Born Ronald Frederick Lane on April 1, 1946, in London, England; died on June 4, 1997, in Trinidad, CO; married three times.
Ronnie Lane began his music career as bassist, singer, and songwriter in the British group the Small Faces, oriented toward the Mod and psychedelic styles; that band eventually evolved into the hard-drinking, harder-rocking Faces. His solo career, however, was marked by music with somber and introspective lyrics, and by acoustic instrumentation that brought to mind British folk and American Appalachian music in place of the raucous, hard-partying material favored by his former bands. Lane hinted at this progression with two of his best-known Faces compositions, "Stone" and "Ooh La La." The first song displayed evidence of his belief in the Eastern philosophy of guru Meher Baba, and the second was a wistful and sometimes whimsical examination of lost opportunities and fleeting youth. In the 1970s Lane seemed a searcher, hatching an ambitious plan for a perpetual gypsy-style tour of England with his band Slim Chance. Multiple sclerosis shortened his career and finally ended his life.
Lane grew up in a working-class family in Plaistow, a neighborhood in London, England. After leaving school when he was 16 to apprentice as a plumber, Lane picked up the guitar. The following year, Lane rose to prominence as the songwriting partner and onstage foil of bandmate Steve Marriott in the group the Outcasts, which was eventually renamed the Small Faces because the four band members were all of diminutive stature. The group had moderate success with the drug-themed songs "Here Comes the Nice" (which referred to amphetamines) and "Itchycoo Park" (whose lyrics were marijuana-related), and enjoyed critical accolades for the concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake.
After Marriott abandoned the band to form Humble Pie, Lane, drummer Kenny Jones, and keyboardist Ian McLagan recruited former Jeff Beck Group members Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood on, respectively, vocals and lead guitar. They billed themselves as the Faces, but the group's identity became submerged in the parallel solo career of Stewart, and Lane departed following the recording of the Ooh La La album. The title track of that LP was written by Lane and was later featured in the Wes Anderson film Rushmore.
While the remaining Faces soldiered on, Stewart later admitted that Lane was the heart and soul of the band, and they disbanded shortly thereafter. While still a member of the Faces, Lane appeared with fellow Meher Baba disciple Pete Townshend on the Who guitarist's debut solo album, Who Came First; he performed vocals on his own composition "Evolution," which had also been recorded as "Stone" on the debut Faces album, First Step. The duo also recorded uncredited backing vocals on the Rolling Stones' song, "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," on the album Sticky Fingers.
Lane invested many of his earnings with the Faces in a mobile recording studio that was used by such musical acts as the Who, Eric Clapton, and Led Zeppelin. He also purchased a farm in Wales. In the fall of 1973 he formed Slim Chance, which was a loosely rotating amalgamation of musicians. With Slim Chance, Lane mounted the Passing Show---a traveling show in which the musicians lived together in tents and performed along with jugglers, dancers, and circus artists. Slim Chance included such British music-scene stalwarts as Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, saxophonist Jimmy Jewell, keyboardist Billy Livsey, bassist Chris Stewart, and guitarist Kevin Westlake.
The group released its first single, "How Come," in 1973. An upbeat number that asked a series of existentialist questions punctuated with the statement "I ain't a superstitious fellow, but these things I see," the song also featured a vibrant, finger-picked guitar, mandolin, accordion, and shout-and-response vocals of the song's title. "How Come" entered the British Top 40 and was included on the Slim Chance 1974 release, Anymore for Anymore, which also featured the plaintively sung title track and the moderately successful hits "The Poacher" and "Bye and Bye (Gonna See the King)." By this time, Slim Chance boasted the talents of bassist Brian Belshaw, drummer Colin Davey, and multi-instrumentalists Charlie Hart, Ruan O'Lochlainn, and Steve Simpson.
Following the success of Anymore for Anymore, Lane signed with Island Records and released Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance. The album's first single, "What Went Down (That Night with You)," sank without a trace, as did the singles released from the third Slim Chance album, One for the Road. By this time, debts from the Passing Show's enormous expenditures threatened to bankrupt Lane, and he enlisted former bandmate and Rolling Stone guitarist Ron Wood to help him compose and perform the soundtrack to the film Mahoney's Last Stand.
In 1976, Lane teamed again with Townshend for their 1977 collaborative release, Rough Mix, which generated critical and public acclaim for both artists. Unusually for a collaborative effort, Rough Mix was divided equally between songs written and sung by the two stars. Although each provided instrumental support on the other's songs, the only song on which the two sang together was a remake of country star Don Williams's perennial wedding song, "Till the Rivers All Run Dry."
