Diary Of A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star By Ian Hunter Book Review

It’s A Very Long Way To The Top – Ian Hunter’s Diary Of A Tour

Remembering Mott The Hoople’s 1972 American Tour

In November 1972 Mott The Hoople embarked on a whirlwind tour of America, sometimes headlining, playing in large theaters and clubs. If you’re wondering, the English band’s name comes from a 1966 book. And after three years together they were developing a loyal following.

Mott’s current big hit, All The Young Dudes, written by their producer David Bowie was climbing up the charts.

Not every rock star is capable of keeping a diary. Especially in 1972 when the world of rock was consumed with sex, groupies, drugs and drinking. Writing down one’s thoughts is not what most busy people want to do. But Mott’s singer-guitarist Ian Hunter was not that busy. As he points out, “The diary was written out of boredom on that tour.”

The witty Hunter would write down his observations in notebooks in a daily reprise of the day’s events.

You think that this might turn out to be a tell-all of the sordid things that happen on the road. It is not.

Ian HunterOriginally published in 1974, the book sold well was read by many future rockers including Billy Duffy of The Cult and John Taylor of Duran Duran. Through the book they were inspired to find out what it’s really like to be a rock star.

With the exception of two hours on stage performing, the life of a band is filled with the mundane. This updated version of Diary of a Rock “N’ Roll Star (2018) Omnibus Press, contains an additional diary by Hunter about a brief tour of Japan in 2015.

Airplanes, Hotels & Pawn Shops

The diary describes the daily existence of touring, and contains no earth shattering revelations. But it is very interesting.

Hunter drives with The Who’s drummer Keith Moon to Frank Zappa’s house in the Hollywood hills. In Zappa’s basement, Hunter listens for hours to tapes Zappa plays of jam sessions with famous musicians Hunter’s never heard of. Though he feels he should be excited by this, Hunter finds it rather boring. Meanwhile Moon is upstairs playing with Frank’s cats. In the preface of this new publication of the diary, Hunter points out he discreetly left out the famous woman Moon was dating who was with them on this trip to see Zappa.

Hunter likes his other four bandmates but does not hesitate to portray them honestly, pointing out their strengths and flaws. He does not spare himself from self criticism. Hunter complains about his weight and sleep issues. He relates his problems with Americans who hate “long hairs” and “gingers” (redheads) like Hunter.

A fair amount of Hunter’s fascination about touring concerns flying, (coach most of the time); take-offs and landings; stewardesses, the hotels and food. His observations about people, cities and music critics are spot on and biting. “The real problem is the press,” Hunter says. “These fuckers can ruin a beautiful day.”

Getting to Memphis for the final show on the tour turns out to be an ordeal and has a crazy conclusion that inspired a hit song in 1973.

The loneliness of being away from Hunter’s American wife Trudi is apparent. Hunter’s genuine joy of having Trudi join him on tour is a refreshing note: especially after all the tales we’ve heard about rock stars cheating on their girlfriends or spouses. It may not come as a surprise that Ian and Trudi are still together after more than 50 years of marriage.

It’s fascinating that in every city the band goes to they scour the pawn shops looking for bargains. Besides performing, finding rare and undervalued guitars is the activity that excites them most. Either the guitars go into their collection or they bring them back to England to sell. We learn classic Gibson and Fender guitars sell for a lot more money in England than they do in the United States. In a reality check the band never seems to have any money. Not just for guitars, but for food and other expenses.

The Money Side

In a fascinating anecdote, Hunter gives a breakdown of how a band could make or more often, not make money.

Unfortunately, the royalties you make from selling records take a long time to come through and meanwhile Tony has to us all going. That’s quite a sum of money going out every week. While we’re on about money I’d better explain a bit more on how money works for and against the band. The age-old question. Where does it come from and where does it go to? I’ll try and keep it simple.

There’s three guys you can get money from. The first bloke is commonly known as a financial backer. Briefly he’s got a lot of bread and wants to get rid of some against his tax bill. He’ll
generally put in a few thousand in return for a percentage of the group’s gross earnings. From the group’s point of view this way ain’t too good because you’re already paying a manager 20 per cent of your earnings, plus an agency 10 per cent for getting you the gigs. Start giving a backer 10 or 15 per cent and by the time you’ve paid the hotels and transport you’re left with nothing.

