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Ronnie Lane's Appeal for A.R.M.S.—
Action Research for Multiple Sclerosis

by Thom Alexander
published in Artist Magazine (U.S.)

Ronnie Lane @ ARMS/San Francisco c Rick Brackett/Artist Publications

Ronnie Lane
The Ronnie Lane Appeal for A.R.M.S.
Cow Palace, San Francisco, CA, 12/2/83

photo © Rick Brackett/Artist Publications

12/6/83    2:45 a.m.

To clarify: This is supposed to be a review of the Ronnie Lane Appeal for A.R.M.S. benefit concert at the L.A. Forum. How do you review such a show? How do I (or should I) suppress such overpowering emotion?

I think one of the cable networks is recording these shows for broadcast sometime soon. I urge, no dare, every musician, whether pro and amateur, to sit down and watch. I challenge you to put down your hyperactive guitar licks, turn off your Marshall stacks and watch your masters play!

Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome:

keyboards ....................... Chris Stanton
percussion ....................... Ray Cooper
drums ....................... Kenny Jones and Charlie Watts
guitar ....................... Andy Fairweather Low
bass ....................... Bill Wyman
lead guitar and vocals ....................... Eric Clapton

No one in their right mind would argue over the fact that Eric Clapton is by far the best white blues player in the world. Some may be faster, some may have more chops, but none have been more faithful to the time-honored blues tradition than he. And tonight he blistered! Tonight he preached and I heard the word. "Lay Down Sally" funked. "Rita Mae" slammed home like a rocket sled on rails, and "Cocaine" told no lies this night. Clapton played with a vengeance. Charlie Watts and Kenny Jones were in sync and Bill Wyman kept his heart beating. Even if you hate the blues, you can't doubt Clapton's sincerity. He meant every note he played—and only played what he meant. There are only a handful of players who have the restraint he has. Clapton once said that his goal was to make the audience cry with one note. Father Eric, I just want you to know that a lot of us had tears in our eyes tonight.

Clapton says, "I want to bring out a friend," and out pops Joe Cocker. Joe's put on a few pounds since I last saw him, but that's OK, it just gives us more of him to love. I'm surprised that he and Clapton haven't combined their talents sooner—Joe sings the blues as well as Eric plays them. They feed off each other very well. They're laughing, they're happy, and they're doing all of Joe's hits, including a marvelous version of "You Are So Beautiful." Cocker misses the high note at the end but who cares? He still has the best growl in R&B. His vocals still have the same effect that sandpaper has on wood—t feels rough but it makes things smooth as silk. They end this set with "Feelin' Alright." Everybody in the audience sings the chorus.

It's intermission.

I head out to buy a drink, and a strange thing happens. Some greasy kid who smells of pot cuts in front of me on my way up the stairs. I accidentally bump him. He whirls around. I start to recoil, thinking he's gonna punch me or at least give me some kind of verbal abuse. He extends his hand. "Sorry, man," he says, "I didn't mean to cut you off. By the way, man, what's your name?" Something feels very familiar yet very weird. I head to the lobby. Everybody's talking, everybody's smiling... Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of nostalgia but if I close my eyes, I'd swear it was 1968 again. Some kid in an Iron Maiden T-shirt walks up to a guy in a business suit and trades him a bit of his hot dog for a cigarette. Tonight feels like the old days at the Old Fillmore [in San Francisco] or Winterland. Tonight feels like home! The lights signal the next set, and I head for my seat.

Jimmy Page

(clockwise from upper left)
Charlie Watts, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton
The Ronnie Lane Appeal for A.R.M.S.
Cow Palace, San Francisco, CA, 12/1/83-12/2/83

all photos © Rick Brackett/Artist Publications

The arena goes black. Onto the stage walks Jeff Beck followed by Jan Hammer on keyboards, Simon Phillips on drums, and Fernando Saunders on bass. Now I gotta be truthful, I stopped listening to Beck sometime soon after Beck-ola and even though I own Blow by Blow, it's only been around the turntable (maybe) twice. I've loved his playing, but I was into other things. No matter, Beck did what he does best. He gave everyone a lesson in kinetic hard rock playing  that no metaloid monster on the scene today can hold a candle to.

Beck's set was mostly his more current stuff, i.e., instrumentals, but his last two songs were fabulous—both were sung by Andy Fairweather Low who, I might add, was perfect as the unofficial all-around band leader. First was the great version of "People Get Ready, There's a Train a-Comin,'" and the other was a brilliant and spontaneous rendition of "Going Down" with the audience joining in for the "down, down, down" refrain. By this time the crowd is going nuts. Beck did it all. Except for Eddie Van Halen and the other two guitarists who played tonight, Beck really has no peers. If Jimmy Page is what every heavy metal guitarist dreams he will someday become, then Jeff Beck is the goal they will never attain.

And what about Jimmy Page?

The lights have gone down again. Matches are being lit all over the arena. Everybody wants Beck to encore. There's a pregnant pause. Out walks a frail figure with long dark hair and Police shades. "Hullo," he says. "It's good to be back among friends."

Clapton was the father figure tonight, Beck played the tightest set, but Jimmy Page is who everybody came to see. The roof blew off, and he hadn't played a note yet.

You know, I gotta admit, I really never liked Page. The couple of times I saw him with Zeppelin, he came off like an arrogant ass, and then played like shit. But he redeemed himself tonight. He played like he did on the first Zep album, only better! He covered all the styles he's known for, including a bit of Black Mountainside-type folk playing on a song called "Bird on the Wing," which he and guest vocalist Paul Rogers (of Bad Company fame) wrote. He did his best Bert Jaunch/Davey Graham licks on that one.

He finishes the song. Out comes a roadie carrying his old Gibson double neck. He straps it on and announces, "I'm gonna play an old one for ya." With that, he launched into an instrumental version of his classic "Stairway to Heaven." It was great! Chris Stainton accompanied him playing keyboard flute and doing the melody line. It was near perfect. What more could you ask for? How about this: Clapton and Beck join him for the last verse, and each takes a solo. WOW!! The song ends.

The intensity level is critical but within seconds it doubles, as Clapton whips out the opening notes of my fave, "Layla." These guys are relentless. Here are three of the most influential guitarists in rock, on stage together, playing two of the most classic songs in rock'n'roll history. How do you top it? What is there left to say? Well, I'll tell ya.

Joe cocker and everyone else who played tonight have come back on stage. With one big blow, they rocket into "A Little Help from My Friends." The whole place—audience, band, vendors, everybody—is of one mind, swaying, singing, smiling. At that moment, it felt transcendent. Peace. Unity. Brotherhood...

Hey, people, we've got so much to be thankful for. These musicians, the best of the best, did not have to do this benefit. But because they put down their egos and just because they cared, they did a friend a favor. They didn't do it for recognition, or out of pity, or for the almighty dollar. They did it in the spirit of love. They did if for fun, and they did it because it was the best way they knew to help a friend.

Something intangible happened tonight. It was as if something came full circle. It was as though all those people up on stage said, "Here's a present. It's called the spirit of rock'n'roll.

God bless you, Ronnie Lane. I'll pray for your health every night.

P.S. You asked me what I thought of your friends. More than I can ever express.


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