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The Spiders From Mars 1/2

"'re the blessed, we're the Spiders From Mars..." Hang Onto Yourself (Bowie)

"The Spiders.  The stuff of legend, rock n roll style.  Nothing as worldly as The Crickets or The Beatles.  These insects were from Mars. At first they were The Rats (from Hull, birthplace to all Spiders). Then Ronson was lured into the Bowie fold, followed at intervals by drummer Woody Woodmansey, then bassist Trevor Bolder.  After recording the Ziggy Stardust album it was decided that to promote the record these three should be dubbed The Spiders From Mars.  Thus they were restyled, from head to toe, and the illusion was complete .... Weird and Gilly - Trevor and Woody.  Not as noticeable as the multi-talented Ronno, but an essential part of the drama.  And they knew how to play.  The Spiders were a hot band.  The hard thing for Trevor and Woody was all the attention devoted to Bowie and Ronno, of which they got to share little.  And when the band broke up they slipped back into obscurity, though Trevor would surface a few years later with Uriah Heep.  The Spiders From Mars.  What would Ziggy have done without them?" - Mick Rock (1984)

The Spiders From Mars were David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust's three-piece rock band from 1971 to mid 1973.   Bowie has said that the inspiration for the name "The Spiders From Mars" came when he was writing the song "Ziggy Stardust". 

The Spiders consisted of:
Mick (Ronno) Ronson (Band leader, arranger, guitar, piano and vocals);
Mick (Woody) Woodmansey
(drums) &
Trevor Bolder

RCA Promotional photograph (1972)

"They played the part perfectly. I actually sort of picked them for that. They were, at the time, the number one spacey punk rock band. They were absolutely archetypes. All of them....Everyone was absolutely right - right out a cartoon book.... they were great musicians" - Bowie (1976)

While a number of other musicians (Mathew Fisher, Nicky Graham, Robin Lumley, Mike Garson - all keyboards, Ken Fordham - saxophone, Brian Wilshaw - saxophone/flute, John Hutchinson - rhythm guitar) and singers (Geoff MacCormack - vocals/percussion, Juanita Franklin - vocals, Linda Lewis - vocals) were also used in 1972 and 1973, mainly in live performances, Bowie was always adamant that these were not "Spiders":

"The Spiders are still Trevor, Mick and Woody. We’ve just got in some back-up men on tenor saxes and piano and voices. I read in some of the papers that the Spiders were expanding - no way. It's three Spiders, back-up musicians and me." - Bowie (1973)

Mick Ronson US Tour (1972)

Mick (Ronno) Ronson was the Spider's band leader and guitarist. On and off-stage Ronson and Bowie were the perfect pairing, with Ronson providing not only dynamic acoustic and electric guitar, but importantly the skilful studio arrangement of Bowie's songs.

"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 that 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 (1994)

"He provided this strong, earthy, simply-focussed idea of what a song was all about.  And I would simply flutter all around him on the edges and decorate.  I was sort of the interior decorator, ha ha" - Bowie

Ronno was the metal, macho counterpoint to Ziggy's multisexual pose.  He was the electric power as well as the musical arranger.   A modest, handsome Yorkshireman, Mick Ronson was undoubtedly the first superstar guitarist of the '70s.  He rode that tide in 1972 when all the ingredients were right for a monster success.  At 24, he had the ability, the experience, the looks and, most of all, perhaps, he was in the right place, somewhere to the left of Ziggy.

"They were probably the best times, the Ziggy period, everything was different and, when it started to happen, it happened so fast, there was no time to think or worry about anything.  I think it was probably the best time for Dave, too, before it all got to be a lot of internal hang-ups." - Mick Ronson

Even though Ronno looked nearly as strange and exotic as Ziggy himself, his own Martian meanderings were for the stage and studio only.   In fact Mick's always retained a firm relationship with his roots and parents.

"I think it used to be bit difficult when all the Ziggy thing was going on.  I know people used to stop my sister in the street and say "Is that Mick of yours really a poof?" That was all really the Ziggy image.   I never got involved with all those queens, who used to hang out with him.  I just used to get on with my work and have a few drinks.  He always found it difficult relating to regular people and especially to the rest of the band.  I was the link.   All that star bit never got through to me in the same kind of way.  I liked pretty straightforward kind of people.  I mean, I like to look good, but I don't need to surround myself with a lot of weird people.  But then we were always into different things except when it came to the music." - Mick Ronson

From the outset Ronno's star shone brightly.   He was never simply a sideman, he was Ziggy's pal and anchor.  He understood Ziggy and could structure the interpretation of his music.  And without Ronno, Ziggy would never have braved the heat of the attention he inspired.  Without Ronno he could never have achieved the transmutation." - Mick Rock (1984)

Altogether Ronson played with Bowie on five albums between 1969 and 1973; namely: The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane and Pinups. In 1972 he also played on and arranged Lou Reed's album "Transformer" (1972):

"Transformer is easily my best-produced album.   That has a lot to do with Mick Ronson.  His influence was stronger than David's, but together as a team they are terrific." - Lou Reed (1972)

The Ronson Sound

Mick Ronson's trademark sound came from his sanded '68 Gibson Les Paul guitar (later donated to the Hard Rock cafe in New York), a Marshall Major 200 watt amp (nicknamed "The Pig") plus an angled 4x12" Marshall cab and the use of a Cry-Baby wah-wah.  Generally he set his amp's tone pots to maximum and then set the pedal to act as a mid range boosting tone control. However, he used it as a straight wah-wah on songs such as "Moonage Daydream".

