Can Mick Ronson Swipe the Bowie Crown?
by O. B. Lewis
When Bowie announced his retirement from the rock scene, Mick Ronson just took it in his stride. With Bowie's band at his side, he thinks everything will be exactly the same.
There are few rock groups in the world that are as closely knit as David Bowie and his MainMan organization. Even the highly touted brotherhood of the Allmans exists only between heated arguments, fist fights and divorces. The Bowie people may sometimes feel like scratching each others eyes out, but primarily they're a family--and they know each other as intimately as any group of people possibly could.
Last year the Bowie clan was busy. They had toured the United States, travelled to Japan by boat, suggered an endless train ride through the wastelands of Siberia and then went right into the studios to record Pin Ups. Everyone had been on a train so long they felt like their blood was carbonated. The royal family of Bowie were dead on their feet, and with David about to abdicate the crown to guitarist Mick Ronson, David and Angie, along with the band, press people, and all the other odd souls that comprise MainMan, went off to Italy for a Roman holiday.
Mick Ronson, known as 'Ron-o' by the group, was well aware that he would soon have to wear the crown in the band. Mick Ronson and the Spiders from Mars was just about to happen, and Rono was expected to come up with a brilliant concept for a new album while he was in Italy. After just ten days, most of the vacationers wanted to go home--everyone except Rono and David's hairstylist, Suzie Fussey. The rest of the group left Rono and Suzie alone in the huge villa they had rented on the outskirts of Rome. Sometime during the first night they were left alone together, a fire broke out in the surrounding countryside. Although the villa never caught fire, the brush surrounding it was burning for several days. Authorities tried reaching the occupants of the villa by telephone, but the phone lines too, had burned. For almost three days no one knew if Mick Ronson and Suzie Fussey would live to tell the tale of those three isolated days in a Roman villa surrounded by flames.
The couple not only survived, but emerged with the concept for Rono's first solo LP, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (on RCA Records). Not only is Slaughter an unexpectedly brilliant first LP, but Mick and Suzie have emerged as the unexpected lovers of the year!
Humble beginnings: When Mick Ronson was just a boy, and not the flaxen haired idol of millions, he played with a small blues band in the town of Hull, Yorkshire. But times were very bad for a beginning musician. 'We just did the odd, small gigs that were available at the time,' Mick told a Circus correspondent as he strolled the huge stone hallways of the Chateau D'Herouville where he was recording Slaughter. 'The band was called the Mariners. It was a pretty bad period for us. Most bands that were not starving used to have to eat oatmeal dinners to stay alive. Sometimes we didn't even eat at all. I remember that at one point I used to eat four slices of dry bread a day. And when I got rich I used to eat a ham sandwich.'
Mick believed that a change in scenery would change his luck, and without a sou in his pocket he moved out of Yorkshire and into the dog-eat-dog world of London. 'When I was in London for the first time,' he said with an amused chuckle, 'one of the people in the band I was in used to say, 'You can come around to our house for dinner on Sunday,' but it cost me more for the car fare than to run around the corner and buy a meat pie.'
Things didn't brighten for Mick for a few more months, until one day he was visiting another unemployed musician. In the door walked a strangely magnetic fellow with long brown locks. 'It was David Bowie,' Mick disclosed. 'He was going to play on a radio show called 'The David Peel Show' and out of the clear blue he looked at me and said, 'How would you like to come along?' and I said, 'Yeah, O.K.'' Mick took his guitar in hand and followed David to the studios, where he never expected to play. David insisted he join in, so Mick took out his guitar and tried to improvise. 'I sat down and watched him as he moved his fingers around and I filled out pieces in between what he was playing. That's how we started.'
Climb to stardon: Months dragged into years as Bowie made the Spiders into a rock group and a concept. About that time Angie Bowie was busy changing hairstyles and trying to create a style that would be hers alone. Her hairdresser was a sweet little English girl of Italian heritage who showed great imagination for both hairstyles and clothing. Angie had her hair redone every few days, and eventually got bored going back and forth to the hairdressers. She invited hairdresser Suzie Fussey back to her house to attend to her hair in the comfort of her own home. David watched from afar for several weeks, and after David had gained some confidence in Suzie, he let her chop away at his long brown hair. Four hours later Suzie had dyed it the Lucille Ball orange color that millions of fans know today. Bowie and Angie were so pleased, that two years ago Suzie was hired as a full-time employee of the MainMan group.
