Rockin' Ronson: The Mick Ronson Interview
by Richard Robinson
How do you see yourself now in relation to yourself and Mott? Have you found the way you want to express yourself?
Mick: I'm going to be very natural. I'm just going to play. After being with Davide (Bowie), the first thing that I didn't want to do was go and and do a guitar solo album along the same lines as the things that I had been doing with David. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I've never been singing before, so I wanted to do songs and find out how my voice worked. It was like a big experiment, that first solo lp. On the next lp there's more guitar. There's more continuity on the second album, and with Mott it rounds up nicely because there is a continuity all the way through and I can just let myself go and.....
Play rock and roll guitar.....
Mick: And I can enjoy it, and I'll enjoy it and it'll be good fun for the band and for the people who will listen. We aren't going to get or do, the highlight of the show is when I walk over there, or whatever, we aren't going to do it that way. What we are going to do is go on the stage and play and it will be very spontaneous.
Are you learning Mott's set at this point? Will there be new songs that you'll be doing?
Mick: We'll start off by playing the basic songs that they have been playing and then by the time we do the English tour, we'll have a few new numbers and by the time of the American tour, we will have recorded a new lp, so by the time we do the American tour we will be doing probably a complete fresh set of numbers. Either that, or we will be playing for about two hours and it will be a whole lot of old stuff plus the whole new album and go through all of it.
The only thing you've done with Mott so far is in the studio? How did that work out?
Mick: Yeah. It worked out very well. We were in there last Friday and we laid the B side down which was like a jam and playing away and it felt very good. It's a very loose feeling but it was a very good feeling just to play.
Tell us about your second solo album.
Mick: I've got five on my own on the lp.....well, three completely my own with my own lyrics which is good. I'm glad I'm getting into my own lyrics. I found that it helps my singing, it helps my voice because what I'm singing is what I'm saying, you know? Rather than singing someone else's words. It's easy when you sing your own words. I just thought, well, why not just write what I feel, and maybe it sounds a bit crazy at first but it got really good to start writing lyrics and it got really nice, because it wasn't hard after all.
What about editing and polishing the songs once you've written them?
Mick: I think writing lyrics is like that--has to be reworked--because it's got to flow with the melody as well. Maybe one word just might roll of better than another one. I mean writing lyrics for the first time.....I don't know, I guess everybody does that when they write lyrics. I suppose that a lot of other people would change maybe a line here or slip something in here or there. I guess that's how they would do it.
What instruments do you play on the solo album? I don't think people realize how many different instruments you play.....like violin....
Mick: I used to play violin all the time. On this album I play all sorts of things--drums and bass, piano, clarinet, mouth organs, accordian.
You fool with all these things at home or do you just pick them up in the studio and play them?
Mick: Yeah, just pick them up. I mean all you really have to understand is how you make the noise. The only trouble I have had, I took a saxaphone one day and I couldn't really get the notes. I mean I could get that notes but I couldn't get the feeling that I wanted, the actual bending of the notes, because I'm not an experienced player, I just couldn't quite make it.
You've been in a hectic, intense training period in the last three or four years--from suddenly coming on the scene to now.....
Mick: Yeah, and I've met some realy good fellas. It's really good fun, I like learning about all the different things. Because it does take some understanding.
Not only instruments but people too.....
Mick: Yeah, people take understanding, you need to understand them, and you need to understand yourself just as much because you can maybe get off of other people exactly what you are. Rather than, if you sit there on your own--you can have all these fantasies about yourself and what you may appear like. If you look at yourself in the mirror you always see yourself as you want to see yourself and then somebody else will see you as totally different and you've got to understand how other people see you as well. Sometimes it takes other people to tell you maybe you are especially good at this or that thing. Other people are good for giving you a bit of direction.....
And you've been dealing with people who are great characters, like Lou and David, who are very much there.
Mick: Yeah, that's been a good experience.
I get the feeling that you're going to be able to spread out with Mott--that you can just go out and play good rock and roll with that band.
Mick: It's a good feeling. I like listening to bands like that, I like enjoying myself. We are going to do a few quiet things, some of it is going to be different and that's where I'll be very handy, putting a slightly different style across here and around there which will be very good for them, and certainly good for me. So it's good all around--good for both of us.
What things have you done in the last three years that you consider mistakes, or wrong turns, or extreme disappointments?
Mick: I don't think I've done anything that has been really disappointing because I figure that I've learned from every little thing that I've done anyway so I'm not disappointed with any of it because I'm not falling flat on my face or anything. I've kept pretty firm, you know. And I think the only thing I should have done when I did do the other was on the first lp.....was had a regular five piece band and got more into my guitar and things and I know a lot of people were disappointed that I didn't do it, so I guess that was a mistake but it was also good for me to get out and do something else to find out exactly what I could do and what I couldn't do and what I could be good at and what I couldn't be good at.
