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How Mick Ronson inspired Randy Rhoads

Mick Ronson was one of the most influential guitarists of all time. The king of glam rock, he was a proficient songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer. However, he is most famous for being the guitarist of David Bowie’s backing band in the early 1970s, The Spiders from Mars. In many ways, Ronson was the tip of their spear and a perfect foil to Bowie, who was about to take off into the stratosphere with his help. 

With the group, Ronson achieved great critical and commercial success and cemented his place amongst the greats in the process. Almost overnight he went from the obscure to the heroic in what is a testament to his skill. 

Ronson played on five Bowie studio albums in total: The Man Who Sold the World (1970), Hunky Dory (1971), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973), and the covers album Pin Ups (1973). He was at the creative epicentre of Bowie’s legendary early work, and without his sheer brilliance, it is certain that Bowie’s output from then would not carry the same weight.

In 1994 Bowie reflected: “Mick was the perfect foil for the Ziggy character. He was very much a salt-of-the-earth type, the blunt northerner with a defiantly masculine personality. So, what you got was the old-fashioned Yin and Yang thing. As a rock duo, I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash. Ziggy and Mick were the personification of that rock n roll dualism.”

Bowie was right. In terms of rock and roll duos, you don’t get much better than he and Ronson. The moments they gave us can only be described as magical, and there is no real surprise that together, the pair helped to bring listeners into a future that was more fluid, accepting, and sexually active. 

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Ronson’s style is so mythical that many of those who he counted as disciples would go on to become icons in their own right, including Randy Rhoads, one of the greatest axemen of all time. Per an account by his sisters, Kelle and Kathy, it turns out that Ronson inspired Rhoads in the most subtle of ways and gave Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist one of his most memorable items. 

Speaking to Montreal Rocks in 2020, the sisters revealed that Rhoads’ trademark Karl Sandoval “Polka Dot” Flying V was directly inspired by David Bowie’s former partner in crime. It was when asked about their late brother’s favourite guitarists that they made the admission. They revealed: “He had more than one favourite guitarist, he had many. But one that stands out and someone who really liked Randy when he met him was Leslie West of Mountain. He also liked Michael Schenker (and turned me on to MS…Kelle) and was a big fan of Mick Ronson of Bowie fame and that’s where the polka dots came from. He saw Mick Ronson with polka dot knee pads and Randy took it to another level.”

Randy certainly did take it to another level. Added to this, you could perhaps argue that he carried on the glam spirit years after its heyday in the early ’70s. Be it his clothing or the Flying V, when you stop to think about it, there are a handful of similarities between Rhoads and Ronson, although, in terms of guitar-playing, Rhoads was on a different level entirely. Despite this, it’s a genuinely mind-blowing fact to note that without Mick Ronson, Randy Rhoads as we know and love him might not have existed. 

Watch The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame discuss Randy Rhoads’ Flying V below.

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