Born Ian Hunter Patterson, June 3, 1946, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.
Perhaps one of the great enigmas of rock and roll history. Ian Hunter is best known as the front man for Mott the Hoople, but his best work, far and away would come during a solo career that began in 1975 with the release of the self-titled album Ian Hunter and continues to this day.
During the 1960s, Hunter was a bass player making short term runs with The New Yardbirds, Billy Fury and Freddie "Fingers" Lee. He saw himself more as a songwriter and had one of his works recorded by Dave Berry. All of those roads led nowhere and it wasn't long before he found himself working in a factory, saving money to rent studio time to record demos. Then, in May of 1969, the owner of the studio where he recorded told him the story of a band that needed a new singer. It was not a role Hunter saw for himself, being a less than confident soul who tried to sing in a Dylanesque fashion because he "couldn't sing properly." The band in question was called Silence and would eventually evolve into Mott the Hoople, taking their new name from a novel by Willard Manus.
Poor, overweight and the image of unhip, Hunter began losing weight, growing his hair long and taking on the persona of a "rock star" even though the persona was a difficult fit. In his early days with Mott the Hoople he rarely strayed out from behind the keyboards that he played. His trademark omnipresent sunglasses came at the insistence of producer Guy Stevens. Whenever he attempted to remove them, everyone would demand he keep them on.
The Mott the Hoople years were manic, at best. The band struggled to find an identity and despite Hunter's songwriting talents they needed David Bowie to pen their biggest hit, All The Young Dudes. Hunter's true lyrical abilities were being suffocated in a band that geared itself toward an unfocused image and was destroyed by infighting amongst its members, although if you listen closely you'll realize that Ian Hunter was writing punk rock years before anyone knew what that meant. In 1974, Ian Hunter collapsed from physical exhaustion and left the band.
Ian Hunter's 1975 solo album would contain his biggest hit, Once Bitten Twice Shy which would go on to become one of those songs that no one remembers who wrote it because it has been covered so often. It was rest of this album, however, that truly showcases what Ian Hunter is capable of. If you've ever been an artist struggling for direction in a world you've lost focus in and you haven't listened to Ian Hunter's Boy and It Ain't Easy When You Fall/Shades Off from this album you may be missing something.
And you thought you were different but what did it mean
For you tricked yourself trying - life's still unseen
As it is, as it was, as it always will be
Will you find out at all what it is to be free
His solo career would continue with solid albums in the form of All American Alien Boy, on which several members of Queen make key appearances, and You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic (which remains my favorite album title of all times). During the seventies he called himself a friend of the punk movement (he was the producer of Generation X's The Valley of the Dolls) while his own music was taking a turn towards personal introspection and exploration of different styles of expression.
Ian Hunter's solo output in the eighties dropped off sharply from what the previous decade had provided. However, his influence on the music industry was reaching very wide proportions... from Barry Manilow's cover of Ian Hunter's Ships to rumors that Sting was reflecting heavily on the style of All American Alien Boy in recording his first solo album.
Together with former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ronson, Hunter would add his vocals, songwriting talents and production work to numerous bands and artists. Ian Hunter has been named a key influence by everyone from The Clash to REM to Def Leppard to Oasis. There have been more than fifty cover versions recorded of Ian Hunter's songs and when he tours (which he still does in near secrecy) guests that have appeared on stage with him have come from as broad a variety of people as those that have recorded or cited his music.
Collections of Ian's best works are available on CD from a number of sources. If you've never really listened to him, I recommend keeping both ears and the mind open. There is something there you'll miss if you put him on in the background while cooking steaks on the grill.
Some facts and other information researched on
and my personal collection of the works of Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople.