Ronnie Lane Interview #1 Part One
Setting: In late 1980, at the age of fifteen, I arranged to interview Ronnie for the first time. After several long-distance calls, I managed to get the people at publicist Keith Althams office to arrange an interview. The setup was simple: I would send a list of questions along with a blank cassette for Ronnie to record his answers on at his leisure. Obviously, this method leaves a lot to be desired, but it was the only method available to me at the time. After successfully arranging the interview, I sent a "thank you" note to Althams office in which I mentioned my willingness to help promote whatever projects Ronnie was involved in at the time. Setting: In late 1980, at the age of fifteen, I arranged to interview Ronnie for the first time. After several long-distance calls, I managed to get the people at publicist Keith Althams office to arrange an interview. The setup was simple: I would send a list of questions along with a blank cassette for Ronnie to record his answers on at his leisure. Obviously, this method leaves a lot to be desired, but it was the only method available to me at the time. After successfully arranging the interview, I sent a "thank you" note to Althams office in which I mentioned my willingness to help promote whatever projects Ronnie was involved in at the time.
Suddenly, the interview was cancelled. My attempts to rearrange a meeting with Ronnie continued throughout 1981 and into 1982, when I traveled to London for the first time. The people at Althams office were as helpful as possible and were, in fact, instrumental in helping set up several other interviews. However, when it came to Lane I was simply told, "he isnt doing any press at the moment". It wasnt until months later that I read the interview with Kurt Loder for Rolling Stone, in which Ronnie described his battle with MS. Like many others, it was the first notice I had of his illness.
In the fall of 1983, I returned to London for another series of interviews. Upon my arrival, I again contacted Althams office in hopes Ronnie might again be willing to talk. Despite the fact Altham didn't represent Lane in any capacity, his people were incredibly helpful. Within an afternoons time, they had given me Ronnies home number and address. I needed only to contact him to finalize it.
I arrived that Thursday at the flat Ronnie shared with his girlfriend, the attractive, intelligent, and witty, Boo Oldfield. It was a small, cozy flat off Kentish Town Road in Camden Town. I was led upstairs to the living room, which was literally stuffed with memorabilia from Ronnies career: Walls lined with guitars and bass guitars, and one of Macs old organs from the early days in a corner. How hed managed to hang on to all this stuff throughout his troubled recent past defies logic. Boo sat me on a sofa next to the keyboard, and told Ronnie I had arrived. After some time, he proceeded very slowly up the steps to where we were.
Though Ronnie never possessed an Atlas body, he did look rather frail. More indicative of his condition were his molasses-like movements. However, his spirits were high and his personality didnt betray any of the despair that had seemed ever present in the Kurt Loder piece from the year prior. He even looked better than the photograph that had accompanied that piece. As soon as he was seated, the warmth and humor began flowing: "Get off the phone, Boo! Were doing an interview!"
LANE: Uh where should we start at? Ello, Salt Lake City!! Ows that?
DAVE: Lets start somewhat chronologically, then. When did you actually begin performing? LANE: Well, I started to perform in a public house, a pub, down in Stepney. That was like my first gig. That was on my own. I didnt play bass then, I just played the guitar and I sang a bit. Thats where I met Kenney Jones, who was just a young lad then. Well, we was all young. Kenney Jones was at school. Tryin to get a bass player down in London at that time-- I dont know if its still the same-- you couldnt do it. Nobody wanted to play the bass. I dont know why. Everybody just wanted to play lead guitar, or they wanted to be the singer, or they wanted to play drums. Nobody wanted to play the bass. Even the advent of someone like the Beatles and Paul McCartney, it didnt make anyone want to play the bass. So, I got fed up with this. I thought, "this is stupid! Ill play the bass!" So, I went... I talked me dad into it, cuz hed bought me a nice guitar. A Gretsch Tennesseean, hed bought me! I talked him into letting me have a bass. Well, I was gonna pay for it, but I had to kinda sweet-talk him a bit, cuz he was still payin for the Gretsch guitar.
DAVE: I suppose so!
