Michael Ronson was born May 26, 1946 in Hull, Yorkshire. As a child, he played piano, recorder, violin, and harmonium. He initially wanted to be a cello player, but eventuially moved to guitar when he got
'hooked on Duane Eddy and the Yardbirds'. He joined his first band, The Mariners, in November 1963 at the age of 17. His stage debut with The Mariners was in support of the Keith Herd Band at Elloughton Village Hall, a gig for which the band
'travelled 35 miles and got paid 10 shillings'. The lineup of the Mariners is not well-documented, although one early lineup apparently included Ronson on lead, John Griffiths on rhythm, Ron Ryan on bass, and Malcolm Dixon on drums. Other lineups given include Ronson on lead, Griffiths on bass, Dave Morrison on rhythm, and Dave Bradfield on drums. Dave Bradfield also remember the group playing as a three-piece, with Bradfield, Ronson, and a bass player named Jock (who may have been Ron Ryan).
The Mariners (l-r: believed to be Griffiths, Dixon Ryan, Ronson)
While Mick was working with The Mariners, The Crestas - another Hull group - had undergone a few changes. In early 1964, former Aces vocalist Johnny Hawk was tapped by The Crestas to fill in for their departing vocalist. After a few months, however, the group was ready to pack it in. At this point Johnny Hawk met up with another former Aces vocalist, Eric Lee, and the two decided to join forces and revamp the group. The search was on for a new lead guitarist, and on the advice of The Mariners' then-bassist Johnny Griffin, they came to a gig to check out Mick Ronson.
[Tim Myers] To be fair, when we met Mick we were very skeptical about his experience. A couple of the older guys, Johnny Hawk and Eric Lee, said 'Oh, we've seen a young lead guitarist, he's pretty good.' We looked at him and said, 'Well, he's a bit green, we don't know if this kid's going to hack it.' We decided to invite him to join us, which he did willingly - knowing that we had two of the best singers in town in the line-up. His sheer enthusiasm and work rate soon transformed a young green performer into someone who obviously was going on to better things.
The Crestas (l-r: Myers, Lee, Kitching; Ronson in front)
Mick eagerly joined the rejuvenated Crestas, and the group soon gained a solid reputation. They started making regular appearances at local halls - Mondays at the Half Way House, Thursdays at the Ferryboat Hotel, Fridays at the Regal Ballroom Beverley, and Sundays at the Duke of Cumberland at Ferriby. But in July of 1965, Johnny Hawk left the Crestas and was replaced by Mally Hunt. Mick stuck around for a short while, but decided to leave and try his luck in London.
Mick with The Crestas, Halfway House, Hull UK 1965
In London, Mick took a part time job as a mechanic, and before long teamed up with a band called The Voice. Mick was replacing Miller Anderson as lead guitarist, and the two alternated sets for a few gigs while Ronson learned the group's material. The Voice were backed by a religious cult called The Process, a splinter group of the C hurch of S cientology, which had apparently tried to split Miller Anderson from his wife. The cult was run by Robert DeGrinston-Moore and his wife Mary Anne, and American who had previosuly been married to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Mick was soon joined in The Voice by Crestas drummer Dave Bradfield, who made the trip down to London when the group's drummer left.
[Dave Bradfield] Mick got in touch with this band, and I went down to join them. I had an interview, did my drumming, and was accepted. They were playing with The Yardbirds down in Brighton when I joined. Jeff Beck, who was in the Yardbirds, was Mick's idol.
Mick at Chalk Farm, London UK 1966
After playing just a few dates with the group, Mick and Dave returned from Hull one weekend to find their gear outside their flat and a note explaining that the Process had gone to the Bahamas.
[Dave Bradfield] We were playing down there for a while, professionally, and one day we came back from a holiday in Hull and our gear was on our bed in our flat down Cavendish Road in London. There was a note saying "We've bought an island, and we've gone off to The Bahamas with Bob and Mary Ann." And that was that. What happened to them, I have no idea!
The Voice had previously been known as Karl Stuart and the Profiles, later shortened to Profile and finally to The Voice. Karl Stuart and The Profiles released two singles for Mercury in 1964, and Profile released a third for the same label. The Voice also released one single in 1965, while Miller Anderson was still in the band. Train To Disaster b/w Truth (1965 Mercury MF905) is an exceptionally rare record, fetching prices as high as 100 pounds in the collector circles. Miller Anderson, coincidentally, was acquainted with Ian Hunter at the time - and he was apparently the first person to introduce Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson.
After being abandoned by The Voice, Mick stayed in London taking odd jobs. He teamed up with a soul band called The Wanted, playing Motown material, but the group broke up almost immediately, This left Mick Ronson in debt, and with no choice but to return to Hull.
Meanwhile, another Hull group - The Rats - had broken up in early 1966. Guitarist Frank Ince and bassist Brian Buttle chose to stay in school, and keyboardist Robin Lecore decided that there wasn't much of a future with the band. Singer Benny Marshall and drummer Jim Simpson decided to continue the Rats name, and recruited Mick Ronson and bassist Geoff Appleby to round out the group. In April 1967 the band landed a month's booking in Paris after an audition in London. Ronson cheerfully gave up his paint factory job, but drummer Jim Simpson declined to make the trip. Another local drummer, former Gonx / Hullaballoos / ABC drummer John Cambridge, also turned the band down. Eventually, they left for Paris with drummer Clive 'Spud' Taylor, who had played with Geoff Appleby in the Yorkies in 1964. Surviving a van breakdown, the band played out their engagement at the Golfe Drouot in Paris and gigs in Rouens and Dieppes. When they arrived back in London a month later, however, they were completely broke. After making it back to Hull, The Rats finished out 1967 playing the local circuit and honing their act. Mick Ronson in particular gained a reputation as the best musician in the area. John Cambridge eventually joined the Rats, replacing Spud Taylor in October 1967.
