Mott The Hoople – All the Way From Herefordshire

I was chatting with fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead when Ian Hunter’s name came up, I think not for the first time. That led me to listening to some of Hunter’s stuff then Mott’s stuff, etc. And so I said to myself – “post.”

If you look at a map of England, Herefordshire is way over to the west, just on the border with Wales. It is largely agricultural and has two “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” It has also managed to produce a few rockers notably Mike Oldfield, Albert Lee, James Honeyman-Scott, Pete Farndon, Martin Chambers (all Pretenders), and of course, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 🙂

Oh yeah, and Mick Ralphs. Ralphs had been playing guitar in various local bands since 1964. According to his bio, “Mick was something of a late-comer to music, learning guitar when he was eighteen years of age. His musical influences included Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson (‘mainly for the guitar playing of James Burton’), Buffalo Springfield and Mountain guitarist Leslie West.”

Some of the guys who would become Mott the Hoople came together in 1966 as the Doc Thomas group, later changing their name to the ironic Silence. Silence had all the members of what would become Mott minus Ian Hunter.

Enter Guy Stevens.* Stevens was one of those pivotal behind-the-scenes figures in British music. He used to run an R&B night in a Soho club in the early ’60’s that attracted the London-based rock and blues bands. He also wrote for the now-defunct Record Mirror, a sort of NME wannabe.

Stevens ultimately landed a job with Island records. Silence auditioned for Stevens who liked everybody but the singer. An ad was placed for a singer who must be “image-minded and hungry” and they found Ian Hunter. Stevens named the band after a novel that, if you’re so inclined, you can still buy off of Amazon.

Mott released their first album Mott the Hoople in late 1969. It’s got some good stuff but it didn’t really hit with a great impact, at least not here in the States. Some of the tunes meet Stevens’ odd dictum to “create an album that would suggest Bob Dylan singing with the Rolling Stones.”

The best songs on the album for my money are their instrumental version of “You Really Got Me” and a Ralphs tune, “Rock and Roll Queen.” (Hunter noted later that the Stones’ song “Bitch” sounded suspiciously like this song’s intro.)

Spotify link

About a year later the band came out with an album called Mad Shadows. in going back to listen to it now it just seems like these guys hadn’t yet figured out their identity. Hunter wrote most of the tunes and while they’re performed competently enough there’s really nothing that sets this band apart at this point.

Of the album, AllMusic said, “If Mott the Hoople’s debut album cheerfully careened all over the place, their second, Mad Shadows, has one direction — downward into dense murk. Cutting out most of their humor and ratcheting up the volume, the group turns out seven songs that alternate between thundering rockers and sludgy introspection.” Ouch.

They released a couple more albums, slowly building up a following but getting no real love from the masses. But their 1971 album Brain Capers produced a Hunter/Ralphs song called “The Moon Upstairs” that captures more of the essence of Mott:

Spotify link

And at this point according to Wikipedia, “the group decided to split following a depressing concert in a disused gas holder in Switzerland.” Yes, yes, even Spinal Tap never played in a disused gas holder.

But then fate intervened in the form of one of their biggest fans, a bloke named David Bowie who at that point, had not yet released Ziggy Stardust. He did not want them to break up and offered them “Suffragette City” which they turned down. Are you fucking kidding me?

So Bowie sat down – supposedly in front of Hunter – and wrote “All The Young Dudes.” According to Bowie, in the song, the boys are carrying the same news that the newscaster was carrying in the song “Five Years” from Ziggy Stardust, the news being the fact that the Earth had only five years left to live. Bowie explains: “‘All the Young Dudes’ is a song about this news. It’s no hymn to the youth, as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”

It’s not too much to say that “Dudes” saved Mott. A worldwide hit – and seen as somewhat of a glam anthem – Rolling Stone lists it as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock. We all went out and bought the Bowie-produced album of the same name which, interestingly, has the first version of “Ready for Love,” a song that Ralphs would take with him to Bad Company. (He met Paul Rodgers when the latter was touring with another band.)

Spotify link

Mott were on the map and by 1972 were a well-established unit with a reputation as a great live band. (And one that, for some reason, I never saw.) In 1973, the band came out with an album called Mott which produced a cool song called “All The Way From Memphis” about the weariness of life on the road.**

Spotify link

Mott was the last album they did with Mick Ralphs who left to form Bad Company. Given that the guys have occasionally reunited over the years, the split seems amicable. Ralphs’ web site says, “Various public explanations were given for Ralphs’ departure including lack of recognition and his fear of flying, but Mick admits he really left Mott The Hoople because fundamentally he felt the group had changed.

