- Spring 2000 - On the phone with Philip Anderson
- Of all the legendary bands that have come and gone, there are those names that somehow stick in the craw for no apparent reason. Some of these bands were huge at some point, others had a great marketing gimmick which made up for lack of talent, and some yet just had that special something that kept people coming back. You know you have something good when people know who you are but cannot ever seem to put their finger on the one reason why, but remember you they do none-the-less. In the case of some young British upstarts with a funny name, Mott The Hoople made their way with such tunes as the ever-infamous David Bowie-penned All The Young Dudes. This was a band formed in the late 1960s by later Bad Company co-founder Mick Ralphs which featured Ian Hunter on vocals, bassist Peter Overend Watts, and drummer Dale Buffin Griffin.
After the less-than-amicable fall-apart of Mott The Hoople - only to rise again as MOTT for a short-lived incarnation - Buffin, along with Overend Watts and then keyboardist Morgan Fisher decided to form a new, slightly rougher-edged pop/rock band called the British Lions. Joining the Lions were guitarist Ray Majors and ex-Medicine Head vocalist John Fiddler. This band was something special that was just about to break big before management and big business took their heavy hand at smashing anything useful out of them - including their spirits. Thus came to an end the careers of both Buffin and Overend who decided that enough was enough and it just wasnt worth the hassle vs. pleasure of being a musician anymore. The legacy remained however and the fan bases just grow for Mott The Hoople, MOTT, and the British Lions. There is no denying that these three bands have had significant impact on many up-and-coming musicians, as well as music lovers.
We recently had a nice opportunity to chat with Buffin in regards to his career and set some records straight, dispelling rumors as it were, about what the mystique and mystery of the Mott incarnations and British Lions had over people. Buffin is a bit jaded on the industry - (But then arent many in similar positions?) - but charming to speak with and very honest, almost to a fault. He holds little grudges aside from the fact that things could have been different, and most likely should have, but acknowledges that things do happen as they are meant to and life goes on. Not having played the drums in over 10 years, Buffin still reflects cheerfully on the past rock n roll life, as well as building a legendary status, that he had the pleasure of being a part of.
K2K: To start with, about the one and only tour as the British Lions, was it as an opening act?
DG: Yeah, we were a brand new act. We didnt want to trade on the name Mott The Hoople. In fact, Mott The Hoople would hardly ever come up, wherever British Lions were concerned. We toured with UFO and Blue Oyster Cult. It was a middle quality tour, not doing all the top venues, but it was OK. We did cities like New Orleans, Memphis and Phoenix - but not New York, Chicago, Los Angeles...
K2K: Were out in San Jose. You did a radio promo here.
DG: The reaction was really very good. We felt that the tour should have gone on. We had only been in the U.S. for about six weeks. Americas a pretty big place. We thought that we could have toured for a couple of more months at least for that first album. RSO didnt want it. I dont know what they expected. They thought we were going to sell BeeGees type of numbers in the first couple of months. Our management company called us back to England and we didnt want to leave the States.
K2K: Could you have stayed?
DG: Well, we would have had to find work. We didnt quite know what was going to happen. We figured that we would have to dance to the tune that management was playing for the timebeing and maybe try to convince them that we should go back and try to do some more. As it turns out, we didnt. San Jose, I loved it there. I never had so much fun in the States as I did on that tour. I just loved it and then [John] Fiddler and I, particularly, didnt want to go home. We just wanted to stay. We were in Phoenix and Tucson.
We didnt feel that the group had any chance in England since it was all punk rock then. We were in our twenties and we were old men. A lot of the people who were in the punk scene, back in 77, were as old as us. They just pretended that they were young. They had this big smokescreen about us being old farts. It really wasnt us they were talking about. It was groups like Yes and Styx and all those groups who played those long, long guitar solos and drum solos. It was a weird time, when you suddenly find that youre an old man. I was thinking, Im 28. Im not old. Whats going on? Just the fact that we were in a band like Mott The Hoople. That nailed you as being old, because you had been around.
K2K: How would you describe what you were doing? It was kind of punky. John [Fiddler] had that urgent scream in his vocals.
DG: Yeah. What we were trying to do was kind of an urgent kind of rock, really. I think there were ties to Mott The Hoople there. For the last year of Mott The Hoople, things got so slow. I listen to some live recordings and they sound so down. That wasnt how it was supposed to be. I wanted to get back to the time when we were doing the early Mott The Hoople recordings and the high speed at which we were playing the rock stuff at gigs.
K2K: After listening to some of the new live Mott The Hoople recordings, I have to say that I rather enjoyed the freshness of the British Lions.
DG: Fiddlers a great songwriter. He naturally writes tunes that are catchy and appealing. I thought that was an amazing thing to find. In his old band, Medicine Head, they were only a two-piece but they would kick up a storm. It was an incredible group. He was kind of a quite big hippie guy with a walrus-style moustache and long hair. Totally unlike the Fiddler of British Lions. The only thing that worried us was if he was going to sit down on stage and smoke a pipe or something, but he was just up for it from the word go. It was fantastic. It was a pleasure to be in the group, which I cant say was always the case in Mott The Hoople. With British Lions, we all got along together. John really became a good frontman. He lost weight and had a whole new image without working at it. He lost the weight and cut the hair off. It just happened. It was... organic, as they say. There were no meetings about it. He just realized that he just wasnt that hippie anymore. He was a different person. We all had so much respect for him - and still do. He is one of those people who has class and has quality. Its astonishing because hes been at it all this time.
K2K: Is there ever a chance of a reunion?
DG: Um, I dont think so. Not for me because I dont have the urge to play. As much as I love British Lions, I think its too late now. I know its too late to go back to it. I dont have that urge to play drums and to rehearse.
K2K: Arent you playing right now?
DG: Oh God, no. Oh, no, no, no, no. I havent hit a kit in anger since 1990.
K2K: Well, why not?
DG: (laughs) I dont think I could get away with it any longer. Kids would see right through it. Drumming has improved so much now - and I havent.
K2K: You dont think that you could keep up?
DG: Well, there is that. Up to the end of the British Lions, I had this burning desire to be in a band and do all the things a band does. You have to believe in it and the band that youre in. I think that one of the problems that I had was that you have to have a manager, you have to have an accountant, you have to have a record company, you have to have an agent. Usually they are liars, cheats or crooks.
K2K: I know that Morgan Fisher doesnt want to go back to that. I was thinking about you going back to do that proper second album. Just to do it.
DG: I know what youre saying but its the motivation to do things. Ive seen so many bands reform in later years.
DG: In middle age you get that look of strain and a perplexed look. Its what you dont have in your late teens and twenties because youre an arrogant bastard. You think you know everything. When you get to my age, you realize it wasnt all really like that. And Id rather be remembered as a fit young man, not a wizened old fuck.
K2K: I understand that you had a problem with a book about Mott The Hoople that came out. [Mott The Hoople & Ian Hunter: All The Way From Memphis by Campbell Devine (Cherry Red) - ed.]
DG: It was the writer of the book. Its so very difficult to explain because the book is full of things that would be of interest to people who like Mott The Hoople. A lot of inconsequential stuff, little bits of facts and figures are fine. Some of the important points of why Mott The Hoople broke up - the darker side of the business. The crux of the matter was that he was a crap writer. I thought that I would be allowed to proofread everything. Overend Watts wanted to see the proof before it went off to publishing. This was agreed with the writer. What he did was to tell Watts and myself that there was only one copy of the book proofs and he had to send that to Ian Hunter, because Ian had demanded to see it before the book could be published. We had to accept. Watts never read any of the book at all. I read the first draft of the book, which was absolutely appalling. It took me about two months to go through it to put it in some kind of order. I didnt see the final draft of the book at all, ever. This guy, then, went to the press and said that I had read and had approved the whole of the book and that Watts didnt want to see it. Ian and Trudi Hunter say they did NOT demand to read the book prior to publication.
Basically, he wanted to write a book about Ian Hunter. The book was supposed to be the biography of Mott The Hoople. It ended up being Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter. Why did he need a separate name check? This is where the guys mindset was, that he just wanted to be up Ians ass. (laughs) It was a dishonest book. The author had all the facts but he chose to twist them, ignore them, or ridicule them as he wished.