The Rats, 1966 (l-r: Appleby, Marshall, Ronson, Simpson)
In 1967, Keith Herd - leader of the local Keith Herd Band - opened Fairview Studios in Hull. John Cambridge had already recorded there with ABC, and in the winter of 1967 The Rats recorded The Rise and Fall of Bernie Gripplestone at Fairview. The song was inspired by John Lennon's character Bernard Gripweed in the film How I Won The War.
Early in 1968, the Rats went to London in search of work. They lasted a week, without finding any openings. On the return trip, a chance stop in Grantham led to a gig in support of the Jeff Beck Group in March. The Yardbirds, and Beck in particular, had been a great influence on Ronson.
The Rats, 1966 (f-b: Ronson, Appleby, Marshall, Cambridge)
The Rats changed their name to Treacle in late 1968, after teaming up with local manager Don Lill. Geoff Appleby married in November and he left the group for a spell, to be replaced by Keith 'Ched' Cheeseman. Thus constituted, Treacle entered Fairview Studios for a recording session in early 1969. They taped Stop and Get A Hold Of Myself, Morning Dew, and Mick's Boogie, a re-titled version of Jeff Beck's Jeff's Boogie.
The Rats in Hull, UK 1968 (L-R: Marshall, Ronson, Cambridge, Cheeseman)
Around this time, Mick was involved in a quiet attempt to form a super-group when he and John Cambridge of The Rats held secret rehearsals with another top Scarborough group, The Mandrakes. Rats' singer Benny Marshall was not invited, because the vocalist slot was already reserved for Mandrakes singer Robert Palmer. Mick was offered a position in the proposed group, which was provisionally named Teeth, but was apparently unwilling to share duties with the Mandrakes' lead guitarist and so he declined. Shortly afterward, John Cambridge left to join his former Hullabaloo bandmate Mick Wayne in Junior's Eyes, who would soon become David Bowie's backing band. Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey replaced him in the Rats. (Cambridge would later invite Rats vocalist Benny Marshall down to London to record a harmonica solo on David Bowie's Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed.)
The Rats in Hull, UK 1969 (l-r: Cheeseman, Woodmansey, Ronson, Marshall)
Later in 1969, Mick Ronson was recommended by an ex-Rats roadie to play guitar on Michael Chapman's Fully Qualified Survivor LP, meeting producer Gus Dudgeon in the process. After recording the Chapman LP, Mick returned to Hull and The Rats. In November 1969, Appleby returned to the fold and replaced Cheeseman. The band recorded for a final time at Fairview, taping Telephone Blues and Early In Spring.
[Mick Ronson, to Rock Scene] When I first came to London, I couldn't get enough musical work to support myself. One day I was mowing a lawn, when Rick Kemp came along. He was on his way to play on Mike Chapman's Fully Qualified Survivor album. Anyway, he took me with him and it was on that session that Tony Visconti first heard me.
In January 1970, drummer John Cambridge came back to Hull in search of Mick Ronson, intent upon recruiting him for a new David Bowie backing band. He found Mick marking out a rugby pitch, one of his duties as a gardener for the Hull City Council. Having failed in his earlier attempts in London, Ronson was reluctant but eventually agreed to accompany Cambridge to a 3 February meeting with Bowie. On 5 February, Ronson made his debut with Bowie on John Peel's Sunday Show, and on 22 February, The Hype played their first gig at the Roundhouse in support of Noel Redding's band, Fat Mattress. The first Hype lineup included Bowie, Ronson, Cambridge, and producer/bassist Tony Visconti. The group dressed up in superhero costumes, with Bowie as Rainbowman, Visconti as Hypeman, Ronson as Gangsterman, and Cambridge as Cowboyman.
The Hype played a few live dates, including a homecoming of sorts at University of Hull on 6 March. For the occasion, Benny Marshall joined the group onstage to reprise his solo on 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed'. John Cambridge played his last concert with The Hype on 30 March and returned to Hull to join The Mandrakes, although by this time Robert Palmer had left the group. Cambridge was replaced in The Hype by another ex-Rat, Woody Woodmansey. In April and May, Ronson, Woodmansey, and Tony Visconti commenced recorded Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World album.
Over the next year, Mick Ronson's position in the Bowie camp was a bit up in the air. The Hype project was all but abandoned, and so Ronson and Woodmansey returned to Hull. During the sessions for The Man Who Sold The World, the trio of Ronson, Visconti, and Woodmansey - still under the The Hype moniker - had been signed to Vertigo records. The group recruited Benny Marshall as a vocalist, and entered the studio in November 1970 to record an album. But a dispute soon arose with Vertigo, over the subject of advance money for Benny Marshall. Vertigo insisted that the group had already been given an advance, and so Marshall was eventually paid as a session musician.
When a single finally appeared, The Hype had been re-christened Ronno. 'The Fourth Hour of My Sleep' b/w 'Powers of Darkness'' was released on Vertigo to an indifferent reception in January 1971. The A-side was written by Tucker Zimmerman, a friend of Visconti's, and not Bob Dylan as many sources suggest. The B-side was a Ronson/Marshall composition. A promotional film of the group was shot, but has never seen the light of day, and the partially recorded Ronno album was never completed.
[Mick Ronson] It did nothing at all. Vertigo offered us a simple deal - here's a studio, go and make a record. That was it. And when the single flopped, things simply fell apart. Then David called and asked us if we wanted to come back and do some more stuff with him.