Ronnie Lane: The Texas Years
Lane and Joe Ely: Photo copyright by Theresa Dimenno
Ronnie Lane's life story need not be retold. But this little exclusive piece for Perfect Sound Forever will provide you with the full background story on the recently released Ronnie Lane Live In Austin CD on Sideburn Records, out of Portland, Washington in the States. When I finished writing the story of Plonk's Austin years for liner notes to the CD, it was over 10,000 words in length -- far too long for a CD booklet. This piece presents a lengthy section deleted from the booklet for space reasons.
by Kent H. Benjamin (May 2001)
First, a brief recap: Ronnie Lane moved to Houston, Texas, in 1984 to start an American branch of the ARMS foundation, and to take advantage of the hyperbaric oxygen treatments available there. In 1985 after the collapse of the foundation in a welter of lawsuits, Lane with his caregiver/publicist Jo Rae Di Menno relocated a few hundred kilometers west to Austin, where he remained until 1993. The CD focuses on his musical activities during that time.
Lane formed a succession of bands, usually with one or more members carrying over from the previous band. From March to May of 1987, he worked with a pre-existing group, The Tremors, a 4-piece electric band augmented by Bobby Keys on sax. They played just over a half dozen gigs including a several-day mini-tour to New York and LA. Three gigs were recorded (two in Austin, one audience cassette in NYC), and they made 1-2 studio demos. From then on, Lane fronted a succession of different lineups of what he called Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance (keeping the band name from most of his British solo career). At various times, Slim Chance included such local all-stars as Alejandro Escovedo, R.C. Banks, Susan Voelz, Jon Dee Graham, Rich Brotherton, Freddie Krc, and many more. The CD booklet contains many more details.
In 1987, Lane met a young Native American electrologist, Susan Gallegos; she was his caregiver for the remainder of his life. On April 9, 1988, they were married at a small private ceremony in Austin. In 1990, Lane essayed a very brief tour of Japan with a band that included former Face Ian McLagan. It was to be the last time he performed in front of an audience, although two further studio visits were made to add vocals to tracks for other artists (The Keepers and John & Mary). In 1993, Susan Lane moved to Trinidad, Colorado (many states away) with Ronnie and her family, and they remained there until his death as a result of his multiple sclerosis on June 4, 1997.
Little knowledge of Lane's musical activities has escaped the Austin city limits, but in fact Lane remained as musically active during his Austin years as his health would allow. Under the able management of Chesley Millikin, several studio visits were arranged. In addition, a total of over 13 radio shows were performed. Ronnie Lane Live In Austin collects the best material from the radio shows.
This album had its genesis over ten years ago. That it's come out at all has been a long and winding road, and a labor of love for all concerned. We hope it serves as a fitting memento to the last decade of Ronnie Lane's life -- the Austin album that he always wanted to release, but was never able to make. The very last time I spoke to Ronnie by phone at his home in Colorado, we talked about releasing a collection of his Austin radio appearances on CD, and he said ‘yeah, that would be great, some of it anyways!' with that unforgettable enthusiasm of his. We hope he would have approved. It's incredibly ironic that the first new album of Ronnie Lane material ever released in America is derived from his only recording/performing sessions in America. It's worth reminding you that Lane's four UK albums with Slim Chance had not been reissued on CD when Lane lived in Texas, and were owned by very, very few Americans. It's doubtful many of his Austin musicians ever heard many of the original albums, as Lane himself didn't own copies of several of them. They're still available in the States only as imports.
This project began around 1990, when Sideburn Records head Jim Bradt tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to persuade a label to license and release an American anthology of all Lane's best solo tracks from the four British-only Slim Chance albums, with a couple of bonus Austin radio performances added. Ten years later, now that all Lane's solo albums are finally available on CD (at least in the UK), we're finally releasing an excellent overview of Lane's solo material via an entire live album drawn from nearly a dozen surviving radio appearances taped between 1986 and 1990. A majority of the songs have never appeared in a live version before, and several are completely unreleased. The album is unique in that it includes material from ‘competing' radio stations; it's safe to say if it were anyone but Ronnie Lane, it wouldn't have happened -- everyone loved him. It's also unique in that the project was compiled and made possible by a small group of fans who were all friends of Lane's. Jody Denberg, who's been one of the most popular disc jockeys in Austin for over 15 years, was perhaps Lane's best friend, during the Austin years, and best man at Ronnie and Susan Lane's wedding. Ed Mayberry was also a close friend of Lane's, a fellow disc jockey with Denberg at KLBJ, and the recording engineer and compiler of most of Lane's best radio appearances; in 1999, Mayberry's wife gave birth to his second son, Ronnie Lane Mayberry. Mayberry introduced me to Lane, and I produced a Lane career retrospective for local television (The Many Faces of Ronnie Lane, see appendix), and videotaped Ronnie and Susan's wedding for them. A bit of the television interview could be seen in Granada TV's 1994 Small Faces documentary. This album will raise money for Susan Lane and family.
