Once upon a time in Rock ‘n’ Roll land there was a band
called Mott the Hoople - well, actually from 1969-1974. After the loss of their
original lead guitarist Mick Ralphs to Bad Company, they recruited Luther
Grosvenor, who was re-christened Ariel Bender on joining the group by English
singer/songwriter Lindsay de Paul - and has lived with the pseudonym ever
But the boys in the Hoople soon started to get bored with
Ariel’s fancy ways, and weaving of magic spells all over Ian Hunter’s songs
(who had now taken over the sole leadership of the band after Ralphs’
departure). So poor old Ariel was given the boot only to re-appear later in his
own band, the fine Widowmaker. A rescue call was sent out and was answered by
what was thought to be the only man for the job, the platinum haired ‘Spider
from Mars’ Mick Ronson.
Mick had already been involved with the Hoople in helping to
produce their ‘All the Young Dudes’ album in 1972. Everybody expected this
to be the lighting of the fuse for the Hoople to fire into Superstardom, but of
course life is never that straight forward. After their one single ‘Saturday
Gigs’, which plotted the band’s milestones of success and failure, was a
chart flop (but a great song), and a few warm-up gigs on the European
continent, Ian Hunter collapsed in New York on a publicity trip and was
diagnosed with mental and physical exhaustion. Hunter recovered, but the band
Ian Hunter stayed in New York, taking with him Mick Ronson
to start work on his first solo album. Then forming the Hunter/Ronson Band to
promote said album, plus Mick Ronson’s second solo album ‘Play Don’t
Worry’. Very successful they were, too.
This left the backbone of the band, Overend Watts of the
thunderous bass and the multi-coloured hair (Overend had a year before he
turned down the position of bass guitar in the formative Bad Company. Oh! You
foolish loyal dreamer you, Overend), and one of the rock world’s great
drummers Dale (Buffin) Griffin.
Mott the Hoople’s keyboard player, Morgan Fisher, had
cleared off to Japan as soon as Mott the Hoople demised, but second stage
keyboard player, Blue Weaver, had stuck around, and as the nucleus of a band,
they started recording demos.
This turned out to be a bit of an uphill struggle as the
only person in the burgeoning group with any writing experience was Overend
Watts. His sole recorded ditty had been 48 Crash released on Mott the
Hoople’s last studio album. Not exactly a long pedigree. To make matters
worse, Blue Weaver was then lured away by the American dollar of the Bee Gees
touring band, who were on the crest of a wave after the disco sensation
‘Saturday Night Fever’. Hey, you can’t knock back a lot of honest bucks
when you have a wife and kids to feed.
On a lick and a promise Morgan Fisher was coerced back into
the fold and Ray Major, who was formerly with British rock band
‘Hackensack’, came in to lend his great axe work to the combo. Major had
supported Mott the Hoople on their Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus Tour, and should
perhaps have replaced Ralphs the previous year.
Over 200 audition vocalist tapes were listened to, 60 of
which were auditioned. After the false start with Terry Wilson-Slessor, who
joined the band one day, and after the welcoming party that night joined Paul
Kossoff’s Back Street Crawler the next, Mick Ralphs recommended they take on
Nigel ‘The Dome’ Benjamin (one look at him will tell you how he got his
Miraculously by then, through all the turmoil, Overend Watts
had come up with ten suitable little slabs of pure rock ‘n’ roll, and the
band went straight into the studio and recorded their debut album with Ray
Major’s adding a short little instrumental. Against all odds they came out
with a little classic.
Opener ‘By Tonight’ sets the tone with its strident beat
and ringing guitar riffs. Morgan Fisher, very sensibly, sticks mainly to piano
all through the album, and there is nobody else that can tinkle the ivories
quite like Morgan Fisher, who is probably the world’s most unlikely looking
rock ‘n’ roll star with his twirled moustache and penchant for flat caps.
The rhythm section is obviously rock solid. Helpfully, Nigel Benjamin’s
vocals are as far removed as possible from Ian Hunter’s monotone delivery,
which further helped them to distance themselves from their past.
The single from the album is a dance floor classic called
Monte Carlo. The album is chocker block full of kicking rockers and contains
the stage favorite ‘The Great White Wail’ with its intense riffing, heavy
backbeat, and some of the most varied vocal wailing ever put on tape. So, with
the album - aptly titled ‘Drive On’ - available in the shops, and the band
deciding to drop the Hoople bit from their name, ‘Mott’ went shouting and
pointing out onto the road with fame and glory. The target the World awaited.
You will have to wait till next week.