‘We’d struggled all these years to have a hit and Ian was on a roll writing hit singles, but I’d started writing songs and didn’t think they would fit in the vehicle known as Mott The Hoople. Also, as much as we were having success, the success was because we were writing songs like ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ and we’d lost a bit of the wildness.’

Mott toured and became good friends with the guys from Queen often playing together and name-checking each other. Mott had another hit called “Roll Away the Stone” with Ralphs on guitar. Ralphs was replaced with a guy with the pseudonym of Ariel Bender and then by Mick Ronson.

Spotify link

But the heyday was pretty much over. Ronson and Hunter split to form a duet. The band put out a few more albums but by 1976 it was all over but the shouting.

The band reunited a few times most notably in 2009. They were supposed to have done a brief tour this year but I can’t tell if that actually ever happened. Ian Hunter actually appeared here at City Winery a few months ago. Sadly, Mick Ralphs has had a stroke and is unable to play. The only other surviving member of the band is keyboardist Verden Allen.

Spotify link

  • Ian Hunter – lead vocals, piano, rhythm guitar
  • Mick Ralphs – lead guitar, backing and lead vocals
  • Verden Allen – organ, backing vocals
  • Pete “Overend” Watts – bass, backing vocals
  • Dale “Buffin” Griffin – drums, backing vocals

Sources: Wikipedia; Mick Ralphs web site; documentary The Ballad of Mott the Hoople

*Stevens was also Procol Harum’s original manager and co-produced the Clash’s London Calling. He died on 28 August 1981, at the age of 38, having overdosed on the prescription drugs he was taking to reduce his alcohol dependency

**Ian Hunter wrote an autobio of life on the road called Diary of a Rock ‘n Roll Star. This was written during their 1972 tour and was published in 1974. I have not read it but it sounds less like the sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll thing and more like the drudgery of getting your laundry done.

44 thoughts on “Mott The Hoople – All the Way From Herefordshire

  1. “All the Young Dudes,” wow, such a great song. “All the Way From Memphis” also notable (it was featured in the Oscar-winning movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” with Ellen Burstyn). Some interesting factoids here I didn’t know, Jim, such as the “Suffragette City” opportunity they passed up, the naming of the band, and Guy Stevens’ tragic death. Also, I’m amazed you only used the word “glam” once here! Now, when will you cover my favorite glam band, Roxy Music???

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    1. Yes, love their stuff. The documentary is up on YouTube if you have an hour or so to kill. As to Roxy Music, alas. Don’t dislike ’em but I never really got into them. I’ll leave that one up to you cover so *I can learn something. 🙂

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      1. Roxy was more a cult attraction here in the states, but I loved ’em. Bryan Ferry believed the reason was that they were too weird for America, who liked their rock more straightforward, and that U.S. rock fans relied mainly on radio, whereas Europeans read a lot of music magazines (where Roxy was often profiled).

        I’ll try to whip up something on them one day.

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        1. I certainly knew of them. I always had enough friends into music that invariably someone would be into something. But I found that I either really took to something or I didn’t. Also – and I don’t know if this is true for you – there was SO MUCH good stuff I couldn’t get to it all. So sometimes there was a selective “shutting out.” Later I’d regret some of those shut-outs but it was a way of processing everything. BTW, I like some of Ferry’s stuff. But I’m afraid my knowledge of the band stuff is limited to only a couple of songs.

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        2. There were a couple hip guys in high school who loved Roxy, but I didn’t turn on to them till a few years later. “Stranded” is exceptional. “Avalon” is also great, got a lot of MTV time, but by then the early edginess had been supplanted by lush romanticism.

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        3. BTW, I never really thought of Mott as glam. They were a rock and roll band that got sruck with that tag due, I think, to Bowie association and that song.

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        4. Early Mott, no. But “Dudes” onward? Lotsa high heeled boots, glittery clothes, shades, and androgyny! I don’t view it as a pejorative tag. “Glam” was short for “glamour,” and we both see nothing wrong with glamour in music, as long as the music is good!

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        5. Yes, but I’ll confess I had to overcome that. I was so into guys just playing that when the Bowies, Alice Coopers came along I had to adjust. It took me a while to pick up on and appreciate theatricality.