It’s better to have the two other guys putting up the money. One’s the manager You need a bloke with plenty of bread. Now he still only takes 20 per cent of your earnings but he believes in you so he spends out a lot of money initially in order that his returns will be bigger. Really it’s like backing a horse, but sometimes the favourites lose. And the manager’s broke and the favourite’s back on a milk round again! Of course there’re a lot of managers around looking for ‘outsiders. But the outsider’s chances get slimmer these days, as to present a group in any positive way at all is going to cost you seven or eight thousand pounds.

Of course, if you have potential then it becomes easier for the manager. He goes to the third bloke to help him out financially. Now the third bloke is the record company man, a very shrewd operator. Stars rise and fall every day and like a greengrocer. The record man looks for commodities that aren’t going to rot quickly after he’s paid a good price for them. If the record man feels the band has a great deal of talent, he will prepare a contract, as does the manager, for the band to sign. This contract will hold the band to him exclusively and in return he’ll dish out bread tor equipment lights, wages, transport, etc..

If the band is lucky enough to have three or four companies interested in them (as we were) their manager can pit one record company against another emerging with an even bigger record royalty and money advance.

It is on these advances that groups exist until such times as they’re earning enough on the road and on the sale of records to support themselves. I must point out that these advances are returnable so initially the band’s got to sell a hell of a lot of albums and singles to make any kind of profit.

So the next time you see your rising idol roaring down the road in his Jensen think twice. He’s probably got it on HP, he’s probably up to his ears in debt and he probably ain’t got the price of a pint in his pocket. Mind you if you did hit the jackpot — gold albums, singles, huge money-spinning tours, etc., like The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, The Rolling Stones, E.L.P., and Yes have done – there’s no doubt about it. You’ll live in luxury the rest of your life. But every time I see a hairy carefully unloading his Marshall Stack out of a battered Transit van I can’t help thinking the chances are getting longer every year. After all, when | started all you needed was a Vox AC 30 and a Framus Star Bass an’ you were nearly there. If you, dear reader, are thinking of starting on the road to fame and fortune, think again hard. But if you can feel the buzz, the ambition and the optimism, fuck the money — it’ll come, eventually.

Life On the Road

Of course Hunter describes the venues they play at and evaluates show performances. He appraises if the band played well and won over an audience or if things went wrong and trudge through. Hunter’s analysis of the bands Mott The Hoople play alongside is brief. The reader wonders why a band was succeeding or failing. In his position Hunter has better than a front row view, but doesn’t provide that analysis.

Hunter describes the drudgery of getting from place to place and the endless amount of publicity that has to be done. At one point Hunter has to spend time with an unknown young writer from Creem rock magazine who’s doing a feature on the band.

The 15-tear-old writer was Cameron Crowe who would later go on to profile Led Zeppelin and many other bands. Crowe shot to fame writing the book and screenplay for Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Crowe married Nancy Wilson of Heart and would go on to write and direct many movies including Say Anything,  Jerry McGuire and the autobiographical Almost Famous.

The thing Hunter never brings up is that he is is the oldest (b. June 3 1939) member of the band. He also may be the wisest and most cynical. He realizes there is an invisible clock running and Mott have a limited time to make it big.

Ian Hunter left Mott The Hoople in 1974 and went on to a successful solo career. Mott continued with many line-up changes. Hunter has since reformed Mott The Hoople, though two original members that Hunter was performing with in 1972 have died.

The reader wants more and wonders if in the intervening years Hunter has written down any of his other exploits.

You don’t have to be a fan of the band to enjoy Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. This is a quick read and a very enjoyable one.

2 thoughts on “Diary Of A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star By Ian Hunter Book Review

  1. Jeffkojeffko

    Mick Ralphs (Stroke), Verden Allen (heart issues) and Ian Hunter are alive Peter Overend Watts and Dale Buffin Griffin are both no longer with us Only two are passed. Nice review! Thanks.

    1. B.P. Post author

      Thanks for sending that correction. I did not check on the correct guitarist, Mick Ralphs. The third member who died was Mick Ronson (1946-1993) who was with Bowie in 1972, played on All The Young Dudes and joined Mott only for a brief spell in 1974 before teaming up with Hunter on his solo albums.


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