A highly respected musician, Ronson deservedly secured the number 2 spot in the Best Guitarist readers poll in Creem magazine in 1974. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page took first place, with Eric Clapton in third place after Ronson who was never a flashy guitar player, measured in notes-per-second, but a true musician, who put his heart and soul into everything he did.
Michael Ronson was born in Hull, Yorkshire, in the North East of England. 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 50’s American guitarist Duane Eddy, (“Rebel Rouser” and “Peter Gunn”), whose sound on the bass notes of his guitar sounded to Ronson similar to that of the cello.
As a gigging musician Ronson worked his way through various local bands in the early 60’s, including The Mariners, The Crestas and The Voice, before joining Hull’s top local band, The Rats, who in 1967 recorded the one-off psychedelic track, “The Rise And Fall Of Bernie Gripplestone”, (was David Bowie later inspired by this title for his The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust?).
Following the David Bowie albums The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory the group became known as The Spiders From Mars which was taken from the title of the next Bowie album (and now considered a classic), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Ronson played a key part in the recording of Ziggy Stardust, providing string arrangements and various instrumentation, as well as playing lead guitar. Later promoting the album live in concert, Ronson and Bowie soon achieved some notoriety when Bowie would simulate fellatio on Ronson’s guitar as he played, with the skinny spiky haired Bowie falling to his knees burying his head in Ronson’s guitar. Such glam showmanship during The Spiders from Mars era, which saw Ronson strutting around the stage with a cigarette hanging from mouth, provided much of the underpinning for later punk rock musicians and Glam Metal.
Leaving Bowie’s entourage in 1973, Ronson went on to work with and produce All The Young Dudes album for Mott The Hoople, as well as co-producing Lou Reed’s album Transformer with Bowie, playing lead guitar and piano on the Lou Reed classic, “Perfect Day”.
He also recorded several enjoyable solo albums, the most notable example of which was Slaughter on 10th Avenue, which reached number 9 on the UK Albums Chart.
Ronson’s final high profile live performance was his appearance at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert where he played on “All the Young Dudes” with David Bowie and Ian Hunter and “Heroes” with Bowie.
Mick Ronson died of liver cancer on April 29th, 1993 at the age of 46.
Important Dates In The Life Of Mick Ronson:
29 Apr 1993
Guitarist, producer, Mick Ronson died of liver cancer aged 46. Ronson recorded and toured with David Bowie from 1970 to 1973. Released the 1974 solo album 'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue'. Ronson co-produced Lou Reed's album Transformer, also part of Hunter Ronson Band with Ian Hunter. And worked with Morrissey, Slaughter & The Dogs, The Wildhearts, The Rich Kids, Elton John, Johnny Cougar, T-Bone Burnett.
20 Apr 1992
'A Concert For Life' took place at Wembley Stadium as a tribute to Queen singer Freddie Mercury and for aids awareness. Acts appearing included; Elton John, Roger Daltrey, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), David Bowie, Mick Ronson, James Hetfield, George Michael, Seal, Paul Young, Annie Lennox, Lisa Stansfield, Robert Plant, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen, Axl Rose and Slash.
23 Feb 1974
'Rebel Rebel' by David Bowie entered the UK chart, the single reached No.5 the following month. Originally written for an aborted Ziggy Stardust musical in late 1973, 'Rebel Rebel' was Bowie's last single in the glam rock style that had been his trademark. It was also his first hit since 1969 not to feature lead guitarist Mick Ronson.
3 Jul 1973
After 182 Ziggy Stardust concert performances, David Bowie announced he was about to retire from live performing, although it eventually transpires that the stage persona is being retired and not Bowie himself. Only his guitarist Mick Ronson knew about the announcement, which came as a complete shock not only to the audience but the rest of Bowie's band and crew.
24 Dec 1972
On the second UK leg of his 182 date Ziggy Stardust Tour, David Bowie played the second of two nights at the Rainbow Theatre, London. This tour had the classic Spiders From Mars line up of Mick Ronson on guitar, vocals, Trevor Bolder, bass and Mick "Woody" Woodmansey on drums.
26 Jun 1972
During sessions at Olympic Studios, London, England, David Bowie recorded 'John, I'm Only Dancing', with Mick Ronson on lead guitar and Lou Reed on rhythm guitar. The track which was released and became a hit single in the UK in September of this year was not released in America, being judged too risqué by RCA Records. The original video directed by Mick Rock, featuring androgynous dancers from Lindsay Kemp's mime troupe, was banned by British music show Top Of The Pops .
12 Jun 1970
David Bowie released the single 'Memory of a Free Festival', which featured guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Mick Woodmansey's studio debut with Bowie's band, bringing together the line-up that would shortly record The Man Who Sold the World. The track also featured Marc Bolan on lead guitar and backing vocals.
5 Feb 1970
David Bowie recorded four songs at the BBC Paris Cinema, London, for the John Peel Sunday Concert radio show. This was guitarists Mick Ronson's first appearance with Bowie who went on to work with Bowie as one of the Spiders from Mars.