The farewell of one of the greats
Mick Ronson had risen to success as captain of David Bowie's Spiders from Mars, and his guitar playing on his legendary Les Paul and his wonderful arrangements were key to making the Ziggy Stardust author a star. When Bowie decided to end his Glam phase, Ronson became a star in his own right with the release of his first album in 1974, Slaughter on 10th Avenue, but after a less successful follow-up, Play Don't Worry, the following year, he decided to forget his solo career and return to working for others, either as an incredible guitarist - his work with Ian Hunter being the most acclaimed - or as a producer.
But in 1991 he was ready to focus on himself again, so he travelled to London and began to schedule his first solo tour since 1974, when, after a visit to the doctor, he received the worst news - he had liver cancer. But instead of falling into despair, Ronson decided to go ahead and work harder than ever, and in 1992 he produced Morrissey's Your Arsenal album and got back in touch with Bowie. That same year he appeared alongside him at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley, where he performed All The Young Dudes, which Bowie gave to Mott The Hoople - with Mott The Hoople singer Ian Hunter, Bowie on sax, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen from Def Leppard on backing vocals, and the rest of Queen. He also put the E-Bow on his blue Telecaster and perfectly recreated Robert Fripp's mythical notes for Bowie's Heroes.
It was a spectacular performance and served to close the most important relationship of his career, curiously with a Telecaster, which was the guitar with whom Jeff Beck, the man which Bowie always linked him, had risen to fame. But the relationship between the two would become close again as in the early 70s, Ronson played on Bowie's '93 album Black Tie, White Noise, and the singer returned the favour by singing a version of Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone on the album the guitarist was preparing. It wasn't a casual choice, both had recorded a song called Song For Bob Dylan on Bowie's Hunky Dory and Ronson had toured with the original songwriter on his Rolling Thunder Revue.
Nothing on Ronson's last album was a coincidence, the guest list included not only Bowie, but also the fundamental Hunter and other musicians with whom he had collaborated and who were fans of his work, such as members of Def Leppard, the Pretenders and John Mellencamp. The album opened with the explosive Don't Look Down, a song in which he faced his illness with hope and optimism, creating magic with his Tele, demonstrating that comparisons with Beck were not at all exaggerated.
Of course, this Heaven And Hull, a tribute to the city of his birth, is full of great moments from Ronson on guitar, as if he knew this was his farewell and wanted to go out on a high note. His work ethic has always been admirable, but here he really stepped up to the plate, combining these sessions with other commissions, as when the Wildhearts asked him to collaborate on their debut album and Ronson responded with an abrasive solo on My Baby Is A Headfuck. That same fire can be seen in the melodic yet edgy solos on songs like When the World Falls Down and Life's A River.
And the album has several notable compositions by Ronson, such as the aforementioned, plus Colour Me, where you can see that the guitarist also liked Bowie's Berlin period, or Trouble With Me, a reggae song in which, amid nods to Hendrix, he extracts gold from his Cry Baby. Towards the end there is a reunion with Hunter, who sings on Take A Long Line, a cover of the Australian band The Angels, in which Ronson gives free rein to his wildest side. The end comes with the inclusión of the live version in the Mercury tribute of All The Young Dudes, a song in which he shares the stage with the two guys for whom he shone the most, Bowie and Hunter.
Mick Ronson never saw the album released during his lifetime, as he died on 29 April 1993, a year before the album was released on 10 May 1994. Although his guitar playing was already a fundamental part of rock history since his time with Bowie, this album served as a perfect reminder of what the world had just lost, none other than one of the greats of the six strings.