More than just a mod dandy, Ronnie Lane cut his teeth on classic pop and RnB with Small Faces before getting all rustic and bluesy in the 70s. Gareth Morgan dissects a very underrated bassist
Ronnie Lane was the bass player, second vocalist and co-writer in a quartet cited by the likes of Paul Weller, Sex Pistols, Oasis and Blur as one of their all-time favourite bands: Small Faces (often prefaced by an incorrect ‘The’).
Ronnie Lane was born on 1 April 1946 in Plaistow, East London, and first played guitar. Just after quitting school at the age of 16, he met drummer Kenney Jones, and the pair formed The Outcasts. During the excursion to purchase his first bass from the J60 Music Bar in Manor Park in East London, Lane met guitarist Steve Marriott, and after a night listening to Marriott‘s extensive Stax and Motown collection they decided to form a band. They recruited Jones and Jimmy Winston, who switched from guitar to keyboards. When a friend of Marriott’s remarked that they all had ‘small faces’ (‘face’ also being a Mod term for trend-setter), a band was born.
Winston was replaced by Ian McLagan in 1965 after two single releases, and the band went on to score a string of hit singles including All Or Nothing, Itchycoo Park and Lazy Sunday plus three albums (discounting unofficial releases or those not sanctioned by the band), most notably the classic psychedelic set Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake in 1968. In 1969 Marriott quit, forming Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, and Small Faces became the Faces with the addition of singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood. Lane left the band in 1973 to forge a solo career and had some success with the band Slim Chance, but this was cruelly curtailed when he contracted multiple sclerosis in 1977. He passed away at home in Trinidad, Colorado, on 4 June, 1997.
Like the majority of guitarists who switched to bass in the ’60s, Lane played with a pick. He also favoured basses made by the UK’s Zemaitis. He was a song-oriented player in much the same manner as REM‘s Mike Mills or Colin Moulding of XTC, and generally delivered neat, functional basslines with hints of blues, rock’n'roll and soul influences. While we’re not talking monster technique, you can generally find something in most of Lane’s grooves that draws you in – and his choice of notes was seldom less than perfect.