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Keeping it together: Ronnie Lane hits the road again
by Chris Heim
Chicago Tribune; Chicago, Ill.; Nov 9, 1990

The name Small Faces was a joke, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that the members of the band were all rather short. When Ronnie Lane, then 18, helped put together the group, he probably had no idea that life had serious trials ahead for him. Perhaps he also couldn't have guessed how tall he would seem to stand when he faced them.

Back in the '60s, though, it was all a lark. Lane, Steve Marriott (who later left to join Humble Pie), Ian McLagan and Kenny Jones (who later joined the Who) cavorted through the burgeoning British rock scene, making their mark with psychedelic pop guitar, a stab at a concept album ("Ogden's Nut Gone Flake") and the Lane/Marriott-penned hit, "Itchycoo Park."

When Ron Wood (now with the Rolling Stones) and Rod Stewart joined the lineup, the name of the band was shortened to the Faces. At its peak, the group seemed a perfect example of boozy rock anarchy. But the wild balance couldn't be sustained for long. And with the Faces increasingly relegated to being Stewart's backup band, Lane struck out on his own. Three albums with his group, Slim Chance, and a collaboration with the Who's Pete Townshend on the "Rough Mix" album seemed to put him on the road to a solid solo career. Then he discovered he had multiple sclerosis. Physically weakened and emotionally demoralized, Lane withdrew from public life.

It was a long, hard road back and a smaller spirit might not have made the attempt. A major turning point came in 1983, when Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood and others joined Lane in benefit shows for multiple sclerosis. Lane then moved to the United States, living first in Houston and now in Austin, Texas, and focused on treatment and a healthy lifestyle. His condition stabilized and today he says, "I'm feeling pretty good. I think I've got a handle on it."

The next step was to reconstruct his career. In recent years, Lane has become a familiar figure on the Austin concert scene and won solid praise for shows highlighting old Lane favorites-"Well, some old ones anyway," he jokingly remarks-and some of his newer material.

Lane has worked with a variety of musicians during this time. "I chop and change," he says. "And they're also governed by, what can I say, the `prosperity' of the band. It gets bigger and smaller all of the time."

His current group includes accordion player Ponty Bone, who has become something of an Austin legend for his work with Joe Ely, Timbuk 3 and others; guitarist Daniel Castro ("He's quite an exceptional guitarist, and I think I know what I'm talking about," says Lane, who has shared the stage with guitar heroes like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck); drummer Lance Womack; and bassist Scott Garber.

Lane credits this current group for his latest round of activity. He and the band did their first tour of Japan this past spring and are now on a two-week tour of the Northeast and Midwest that brings them to Lounge Ax for a show Wednesday.

"The trip to Japan kind of got me wanting to work again because I wanted to keep this band together," Lane explains. "All that I have learned in my life is that if you want something, you've got to keep it together. So I'm on the `Keep It Together' tour."

When asked how he would rate his former bands now, Lane takes a surprisingly serious turn.

"We were just kids in those days. We kind of tried. You know what happened in the '60s. But we didn't do anything important. And when I come to think of it, what importance do any of us have?"

Surely, fans would disagree, citing the many good times his bands provided.

"That's what I would have answered in the old days," he says. "I've just been looking at the whole thing about existence and everything really hard. What good do we really do to this earth? I can't really see the reason for our existing. It's quite a fair view, I think. You think about it. There is no answer-apart from the fact that God must be a very compassionate fellow." Other shows of note

Betty Carter, Friday at the Museum of Science and Industry: It's hard to speak in cool, objective terms when the singer is this great and the cause this good. After being cast for many years as a maverick at best and a flamboyant charlatan at worst Carter is finally being recognized as one of our era's finest female vocalists, thanks largely to the success of her album "Look What I Got!" and the major-label reissue of earlier work from her own Bet-Car label. The albums suggest Carter's masterful technique and brilliant interpretative skills (as well as her impressive production and arranging talents), but it takes a live setting to fully reveal her greatness. It's then that her animated body language, sly wit and fearless, full-tilt improvisatory assaults (this lady always works without a net) are revealed. The show is also a benefit for Jazz Unites Inc. Though the nonprofit community-based organization is best known for its annual South Shore Country Club jazz festivals and Duke Ellington celebrations, it also provides free jazz performances in the parks and a variety of workshops, master classes and other jazz programs in the schools.

Dylan and Wire Train, Friday at the Chicago Theatre: Dylan has been through town so many times in the last year or two, one wonders if someone isn't threatening to repossess all his guitars or something. It's certainly hard to believe this is purely artistic passion, particularly when his latest album, "Under the Red Sky," so often borders on nursery rhyme. Wire Train, on the other hand, has been conspicuous by its absence. One of the more promising guitar bands on the mid-'80s San Francisco alternative scene, the group got derailed by label troubles and broke up in 1988. Re-formed with two new members and with a solid new album on a different label, Wire Train appears to be back on track again.

REO Speedwagon, Saturday at the Chicago Theatre: REO has the dubious distinction of appearing in virtually every sentence that includes the phrase ". . . what was wrong with '70s rock." But that never deterred this Champaign triceratops a bit. Though the band's latest album, "The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog and a Chicken," features three new players (Kevin Cronin, Neal Doughty and Bruce Hall remain) and reveals a bit more of a penchant for lofty statements, any of the tracks would sit comfortably next to such past hits as "Roll With the Changes," "Keep on Loving You," "Take It on the Run" or "Can't Fight This Feeling."

John Abercrombie Trio, Sunday at the Cubby Bear: Abercrombie has been a strong force in contemporary jazz since the early '70s. As a solo artist, working in duet with Ralph Towner and collaborating in larger units with such artists as Jan Hammer, Jack DeJohnette, McCoy Tyner and Bobby Hutcherson, the guitarist has combined ethereal tone and daunting technique into a sound that is (to borrow the title of his best-known composition) "timeless." The trio, which has been working together for six years, also features talented bassist Marc Johnson (Bill Evans, Bass Desires) and drummer Peter Erskine (Weather Report, Steps Ahead).

New Kids on the Block, Wednesday at the Rosemont Horizon: "Kids," nothing, we're talking cash cows here, and this one gets milked again in another sold-out show.

The Call, Thursday at the Vic: Maybe it's the result of those collaborations with Garth Hudson, but the Call is sounding more and more like the Band. The music on the group's latest album, "Red Moon," is not only the most relaxed these anthemic rockers have ever recorded but also the most strongly rooted in classic American song. Leader Michael Been hasn't given up any of his questing and questioning, though, making the Call the Band's moral as well as musical heir.


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