With Mott the Hoople, guitarist/vocalist Ian Hunter established himself as one of the toughest and most inventive hard rock songwriters of the early '70s, setting the stage for punk rock with his edgy, intelligent songs. As a solo artist, Hunter never attained the commercial heights of Mott the Hoople, but he cultivated a dedicated cult following.
Hunter was born in Owestry, Shropshire, but was raised in cities throughout England since his father worked in the British Intelligence agency called MI5 and had to move frequently. Eventually, the family returned to Shrewsbury, where the teenaged Hunter joined a band called Silence in the early '60s. Silence released an album, but it received no attention. In the years following Silence, Hunter played in a handful of local bands and worked a variety of jobs.
In 1968, Hunter began playing bass with Freddie "Fingers" Lee and the duo played around Germany. Shortly afterward, Hunter became the vocalist for Mott the Hoople. During the next six years, Hunter sang and played piano and guitar with the band, becoming its lead songwriter within a few albums. Although few of their records sold, Mott the Hoople was one of the most popular live bands in England. In 1972, David Bowie produced their breakthrough album, All the Young Dudes, which brought the band into the British Top Ten and the American Top 40. For the next two years, the group had a consistent stream of hits in both the U.K. and the U.S.
Toward the end of 1973, the band began to fall apart, as founding member and lead guitarist Mick Ralphs left the band. Hunter carried on through another album, but he left the group in late 1974, taking along former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, who had just joined Mott. Just prior to leaving the group, Hunter published Diary of a Rock Star, an account of his years leading Mott the Hoople, in June 1974.
Hunter moved to New York, where he and Ronson began working on his solo debut. Released in 1975, Ian Hunter spawned "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," a Top 20 U.K. hit. Following its release, Hunter and Ronson embarked on a tour. After its completion, the pair parted ways, although they would reunite later in the '80s. All-American Alien Boy, Hunter's second solo album, was recorded with a variety of all-star and session musicians, including members of Queen. Released in the summer of 1976, All-American Alien Boy was a commercial failure. It was followed in 1977 by Overnight Angels, an album that saw Hunter moving closer to straightforward rock & roll; disappointed with the completed album, Hunter decided to leave it unreleased in America.
Following the mainstream approach of Overnight Angels, Hunter became involved with England's burgeoning punk rock movement, producing Generation X's second album, 1979's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. For Hunter's next solo album, he reunited with Mick Ronson, who produced and arranged 1979's You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. The album was a hit, especially in America, where it peaked at number 35. Hunter and Ronson set out on another tour, which resulted in the 1980 double live album, Ian Hunter Live/Welcome to the Club. In 1981, Hunter released Short Back N' Sides, which was produced by the Clash's Mick Jones.
Two years later, he released All of the Good Ones Are Taken. After its release, Ian Hunter became a recluse, spending the next six years in silence; occasionally, he contributed a song to a movie soundtrack. In 1989, he resumed recording, releasing YUI Orta with Ronson. After its release, Hunter remained quiet during the '90s, appearing only on Ronson's posthumous 1994 album Heaven and Hull, and at tribute concerts for Ronson in 1994 and Freddie Mercury in 1992. Hunter returned to recording with Artful Dodger, which was released in Britain and Europe in the spring of 1997. After a Columbia/Legacy compilation titled Once Bitten Twice Shy offered a wealth of Hunter solo titles in the year 2000, much attention was paid to 2001's fine Rant. In 2002, Hunter performed a pair of semi-acoustic concerts in Oslo, Norway, which were recorded for later release on CD and home video; the resulting project, called Strings Attached, introduced some new songs, including "Twisted Steel," inspired by the events of September 11, 2001.
Shrunken Heads, a collection of all-new material, was released in 2007 on the Yep Roc label, followed by Man Overboard in 2009 from New West Records. That same year, Hunter unexpectedly reunited with Mott the Hoople for a series of concerts at the end of the year; Live at HMV Hammersmith Apollo 2009 documented these well-reviewed gigs. After a couple of quiet years, Hunter returned in the fall of 2012 with When I'm President, another critically acclaimed collection of rock & roll. Live in the UK 2010, a document from the Man Overboard tour, arrived in 2014, and in 2016 Hunter released another studio album, Fingers Crossed. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine