Ronnie Lane is a hardly a household name, but he is one of my all-time favorite rockers. Whether with the Small Faces, the large Faces, or his own band Slim Chance, Lane’s lovely and wistful voice was always a pleasure, whether he was singing sublime ballads like The Faces’ “Debris” or “Oh La La” or knocking off a hard rocker like the hilarious Faces tune “You’re So Rude.” The world didn’t know what it lost when Lane died at 51 after suffering for 21 years from multiple sclerosis. But I can tell you what it lost; a soulful and sweet soul whose bass work and vocals had an integral impact on not just one, but two great rock’n’roll bands.
Lane was a frequent collaborator with the likes of Pete Townshend, Steve Marriott, and Ronnie Wood (the two of them recorded the soundtrack to the 1972 Canadian film Mahoney’s Last Stand, and it’s a tremendous series of rave-ups despite its almost total lack of vocals). He recorded four LPs between 1970 and 1977 with Townshend, but three of them are hard-to-find tributes to their spiritual mentor Meher Baba, who lent his name to the great “Baba O’Riley.” Their fourth collaboration was Rough Mix, which was released in 1977 and featured an all-star cast that included Eric Clapton, John Entwistle, Ian Stewart, Charlie Watts, King Crimson’s Boz Burrell, the ubiquitous John “Rabbit Bundrick, and Medicine Head’s Peter Hope Evans. Why, even Townshend’s father-in-law, the noted British TV and movie soundtrack composer Edwin Astley, makes an appearance. Sly Stone is right; this one’s a family affair.
Lane and Townshend eschew rock for the most part, opting instead to mine the folk-rock vein, and it works. Lane wanted to collaborate on songs with Townshend but Townshend declined, and this collection of songs by two separate songwriters has a disparate feel, which is another way of saying it’s stylistically all over the map. But what holds it together is the passion both men pour into the songs, which stray from pure folk ballads to a pair of rave-ups to a handful of songs that defy easy definition, but show that both men showed up at the sessions—this despite the fact that Lane had just discovered he was ill—at the top of their game. No throwaways, in other words, or songs they didn’t think were good enough for their primary bands—they came to record great music, not just fuck around and jam.