By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Influential singer/songwriter, solo star and the onetime front man of UK rock greats Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter and his Rant Band deliver songs from throughout his illustrious career at the Fillmore this Friday night.
Born Ian Hunter Patterson in the West Midlands of England in 1939, the singer fell into the music industry after winning a talent contest at a holiday camp with two members of the already established Apex Group. Hunter would join the group, but by 1958 had moved on in search of other musical outlets before eventually returning to the band. However while still working in the Apex Group playing clubs and military bases, Hunter would establish a competing band — Hurricane Henry and the Shriekers — before getting booted from the other group.
The musician would continue a journeyman’s career through the ’60s, playing bass and guitar as well as singing and writing songs for a number of groups before joining guitarist Mick Ralphs in Mott the Hoople in 1969. The band’s self-titled debut released later that year would feature covers of songs by the Kinks and Sonny Bono alongside originals by Ralphs and Hunter, nodding towards what band manager and producer Guy Stevens wanted to achieve: a sound akin to Bob Dylan being backed by the Rolling Stones.
The band would put out a string of critically acclaimed records that had little commercial impact, showcasing Hunter’s literate lyrics and Dylanesque delivery and Ralphs’ muscular riff-powered tunes on such classic albums as Mad Shadows and Brain Capers. The lack of commercial success coupled with a series of abortive tour dates had the band on the verge of splitting in 1972 before avowed fan and rising star David Bowie helped save their career.
After Mott refused his song “Suffragette City,” Bowie would write the band’s biggest hit and timeless glam-rock anthem “All the Young Dudes” and produced the album of the same name, saving their career and landing Mott the Hoople on the British and U.S. charts. But despite that success and the acclaim Mott would receive with its follow-up efforts, Hunter would leave the band for a solo career near the end of 1974.
Teaming with former Bowie sideman and guitarist Mick Ronson for the first of what would be numerous collaborations, Hunter’s solo debut featured the song “Once Bitten Twice Shy” (later turned into an MTV hit by metal band Great White) and launched a string of efforts that would feature the songwriter working with the likes of Bowie guitarist Earl Slick, session players like Chris Stainton and Jaco Pastorius and — on his most successful ’70s album You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic — members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Hunter also became involved in the burgeoning UK punk movement that his work with Mott the Hoople helped inspire, producing a 1979 album for Billy Idol’s early band Generation X and recording his 1981 album Short Back and Sides with former Clash members Mick Jones and Topper Headon. But the singer would eventually lapse into silence during much the ’80s, taking an extended break from recording and touring after the middling 1983 effort All the Good Ones Are Taken.
He would re-emerge in 1989 with the Hunter Ronson Band album YUI Orta produced by former Chic bassist Bernard Edwards. Unfortunately, Mick Ronson was diagnosed with liver cancer soon afterwards and passed away in 1993. Though Hunter would appear at tribute concerts for both Ronson and Queen singer Freddie Mercury, he took another hiatus from recording until resuming his solo career in 1995 with Dirty Laundry.
He has maintained a steady pace of recording and touring, fronting his Rant Band ever since the release of his acclaimed, politically charged effort Rant in 2001. While Hunter also reunited with Mott the Hoople for UK tours in 2009 and 2013, the 78-year-old singer’s regular trips to the States give his U.S. fans their best chance to hear classic Mott songs along with tracks from throughout Hunter’s celebrated solo career. Expect a heavy dose of songs from his most recent effort — last year’s Fingers Crossed, which featured the heartfelt tribute to the late David Bowie entitled “Dandy” — when Hunter and the Rant Band headline the Fillmore Friday night. Beloved SF songwriter Chuck Prophet and his group the Mission Express open the show.
Ian Hunter and the Rant Band
Friday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m. $35