Mott the Hoople
Winterland, San Francisco
September 29, 1973/April 13, 1974
Photos 1-27 by Dan Cuny
Photos 28-52 by David Miller
Text by Michael Collins Morton
Mott the Hoople began in Herefordshire, England, as Silence, a band that included Mick Ralphs (guitar), Peter Overend Watts (bass), Verden Allen (organ), and Dale "Buffin" Griffin (drums). In 1969, their first producer, Guy Stevens (who also was known for his connections to Procol Harum, Free, Mighty Baby, and Spooky Tooth), changed their name from Silence to Mott the Hoople, and brought in a new musician, Ian Hunter (vocals, piano, guitar), a native of Shropshire and a former journalist. With the addition of Ian Hunter, Mott gained a distinctive singer who also had strong talent as a songwriter.
Mott the Hoople's first four albums, Mott the Hoople (1969), Mad Shadows (1970), Wildlife (1971), and Brain Capers (1971), all sold poorly, and by early 1972 they were ready to give up. When David Bowie, a longtime fan of Mott the Hoople, heard of their distress, he reached out and sought to help them, offering one of his new songs. When Mott the Hoople released "All the Young Dudes," a single that was written and produced by David Bowie, in July of 1972, it was a sudden hit, giving a second chance to the band. The single was followed by an album of the same name, which also was produced by David Bowie.
Mott the Hoople was a powerful band onstage, a rip-roaring gang of full-fledged rockers with a straightforward approach to their music and an abundance of knockabout charm. They were bold and assured performers, flashy without being overly precious, and they always did their unreserved best to fully entertain the many fans who came to see them. Any performance by Mott the Hoople in the 1970s was certain to be a hot and sweaty workout from start to finish, usually bringing forth a wild response from their happy audience.
The album Mott was released around the first time we saw them. I think they were at their creative peak at that time. I was disappointed to learn that Mick Ralphs had quit the band one month before the 1973 show. I don't think we realized he had left until they burst on to the stage without him. Not only was Mick Ralphs gone, but also keyboard player, Verden Allen. Ian Hunter introduced the new guitarist as Ariel Bender, which we knew had to be a made-up name. I think Michael recognized him to be Luther Grosvenor, from the old Spooky Tooth band. In that band and on his solo album he looked like a nature boy, but now we saw him as very flashy in dress and on guitar. It was quite a transformation. The new keyboard player at the 1974 show was easy to recognize as Blue Weaver, who recently had left another favorite band of mine, The Strawbs. It seemed the British bands were playing a game of musical chairs.
Mott was one of the most exciting bands, not only to see in person, but to photograph. I was very impressed with Dan's photos of the first concert, so I was eager to photograph them the next time. Ian Hunter was one of the best subjects ever. He looked great and moved about the stage, giving me opportunities to get varied shots. I distinctly remember that when he was close to the edge of the stage, just to my left, in the middle of a ballad, as I pointed the camera directly at him to focus, he stopped. He looked right at me. I clicked the picture. He smiled at me and continued on. You can see that photo here. It is one of my most cherished moments from any concert.
At the first concert, Montrose opened, with Sammy Hagar as lead singer. I was not a fan at the time and still not so today, but Sammy Hagar left quite an impression on me, and on the bass player. While swinging the microphone around, Sammy hit the bass player in the head, causing blood to stream down the bass player's face. The bass player continued playing while a roadie wiped the blood away with a towel. Then came Barnstorm, with Joe Walsh in his pre-Eagles days. I remember his big, furry boots. The second concert opened with Aerosmith, instead of Queen, who had been touring with Mott. I was disappointed about that. I felt that Aerosmith was a poor man's Stones back then, and still do today. Next on the bill at that second concert was Bachman-Turner Overdrive. A "big" act, literally, and not much to my interest, but they were talented musicians and put on a good show.