No love at first sight: 'For two years Suzie worked on the road with us,' Mick said as he wandered onto the lawn of the Chateau, 'doing costumes and hair.' He scratched a bare leg, the ran his hand up to the band of a dark colored nylon bathing suit. His flowered silk shirt flapped in the breeze. 'When David stopped gigging on the road Suzie became my personal assistant, and she really looked after me well.' Rono laughed heartily. During the two years that Suzie tended to torn costumes, got everything cleaned and pressed for each performance, and even dyed and cut Rono's shaggy blond locks, did she ever eye his tawny body, rippling with muscles? Or when David fell to his knees to play Mick's guitar with his tongue, hadn't Suzie wished she was in Bowie's place? Rono just laughed again.
When Mick was told that Bowie intended to give up his career on the road he had mixed feelings, especially because he feels he influenced David towards the heavier rock sound on his last two albums. 'We always worked well together. I moved David towards heavier rock because I was the guitar player. The more we played on stage the more heavy rock seemed to come out.' Was he upset that his alliance with Bowie was over? Rono moved back into the cobblestone hallways of the Chateau before answering. 'We'll be gigging together again,' he assured the reporter, 'I'm sure of that. But it won't be for a long time.'
From now on, however, all the new hot LPs from MainMan will be from Mick Ronson and the Spiders from Mars. 'It seems natural for me to carry on like that. I'm quite happy with it. I don't feel I have to turn myself away from the image Bowie presented. I mean, I'll show my chest off--but I suppose I look that way a lot anyway.' Rono paused for a moment and then said, 'I was always the heavy one on stage, and this is going to be a continuation of that.'
Italian Slaughter: As for the new LP, Mick considers it to be very New York in feeling. 'Although I had the idea for the album in Italy it just has a lot of New York in it. Maybe it's because there are alot of Italians in New York, or maybe it's because Suzie is Italian.' Suzie, by the way, can be seen inside the album in a photograph taken on New York's slummy Tenth Avenue to dramatize the title cut, 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.' In the photo Mick is holding the dead body of his beloved in front of a sleazy bar. The cover of the LP is a closeup of Rono with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Rono explains the contents of the LP with his typical aplomb. 'The concept is basically the same as the original version of 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' by Gershwin, except it's just brought up to date a little. It's about me being in a rock group and having lots of groupie chicks but getting fed up with them. I always really only wanted somebody to love. I happen to see this girl in a bar in N.Y., and although I don't know it, she's a prostitute. She's a dancer also,' Mick laughed, 'but when the album starts all I do is talk to her. I just want to be near her. I get to meet her and I get on quite well with her. I end up falling in love and she windes up falling in love with me. In the album I don't know that she's a prostitute. She tells me one night in a bar that she wants to give it all up and as we come walking out of the club her pimp boyfriend shoots her down on the street and I'm just left there.
The cuts on the LP don't necessarily back up Rono's interpretation, however. That doesn't mean the Slaughter isn't one of the better albums to come out of the MainMain group in a long time. Rono's version of Elvis Presley's 'Love Me Tender' is fun to listen to if nothing else. There's an especially terrific song on the LP called 'Music is Lethal.' Rono first heard the song on an Italian rock show and wanted it for his album. In short notice he found out that the music was available but the lyrics were untranslatable. Rono asked for help from the master of all lyric writers, Bowie himself, who wrote the searing new words for the cut.
My friend myself
Prince of the alleys,
Stumbled falling to a lone table in search of wine,
Stolen freedoms that only evening unfolds to shine.
Bowie's own lyrics continue in 'Hey Ma Get Papa:
There I stood like soap on heat
While blood ran thick past both my quaking feet
Into the street
Another cut, called 'Pleasure Man,' runs non-stop into 'Hey Ma Get Papa,' and it's a prime example of how Bowie and Rono work together. This time the music is by Mick himself, with lyrics by S. Richardson and David.
When you're burned by the need,
hearache won't let go.
And you're searching in your soul for a stranger who won't say 'no'
Steal away to my soul just as fast as you can
You can lock away your tears and bring your body to the pleasure man.
Hey Ma Get Papa
Soon you'll have no son to bitch
You're gonna cry
I've left some man to die.
Will Rono ever really be able to wear the crown to the throne David Bowie created? Rono will have to wait and see, because even with Suzie at his side, the top spot of the Bowie MainMan group is a difficult one to fill. Mick's not concerned as long as he has Suzie. 'I don't have to worry about a thing. I don't really trust that many people, but with Suzie.....' His voice trailed off as a big smile crossed his face.