This CD was originally to have been simply a release of the KUT Live Set. At some point, we hoped to also release some of the material from Denberg's and Mayberry's cache of live material and lengthy interviews. But we found that by the time Susan Lane and I had each vetoed some songs, we were left with a 45 minute CD. KUT, Denberg, and Mayberry were kind enough to allow us to mix material from different radio stations. If we'd done a double CD, one would have been full of music, and the other would have contained about 30 minutes of live material (with basically multiple versions of the four most commonly performed songs) filled out with interview material. We all felt the best route to go was a single disc that would really present Ronnie Lane's final years in the best possible light. To that end, I spent nearly a year tracking down the tapes we didn't already have, rattling everyone's memories (including many musician friends who played in one of Ronnie's seven or so bands in Austin) to see if anything else existed. We ultimately found master sources for all but three shows known to have been recorded from 1985 through 1994. In each case, we used the actual master recordings, whether that was a 2-track 1/2" reel, 8-track 1" reel (2 songs), or in-line cassette (several shows were recorded by the engineer, not the station, which never had copies), and did the best possible job of mastering it for release, with Ron Flynt (of Ron Flynt & the Bluehearts and 20/20) engineering at Jumping Dog Studio in Austin. Everything is presented in its original live radio mix, which we've attempted to present with best possible sound. As most of the recordings were two-track with multiple instruments on each, it wasn't possible to fix occasional bad lines in the vocals, out of tune acoustic guitars, and the like. It is truly a live album, no overdubs allowed!
Making the decisions on what to include and what to omit took literally months, but the final line-up is one that we're very happy with, and omits nothing we felt really strongly about. Early on, I decided that it would only repeat one song, “Ooh La La,” and that because it just seems to be the ideal theme song -- a song written by a strong young man at the height of his wealth and fame, made incredibly ironic and moving by the crippling disease that Lane valiantly fought for the last twenty years of his life. This CD includes 3 songs by Ronnie Lane and the Tremors, 11 tracks by Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance (the Austin versions), and 4 stripped down acoustic performances, and is over 70 minutes in length.
We presented as many little bits of chat and stories as possible without dragging the flow of the album down. There's more than 90 minutes of interview and storytelling that fans would love, and nearly twenty releasable songs omitted here; there could be a second volume, Ronnie Lane: The Texas Years that will include studio tracks along with the best remaining live material. Lane was unfailingly enthusiastic and charming, funny and confident, sarcastic and self-deprecating until the day he died.
What follows are complete details of Ronnie Lane's last ten years of music:
The Ronnie Lane Texas Tape Timeline:
- Interview with Jody Denberg, taped 4-09-86, broadcast on KLBJ's Critic's Choice 4-13-86. This is the source for many of the quotes in parentheses used in the CD booklet. I transcribed it a few years later for two publications. Photographer Cindy Light took many lovely color and black and white photos as Ronnie told his stories, which is where many of the shots in this CD originate.
- Ronnie Lane and the Seven Samurai, Live at Liberty Lunch. 1987. The master of this performance seems not to have survived. It included two songs by ‘Ronnie Lane and Friends' (probably Alejandro Escovedo, Jody Denberg, Tim Kerr - guitars, Dickie Lee Erwin - banjo, Bruce Hughes - bass, Susan Voelz - violin, Jon Dee Graham - pedal steel, Scott McKenzie - mandolin, and Hector Munoz or Ron Erwin - drums): “Debris” and “Ooh La La.” It was an acoustic prelude to a set by the True Believers, not particularly good, either, in spite of a stellar group of musicians. Typical Lane humor that the Seven weren't. This band was really a loose lineup with drifting membership that started at the Continental Club, and also included Denny Degorio and Kevin Foley (both original Believers) at times.
