Ian Hunter (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Mick Ralphs (guitar, vocals), Overend Watts (bass), Verden Allen (organ), Dale “Buffin” Griffin (drums)
In memory of David Bowie and Buffin.
It’s rare that rock acts get second chances. Their success can usually be plotted on a bell curve, and once you start to drop, it’s over except for the oldies circuit. One notable exception was Mott the Hoople.
They first came to attention in 169 for two reasons: A high energy album, which featured the hard rocking “Rock and Roll Queen.” And a cover featuring artwork by M. C. Escher.*
The album put them on the map. Made up mostly of covers, it did include works by band members Ian Hunter and Mick Ralphs. It was not a major hit, but it put the group on the map, and people expected them to be stars.
But it wasn’t to happen. Their follow-up, Mad Shadows, was considered a step back and their next, Wildlife, garnered little interest.** Brain Capers did even worse*** and they lost their contract to Atlantic/Island records. It looked like they were going to have to go back to their day jobs.
Then, David Bowie stepped in. A fan of the group, he offered to produce their next album, and gave them one of his songs: “All the Young Dudes.”****
The song was a hit, reaching #3 in the UK and #27 in the US. The album of that title also charted. The group was back in business.
But could they keep up the success without Bowie, who had other projects. The answer was their album Mott, which was a rousing success.
The album had a theme about life of a rock and roll band. “All the Way from Memphis” – the opening song, and a classic of rock – told of a time that Hunter once lost his guitar.
Other songs talked about their life and their fans, but seemed to have a sense of humor about it all. The album doesn’t have a bad track on it.
But success started to take its toll. Mick Ralphs left to form Bad Company, so the next album, The Hoople was recorded without him. He was replaced by “Ariel Bender,” a pseudonym for Luther Gosvenor of Spooky Tooth.***** Ian Hunter had written most of the music, so started thinking about a solo career.
The album was a step backwards, but then, that was pretty much inevitable. Ian Hunter left for a solo career. Watts and Buffin, tried to keep things going, but the group was just a shadow of itself, and, other than live and compilations, the group was done.
It turned out to be a short run, but with one classic album and another two that nearly reached classic status, Mott the Hoople were an important part of the 70s rock scene.
*Escher had not quite made it in the popular culture at this point; the album cover was many people’s first experience of him.
**”Whiskey Woman” was a pretty good rocker like “Rock and Roll Queen,” but it paled to the original.
***It wasn’t helped by a amateurish cover.
****After they had turned down “Suffragette City.”
*****Verdan Allen had quit during the Mott sessions when they wouldn’t include his songs.