Geplaatst in Ronnie Lane

Missing Ronnie Lane

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by Chris Morris

AUGUST 30, 2016

In the nearly two decades since Ronnie Lane’s death, the remarkable contours of the English musician’s brief, highly creative, and sometimes stormy career have grown remote to all but the most dedicated listeners.

ronnieIt’s easy to forget that Lane was a founding member of a band—well, two bands, actually—that enjoyed enormous success in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In the Small Faces, he co-wrote and co-produced unforgettable R&B-styled rockers and brightly ambitious psychedelia that were major hits in his homeland; their successor unit the Faces became a massive success and filled American arenas at their height.

And then…Lane quit to join the circus. A circus of his very own. He took some lines from his song The Poacher as a credo:

Well I’ve no use for riches
And I’ve no use for power
And I’ve no use for a broken heart
I’ll let this world go by

Abruptly quitting the Faces in 1973, Lane began to make a new music of his own that existed beyond category. You could call it “Britannicana”—a seamless electric/acoustic fusion of rock, English folk, country, blues, R&B, gospel, English music hall, and Tin Pan Alley classicism.

The uniqueness of the music wasn’t enough, for he held a vision for its presentation. His first tour with his band, the wryly yet prophetically named Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, took to the back roads of the U.K. on an arduous, chaotic bus-and-truck trek, performing in a circus tent erected in open fields in carnival-styled gigs that included sideshow acts.

Amid the financial hardship that followed, Lane and Slim Chance made glorious, risky, sui generis music. There’s no telling what he might have accomplished if the last 20 years of his life hadn’t been occupied by a debilitating and ultimately futile fight with multiple sclerosis. Yet by the time he passed away in 1997, he had left an abiding imprint on English popular music.

Lane was born in London’s East End in 1946, into a household with a mother and older brother who would both later be diagnosed with MS. An indifferent student, he dropped out of school at 16. Drawn to American R&B like many of his British contemporaries, he founded a band, the Outcasts, with Kenney Jones, a drummer barely in his teens. Initially a guitarist, Lane moved to bass in the group.

After the Outcasts disintegrated, Lane and Jones encountered aspiring singer-guitarist Steve Marriott in a local music store. The three shared an enthusiasm for R&B and soul, and, with keyboardist Jimmy Winston, they founded a unit they dubbed the Small Faces—”small” for their diminutive collective stature, “faces” from Mod slang for “a person of prominence or fame.”

The band raised a gutsy racket in London’s Mod nightspots, playing covers and a smattering of material newly penned by Marriott and Lane. They were quickly signed by the iron-fisted, hammer-headed manager-promoter Don Arden (whose daughter Sharon would later wed and manage Ozzy Osbourne) and inked by Decca Records, the Rolling Stones’ U.K. home. The Small Faces notched an instant hit with Whatcha Gonna Do About It, a lift from Solomon Burke’s 1964 soul hit Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.

Winston butted heads with his band mates, and the intransigent keyboardist was replaced by Ian McLagan, a sawed-off, high-spirited player who so resembled Lane that he was sometimes mistaken for the bassist’s brother. “Mac” contributed to the three top-five singles that followed—Sha-La-La-La-LeeAll or Nothing, and My Mind’s Eyeas well as to a cover of Willie Dixon’s blues number You Need Loving, to which Led Zeppelin would subsequently pay close attention.

The Small Faces’ parents were soon at loggerheads with Arden about his work on behalf of his underage charges, and, following a split with the manager, the band signed on with Immediate Records, a new, sketchily financed imprint co-owned by the Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham.

Lane and Marriott co-wrote and co-produced a run of tuneful, brightly psychedelic 1967-68 hits for Immediate—Itchycoo ParkTin SolderLazy Sunday, plus other, lesser chart entries. A major act at home, the band never really caught fire in the U.S., where only the trippy, phasing-infused “Itchycoo Park” dented the top 20, peaking at No. 16.

Lane’s compositional hand may be seen most plainly in Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, the group’s sophomore album, released in 1968 on the heels of such ambitious LPs as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, and The Who Sell Out. The cleverly packaged record’s second side was a whimsical fairy tale song-suite—one that seems to have influenced Harry Nilsson’s later The Pointwhich was held together by nonsensical, Lewis Carroll-inspired narration from English comic  Stanley Unwin. It was of course no accident that the story’s boy-heroHappiness Stan bore the name shared by Lane’s father and brother.

By the time Ogdens’ reached the shops, the Small Faces were breathing their last. Steve Marriott wanted to play a heavier brand of rock, and he quit the band in late ’68 to found Humble Pie. Lane, their other key creative voice, thought he saw an opening to become the group’s front man, but Kenney Jones recruited the dissident members of Jeff Beck’s hot outfit, singer Rod Stewart and bassist Ronnie Wood, the latter of whom quickly switched to lead guitar.

hings began propitiously enough for Lane with the band’s 1970 Warner Bros. debut First Step(which briefly saw the group maintaining its original handle before shifting to the Faces, reflecting their king-sized new members). He contributed two solo compositions, the gospel-soul number Devotion (on which he shared lead vocals with Stewart) and Stone. The latter track, a meditation on life’s mutability, would become Lane’s most durable and frequently recorded tune: Originally cut with the Who’s Pete Townshend  for a privately pressed birthday salute to their shared spiritual master Meher Baba, he would re-record it for Townshend’s 1972 solo bow Who Came First and with Slim Chance in 1974.

Lane would continue to contribute his share of solo compositions or co-writes to the Faces’ three subsequent records, and some of them—the poignant Richmond on Long Player, the autobiographical Debris on A Nod is As Good As a Wink…are among the records’ highlights. But, once again, the bassist-songwriter found himself laboring in the shadow of a formidable front man, as Stewart’s solo star, fueled by huge hits spawned by his Mercury sets, rose concurrently with the Faces’ freshly minted profile in the U.S., where ‘A Nod…’ reached the top 10. And Lane’s reflective, often acoustic-based material was decidedly at odds with the band’s boozy, party-hearty image.

Lane wrote or co-wrote six of the 10 tracks on the Faces’ last album, 1973’s Ooh La La, but the album was his swan song. Just before taking the stage at a concert in Roanoke, Virginia, on May 12, 1973, he told McLagan—in a phrase repeatedly used in jest by the band—”I’m leaving the group.” Except he wasn’t joking. Lane’s coup bid to get the other band members to desert Stewart had failed, and he was the odd man out.

By this point, Lane had taken up with Kate McKinnerney; the couple had ditched their spouses and fled for Ireland. Kate embraced a hippie lifestyle, and in short order Lane was dressing like a gypsy and living in a Welsh farmhouse known as Fishpool, formulating a new, earthier music leagues away from the raucous, boozy sound he had made with the Faces.

His debut solo album Anymore For Anymore arrived in 1974. The LP followed a pair of promising singles: the bouncy, mandolin-inflected “How Come,” which reached No. 11 on the British chart, and the introspective, lyrically pointed “The Poacher,” which was included on the album. The neophyte bandleader-producer had cut the record at Fishpool employing Lane’s Mobile Studio, a facility on wheels housed in an Airstream trailer that he bought with his Faces money. The LP’s personnel included the rising songwriting-performing team of Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle.

Lane was making distinctly original, highly eclectic, intimate music as warm as his furry, drawling voice. He knew that his new sound was not geared to the cavernous venues that the Faces had played. So, in a move worthy of Don Quixote, he mounted The Passing Show, which would take that music to the hinterlands, hippie-caravan style.

Purchasing several antique trucks and a disused canvas tent, Lane—with his musicians and a troupe that included dancing girls, clowns, a fire-eater, and, occasionally, Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Band as “ringmaster”—hit the road in the spring of 1974. Minimally capitalized, ineptly promoted by its amateur “advance men,” and plagued by ongoing automotive catastrophe, this well-meaning but maladroit Rolling Blunder Revue stuttered to a bankrupt halt after just 23 dates. The entire disaster is dealt with at length in Rupert Williams and James Mackie’s candid 2006 documentary ‘The Passing Show.’

Some Passing Show veterans fled after the tour, but Slim Chance carried on with a core group of versatile musicians that included multi-instrumentalists Charlie Hart (who began playing accordion after Lane thrust one into his hands) and Steve Simpson and bassist Brian Belshaw. Incredibly, despite the preceding calamity, Island Records signed Lane to a deal.