We met Mott after the second concert, and got their autographs. Ariel Bender got into a limo and rolled down the window. He leaned out and asked the crowd, "Does anyone have a fag?" We knew he was referring to a cigarette, but wondered what sort of a response he would get in San Francisco! I remember getting Ian Hunter's autograph. I stood close to him as he signed my pad. I tried to see through his sunglasses to get a good look at his eyes, but all I saw was my own reflection.
Gary: I thought Mott the Hoople was very interesting. Ian Hunter was a great front man, who wrote songs with complexity and much thought. The group itself was tight. I liked Mad Shadows a lot. The albums with Verden Allen were different than the later material, but better in a way. The titles of the songs were intriguing: "When My Mind's Gone," "Thunderbuck Ram," and "Death May Be Your Santa Claus," were all amazing.
When All the Young Dudes (with the glitter influence of David Bowie on backing vocals) hit the FM airwaves, all the Mott albums started getting airplay, especially on college stations. (I heard a lot of Mott the Hoople on KUOP, University of the Pacific, Stockton.) I was used to the group with Mick Ralphs as guitarist, and I was disappointed to hear that he had quit by the time we saw them at Winterland. I did, however, like Luther Grosvenor, and was a big Spooky Tooth fan, so I adjusted to the lineup change. Michael explained that Luther's new name (Ariel Bender) was a sarcastic joke, meaning a punk who would go down a row of cars, bending their radio antennas out of spite. (Ha ha, big laugh.) His playing was great. I liked the sound he got from his Les Paul Special (not a regular Les Paul). It seemed loose-jointed and raw.
The two Winterland concerts have blended in my mind. It seemed that we only saw them once, but David reminded me of the different bills, and I vividly remember the opening set by Montrose, when Sammy Hagar, tugging his pants up and swinging the microphone in a blatant Roger Daltrey imitation, nearly killed the bass player and never apologized to him. Bachman-Turner was very entertaining with the bass player in heels, packed into a tight leather outfit, driving the music with huge kicks and "whoops" up the fretboard of his bass. (This was all just overhead, as we were pressed close to the stage.)
When Mott the Hoople stormed on stage, I remember Ian Hunter running and sliding to the edge of the stage. He clutched hands with members of the audience and laughed. Mott was having a good time, and the music rocked. I seem to remember Ian Hunter playing his specially designed cross guitar, but maybe that was just a photo in a magazine. I do remember that he wore a large cross around his neck, I think at both concerts. I liked his literary references (D. H. Lawrence and French symbolist poetry), countered with a kind of rough Cockney slang. I also liked that Mott did carefully selected covers of songs by other artists. All in all, a great band and two great concerts.
Being a huge fan of David Bowie, when Mott the Hoople released All the Young Dudes, I was very excited to see them at Winterland in September of 1973. I can remember being at the front of the stage, peering through my trusty camera at Ian Hunter, Ariel Bender (Luther Grosvenor), and Overend Watts as they played many of my favorite songs. Overend Watts, with his knee-high boots and thumping bass, was fun to watch. Ariel Bender playing his lead riffs right in front of me was great to watch.
Front man Ian Hunter wore a white suit and played his Guild guitar to the crowd of enthusiastic Hoople fans. His vocals were spot on, which made songs like "Sweet Jane" and "All the Young Dudes" come to life. I remember leaving the show thinking they were a very tight band that really seemed to enjoy playing their music together.
I was quite awestruck on the first occasion that we saw Mott the Hoople. To me, the men of Mott were more than mere musicians. I regarded them as true stars of rock'n'roll. They maintained a sharp appearance, wearing the sort of extravagant finery that was seen on many British musicians in those days, but they did not come across as soft or dainty. They actually played most of their songs in a style that was hard and heavy, and their act could be extremely boisterous at times. I remember Ian Hunter and Ariel Bender playfully shoving each other in a mock fight during one song.
We were able to meet Ian Hunter, along with the other members of Mott the Hoople, outside the stage door after one of the shows. Although it was getting late and Ian Hunter must have been in a hurry to leave the venue, he greeted us cordially, taking the time to answer our questions and sign autographs for each of us, proving that he was a gentleman, as well as a great performer. It was after midnight, but he still was wearing his sunglasses.
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