By Steve Newton
On December 19, 1989, Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson played the 86 Street Music Hall in Vancouver.
For me, it didn’t get any better than that. I’d been a huge fan of Hunter ever since I first heard his old band, Mott the Hoople, and Ronson…well, if you liked David Bowie in the ’70s you liked him.
Hunter and Ronson had been collaborating for years, starting with Hunter’s self-titled 1975 solo album, the one with that awesome version of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” (not to be confused with Great White‘s version, referred to below).
When they came to Van they were touring behind the YUI Orta album, which I really loved, especially the track “Women’s Intuition”.
I was fortunate enough to score a phone interview with Ronson. Here’s the ensuing story, which was published in the Georgia Straight‘s Dec. 15-22 issue under the unwieldy headline: This Former Spider From Mars Charts Some New Trajectories.
Fans of stalwart ’70s bands Mott the Hoople and the Spiders from Mars couldn’t ask for much more than a concert by two of those bands’ driving forces, Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson—and that’s just what they’ll get on Tuesday (December 19). But what made this upcoming gig even more attractive was the promise of seeing former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones as the opening act.
It would have been great to watch Jones hop on stage to jam with Hunter and Ronson on David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”, as he had been doing on tour with them in the States. But, alas, Jones is no longer on the Vancouver date.
Dirty rotten ringbits.
“MCA took him off the tour,” says Ronson, on the line from Oklahoma City, “’cause his album [Fire and Gasoline] went off the charts. So they weren’t gonna give him any more money to stay on the road. It’s a drag, really, ’cause I like Steve. Good lad.”
Well there you go—the politics of moola once more messes things up. Then again, local Hunter/Ronson fans can count themselves lucky that they’re getting a second chance to see the dynamic duo in concert (they played 86 Street in September of ’88). Since their last Vancouver engagement the two Brits have stuck together and recorded a new album, YUI Orta, their first for the Mercury label. They’ve been working together-off and on, on and off—since Hunter’s 1975 solo album, and Ronson admits that their artistic relationship is nothing if not volatile.
“But isn’t everybody’s? I mean, when we didn’t feel like working with each other, for whatever reason, we just left it, and went off and did something else. But we always stayed good friends, whether we wanted to work together or not, you know—that was the central thing.”
As well as keeping tight with Hunter, Ronson tries to stay in touch with his fellow bandmates from the Spiders from Mars, the group that backed up David Bowie during his glitzy Ziggy Stardust years. With his muscular bod and platinum hair, Ronson was the perfect foil for the lithe, androgynous Bowie, and with Trevor Bolder on bass and Woody Woodmansey on drums, the Spiders were a rockin’ outfit that really went to town on albums like Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, and The Rise of Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
“Woody called up a couple of weeks ago and left a message,” says Ronson. “And Trevor, he’s livin’ in Dallas, and we tour down there in the next day or two, so if he’s not out on the road we’ll get together. I was in Dallas last year and missed him ’cause he was in Germany or somewhere, playing with Uriah Heep.”
Nowadays Ronson is playing with a band that includes Hunter on vocals and rhythm guitar, bassist Pat Kilbride, keyboardist Howard Helm, and drummer Moe Potts, a friend of Bryan Adams’ drummer Mickey Curry, who bashed the skins on the YUI Orta album. Rather than produce the record himself, Ronson had Bernard Edwards come in to do the helming duties. He says that he wants to put producing aside for a while while he focuses on other things.
“I’d like to really concentrate on playin’, and get this thing kind of motorin’ along here, because in the past, maybe I’ve done an album and then kind of gone out and done four gigs—and that’s it until the next time. This is the first time I’ve been out on the road extensively, ’cause from here we go to Europe, and then we’ll come back to the States again, and there’s talk of us goin’ to Japan. So this is a much more concentrated effort. Before this tour I hadn’t played guitar for many years, so I’m really enjoying playing it. And I figure I should.”
You bet he should. As a guitarist, Ronson not only lit up many Bowie albums, but his own two solo albums, and lots of Ian Hunter tracks, including the original version of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, which received a highly successful reworking by L.A. hard-rockers Great White earlier this year. But Ronson wasn’t too impressed with Great White’s version.
“I think it’s sort of wooden, really. Sounds pretty stiff and wooden to me. But I haven’t really heard it that much ’cause all this summer when it was out real big I was in Europe, and they’re not playin’ it in Europe. They did play it to death here, but I missed it. Good.”
While bands like Great White do their best to capture the great sound that Ronson put down 15 years ago, he’ll just keep on doing what he does best—putting out fine albums and touring. The 43-year-old guitarist says that he’s far from ready to hang up his Les Paul and call it quits.
“I’m just startin’ out!” he brags.