The Rats are known by very few listeners, and they most likely know about them because Mick Ronson was a member before playing on David Bowie's highly influential early-'70s albums. Formed in Hull, England, the first version of the group did not include Ronson, but did manage to release a couple of singles on Columbia U.K. in 1965. This included a tough cover of "Spoonful" that -- although the liner notes of Pebbles, Vol. 6 assert the contrary -- did not feature Ronson. A decent but unexceptional R&B/rock unit, the Rats continued to slog it out in Hull over the next few years, with Ronson joining in 1966.
Although the Rats stayed together (with varying lineups) through the rest of the '60s, they didn't make any more records, although a few unreleased tracks finally surfaced in the '90s. They evolved into a heavier blues-rock combo, Ronson in particular showing the influence of Jeff Beck, whose group the Rats opened for at a March 1968 show. By 1969, one-time Rats drummer John Cambridge was in Junior's Eyes, which briefly became Bowie's backup band. Cambridge recommended Ronson to Bowie as a lead guitarist, and Ronson's crunchy style was a key ingredient on Bowie's 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World. Woody Woodmansey, who had replaced John Cambridge as drummer in the Rats in 1969, also played on the record.
The Rats' confusing history (considering they only made a couple of singles) had a final twist in the interim between The Man Who Sold the World (1970) and Bowie's rise to full-fledged stardom. As Bowie woodshedded for a while in the early '70s to focus on songwriting, Ronson, Woodmansey, early Bowie producer and bassist Tony Visconti, and Rats vocalist Benny Marshall formed the short-lived Ronno. They released a single on Vertigo, but the project came to an end when Ronson, Woodmansey, and Trevor Bolder (who had replaced Visconti in Ronno) became Bowie's backing group, the Spiders from Mars. The Spiders backed Bowie on his most famous early-'70s albums, including Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, before the singer disbanded the group in mid-1973, although Ronson worked with Bowie for a while longer. A Rats CD, cobbled together from their singles, unreleased '60s material, and '90s versions of the group, appeared in 1998. A competent but undistinguished lot, the Rats are primarily worth investigating by British '60s rock completists and Bowie historians who want to hear Ronson's roots in particular. ~ Richie Unterberger