Ian Hunter is back and he didn’t come alone.
Now in its seventh decade, the legendary singer-songwriter, author, and rock ‘n’ roll star’s illustrious career has long been marked by collaboration, from the golden age of Mott the Hoople to his fabled partnership with Mick Ronson and 21st century renaissance with his crack backing combo, the Rant Band. Now, with DEFIANCE PART 1, Hunter takes creative solidarity to an unprecedented new level with spectacular accompaniment from a truly awe-inspiring roster of special guests, famous fans, and lifelong friends. Easily among the most star studded original albums ever recorded, DEFIANCE PART 1 sees backing from no less than Ringo Starr, Johnny Depp, Jeff Beck, Todd Rundgren, Joe Elliott (Def Leppard), Guns N’ Roses’ Slash, Duff McKagan, Robert Trujillo (Metallica), Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne), Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Billy Bob Thornton & J.D. Andrew (The Boxcutters), Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo, & Eric Kretz (Stone Temple Pilots), Tony Shanahan, Dane Clark, Jeff Tweedy, Rich Pagano, Andy Burton and – in one of his final recordings – Foo Fighters’ late, great Taylor Hawkins. The Rant Band’s James Mastro (guitar), Paul Page (bass), and Dennis Dibrizzi (keyboards) lend additional support.
“It was a fluke,” Hunter says. “This was not planned. I can’t believe half the people even knew who I was. Really, I’m serious. I really couldn’t believe some of them. I mean, it’s amazing what’s happened. It’s been such a buzz.”
Hunter came off the road just before the dawn of the pandemic era, cutting off a hugely successful tour with the 1974 incarnation of Mott the Hoople due to an ongoing battle with tinnitus. The whole world soon came to a halt of course in early 2020. An inveterate hard worker, Hunter took the lockdown as a creative opportunity, writing a series of new songs which he tracked in his Connecticut basement alongside his longtime collaborator, guitarist/producer/multi-instrumentalist Andy York.
“I’m a songwriter,” he says. “That’s what I do for a living. And after 20 years with the Ranters, I felt like doing something different anyway. And then the Covid hit and it was like, you’re either going to go mad, or you’re going to do something. So I just went at it. I didn’t really write depressing songs, because I figured things were depressing enough as it was.”
Working together with little more than a computer, guitar, V5 piano, and “a very small keyboard,” Hunter and York created bare bones demos which were then refined by engineer James Frazee at his Hobo Sound Studios in Weehawken, NJ. But with quarantine rules still in effect, Hunter was unable to flesh them out further by hitting the studio with the Rant Band. Manager Mike Kobayashi and renowned rock ‘n’ roll photographer Ross Halfin suggested reaching out to some of Hunter’s fellow legends who might perhaps use some of their own lockdown to contribute a track or two.
“Everybody’s sitting around. It’s Covid. Nobody’s going anywhere. We started sending them out. Slash started doing something. Robert Trujillo from Metallica. Ringo Starr, Mike Campbell. Joe Elliott is on a few tracks. Johnny Depp, who is a mate of mine, said ‘Jeff Beck’s with me and we’d like to do a couple of songs.’ I know Todd Rundgren, I toured with Todd way back, he’s done an amazing job. Billy Gibbons. Billy Bob Thornton and JD Andrew from The Boxcutters. It’s never ending. I mean, every day we’d get a phone call, this guy wants to do it, that guy wants to do it. It was like, I can’t believe this.”
To Hunter’s delight, the project began escalating, with a galaxy of stars clamoring to be involved. With time on their hands due the pandemic, his fellow musicians took the demos and stems that Hunter and York put together in his basement and added unforeseen power and creativity through their own trademark talents.
“It’s such a pleasant surprise when you get something,” Hunter says, “because you never know what they’re going to do. It comes back and you’ve got a grin as wide as a mile on your face, because it’s better than you ever hoped for.”
Despite its genesis during the pandemic, DEFIANCE PART 1 is remarkably upbeat, ablaze with the life-affirming energy and unbridled passion that has marked Hunter’s music since the start. The 10-song collection kicks off with the album’s rebellious title track, showcasing the one and only Slash on guitar with Metallica’s Robert Trujillo carrying the groove using the late Jaco Pastorius’ signature fretless bass – the same instrument played by the legendary jazz musician on Hunter’s groundbreaking second solo album, 1975’s ALL AMERICAN ALIEN BOY.
Songs like “I Hate Hate” and the cathartic “Guernica” – the latter of which sees Hunter manifesting the spirit of Pablo Picasso as he recalls the creation of his 1937 anti-war masterpiece – offer indisputable evidence that Hunter’s lyrical voice remains as uncompromising and provocative as ever before.
