After Mott the Hoople’s collaboration with David Bowie of
‘All The Young Dudes’ (June 1972) reached number three in Britain, and a
modest thirty-seven on the American Billboard chart, the follow-up, Ian Hunter
written ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ (May 1973) reaching the upper regions of both
charts either side of the Atlantic, and a brand new album already in the can
ready for release mid tour, ‘Mott’ (July 1973), Mick Ralphs, lead guitarist
and founder member decides to hand in his notice halfway through Mott the
Hoople’s groundbreaking first headlining American tour.
Mick Ralphs had some ludicrous idea of forming some sort of
musical beat combo with his old mates from Free, Paul Rogers and Simon Kirke.
Sounds like bad company to me.
To say this caused slight ripples of concern within the
Hoople camp would be a major understatement. Mick Ralphs agreed to play the
first half of the tour, until the 2-week tour break; for the remaining concerts
the band would have to carry on with a new axe slinger. So the problem was
manifold. The replacement had to be good, in fact, very good. Mick Ralphs left
big foot prints to follow. He or she had to look the business, this was after
all 1973 and looks were the in thing. He or she had to get on with the rest of
the band, have stage presence, a passport, and of course - most importantly -
be available to move lock, stock, and barrel to Mott the Hoople’s side, like
After one last emotional plea for Ralphs to stay (Ian Hunter
offered Mick Ralphs half of all Hunter’s songwriting royalties if he stayed)
was unsuccessful, the remaining members of the band, lead singer, guitarist,
and main songwriter Ian Hunter (songwriting was the main reason for Ralphs
departure. Hunter had such a purple patch with the pen that there was no room
for Ralphs’ songs); bass player Overend Watts; drummer Dale Griffin; keyboard
player Morgan Fisher; and longtime mate and road manger Stan Tippins sat down
to discuss options. Ian Hunter mentioned Luther Grosvenor from old record label
mates at Island, Spooky Tooth. He fitted the requirements. It was decided that
if he said yes, that was it. No auditions. No second thoughts. Heads to the
wall and go for it.
Stan Tippins got the required telephone number and Ian
Hunter booked the call person to person from New York to London. With the time
difference it was 6 o’clock in the morning when an unsuspecting guitarist got
a ringing in his ears and was awakened from his slumber. Ian Hunter, surrounded
on the phone by his band mates, dropped the big question. Luther Grosvenor, not
one to let a mate down, answered in the affirmative, and the band was whole
Flights are quickly arranged and the band flew back to
London. Luther Grosvenor had two weeks to learn the entire Mott the Hoople
repertoire, and Mott the Hoople had two weeks to get used to having a new ace
up their sleeves. Rehearsals are frantic and chaotic. The band discovered that
unlike their previous guitarist who used to belt out the licks from the back of
the stage, shaking his mane of hair but stationary, the new guy liked to move
and needed one side of the stage to rush about so that nobody was safe. The
band even managed to squeeze in a spot on Top of the Pop’s with everybody in
the crowd trying to work out who the new guitarist was who ran amok while the
band mimed their way through the new single ‘All The Way From Memphis’
(August 1973, 10 U.K., Top 30 in U.S.A.).
With this air of mystery as to the identity of the new
Hoople member, Ian Hunter decided a change of name for his new recruit would be
a laugh. So Lindsey de Paul, the beautiful English singer, came up with the
name of Ariel Bender, and Ariel Bender it was.
The band flew back to continue the tour of the States in a
high state of apprehension. The new album was rushing up the charts and the
rest of the tour was already sold out. Plus with the fast spreading success of
their support act Queen, it was all a bit daunting. (In their entire career
Queen only supported one band and that was Mott the Hoople. Two tours of U.S.A.
and one of U.K. Oh! Anything for a time machine.) Would the loyal Mott the
Hoople fans take to their new guitarist?
The first gig was at the Hollywood Palladium on August 5,
1973. With a fair bit of Dutch courage under their belts they hit the stage. As
soon as opening song ‘Drivin’ Sister’ was finished, the band knew they
had struck gold. Sure, they missed Mick, but the new guy, Ariel Bender, gave
Mott the Hoople that extra cutting edge they needed to push them over the top.
The fans loved him. Ariel Bender would arrive on stage with
impossibly high stack heeled boots, which never slowed him down at all as he
rushed around the stage, ripping out licks from his guitar, sparkly spandex
strides, an assortment of fluorescent tops, enough slap to put the shares of
Max Factor up on the stock exchange, long black hair flowing with glitter, all
topped off by some glorious head wear. Sound outrageous? You bet.
A tour of Britain was organized at the Hammersmith Odeon,
ending a day short of Ariel Bender’s birthday, with two gigs on the same day,
which were recorded for a live album and were attended by Jagger and Bowie.
Another headline tour of the States was penciled in for the following year with
a record breaking seven day run at the Uris theatre on Broadway. Things were
definitely on the up.
As his 27th Birthday loomed at Christmas 1973, the young boy
from Evesham found himself in the hottest band of the year, a date book that
was full, a new identity, fame, fortune, all laid out within his grasp. Top of
the world, what a difference a year makes.