Mick Ronson - Musician
Created | Updated May 28, 2013
Born Michael Ronson on 26 May, 1946 in the Yorkshire city of Hull. His early ambition was to be a concert pianist or a music teacher. At the age of 17 he bought his first guitar, an acoustic Rosetti. Shortly after that he joined his first band, The Mariners.
In 1965 he made the first of several moves to London, where he had various jobs and soon joined a band called The Voice, who were backed by a religious cult called The Process. After returning from a holiday in Hull, he came back to find his gear on his bed and a note explaining 'we've bought an island and we've gone off to the Bahamas with Bob and Mary Ann' and that was the end of the band.
After leaving the voice Mick joined a Motown covers band called The Wanted, but the relationship was shortlived and Mick soon moved back to Hull.
While he was working in a local paint factory, Mick joined a local band called The Rats who released a few moderately successful singles between 1967 - 1968 and an album called The Rise and Fall of Bernie Gripplestone and The Rats from Hull. This album did not receive a proper release until 1994. In the meantime, Mick was rapidly acquiring a reputation as Hull's answer to Jeff Beck. The Rats eventually split after a tour in France ended in financial disaster.
The Bowie Years
Whilst working as a gardener in his home town of Hull, an offer came to play on the Michael Chapman album Fully Qualified Survivor (1969). Somehow Mick was introduced to David Bowie, who invited him to play on The John Peel Sunday Show with him. Shortly afterwards, Bowie formed a band called The Hype in which Mick played guitar, with Tony Visconti on bass and John Cambridge on drums. The following year Cambridge was replaced on drums by Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey and work began on the album The Man Who Sold the World; when the album was completed, Mick returned to Hull and enlisted Trevor Bolder and the former Rats to form a new band, Ronno. The band issued a single, but the project was soon put on hold.
At this point Bowie was gearing up to record his next album and offered Ronson the job of lead guitarist and band arranger. Tony Visconti moved onto working with T-Rex, so Bowie recruited Ken Scott and work started on Hunky Dory. With Hunky Dory barely completed, Bowie was seized by a concept that would take things to the next level - a rock 'n' roll allegory centred around a doomed futuristic rock star and his band. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars became the vehicle for Bowie's success and told the story of this futuristic rock star's rise and ultimate demise. Just after its completion the band began touring.
To many people, Bowie was shocking - and his performance of 'Starman' on Top of the Pops on 6 July, 1972 where he put his arm round Mick Ronson - was a pivotal moment. Then, with the Bowie/Ronson creative partnership at its peak, Bowie retired Ziggy at the Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July, 1973. The concert was recorded by DA Pennebaker and re-released in 2003 on DVD. It features some sterling work by Mick on the guitar.
Aladdin Sane was the follow-up and was described by Bowie as 'Ziggy does America'. The final Bowie/Spiders album was Pin-ups.
Soon after its completion, Mick embarked on a solo career releasing his 1974 debut album Slaughter on 10th Avenue. Although the album did well, Mick was not at ease as a front man. And when his second solo album Play Don't Worry was in production, he began working with Mott the Hoople.
Ronson joined Ian Hunter again in 1975 working on Ian Hunter's first solo album. This eventually led to a 20-year on/off partnership with Ian Hunter.
At a New York club in 1975, Hunter introduced Mick to Bob Dylan. Dylan then invited Mick to join him for the first Rolling Thunder tour and between October 1975 and May 1976, Ronson was a full-time member of Dylan's touring band. During the second leg, however, Dylan's interest in him waned and Mick left the tour. At the end of 1976, Mick was working on David Cassidy's album but departed shortly after his father's death.
During the 1980s Ronson began producing albums for artists such as the Payolas, Dalbello and T-Bone Burnett as well as continuing to work with Ian Hunter.
However, in 1991 he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. In 1992 he produced Morrissey's Your Arsenal and later began recording his last solo album Heaven and Hull. Sadly he died on 29 April, 1993 before completing the recording. Heaven and Hull was later released after being completed by some of Mick's close friends.
I was never really a writer, I was always more of a performer. David [Bowie] was a writer and performer. What I'm good at is putting riffs to things, and hooklines: making things up so songs sound more memorable.
Actually, I never liked Dylan's kind of music before; I always thought he sounded just like Yogi Bear.
I've always thought that the act of playing the guitar was the act of trying to make a point of playing the guitar. With David Bowie, I played that guitar for all it was worth. I was playing the thing seriously and I wasn't trying to be clever playing it. I played a lot of simple things in the interest of being direct. I mean, if you get sort of fancy and cluttered, it's kind of hard for people to pick up on. You're baffling them with science.
- Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974)
- Play Don't Worry (1975)
- Heaven and Hull (1993)
- Indian Summer (2000)
- Just Like This (1999)
- Showtime (1999)
- Mick Ronson Website
- A Mick Ronson Internet Resource
- The Spider with the Platinum Hair by Weird and Gilly, Independent Music Press
- Search for more information about Mick Ronson at Allmusic.com