LANE: Yeah! And I says, yknow, "Ive seen the bass I want and its not that much money." It wasnt as much as the Gretsch Tennesseean There it is, there (pointing to one of several guitars and bass guitars mounted on the walls of the room). It cost forty-five pounds, which is about $80, $90, I suppose. We went down to the shop and I went into the shop, and this little fellow came up to me and said, "yeah?" I said, "I want that bass, there, ysee?" So, he says, "Oh, yeah? Thats a good bass!" So, I got talkin to this fellow, and he turned out to be Steve Marriott! Thats how I met Steve Marriott! He had lots of soul records, Tamla / Motown and all that, so I went back to his house and I ended up giving him the Gretsch Tennesseean, and me playin the bass! And thats what started the Small Faces.
DAVE: What time was this?
LANE: Oh, this was 64, 63 maybe. 64, we was traveling around. 65 we had a hit record. Cor! 63! Just made me think! Thats twenty years ago, wasnt it?! How bout that?! Were all gettin on!
DAVE: Most of the good bands are.
LANE: Still, itll all come around again. It never will be the same, but youth is youth. Itll always get something exciting going.
DAVE: Yeah, Im hoping for it!
LANE: Yeah! Probably, people were saying exactly the same thing when Glenn Miller and all that was about. Well, they was sayin the same! When rock-n-roll first came out: "Oh, all this crap! Its not as good as when I was a kid!!" which was Glenn Miller and all of that.And then rock-n-roll came along and, "wow!" I mean, I like Glenn Miller n all that, but I think I like rock-n-roll a bit better!
DAVE: Its kind of hard not too!
DAVE: How were the Small Faces doing at the time? When you first started, how were you all living?
LANE: Oh, we did very well. We was taken over by a manager who put us in a house. We was all living together. He paid us each twenty pounds, which is forty dollars, a week and ripped us off for the rest of the money that we made! We had quite a few hit records, but we didnt make any money out of the Small Faces at all! In actual fact we ended up, when the group eventually broke up, in a lot of debt! Cuz we thought that all the bills were getting paid by this manager and he wasnt. He was pocketing the lot. And we ended up in a lot of debt. So, there you go!
DAVE: The Small Faces, in retrospect, are considered one of the few bands that were actually "mod". There was the Who, that sort of conformed to the mod clique as a starting point for getting a following. The Small Faces were, later at least, said to have been legitimately mod-- to have emerged from the mods. But is that actually true?
LANE: Well, yeah Yes. We leant towards being the mod thing. I mean, lets get this straight: Payin for a guitar on a hire purchase, an HP, and being in a band it didnt really help you to be a mod. Because to be a mod was a very expensive job. It was a very expensive hobby. A real mod would have something like fifteen suits in the wardrobe, and spent all his money on clothes. And, lets get this straight, every week the fashion completely changes. Only subtly, but subtly enough for that suit to be out, yknow? Therefore, to be an actual, real mod, we couldnt really do it. But we leant towards bein mods, and when we started having hit records and that, yeah, we was mods all right! (Laughs) Yeah! Of course!
DAVE: With all the managerial problems and other troubles, when did the Small Faces start to fall apart?
LANE: The original Small Faces started to fall apart round about 1968, I suppose. Our first hit was in 65 Yeah, about four years we had. We just felt Well, Steve Marriott, really, didnt feel that we was moving on at all. And, he wanted to be in a It was the time of the supergroups. He wanted to be in a supergroup and all that and obviously the Small Faces, to him at the time, was not a supergroup. Which it wasnt. So he left. And in a way it was quite a relief. Although it was quite a shock, in a way it was quite a relief. I suppose well, I can only speak personally I leant, I relied on Steve, really. I relied on Steve very much to sort of be the lead singer (Long pause) I relied on him too much. So, when he left, it kind of chucked me in the deep end, yknow? And it was a relief, because it wasnt nearly as bad as what I thought it was going to be.
DAVE: You got to change your style and start to work for yourself again?
LANE: Yeah! Yeah, yeah! Well, youve got to find your confidence in yourself, which is, as I say, a relief! (Laughs)
DAVE: The Small Faces were...
