When Joe Elliott did his interview rounds timed with his band Def Leppard’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he didn’t want to talk about himself. Instead, he used the platform to evangelize for his favorite band, British glam-rock heroes Mott the Hoople. He even had Mott’s singer, Ian Hunter, join Def Leppard for the 2019 Hall of Fame ceremony’s finale performance of Mott’s most famous song, the David Bowie-penned anthem “All the Young the Dudes.”
“This is our all-star jam… it's full circle,” Elliott tells Yahoo Entertainment as he recalls his thoughts during the special Hall performance, which also included Brian May, Steven Van Zandt, the Zombies, and Susanna Hoffs. “It's the song that's really got me wanting to do all this, and now we're actually closing out our induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — with that song. It's like licking the envelope, shut.”
You could say Elliott is on a rock ‘n’ roll mission when it comes to Hoople and Hunter. “It became a mission. Yeah, I'm definitely on a mission,” he asserts. “I don't have to sit here and talk about me. Def Leppard takes care of itself. I'm happy to talk about it, but I'm not me, me, me, me, me. I'd rather talk about other bands.”
Elliott, in fact, is talking about his other band, the supergroup Down ‘n’ Outz — which initially formed in 2009 specifically to open for a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. The one-off event was so well-received that it turned into a full-fledged side-project, with the Down ‘n’ Outz – whose current lineup features Paul Guerin, Guy Griffin, and Keith Weir of the London Quireboys, Share Ross of Vixen, and esteemed veteran drummer Phil Martini — now releasing their third album (and first album of almost all original songs), This Is How We Roll.
“The passion for Mott the Hoople came when I was 10,” explains Elliott. “I heard Ian sing a song called ‘The Original Mixed Up Kid’ on one of these compilation records, and I just totally fell in love with the story, the lyric, the voice. And then I realized he sounded a lot like Bob Dylan. But for some reason I hate Bob Dylan, but I love Ian Hunter's version of Bob Dylan. Ian was just Dylanesque — but better, I thought. And he just had this kind of loner vibe. There was something about him.
“It was a great cacophony that [Mott] made; individually they weren't necessarily the best musicians in the world, but they made a hell of a sound. But the important thing was the songs were brilliant. They made great songs, and they made commentary five years before its time. A lot of people will hear a song like ‘Violence’ off the 1973 album and realize that he was actually talking about what would happen in London three years later when the punk movement started to kick off. … Rumor has it that when a young Freddie Mercury was watching Mott on tour, they were playing this song ‘Marionette,’ and because it's deemed a mini-opera, it's quite possible that — and even the guys in Queen said, ‘Yeah, I can see that’ — it was the inspiration behind ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ So there's a lot of leakage that went into the other stuff. But I can't really explain why I like Mott the Hoople, I just do. … For me, it was the melodies and the chills.”
Elliott made it his mission even as a young boy to educate people about Mott the Hoople, but his classmates in native Sheffield, England, were unimpressed — until “All the Young Dudes” came out.
“The thing was, I'd been telling all these kids at school about Mott when they were still signed to Island Records, like, ‘You’re missing out on this thing!’” he recalls. “And then, unbeknownst to us as it'd been going on under the radar, [Mott the Hoople] had moved over to [Tony] DeVries [David Bowie’s manager]. Bowie had given him their song, they recorded ‘All the Young Dudes,’ and all of a sudden, the whole world changed. Everybody's world changed. You can have this conversation with Morrissey, Boy George, Duran Duran, me, half the punk bands on the planet. When they heard ‘All The Young Dudes,’ it was a wakeup call: ‘There is something for us out there.’ … As a 12-year-old, when I first heard ‘All the Young Dudes,’ that and T. Rex’s Electric Warrior a year before set me on my path.” (Incidentally, if Elliott could root for any other artist besides Mott to get into the Rock Hall, it’d be Marc Bolan and T. Rex.)
Elliott is no stranger to performing cover songs — along with the Down ‘n’ Outz, he has also played in the Bowie cover band the Cybernauts with his Def Leppard bandmate Phil Collen and actual former Spiders From Mars members Trevor Bolder and Mick "Woody" Woodmansey. In fact, Def Leppard got their start in Sheffield clubs doing covers of their favorite artists, ranging from Bowie’s “Suffragette City” to even the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant,” out of sheer necessity.
“We had no option but to play some covers, because you couldn't get into venues unless you did. Certain places that we played you were supposed to be a cover band, because the clientele needed to hear stuff they knew,” Elliott says, adding with a laugh: “We used to get around that by saying, ‘Here's a song by…’ And then do one of ours! You know, we'd say it was by Des O'Connor or Foreigner or whatever. We would say, ‘This is a song by a Tony Orlando and Dawn,’ and we'd blast into [Def Leppard’s] ‘Hello, America.’ And they the guy would pay us and go, ‘I wasn't so familiar with a lot of them songs, but it seems to have gone quite well, so we'll have you back!’”
Moot the Hoople embarked on a much-hyped concert tour earlier this year, but now that the remaining dates have been sadly canceled due to Hunter’s severe tinnitus, it seems more important than ever that the bands get its Rock & Roll Hall of Fame due. Elliott doesn’t honestly know why this didn’t happen 30 years ago, when Hunter, known for his Drew Carey-popularized solo song “Cleveland Rocks,” actually played a benefit in 1989 to help build the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame museum. Elliott flew in to Cleveland to join Hunter for the gig, which also included Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson and the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones. “This was a fundraiser for the museum, so you'd think he'd be in it, you know what I mean?” Elliott shrugs. “So it's like, get him in now!”
Elliott has long complained that Hall voters tend to be more U.S.-centric, but five of this year’s seven inductees were British, which is an encouraging sign for future ballots. And the fact that all of the inducted members of Def Leppard can now vote for the Class of 2020 further improves Mott’s odds. “If there's a problem with the Hall of Fame, it's that it doesn't have a London branch. I think [Mott the Hoople’s] very Britishness is what's the block, because there are not enough Americans that realize how important that was in 1972 in the U.K.,” he says. “Just because they didn't sell gazillion records in America, they've still got value.”
In another full-circle development, Def Leppard and Mott the Hoople now share the same management, so Elliott and Hunter have had many opportunities to spend time together lately. So, have they had any conversations during which Hunter has expressed his gratitude or amazement for all the campaigning that Elliott and Def Leppard have done for him?
“He looked me in the eye and he went — well, through his shades – ‘I know what you're trying to do,’” Elliott chuckles as he remembers one recent encounter. “And I'm like, ‘What?’ And he says, ‘You're trying to make me famous.’”
Watch Joe Elliott’s extended, very music-nerdy Yahoo Entertainment interview, which practically seems like a rock ‘n’ roll Ted Talk, below.
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