Ian Hunter on the "ruthless, fabulous" David Bowie: "David wanted to be a monster"

Ian Hunter and David Bowie onstage at Wembley Stadium, 1992
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage)

In gifting Mott The Hoople the timeless glam rock anthem All The Young Dudes in 1972, David Bowie ensured that, in the eyes of the record-buying public, his name would always be linked with Ian Hunter, the Herefordshire band's frontman. But in a wide-ranging interview in the new issue of Classic Rock magazine, on sale now, Hunter admits that he and Bowie were never friends.

"David was great," Hunter insists, "but he wasn’t a guy I would have hung out with."

Legend has it that Bowie, a long-time fan of Mott The Hoople, was dismayed to hear that the band were considering breaking up in 1971 following disappointing sales for their fourth album Brain Capers, and offered them his song Suffragette City, which he'd earmarked for his own Ziggy Stardust... album. When the band turned down the offer, Bowie wrote All The Young Dudes for them instead, and produced it at London's Olympic Studios for release as a single.

Released in the UK on July 28, 1972, the single peaked at number 3 in Britain, and also cracked the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching at number 37 in the US. The success of the song, and its parent album, meant that Mott The Hoople's popularity soared, and the idea of splitting was shelved.

"It’s a great song," Hunter says, 51 years on, speaking to Classic Rock's Scott Rowley. "God knows why he gave it to us. I’ve said that many times, but really, if I’d’ve had that song I wouldn’t have given it to anybody."

Somewhat ironically, in giving Mott The Hoople their first taste of success, the song opened Ian Hunter's eyes to the nature of fame, and served to emphasise the differences between himself and Bowie.

"David was a different kettle of fish," says Hunter. "You know how people are. You go to a party, you get on with some people, you don’t get on with other people. Not because you don’t like them or they don’t like you, just because they’re accountants or they’re lawyers – they’re in a different neck of the woods to you.

"David was great all the time I knew him, but he wasn’t a guy I would have hung out with. Nothing personal. We got on fine in the studio. I went out with him a couple of times, but I don’t make mates easy. I never did. And when I do make a mate, it’s for life. He was a friend like lots of people you meet along the way. David was extremely ambitious. He’d been around."

Reflecting on Bowie's personality and drive, Hunter continues, saying, "He was determined and he was ambitious. I wasn’t – I just wanted to play rock ’n' roll because it excited me. But David saw a whole lot more and was going for it, 24 hours a day. He just wasn’t the type I would hang out with. But generous to a tee, lovely with the band. I mean, he gave us Dudes. I’ve got nothing but praise for David."

When Rowley suggests that Bowie had a ruthless streak too, Hunter replies, "If you want to be that big, you’re gonna have to be ruthless."

"I never wanted that," he insists. "The fortnight I was in the first division, it got on my nerves. I didn’t like it. First of all, you’ve got to plan years ahead, and all the rest of it. It stops becoming music, it stops becoming rock ’n’ roll and starts becoming business. David knew he wanted to be a monster. In a good way. When you want it that bad, you get it. If you’ve got the talent, which he did."

"He was fabulous in the studio," Hunter adds. "He wanted to do the rest of the album, so we did. It didn’t make any sense to me. It’s like, “If you can write songs like this, get out there and do it. You’re the one with a big ambition and all that.” But somehow we had time for Iggy, he had time for Lou [Reed], you know. Pretty special."

For the full interview with Ian Hunter, pick up the new issue of Classic Rock, which also features exclusive interviews with Metallica, Def Leppard, Jethro Tull, Europe's Joey Tempest and more.

Hunter recruited a stellar cast of contributors/collaborators for his forthcoming album Defiance Part 1, including Guns N' Roses duo Slash and Duff McKagan, Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, film star/Hollywood Vampires guitarist Johnny Depp, ZZ Top's Billy F Gibbons, former Beatle Ringo Starr and the late Jeff Beck and Taylor Hawkins. 

Other guests include Metallica's Ron Trujillo, former Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, and Stone Temple Pilots trio Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo and Eric Kretz.

Defiance Part 1 will be released on April 21 via Sun Records.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.