Ronald Frederick “Ronnie” Lane (1 April 1946 – 4 June 1997) was an English musician, songwriter, and producer who is best known as the bass guitarist and founding member of two prominent English rock and roll bands: the Small Faces where he was nicknamed “Plonk” (1965–69), and, after losing the band’s frontman, the Faces, with two new members added to the line-up (from The Jeff Beck Group), who dubbed him “Three-Piece” (1969–73).
Subsequently Lane collaborated with other musicians, leading his own bands and pursuing a solo career, while remaining close to his former bandmates. In the late 1970s he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was supported by charity projects and financial contributions from friends, former bandmates and fans. After suffering from the disease for 21 years, he died at 51.
Lane was born in Plaistow Maternity Hospital, Plaistow, a working class area in the East End of London, to Elsie Lane and Stanley Lane, a truck driver. Lane later described his father as a “saint”, who would work a long work day, and then return home to nurse his wife and two sons, all of whom were diagnosed with M.S. at differing points in their lives. Doctors assured Lane as a child that the destructive disease was not necessarily inherited, although he found out later in his life that he had indeed inherited it.
After leaving school at the age of sixteen, Lane met Kenney Jones at a local pub, and they formed a group they named The Outcasts. Initially playing lead guitar, Lane quickly switched to bass. When shopping for a Harmony bass guitar, Lane visited the J60 Music Bar in Manor Park, London, where he met Steve Marriott, who was working there. Lane bought his bass, and went to Marriott’s house after work, where Marriott introduced him to his Motown and Stax collection. Lane and Marriott set out to form a band, recruiting friends Kenney Jones and Jimmy Winston, who switched from guitar to organ. Marriott was chosen to be the frontman and singer.
The Small Faces consisted of Lane on bass guitar, Marriott as guitarist and lead vocalist, Kenney Jones as drummer, and Winston on keyboards. (The name “Small” was chosen as they were all under 5’5″ in height.) They made their debut in 1965, with Ian McLagan replacing Winston in November 1965. Lane and Marriott began writing hit songs consistently, including “Itchycoo Park” and “All or Nothing”. At least a dozen successful songs credit Lane, and the 1968 concept album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake features songs co-written by Lane with one exception. The album stayed at number one on the UK Albums Chart for six weeks. The band disbanded in 1969 as Marriott left the group. The group reformed during the late 1970s but Lane did not join them.
Lane formed the Faces with McLagan, Jones, Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart in 1969. He shared primary songwriting duties with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, composing, or co-composing, many of their best-loved pieces and taking a central role during the recording of their fourth and final album, Ooh La La, particularly, as the band’s front man Rod Stewart focused on his own solo career. Unhappy due to poor reviews of the album and Stewart’s lack of commitment, Lane quit in 1973, making his last appearance at the Sundown Theatre in Edmonton, London, on 4 June. He was replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi but tellingly, the group made no further studio albums following Lane’s departure and split in 1975.
In 1973 Ronnie Lane moved to Fishpool Farm in the village of Hyssington, Minsterley, Shropshire. With Ronnie already beginning to feel the effects of MS, he moved back to London in the late 70s.
After leaving the Faces, Lane formed his own band, Slim Chance, who recorded the singles “How Come” (UK No. 11) and “The Poacher” (UK No. 36) and the album Anymore for Anymore, showcasing a blend of British rock, folk and country music. The original line-up of this band included Scottish singer-songwriters Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, who provided harmony vocals and played a variety of instruments including keyboards, accordion, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. They left in May 1974 to continue their career as a duo, though they would appear on 1977’s Rough Mix as guests.
After initial success he commenced a tour called “The Passing Show”, touring the UK as a carnival complete with tents and barkers. Viv Stanshall, from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, served briefly as ringmaster (of sorts). Lane moved to Island Records and issued Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance and One for the Road. In late 1976 he joined a short-lived reformation of Small Faces but quit after two rehearsals, to be replaced by Rick Wills (who later played alongside former Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones in the Jones Gang). However, Lane had signed a contract with Atlantic Records as part of the Small Faces, and was informed that he owed the company an album. His ensuing album with Pete Townshend, Rough Mix, produced by Glyn Johns, which was released in 1977, was lauded as contender for best album of the year by many critics, but the label did not promote it and sales were lackluster.
During the recording of Rough Mix, Lane’s multiple sclerosis was diagnosed. Nonetheless he toured, wrote and recorded (with Eric Clapton among others) and in 1979 released another album, See Me, which features several songs written by Lane and Clapton. Around this time Lane travelled the highways and byways of England and lived a ‘passing show’ modern nomadic life in full Gypsy traveller costume and accommodation.
In 1983 his girlfriend Boo Oldfield contacted Glyn Johns with a view to organising a concert to help fund Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis. Johns was already arranging Clapton’s Command Performance[clarification needed] for Prince Charles so they decided to book the Royal Albert Hall for a further two nights and host a benefit concert. The resulting ARMS Charity Concerts. featured Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Kenney Jones, Andy Fairweather-Low, Steve Winwood, Ray Cooper, James Hooker, Fernando Saunders, Chris Stainton, Tony Hymas, Simon Phillips and others. With the addition of Joe Cocker and Paul Rodgers they toured the US.
Lane emigrated to Texas, USA, in 1984 (first to Houston, then Austin), where the climate was more beneficial to his health and he continued playing, writing, and recording. He formed an American version of Slim Chance, which was, as always, a loose-knit conglomeration of available musicians. For much of the time, membership included Alejandro Escovedo. For close to a decade Lane enjoyed “rock royalty” status in the Austin area. He toured Japan but his health continued to decline. His last performance was in 1992 at a Ronnie Wood gig alongside Ian McLagan.
In 1994 Ronnie and his wife Susan moved to the small town of Trinidad, Colorado. Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood continued to fund his medical care because no royalties from the Small Faces’ work was forthcoming until Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan were eventually able to secure payments, by which time Steve Marriott had died in a house fire and Lane had also died.
Lane succumbed to pneumonia, in the final stages of his progressive multiple sclerosis, on 4 June 1997 and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Trinidad, Colorado. An album of live BBC recordings was about to be released to raise money for his care when Lane died.