The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

David Bowie

The re-issues, tributes and never-ending praises being sung to the great Thin White Duke following his death continue ignoring another legend without whom David Bowie probably would never have been the same. Mick Ronson was much more than just the king of glam's guitarist, the one who accompanied him during the years he recorded his best albums, from The Man Who Sold The World to Pin Ups and Ziggy Stardust, of course, the ones that established Bowie as one of the greatest talents of 20th century music. Ronson was only credited with "arrangements" on those records, but no one doubted that many of those songs should have included his name as co-writer.

Cancer of the liver claimed his life prematurely in 1993 at the age of 47.  Ronson unplugged his guitar forever when he already had a place reserved in the six-string pantheon, a seat he occupied way too early.  After hitting it big with Bowie, he went on to Mott the Hoople, a group endorsed by the Duke, who wrote All the Young Dudes for them, another big hit with arrangements by ... well, it's easy to do the math.   His final stage played out with Ian Hunter, the lead singer of Mott when he decided to try his luck as a solo artist. Ronson recorded four albums under his own name, the final one, Heaven & Hull, released in 1994 just after his death.

Ronson enjoyed enough time to distinguish himself as one of the greatest guitarists of the '70s and '80s, one in demand by many of the leading singer-songwriters of the era, like Lou Reed or Dylan. They needed someone like him: an excellent musician -he also played piano (Lady Stardust), accordion and bass- who was not only content to stay in the background onstage but also took charge of 'directing' the rest of the band.

Our British legend figures among the 100 greatest guitarists in any list worth paying attention to, but his style wasn't based so much on being the typical dazzling soloist. He was more a 'rhythm' player who prefers to work with the chords and effects, especially distortion, changing from electric to acoustic along the way. Ronson went searching for a sound distinct from the rest of his peers. He found it on Ziggy Stardust, perhaps the best example of his style together with Suffragette City and the playing on Moonage Daydream, which really does seem to travel up to the stars.

Any way you look at it, the rise and fall of Ziggy/Bowie has a great deal to do with Ronson's guitar -a 1968 Les Paul Custom; always a Gibson despite the Fender shown in Wikipedia-, an absolute star from the first lines he played on his debut with Bowie on The Man Who Sold The World to the last note on Pin Ups.

A genius like David Bowie obviously knew how to re-invent himself 1,001 times. Maybe he wanted to go too far for someone like Mick Ronson, who helped him cross the boundaries of rock, but when left to his own devices preferred to play -and sing- his syrupy version of Love Me Tender that opened his first solo album, Slaughter on 10th Avenue, in 1973.