He just wasn’t sure Ronson could play.
“Mick Ronson just floored us,” Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti, says on Ronson’s website. “When David and I met him we knew he’d fit in looks-wise, but we had no idea what was coming until he picked up his Les Paul and played for us.”
“Mick just watched our hands on the guitar and bass necks and he just knew what to play,” Visconti said. “He was a blessing.”
(photo courtesy of mickronson.com)
“Mick Ronson was a far greater musician and a far greater person than anyone was allowed to know,” Cassidy said. “I loved him and admired his uniqueness, and was priviledged to have worked with him.”
“Ronno,” as he came to be known, got his start as a teenager in his hometown of Hull in Yorkshire, England, playing with a series of local bands that brought him to the attention of other British musicians.
In 1970, drummer John Cambridge came to Hull to recruit Ronson for Bowie’s band. Ronson reluctantly agreed, and was soon on stage with Bowie at a local club. Ronson wasn’t pleased with his audition.
“I didn’t know anything, none of the material,” Ronson said. “I just sat and watched David’s fingers. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I suppose it came across okay.”
But Bowie was impressed. Ronson and The Spiders From Mars backed him up for several years, including on the classic Ziggy Stardust album that won him critical acclaim. And Ronson’s memorable riffs and flashy on-stage performances put him firmly on the rock and roll map.
When the legendary rock band Mott the Hoople was on the verge of splintering, Bowie handed them one of his songs — the classic tune “All the Young Dudes” — and in 1974, Ronson stepped in to replace departing guitarist Ariel Bender. (Bender had earlier replaced Mick Ralphs, who went on to form Bad Company).
Ronson’s tenure with Mott was brief, but he struck up a friendship with the band’s front man, Ian Hunter. He would later take over lead guitar and production duties for Hunter’s solo work, gaining more attention and commercial success.
“Guitar slingers usually are concerned primarily with their own parts, and forsake the big picture for their own flash,” Stoner said. “Mick was a record producer who happened to have guitar chops. When you hired him, you were getting an extra set of production and arrangement ears along with the amazing guitar ideas.”
Ronson was also credited with helping revive Morrissey’s career in 1992, after the former Smiths singer’s solo efforts were beginning to lose steam. As a producer and musician, Ronson teamed with Morrissey, and the two also forged a friendship that Morrissey recalled after Ronson’s death from cancer in 1993.
“Mick spoke to me a few days before he died, and he was very happy, very enthusiastic about writing songs with me and getting back into the studio,” Morrissey said. “And it was astonishing, because a few days later, his wife telephoned me and she said, ‘My baby’s gone.’ It was incredibly painful.”
“I would just really like to say that Mick Ronson was one of the most astonishingly human and attractive people that I’ve ever met — and uplifting,” he said. “A very, very uplifting person.”
And one heck of a guitar player.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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