“There isn’t a weak song on this record,” Hunter says, “and I’ve made enough records to know it.”
Indeed, “Pavlov’s Dog” is Hunter at his ferocious best, a snarling rocker featuring the surviving members of Stone Temple Pilots – brothers Dean DeLeo (guitar) and Robert DeLeo (bass), and Eric Kretz (drums). “Bed of Roses,” the album’s nostalgic first single, rings out with lead guitar from The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, propelled by drums by Hunter’s longtime chum, Ringo Starr (with whom he toured in 2001 as part of Ringo and His New All-Starr Band).
“The thing was to get the right song to the right people. Ringo’s thing was, if I like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t like it, I won’t. ‘Bed of Roses’ just felt like it was right for him. And he sent back a perfect track, it was really amazing.”
DEFIANCE PART 1 would stand out as a milestone under any circumstances, but is given special weight as one of the final recordings by the late, great Taylor Hawkins, who responded to the project with his renowned fervor and love of classic rock ‘n’ roll. Hawkins contributes to three songs to the album, including “Angel” where he also did harmonies and played guitar (also featuring Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, and session guitarist extraordinaire Waddy Wachtel), “Kiss N’ Make Up” (alongside ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Billy Bob Thornton and J.D. Andrew of The Boxcutters), and the album-closing statement of rock ‘n roll purpose, “This Is What I’m Here For” with Waddy.
“Taylor wanted to do the whole lot,” Hunter says. “And he probably would’ve done. He was amazing, you’d send something to Taylor and back it would come with Duff McKagen on it as well. We didn’t know he was going to do that!”
Hunter, who sadly has seen more than his share of fellow musicians gone before their time, admits to being especially struck and heartbroken by Hawkins’ untimely passing earlier this year. “I only met him once in LA and talked to him a couple times on the phone, so I’m a relative stranger,” he says, “but boy, that hit me like a bullet. I hardly knew the guy but I loved his enthusiasm. He would go on and on and on, he loved all kinds of music. I just couldn’t believe it. But there you go.”
Hawkins, along with a number of the other contributing musicians, was adamant that Hunter not redo his raw basement vocals. Unlike traditional recording sessions, the nature of the project offered them the added advantage of actually hearing Hunter’s songcraft before laying down their complimentary tracks.
“It’s an interesting way to make a record,” Hunter says. “Because it’s back to front. Many years ago, we did ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ and it was the same sort of situation. The drummer, Dennis Elliott, who later joined ‘Foreigner’. was the last one on there. Normally, like when I was in Mott, there were so many things happening that the other musicians didn’t even know what the song was about. I can remember Pete Watts, the bass player in Mott, saying to me, ‘I never knew what you were talking about!’”
To further add to its landmark status, DEFIANCE PART 1 arrives via Hunter’s new deal with the historic Sun Records label. In a career that has seen more than its share of unforgettable moments, the veteran artist notes that he is still capable of getting new kicks.
“They sent me a mock up and there’s the yellow label with my name on it and Sun Record Company, Memphis, Tennessee,” he says. “I got a huge thrill out of it.”
“I’ve been in Sun Studios a couple of times,” he adds, “and I don’t know what it does for anybody else, but it’s a great feeling being in that room, a very strange feeling. We went down there with The Rant Band and there’s all these original instruments – guitars hanging on the wall, there’s Jerry Lee’s piano, a little drum kit and stand-up bass. Before we knew what we were doing, we were all playing in Sun Studios. But it does have almost a ghostly vibe to it.”
Having spent the better part of two years on the project, Hunter isn’t done yet. As its title promises, DEFIANCE PART 1 will be followed closely by the arrival of DEFIANCE PART 2. The second chapter will feature an equally stunning range of special guests while projecting an entirely different thematic approach and songwriting aesthetic.
“The first part is a pretty fun record,” he says. “Not stupid or daft, just a very up record. The second one I would say is probably heavier and more political.”
With the wind at his back, Ian Hunter has somehow managed to pull off something impossible. DEFIANCE PART 1 is a full-speed-ahead rock ‘n’ roll record rarely heard in this day and age, recorded with a crew of irrefutable rock ‘n’ roll all-stars and released on the definitive rock ‘n’ roll label. Pretty damn defiant indeed.
“There are a lot of reasons for calling this album DEFIANCE,” says Ian Hunter. “It’s like, people my age shouldn’t be making records, blah, blah, blah. But we’ve still got a bit left.”