A Rockapaedia Obituary
Mick Ronson died aged forty-six of liver cancer on 29th April 1993. The following 6th May, his funeral was held in a Mormon chapel in London although he had been raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In his memory, the Mick Ronson Memorial Stage was constructed in Queen's Gardens, Hull.
Mick Ronson was born in Kingston upon Hull in 1946 and was the first son of George and Minnie Ronson and had two younger siblings, Maggi and David. Mick Ronson was married to Suzanne Fussey, a hairdresser, who worked for David Bowie at the same time that he did. They had a daughter, Lisa, a former vocalist with The Secret History. Mick had two sons, Nicholas, born 1971, with his girlfriend Denise, as well as Joakim, born 1990.
As a child he was trained classically to play piano, recorder, violin, and the harmonium. He initially wanted to be a cellist, but moved to guitar upon discovering the music of Duane Eddy, whose sound on the bass notes of his guitar sounded to Mick similar to that of the cello. He joined his first band, The Mariners, in November 1963, when he was seventeen. His stage debut with The Mariners was in support of the Keith Herd Band at Brough Village Hall. While Mick Ronson was working with The Mariners, another local Hull group – The Crestas – recruited him on the advice of The Mariners' bassist John Griffiths. With Mick Ronson on board the Crestas gained a solid reputation, making regular appearances at local halls.
In 1965, Mick Ronson left The Crestas, moving to London to seek work. He took a part-time job as a mechanic, and joined a band called The Voice, replacing Miller Anderson. Soon afterwards, Crestas' drummer Dave Bradfield travelled to London, replacing the Voice's previous drummer. After playing a few dates with the group, Mick Ronson and Bradfield returned from a weekend in Hull to find their gear piled at their flat and a note explaining that the rest of the group had gone to The Bahamas. Mick Ronson stayed in London and teamed up briefly with a soul band called The Wanted, before eventually returning to Hull. In 1966, he joined Hull's top local band, The Rats, joining singer Benny Marshall, bassist Geoff Appleby, and drummer Jim Simpson. The group played the local circuit, and made a few unsuccessful trips to London and Paris.
In 1967 The Rats recorded the one-off psychedelic track, "The Rise and Fall of Bernie Gripplestone" at Fairview Studios in Willerby, East Riding, Yorkshire and can be heard on the 2008 release, Front Room Masters – Fairview Studios 1966–1973. In 1968 the band changed their name briefly to Treacle and booked another recording session at Fairview Studios in 1969, before reverting to their original name. Around this time, Mick Ronson was recommended by Rick Kemp to play guitar on Michael Chapman's Fully Qualified Survivor album.
In 1968 Keith 'Ched' Cheesman joined The Rats replacing Geoff Appleby on bass and the line up of Mick Ronson, Marshall, Cheesman and Cambridge entered Fairview studio to record "Guitar Boogie", "Stop and Get A Hold of Myself" and "Morning Dew".
In March 1970, during the recording sessions for Elton John's album Tumbleweed Connection, Mick Ronson played guitar on the track "Madman Across the Water". This song, however, was not included in the original release. The recording featuring Mick Ronson was released on the 1992 compilation album, Rare Masters, as well as the 1995 reissue and 2008 deluxe edition of Tumbleweed Connection.
Early in 1970, John Cambridge came back to Hull in search of Mick Ronson, intent upon recruiting him for a new David Bowie backing band called The Hype. He found Mick Ronson marking out a rugby pitch, one of his duties as a Parks Department gardener for Hull City Council. Having failed in his earlier attempts in London, Mick Ronson was reluctant, but eventually agreed to accompany Cambridge to a meeting with Bowie. Two days later, on 5th February, Mick Ronson made his debut with Bowie on John Peel's national BBC Radio 1 show.
The Hype played their first gig at The Roundhouse on 22nd February with a line-up that included Bowie, Mick Ronson, Cambridge, and producer/bassist Tony Visconti. Also on the bill that day were Bachdenkel, The Groundhogs and Caravan. The following day they performed at the Streatham Arms in London under the pseudonym of 'Harry The Butcher'. They also performed on 28th February at the Basildon Arts Lab experimental music club at the Basildon Arts Centre in Essex, billed as 'David Bowie's New Electric Band'. In April 1970, Mick Ronson, Woodmansey, and Visconti started recording David Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold the World' album.
During the sessions for The Man Who Sold the World, the trio of Mick Ronson, Visconti, and Woodmansey – still under The Hype moniker – signed to Vertigo Records. The group recruited Benny Marshall from The Rats as vocalist, and entered the studio to record an album. By the time a single appeared, The Hype had been renamed Ronno. "4th Hour of My Sleep" was released on Vertigo to an indifferent reception in January 1971. The Ronno album was never completed.
Bowie's backing ensemble, which now included Trevor Bolder, who had replaced Visconti on bass guitar, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, were used in the recording of Hunky Dory. The departure of Visconti also meant that Mick Ronson, with David Bowie, took over the arrangements, while Ken Scott co-produced with Bowie. Hunky Dory featured Mick Ronson's string arrangements on several tracks, including "Life On Mars?".
