Mick Ronson (1946-1993)
NEW MUSICAL EXPRES
15 May 1993
by Terry Staunton
ONE OF the most curious and talked-about images from last year's Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley was the sight of David Bowie down on one knee leading 70,000 mourning Queen fans in The Lord's Prayer.
What seems to have been all but forgotten about that day was that ten minutes eariier, Bowie had brought lumps to several throats by inviting his old sparring partner Mick Ronson on to the stage to play 'All The Young Dudes' and 'Heroes'.
It was the ?rst time they had shared the spotlight for nearly 20 years, and the last time any of us would see Ronson play his guitar.
It is unlikely that Ronson's death will bring about another major stadium memorial where the world's biggest stars gather to pay their respects, but that was never Mick's style anyway. Self-effacing and humble at all times, he found it hard to hide his embarrassment when Bowie would put his arm around him during the chorus of 'Starman' - still one of the most enduring images in the history of Top Of The Pops.
Ronson was born in Hull on May 26, 1946. Before he met Bowie, the guitarist was plodding along with a local band he called The Rats. When he applied his formidable musical and arranging talents to 'The Man Who Sold The World' in 1970, it was the start of a ?ve-album collaboration with rock's favourite chameleon. The Rats changed their name to The Spiders From Mars, and Ronson sat at Bowle's right hand through 'Hunky Dory', 'Ziggy Stardust', 'Aladdin Sane' and 'Pin Ups'.
When Bowie produced Lou Reed's 'Transformer' album in 1973, Ronson was there too, and it was his arrangement that turned 'Walk On The Wild Side' into an undeniable rock classic.
But Mick Ronson was much more than a second ?ddle, and his 1974 debut solo LP 'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue' saw him emerge triumphant from Bowie's giant shadow. From the opening cover of 'Love Me Tender' to the epic sweep of the title track finale, Ronson bared his own chameleon soul; at times he can be heard pre-empting the fey tragi-comedy of Marc Almond, the left-?eld arrogance of Wire, even the bombast of Meat Loaf.
'Slaughter' reached the Top Ten, but rather than throwing himself whole- heartedly into a solo career, Ronson hooked up with his old friend Ian Hunter for the last days of Mott The Hoople, playing only on the group's last single 'Saturday Gigs'.
Another solo album, 'Play, Don't Worry', was released in 1975, but Ronson opted to revive his trusty lieutenant role, and he and Hunter continued to work together well into the late '80s. There were other projects, like Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975-76, tours with Van Morrison and production work for the likes of Roger McGuinn and former New York Doll David Johansen.
Ronson's profile increased dramatically last year when he was lured out of semi-retirement to produce Morrissey's 'Your Arsenal' album. Where previous Moz outings had perhaps lacked bite and focus, Ronson swamped the LP with crunching, glam guitars and subtle musical motifs which evoked fund memories of his '70s contemporaries.
He continued to fight cancer and, at the time of his death, was working on a third solo album with a little help from his friends; Bowie, Hunter, Chrissie Hynde and Def Leppard's Joe Elliott were all due to make guest appearances on the record, which was going under the working title 'Heaven 'n' Hull'.
But it is for his work in the early '70s with Bowie that Ronson will be best remembered. They were a classic rock partnership; David with the larger-than-life ego, the attitude and talent on tap, Mick with the laconic musical understatement and the mental temperance to keep the boss in check. Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler have learned a huge amount from them.
No, there won't be a massive stadium festival of remembrance for Mick Ronson, but rest assured that David Bowie and many others who valued the man's humility and talent will be down on their knees in prayer once more.