by Kirk Blows
From Bowie to a case of producer's Blues, Mick Ronson has kept on moving.
But now he gets back to what he likes best--guitar playing and touring.
Kirk Blows finds out why...
Few people in the world have the freedom to follow purely their instincts, but guitar legend Mick Ronson is one such character. From the early, stars in his eyes days with David Bowie's Spiders From Mars, duringwhich he bared his spirited guitar work on The Man Who Stole The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, more briefly joining Mott The Hoople for a short spell in 1974 (playing on just the Saturday Gigs single) and recording his two, largely idiosyncratic solo albums--the highly rated Slaughter On Tenth Avenue ('74) and Play Don't Worry ('75)--Ronson has continued to follow his own, unique course.
But it was the guitarists liason with Ian Hunter when joining Mott that was to prove most significant, for when the vocalist decided to quit the band in the mid-seventies, it was Ronson who decided to go with him and hence he was part of the band who played on Hunter's debut solo, Ian Hunter (receiving a co-production credit).
But Ronson wasn't entirely happy. Feeling restless, he upped and departed to spend time working with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Dr. John, as well as frequent forays into production, subsequently re-uniting with Hunter to co-produce and play on the vocalist's successful You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic ('79) and Short Back 'N' Sides ('81) albums.
This was followed only by a brief appearance on the latter's All Of The Good Ones Are Taken in 1983. Since then it's been pretty quiet on the Ronson front, until the Hunter/Ronson marriage was revived for last year's YUI ORTA album (Mercury). The magnetic attraction between the two had struck again.
'We don't know what it is but we do work very well together,' Ronson says when reflecting on why their two different careers continue to cross paths. 'We've always been very good friends and there's something about when we do work together, there's like some kind of reaction. There's something that goes on, we don't know what it is but it happens. You get two people together and for some unknown reason it's like a magical sort of thing that goes on.'
'And two heads are better than one, anyway. Ian's very opinionated about certain things. But then again so am I. We see things very differently. But we work it out, you know. It's good for both of us. I don't get all my own way and neither does he. I can say to Ian, 'Look, that stinks, that's rubbish.' He's done lots of things with other people but I don't think people are honest enough with him. It's like, 'Yes boss, no boss,' they kind of agree with him all the time. But you don't want people to agree with you all the time, you want somebody that you can talk to and be honest with. We're honest with each other and that's why it works.'
It could be easily said that Ronson and Hunter have enjoyed a love/hate relationship over the years, but it seems that Ronson's continuous meanderings into different projects away from Hunter has more to do with his instinctive inclinations to do something different. Yes, it just comes down to getting bored.
'I remember we went out on a couple of tours after the Schizophrenic album,' Ronson recalls, 'and it was good, but I kind of felt like I wanted to do something else. So when it came round to booking another tour, I said 'Look, I'm not doing it, I can't do it.' I didn't feel right, I didn't feel like I was being honest with myself. I didn't want to play the guitar that badly. I didn't want to go out there and play All The Young Dudes again.'
From there the perennial traveller packed his bags and took himself off to Canada, producing a couple of albums for The Payolas and Lisa Dalbello, but he clearly wasn't feeling good about music, playing guitar, or for that matter, himself.
'I didn't want to be known as a guitar player, I wanted to be known for other things that I can do. So I decided to leave the business basically. I wanted to become a chef, I was thinking of going to college. But I never did that either. But yeah, there was a while there when I lost myself. People do though, people lose themselves all the time. And when that happens it can last for years.
'It doesn't help because you have to have your ears and eyes open as to what's going on. I don't have any regrets, but there's been a few times there where I haven't felt very good about myself and I haven't felt very good about anybody else either.'
One thing Mick Ronson does value about the music business is the freedom it allows. He currently owns a house in Woodstock, though he admits that he's spent very little time there over the last 10 years. He ponders the idea of spending some months in Amsterdam, or Brussels or maybe Paris. He spends time in London, indeed a couple of years ago he relocated to Nashville for a while, where he ended up again in the producer's chair.
'I actually had a hit album out there (having twiddled the knobs on an LP by country artist David Lynn Jones) and people were saying, 'Look, you can stick around here and have a successful career'--I could have got a lot of work down there but it would have felt as if I was retiring, like it was paper 'n' slippers time or something.'
Yes, Ronson values his freedom but it's a luxury that many do not have...
'Yeah, that's because they choose not to have it. People can have a lot more freedom if they want it, they just choose not to. And the same musically too, people aren't free enough musically, I don't think. Musicians get into a routine and it ends up like a regular job. I cannot understand that logic.
'In a way I can, because it's easy to fall into 'cos I was falling into it too. But not for very long and that's why I wasn't feeling very good about myself either. I knew that was happening it was becoming like a job or something. And I didn't want any part of that.'
Indeed, his experience in Nashville served as a period of rejuvination for him. Ronson wanted to start playing again.
'I'd given up playing the guitar for a long time and then I got the urge to play again. I was talking to Ian (Hunter), 'cos I always talk to Ian whether we're working together or not and I said, 'Look, I gotta do something, I wanna start playing the guitar again, I wanna go out. I didn't want to be in the studio all the time (as he was in Nashville).
'To me, being in the studio all the time was like I was doing a regular nine to five job or something. And that's precisely why I wanted to get into the music business in the first place, because I wanted freedom. And I wanted the freedom to be able to play what I wanted and do what I wanted. I want my freedom. I want to do whatever I want to do whenever I feel like doing it.
'That's what music's all about. There's too many people in this business nowadays where it's just like a job. When I first started playing people used to play because they wanted to play, it never really entered into people's heads about money. These days it's just making money, that's about the extent of it. And half the people you see, it's like a fashion business. That's the top priority, money and that's just bullshit.'
Last year saw the aforementioned YUI ORTA album, a project which was pre-empted by a European tour prior to its release and then a full UK tour shortly after it hitting the shops. Indeed these dates were the first British performances from Ronson in some 15 years.
'I didn't miss anything,' he says. 'I just wanted to kind of explore. I wanted to get involved in different kinds of music, be with different people, it was something I had to do. Otherwise, I'd have just kicked myself in the teeth when I got older.
'People get older and have all these regrets--'I wish I'd have done this when I had the chance' and I don't want to turn round to myself and say that. I've made mistakes but you learn from mistakes. Mistakes make you stronger. Nobody should be frightened of making mistakes, because that makes you super-careful and when you're super-careful there's no soul anymore.'
Ronson goes on to talk about how music is continuously labelled, pigeon-holed and categorised and it irks him. I mention a quote from Lou Reed recently, where he claimed to 'be making Rock and Roll for adults.
'I think you should be making Rock and Roll for anybody, young kids as well. Why not? A lot of music is geared to a certain age group nowadays and I think that's wrong.
'I don't think you should have music for teenagers or music for the over 21s. I think music is a general thing and it should be felt by everyobody.'
Was it difficult getting back into playing the guitar again?
'Not at all, because I felt like playing again. It's down to instincts. You follow your heart and you follow your conscience.
'Like I don't mind playing those old songs now, because it's part of something I was involved with, it's part of me.'