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|Mick Ronson - Slaughter On 10th Avenue|
After the Ziggy Stardust era ended in spectacular fashion at the Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973, the Spiders From Mars were ready for some well-deserved time off the road. While Mick Ronson was aware beforehand of Bowie's retirement plans, neither Wood nor Trevor had been told. And even afterward, neither was sure if they still had a job. Woody was given his notice over the phone on the day of his wedding day a few days later, but Trevor was spared a sacking when his planned replacement (Jack Bruce) declined the offer.
With new drummer Aynsley Dunbar in tow, the band left for France on 9 July 1973 to begin work on Bowie's next record, Pin Ups. The studio was Chateau d'Herouxville, and was chosen on a recommendation from Marc Bolan who recorded The Slider there. Located in a small castle, the studio was the inspiration for the title of Elton John's Honky Chateau LP, which was also recorded there. Pin Ups was produced by ken Scott and was to be Bowie's tribute to 1960s music. The group recorded the album in three week's time, finishing on 31 July 1973. In addition to the material intended for Pin Ups, the band also recorded a few other tracks - 'Growing Up' by Bruce Springsteen, 'Port of Amsterdam' by Jaques Brel, and two songs for Lulu, 'Watch That Man' and 'The Man Who Sold The World'. After the sessions, the entourage moved on to a villa in Rome for a short holiday.
After the retirement of Ziggy, it had been determined in the MainMan camp that Mick Ronson would be pushed into the spotlight as a solo artist. So following the holiday in Rome, David went back home to finish mixing the Pin Ups album, while Mick and the band went back to the Chateau d'Herouxville in September 1973 to begin the recording of Mick's debut solo album, Slaughter On 10th Avenue. For inspiration, Mick leaned heavily on Annette Peacock's I'm The One album, which had been a favorite of the band for quite some time. From the album, Mick recorded 'I'm The One' as well as using her arrangement of Elvis Presley's 'Love Me Tender'. The title track, an ambitious reworking of the Richard Rodgers standard, was a tour de force of both piano and guitar. David Bowie's contributions to the album were 'Growing Up and I'm Fine' and the lyrics to 'Hey Ma Get Papa' and 'Music Is Lethal'. There were also two songs co-written by Mick Ronson with Scott Richardson, 'Only After Dark' and 'Pleasure Man'. A version of 'White Light, White Heat', recorded originally recorded for Pin Ups, was considered but ultimately left off the album.
Scott Richardson had been brought into the Bowie camp by Angela Bowie, who met him through Ron Asheton of The Stooges. Richardson had been involved in the Ann Arbor music since the mid-sixties, and came to prominence with the band The SRC (The Scot Richard Case). After meeting Angela, he went to England and soon became a fixture in the Mainman organization, playing the role of Angie's lover in Bowie open marriage experiment. Aside from his entanglement in the Bowie's relationship, Scott also helped choose some of the songs for Pin Ups, and traveled to France for the Pin Ups and Slaughter on 10th Avenue sessions.
[Scott Richardson, to Paul Trynka] 'The Stooges came back from doing Raw Power, Ron introduced me to Angie and she took me to Cleveland to meet David. The Spiders From Mars were playing in Cleveland and we met and eventually I got invited to go back to England and hang out, which I did. I was there through a whole bunch of Ziggy shows and through the Aladdin Sane period and I wound up working on Pin Ups in France with them.'
During this period, Mick Ronson considered putting a new band together with Aynsley Dunbar, Trevor Bolder, and Scott Richardson. The group was to be called The Fallen Angels, but plans for the group fell through during negotiations between Tony DeFries and Scott Richardson. The band idea was shelved, although the group did form the core for the recording of Mick's album alongside Mike Garson. Later, Richardson came to terms with DeFries and moved to Los Angeles in order to record a solo album for Mainman, but that project never materialized.
After returning from the Slaughter On 10th Avenue in France, the next order of business was to promote David Bowie to the United States. Although Aladin Sane was topping the UK charts, David's success in the States was still limited. When the NBC television show The Midnight Special asked for a Bowie appearance, he responded with The 1980 Floor Show - a three-day futuristic cabaret-style event to be staged at the Marquee and filmed for the television show. Staged from 18-20 October 1973, this invitiation-only event was attended by lucky fan club members as well as celebrities and journalists. In addition to Bowie, the even also features The Troggs, Carmen, and Marianne Faithful. Bowie's new album, Pin Ups was released during the 1980 Floor Show.
Following the 1980 Floor Show, Mick Ronson collaborated with Bowie in the studio one last time, to record tracks for Bowie's musical adapatation of George Orwell's 1984 at Trident Studios in November 1973. The title track has been performed at the 1980 Floor Show - Bowie had even announced plans to tour the musical the next spring - but the project never materialized. This would be Mick Ronson's last project with David Bowie, as the pair drifted apart with David moving on to Diamond Dogs and Mick busy with preparations for his solo album. Scott Richardson offers some final thoughts on Ronson's collaboration with Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust era:
[Scott Richardson, to Paul Trynka] 'As I saw it, he was a co star of the whole thing, the Aladdin Sane period. When we recorded Pin Ups he did everything in the studio. He tuned everybody's instruments, he worked on all the arrangements. Really he worked all the time. I never saw him when he wasn’t. He was whipped from it, he was working so hard. Looking back on it now and listening back to it, he was absolutely brilliant. He was the guy responsible for the whole thing.'