K2K: I notice that Ian Hunter sure has a cult following.
DG: Sure. The worst thing about Hunter is that he has wasted his talent. He did have a lot of talent. He started believing his own publicity around 1973. He just lost it. He screwed up time and time again. Where now, he should be living comfortably on a pile of royalties and looking forward to a comfortable retirement and old age, hes not in a comfortable position. Hes not widely well-respected because the majority of people wouldnt know who the fuck he was. He had a lot of potential. I think he has problems with his mind. I dont mean hes a nutcase or mentally ill.
K2K: Of course, that would make a great story too... (laughs)
DG: Oh, absolutely. Hes just a fuck-up. Thats the top and bottom of it. Hes been in a rock hinterland for too much of his solo career. However, he has a new album out soon on Papillon Records, a Chrysalis subsidary, and this may prove to be the big one. Good luck to him. Youre never too gnarled to make the big time, or some such twaddle.
K2K: I feel better that you said it because I feel guilty when I think so. I get chastised for my views of Ian Hunter at times.
DG: When he came into the band, I felt that there was something about him immediately, that it would be worthwhile. I think all the others didnt really want him. He was ten years older than most of us. I trusted him. He would always talk to me like a younger brother or something. In the end he wasnt trustworthy. He screwed us something rotten. Why I am quite so antagonistic is because you dont screw your brothers. You dont screw your family and family is what we were.
K2K: Only on Jerry Springer.
K2K: What is the chronology of Mott The Hoople? Who was in the band at what time?
DG: Anything specific?
K2K: When did the band start?
DG: May 1969.
K2K: How long did it last?
DG: It finished December 1974. Thats when Ian Hunter rang me to say that he left the group. Thats where the tension is because we had an agreement that nobody would leave the group without the mutual consent of the other members of the group. Meaning that you had to agree with why you were going to leave. He wouldnt even agree to talk about it.
K2K: What was the reason?
DG: Why did he leave? Because he had a big solo deal. It would make him a lot of money and that rot fucked things up for us.
K2K: How were you guys doing at that time?
DG: We had not long gotten Mick Ronson in the group. We had done a tour of Europe, a ten day tour, which had been OK except that Ronson wouldnt have anything to do with us. He wouldnt speak to us, he would only speak to Ian. What happened was that we heard that Ronson, at that time, was a solo act. He was doing his solo tour and album.
K2K: That was right after Bowie?
DG: Right. The press hated him. It was nothing personal, it was just that he had no charisma as a frontman.
K2K: Now Im finally hearing someone else say what Ive been thinking for years. I always heard about this brilliant guitarist and I never got it.
DG: Well, as a frontman, it didnt work. He was basically a very shy man, from what I understand. I worked with him for two or three weeks and really didnt know a thing about him because he wouldnt speak to me. (laughs) I used to want to talk to him because we did a couple of numbers from his solo thing. He had had Aynsley Dunbar drumming for him. Dunbar is an amazing drummer. There were parts that I could not work out. I had to dumb it down. I wanted to know if that was OK or if he wanted me to do anything else or had any advice. He wouldnt speak. He just would say, Nah, you wouldnt understand it. and just walked away. Ians take on it was that he was shy. It was hard to say.
Rono said this strange thing in an interview that he had joined Mott The Hoople and that he had to learn all these songs. It was difficult because the rest of the group knew them and he had to learn them. It was on a TV interview. He was saying it in a perplexed way of How come this is happening? How come I have to learn these numbers? Its the most weird thing. Ive got this CD, a bootleg CD, of him playing some of these songs, with MTH, and he has just not got a handle on them at all. Quite simple riffs and hes unable to play. What he couldnt do was think on his feet. I believe it was very strange. He would learn things laboriously. If he was doing a part, he spent ages and ages working it out. He didnt seem to be a guitarist who would just go, Ah! Ill have a go at that. and then try it a couple of times. Most of the guys Ive ever come across are used to having to think quickly and work quickly. Ron seemed to be very slow thinking.
