The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. In this edition we revisit Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane’s Rough Mix.
For those not up on their classic rock history, Peter (Dennis Blandford) “Pete” Townshend, born on May 19, 1945, is a Brit guitarist, singer-songwriter and author most famously known as the guitarist and songwriter for the rock band The Who. Ronald (Frederick) “Ronnie” Lane—who died on June 4, 1997—was a Brit songwriter and producer best known as the founding member and bass guitarist for two English rock groups–the Small Faces and Faces. Rough Mix was their collaborative record recorded in 1977.
It began in 1976 after The Who decided to go on hiatus after a short North American tour. Lane had only wanted Townshend to produce his next album. Once the two began working together though, they would soon find themselves working on an actual collaboration. Townshend and Lane would share duties on vocals, guitars, mandolins, bass, banjos, ukuleles and electric guitars.
The two would also share songwriting duties as well. The finished songs would sound nothing like either artist’s bands but instead be more like early 1070s English folk rock music. They would enlist the aid of many other noteworthy artists to assist on individual tracks.
The original release would include 11 tracks. The lead-in was Townshend’s classically-styled rocker “My Baby Gives It Away”. It’s followed by A track titled “Nowhere to Run”. Not to be confused with the 1965 Martha and the Vandellas hit, this is an original Lane song as the work begins with a sample of both musicians’ writing capabilities.
The former featured the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts on drums. The latter featured John “Rabbit” Bundrick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show ) on organ and Fender Rhodes, Peter Hope Evans (Medicine Head) on harmonica and Welsh session drummer Henry Spinetti.
The title track, “Rough Mix”, follows. This is a tuneful team-up between Townshend and Lane as composers. Bundrick and Spinetti return here but more importantly is the appearance of Eric Clapton on guitar and dobro. In fact, Clapton stuck around to co-write “Annie” with Kate Lambert and Lane which features Benny Gallagher on accordion, Charlie Hart on violin, Graham Lyle on twelve-string guitar and David Marquee on double bass to uniquely fill out the track.
The next number is another Townshend tune. It’s titled “Keep Me Turning” which includes yet another performance by Bundrick and Spinetti. The first side’s closing cut is “Catmelody” by Lane and Lambert. It features Mel Collins on saxophone, co-founder of The Rolling Stones Ian Stewart on piano and Watts returns on drums.
The flip side opens on Townshend’s “Misunderstood”. This track introduces Julian Diggle on percussion. Evans encores on harmonica.
Lane’s “April Fool” follows here. The fan favorite features a final appearance by Marquee on double bass and another performance by guitarist Clapton. The album’s most adventurous and ambitious work, Townshend’s “Street in the City”, comes next. With a running time of over six minutes, this includes orchestration written by Townshend’s father-in-law, UK film and TV theme composer Edwin Astley, Chris Green (principal cello), Chris Laurence(principal bass), Charles Vorsanger (principal second violin) and Steve Shingles (principal viola).
The final Townshend tune is “Heart to Hang Onto”. Raymond “Boz” Burell (King Crimson, Bad Company) is introduced on bass and fellow Who member John Entwistle contributes horns and vocal work. Bundrick makes one last appearance here. Spinetti again handles drum duties.
The album end-note is a cover of the Wayland Holyfield-Don Williams composition “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”. It features Billy Nicholls’ vocals. It’s arguably one of the more memorable tracks as it once more includes Burrell, Spinetti, Entwistle and Clapton.
Released in September 1977 on MCA Records in the US and Polydor Records in the UK, the record had a total running time of almost 42 minutes. It reached number 44 in the UK and number 45 on the Billboard 200. In 2006 it would be remastered and re-released on CD on Hip-O Records and would include the bonus tracks: “Good Questions” by Townshend and Lane’s “Only You” and “Silly Little Man”.
The expert fusion of hard rock and British folk makes the music on Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane’s Rough Mix/MCA2295 both consistently moving and a critical triumph.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.