In the meantime, the MainMan organization worked to get Mick Ronson's solo career underway. Final work on the Slaughter On 10th Avenue album was completed in a span of several weeks at Trident Studios in London. During this period, Mick's sister Maggi moved to London to stay with Mick, and wound up recording some backing vocals. It was quite a change of pace for her, as she recounted in The Spider With The Platinum Hair:
[Maggi Ronson, to Weird & Gilly] 'I got straight off the train and went up to Trident where they were recording Slaughter On 10th Avenue. It was really good ... basically just living in the studio for weeks. Going around the corner to the sandwich shop, it was just a totally different way of life, the studio life. You get totally removed from what is going on in the world. It was a whole way of living.'
The next order of business was to get the album cover designed. Photographer Leee Black Childers wanted to shoot the cover photos on 10th Avenue in New York, and what started as a discussion about lighting resulted in a full-scale video shoot. A short promotion film, directed by Macs McCarey, was shot in a bar and street corner on 10th Avenue in New York, with Suzi playing Mick's love interest. The plot fof the promo film ollowed the story behind the album, which Mick related to Charles Shaar Murray in an NME interview in 1973:
[Mick Ronson, to NME] 'It's about two people falling in love. At the moment, the story's about a guy in the 1980s. He's a layabout - just sort of bums around the streets, nothing special. He sees this chick and falls in love with her, just wants to be with her, and she;s a dancer in a nightclub and a prostitute as well. She falls in love with him as well in the end, and she wants to quit and go with him. But her pimp boyfriend finds out. She comes out of this club one night and he shoots her.'
With the release date for Slaughter On 10th Avenue set for March 1974, a solo tour was planned. Mick would kick off the tour with two dates at the Rainbow on 22-23 February 1974, followed by a full UK tour in April. As the album release and tour drew near, the MainMan hype machine went into overdrive. The David Bowie Fan Club were tapped to handle a fan club for Mick. Not content with the standard press kit format of an 8x10 glossy and a biography, the press material released by MainMan and the Fan Club for Ronno's album and tour included glossy color folders with posters, badges, flexidiscs, several different 8x10s, stickers, contest entry forms, tour itineraries, and anything else MainMan could dream up and stuff inside. The promotion was not restricted to the UK, either. In New York, buildings in Times Square were draped with pictures of Mick to promote the album. Record stores were given miniature Mick Ronson billboards to place atop of their cash registers. A two-page color spread in Teen Magazine included a flexidisc and a shirtless photo of Mick, with the heading "Mick Ronson. Wanna Play?"
Mick Ronson's debut concert came at the Rainbow Theatre in London, with a pair of concerts on 22-23 February 1974. His band consisted of Mark Carr-Pritchard on second guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Mike Garson on keyboards, and Ritchie Dharma on drums. The band was augmented by Thunderthighs on vocals, a five piece horn section, and the London Symphony Orchestra. The concerts were filmed and recorded by MainMan. Although the first single (Love Me Tender'/'Only After Dark') had already been issued, the concerts were inexplicably scheduled for a week before the album's release date of 1 March 1974.
Reviews of the two Rainbow gigs were mixed. Mick was clearly out of his element in his new role as a frontman, and the press - while not ready to dismiss him - was also not ready to pronounce him as star either:
[Charles Shaar-Murray in NME] 'Mick Ronson is an exceptionally gifted man. His album proves that he can sing and that he has a coherent and convincing musical identity of his own, and his live work with Bowie demonstrated that he is an exciting and original guitarist as well as a fine live performer. But Friday's show proved that he cannot hope for super-stardom by divine right, which is what all Mainman's hype and flummery was trying to set him up for ... What's needed now is a lot of hard work.'
The April tour saw Mick and the band (retaining Thunderthighs and the brass section, but dropping the orchestra) play 13 dates in England and Scotland. Reviews improved steadily as the tour progressed, and by the end Mick had managed to win over most of the journalists covering the tour. Consensus in the media, as well as in the MainMan origanization itself, was that Mick had managed to make a respectable showing after being pushed into a role that simply did not suit him.
[Cherry Vanilla, to Weird & Gilly] 'Tony DeFries pushed Ronson in the wrong direction. Ronson was fantastic as a second fiddle, as the guitarist. He was perfect. DeFries tried to put the same treatment onto Ronson that he did onto Bowie. To make him a pop star in teh only way he knew how. I think Ronson would have been better taking the route of writing arrangements and movie soundtracks and not trying to be the flashy pop star.'
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