Ian has said that he was as thick as two short planks. He was just not a very bright man at all.
K2K: What was the big attraction that so many people worship his playing?
DG: I dont know. I listen to his stuff now and I dont like his guitar sound. I dont know quite what makes the religion really. Its so weird not to know somebody that youre in a band with.
K2K: What did he pass away from?
DG: Cancer of the liver. Apparently he was a boozer, a heavy drinker. I never realized it. Maybe he became a heavy drinker after Mott The Hoople, or maybe thats what caused it.
K2K: So the final end-all of Mott The Hoople was Ian leaving the band?
K2K: Who was the original guitarist?
DG: Original guitarist and founding member was Mick Ralphs.
K2K: When did he leave to start Bad Company?
DG: He left in 1973.
K2K: Then you got Luther [Grovesnor]?
DG: Yeah. Its difficult to say when Luther left. In the summer of 1974, after the Broadway tour with Queen supporting.
K2K: How long was he in the band? Did he record anything?
DG: About a year. He was on the album called, The Hoople. Thats the only MTH album he worked on.
K2K: What happened to him?
DG: He was the right man, wrong guitarist - to me. Lovely chap. He was a great person to have around. He embraced everybody from the road crew to everyone in the group. To me, he was playing guitar for a different group. He wasnt playing for our group. He played for somebody else in his mind. Thats the only explanation because he was so far away from what we wanted it to be. He had a great reputation in 1967 as a guitarist. He did fine with Widowmaker and then formed Spooky Tooth then for a while. Hes retired from the rock business recently, I hear.
K2K: Where did he get the name Ariel Bender?
DG: At the time he joined Mott The Hoople, he was still signed to Island Records as a solo artist. So he had to have a pseudonym. We had a German television date and a British girl singer/songwriter named Lindsay DuPaul came up with the name Ariel Bender. We thought, What a great name for a guitarist! When Luther came along we said he is Ariel Bender.
K2K: I had heard how he got his name from always bending his strings.
DG: (laughs) No, no. At the time he joined MTH, Luther was signed to Island Records. MTH was with Columbia in New York. So we had to disguise him as Ariel Bender.
K2K: Where did you get your nickname from?
DG: I got my nickname from Overend Watts from when we had our first group together in 1963, called The Anchors. I was the youngest in the group. I was 13. In those days, drummers always had nicknames. It was always something like Raging George Roger or Bluffing Bill Bluffer or something. For whatever reason, I always called myself Sniffing Griff Griffin. Watts does these spoonerisms. Because I was the youngest, they always called me That Little Bugger. I was the littlest, least thing. Watts, instead of calling me That Little Bugger Sniffin, would call me That Little Snigger Buffin. So the Buffin bit stuck. Ive been stuck with that for the better part of forty years.
K2K: Is Overend his real name?
DG: Yeah, its his family name. His father is Ronald Overend Watts and Watts is Peter Overend Watts. He gets mad when Overend is put in quotes. Back in 1972, the people in the press thought it was some kind of sexual reference - Over End or something. But its from Cambria in the north of England. Its from up there.
K2K: Speaking of names, what the hell is a Mott The Hoople?
DG: Its a book by a guy by the name of Willard Manus. We tried for ages to find the guy who wrote the book. We did a week of gigs on Broadway as Mott The Hoople. On the opening night, some guys from CBS came in, Look what weve got! Its a telegram of congratulations from Willard Manus. The next day we went to the office all excited. One guy came up to us, very embarrassed to say, It wasnt from Willard Manus. It was from the office. We thought youd like it. There were all these rumors about him that he lived in the Greek islands and was mad or out of his mind on drugs. It was only about four or five years ago that someone told us that he lived in California. We got his address and got in touch with him and hes great. Hes in perfect health and perfect sanity. He isnt a drug addict. He seemed like a really nice guy. He had been to Greece. That was the one thing that was true. He and his wife go to some remote island to spend some time.
K2K: So, what is the story about?
DG: The character in the book is called Norman Mott. He was this big, fat fuck-up of a Jewish guy.