- Ronnie Lane and the Seven Samurai live at the Cactus Cafe, 1987. Taped by a public access producer, believed not to have been aired. This poor quality (audio and video) shoot included a similar lineup as the Liberty Lunch show. They played “Kuschty Rye,” “Debris,” and “The Poacher.” Lane hated both the performance and quality. The master has since been lost.
- The Austin Music Awards, March 1987. Ronnie Lane and the Tremors performed one of their first gigs with special guest Bobby Keys. It was taped without permission from the band or the Austin Music Awards staff for public access television, and never aired in whole or in part; indeed, both the name of the producer and whereabouts of the 3/4" master are unknown. It was Lane's worst vocal performance, and the mono audio mix wasn't up to par (too much vocal and sax). At Lane's request, this set wasn't aired. It's unfortunate, because both Lane and band looked terrific and the video quality of the performance is very good indeed, and several otherwise unavailable songs were performed. The set list included: “Texas Plain” (title may be incorrect, I've heard this song nowhere else), “Spiritual Babe,” “Silver and Gold” (?, a Sam Cooke song), “Tired of Waiting for You” (Ray Davies/Kinks song), “Shakin' All Over,” and “You're So Rude.” We might've used some photos of Ronnie and Bobby Keys from this show in this booklet. This lineup recorded a studio version of “Shakin' All Over” in the spring of 1987 that we hope may be included on a future release. Trivia note: don't think the irony of a guy in a wheelchair singing a song called “Shakin' All Over” backed by a band called The Tremors escaped Lane's notice.
- Valentine's Day Special, Saturday 2-14-87, with portions previously recorded in several sessions the two weeks prior. Hosted by Jody Denberg and Ed Mayberry. Includes live performances taped 2-11-87 by Ed Mayberry on 8-track 1" tape of “Annie” and “Ooh La La” with Alejandro Escovedo, Susan Voelz, & Jody Denberg. The program also includes demos of “Spiritual Babe” and the Majic Mijits' “Chicken (No Balls At All).” Ronnie dug out his address book and placed phone calls to the following, who chatted and did Valentine's song intros to one of their songs each: Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Ron Wood, Ian McLagan, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Bill Wyman, Nick Lowe, Glyn Johns, Andy Fairweather-Low, assorted Stray Cats, and assorted Georgia Satellites. Clapton was interrupted during his fish and chips, Wyman asleep on the couch, and Townshend in the recording studio. Only for Plonk!
- Ronnie Lane and the Tremors with Bobby Keys, KLBJ's Local Licks Live hosted by Jody Denberg, May 12, 1987. Set list as aired included: “Dirty Rice” (a Cajun song we omitted for space and unknown publishing), “Sometimes” (a cover of a Wallets song Ronnie learned from Nick Lowe), “Ooh La La,” “Chicken (No Balls At All),” “Can't You Hear Me Knocking Pt. 2" (instrumental), “Winning With Women,” “Shakin' All Over,” “You're So Rude,” and an interview with Jody. A separate interview with Bobby Keys and Ed Mayberry was done backstage. At other shows, The Tremors also performed several of Tom Grimm's songs, “April Fool,” “The Poacher,” and “Ogden's Nut Gone Flake,” the 1968 Small Faces instrumental. “Shakin' All Over” was on this CD up until the last minute, and was dropped for space considerations. The studio version recorded by Lane and the Tremors with Keys in Austin, spring 1987, will hopefully appear if there's a 2nd volume of Lane Austin material released; at the moment, the master tape is missing in action, although it will be found soon.
- Lane appeared with Ed Mayberry for a short interview on KLBJ on Aug. 8, 1987, in an interview taped at Ronnie and Susan's apartment in South Austin. Ronnie can audibly be heard ‘getting nice' on the tape.
- Z102 Live Broadcast for The Sound of Our Town, hosted by Kevin Connor. Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance, Nov. 1, 1987. Perhaps the best of Lane's Austin bands debuted on this show: Alejandro Escovedo - guitar, R.C. Banks - accordian, J.D. Foster - bass, Susan Voelz - violin, Freddie Krc - drums, and David Crawford - horns. The set list was: “Rio Grande,” “April Fool,” Kuschty Rye,” “Spiritual Babe,” “Debris,” and “Ooh La La.” The demise of the True Believers was officially announced on this show, although the band would in fact play a few more gigs. This line-up went on to play Steve Chaney's Big Mamou club on Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5, in Houston at the Ale House Dec. 3, and at a snowbound Club Da Da in Dallas on Feb. 5, 1988, making this probably the longest-lived of any of Lane's Austin groups. The master tape of the Z102 broadcast was apparently not preserved, although one band member has an off-air cassette. It's charming, but except for “Debris,” most songs are better in later performances.