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  2. The opening Jerry Lee piano on ‘Memphis’ was what got me. What a great rock n roll tune. I just dug these guys. When they faded away I reconnected with with Hunter on ‘You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic’. You and Pete were talking Roxy Music. Andy McKay supplies the sax on ‘Memphis’. Just listening to it as I type.
    I stayed with Hunter for a few great albums that he cut. I remember picking up ‘Schizophrenic’ along with Graham Parker’s ‘Squeezing Out Sparks’ on the same day. (That Tonio K guy was right in this time frame). There was so much good music kicking around at this time (1979, I had to look it up). A few on the E Streeters were on the ‘Schiz’ record.
    Those old Mott cuts sound beautifully ragged. Great stuff. Plus Hunter was a great front man. had his look. As usual you enlightened me on a band I’ve been listening to for years.

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        1. Good call, CB. I think “Schizo” is as good if not better than anything Mott did. Many good songs, with a nice mix of rockers and ballads. “Cleveland Rocks” was the standout track (‘specially here in Ohio), but the whole record is good.

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        2. Huh! I remember that Cleveland-based show Drew Carey had and “Cleveland Rocks” was the theme song. I knew Carey was from there but I had no idea Hunter wrote the song.

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        3. Yes, Hunter and Mott were pretty popular in Cleveland. WMMS (“Home of the Buzzard”) championed a lot of ’70s English artists…until Bruce, after which they became an unofficial Springsteen station. Not to keep beating the Roxy Music drum, but a couple ‘MMS deejays loved Roxy and played them continually, also. WXRT in Chicago did the same. (I saw the band there in ’83, just before they broke up.) They hit regionally, I think, but not nationally until “Love is the Drug” became a minor hit.

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        4. That’s easy. YOU WERE LOADED! You’ll hear the boys right away. Max and Gary have been laying it down for a long time. ‘Escape Artist’ by Garland Jeffreys was another album in that mix. E Streeters on that one also. Wicked version of ’96 Tears’. Maybe you missed this period because of your disco stage. It’s ok we all have those skeletons.
          (Hey Doc I’m reading Stephen Kings ‘Revival’ The first few chapters reminds me of you. The main character is learning his rhythm guitar chops in a band. It’s good stuff. Lots of laughs. I bet you could relate.)

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        5. I was chuckling even before I looked. That guy doesn’t look East Coast enough. You’re right about King.
          I think you’re going to dig ‘Schizo’. Nothing like those lost gems to chew on. One of the things i like about this back and forth. Ones we missed. “That’s the way I like it ah huh ah huh ..”

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        6. I did listen to this album on Spotify on a couple of drives. Really good stuff. The Deluxe Edition has killer versions of ‘All the Way from Memphis,” the Shadows’ instrumental “F.B.I.” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Thanks for the tip.

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        7. All that extra probably comes off an album called ‘Welcome to the Club. I listened to that ‘Deluxe Edition”. Yeah those extra tunes rock. IHunter and Ronson were rockers to the core.
          Hey we send tips back and forth like a friendly tennis match. Like I said I ate this album and some of his others up.

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        8. I’m sure the city did. In 2000, I blasted it at work (in Cincinnati) after the Browns beat the Bengals in the inaugural game in Cincinnati’s new “Paul Brown Stadium.” If you know the history of the two teams, and Paul Brown, you understand the significance. The Browns and Ian Hunter came through for me!

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  3. I don’t know about a full ‘tour’ but I can confirm that Mott The Hoople did play at least one gig – in a festival in park behind my house. As the weather was particularly nice and free of breeze I can also confirm that I heard a good percentage of their set – as well as the Cult’s on the following evening – from my bedroom.

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      1. BTW, I know you weren’t that conversant with the Allman Brothers but “Ramblin’ Man” was one of their biggest hits. Given the nature of the fair’s classic rock leanings – including Gov’t Mule, an offshoot of the ABB – I’ll bet that’s where they got the name.

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      1. It wasn’t the clearest but it was certainly intrusive. ZZ Top last year was pretty surreal – putting the trash out at night and hearing a “hello Maidstone” in Texas drawl drift over on the breeze

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        1. Not nearly as intrusive as when a bunch of us bloggers – now knowing where you live – show up for next year’s event at your house in the middle of the night. With a case of beer. You’ll know it’s us when you hear us singing “I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day.”

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        2. “I wanna rock and roll all night and part of every day” is the best mishearing of that song I’ve heard. I’ll make sure the fridge is stocked and guitars tuned

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        3. I think, though, that you lot drink lager beer cold and maybe some others – ale? – at room temperature. Next time you’re at the local check with the, what do they call them, innkeeper? Before they call time, gentlemen, of course. See, there’s my Britspeak for the day.

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        4. Ye olde landlord? Don’t know where my local is that being said. Probably the ‘someone/thing’s Head’. They’ll serve you stout at room temp I think but I drink the apple stuff which I’ll only have chilled

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