K2K: Im sure that book would go over well today. (laughing)
DG: Well, he still sells it. Its been reprinted recently. A Hoople, Im not sure of the description of it. Its kind of a bum, a wanderer, a chancer. Hes a bit of a slob, old Norman Mott. I think that there is a bit of Willard Manus in him. I think Manus is Jewish as well and Im sure that there is a bit of autobiographical in there. [Norman] is a bit of a neer-do-well. In the end, he disappears in a balloon and is never seen again. Willard Manus says Hoople is an old American slang word meaning, variously, fool, rogue, buffon, and even sucker.
K2K: Is it a comedy?
DG: Yeah, largely. The first time I read it, in 1969, I thought it was a fantastic book. In the 1970s I thought it was a load of shit. I read it again recently and quite liked it.
K2K: I dont think that most people had any idea where your name came from.
DG: No, no. Youre quite right. The last time Manus got a hold of me, he told me that a film company had bought the rights to the book. Whether, after all these years, Mott The Hoople will get into the movies, I dont know.
K2K: What about the Campbell book [Mott The Hoople biography]? I understood that Mott The Hoople was about to get back together and then the book just stopped those plans.
DG: No, I think the last time that we seriously thought about getting back together was in 1990. Then Hunter, Watts, Mick Ralphs and I met and talked about it. I dont really understand what it is with Mick Ralphs. He doesnt want to do it. Hes tantalized by the idea of doing it but will never quite get involved. In 1990, there were some quite good offers to reform, make an album and do some tours. Its too late now though. No more Mott The Hoople.
K2K: So it wasnt because of the book? Nice rumors out there.
DG: Well, they are fascinating, arent they? They never cease to amaze me. The book had nothing to do with it.
K2K: When did the book come out?
DG: In 1998. The book had nothing to do with that. Its largely due to age. We used to be young and snotty back then. Now, no one wants to see old and snotty. We would look around perplexed.
K2K: You could just be old and fidgety instead of old and snotty.
DG: Yes, old and arthritic. Anything but snotty. It would be ridiculous. I was going to say that it would be like doing The Monkees but theyve already done that.
K2K: Yes, more than once and quite successfully.
DG: Well, yes, but they dont look too bad. Im sure it was good. I mean, there was a group that had excellent songs. They had great songwriters who wrote great pop songs.
K2K: All the more reason why British Lions should do it again. The music would be timely.
DG: Yeah, Im happier with the British Lions stuff than with a lot of Mott stuff, really. A lot of respect to John. I think we had a lot of fun playing in the same band, as well. It was great to be freed from the yoke of Mott The Hoople. With Mott, a lot of people didnt understand that that wasnt Mott The Hoople. We didnt want to keep the name, any of the name, Mott The Hoople, but the record company insisted and there was not much we could do.
K2K: I liked Shouting And Pointing from Mott.
DG: Yeah, it was a good album to do. One of the things that screwed up Mott The Hoople was that somebody suddenly decided that we had to have hit singles every six or eight weeks. It was never that kind of group to have regular hit singles. It was all over. More to the point was that we should have made one good album per year, if possible.
K2K: Did you have any hits off of the first British Lions album?
DG: Oh no, no, no.
K2K: Well, you had two songs that got airplay here.
DG: Oh, in the States? Yeah, we actually got airplay in the States. We didnt get any airplay in England, just the John Peel show. John was a friend of John [Fiddlers] anyway. Its strange talking about those times now because in never would have thought that in late 1978 would be the last time I would be in America. Weve never been to the States since. That was a great blow. It was always great being in the U.S. That, what turned out to be the last time in America, was the best fun that Ive ever had there. We met a lot of great people at that time.
K2K: So, did you get the tour cut short while out here?
DG: It didnt get cut short. It just didnt get extended like we thought it would. At least through Thanksgiving or Christmas of 1978. We just got sent home.
K2K: I understood that you got sent home to immediately do the second album.
