As someone who considers the era of the 1960s (the electric mods and their ‘gear’ dance moves) all the way through the 1970s (that softened edge of rock n’ roll and singer-songwriters galore!) to be a Golden Age of music history, I became particularly fond of Ronnie Lane, bassist and vocalist for The Small Faces- who eventually took part in The Faces, along with Slim Chance in the later part of the ‘70s. Lane stood at a height of five feet and five inches, with impeccable fashion sense and a certain charm that no one else could quite mimic- complete with the look of a true mod in the early stages of his career. As the era of psychedelia came to a close, Ronnie’s journey through the next decade would prove to be full of roadblocks and turns, twists of fate and discovery. Here’s how the wildly underrated musician, who was once submerged within the depths of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, emerged with a new and true musical purpose.
The Small Faces reached success in England with their hip style and sound, putting a notable face to mod culture and eventually made their way into the growing trend of the rock opera with the more psychedelic record, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, in 1968. In just the next year, the band's lead vocalist/guitarist, power-house Steve Marriott, decided to split off and join forces with Peter Frampton to form what would later become known as Humble Pie. This left the Small Faces in pieces, but they soon reformed as the blues-rock oriented 'The Faces', recruiting members from The Jeff Beck Group Rod Stewart as their famed vocalist and Ronnie Wood on guitar- completing the once fragmented puzzle in 1969.
The Faces turned the sound of The Small Faces around with songs like “Stay With Me” and “Maggie May”- with those blues-oriented, dirty riffs from Wood, and songwriting from Lane/Rod Stewart, the band was a leading force in the new form of rock that took the 1970s by the hand. Their fourth album, ‘Ooh La La’, would turn out to be their last- and unfortunately at the point that their front man (Stewart) was taking a keen interest in his own solo career. Due to a general unease with poor album reviews and the growing ego of Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane left The Faces and decided to pursue a music career that catered to his own taste.
In 1973, he utilised his own mobile studio- one that he founded in 1972 and was one of the first recording studios on wheels. As he settled into music life without the flash and fame of The Faces, Ronnie decided to base his mobile studio on his farm, Fishpool, in Powys, Wales. This is where he discovered that his tastes aligned with a folk-blues based group that he formed called 'Slim Chance' ; This style was much less commercial, as Ronnie wanted to get a taste of a lifestyle that would thrive in the Welsh countryside at this time, where he and the band could get a breath of fresh air from the stereotypes of the famous rock n’ roll industry. The music they recorded for their album Anymore for Anymore (1974) together brought elements of blues, rock, folk, and country into one with a collection of instruments (organ, mandolin, resonator guitar/electric guitar, bass, percussion, saxophone, and even the accordion) that ultimately worked for Ronnie and suited the vision of what he was trying to achieve.
Benny Gallagher of Slim Chance is stated recalling the experience of relocating out to the countryside: “’Bring your mandolin,’ he told me on the phone. Staying in Fishpool was lairy because I had two sets of twins- the caravans all leaked but it was great to wake up and go to the barn for recording.”
Guitarist/mandolin player Steve Simpson also recalls on Ronnie Lane: “He’d come into the barn with his lyric books, which he kept very private – we weren’t allowed near them – and we created the songs in a lateral fashion. It was completely rustic.”
In the summer of 1974, Ronnie came up with an idea that would shake everything and everyone around him: take a show on the road that he considered to be ‘more carnival than circus’ after the first live performance of Slim Chance that happened to take place in a circus tent. It would be named The Passing Show, and along with it came the band’s share of twists and turns- not to mention professional circus performers, like fire-eaters, clowns, and dancers. Although Lane and his wife Kate were all in, the rest of the band, along with friends who ventured with them, weren’t partial to the conditions- the caravans and buses weren’t in the best shape, though the vibe of the show was perfect for Ronnie’s vision. Unfortunately, the band lost money with the touring event and the conditions only worsened- but for the vagabond-spirited musician, it was a sure success simply because it occurred in the first place. Slim Chance’s albums were not commercially successful, with their self-titled record being released in the following year, 1975, not even being reviewed- but despite it all, Ronnie was happy to curate material that didn’t succumb to the pressure of making hit songs. He waned to make his music organically, with all the heart and soul he could give.
“Ronnie was ahead of his time.” Says Charlie Hart, who played on the albums Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance and One For The Road. “Unplugged before anyone else. And he kept that Small Faces’ sense of humour and knew how to harness creative energies.”
Unplugged and unhinged with creative spirit, hungry for musical and natural substance—the London native had his fair share of what it meant to be a main figure in rock n’ roll, and although that spirit reached further into the opposing environment that dawned leaky caravans and rickety buses, one statement remains true: Ronnie Lane is a shining example of the yearning, creative vision.