LANE: That was the end of the Small Faces. Next was the Faces! Well, the Faces came about Ronnie Wood, he was an old pal of the Small Faces. He used to come round and see us when we was the Small Faces. He phoned me up one day and said, "would you want to fancy coming to play bass with my band that Im forming?" So I said, "Yeah, sure." At the time, every day, in the morning I was definitely going to keep the Small Faces. I was going to keep the boys out of the Small Faces, which is Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones. I was going to stay with them. Come the evening, I was going to go on me own, I was going to try for myself. And that was every day. Come the morning, Id be stickin with Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, come the evening Id be... So anyway, Ronnie Wood phoned up. I says, "Yeah, alright, Ill come and have a look." So I went down there and there was Mickey Waller, he was the drummer. Some other fellow, some American guitarist who was vaguely sort of He had a name. I wouldnt say he was famous, but he had a bit of a name. I cant remember it now, though. [Most likely, Ronnie is referring to ex-Blue Cheer guitarist Leigh Stephens, who jammed with Lane, Wood and Waller in mid-1969D.M.] Anyway, I played bass and I said, "No, not really." I said, "Why dont you come play with me, Mac, and Kenney?" He said, "oh, all right." And he came round the first night (pointing to an organ across the room) on that particular organ, actually That was there, anyway. Mac was playin it. We was trying out some Booker T and the MGs numbers, you see. The Small Faces were great (because) we were based, basically, on Booker T and the MGs. Not a lot of people realize that, but we was.
DAVE: Judging from the music that you played, there really wasnt that much similarity.
LANE: No, but kind of discipline we had was. Booker T and the MGs, I always thought, were famous for "its not what you play, its what you dont play." Anyway, he came around and it was terrible! The result was absolutely abysmal. I remember thinking to myself, "Cor, dear! We lost this one!" Anyway, Woody stuck! Woody stuck. Then, Ian Stewart, the piano player out of the Stones We knew him, and I was talkin to him, and he offered us the Stones rehearsal room, which was in Bermondsey. We went down there to rehearse and Ron turned up with his mate, who was Mr. Stewart. He didnt come downstairs to the basement where the rehearsal was. Rod stayed upstairs and sort of listened, which was a bit weird. This happened three or four times and in the end I think it was Kenney Jones that said to Rod, "why dont you come down and have a sing?" Cuz none of us could sing. Wed try, but we just couldnt get it across. So he did, and that was the Faces. Well, it wasnt the Faces; it was just a bunch of geezers. We went to the record company, and we was trying to think of a name. The record companies werent interested unless we kept the name, Small Faces. I thought, "aw, bloody Thats stupid! Its not the Small Faces. Its a completely different band." Really, the whole set-up we werent really mods anymore, to start with, so the face bit of it didnt
DAVE: hold any meaning.
LANE: ...yeah, didnt hold anymore. The whole Mod thing was over. In actual fact, the Mod thing died in 66, really.
DAVE: I figured early 68
LANE: Well that was when it really petered out
DAVE: Last gasp.
LANE: Yeah. The potency of it went out in about 66. They wanted us to keep the name, so the first album that came out was called the Small Faces, with Rod on it. But, then we said we want to drop the Small, and we became just the Faces. We kept touring America, and the more we kept touring America the tighter the band got. Ill say something about America well, theres a lot I can say about America
DAVE: Not all good, Im sure
LANE: Well, I dont know. Its not a bad place. Ive been to worse places. No, the thing about America is that it really makes a band good. It really polishes a band up. It hones it. Because the kids, they basically know whats a good band. You know what I mean?
DAVE: At the time, maybe. I know what youre saying, but I dont particularly agree with it any longer.
LANE: Oh, yeah? Well, I havent been there for a long time. Not to play. Im talkin about 69, 70. It was hot then, very hot. After a gig, some kids would come to the dressing room and theyd start telling you where you went wrong, and what you should be doing, and things like that. And I sat up and thought, "ooh, bloody hell! This is a bit different to England!" Well, it impressed me, ya know? But, then again, I am stupid! (laughter)
DAVE: You can tell that lines going on the radio!
LANE: (Laughing) Yeah! Now then! Where was I?
DAVE: Youre hitting America, touring.
LANE: Yeah, yeah, yeah! We started hittin America, and we was getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and we was makin a helluva lot of money. Making the kind of money which was bordering on obscene. Like, we was being encouraged to "well, you might as well hire that jetliner to get from Baltimore to New York because, if you dont, youll have to pay it off in taxes when you get home." Thats the kind of money we were spending, and it really began to make me feel uncomfortable. Some kind of a social conscience was bugging me. Also, the whole thing about the Faces was beginning to fall apart. So, in the end, I uh... I left. Once again, to some sense of bravado, I suppose. But I left, anyway.
DAVE: This was 73?
LANE: Yes, it was 73. Ten years ago. Everything keeps going in threes! I wonder what will happen come 93!
DAVE: The Small Faces music was rather psychedelic. How did the change come about to switch from that to the very bluesy sound of the Faces?
LANE: We stopped taking acid! (Big laugh) To be blunt about it. Thats basically what it was all about. By saying that, Im not going to encourage people to take such a thing, because its dangerous. We were bloody stupid, really! All right, we was lucky! But theres a lot of people that wasnt.
DAVE: The happier, folksy sort of carnival music you went on to play in your solo career actually started showing up two or three years earlier, when you did the cover of Stone on (Pete) Townshends first solo album.
LANE: Yeah thats right.
DAVE: When did you actually decide to quit the Faces and go off and start this? Or, when you left the Faces, did you already have this in mind?
LANE: Well, when I quit the Faces, I didnt have anything like this in mind at all! (Laughs)
DAVE: No, no, no!
LANE: Coming down with MS? (laughs)
DAVE: No. Im talking about Slim Chance, actually!
LANE: Oh... Slim Chance Well, when I left the Faces, I didnt know what I was going to do. I just had to get out of that whole (thing). I had to get off the roundabout, yknow? It was sickening me, quite honestly. The whole thing was beginning to sicken me. Im trying to cast meself back to what I thought then. I thought, "well, I didnt get in a band, I didnt persevere with a band to get sickened like this. So, its time to bail out." So, I bailed out. At the time, as I said, I had quite a bit of money that (the Faces) made over in America. I thought Id try something out with it. I put on a show in a tent... in a big top, you know?... and I took it around this country and lost all my money! (Laugh)
DAVE: Was that the Passing Revue?
LANE: The Passing Show. And then, really, that was the end of my "spin of success". Then, I took up farming, would you believe?
DAVE: Oh did you? I didnt know about that!
LANE: Yeah! I got some sheep. I had bought a place out in Wales. I had a hundred acres and I wasnt doing anything with the hundred acres. Once again, my social conscience a bit started to bug me, so I thought, "well, you should do something with it." I was renting it out to some farmers, and they was paying me quite good money and I thought, "if they can pay me money, then why havent I got a few sheep on it?"So, I went to college, would you believe? I had sixty sheep, and I was lambing and everything. In actual fact, I got all the sheep in to cut their hooves, trim their toenails. I was having to do this, which is quite a hard job, really. And it wasnt until the sheep started to beat me up that I realized there was something wrong with me, you see?! (Laughs) And I got it all checked out, and found out I had MS.
DAVE: When did you find out?
DAVE: Had you done the Rough Mix album?
LANE: Oh, yes, Id just done it. Id just done it! When I did the Rough Mix album, I didnt know I had it then. Yeah.
DAVE: That album was a bit of a comeback for you, wasnt it? It was the best-selling Townshend album prior to Empty Glass, so it did get some acclaim.
LANE: Did it?
DAVE: Oh, yeah!
LANE: Oh, well, I dont know. I dont know anything about it. I mean we made it, the record company gave us an advance, and thats the last I heard of it! (Laughs)
BOO: (Whispering) Glyn Johns!
LANE: Oh! Glyn Johns always said it was the best album that he made, or something like that...
DAVE: It probably was.
LANE: ...which I found...Well, I cant really understand that at all, because...
DAVE: Oh, God! Its a masterpiece.
DAVE: That album is a masterpiece.
LANE: What, Rough Mix?! (Obviously pleased)
LANE: Is it?? (Laughing)
DAVE: Oh, yeah. Sheer genius.
LANE: Wowee! (Laughing) I know its been re-released. But, I dont know...Well, if it was a masterpiece, then why didnt it do better?
DAVE: Well, a lot of albums that were masterpieces didnt do better though, did they? Because, when you get down to it, 90% of the people that buy albums dont know what theyre buying. (Laughing) Or else you wouldnt have people like Tom Jones still selling albums!
LANE: Now, Tom speaks very well of you, Dave!
BOO: Swinging his hips in Las Vegas...
©1983, 2004 D.C. McNarie May not be reproduced in any manner without prior written consent of author.