It was the cover of Mott The Hoople Live that hooked me. With its crisscrossing blue and red lights, front line of three rock warriors, and bass player Overend Watts’ outrageously colorful getup, it was hard to resist. The back cover was equally impressive, with the lurid purple-tinged lighting and marionettes hanging above the stage. I first saw the LP at my local record store and bought it on the spot. I didn’t even know that the local band on which I had recently cut my rock and roll teeth was named after a Mott song: “Threads of Iron.”
The sonic contents were no disappointment, either. I thought of it as sheer balls rock and roll, with a crunching guitar attack led by one Ariel Bender, aka Luther Gosvenor. The cheekiness of his sobriquet only added to the intrigue. Bender was only with Mott for the live album and one studio platter, The Hoople. But he made a big impression on me with his screaming lead sound that soared over the top of an extremely tight band in which Watts’ heavy bass, a bevy of keyboards and the distinctly modern sounding drumming of Dale “Buffin” Griffith provided more than a little weight.
Critics of the original single LP version always point to the back cover, which features a picture of the band playing “Marionette,” a song that doesn’t appear on the record! Big Deal! Awesome photo! Ariel Bender at right with Les Paul Junior.
The highlights of the LP of course include the David Bowie penned “All The Young Dudes” which is credited with saving Mott’s career. The studio version sounds great on the radio but I really love the live version with AB’s quintessential glam rock lead guitar, perhaps even more glam than the glam-master himself – the great Mick Ronson – or was original Mott axeman Mick Ralphs the glam-master? All three guitarists are truly great stuff. Ronson’s sound is more of the cocked-wah variety, while Ralphs plays a more traditional, sweet Les Paul sound.
Backstage shenanigans with Freddie Mercury, left - Queen was the opening act on the tour! The Mott Live album was recorded half on Broadway in NYC and half at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon in London.
It’s true that Bender is playing a lot of Mick Ralphs’ lines. But he’s adding in a lot of his own and he’s playing everything with such gusto, including the rhythm parts, that it boosts the energy level up a couple of notches. He has such a scorching tone and monumental sustain, that it is a perfect example of what I call the “fire sound.” The fire sound is a rare achievement. Every good guitarist hits upon it once in a while, most often in their bedroom. But as they say, every musician in the orchestra is great in their bedroom (!), but the concert master can do it in front of a packed house. AB can keep it going at will.
At the beginning of another standout cut, “Walking with a Mountain,” Ian Hunter shouts, “I’d like to introduce you to Ariel Bender!” So, you know there’s going to be some pyrotechnics. He tosses out hyper-drive Chuck Berry licks from the original song itself, while occasionally slipping in these long and speedy Middle Eastern inspired one string pull-off runs, and caps the tune with a solo rampage before the big drums and final band hit. Luther was mainly playing a Les Paul Junior and it seems that most of his fierce sound is just guitar and amp. He does whip out a Fender Strat for some whammy licks and slide guitar but these only show up on the Deluxe Edition (another reason to buy it!)
Luther on the right with a white Strat and slide.
One of the great things about London rock bands is that it's permitted, no almost expected that they will ape the Who at one point or another. In that spirit, the big medley that is the climax to Mott's Hammersmith show reeks of power and energy to spare with a dose of humor thrown in for good measure. Weaving in “Jerkin Crocus,” a taste of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” “One of the Boys,” Mick Ralphs’ riff from “Can’t Get Enough,” “Rock & Roll Queen,” “Get Back” by the Beatles, a tiny tip of the hat to the Jean Genie, some “Whole Lotta Shakin’,” and Mott’s classic, “Violence,” the boys show why they were one of the greatest live bands of that or any era.
I’ve tried to get in touch with Grosvenor in order to talk playing technique, guitars and amps, but so far my entreaties have failed to get through. I did see an awesome video of him playing at a blues festival in the UK where he displayed some of what would seem to me his roots style, a Jeff Beck influenced ability to wring all sorts of cool sounds and interesting approaches from a basic Fender Stratocaster and house amp.
This is definitely an album that comes with a back story. If you don’t have it already, what are you waiting for? A lot has been said about the track listing as compared to the import double album. There isn’t space here to do an in-depth comparison of the two releases. Suffice it to say, the sound and performances on the single LP issue are consistently amazing. They don’t make them like this anymore! -Christian Botta