- Christmas Hoot Night, 12-22-87, KLBJ. Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance a.k.a. The Make Believers (a short lived acoustic side band with most of the members of Austin's legendary 3-guitar hard rock, best-ever band, The True Believers). The musicians included: Alejandro Escovedo & Jon Dee Graham (guitars), J.D. Foster (bass), David Crawford (horns), and Freddie Krc (drums). They played “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” “Ooh La La,” and “Kuschty Rye.” It's the only show where the band was actually introduced as ‘Slim Chance,' and also the only one where Ronnie doesn't introduce band members individually (so we're sorry if we left anyone out). It seems that Graham only did this and the next show with this band, R.C. Banks on accordian being at the remainder of their gigs. This gig was the genesis of the beloved Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, which formed from the ashes of Slim Chance/Make Believers.
- Live at Big Mamou, Jan.8, 1988. Unaired television footage shot for a local cable program called Splash One. Produced by Norman Wright for Austin CableVision. Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance (this time really The Make Believers, who closed the show and were taped were taped doing their own set, and really were billed as ‘The Make Believers'): Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham - guitars, J.D. Foster - upright bass, Freddie Krc - drums, Susan Voelz - violin, David Crawford - horns. The complete set list included: “April Fool,” “Roll On Babe,” “Don't Try ‘n' Change My Mind,” “Kuschty Rye,” “Rio Grande,” “Flags and Banners,” “You Never Can Tell,” “Under The April Skies,” “Spiritual Babe,” “You're So Rude,” “The Poacher,” “Nowhere To Run,” “Ooh La La,” and “Debris.” A year later, Kent persuaded Ronnie to allow three songs -- “Kuschty Rye,” “Nowhere To Run,” and “Ooh La La” -- to be included in a Wright-produced compilation, The Best of Splash One, which ran on public access during SXSW in ‘89 and ‘90. The master tapes of the complete concert were subsequently bulk erased and reused by the cable company, since Lane had refused permission to air them.
- The Many Faces of Ronnie Lane was a one-hour television program made for public access television, based around a March 5, 1988 interview with Ronnie Lane about the Small Faces and the Faces, with some clips included. Portions of this interview were utilized by Granada TV in their November 1994 episode of their My Generation series on The Small Faces. Produced and edited by Kent Benjamin. It was completely reedited and improved in March 1989, and only the 2nd version survives. It was Kent's first TV production (copies are not available).
- Ronnie Lane performed a brief set with the True Believers (Alejandro Escovedo, Jon Dee Graham, Javier Escovedo - guitars, J.D. Foster - bass, and Hector Munoz - drums) at the Austin Music Awards, March 1988. As an added bit of excitement, ex-Television lead guitarist Richard Lloyd (in town for SXSW) joined in. This was the only year that no video or audio recordings were done at all of the Music Awards, so this brilliant performance with the best band that EVER backed Ronnie doesn't exist except in the audience's memories. It was one of the Believers' final performances. Songs performed were: “Debris” (which the Believers themselves sometimes performed) and “Ooh La La.”
- A newer version of the January lineup, Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance a.k.a. The Ronnie Lane Group, played an excellent set on KLBJ's Local Licks on July 29, 1988. It's one of the best radio appearances, only omitted on this CD because the songs were all available elsewhere on a better quality master. The band included: Alejandro Escovedo, Mary Hattersley, R.C. Banks, Ronnie Johnson, and Darren Hess. Songs performed were: “Kuschty Rye,” “April Fool,” “Under The April Skies,” and “Rio Grande.” Hosted by Jody Denberg, engineered by Ed Mayberry. Note that by this time the True Believers had broken up for good, and J.D. Foster was like Jon Dee out of the picture, so former Tremor Ronnie Johnson became the new bassist.
- The KUT Live Set, broadcast Sept. 11, 1988. Recorded at KUT studios on Guadalupe St. on the University of Texas grounds, produced and engineered by Walter Morgan, and hosted by Jay Trachtenberg. This version of Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance featured: Rich Brotherton, R.C. Banks, Susan Voelz, Mary Hattersley, Ronnie Johnson, and Darren Hess. The set list as aired was: “Ooh La La,” “Kuschty Rye,” “Under The April Skies,” “Rio Grande,” band intros, “The Poacher,” “Nowhere To Run,” “Barcelona,” “Winning With Women,” “Strong Bear's Daughter,” “You're So Rude,” “April Fool,” “Roll On Babe,” “Spiritual Babe,” “You Never Can Tell,” and an interview out by Trachtenberg with Lane.
