On April 3, British rockers Mott the Hoople will play their first Chicago show in 45 years. It’s one of eight cities the band – billed as Mott the Hoople ’74 – will play during their return to America.
Leading the band onward is a trio of core members from a momentous 1974 tour: singer Ian Hunter, guitarist Ariel Bender and keyboardist Morgan Fisher. James Mastro, Steve Holley, Mark Bosch, Paul Page and Dennis Dibrizzi round out the lineup.
“I never expected it to really happen,” Hunter says during a recent interview. “We were touring Europe after this, and, all of a sudden, a New York promoter came in with an offer that was good. So, we thought, ‘If there were more offers like that, maybe we’ll do the States.’ And there was. So, we’re doing it.”
Mott the Hoople ’74
When: 8 p.m. April 3
Where: Chicago Theater, 175 N. State
As he prepares for the tour, he fondly recalls how special the band’s last U.S. tour in 1974 was. During that year, the band released “The Hoople” and “Live,” the final albums featuring Hunter fronting the band. The former features Mott classics like “The Golden Age of Rock n’ Roll” and “Roll Away the Stone.”
Many have called the band’s music glam rock, but Hunter thinks “flash” is a better term. “There was a big stage show involved, but I wouldn’t call it glam,” he says. “I would call it flash. We weren’t that good-looking.
“It was an uplifting kind of sound,” he continues. “We were in it for fun. We didn’t go in for death and destruction. It was a fun band. A positive band, in the vein of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Real rock ‘n’ roll.”
When the band started, guitarist Mick Ralphs and bassist Pete Watts were the primary songwriters. However, Hunter soon found inspiration to write his own material.
“I started to write stuff and Pete, lazy sod, said, ‘Oh you do it, you’re better at it than me,’” Hunter says. “I had written songs before, but they were just ‘songs.’ I started writing from the gut with Mott. I learned that from them.”
In 1974, Mott the Hoople became the first rock group to play on Broadway in New York City, with a sold-out week at Uris Theatre. They documented it on their live album.
Hunter says the theatrical and energetic live performances that year made the tour truly special. “When we got the great Ariel Bender, the stage show popped a lot,” he says. “We had a great live show. Still is.”
It certainly left a lasting impact on Queen, which made its U.S. debut as an opener for the tour. Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor both credit Mott for helping inspire their own theatrical stage show.
“Queen were great fun to be with,” says Hunter. “They opened for us in the U.K. and then the U.S. … the only time they opened for anybody.”
All this history could have been much different if it weren’t for Mott the Hoople’s signature song and the man who wrote it, David Bowie.
In 1971 the band decided to break up following weeks of dissatisfaction with its management. Watts later contacted Bowie, who was looking for a bass player.
“[He] rang him up and said, ‘How about the gig?’ And David said, ‘Well, no, you’re in Mott the Hoople.’ And he said, ‘We split up,’” Hunter recalls. “And that’s when David got on this whole crusade about keeping us together, which was very nice of him.”
Bowie initially offered them his song “Suffragette City,” which they passed on. But the moment he played them “All the Young Dudes,” they knew they had to record it.
“My first reaction was, ‘I can sing this.’ And my second reaction was, ‘It’s a hit, it’s got to be a hit.’ It turned out that he had been doing it himself but had been doing it in a lower key. He had been doing it in the C key, and he wasn’t quite satisfied with the way he was doing it,” says Hunter.
“So, we came along at a fortunate time. And that was a big hit and we went in and made the ‘[All the Young] Dudes’ album, which he also produced. He offered us a couple other songs, but we never got around to doing them.”
It’s a song that Hunter hasn’t tired of playing, even after playing it hundreds of times.
“It’s not a cross around your neck you have to bear,” he says. “It’s such a good song.”
Hunter fondly recalls the band’s first Chicago show in 1970 at the Aragon Ballroom.
“I went backstage and there was an ancient throne that must have been used for some stage production,” Hunter says. “And there was B.B. King sitting on this throne.”
Joshua Miller is a local freelance writer.