Ronnie Lane: 1946 to 1997
English rocker Ronnie Lane, bassist for classic ’60s and ’70s bands the Small Faces and the Faces and also known for his recordings with Slim Chance and The Who’s Pete Townshend, died June 4 in a Colorado hospital at the age of 51. Multiple sclerosis took its toll on Ronnie’s body, but it didn’t dim the twinkle in his eyes until the very end. That gleam sparkled brightest when he flashed his smile, a toothy smile at once mischievous and knowing, like many of his best songs.
Lane’s musical journey began in 1965 when he teamed up with singer Steve Marriott as the songwriting team for the Small Faces, noted for their distinctly British lyrical whimsy and a musical blend of R&B and psychedelia. With the departure of Marriott and the addition of Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, the Small Faces (which also included drummer Kenney Jones and keyboardist Ian McLagan).
The Faces lost steam when Lane left in 1973, and disbanded in 1975 when Wood joined the Rolling Stones. Lane then flourished musically with a series of albums with his band Slim Chance, English folk gypsies who added mandolin, accordion and violin to his spry tunes. His singular talents where perhaps best realized on the album Rough Mix, his one-off collaboration with The Who’s Pete Townshend. During the recording of Rough Mix, Lane sometimes seemed forgetful, occasionally slurring his words and losing full control of his muscles. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
In the mid-’80s, Lane moved to Austin, Texas, and was surrounded by musicians who knew his music and were eager to perform with him. He even toured Japan in 1990 accompanied by Faces member Ian McLagan and Austinites Don Harvey and Rich Brotherton. In 1989 he met the woman who would become his wife, Susan, and settled into domesticity with her and her two daughters.
Ironically, just as McLagan moved to Austin in 1994 to be closer to his pal, Lane moved to Colorado because the Texas heat was taking its toll on his condition. During one of several drives from Austin to Wyoming, his wife’s home state, the Lanes were attracted to the small town of Trinidad. Though the mountain air made for a more pleasant existence, it also meant Lane never saw most of his old friends again. Phone calls were often frustrations as Ronnie deteriorated and couldn’t hold up his end of the conversation. McLagan did, however, visit Lane in the hospital in April and remembers “he was his old cheeky self by the time I left.”
Ronnie Lane died from double pneumonia brought on by gastritis, conditions his deteriorated body could not fight off after 20 years of multiple sclerosis. “It’s a short movie,” Ronnie was fond of saying. He was right.
(A longer version of this article ran in The Austin Chronicle on June 12, 1997.)