London – What you Need to Know About the Leading Member of The Faces and The Small Faces
Ronnie Lane was a British musician whose career ran from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. His life was one of great music and a lot of partying (his nickname was Plonk), but was thwart with bad luck, bad decisions and a debilitating disease that prematurely ended his career and his time here amongst us.
I should probably declare some nepotism and vested interest from the outset. Ronnie Lane’s brother Stan was a good friend of my dad’s. Stan was a bit younger than my dad, kind of trendy and great fun to be around. He ran market stalls around the East End of London, that me, my dad and my brother all worked on during the peak of The Facessuccess.
However, all of this only piqued my interest in Ronnie. I would not still be such a huge fan of his, 40 years later, if there was not something substantial about his music… and some really great songs.
The Small Faces
Ronnie’s musical career began when he was very young. He met Steve Marriott in a music store when buying a guitar, they hit it off and decided to form the band that became The Small Faces.
The Small Faces had early success. Their debut single, Whatcha Gonna Do About It, reached number 14 in the British charts, when Ronnie was only 19. More hits followed including Sha-La-La-La-Lee, which reached number 3 in the charts. Coincidentally Sha-La-La-La-Lee was written by the popular TV star of the time, Kenny Lynch and right then, I was attending school with Kenny’s nephew. Will these connections never end?
The Small Faces were also rated as one of the highest-grossing live acts in the UK during the mid to late 60’s.
But, unfortunately, the man they had chosen to manage their early career was the notorious Don Arden, Sharon Osborne’s father.
Although he managed to secure a lot of work and promotion for the band, Arden was overly concerned with lining his own pockets and had the boys running up and down the country in the back of a van, playing practically every night, while paying them only about £20 a week each.
When the Small Faces confronted Don Arden he faced down their parents, claiming that the whole band were using drugs. They probably were! This was the 60’s and they were musicians, but that did not entitle him to pocket the lion’s share of their earnings.
The Small Faces spilt with Arden and Decca, their first record label. They signed with the Immediate label, formed by ex-Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. But, while musical success continued, financial success continued to elude them.
Great singles like Here Comes The Nice, Itchycoo Park, Lazy Sunday and Tin Soldier were released and they all fared well in the British charts.
The Small Faces psychedelia-influenced album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is widely regarded as a classic album. It stayed at No. 1 in the UK Album Chart for six weeks.
Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott were well established amongst the great British song writing duos of the day, only just behind Lennon and McCartney and Jagger/Richards.
The problem for the Small Faces atImmediate was that they were the only commercially successful act and as such, they were financing the whole label. This continual financial pressure meant that there was no room for promoting the band in America and unlike many of their contemporaries, they never cracked that huge market.
These pressures took their toll and Marriott officially quit the band at the end of 1968, walking off stage during a live New Year’s Eve gig, at Alexander Palace, yelling “I quit”.
With the departure of Marriott, the Small Faces floundered for a while. There were thoughts of Ronnie becoming the lead singer, but Marriott’s was a big voice to follow.
Shortly afterwards, they joined with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood from the Jeff Beck Group and renamed themselves The Faces, as the newest members did not meet the small criteria. Not to mention the fact that they were going to perform an entirely different repertoire.
Unlike the Small Faces, the Faces were huge in America, among the top-grossing live acts in that period. Their singles were successful, Had Me a Real Good Time, their breakthrough UK hit Stay with Me,Cindy Incidentally and Pool Hall Richard amongst the most popular.
Ronnie finally made some money out of his musical career.
Although there was some frustration creeping in at the band becoming known as Rod Stewart’s backing band, Ronnie Lane continued to contribute great songs to The Faces catalogue.
By 1973 those frustrations and a yearning to find out if he could do more as an entertainer, forced Ronnie to quit his own band.
Slim Chance and Beyond
Once he had gone solo and put together his own backing band, Slim Chance, Ronnie’s songs took a somewhat different direction to the pop, rock and RnB that he was known for, with both versions of the Faces.
Ronnie’s solo and Slim Chance work took on a more folky influence and some would say produced many of the best songs of his whole career.
But what hadn’t changed was Ronnie’s financial misfortunes. His first solo single How Come was a hit, reaching number 11 in the UK charts. His second single, The Poacher, was doing well, when he was booked to perform it on, Britain’s most popular TV music show of the time, Top of the Pops.
But when they turned up at the studio, they were told there would be no Top of the Popsthat week, due to a technician’s strike. The song struggled and peaked at number 36 in the charts. One commentator in the Ronnie Lane documentary, The Passing Show, believes that this may have been a turning point in the success of Ronnie’s solo career. I think it was just one of many unfortunate incidents that combined to deny him the success that he deserved.
One of Ronnie’s great creative, but financially unsound, decisions was to tour the UK with a show labelled The Passing Show. He hired a big top and all the accoutrements and toured the country with a show that was part Rock and Roll, part circus. But failures in organization and marketing meant that Ronnie lost big money on the venture.
One of his better decisions, was to buy a 26′ Airstream trailer and equip it as a mobile recording studio. It was one of the first ever mobile recording studios and allowed Ronnieto record himself and Slim Chance at the Welsh farm where he set up residence, or anywhere else for that matter. The Ronnie Lane Mobile was also hired out and used to record numerous well known albums of the era including
• Eric Clapton, Rainbow Concert (1973)
• Rory Gallagher, Irish Tour ’74 (1974)
• The Who: Quadrophenia (1973) and The Who By Numbers (1975)
• Rick Wakeman: Journey to the Centre of the Earth (live) (1974)
• Bad Company: Bad Company (1974) and Straight Shooter (1975)
• Mott the Hoople: Drive On (1975)
• Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (1975)
This provided Ronnie with a great deal of financial relief, at a time when he really needed it.
In addition to his Slim Chance work, there were a number of musical collaborations thatRonnie was involved with. His cohorts and fans included Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Steve Marriott and Ron Wood. He was immensely popular with other musicians. A musician’s musician, if ever there was one.
His Rough Mix album with Pete Townshend, was released in 1977 and was rated as a contender for best album of the year by many. But, as was often the case in Ronnie’s career, the label did not promote it and sales were lacklustre.
All negatives aside, none of this stopped Ronnieproducing great music, while he was still able. Songs like Annie, Anymore for Anymore, April Fool, Chicken Wired, Kuschty Rye, Walk on Bye, Don’t Try & Change My Mind, One for the Roadand so many more, have to be checked out if you are not familiar with them, or even if you are.
Ronnie was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1977. It is a hereditary condition that had affected his mother for many years before her death. MS disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a wide range of symptoms, including muscle weakness, abnormal muscle spasms, or difficulty moving; difficulties with coordination and balance; problems in speech, all of which severely limited Ronnie’s ability to play music, sing or indeed make a living.
In 1983 Ronnie’s girlfriend Boo Oldfield contacted the famous British record producer,Glyn Johns, with a view to organising a concert to help Ronnie financially. All the British music royalty were keen to take part. But Ronnie insisted that any funds raised should benefit all MS sufferers and not just himself. He founded Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) to this end.
The resulting concerts in London and the USA featured Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Kenney Jones, Andy Fairweather-Low, Joe Cocker, Paul Rodgers and others.
Multiple Sclerosis finally beat Ronnie in 1997 and he died in Trinidad, Colorado on 4th June 1997
Ronnie Lane is still fondly remembered, both within the music business and by a loyal group of fans, some of whom have bandied together in The Ronnie Lane Appreciation Group on Facebook. Join them if you would like to know more, or exchange reminiscences of the great man and his music.
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