Ronnie Lane

Ronnie Lane Interview #1  Part One

November 3, 1983
Kentish Town, London
By Dave McNarie

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 Altham’s 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 Altham’s 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 Altham’s 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 Altham’s 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 Altham’s 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 isn’t doing any press at the moment". It wasn’t 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 Altham’s 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 afternoon’s time, they had given me Ronnie’s 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 Ronnie’s career:  Walls lined with guitars and bass guitars, and one of Mac’s old organs from the early days in a corner. How he’d 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 didn’t 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! We’re doing an interview!" 

LANE:        Uh… where should we start at? ‘Ello, Salt Lake City!! ‘Ow’s that?

Small Faces cover photo session

DAVE:        Let’s 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 didn’t play bass then, I just played the guitar and I sang a bit. That’s 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 don’t know if it’s still the same-- you couldn’t do it. Nobody wanted to play the bass. I don’t 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 didn’t make anyone want to play the bass.    So, I got fed up with this. I thought, "this is stupid! I’ll play the bass!" So, I went... I talked me dad into it, cuz he’d bought me a nice guitar. A Gretsch Tennesseean, he’d 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, y’know, "I’ve seen the bass I want and it’s not that much money." It wasn’t 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, y’see?" So, he says, "Oh, yeah? That’s a good bass!"    So, I got talkin’ to this fellow, and he turned out to be Steve Marriott! That’s 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 that’s 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! That’s twenty years ago, wasn’t it?! How ‘bout that?! We’re all gettin’ on!

DAVE:         Most of the good bands are.

LANE:         Still, it’ll all come around again. It never will be the same, but youth is youth. It’ll always get something exciting going. Small Faces on TV

DAVE:         Yeah, I’m 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! It’s 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:         It’s kind of hard not too!

LANE:         Right!

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 didn’t 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 wasn’t. 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, Marriott, McLagan, JonesLANE:         Well, yeah… Yes. We leant towards being the mod thing. I mean, let’s get this straight: Payin’ for a guitar on a hire purchase, an HP, and being in a band… it didn’t 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, let’s get this straight, every week the fashion completely changes. Only subtly, but subtly enough for that suit to be out, y’know? Therefore, to be an actual, real mod, we couldn’t 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, didn’t 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 wasn’t. 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, y’know? And it was a relief, because it wasn’t 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, you’ve 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 I’m 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, I’d be stickin’ with Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, come the evening I’d be...     So anyway, Ronnie Wood phoned up. I says, "Yeah, alright, I’ll 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 wouldn’t say he was famous, but he had a bit of a name. I can’t 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-1969—D.M.] Anyway, I played bass and I said, "No, not really." I said, "Why don’t 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 wasn’t that much similarity.

LANE:         No, but kind of discipline we had was.    Booker T and the MGs, I always thought, were famous for "it’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t you come down and have a sing?" Cuz none of us could sing. We’d try, but we just couldn’t get it across. So he did, and that was the Faces. Well, it wasn’t 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 weren’t interested unless we kept the name, ‘Small Faces’. I thought, "aw, bloody… That’s stupid! It’s not the Small Faces. It’s a completely different band." Really, the whole set-up… we weren’t really mods anymore, to start with, so the ‘face’ bit of it didn’t…

DAVE:         … hold any meaning.

LANE:   (l-r)Ian McLagan, Kenney Jones, Ron Wood, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane       ...yeah, didn’t 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. I’ll say something about America… well, there’s a lot I can say about America…

DAVE:         Not all good, I’m sure…

LANE:         Well, I don’t know. It’s not a bad place. I’ve 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 what’s a good band. You know what I mean?

DAVE:         At the time, maybe. I know what you’re saying, but I don’t particularly agree with it any longer.

LANE:         Oh, yeah? Well, I haven’t been there for a long time. Not to play. I’m talkin’ about ’69, ’70. It was hot then, very hot. After a gig, some kids would come to the dressing room and they’d 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 line’s going on the radio!

LANE:         (Laughing) Yeah!    Now then! Where was I?

DAVE:         You’re 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 don’t, you’ll have to pay it off in taxes when you get home." That’s 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. Anymore for Anymore LP    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. That’s basically what it was all about. By saying that, I’m not going to encourage people to take such a thing, because it’s dangerous. We were bloody stupid, really! All right, we was lucky! But there’s a lot of people that wasn’t.

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) Townshend’s first solo album.

LANE:         Yeah that’s 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 didn’t have anything like this in mind at all! (Laughs)

DAVE:         No, no, no!

LANE:         Coming down with MS? (laughs)

DAVE:         No. I’m talking about Slim Chance, actually!

LANE:         Oh... Slim Chance Well, when I left the Faces, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just had to get out of that whole (thing). I had to get off the roundabout, y’know? It was sickening me, quite honestly. The whole thing was beginning to sicken me. I’m trying to cast meself back to what I thought then. I thought, "well, I didn’t get in a band, I didn’t persevere with a band to get sickened like this. So, it’s 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 I’d 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 didn’t know about that!

LANE:         Yeah! I got some sheep. I had bought a place out in Wales. I had a hundred acres and I wasn’t 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 haven’t 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 wasn’t 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?Rough Mix LP, with Pete Townshend


LANE:         That I had MS? I think it must have been around ‘76, ‘77.

DAVE:        Had you done the Rough Mix album?

LANE:         Oh, yes, I’d just done it. I’d just done it! When I did the Rough Mix album, I didn’t know I had it then. Yeah.

DAVE:         That album was a bit of a comeback for you, wasn’t 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 don’t know. I don’t know anything about it. I mean we made it, the record company gave us an advance, and that’s 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 can’t really understand that at all, because...

DAVE:         Oh, God! It’s a masterpiece.

LANE:         Huh??!

DAVE:         That album is a masterpiece.

LANE:         What, Rough Mix?! (Obviously pleased)

DAVE:         Yeah.

LANE:         Is it?? (Laughing)

DAVE:         Oh, yeah. Sheer genius.

LANE:         Wowee! (Laughing)    I know it’s been re-released. But, I don’t know...Well, if it was a masterpiece, then why didn’t it do better?

DAVE:         Well, a lot of albums that were masterpieces didn’t do better though, did they? Because, when you get down to it, 90% of the people that buy albums don’t know what they’re buying. (Laughing) Or else you wouldn’t have people like Tom Jones still selling albums!

LANE:         Now, Tom speaks very well of you, Dave!

BOO:         Swinging his hips in Las Vegas...

 

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©1983, 2004 D.C. McNarie May not be reproduced in any manner without prior written consent of author.

 

 

                     
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