Mick Ronson was born in Hull, Yorkshire, England on 26 May, 1946 to devout Mormon's George and Minnie, the oldest of three children with two younger siblings - Maggie and David. He attended Maybury High School where he played recorder, accordion, violin and piano and a harmonium at his Hull parish church. Originally he intended to be a classical concert pianist but in his teens was inspired by Duane Eddy, The Yardbirds, The Beatles and Rolling Stones and took up the guitar - bought by his parents on hire purchase. His musical hero was guitarist Jeff Beck, with whom he eventually played at the "Retirement Gig" on 3 July 1973.

Before Bowie, Ronson had played in a number of local Hull bands including his first band The Mariners (aged 17), The King Bees, The Cresters, Voice, Wanted and finally the Rats (who appeared on TV's "Thank Your Lucky Stars") and toured France. However, none of these groups were successful and discouraged he returned to Hull where he worked as a municipal gardener.  In 1969 he made his recording debut on guitar behind British folk singer Michael Chapman on his album "Fully Qualified Survivor" (1969). Ronson was introduced to Bowie by engineer Tony Visconti and Bowie drummer John Cambridge and first played with David Bowie for a John Peel BBC radio "Sunday Show" and then live at The Roundhouse, London, on 22 February 1970. His first album with Bowie was The Man Who Sold The World (1970).

"We first met at Tony Visconti's house.   He was on his way to do a radio show and he asked me to go with him. I followed through the chords of songs I'd never heard before, and it was great.  So he asked me to join him; and it took a bit of a struggle to make up my mind, because I was in debt and Dave wasn't doing very much.  But there was some special kind of excitement.  We did a few live gigs with Tony on bass and Woody on drums.  Then we had a crazy time recording "The Man Who Sold The World." - Mick Ronson (September 1973)

At The Roundhouse, they appeared on stage in various costumes (Bowie fittingly as The Spaceman or Space Star and Ronson as The Gangsterman) in what was probably the first Glam Rock performance. The people in the band at this time were John Cambridge (drums) and producer Tony Visconti who played bass.

"I thought it would be really interesting if each of us adopted a persona of some kind....I can't remember what I wore, but it was very spacey, and there was a lot of Lurex material in it...It was all jeans and long hair at that time, and we got booed all the way through the show. People hated it. They absolutely loathed what we were doing. It was great!" - Bowie

See also "Ronno" - Music Scene (September 1973)

Mick Woodmansey

Mick (Woody) Woodmansey joined the next Bowie band configuration called The Hype when a new drummer was needed to work on Bowie's album THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD (1970). This group featured Tony Visconti on bass and Mick Ronson on guitar. Woodmansey was born in Driffield, England, and began drumming at the age of five. He started his own group at fifteen, and later joined a band known as the Roadrunners. He played with them for three years before joining Mick Ronson in the Hull-based Rats.

"Hype was a super band to be in. It didn't come to much, it was a shame actually. I enjoyed everything that we did. It was the embryo of what was to become The Spiders." - Bowie

Trevor Bolder

Trevor Bolder joined Bowie's band on bass after Tony Visconti left to produce Marc Bolan and so the three members who would eventually make-up the The Spiders From Mars (officially un-named until the Ziggy album was released in June 1972) were complete. Prior to Bolder's inclusion fellow Rats bassist Rick Kemp was considered for inclusion in The Spiders From Mars and actually rehearsed with them for a week. However, Bowie's manager Tony DeFries did not think that Kemp's image (he had a receding hairline) was right for the group. He went on to become bass player for Steeleye Span.

On tour in 1973.

Trevor Bolder was born in Hull UK on 9th June 1950. Bolder learned the trumpet at age nine and played this instrument as well as bass on HUNKY DORY (1971). He was a cornet soloist with his school band for three years, then began playing bass guitar, and with his brother, formed the Chicago Star Blues Band. He then worked with various bands such as Jelly Roll and Flesh. In 1968 he founded the band Ronno with Mick Ronson. In the late 1960s he also did session jobs for the likes of Lulu. In between bands he had worked as a decorator, hairdresser and a piano tuner.

Woody Woodmansey & Trevor Bolder - US Tour (1972)

Ronno/The Spiders From Mars

Prior to the formation of The Spiders From Mars, Woodmansey, Ronson and Bolder formed Ronson's own group known as Ronno (Ronson's nickname). Under this name they released a promo single called "Fourth Hour of My Sleep / Powers Of Darkness" (Vertigo 6059 029) on 29 January 1971 (an unreleased promotional film was also shot) but this single was to prove unsuccessful.  In this period Ronson also played guitar at an Elton John recording session (the track he played on - a version of "Madman Across The Water" has since been released on Elton's Rare Masters).  An album of rock-blues material was also intended from Ronno but never eventuated as the work involved in recording HUNKY DORY (1971) and their later career as The Spiders From Mars soon overtook events.

The Jean Genie Video Promo shoot - 1972

 Part 2 - After Ziggy Stardust: So where were the Spiders?

---This page last modified: 12 Jan 2019---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)