by Jody Denberg
Ronnie Lane, the English rocker who called Austin home for nearly a decade, died early June 4 in a Colorado hospital at the age of 51. Multiple Sclerosis took its toll on Lane's body, but it didn't dim the twinkle in his eyes until the very end. That gleam sparkled brightest when he flashed his smile, a toothy grin at once mischievous and knowing like many of his best songs. He was a sweet and gentle soul, born on April Fool's Day, and his twinkle still glimmers in the hearts of the many friends he left behind all over the world.
Ronnie Wood plants one on Ronnie Lane at the Terrace in 1992.
Everything is, and there's nothing I'm missing. - "Just For A Moment" (Ronnie Lane/Ron Wood 1976)
The rock & roll history books will certainly record the particulars of Lane's musical career, but here's a thumbnail sketch. His musical journey began in 1965 when the bassist teamed up with singer Steve Marriott as the songwriting team for the Small Faces, noted for their distinctly British lyrical whimsy and a musical blend of R&B and psychedelia. Alas, bad management meant the Small Faces never played America, and with the departure of Marriott and the addition of Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, the Small Faces (including drummer Kenney Jones and keyboardist Ian McLagan) begat the Faces, one of the Seventies' best rock & roll bands.
Noted more for the revelry of their concerts than the mastery of their recordings, the Faces lost steam when Lane left in 1973, and disbanded in 1975 when Wood joined the Rolling Stones. Lane then flourished musically on a series of albums with his band Slim Chance, English folk gypsies who added mandolin, accordion, and violin to his spry tunes. His singular talents were perhaps best realized on the album Rough Mix, his one-off collaboration with the Who's Pete Townshend.
We used to roam so freely, it's been so long. I take my dreams to bed now, where they belong. - "April Fool" (Ronnie Lane 1977)
During the recording of Rough Mix, Lane sometimes seemed forgetful, occasionally slurring his words and losing full control of his muscles. He was soon diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease from which his mother also suffered. In 1983, a gathering of his superstar buddies (Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Kenney Jones et al.) toured the U.S. for the ARMS tour (Artists for Research into Multiple Sclerosis). Afterwards, Lane and the funds landed in Houston where a treatment center had already been established. Sadly, the ARMS organization disintegrated, with an ill Lane unable to properly watch over its management. Accompanied by his caretaker, Jo Rae Dimenno (now publicist for the South by Southwest Music Festival), the wheelchair-bound Lane moved to Austin in 1986, seeking solace and hoping to make music.
I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was stronger - "Ooh La La" (Ronnie Lane/Ron Wood 1973)
Once in Austin, Lane was surrounded by musicians, fans who knew his music and longed to perform with him. The fact that he couldn't walk and didn't have the strength to play his instrument didn't stop him from singing both old and sometimes new songs at clubs and concerts with a revolving cast of characters. In 1990, he even toured Japan, accompanied by Faces member McLagan and Austinites Don Harvey and Rich Brotherton.
Occasionally Lane's old mates like Jimmy Page and musical heirs like the Georgia Satellites would come to town, rendering heartfelt dedications to him from the stage. Life in Austin was good for Lane; he would go back and forth with various exercise and medical regimens looking for better health, never stopping his regularl visits to Katz's for his beloved bagels and lox. In 1989 he met the woman who would become his wife, Susan, settling into domesticity with her and her two daughters.
As Lane became weaker, he made less music. But when Ron Wood played the Terrace in 1992 with McLagan in the band, Lane joined them onstage for a tear-jerking version of "Ooh La La." At a party at Manor Downs the night before, the three Faces traded war stories, reminiscing boisterously. His backstage reunion with Rod Stewart before a 1994 Erwin Center concert was less joyous, with both the millionaire pop star and his former bandmate trying to fill awkward silences, distanced by their disparate fates. Both Stewart and Wood supported Lane financially in his latter years.
Ironically, just as McLagan moved to Austin in 1994 to be closer to his pal, Lane moved to Colorado because the Texas heat was taking its toll on his condition. During one of several drives from Austin to Wyoming, his wife's home state, the Lanes were attracted to the small town of Trinidad. Though the mountain air made for a more pleasant existence, it also meant Lane never saw most of his old friends again. McLagan, did, however, visit Lane in the hospital in April and remembers, "He was his old cheeky self by the time I left." Though planning to visit Austin this summer, Lane died from double pneumonia brought on by gastritis, conditions his deteriorated body could not fight after 20 years of Multiple Sclerosis.
All my family and all of my friends know there's nowhere to run - "Nowhere To Run" (Ronnie Lane 1977)
It's a short movie, Lane was fond of saying. He was right. Ooh La La.