Fans of Ian Hunter have but one mental picture of him: the mound of corkscrew blond hair, the oversized dark glasses so permanently attached to his face that you'd think he was born with them on, and the clenched mouth with no trace of a smile.
How many other rock stars on the scene for 35 years have possessed such an unchanging image with the public?
"I had short hair when I auditioned for [Mott the Hoople]," Hunter says. "And I showed up in a three-piece corduroy suit, no shades."
That was in 1969. Hunter's hair wasn't exactly short, but his Elvis pompadour was a far cry from the halo of yellow curls that soon made him to Mott the Hoople what Jim Morrison was to the Doors.
"Everybody looked like that back then," Hunter says. "It was the thing to do. Silly, really. But now they all have shaved heads, which looks just as bad. Nothing really changes."
Hunter fired off a musical zinger or two during his five seasons with Mott the Hoople. "Pearl and Roy" spun a tale of disaffected working-class youth in the band's native England back in 1974. "Crash Street Kidds" predicted the blue-collar street battles that the Clash later chronicled in songs like "White Riot" and "English Civil War."
Hunter moved to the United States in 1975, shortly after a breakdown caused by exhaustion convinced him to leave Mott the Hoople. His most famous post-Hoople song -- thanks to The Drew Carey Show -- was "Cleveland Rocks." He never understood why comedians on late-night talk shows made sport of the city that was one of the first in America to embrace his band.
Despite warbling "Rock and roll's a loser's game" on 1973's "Ballad of Mott the Hoople," and despite his dismay over Hoople being thrown in with the androgynous glam-rock movement ("We were a rock-and-roll band, not glam"), Hunter pressed on and now has 10 studio albums and two live discs (Strings Attached, a live set recorded in Oslo, will be released in December) to his credit. He's come far from his beginnings in the early 1960s as a working-class Shropshire lad in a skiffle band.
"Guys like me wind up working in factories. I knew I didn't want to do that, so I had to join a band. It was either that or football, and I was crap at football, so the band was all there was."