THE LAST TIME Ian Hunter played Portland—a 2001 appearance with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band notwithstanding—was when the sunglasses-sporting rocker appeared with the late Mick Ronson at Starry Night (now the Roseland) in October 1988. Nearly 24 years later, he's returning with a new record and a back catalog of material, both from his solo albums and his days with Mott the Hoople that should be the envy of every living songwriter.
Hunter's career has flitted around the margins of popular music while never fully settling in the spotlight. Even Mott the Hoople, whose esteem slowly, steadily grew since the legendary British band's breakup in 1974, never fully got their due. Make no mistake—Mott the Hoople was one of the greatest, most powerful bands to ever weave thunder out of three basic chords, and Hunter is the architect of some of the best rock tracks ever penned: "All the Way from Memphis." "I Wish I Was Your Mother." "Once Bitten, Twice Shy." "Cleveland Rocks." Any serious rock 'n' roll fan not familiar with these songs is kidding themselves.
Despite its title, Hunter says his latest album, When I'm President, is his least political in years. "As you get older, there's less boy-girl," he says. "It gets more difficult because lyrically you've covered a lot of ground and you're trying not to repeat yourself. I read a lot of American history, which is really interesting because it's more recent. English history goes back such a long way that it's hard to get a hold of, but with your sort of stuff—like, Wyatt Earp died in 1929 and I was born in 1939. And so it's nearer to your hand, y'know what I mean? I seem to have gone through politics and wound up there. But basically, it's just songs that came to me. I didn't go out looking. And I like them all. Usually, there's a couple that I'm never too sure about on most records I do, but I quite like this record all the way through."
At 73, Hunter is in shockingly excellent voice, howling like an angry young man on "What For" and finding strength in tenderness on "Fatally Flawed." He's energized by his current band: "I went out in the fall with my band and that's what got me going. We did about 20 dates, and it was like, oh, this band's playing with me, they're not playing for me. That's when we thought we got to get this, we've got to go now, go in the studio."
Basic tracks were recorded in four days at Peter Moshay's studio in Pawling, New York, with Hunter and guitarist/co-producer Andy York spending another nine days overdubbing and mixing—a remarkably speedy process. "I remember on one album, I think it was The Hoople, we sat there for a month trying to get a drum sound," says Hunter. "Which is insane, you know? It takes half an hour now."
When I'm President is Hunter's first album since Mott the Hoople played five shows in London in October 2009. "That was great, it really was," he says of the reunion. "Mott's a different sound, and it's fabulous, it's great, but there's a lot of friction business-wise. Playing with them and rehearsing with them was great. I loved it. We'll never get in the studio because of business—it's impossible. But live, yeah, it was all there. The X factor, everything."