Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance

Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance: I was 13 when I first heard this name for a group in a book about music and musicians. I didn’t fully appreciate all of life’s ups and downs just yet, so the title seemed pretty funny to me. They must actually be good, I thought. I didn’t get around to hearing Ronnie Lane’s solo work for quite some time due to a lack of availability of his music in the U.S. Of course, I did know the Faces, the British Boozy n’ Bluesy group famous for hits like “Stay With Me” featuring Rod Stewart as lead vocalist. Sure did like that bass line though! And that was Ronnie Lane laying it down. I finally acquired the Faces album,  A Nod’s as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse (which I thought was certainly an odd title –  although perhaps no odder than Weasels Ripped my Flesh by Frank Zappa!)

The first couple of songs on the album were written by Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood. But then! I didn’t recognize the voice on the fourth song, which clearly wasn’t Rod Stewart. I liked it, to be sure, but I was confused. Who was this? I deduced by the song credits that it must be Ronnie Lane. As history played out, Rod Stewart became increasingly famous and the Faces rode that wave as well. But Ronnie Lane was dissatisfied with his secondary role in the band and wanted more opportunities to sing his compositions. Thus, in 1973 he quit the band at the height of their popularity. This is when he put together Slim Chance. He wrote, recorded and performed the music of his heart and his choosing. A splendid mix of British Folk, Rock n’ Roll and elements of The Band all came together using mandolins, accordions, violins, penny whistles and a more ‘traditional’ Rock line-up: electric guitars, bass and drums. I find it to be a most unique sound while at the same comforting and familiar.

My favorite Ronnie Lane album is One For The Road. To be sure, when it was released in 1976, it was well against the musical grain of popular music. For a variety reasons in and out of Ronnie’s control, it turns out his band was aptly named. While Rod Stewart went on to superstar status as a solo artist expertly blending his Rock ‘n Soul sound while still remaining current and fresh sounding, Ronnie’s music career stalled into the doldrums. Nevertheless, I love his earnest, Dylan-esque singing and the way it conveys a yearning and longing. It also has a certain anger and cheekiness that keeps his songs on the ground, without floating away in musings.

I thoroughly recommend bringing one of music’s unsung heroes, Ronnie Lane, into your world.

Here is a video of Ronnie singing his best-known song, “Ooh La La” with the great sing-a-long Chorus,

I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger

 

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Chicken Skin Music!

When I am teaching music to my students I am always curious as to how they come across the songs they’d like to learn. It makes me think back to when I was starting out as a musician and being on the lookout for new and exciting music. I like to compare the differences of the times. For me there was, of course, the radio. I was aware of the latest Pop hits but never much cared for most of them. When a song was rising up the charts that I did like I would root for it like it was a sports team yelling at the radio, “C’mon! Only number 22? Who doesn’t like this tune?” I was more drawn to the dial that played ‘The Classics’ as it were.

I would also hear about different kinds of music from fellow schoolmates. “Hey man, ever heard of Hendrix?” and then a ceremonial listening party would ensue. When I was a teenager, MTV was new and exciting so you also ‘saw’ the music. It’s how I first heard of ZZ Top (“Sharp Dressed Man”) – who I thought were brandy-new at the time (as I explained to my friend’s older brother who simply chuckled and led me to the basement/listening room to show me the rest of the previous ten year’s worth of ZZ Top albums!)

I also felt blessed to have a great record store in my town. The lady who ran it was very knowledgable about music (naturally). She could always suggest another group/artist based on what you bought before or just from describing the music to her. She’d even play some music on her turntable for a preview. But perhaps, oddly enough, one of my favorite ways to learn about music was by reading. I read whatever I found – magazine articles, discographies, biographies and even encyclopedias!

Chicken Skin MusicOne such encyclopedia had ‘Ry Cooder’ listed. The writing made him and his music sound interesting. I was already a fan of The Rolling Stones and the article mentioned his recording with them on a song or two. That was good enough for me! The article described his album Chicken Skin Music as his best. Hawaiian music, gospel singing, Tex-Mex accordion were some of the styles featured on the songs while he played the slide guitar and mandolin. The idea of blending different music together was very exciting to me as a thirteen-year old. The title was meant to describe the goosebumps you get while listening to good music. I marched on down to my local record store and there it was in the ‘Ry Cooder’ bin: Chicken Skin Music. I definitely didn’t know what to make of the cover but I was down for the adventure. All the way home I just stared at the cover trying to imagine what the music sounded like.

 

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