Mott the Hoople started out as an uneven, hard-rock Dylanesque curiosity but ended as a glitter-age group. Mott also gave rise to the solo career of songwriter Ian Hunter. The group began in the late '60s, when Mick Ralphs, Verden Allen, Overend Pete Watts, and Dale Griffin began playing around Hereford, England, in a group called Silence. They got a record contract in early 1969 and went to London with vocalist Stan Tippens to record under producer Guy Stevens, who renamed the band Mott the Hoople after a 1967 novel by Willard Manus. Tippens was replaced by Ian Hunter in July. (Tippens subsequently became the band's road manager and later worked for the Pretenders.)
The group recorded its eponymous debut album in August 1969, and it garnered much curious attention for Hunter's Dylan-like rasp and the odd choice of covers, such as Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me." Mad Shadows was moodier and poorly received, and the country-oriented Wildlife did not fare well either.
Yet even though its records didn't sell, Mott became a big live attraction in England. In July 1971, the group caused a mini-riot at London's Albert Hall, which factored into the hall management's decision to ban rock completely. After the release of Brain Capers, the group was ready to disband, but then David Bowie stepped in to give it a focused glam-rock image and a breakthrough single.
He first offered "Suffragette City," but the band wanted "Drive In Saturday," which Bowie refused to give up. Luckily, Mott accepted his offer of a third song, "All the Young Dudes." Bowie produced the LP of the same name, and Mott had a top British single with "Dudes." The song became a signature piece for glitter rock and a gay anthem —something it took the all-straight band a while to get used to. "All the Young Dudes" went to #37 in the U.S.
The group's followup album, 1973's Mott, was its masterpiece —a self-produced effort that featured the British hit singles "Honaloochie Boogie" and "All the Way From Memphis." It was also a concept album about the fight for, and mistrust of, success, highlighted by the autobiographical "Ballad of Mott the Hoople." Around this time, Hunter's Diary of a Rock Star was published in England.
Despite its success, the band began to fall apart. Allen left because the group rarely recorded his songs. Ralphs quit because he was upset by Allen's leaving and irked that one of his songs for Mott, "Can't Get Enough," was beyond the singing range of either himself or Hunter. (The song was a Top 5 hit the following year for Ralphs' next band, Bad Company [see entry].) Hunter and company filled the guitar gap with Luther Grosvenor —formerly with Spooky Tooth and Stealer's Wheel —who changed his name to Ariel Bender upon joining. The Live album was taken from shows in London in November 1973 and in New York in May 1974.
The band had just begun to sell well in the States when another falling-out occurred. Late in 1974, Mick Ronson [see entry] replaced Bender. By the end of the year, Hunter and Ronson had split together, and Mott the Hoople was no more. Hunter had a solo deal with Columbia, but his first tour, billed as the Hunter-Ronson Band, was a disaster, with a disillusioned band playing to half-filled houses. Meanwhile, Watts, Griffin, and Fisher, joined by Ray Major and Nigel Benjamin, carried on as Mott. They released two undistinguished albums, after which Benjamin left, and the band fell apart again. Undaunted, the remaining members added a new lead singer, ex–Medicine Head John Fiddler, and continued for two years under the name British Lions. After Allen had left Mott back in 1973, he formed Cheeks with future Pretenders James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers. The group toured through 1976 but never recorded. Ronson died of cancer.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).