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Mott the Hoople and Bad Company legend Mick Ralphs is back in Hereford for homecoming gig
WHEN a teenage Mick Ralphs first heard Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs a light went on and he embarked on a 50-year musical journey that led him from his native Herefordshire to the rock arenas of heartland America - having played a seminal role in founding not one, but two iconic bands along the way.
Not bad for a former Bromyard Grammar lad who started his career at the local electricity board.
Next week that journey brings him back to the county he was born in, when the Mott the Hoople and Bad Company guitarist graces the stage at Hereford’s Jailhouse with his eponymously-named blues band.
But don’t be fooled into thinking the 69-year-old axe man is keeping it low key these days. This year has seen him venture forth from his Henley home to tour the States with Bad Company, sharing the bill with Lynard Skynard, and in the UK he’s been on the road with Mott the Hoople – culminating in a gig at London’s O2.
“The blues band is something I started up when there wasn’t much happening – it’s a few mates playing little venues and having fun,” he said.
For Mick, the blues has always been and will always be a touchstone.
“I love that Chicago blues sound –the Chess Records artists, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon.
“When we were last on tour we went to Chess – it’s a museum now and we were privileged to actually met Willie Dixon’s widow.
“Theire sound is about playing simply and with feeling - you listen to some of the old recordings and maybe the notes aren’t clean or the guitar’s a bit out of tune, but it really doesn’t matter.”
It’s that simplicity and feeling that Mick brings to his own playing and indeed his band’s latest CD release, Should Know Better, is recorded live – raw and as it comes.
And for this blues devotee, it’s always been about being real and having some edge.
“I wasn’t really into pop music or getting into a band at first – I liked Chuck Berry – but there was all this stuff in the charts like Cliff Richard and Bobby Vee and it didn’t do anything for me.
“Then I heard Green Onions and that was it – overnight I wanted to play.”
By the late 60s Mick, from Stoke Lacy, and Mott the Hoople – most of whom – bar singer Ian Hunter, came together from Herefordshire were recording and touring, but it wasn’t until their fifth album that they tasted real success.
“We were very frustrated I think, touring and playing gigs was great, and we had a real cult following, but we definitely wanted success.”
And the band was granted that wish when David Bowie, hearing they were on the verge of splitting offered them a couple of tracks.
“I didn’t even know he’d heard of us, but he was a bit of a fan. He told us not to split up and offered us All the Young Dudes and Suffragette City.
“We loved All the Young Dudes and that was what did it. Before that we seemed to struggle to write hit songs, but then Ian seemed to find the knack after that.”
With the success of that song, fame came at last to the band, but at a price.
“Something changed after that, it wasn’t the same anymore – it was hard work in the early days but we enjoyed it.”
Once the door was opened to fame and success, there was only one way to go for Mick.
Getting to know Free vocalist Paul Rodgers during a Mott tour – Rodgers was opening them with his new outfit – he discovered a kindred musical spirit.
“I had a lot of songs written which weren’t really Mott tracks – I played some with Paul and he loved them.”
“We were originally going to just record a few of them but it grew from that.”
With the addition of former Free drummer Simon Kirke and King Crimson bass player Bozz Burrell the pair had founded one of the 70s most celebrated rock acts, Bad Company.
Cue a raft of top-selling albums and hits – particularly over the pond, where the band still command huge arena audiences.
“It was a different performance thing with Bad Company – it was about projecting yourself more to bigger venues and crowds.”
This was the era of massive rock acts – Bad Company shared the same manager – Led Zeppelin’s Peter Grant a truly larger than life personality in the music business.
“I feel very privileged to have been there,” added Mick.
But all that success doesn’t take away his love of keeping it real.
He loves the intimacy playing small venues with his blues band.
“I’ve been back regularly to see my folks, but it’s been a long time since I played in Hereford – I’m really looking forward to it.”
Mick Ralphs plays The Jailhouse in Hereford on December 18. To book call 07941 761896.
For more information on the Mick Ralphs Blues Band visit the related link above.