Biography - The '80s

The beginning of this decade still has Shane domiciled in Woodstock, continuing as an in-demand studio musician and touring sideman. His relationship with Mick Ronson also continued, introducing Shane to Ian Hunter, who brought him in to record a track on Short Back ‘N Sides.

Steve Forbert’s Little Stevie Orbit was released in 1980. Another album, which was also recorded during that period, Young Guitar Days, did not see light of day until its release some twenty years later in 2001.

Very Glam!!
Very Glam!!

Mamas and the Papas: 1982-1984
In 1982, Ronson was invited to record in New York with John Phillips and The Mamas and The Papas. In addition to Phillips, the Mamas and the Papas band configuration at that time included original member Denny Doherty, as well as Spanky McFarlane and John’s daughter, actress Mackenzie Phillips.

The Lads
Arthur Stead, John Phillips, Shane - the Lads!

"Mick asked if I would come along and we went to New York to rehearse before going into Electric Ladyland studios in Greenwich Village to record," Shane explains. "We recorded four songs and soon John wanted to do some shows. Mick didn’t want to go on the road and proposed that I do the The Mamas and The Papas tour."

"We started touring in 1982 and soon after that, I left Woodstock," he says. For a short period of time, Shane took up residence in Ojai, CA with Randy Vanwarmer. "I had gotten to know Randy during my Bearsville Studios days—working within him on his first two albums—Warmer and Terraform. I stayed with Randy in California and continued to do tour dates with The Mamas and The Papas."

The Mamas and The Papas
Band L to R: Shane, Michael Clark (drums), Eric Boyd (bass), Arthur Stead (piano).
Front L to R: Spanky MacFarlane with Chynna Phillips, Mackenzie Phillips holding Bijou Phillips, Denny Doherty, John Phillips.

Shane stayed with The Mamas and The Papas through the beginning of 1984, until he felt he needed a change. "We’d gone from playing a lot of new material, some of which we had recorded at sessions in Massachusetts, to playing Vegas with predominantly old material in the set. The Mamas and The Papas kept getting rebooked in Vegas, which was great for them, but became a dead end for me," Shane recounts.

Los Angeles / Lone Justice: 1984-1987
So, yet another move took place, this time to Los Angeles, where Shane ultimately found himself in the middle of a West Coast version of Woodstock. It was then that he hooked up with Billy Burnette, the nephew of Johnny Burnette, who would end up being his "West Coast Ronson."

Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio
Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio.
L to R: Paul Burlison, Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette.

"Johnny Burnette was unbelievable. He was one of the first rockability artists. He and his brother Dorsey and another guitar player, Paul Burlison, formed the Johnny Burnette Rock ‘N Roll Trio [Train Kept A Rollin’ was a notable recording]. This was real rock and roll," Shane says.

Billy opened doors on the West Coast for Shane, much like Ronson had opened them in the East. "Billy was so gracious. He chaperoned me all around town, introducing me to everybody. I realized that even Los Angeles, in its own way, was a small town in terms of community," Shane points out. Eventually, Billy introduced Shane to Gregg Sutton, the bass player for Lone Justice.

The band needed a guitar player, and in turn, Gregg introduced Shane to Lone Justice singer Maria McKee and legendary producer Jimmy Iovine [now co-chairman of Interscope Records].

Lone Justice
Lone Justice
L to R: Rudy Richman (drums), Gregg Sutton (bass), Maria McKee (guitar/vocals), Shane, Bruce Brody (piano).

"Steve Van Zandt was coproducing the album with Jimmy and I got a call to come down to the studio. We were still in the audition phase. It was late at night and I had been listening to a track they had been putting some backing vocals on. I had my baritone guitar with me and I was asked if I wanted to go into the studio and play something," Shane explains. "I went in and did one pass. It was high energy and I was really rockin’ it."

The next morning Jimmy Iovine called him back and said that "everyone was ecstatic last night." The playing had also resonated stylistically with Van Zandt. And Shane was officially invited to join Lone Justice.

"I loved watching Steven’s hands when he would touch the board. There was a grace about him. Also, he had an air of serenity mixed with a New York kind of savvy. I respected what he was doing and he encouraged me," Shane says.

Onstage, tight pants, make-up
Onstage, tight pants, make-up.

