For his birthday today we remember the late Mick Ronson, who was a force in rock and roll as a session guitarist, best remembered for his work on some classic David Bowie albums.
Born in 1946, Michael “Mick” Ronson hailed from England and bounced around local bands in his youth in the 1960s before he finally hit pay dirt landing a gig with Elton John, playing guitar on his “Madman Across the Water” song from John’s Tumbleweed Connection sessions. That song remained unreleased and later became the name of an Elton John album, but it put Ronson in more of a high profile in the music community as a result. Following this, he crossed paths with David Bowie and was the lead guitarist on Bowie’s records The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, and Bowie’s 1972 breakthrough release The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. Ronson was one of the Spiders From Mars and his guitar sound lent as much to the Bowie glam rock/hard rock/early punk sound that has been often associated with Bowie throughout that time.
As I mentioned last month in an article about The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [see Hall Of Shame: 6 Bands Snubbed By The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame] about Marc Bolan and T-Rex, who also had a similar sound at the time, the crucial distinction about Bolan and Bowie was that Bolan could play his own guitar and solos with equal fervor, while Bowie came up the songs, but needed the fire of Ronson’s fluid, dirty sonicgrams to really crystallize them.
Ronson stayed with Bowie for a few more records and then released a few solo albums, had a short-lived stint with Mott the Hoople, played guitar for a Roger Daltrey solo release, guested on John Mellencamp’s American Fool album (which included the 1980s hit “Jack and Diane”), and as the 1980s wore on, he played with artists as eclectically different as Morrissey, T-Bone Burnett, Benny Mardones, and even Bob Dylan.
His final public appearance was at a 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in which he reunited with Bowie and Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter to perform a rendition of Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes.” He died of liver cancer the following year at the age of 46.
Ronson’s work lives on. Most people may not remember the man, but they certainly remember the sound, when they hear the great work he did on the song “Ziggy Stardust” or “Starman,” or any of the classic cuts from that pioneering David Bowie release. Mick Ronson is one of rock and roll’s unsung heroes indeed. Here’s to you, Mick.