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Mick Ronson Plays His Own Guitar

May 1974
by John Lemon

If you've ever been on 10th Avenue and 45th Street in New York City then you know just how desperate things can get. It's always been called Hell's Kitchen, but even that doesn't describe the seamy universe that surrounds you if you get caught on the littered sidewalks after the sun goes down. It's rough, real gangster stuff. The outcasts of this slum rich city trip along, looking at the concrete in front of them ignoring the other lost souls who are shuffling with them from nowhere to nowhere.

In the late 1940s composer Richard Rogers wrote a heaving, discordant instrumental called 'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue.' Things haven't changed much since then. The song has been heard now and again--originally in Roger's play 'On Your Toes,' then in the Gene Kelly movie 'Words + Music.' And now, in the Seventies, the words come back as the title of Mick Ronson's first solo album.

Earlier this year on a cold winter night Mick was on 10th Avenue. Along with his friends--hairdresser Susie Fussey, rock star Wayne County, rock lady Cherry Vanilla, entrepreneur Tony Zanetta--Mick was braving the chill, and 10th Avenue, to capture some of the sleaze and violence of the location for a TV spot which would be used to promote the album by his recording company, RCA. Mick is no stranger to tough places and tougher people. He grew up in Hull in England...a little fishing village where the kids are all leather boys and fighting is considered a healthy form of recreation after the day's works been done.

Mick hasn't been back to Hull since he's dyed his hair. Not that he hasn't still got his muscles--anyone who's seen him stripped to the waist working as David Bowie's lead guitarist knows the power of his figure.--It's just that Hull hasn't got what Mick wants. He's been in rock and roll bands since he was twelve, learned how to play piano, violin, guitar and put a nice song together as he grew, though his parents weren't always ready to approve. He has plenty of experience and now wants to rock and roll on his own.

Mick's story is an odd one. He's gotten to be twenty four years old in whatever way was open. Like being a gardener at a girl's school. Like having a band called The Rats and then a band called Ronno (his nickname) and then being the leader of The Spiders From Mars with other Ronno members Trevor Boulder [sic] and Woody Woodmansey when an early friendship with David Bowie turned into a musical relationship as Bowie hit the big time.

He's an exciting performer, the first real Seventies Guitarist. He's also very capable at arranging a song and co-producing. Which he did for Bowie's albums and for Lou Reed's Bowie engineered effort. Mick has also been an integral part of Bowie's stage show. Letting Bowie go down on him for what that psycho drama was worth back in 1972. Playing the beauty to Bowie's beast, letting his guitar be the beast to Bowie's beauty. However you shook it up Mick Ronson's been there, kicking his way through the glitter to the front of the stage.

But he's now moved on. Moved to 'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue' and the announcement that, professionally speaking, he's not going to be working with Bowie anymore. Except if Bowie does a special show and wants to use him as the guitarist...well then he'll think about it. His main concern is his own music.

The first album does a lot of things and shows a lot of Mick Ronson. There's Elvis' 'Love Me Tender' which will be the first single. There's one Bowie tune: 'Growing Up and I'm Fine.' Plus three tunes by Ronson himself: 'Only After Dark,' 'Pleasure Man,' and 'Hey May, Hey Pa' [sic]. And a few other goodies.

Mick did the album last August and September in the Chateau de Herouville in the south of France (The 'Honky Chateau' of Elton John fame where, long ago, Chopin had an affair with George Sand). He produced and arranged the album with the help of Trevor Boulder [sic] on bass, Aynsley Dunbar on drums, and Mike Garson on keyboards. They're to becomne his band now that he's a solo star.

Ronson is, at the moment, an unknown quantity. He's done impressive things with Bowie. He has the potential of being a top flight arranger-producer (he plans on working with other artists). He looks real good, plays an expressive guitar, and moves like a superstar. But it may not be easy for him. It hever has been, at first, for the top British guitar men. Like Clapton, Beck, and Page he may have to pay a lot of dues before he can step up to the front of the stage and dig into the strings while the audience listens with awe, admiration, and the conviction that before them is a six stringed genius.

Wherever Mick Ronson winds up, he's off to a good start and he's pointing in the right direction. His voice matches his guitar playing and he knows how to make good records. If he doesn't happen it'll be because the time wasn't right, not because he isn't right. Because, of all the possible super guitar players on the scene, Ronson has the most going for him.

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