How Queen made Sheer Heart Attack and laid the foundations of their future
By Dave Everley
November 7, 2021
While Queen’s star was rising in the UK, America was another matter. Barely known beyond a few Anglophile hipsters, they would need to start from scratch to build up anything resembling a Stateside following. Handily, their friends in Mott The Hoople were there to help them out again.
“We went out on tour with them. They were very nice people,” says Mott’s Ian Hunter. “Very intelligent. So we said, ‘Okay, do you want to come to America as well?’”
On April 16, Queen played their first US show, in Denver, Colorado as support to Mott. Remarkably, despite the band’s name and Mercury’s stagecraft, the more macho sections of the American audiences didn’t take against them.
“They were more like a normal group,” Hunter recalls. “They were playing rock songs, but with their own slant on it. They did say that they picked up a lot of their stagecraft from Mott, you know? You’ve got to pick it up from somewhere.”
This big-brother-little-brother dynamic was evident off stage, as was the support band’s desire to be successful. At one point the two bands found themselves staying in a set of apartments owned by Spartacus star Kirk Douglas.
“There was a bit of a do in my room,” says Ian Hunter, “and Fred’s marching up and down saying: ‘When are these silly bastards going to figure it out?’ Meaning the Americans. I said to him: ‘It’s a big country, you’ve got to go around three or four times before it happens. It’s not like England, where you can conquer it in a day!’ He was very, very impatient. It was hilarious.”
The Olympian levels of debauchery that became synonymous with Queen were a few years away, but there were still some memorable moments. Not least when the tour crossed paths with Bette Midler, then a brassy singer who’d made her name on New York’s gay bath-house circuit.
“She was doing a theatre in the same town as us,” Hunter remembers. “She latched onto Luther (Grovesnor, aka Mott guitarist Ariel Bender). And then we had Bette’s mob come back to the hotel with us. There was us, Queen, Bette and these seven-foot guys in feather head-dresses and what have you. Ha ha! It was so much fun.”