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Ronnie Lane Biographical Essay
by Gale Research 1997

Born April 1, 1946, in Plaistow, England, a suburb of London; died June 5, 1997, in Trinidad, Colorado, from multiple sclerosis. Lane was a songwriter and bass guitarist, and co-founder of the rock band the Small Faces. Although the Small Faces dissolved after several years, re-emerging as the Faces, Lane's recordings with that group were to be highly influential, summing up the "mod" subculture and serving as a model for British pop performers decades later. Lane continued his career as a soloist and as the frontman for the band Slim Chance, until the onset of multiple sclerosis restricted his performing. Nevertheless, Lane's spirit was not fully dampered, and he remained involved in music through benefits and occasional concerts, even when bound to a wheelchair. "Despite incredible pain, they just couldn't stop him playing the bass guitar he loved," remembered publicist Charlie Comer.

Like many British rock stars, Lane emerged from a working class background, leaving school at age 16 to begin apprentice plumbing before dabbling in guitar playing. By the age of 17, Lane had teamed up with drummer Kenny Jones and child stage actor Steve Marriott to form the group The Outcasts. By 1965, the band was rounded out by organist Jimmy Winston and renamed The Small Faces by Marriott's girlfriend, referring to the abbreviated height of its members. Before long, the band had established a reputation as a live act in London and were on their way to mass acclaim.

In October 1965, The Small Faces issued their first single, "What'cha Gonna Do About It," on the Decca Records label. The song introduced Lane's boisterous, hooky rhythms and Marriott's soulful wailing to an appreciative public. The single sprang into the Top 20 charts in England, and was followed up by "Sha-La-La-La-Lee," "Hey Girl," and the band's sole number one hit, "All Or Nothing." In addition to chart success, the band--now including Ian McLagan, who had replaced Winston on organ--turned their live presentations into drunken, boisterous celebrations, as loved by fans as they were dreaded by club owners.

As Lane and Marriott became the principal songwriters of The Small Faces, the band moved from the jangly catchiness of the "mod" sound to a more psychedelic direction. Again the results were impressive. Their 1967 single "Itchycoo Park" became an instant classic of psychedelia, with its distorted vocals and infectious chorus, and their album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake is regarded by many as the first concept album. While never equalling the mammoth commercial success of such contemporaries as The Who, The Small Faces managed to concoct a unique style of songwriting that later songwriters such as Paul Weller (of The Jam and The Style Council) used as a source of inspiration.

Marriott left the band in 1969 to launch his own outfit, Humble Pie, leaving Lane without his key writing partner. Although this signified the end of The Small Faces, Lane quickly built a new band, The Faces, from the remnants of the old one, along with newly acquired guitarist Ron Wood and gravel-voiced singer Rod Stewart. The Faces pushed the unruliness of the Small Faces to new extremes, and produced some of the liveliest rock music of the early 1970s, including the Lane-penned cuts "You're So Rude" and "Last Orders." However, the band quickly developed into little more than a vehicle for Stewart, and Lane consequently departed in 1973.

After a period of meandering, which included a brief try at farming, Lane embarked on a new leg of his career as a lead performer and soloist. As the front for the band Slim Chance, Lane was able to fulfill the carnival-like aspects of rock music he had essayed from the onset, playing in circus tents and touring with n entourage of side show performers. Although financial setbacks proved a stumbling block for Lane, Slim Chance produced memorable records, including the album Anyone for Anymore and the singles "How Come" and "The Poacher." In addition, Lane collaborated with The Who's Pete Townshend on the album Rough Mix, perhaps the most critically acclaimed of Lane's later efforts.

In the late 1970s, Lane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was soon unable to perform. In 1979, he moved to Austin, Texas in hopes of recovery, utilizing traditional American medicine as well as an experimental technique involving snake venom. Although Lane did his best not to surrender to the disease by remaining involved in music and performing when possible, gradual deterioration soon limited even his wheelchair-ridden concerts to short guest appearances. Consequently, a number of the British rock elite, including guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, staged benefit concerts to pay for Lane's overwhelming medical bills, as well as for research in finding a cure for multiple sclerosis.

Lane moved to Colorado in the late 1980s, where he received care from his third wife, Sue, a nurse by profession. Lane finally succumbed to the disease in 1997, leaving behind two sons from his second marriage, in addition to his wife. Near the time of his death, an album entitled Long Agos And Worlds Apart was planned as a tribute to Lane, featuring acts such as Primal Scream and Kula Shaker.

 

 

 


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