Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mick Ronson: A Hall of Famer in Any League

There's currently a push being put on to get Mick Ronson placed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  A complete no brainer.  One of the most obvious selections available.  Ronson was the most valuable player on every team he ever joined.

As David Bowie's guitarist and musical director, Ronson created as much of the Ziggy sound as Bowie.  Whether it came from his spitfire guitar work, his excellent piano work (Lady Stardust), his brilliant background vocals,or his prodigious arranging skills, Ziggy's sound does not exist without Ronno.

I just finished listening to the old bootleg of Bowie and The Spiders at the Santa Monica Civic in 1972, and am amazed once again at just how powerful a figure Ronson could be.  There's very little audible piano work by Mike Garson (unfortunately), so it's largely left to Mick to provide the melodic underpinnings for Bowie's vocals, and it's a tour de force.  Using just a Les Paul, an American Tonebender, a wah pedal and a Marshall Major 200 watt amp, Ronson paints amazing tone pictures on every tune.  His performances on Width of a Circle, and Moonage Daydream put him at a place Jeff Beck never really got to in terms of explosive guitar-work within the framework of a song.  By staying clean and sparse on verses and intros, his fireworks are all the more amazing when he kicks on the distortion and the wah pedal.  For rock and roll wah work, Ronson stands with German guitar wiz Michael Schenker.  These two both made the wah-wah a major part of their repertoires and it's a huge part of their distinctive signatures and a root of their expressiveness.

In the studio with Bowie, Mick Ronson played a role that cannot be downplayed in any way.  Listen to Bowie's work prior to Ronson's joining up, and it's all to clear.  Ronson gave Bowie a sense of melodic sophistication only hinted at earlier.  By Hunky Dory, Ronno's role grew to loom as large as Bowie's.  His arrangements, especially his string arrangements, rival anyone's in rock and roll history, and I'm including John, Paul, and George Martin here.  Perhaps only The Beatles were as accomplished as Bowie in terms of arrangement strength.  Bowie and Ronson together jumped from music hall to space rock in the blink of an eye, doing both as well as had ever been done, and never making it sound forced or incongruous.

When The Spiders had grown to big for their britches, and Bowie had bounced them, Ronson took a swing at solo stardom, a role he performed well, but did not relish.  Any fan of glam or guitar rock in general needs to give his second solo LP, Play Don't Worry a listen.  The title track is angelic perfection, incredibly well written, sang, played and produced.  Guitar fans can witness perhaps the pinnacle of wah pedal perfection on Ronson's cover of the Pure Prairie League nugget, Angel #9.  His tone on this tune is perfection, it damned near makes me cry, it's so good.  His vocals are surprisingly strong as well, for a guy people said wasn't a singer.  The album has other grand gifts as well, in the guise of tunes such as, The Empty Bed, and the Lou Reed/New York scene influenced, Billy Porter.  Another listen to solo Ronson is warranted.  Much better than what you can read in old press clippings, which were predisposed to put the guitarist in his place.

From there it was off to a great many years as the musical foil to Mott the Hoople visionary Ian Hunter.  Ronson had, of course, briefly joined the final version of The Hoople, but it really ended before it began, excepting his brilliant guitar solo on the band's final single, Saturday Gigs, recently referred to as, "the greatest song ever written about being in a band."  True enough.

Ronson did the same thing for Hunter that he had done for Bowie, helping a brilliant writer shine even brighter through the presence and musicality of Mick Ronson. 

I saw the Hunter/Ronson Band open a show for Cheap Trick at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum in 1980.  It may have been the best performance by a band that I have ever witnessed.  The love and partnership between the two musicians trumped anything I can think of off the top of my head, and I've seen many, many amazing performances.  They owned the stage and tore through a tremendous selection of Hunter/Mott classics.  In 1980, not many bands were capable of blowing Cheap Trick off the stage.  That night the Hunter/Ronson Band decimated them, and I say that with great respect to the Tricksters, one of the greatest bands in rock history.  They were just that good that night.  So good that Cheap Trick's management/crew turned on the house lights before the final notes of the opener's set had died.  I smile recalling Ian Hunter hurling a full Heinekin beer acroos the stage in anger.  Still, all was patched up by the time of Trick's encore, which had Hunter and Ronson out for The Beatles's Daytripper.  A night of rock and roll bliss, my friends.

There are many great moments of Ronson's greatness throughtout Hunter's solo years.  I'll leave them for you to search out and discover (that's half the fun -I ain't playing that internet shit of spoon feeding you everything you need to know).  There's a ton of them and they're all worth the search.  Go find 'em, then immediately if you have not yet done so, go to and place your vote for Ronson's rightful place in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There's much more to Ronno's great career, I didn't even touch on his time with Dylan, McGuiness, Lou Reed, Elton John, or many others.  It's out here, go find it.

But please, please hit that petition and let's get maybe the best sidekick lead guitarist in the history of rock where he belongs.

I gotta mention Ronson's work on Lou Reed's Transformer album.  Yeah, it's down as a Bowie production, but I hear a huge dose of Ronson all over this brilliant record.  His work on the classic tune, Perfect Day, by itself should be enough to get that Hall nomination.

Mick Ronson, rock god extraordinaire.

No comments: