Mormonism’s other glam rock star

March 9, 2007 | 17 comments
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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.

ronno

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: “Ronson, who was still a member of the Mormon Church, had a 15-year old daughter” (Q Magazine, July 1993); and “A church service for Ronson, a Mormon, was held in London on Thursday 6 May, he was buried in his native Hull the next day” (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: “Mick was exactly the same, he was so balanced throughout his life. Whatever that man’s background was, it served him well. He was so rock solid, it was exactly the same Mick I’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.”

More information about Mick Ronson here.

You can see the 1992 performance of “Heroes” here.

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17 Responses to Mormonism’s other glam rock star

  1. Costanza on March 9, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    I had no idea Ronno was a Mormon. Wow. Thanks for the post!

  2. Matt Thurston on March 9, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Wow. News to me too, and I played my Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust albums until they wore out.

  3. meems on March 10, 2007 at 2:45 am

    WOW!! Add another to the jaw dropping. I love Bowie and can’t believe that here’s Mick Ronson being LDS. How cool is that?!? What a neat post, Greg. Thanks!

  4. Kevin Barney on March 10, 2007 at 10:26 am

    From my wife:

    And still another, saw and/or read some interviews with him years
    ago…
    Wayne Hussey of The Sisters of Mercy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_Hussey

  5. Susan M on March 10, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Best post ever.

  6. Matt Thurston on March 10, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    I always think of Wayne Hussey as the singer/guitarist of The Mission UK, but you are right, he did play guitar for The Sisters of Mercy for a couple of years.

    One theory of where the name The Mission UK comes from is Hussey’s Mormon upbringing, that he chose the name because his parents wanted him to go on a mission but he rebeled and took off for England to pursue his dream of a career in music.

  7. Matt Thurston on March 10, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    I’m surprised there aren’t more Mormons in music, considering the Mormon penchant for developing talents. Don’t all Mormons play an instrument? Isn’t this a necessary prerequisite for baptism? When I was at BYU in the late 80s, early 90s, finding people to play in my various bands was as easy as throwing a guitar pick in any random direction on campus and hitting a musician.

  8. jjohnsen on March 10, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    I used to have that version of All the Young Dudes on cd somewhere. Now I need to find it again.

  9. Ken on March 10, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    I knew that Mick Ronson was Mormon, but the rumor that he was secretly active is new to me. Can anybody back this up–with wild, friend-of-a-friend speculation, if necessary?

  10. Vince on March 10, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    This post pushes all my favourite musical buttons. All I want now is for Morrisey to convert.

    #3 Wayne taught me to play guitar when I was in Mutual, his parents wanted him to go on a mission but he rebeled and took off for England He’s actually FROM England. But yes, the band name is attributable to his membership

  11. Greg Call on March 10, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    This isn’t even as reliable as friend-of-a-friend, but here is something from a Sheffield history forum:

    “Mick was a practising Mormon, which wasn’t revealed until after he died. Surprised a few people, including me.”

    http://www.sheffieldforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=18323

    Alan Sparhawk of Low has also apparently heard the rumor that Ronson was an elder.

    http://www.appelstein.com/writing/low.html

  12. Mark B. on March 11, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    And I know Christina Aguilera’s father, who is a member of our stake.

    But she isn’t.

  13. Michael T on March 25, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Mick Ronson, actually played with Bowie for 4 years. From
    1970-74. You also failed to mention his amazing contribution
    to both Aladdin Sane & Pinups…both released at the height of the Ziggy Mania in 1973.

  14. sniffie on March 29, 2007 at 5:44 am

    Another one remarkable brush-stroke for the singular, marvellous person\’s portrait. Who wanna talk about Mick, write to aggie@list.ru.

  15. Greg Call on April 14, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for the correction, Michael T.

  16. C Wilson on November 15, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Alright, to lay just a few things straight. I served as a missionary Hull less then a year ago and knew Minnie Ronson, Mick’s mother, very well (she’s the best missionary mom ever!). From my conversations I had with her it didn’t sound like Mick was too active at the time of his death though from what she said he still believed in the churches teachings. Also his father George was never a member of the church .

  17. dogdew on May 2, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    He played a mean guitar! For real ! His work is very much alive and well!

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