Guest artists on the album included Wood, Charlie Watts, Dave Marquee, and John Entwistle. Eric Clapton provided dobro accompaniment on Lane's composition "Annie," which is regarded as one of the songwriter's best efforts; also especially acclaimed were "Nowhere to Run" and "April Fool," a song that referred to Lane's birthday. The melancholy tone of "Nowhere to Run" and "April Fool"---exemplified by the lines "I take my dreams to bed now, where they belong/long gone" in the latter song---led some critics to conjecture that Lane wrote the songs after discovering he was a victim of multiple sclerosis, an illness that had also afflicted his mother.
Although it contained three of his most introspective songs, Rough Mix also featured one of Lane's most boisterous, "Catmelody," an uptempo piece with a barrelhouse piano riff, told from the perspective of a young man in destitute surroundings after drinking bootleg liquor and spending all his money in a brothel. Rough Mix earned a five-star (essential) rating from the Rolling Stone Record Guide. Physical symptoms had begun to trouble Lane as that album was recorded, and he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1970s. Lane released one more album of original material, See Me, which included the Townshend co-produced track "Kuschty Rye" and the ballad "Barcelona," co-written and recorded with Clapton.
Multiple sclerosis basically ended Lane's songwriting career after 1980, and his life as a performer was curtailed. Lane moved to the United States and searched for alternative therapies. Oxygen-chamber treatments Lane underwent in the early 1980s seemed to help, and Lane he was able to perform semi-regularly with his band the Tremors in Austin, Texas, whose roots music scene attracted Lane after he had originally settled in Houston. Lane performed as part of the 1983 Action Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) tour mounted on his behalf by rock luminaries Peter Townshend, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Kenny Jones, and Jimmy Page. He made a solo tour of Japan in 1990 and performed for the last time in 1992.
Late in his life, Lane moved to Colorado. Multiple sclerosis took Lane's life in 1997. He left behind many recordings that have been released since his death, including an unfinished album he began recording with a band called Big Dipper in 1981 that is included in the compilation Ronnie Lane: Lucky Seven. Many other live performances recorded throughout the 1970s and 1980s have since been released. When the Britpop explosion that included such bands as Oasis and Blur was at its peak in the mid-1990s, musicians such as Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, and the band Ocean Colour Scene acknowledged their indebtedness to Lane's work from the Small Faces through his solo career. His passing prompted many career overviews in the press that acknowledged his depth as a songwriter and boundless talent as a performer.
by Bruce Walker
Ronnie Lane's Career
Formed group the Small Faces, 1965; formed the Faces, featuring vocalist Rod Stewart, 1969; appeared on Pete Townshend solo album Who Came First, 1972; resigned from the Faces and formed band Slim Chance, 1973; released Anymore for Anymore and Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, 1974; released One for the Road, 1975; released soundtrack collaboration with Ronnie Wood, Mahoney's Last Stand, 1976; released collaborative album with Pete Townshend, Rough Mix, 1977; diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, 1979; released album, See Me, 1980; inspired guitarist Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page among other rock figures to mount ARMS foundation benefit concert tour, 1983; moved to Texas and formed Austin band the Tremors, 1980s; toured Japan, 1990.
- Selected discography
- Anymore for Anymore GM, 1974.
- Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance A&M, 1974.
- One for the Road Island, 1975.
- (With Ron Wood)Mahoney's Last Stand Atco, 1976.
- (With Pete Townshend) Rough Mix MCA, 1977; reissued, Atlantic, 1989.
- See Me GM, 1980; reissued, Edsel, 1996.
- Ronnie Lane and the Band Slim Chance: Anymore for Anymore ... Plus GM, 1992.
- Kuschty Rye: The Singles, 1973-1980 Pilot 19, 1997.
- Ronnie Lane: Rocket 69 Radio Bremen, 2001.
- Ronnie Lane: Live in Austin Sideburn, 2001.
- Ronnie Lane: Lucky Seven NMC Music, 2002.
- Marsh, Dave, and John Swenson, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1980.
- Austin Chronicle, December 8, 2000.
- Melody Maker September 17, 1977.
- Rolling Stone, April 1, 1999.
- Good Boys ... When They're Asleep: The Official Faces Website, http://www.the-faces.com/ (October 30, 2003).
- "Ronnie Lane," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (October 30, 2003).
- Additional information was obtained from the liner notes for See Me, Edsel, 1996, and the liner notes for Ronnie Lane and the Band Slim Chance: Anymore for Anymore ... Plus, GM Records, 1992.