As guitarist for Mott the Hoople, Mick Ralphs’ incisive guitar lines helped define the sound of 1970s rock, most notably on their enduring hit All The Young Dudes, written by David Bowie. Despite this, he was a laggard on the guitar, he explains.
“I actually didn’t start playing until I was 18 because music when I was young was a bit ‘bubblegum’: like Cliff Richard and Bobby Vee. And I didn’t really like it. all this until I heard Green Onions and I thought, “What the hell is this? “I finally found out it was through Booker T and the MGs, and then I got into this.”
Despite Mick’s indifference to the pop sounds of the 1950s, American-made guitars used by bands like The Shadows sparked his interest.
“I remember Cliff Richard went to America and brought back a Fender Strat for Hank Marvin and it was like something from space. So even though I didn’t like The Shadows I had a photo on my wall of the pink Strat he had. I just loved looking at it – because you couldn’t get them in England at the time. “
Mick’s affinity for Fender guitars served him well when he left Mott The Hoople in 1973 to found Bad Company with Paul Rodgers of Free. Mick explains that he used a ’57 Fender Esquire tuned to open C for Bad Company’s classic blues-rock anthem, Can’t Get Enough.
“Because it’s just a mic, it’s really hot – you get more gain out of it, I think. Plus, the neck pickup on a Tele has always been a waste of time, as far as I’m concerned. : he doesn’t have any balls at that. I’m not much of a country coach – I like a nice, beefy, hot sound. I saw an old Muddy Waters music video the other day – and he was playing an old Fender Esquire. I like the simplicity of this one: two buttons, one mic. “
Despite this, Mick says it was Gibson’s solid-body guitars and non-master volume Marshall amps that provided the courageous guitar sounds of his earlier work in Mott The Hoople, from the band’s early years when playing under the name of The Shakedown Sound.
“At that time I was using a Les Paul ‘SG’ before they got valuable,” he explains, referring to the short-lived SG-shaped Les Paul model that Gibson made from 1961 until ‘Les requests that his name be removed from the lineup. and it was officially renamed “Solid Guitar” in 1963. Later, it abandoned the humbuckers for Les Paul Goldtops and Juniors equipped with P-90s.
Fittingly, Mick will be using Gibson electrics for November’s shows with Mott The Hoople, but he says a chambered Les Paul Custom Shop is his main push these days – a light choice motivated by his experience of trying. a number of vintage Les Pauls over the years.
“I’ve had [late-’50s] sunbursts over the years, ”he explains. “Some have been great, others less. But I found the lighter ones had a much softer tone. The last sunburst I bought was from the 1970s in a store in New York. And it was $ 2,100, which I thought was an absolute fortune. I felt a little guilty for buying it – but it’s nothing compared to what they do these days. “
Mick adds that while he’s a fan of the Golden Age Gibsons, he’s wary of the near-religious reverence that has developed around vintage bursts.
“My friend who’s a collector has about eight of them and I said ‘Do you already play them? And he said’ No ‘and I said’ So what’s the point? Don’t put them in a display case! C is a parody.
Mick uses his roomed Les Paul Custom Shop not only for the big Mott The Hoople shows, but for his Blues Band, which typically plays more intimate club dates. As a result, he plays it through a hand-wired combo rather than the reissue of Marshall JTM45 heads he prefers for Mott The Hoople gigs.
“With my blues band I use a little amp called Holland, which is pretty rare, but it has the most wonderful sound. It’s based on an old Fender design – it’s probably what you would call an amp. shop, like Matchless, but they only made them for a short time. It’s only 40 watts, so it’s not good for big gigs, but it has the tone and it’s wonderful. “
Check out Guitarist magazine issue 375, on sale November 15, for our full interview with Mick, in which he shares his memories of working with David Bowie on Mott The Hoople’s flagship track All The Young Dudes, explores his collection of vintage guitars and describes his years working with Paul Rodgers in Bad Company.
- Mott The Hoople is set to perform one of his biggest UK concerts at the O2 Arena in London on Monday November 18 as part of a full UK tour. For more information and tickets visit www.aeglive.co.uk