From Rolling Stone - 07 Aug 1997
Small Faces Bassist Succumbs
to MS at 51
by David Fricke
Ronnie lane, the founding bassist of the '60s
British band Small Faces, died June 4 in Trinidad, Colo., where he lived,
after a 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 51. According to Small
Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, Lane was hospitalized in April but then rallied
for a time. "His voice was weak, but he was starting to take the piss out
of me," says McLagan, who visited Lane, "so I knew he was feeling
better." But Lane was hospitalized again on June 1, suffering from
gastritis and double pneumonia.
Lane was diagnosed with MS, an incurable
disease that attacks the nervous system, in 1977. In 1983, Lane's condition
and dire financial straits inspired a historic series of superstar benefit
shows in London and the U.S. for a British organization called Action Research
for Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS). The concerts featured many of Lane's '60s rock
compatriots, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Steve Winwood,
Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.
"What got Ronnie through that illness was
his sense of humor and his sense of responsibility and dedication," says
Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones, who played the
ARMS shows. "He knew that everybody was working for him, that everybody
cared for him. He didn't want to let them down."
In spite of his illness, Lane -- a fine
bassist, an underrated singer and a gifted songwriter who wrote or co-wrote
most of Small Faces' biggest hits -- bravely struggled to make music. He
periodically performed in Austin, Texas, where he lived during the '80s; his
last major tour was in Japan, in 1990. "All through this disease, he
never complained once," McLagan says. "When I'd see him, I'd say,
'How ya goin', Ron?' And he'd shrug his shoulders and go, 'I'm all right. How
you doin'?' "
Lane was born April 1, 1946, in Plaistow, a
neighborhood in East London. In 1965, Lane -- who had previously played in a
band with Jones -- was shopping for a bass guitar in a music
store when he ran into singer Steve Marriott. Lane, Marriott and Jones
soon formed Small Faces, so named for the members' elfin height and snappy mod
attire. McLagan joined later that year.
The Small Faces' kinetic mix of American-style
R&B and high-tension pop made the band an immediate sensation in Britain.
The 1967 single "Itchycoo Park" was the group's only major U.S. hit,
but Lane and Marriott's late-'60s songwriting blend of ebullient folk rock and
cockney-flavored psychedelia -- catapulted to immortal effect on the 1968
album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake -- became a template two decades later for
Brit-pop bands like Blur and Supergrass.
"It was very tight, meaningful
writing," Jones says of Lane's composing for Small Faces.
"Steve was very humorous in his writing. He could write a love song and
all that, but Ronnie could write with more depth of feeling."
After Marriott, who died in 1991, left the
band, in 1969, a reconfigured Faces with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood became a
superstar act in America. But Lane, dissatisfied with the strain that
Stewart's parallel solo career put on the Faces, quit in 1973. Lane made a
series of fine country-flavored records with his own band, Slim Chance, and
mounted an ambitious 1974 British tour that included circus acts. He also
collaborated with Pete Townshend on the 1977 album Rough Mix.
In a 1971 Rolling Stone interview, Lane
credited his father, a truck driver, with encouraging him to become a
musician: "When I was at school, he'd say, 'Son, learn to play something
and you'll always have friends.' " Lane, indeed, was rich in friends. In
recent years, Stewart and Wood helped to cover Lane's medical expenses. Last
year, a Small Faces tribute album, Long Ago's and Worlds Apart -- organized by
Jones and featuring young British acts such as Primal Scream,
Gene and Dodgy -- was issued, with proceeds going to Lane and to MS research.
"He left a lot of friends," McLagan
says of Lane, who is survived by his third wife, Susan, and two sons by a
previous marriage. "That's the amazing, lovely thing. We all start
talking about Ronnie, and it always ends up with us laughing."