It's not that people didn't like the first album, it's just that the guitar playing seemed like it was missing it was so underplayed.
Mick: Well, I wanted to break away a bit from the guitar thing. You see if I had gone out and done some concerts and done a solo album of guitar playing, people would have expected to see me like I was with David and I didn't really want to do that because that was a thing we did with David and I don't want to carry that on.
It was right for you, or so you felt, to make that move at that time.....
Mick: Right, you don't keep dipping your fingers in sugar for the rest of your life, try some walnuts or chocolate.
Now with Mott--they've almost made it here, but they haven't yet had a success in the U.S. like they've had in England. I think you joining the band may do it for them.
Mick: I think so too. Everybody is like really happy about it. Everyone seems to think that it has been a good move. But it wasn't a planned move. It really just happened and it's amazing because three weeks ago I was here in New York and three weeks ago I was going to get on to the people, and like the next week or the week after, I was going to start to get it all together and then last week Ian and I decided to do it together. I mean it was really the answer and what I was looking for and I guess what they were looking for,--somebody like me, and I for somebody like them. I feel right now that I'm doing what I should be doing and--about joining Mott, well, that's what I should be doing. I think that's what I was searching for since I left David.
Do you think you've been type-cast at all, because of your association with Bowie?
Mick: Well, I guess people still have to make these associations because maybe that's all people can go on, for the moment. Maybe that's all they know about me up to now. Like I've never had that many photos taken of me, never done that many interviews, so that I guess a lot of people don't know me, really. Or a lot of people may have seen me, but they don't really know what I am. So, I guess, they're the only things that they can inquire about. I mean I guess that those are the fastest steps to finding out what somebody is. Cause that's their only evidence.
Do you think of yourself as a lead guitarist?
Mick: Yeah. That, as much as anything else in the music business.
I mean the guitar is part of your personality onstage--as far as I'm concerned.
Mick: That's probably a very strong point of mine and I guess that's what I should do more of because that's what I'm known for and enjoy it. And if I know that people do enjoy it, I mean I really don't know if people do like my guitar playing, but after my time off, it seems that they do like it. And I love it. I mean if they like me playing guitar then I'll play, because I like it, you know, but if they don't like my playing, then they might like an arrangement or productions or keyboard playing or something else, so if they like that, then I would be glad to do that for them. I mean I just want to please people with what I do. If people don't like my guitar playing, I won't be pigheaded and say, well, you better like my guitar playing because that's all you're going to get. And if they don't like it, then I'll do something else, because I'll still be happy doing something else, whatever it is within music. I'll be just as happy as playing guitar. And if people are actually enjoying it and I see that and hear reports of like how they enjoyed it, then that makes me feel really good, as if I'm worth something. Worth something to myself and in life, youknow. Like doing a service to people, almost.
If you had to go to a desert island, and could only take one musical instrument with you, which one would it be? Guitar? Piano? What?
Mick: I don't know. I mean I change from day to day. Some days I just love the piano and then another day, I'll love the guitar. I can't make a choice with music. I cannot make a choice with music because I like everything having to do with music. Whether it's sitting behind a desk, or it's accordions, or playing drums. I mean, I love the drums and the bass. I really get off on playing bass. We did a session last week with Tony Newman on drums and me on bass and a sax player, so there were three of us, and I loved it. But I mean, I can, you know. I love that just as much as I love anything else. I mean I love it all, and I can't say that I'm just a guitarist. I think if I was just a guitarist I would think I was a bit of a loser, because I think I've got more knowledge about music. I first studied on the piano. Then recorder and violin. The guitar came much later. I got thrown out a lot in my violin class because I kept holding it like a guitar and plucking the strings. I was playing those kinds of things on the violin and the teacher threw me out, and I mean I was playing good violin but as soon as his back was turned I was plucking and I was thinking like the Shadows and the Beatles or anything you know, and then after that, I thought, I've got to get a guitar and I put my violin away and got a guitar and I stopped playing piano and was just playing guitar. So guitar became a big part of my life for a long while, but for the past three or four years I've started realizing that I was being very sort of narrowminded in my music. I also went through a thing where I was saying, listen to that rubbish, that's rubbish, that's rubbish, and like the good bands are like Led Zep, or like that. And I went through a whole scene where I was very narrow-minded musically and I gradually snapped out of it. Then I started playing the piano again and every instrument that I saw. I wanted to pick up and play and record. Because I like doing arrangements. I thought, now if I can write the notes on a piece of paper and then people can play it, I thought, well, if I write this, if I dish it out to them, then it can sound like this, so I did. The first thing I did was Andy Warhol (for Bowie's first album) and Dana Gillespie. You know I wrote the parts out and said, it should sound like this, and it did. I thought, good, and I started to do it.