- Christmas Hoot Night, KLBJ, 12-20-88. The band featured Rich Brotherton, R.C. Banks, Susan Voelz, Ronnie Johnson, and Darren Hess. The set list was: “Barcelona,” “Ooh La La,” and “April Fool.” Omitted from this CD in favor of the KUT Live Set versions with the same lineup and a better quality master source tape.
- The same band that recorded the KUT Live Set recorded seven songs on 16-track at Arlyn Studio in January 1989. The tracks were: “Spiritual Babe” (two versions), “Rio Grande,” “Sally Ann,” “Strong Bear's Daughter,” “Hearts of Oak,” and “Peaches.” Mike Stewart oversaw the recordings. Some of these might be released in the future on a second volume Ronnie Lane: The Texas Years.
- Christmas Hoot Night, KLBJ, 12-89. Ronnie's health didn't permit much in the way of musical activities in 1990, and his bands went their separate ways, but as a favor to Jody and Ed, he did appear backed by Jody on guitar and Rich Brotherton on lead guitar singing “Nowhere To Run” and “Just For a Moment.” It was to be the last surviving live recording of Ronnie Lane.
- Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan appeared together on KLBJ in a prerecorded interview with Jody Denberg on March 27, 1990 (by which time they were already flying to Japan) to chat for a few minutes prior to leaving for the short Japanese tour. The version of “Nowhere to Run” from the Christmas Hoot was also broadcast.
- The Japan Tour, very late March/early April 1990. The final electric band lineup of Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance (a.k.a. The Ronnie Lane Band, as the tour program done by the Japanese has it) featured: Ian McLagan - keyboards (who agreed to play on the condition that they NOT perform “Itchycoo Park,” a decision Mac later regretted imposing), Rich Brotherton - guitar & mandolin, Don Harvey - drums, Daniel Castro - guitar, and Scott Garber - bass. The tour featured a great electric band and audiences loved the shows, but Lane was in very bad shape physically and vocally. No known recordings exist.
- Japanese Tour phoner. On April 2, 1990 Jody Denberg reached Ronnie by phone in Japan to wish him a belated happy birthday, and they talked about the tour. It was the last time Ronnie was heard live on Austin radio. When asked if he had a message for the people of Austin, he replied: “Move to Japan. It's great here.”
- In June 1990, Lane contributed a backing vocal to a song called “We Have Nothing” recorded at Arlyn Studio by John (Lombardo) and Mary (Ramsey) for a 1991 album called Last Victory.
- Ronnie Lane appeared onstage at a Ron Wood gig in 1992 at the Austin Opera House, with Ian McLagan in attendance, and joined them onstage to sing “Ooh La La.”
- “King of the Lazy World” was recorded in 1992 at Arlyn Studio. It was written by Brad Brobisky, and the backing musicians included Daniel Castro, Jesse Taylor, Ponty Bone, and Lisa Mednick. Ronnie contributed a lead vocal. Lane's condition was such that he had to record his vocal one line at a time. When it became apparent that Lane was not going to make an Austin album, with Lane's permission, the lead vocal was removed and replaced by Brad's, and the song was released on The Keepers' album Looking For A Sign on Munich Records. The master track can't be found, but the multi-tracks of the backing track still exist, and Lane's lead vocal still exists on a separate safety tape. Lane and Brobisky also co-wrote another song called “The Boulevardier” found on that album.
- KLBJ's Rock'n'Roll Connection, with aired on March 27, 1994, was a 90 minute program edited and compiled by Ed Mayberry to roughly coincide with Ronnie Lane's 48th birthday, that featured extracts from the hours of interviews, many studio tracks from the Small Faces, Faces, and Ronnie Lane solo years, plus tracks recorded by Lane for Austin radio, including a second airing of some of Ronnie's unreleased demos. It was the final Austin tribute to Ronnie Lane during his lifetime.
A complete version of the liner notes will be available after the album's release on the Room for Ravers website. This article Copyright June 2000, Kent H. Benjamin, Austin, TX.
Also see our retrospective of Lane's earlier career
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