DG: Hmmm... it was just crazy. Of course Ray, the guitarist, fell ill on the third day of recording which was a terrible blow. We wanted to do things as an ensemble. We would do a bit of bass drum first and the high hat, that kind of modern day of working - which was just starting to happen then. We wanted to play as a group. Of course we couldnt do that. The management was saying, Oh, perhaps we should sack Ray Major. Get rid of him. We cant have people getting ill like that. It wasnt his fault.
K2K: The impression that I got about the second album was that you, as a band, werent really ready to do it.
DG: No. Thats true enough. It rehearsed quite well. Its astonishing that, again a tribute to John Fiddler, he came up with a lot of good songs very quickly. Just out of nowhere. We just rehearsed them. Then we got to the studio and we hadnt a lead guitarist for a couple of days. That just threw a huge spanner into the works. Then you have the thing of the management coming in and whispering, Should we get rid of the guitarist? Its so corrosive, that kind of stuff.
K2K: I thought that Trouble With Women was a bit weaker than the first album. I thought that the first album caught a bit quicker.
DG: Yeah, well that one wed rehearsed before going into the studio, and we did it as a band. It was almost done track by track. So, yeah, I would agree with you. Although I like Trouble With Women. There are elements that are very good. But, the first album is much more cohesive. Yeah.
K2K: Are there any other tracks that might surface some day?
DG: Not really, no. There were a couple of back tracks that we were going to put on as bonus tracks. The way they were mixed was quite interesting. They were Morgan Fishers ideas and using different drum sounds and blah, blah, blah. In the end, there wasnt space to put those on the disc. I dont know. They might come up but they are really of minor interest. It gets a bit geeky, that level of looking into these recordings.
K2K: Did Trouble With Women come out two years after the band broke up?
DG: I think it came out in 1981 on Cherry Red Records. The record companies that we were signed to, none of them would release it. So it just had to sit and wait over the years.
K2K: So it was just one big, bad luck after another. Thats what it sounds like.
DG: Yeah, but thats life. (laughs)
K2K: Where did you get the name British Lions?
DG: It was a compromise. We were looking for a name that couldnt be a punk style name. Otherwise we would have been accused of trying that bandwagon. We just traded names. We were going to be called Big Ben originally. We were going to have - this is very Spinal Tap - a model of the Big Ben on stage.
K2K: A small model or a big model?
DG: It would probably, yeah, be the four-inch-high one. (laughs) It was going to ring before we came on. You get the tolling of the Big Ben. That went by the board and we just went with the British Lions. We had called ourselves the Lions for the first year.
K2K: Was it named after the rugby team?
DG: They did use some pictures of rugby players on some of the advertising, yeah.
K2K: Speaking of pictures - Who are the incredible women on the inside CD cover?
DG: Uh, telephone numbers? (laughs)
K2K: Sure. That too. (laughs) I heard that one of them is your ex-wife.
DG: Yeah, the blonde, left-hand side. That was just a montage that I made years ago. It was going to be called Trouble With Women Productions. It was going to be business cards and all. It never went into production. I think that they were all British models at the time from the mid to late 70s.
K2K: In your liner notes to one CD, you had talked about Michael Schenker, of UFO, expressing interest in joining British Lions. Is that true?
DG: Oh yeah. Yeah. It was weird because he was quite the guitar god then. He married [Overend] Watts ex-girlfriend, Pam. They had a couple of beautiful kids. Watts has got a picture - I think that Pam had come over to his place about ten years ago with some gorgeous kids. But, it was a very violent marriage there - one way or another.
K2K: There was a rumor, that I have not been able to substantiate to date, about Michael and his wife and kids - regarding some violent behavior.
DG: With the girl who used to be Watts girlfriend, he threw her out of a limo - alone - in Tokyo. They just left her there, not in a very good condition. But, she was pretty volatile herself, so I dont quite know what the truth of the matter is.
K2K: Why would Michael have offered his services to you though? Was there trouble in paradise with UFO already?
