” and we thought, “Let’s try for Ringo,” and it went from there.
“Bed of Roses” has a great slide part from Mike Campbell that really has a George Harrison feel.
I had a smile on my face when Mike sent that track, which is mainly about The Star Club, in Hamburg, a great club.
Your guests did parts in their own studios, but there’s a cohesiveness that sounds like a great rock and roll band performing together.
Part of that is sending the right tracks for the right people, to find what suits them, like, “This would be good for Todd Rundgren. This might work for Slash.”
Were you writing on both piano and guitar?
I wrote two on my Martin and the rest on piano. On “Defiance,” I tracked acoustic guitar then sent it to the engineer, and it came back sounding like a Les Paul. Then Slash did his parts for the tune, which sounded lovely against Dane Clark’s snare drum.
Rock and roll has always been about the spirit of defiance. What does the word mean to you?
It means that I’m not supposed to be doing it at my age, so I’m doing it… and if you’re going to call it that, it’s got to be good (laughs).
Your new single “I Hate Hate” has a pumping, Jerry Lee Lewis feel, yet sounds very contemporary.
That’s me playing piano, with Jeff Tweedy on guitar and bass, and Dennis DiBrizzi from The Rant Band on background vocals. Andy Burton also plays some keys.
Defiance Part 1 is on Sun Records. How’d that come about?
I wanted it real bad, and Sun got hold of my manager. As a kid, I didn’t know what I was for until I heard Jerry Lee Lewis on Sun Records. I was in Nashville not long ago and I talked with Jimmy Van Eaton, the drummer on “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” It was a big deal for me, because that’s where it all started. So when I saw my name on that label, it was a huge buzz. Of course, we just lost Jerry Lee Lewis.
Speaking of musicians we’ve lost, “No Hard Feelings” might be the final recording of Jeff Beck, one of your favorite guitarists. Does he play both the solos and that great hook of a repeating slide riff?
The slide part is Johnny Depp – he knows how to play! Jeff plays the middle and end solo. Defiance 2 will contain the last track Jeff played on, “The Third Rail.” That record is about 60 percent done, but now that Andy York is back on the road with John Mellencamp, we’ll have to wait to complete it.
Andy plays a prominent role as both musician and producer. Is he helping with arrangements, as well?
Oh yeah, we did them in my basement as demos, and he’s very good to work with because he’s hyper critical and doesn’t let anything go. Andy came around with a computer and a little black box, and recorded all of these tracks. What you hear are the original demos, with others’ parts added on, and it worked!
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.