It was this band, minus Wakeman, that became known as The Spiders from Mars also the title of the next Bowie album. Again, Mick Ronson was a key part of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, providing string arrangements and various instrumentation, as well as playing lead guitar. Mick Ronson and David Bowie achieved some notoriety over the concerts promoting this album, when Bowie would simulate fellatio on Mick Ronson's guitar as he played. Mick Ronson's guitar and arranging during the Spiders from Mars era provided much of the underpinning for later punk rock musicians. In 1972 Mick Ronson provided a strings-and-brass arrangement for the song "Sea Diver" on the Bowie-produced 'All the Young Dudes' album for Mott the Hoople. Mick Ronson co-produced Lou Reed's album 'Transformer' with Bowie, playing lead guitar and piano on the songs "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love". Again with Bowie, he re-recorded and produced the track "The Man Who Sold the World" for Lulu, released as a single in the UK, and played on a few tracks on the Dana Gillespie album Weren't Born a Man. Mick Ronson appeared on the 1972 country rock album Bustin' Out by Pure Prairie League, where he undertook string ensemble arrangements and contributed guitar and vocals on several tracks, most notably "Angel #9", which Mick Ronson recorded for his second solo LP Play Don't Worry.
Mick Ronson's guitar work was next heard on Bowie's Aladdin Sane and 1973 covers album Pin Ups. However, he was absent from the subsequent Diamond Dogs album. In September 1983 he was a special guest at the Toronto leg of the Serious Moonlight Tour, playing lead guitar during the performance of "The Jean Genie".
Bowie said in a 1994 interview that "Mick was the perfect foil for the Ziggy character. He was very much a salt-of-the-earth type, the blunt northerner with a defiantly masculine personality, so that what you got was the old-fashioned Yin and Yang thing. As a rock duo, I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash. Ziggy and Mick were the personification of that rock n roll dualism."
After leaving Bowie's entourage after the "Farewell Concert" in 1973 , Mick Ronson released three solo albums. His solo debut Slaughter on 10th Avenue, featured a version of Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender", as well as his most famous solo track, "Only After Dark". In addition, his sister, Margaret (Maggi) Ronson, provided the backing vocals for the set. Between this and the 1975 follow-up, Mick Ronson had a short-lived stint with Mott the Hoople.
He then became a long-time collaborator with Mott's former leader Ian Hunter, commencing with the album 'Ian Hunter' and featuring the UK Singles Chart No. 14 hit "Once Bitten, Twice Shy", including a spell touring as the Hunter Mick Ronson Band. In 1980, the live album Welcome to the Club was released. In 1974, Mick Ronson secured the No. 2 spot from a reader's poll in Creem magazine as the best guitarist that year.
Mick Ronson contributed guitar to the title track of the 1976 David Cassidy release Getting It in the Street. On 11 February 1977 the single "Billy Porter" (b/w "Seven Days") was released on RCA Victor Records, but did not chart. Roger Daltrey employed Mick Ronson's guitar on his 1977 solo release One of the Boys.
In 1982, Mick Ronson worked with John Mellencamp on his American Fool album, and in particular the song "Jack & Diane":
Both "Jack & Diane" and American Fool topped their respective US Billboard charts.
Mick Ronson was recruited to Midge Ure's band for Ure's Gift tour in 1985. After weeks of rehearsal, Mick Ronson left the band due to financial disagreements and was replaced by Zal Cleminson.
In 1990, Mick Ronson again collaborated with Ian Hunter on the album YUI Orta, this time getting joint credit, as "Hunter/Mick Ronson". One of the backing singers on the album was Carola Westerlund. While in Sweden Mick Ronson wrote and produced three new songs with Estelle Millburne and Westerlund as EC2: "I'm So Sorry"/"Kiss Me" , then a second single as ECII: "Passion".
In 1993, he again appeared on a Bowie album, Black Tie White Noise, playing on the track "I Feel Free", originally recorded by Cream. Mick Ronson and David Bowie had already covered this track live 20 years earlier, whilst touring as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. He also played lead guitar on the Morrissey-penned "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday".
His second and third solo albums were Play Don't Worry in 1975, and Heaven and Hull in 1994. The latter set was only partly completed at the time of Mick Ronson's death, and was released posthumously.
Besides Bowie and Hunter, Mick Ronson went on to work as a musician, songwriter and record producer with many other acts. He did not restrict his influence behind the recording desk to just established acts. His production work appears on albums by more obscure artists, such as Payolas, Phil Rambow and Los Illegals, The Mundanes and Italian band Moda. Mick Ronson produced The Visible Targets, a Seattle, Washington-based group, on their 1983 five track EP, "Autistic Savant". In 1985 he produced and played on the four song EP "Stillwell Avenue" with the NYC based band XDAVIS.
Mick Ronson was also a member of Bob Dylan's "Rolling Thunder Revue" live band, and can be seen both on and off-stage in the film of the tour. He made a connection with Roger McGuinn during this time, which led to his producing and contributing guitar and arrangements to McGuinn's 1976 solo album 'Cardiff Rose'.
In 1982, he participated on lead guitar in a short-lived band with Hilly Michaels on drums and Les Fradkin on bass guitar. One of their recordings from this group, "Spare Change", appeared on the Fradkin's 2006 album, Goin' Back. In 1987, Mick Ronson made an appearance on a record by The Toll and played lead on the band's song, "Stand in Winter", from the album The Price of Progression.
In 1991, Mick Ronson produced the Swedish cult band The Leather Nun's album, Nun Permanent, adding backing vocals and guitar overdubs on several tracks. At the end of the production, during a short visit to his sister in London, Mick Ronson was diagnosed with cancer. In 1992 he produced Morrissey's album, Your Arsenal. The same year, Mick Ronson's final high-profile live performance was his appearance at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. He played on "All the Young Dudes" with Bowie and Hunter; and "Heroes" with Bowie. .