DG: No idea. Its a weird thing. We couldnt understand it and we already had a lead guitarist. It was a bit strange for him [Ray Major]. We werent, like, negotiating or anything. He [Michael] was just around and interested. You know, like dogs sniff each other. It was a bit like that. But nothing ever came of it. Although, again, there was some talk of a Mott The Hoople reunion back around 1980. Hunter was there, Watts was there, I was there, Morgan Fisher was there - and Michael Schenker was there! At one point, we were going to book a studio and do some recording, but then we sobered up a bit and forgot all about it. (laughs)
We were in a hotel for 24 hours, just drinking. I cant drink like that. A couple of small drinks and I fall asleep. We were drinking for 24 hours solid. I was stone cold sober at the end of it. I had not stopped drinking. I have never done that before and never done that since. Its impossible. I would get more and more drunk and collapse. Become unconscious. Everyone was there. We were all sitting around 24 hours later, quite bright and chirpy and talking. Quite normal. Quite an unusual 24 hours. Yet again, nothing came out of it.
K2K: What about the story with Frank Zappa?
DG: Oh God. This is when we had the phony Mott The Hoople. It was between the finish of Mott and the beginning of British Lions. We had been helping this guy, Steve Hyams, out with some demos he was doing. It was Ray Major playing guitar, Watts on bass, Morgan Fisher and me. We did these demos with Hyams. Steve Hyams was a friend of Watts for years back. Having done the demos, Hyams then had these managers come and talk to us - the guys in the group Mott. They were saying, Why dont you guys do this as Mott The Hoople? Why dont you record with Steve as Mott The Hoople? We said because we couldnt. It wouldnt be right. They said, Look at Fleetwood Mac. They get women in and American women in and still call themselves Fleetwood Mac. Its sort of the same thing, isnt it? We then thought of who could give us a good opinion of what wed done with Steve Hyams. We took them to Frank Zappa.
I dont know quite how we got a hold of him. Quite why he bothered to talk with us, I dont know. He invited us up to his suite in Dorchester and sat and listened to these fucking terrible demos. They were quite good songs but the recording process was terrible. [Frank] had produced the group Grand Funk Railroad and got a fantastic sound out of them. He was saying, Why do you want to talk to me? I do complicated shit. I said, Yeah, but you did Grand Funk Railroad and got a great sound out of them. He said, No, no, no. I didnt get a great sound. The group sounded great. I just sat there and let them play. What he was saying was, you have to sound great. Forget producers and engineers. First, you have to sound good and play well. It was so true and very, very honest. He could have said, Oh yeah, I can get a fantastic sound but youd have to pay me a million dollars... and all this kind of bulls***. He was fantastic. Very straightforward, no nonsense, but not rude. He was very, very polite and very instructive. He was a very intelligent man. [His passing] was a great loss.
K2K: How are the sales doing with the new re-releases?
DG: [Angel Air head] Peter seems happy enough. I dont know. Its a reasonably small, but high quality operation. The great thing with Angel Air is that they put all their money into the sound of the thing and into the art and the booklet. Then they put them out and pray to God that they sell and that they can recoup. Peter takes the decision to release a bands album and feels it is then up to him and his team to sell it. He takes the responsibility and doesnt hassle the artists. Its great to have him there. Everything he has said he would do, he has done. He has always been completely straight with us, which is really unusual in the music business - over here anyway. He has been great to work with. He always makes sure that everything is as good as can possibly be. He gives us the best possible quality that he can.
You know how, when major labels do a reissue of anything, you get the barest of details about anything. Its like when Sony released Mott The Hoople stuff over here, it was the cheapest that they could possibly do - and they expected quite high prices.
And with that, it was time to end. We finished chatting in a short while after talking about finding some old friends and such whom he had met while touring out in the S.F. Bay Area. A great chat with one of the legends.
Added footnote: Dale wrote to me after the interview to add this note about the British Lions.
DG: I loved being in the British Lions. John Fiddler was a tremendous frontman, and a fine singer and songwriter. Ray Major was a gifted guitarist, team player, and "The Rager." Morgan Fisher seduced, massaged and got into foreplay with his keyboards - or mashed, trashed and crashed them - depending upon his whim. Cut Morgan in half and you'll find that music runs right the way through him. Overend Watts' relentless bass hammering, plus his too-little credited musical arrangement and enhancement abilities rooted the band and suited the band. I always felt that I was in good company.
Written by Philip Anderson