In Advance of Next Week's Show at the Masonic, Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter Talks About the Band's Connection to Cleveland

click to enlarge In Advance of Next Week's Show at the Masonic, Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter Talks About the Band's Connection to Cleveland
Harpic Bryant
Cleveland music fans are among the fortunate few who will get to mark a Mott the Hoople concert reunion off of their bucket list as Ian Hunter brings the surviving members of the 1974 lineup of the group back to the United States for their first dates here on U.S. soil in 45 years.

Tickets for the Cleveland date at the Masonic Auditorium disappeared in minutes, and it’s not hard to imagine that the group could’ve sold out two or three nights at the venue.

“Yeah, well, we didn’t know that,” Hunter laughs during a call from his Connecticut home. “We go to Europe straight afterwards, so there was no way we could put anything extra in.”

Eight U.S. dates will be followed by six more in the U.K., and then Hunter insists that’s it. As he told Rolling Stone in an interview announcing the outing, “I don’t want to take it down the tubes. I’m not doing this tour for money. I want fun.”

There’s a natural nostalgic attraction for those who were lucky enough to see any incarnation of Mott back in the day — and then there are the many subsequent generations who will now get their first crack at seeing a bit of the magic. Until now, the closest thing they could get was to track down the old albums on vinyl.

“That’s another reason I’m doing it. You’ve got to look at that. In terms of record sales and recognition and all of the rest of it,” Hunter explains. “It comes in handy to go back and have a look now and again. That’s all it is. It’s strictly fun. It’s like, enjoy yourself. The way Mott did it was for fun. It wasn’t heavy metal; it wasn’t ego; it was fun. The original spirit of rock 'n' roll, which was pure fun. That’s what we aim to do this time around.”

He admits that he’s been pleasantly surprised by the response to the dates.

“You don’t know how many have popped off, you know what I mean? Forty-five years [is a long time]. Ron Delsener started it,” Hunter explains. “He wanted us [to play at] the Beacon [Theater, in New York]. We were doing some stuff in Europe and he offered the Beacon at a really nice figure. So when that came in, all of the sudden, these other ones came in too. So it was a pleasant surprise.”

Celebrating the 45th anniversary of their 1974 U.S. tour, Hunter will be joined by guitarist Ariel Bender (Luther Grosvenor) and keyboardist Morgan Fisher from the '74 lineup that recorded The Hoople and hit the road for a touring run that was eventually immortalized with the release of Live, compiled from a date at the Hammersmith Odeon and additional shows at the Uris Theatre on Broadway. Hunter notes that they’ll use that live album as a working template for the upcoming shows setlist-wise.

“There’s no solo stuff,” he says. “It’s just based around that particular period.”

The touring lineup will be filled out by Hunter’s longtime road compadres, the Rant Band. He had a chance to road test the pairing last summer with three festival dates in the U.K.

“You know, I’ve had the Rant Band since 2001, and I knew they were cool,” Hunter says. “I know Morgan, and I know Luther. I’m the only one that knows them all, so I don’t know how they’re going to get on. My main worry, if you want to call it that, was would they get on with each other? And they get on great. I mean, they’ve talked to each other ever since. So it’s a very pleasurable experience.”

And as for the gigs, they went well too.

“It’s still there,” Hunter laughs.

Looking back at the '74 time period and in particular, The Hoople album, Hunter notes that even as they were working through a period of transition following the departure of guitarist Mick Ralphs, he felt the freedom to stretch out a bit and try a few things.

“When Mick left, we went a bit experimental. I liked the idea of saxes against cellos, and I wanted to try that,” he says. “We had a few bucks. We never had any money, but by the time we got to The Hoople, after the Mott album, we had a few bucks, so we could experiment a little more; we could stay a little longer in the studio. Luther was brand new and he needed time to jell, so [the album] was more over on the keyboard and orchestral side of things.”

While touring in support of the album, the band shared the stage with Aerosmith, KISS and Queen, who were touring the U.S. for the first time. Hunter formed a lifelong bond with the members of Queen during that tour.

“They were great guys, they really were. We did a lot,” he says. “They toured England with us and then we came here, until Brian [May] got hepatitis. But it became like a nine piece band, because we were all English and we were in America, so we just stuck together.”

He has a much more pungent memory of the shows that they did with KISS.

“All I remember was that it stunk in their dressing room,” Hunter chuckles. “They only had one leather suit each at that time. They were just starting out. And they were wearing them every night of the week. And it stunk.”

The Cleveland show is simply the latest installment in a long-running connection between Hunter and the city that goes back decades.

“I do remember the first time we ever played [Cleveland] because we were doing a lot of clubs, and they weren’t great clubs, at all,” Hunter recalls. “Mick got stuff stolen. He got a guitar stolen at one place on Long Island. We were doing these clubs and doing alright, like 250 [people] and getting an alright response. Maybe I had to overdo it a bit to get a reaction. And then we get to Cleveland, and the place is sold out, and they’re going apeshit. It surprised us because this was all new to us. Cleveland and Detroit, those two towns, they were into us a long, long time before [everybody else].”

Eventually, he put his love for the city on record with the release of “Cleveland Rocks,” which arrived on Hunter’s 1979 solo album, You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic.

“When we saw the late night shows, like the Johnny Carson and Merv Griffins of the world, if there was a joke town in America, it would be Cleveland,” he says. “And we didn’t get that. We just thought Cleveland was the hippest place in America.”

The song is one of many highlights on a pending reissue of the Cleveland Rocks compilation, which will celebrate the relaunch of legendary A&R man Steve Popovich’s Cleveland International Records. Spearheaded by his son, Steve Popovich Jr., the collection lands in stores on April 5, featuring music from Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band, Meat Loaf, Southside Johnny and many others.

Hunter enjoyed a longtime friendship and a lifetime of support from the late Popovich, who passed away in 2011.

“He was head of A&R for Columbia Records. That’s when I first met Steve. I didn’t know about Cleveland then. I just knew he worked for Columbia,” Hunter says. “If you looked down the row of secretaries on the level he was on, all of the secretaries would be immaculate except one, and one secretary would look like she’d been through a wringer, and that would be Steve’s secretary. You went in his office and there was a phone in each ear. He’s playing polka to one guy, and he’s playing rock 'n' roll to another guy. He was like a human dynamo. And of course, I liked him straight away. You knew he was for real, he wasn’t just a Columbia chap.”

Popovich, as Hunter shares, wasn’t shy when it came to voicing his opinions.

“He could tell you if he didn’t like something. I did Schizophrenic with him, which he loved. And we were charting and we were doing really well,” he remembers. “I followed that up with an album called Short Back 'n' Sides, which was totally different and he never spoke to me for a month. Finally, I rang him and I said, ‘What’s the matter with you? You don’t like the record?’ He said, ‘It’s fuckin’ horrible!'"

Hunter has been turning out a consistent string of well-regarded solo albums in recent years. He’ll hit the studio to work on his next album after the Mott shows wrap up. “We’re doing alright, material-wise,” he says.”This came up, so this has been monopolizing time for a little while now, but I’m hoping to go in in the summer. I’ve got seven or eight tracks ready to go.”

Even as he turns 80 this year, he remains dedicated to playing live and continuing to push forward creatively with new music. “I’m getting up there,” he says. “I like making records, I like going out with the Rant band.”

Mott the Hoople '74, The Dream Syndicate, 7 p.m. Saturday, April 6, Masonic Cleveland, 3615 Euclid Ave. Tickets: $49.50-$99.50,

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