The albums that followed, ‘Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance’ (1975) and ‘One For the Road’ (1976), found him at the peak of his abilities as a singer, songwriter, and arranger. The former included the stirring originals “Little Piece of Nothing,” “Tin and Tambourine,” and “Give Me a Penny,” the final, rousing version of “Stone,” and a diverse brace of covers that included the countrified drunkard’s lament “Bottle of Brandy,” Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday,” and Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” The latter, once again recorded with the mobile unit at Fishpool, contained some of Lane’s finest solo material: the lilting, slamming love song “Don’t Try and Change My Mind,” the spry, self-examining “32nd Street,” the  bar-pounding sing-along title track, and a sweet, fiddle-scratching paean to marital bliss, “Steppin’ and Reelin’ (The Wedding).” Relaxed yet brimming with boisterous, rootsy energy, these are the albums on which Lane’s solo reputation can happily rest.

 

 

Not so happily, neither LP sported a “How Come”-like hit, and, with his band members fleeing anew, Lane began to feel a financial pinch. In the wake of a second stand by “Itchycoo Park” on the U.K. charts, he was approached to join a Small Faces reunion, but, unhappy and drinking heavily, he bailed on the project after some brief rehearsals.

 

A desperate and penurious Lane reached out to Pete Townshend with the notion of a duo album. With old Small Faces and Faces producer Glyn Johns helming the sessions, Rough Mix was recorded in London in 1976-77, not long after a mostly instrumental soundtrack date with Ronnie Wood for the Canadian drama Mahoney’s Last Stand.

 

unmannered, rootsy affair that takes its stylistic cues from Slim Chance, studded with marquee names (Eric Clapton, John Entwistle, Charlie Watts) and old pals (Gallagher and Lyle, Charlie Hart). For his part, Lane contributed the wonderful originals Annie (co-authored with Clapton) and April Fool, both strong additions to his song catalog. Unfortunately, it sold only modestly in both Britain and the U.S.

 

 

During the ‘Rough Mix’ session, Lane’s distraction and diminished physical coordination—manifested in difficulty playing the bass—were apparent to his collaborators. He was soon diagnosed with MS, and grappled with the progressive effects of the disease for the rest of his life.

Two wan releases in 1979 and 1981 marked the end of Lane’s studio career. His last solo album ‘See Me’ saw a return to a more conventional rock format, somewhat in the manner of the Faces, but with none of the genre-breaking sound or emotional impact of his Slim Chance work. The Legendary Majik Mijits reunited him with Steve Marriott, but neither Lane nor the former Small Faces vocalist brought their best game to what plays 

today like a paycheck date.

Though Lane suffered a slow decline, his friends in the music community rallied behind him, and raised money for MS treatment and heightened awareness of the disease, via the all-star Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) Charity Concerts of 1983 in London and the states. Lane would figure in the U.S. operation of ARMS, moving to Houston to work with the organization; however, financial finagling by the organization’s top executive left its accounts empty.

 

 

He remained a beloved and respected figure, and was supported by money contributed by his old band mates Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and recording royalties belatedly secured by Kenney Jones. Relocating to Austin, Texas, he was welcomed with open arms by the vibrant music community, and he performed regularly with Alejandro Escovedo and other local luminaries. Married a third time, he and his wife escaped the Texas heat for the remote town of Trinidad, Colorado, where he died on June 4, 1997, at the age of 51.

 

In later years, acknowledging the brevity of life, he would often note with an askew smile, “It’s a short movie, folks.” It can be said that Ronnie Lane made the most of his brief time on the screen.

 

The title of the Townshend-Lane opus is descriptive of its contents: Only one of the set’s 11 tracks, the eponymous instrumental, bears a co-writing credit. The remainder of the numbers are solo compositions. But it’s a friendly,

He remained a beloved and respected figure, and was supported by money contributed by his old band mates Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and recording royalties belatedly secured by Kenney Jones. Relocating to Austin, Texas, he was welcomed with open arms by the vibrant music community, and he performed regularly with Alejandro Escovedo and other local luminaries. Married a third time, he and his wife escaped the Texas heat for the remote town of Trinidad, Colorado, where he died on June 4, 1997, at the age of 51.

In later years, acknowledging the brevity of life, he would often note with an askew smile, “It’s a short movie, folks.” It can be said that Ronnie Lane made the most of his brief time on the screen.

http://web.musicaficionado.com/main.html#!/article/Ronnie_Lane_British_Rocks_Secret_Genius_by_chrismorris?campaign=fbtronnietitle

 

 

 

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