By now, everyone knows about Arthur Killer Kane, the bassist of the New York Dolls who converted to Mormonism. But there is another significant Mormon connection to the 1970s glam rock scene.
Michael (“Mick”) Ronson was born in 1946 in Hull, Yorkshire, the son of a devout Mormon couple named George and Minnie Ronson. He had an early affinity for music, and played the organ for his local Mormon congregation. At 17, inspired by the Yardbirds and the Beatles, he started playing guitar.
After a few years playing with local bands and in London, in 1970 Ronson (who came to be called “Ronno” by his friends and fans) was recruited to play for David Bowie’s band. Ronson played lead guitar (and assisted with the arrangement and production) on Bowie’s three seminal albums: The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. For three years he toured the world with Bowie and became a bona fide rock star. Of this era, Bowie later said: “Mick was the perfect foil for the Ziggy character. He was very much a salt-of-the-earth type, the blunt northerner with a defiantly masculine personality, so that what you got was the old-fashioned Yin and Yang thing. As a rock duo, I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash. Ziggy and Mick were the personification of that rock ‘n’ roll dualism.”
Ronson left Bowie’s band in 1973 to embark on a solo career that saw limited success. He saw far greater success producing, arranging, and playing guitar and keyboard on other artists’ albums. His most significant production credit was on Lou Reed’s classic album Transformer. Reed has said: “Transformer is easily my best-produced album. That has a lot to do with Mick Ronson. His influence was stronger than David [Bowie]‘s, but together as a team they are terrific.” Throughout his career, Ronson worked with a wide variety of artists, including Elton John, Roger McGuinn (the Byrds), Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople), Van Morrison, David Johanssen and Morrissey. He even spent some time touring with Bob Dylan as part of the renowned “Rolling Thunder Revue” in 1976. Some have speculated that Dylan’s experimentation with makeup during this time may have been influenced by Ronson.
Echoing Arthur Kane’s story, Ronson’s last major live performance was at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, where he reunited with old friends, playing “All The Young Dudes” with David Bowie and Ian Hunter, and “Heroes” and “The Lords Prayer” with Bowie. Ronson died of cancer on April 29, 1993. A memorial service for him was held in a Mormon chapel in London.
There are conflicting accounts about Ronson’s connection to the Church. His Wikipedia article states: “Ronson was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but had grown disenchanted with the faith before his untimely death.” He also appears on several on-line lists as a “former Mormon.”
Other sources I’ve seen, however, recount that Ronson was an Elder in the Church and quietly active until his death. A 2002 SL Weekly article reports that in two magazine obituaries, Ronson was named as being a Mormon when he died: â€œRonson, who was still a member of the Mormon Church, had a 15-year old daughterâ€ (Q Magazine, July 1993); and â€œA church service for Ronson, a Mormon, was held in London on Thursday 6 May, he was buried in his native Hull the next dayâ€ (Record Collector, July 1993). I’ve also heard reports that he was indeed actively Mormon, but hid that fact from his fans and musician friends.
The SL Weekly article contains this interesting quote about Ronson from David Bowie: â€œMick was exactly the same, he was so balanced throughout his life. Whatever that manâ€™s background was, it served him well. He was so rock solid, it was exactly the same Mick Iâ€™d known 20 years before. . . . I felt [Mick] had the beauty of complete acceptance. And an almost unshakeable belief that he would survive this life and the next.â€
More information about Mick Ronson here.
You can see the 1992 performance of “Heroes” here.