Mick Ronson and the New York Yanquis: Growing Up In Public
The Island Ear
by Alvin Eng
'When you go to bed and sleep and have a dream, everything seems so simple, right there and then. When you're actually face to face with reality it's very difficult to accomplish the things that are inside your head. The only way you can get near some things in your head is through a lot of hard work, and a lot of time spent on it. And l'm just starting out now to do what l want to do, and l'm prepared to take that time to do it,' said a slightly disgruntled Mick Ronson. After a solid decade plus in the music industry, his dreaming is over. Tired of being the added attraction for David Bowie, Ian Hunter or anyone, Ronson is now 'starting' to embark on his own career.
'If I don't start doing this right now, l'm not gonna get any better at it - am I?' threatened Ronson. 'You've got to start figuring out whatyou want to do. lt doesn't take two weeks, it takes a few months, it takes a long time! lt goes through all different changes, and that's what's going on right now; l'm going through all different changes. I know what l want to do, but the hard thing is figuring out the people to do it. l know what I want to do, it's just getting the people to play it.' Which brings us to the NY Yanquis, the first of Ronson's independent bids for stability. Just who are the Yanquis? 'The Yanquis are a self-contained band in that they can do anything they want to do, play anywhere they want to play, play anyway they want to play. lt's not really my band,' Ronson confessed. 'lt was all done very quickly and here we are, it could lasta very long time and it could last a very short time, l'm not sure.'
That's who they are conceptually; individually they are Shayne Fontayne on guitar, Ann Langte on vocals, Frank Campbell - bass, Dede Washburn- percussion, Wells Kelly on drums, and Tommy Gun on keyboards. Together with Ronson they performed an interesting but lacking set at My Father's Place August 1 1th. At first glance at their equipment you can expect anything from Grace Jones to Dire Straits, but you actually get Ronson-roll with a rhythmic swing. After an uneventful delay, they opened with 'F.B.l.' Ronson's sharp and articulate guitar took control of the music and your senses for the duration of the show. His vocals, the Yanquis and the material suffered from a lack of interesting diversity, fécus and rehearsals. Kind of like Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and Ron Wood's New Barbarians minus their glamorous chaos. Ronson and the Yanquis scored through glimpses of elegant arrangements and raw power.
Throughout many an impassioned (but still stiff) or pain-faced guitar solo, Ronson seemed to be searching. He would find the right notes but not the right feel; music as therapy. Sometimes to know where someone's going, you've got to know where they've been. But how do you pin down the roots of an ex-Spider From Mars, Mott the Hoople-ite and producer of Ellen Foley and David Johansen? 'l'm a very simple sort of person and I like a simple sort of music too, very folk-oriented. That's the way I grew up in my hometown in England. I'm trying to get back to that very simple way of playing, l'm not very good at playing technical stuff. I can be very good at playing something simple. I rely on simple melodies, that's where I come from.' Ronson on Ronson, humble maybe but accurate is more the word. His current work with the Yanquis (whose spelling is a legality not a streamlining) was slated for an aborted mid-70's solo LP (his third), but it still reflects him well. Traces of Ziggy and Dylan via Hunter loom beneath the surface of a lot of the material.
Many people believe Ronson's talents flourished while serving as lead guitarist/arranger/producer of the lan Hunter Band. Apparently Ronson is unsatisfied with that position and would like to improve his own solo status. But will they ever team up again'? 'There's a possibility of doing that, sure, I love lan, he's a great friend to me.' lt'sjust that this is something l got to do right now, and Ian can do whatever he wants to do and I'll do whatever I want to do right now. We'll see what happens later,' expressed Ronson enthusiastically. 'lt doesn't mean to say I'm never gonna work with him again.'
The courage of such a move must be admired, but the results haven't yet met their potential. Ronson doesn't quite have the charisma of aseasoned frontman, but his charm and brilliance as a guitarist is undiminished. Let's hope time is on his side.