Ronnie Lane, 1946-1997
Mojo, August 1997
WHEN RONNIE LANE DIED ON JUNE 4 AT A HOSPITAL IN Trinidad, Colorado, one of the shining lights of the '60s and '70s British music scene was terribly extinguished. Awareness of his much-publicised 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis seemed to do little to mollify the grief that came with his passing.
Born on April Fool's Day (a fact Lane wore as a badge of honour), success came early when, with his father's encouragement, he picked up a guitar and formed The Outcasts, who would evolve into The Small Faces. His songwriting partnership with Steve Marriott was one of the most artistically and commercially fruitful of the era and musicians not yet born when The Small Faces fell apart in 1969 drop their name. This pleased Lane, who maintained an active interest in younger bands right up to the very end.
Marriott's defection to form Humble Pie proved a blessing in disguise for Plonk Lane and cohorts Ian McLagan and Kenny Jones. Allying themselves with Jeff Beck Group refugees Ron Wood and Rod Stewart elevated the now-shortened Faces from a largely British phenomenon to a world-class barnstorming brigade whose well-lubricated camaraderie and blind lurches into rock'n'roll mayhem would serve as a blueprint for dozens of bands in subsequent years. Rod Stewart would remember Ronnie as being "like Keith Richards is to the Stones, the essence of the Faces: the backbone, the heart of it."
After leaving The Faces, Lane bought a farm in Wales and took up the life of shepherding troubadour His next group, Slim Chance, a rough-and-tumble rock'n'folk hybrid, emphasised acoustic guitars, mandolins, accordions, and spirit over virtuosity. The albums Anymore For Anymore, Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance and One For The Road are boisterous classics which translated a love of rural landscapes, smoky pubs and a wanderling's life into exquisitely heartfelt music. Shortly after releasing the hit How Come, Lane fulfilled a long-time ambition of taking a caravan on tour across the English countryside. Dubbed The Passing Show, it included musicians, jugglers, dancers, downs, and all manner of sundry wayfarers. But poor planning and promotion made the tour a financial disaster from which Lane never fully recovered.
In the mid-'70s several collaborative albums included a soundtrack, Mahoney's Last Stand, with Ron Wood, and Rough Mix with Pete Townshend, who was to recall, "I didn't go into that album at all willingly, and I didn't really enjoy making it all that much. And I'm always amazed at what a nice record it turned out to be."
By 1977, it became clear something was seriously wrong with Lane's health. Lack of co-ordination and numbness in his arms prompted him to seek out a doctor who made the grim diagnosis which would drastically change the course of this life. (Ronnie's mother, who died in 1990, also suffered from the debilitating illness.)
Even so, his 1980 album, See Me, was characteristically excellent and understated, including the lovely ballad Barcelona, co-written with Eric Clapton.
Lane spent years desperately seeking a way to curb the effects of the disease, and underwent a number of alternative treatments, including snake venom injections in the early '80s. Dramatic improvement to his health resulting from the use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber spurred a series of 1983 concerts both in England and America for ARMS (Action Research of Multiple Sclerosis). "The spirit of the whole thing was so good, it was incredible," recalls participant Jimmy Page. Momentum collapsed when it was discovered that money from the American shows was diverted from its intended purpose.
By then, Lane had relocated to Texas, first to Houston, then Austin, where he lived for nearly a decade. Embraced by its music community, he played there with a re-vamped Slim Chance as well as a backing group, The Tremors, In 1990, he toured Japan with a band which included Ian McLagan. By 1992 he was too ill to sing, and in 1994, moved to Trinidad, Colorado, a small mining town in the Rocky Mountains.
Lane is survived by his wife, Susan, and two sons from a previous marriage. As much as his music, Lane is remembered for a robust twinkle-in-the-eye spirit which affected all who knew him in a deep and abiding way. Long-time friend and producer Glyn Johns had this to say on learning of his death. "He had a wonderful and lasting effect on a huge number of people through his music, and particularly those of us who were fortunate enough to come in contact with him. I will always smile when I think of him."
"Ronnie was the essence of The Faces: the backbone, the heart of it." Rod Stewart
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Last updated: 26 July 1997
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