The latter part of 1986 and beginning of 1987 were punctuated by heavy touring and promotion for Lone Justice’s Shelter album. There were television appearances, including Saturday Night Live and a video release which featured a live performance at New York’s Ritz Club. The band also opened for U2 on the U.S. leg of The Joshua Tree tour.

In the middle of it all, a baby boy also named Shane, was born to Shane and Mackenzie Phillips who had lived together as a couple over the previous five years. Infant Shane went on the road with his mother, Mackenzie, as she continued as a singer with The Mamas and The Papas. The group had already contracted for an overseas tour and the plan was that father Shane would take care of his son during that period.

"And then we got the call that U2 wanted Lone Justice to open for a series of European tour dates," Shane says.

Almost overnight, he found himself on a plane to Dallas to pick up his three-month-old son who had been on tour with Mackenzie. The plan was to meet the rest of Lone Justice in New York before continuing on to Rome for the first European U2 show.

Wembley Stadium, London
Shane with 3 month old son, side of stage Wembley Stadium, London.
(U2’s Joshua Tree tour, also with The Pretenders and Big Audio Dynamite).

"This was the first time I had ever been alone with a baby. I had never even really been around young children and here I find myself with my infant son strapped to my front, in a snuggly, kangaroo-type pouch, on the way to Rome to open for U2," Shane says laughing.

The first few days were a bit harrowing for father Shane, but after that, his infant son emulated his bloodline and took famously to the rock and roll lifestyle.

June 15th marked the last show Lone Justice would open for U2. This 1987 Paris show would also be the last Lone Justice gig Shane would ever do. But it wasn’t without note.

Shane w/U2
Shane onstage with U2.
Paris, June 15, 1987.
L to R:
Edge, Shane, Larry Mullen Jr.

"I happened to arrive early at the show, just in time for U2’s sound check. I was just sitting in the balcony outside the dressing rooms and Larry Mullen [U2’s drummer] beckons me over. So I go down to the stage and Bono asks if Maria McKee and I want to play a song with them during their set," Shane explains.

They decided to do a Lou Reed composition, Sweet Jane, which had originally been recorded by the Velvet Underground and covered by Lone Justice and many others.

"What a great moment at the end of such a big tour. There’s me playing next to the Edge and Maria singing next to Bono," Shane says.

Mick Taylor: 1988-1989
With Shane’s involvement with Lone Justice over and the responsibilities of fatherhood taking precedent, another introduction was made by Gregg Sutton. This time it was to former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. It was the beginning of a relationship with yet another "Mick" and yet another British guitarist.

Mick Taylor Band in Japan
Mick Taylor Band in Japan.
L to R: Max Middleton (piano), Mick Taylor, Wilbur Bascomb (bass), Shane.

"I had really loved the Stones’ Goat’s Head Soup record and was happy to be playing with Mick and recording the Stranger in This Town album. Coincidentally, John Phillips had often told me how good he thought Mick and I would sound playing together," Shane says. The 1988-89 collaboration also resulted in a band tour and the only time Shane has performed live in Japan.

Merchants of Venus: 1989-1992
As the decade drew to a close, Shane began to have another musical epiphany. "I was getting to a place where I didn’t want to work for somebody else at that point in my life," he says.

He had been introduced to Brett Cartwright, former bassist with David Johansen and Joan Jett. He had also met Dennis McDermott, a drummer with a huge discography—most notably working with Michael McDonald and also with Marc Cohn on his Walking in Memphis single.

Another hot, sweaty show
Another hot, sweaty show.
Photo: © Patti Ouderkirk

In addition to changing his approach to music, Shane had been taking a personal inventory. He embarked on cleansing himself from "the haze" that had enveloped him during much of the ‘80s. "I wanted to start this new project in good health, so that’s when I decided to quit smoking, stop eating meat and generally stop putting things into my body that weren’t healthy for me." (A philosophy that he has held true to from that time forward.)

Merchants of Venus publicity shot
A Merchants of Venus album shot.
L to R: Dennis McDermott (drums), Shane, Brett Cartwright (bass/lead vocals).

The trio started writing together and demo-ing their songs under the name of Merchants of Venus. "I took our demos to Keryn Kaplan. She worked for Principle Management out of New York. This was the same company that managed U2. She loved the material and they started working with us," Shane says. "And we soon found ourselves with a publishing deal."

© 2002 Sophia Dilberakis for