He played on some of Bowie’s greatest records, but the talents of the guitar great from Hull stretched much further.
The self-effacing Yorkshireman made Bowie famous, was the sound of glam rock and revitalised the Velvet Underground.
Although he had only two solo albums released in his lifetime (Slaughter On 10th Avenue and Play Don’t Worry), Mick Ronson enjoyed a period as one of Britain’s greatest guitarists, thanks to groundbreaking performances with David Bowie before, during and after The Dame’s rise to fame. The fulcrum on Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Ronson’s skills – player, arranger, musical director – made him indispensable, until Bowie changed tactics for Diamond Dogs.
Never at ease in promoting his solo albums, Ronno preferred a collaborative role, one he’d perfected in his most significant home town (Hull) band,
The Rats. His first major project was also local: his contribution to Michael Chapman’s second album, 1970’s Fully Qualified Surveyor. Chapman said: “That bugger’s the best guitarist around.”
This was the point when Bowie and his then-producer Tony Visconti first came across the skinny, reticent Ronson. Many have noticed certain similarities between the Chapman recording and Bowie’s Hunky Dory, the album signalling the mutation of hippie bohemia into emerging glam rock.
Ronson’s involvement in Lou Reed’s Transformer showcased his string arranging and sharp guitar vision, and helped rescue a bunch of material lying around in half-finished form. His later work with Ian Hunter was fruitful, although the Bowie-mania days were never replaced. He also did sterling work with other side projects, including the Pure Prairie League and Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. “I’d follow him [Bob] anywhere,” Ronson vowed. “That whole tour was this huge adventure. There was Joan Baez, [Roger] McGuinn, Allen Ginsberg. There was Dylan. And there I was too. For a lad from Yorkshire it was truly out of this world.”
After that, Ronno’s career was punctuated with hits, but not many. For every John Cougar there was a David Cassidy. A latter-day Bowie reunion and vital assists to Morrissey’s Your Arsenal coincided with the knowledge that he had inoperable liver cancer, but he worked up until his death in April 1993, aged just 46.
Morrissey’s guitarist Boz Boorer recalled: “I can see him in front of a deafening Marshall head, dialling in a sound he could hear, a master at work.”
The Starman with his star man.