By Mike Greenblatt
NEW YORK — Ron Wood, Kenney Jones and I are at the Soho Grand Hotel on West Broadway, sitting on a couch upstairs, surrounding a coffee table with the lavish “FACES 1969-1975” (Genesis Publications) book opened to a picture of Rod Stewart falling down drunk backstage into the arms of his bandmates. There’s hundreds of great pictures in this book, the first book ever published by the band with original text from its members. The stories are priceless, too.
Ron Wood and Kenney Jones
Goldmine: First, you put your career in a 2004 box, “5 Guys Walk Into A Bar.” Now, in a book.
Kenney Jones: Yeah, Mac [keyboardist Ian McLagan] did a good job on that box. I was quite surprised, actually. I thought at first, “Why put that in there?” But, it’s history, y’know, and it turned out great.
Goldmine: And now in a book.
KJ: And it’s coming out for all the right reasons. The reason it came together is not because we commissioned it or anything else like that. It was Genesis Publications. They had done a book on Woody’s artwork [“The Famous Flames Suite: Limited Edition Graphics Collection”], and that’s how this was born. They called, and we said fine, lending them some of our personal photographs. It was a pleasure to do. You wouldn’t ordinarily get these photographs out. You’d put ’em in a drawer and leave ’em. Because of this, though, it forced us to get the shots out, have a look, see what we had, and it kind of brought back a lot of memories … the emotional side, as well. When we first saw the black and white mockup, I cried three or four times going through it. I was like, “Wow, it’s never-ending.” And not only that, my kids, especially my youngest ones, had always asked, “What was it like in The Faces?” and “Why did you do this” or “Why did you do that?” They look through the book now and have more questions, like “Why did you all fall over, Daddy?” It’s nice, y’know? It’s a great collectors’ piece for the fans out there, too. I’m sure it brings back memories for them, as well.
GM: What do you tell your kids when they ask why you’re falling over in the picture?
KJ: [Laughs.] I don’t tell them everything, because some of it is unsayable.
[Ron Wood enters.]
GM: I was just telling Kenney that “5 Guys Walk Into A Bar” is one of the all-time great rock ’n’ roll boxed sets.
Ron Wood: Mac was behind that a lot. He did the design, concept and the gathering of the tracks. I loved that, too. It’s kinda like this book: surprising outtakes, mumblings and moments.
KJ: The biggest surprise in that boxed set was The Beach Boys track we did [“Gettin’ Hungry” from “Smiley Smile”]. Do you remember that one?
RW: Yeah! Rod’s vocal, man, he was like, “Aaaaaaaah.” It was really strange. But that’s what made it good. Warts and all.
KJ: I rather like that song. It was one of the last things we ever recorded. We were going to make an album, started with that, and never did anything more. That was it.
Goldmine: I also loved how you covered Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
RW: Rod sang that great, didn’t he? I saw McCartney do it just last week. He’s still rockin’. Beautiful, man, just beautiful.
GM: And some of the country stuff that Ronnie Lane [1946-1997] sang really added a lot to the box, too. The Faces certainly have had a run of great lead singers: Steve Marriott [1947-1991], Rod Stewart and Mick Hucknall [of Simply Red]. I admit I was apprehensive about Hucknall, but, wow, he fits like a glove.
RW: He sounds like Rod in the ’70s, yeah. He has Rod down. And it’s out of sheer respect. He loves Rod. He’d be the first one to throw his hands up and say, “I’m only doing it because I love the way he sang.” That’s the spirit of The Faces, y’know?
GM: It works beautifully.
KJ: Yeah, because you think of him as a ballad singer.
GM: A soul singer …
KJ: It was a chance for him to break free and show people there was another side to him. He’s great, yeah.
GM: I remember when I first heard about it. I thought it was another fiasco like Queen asking in Paul Rodgers. That didn’t work at all.
KJ: I never actually saw it, but I heard it just didn’t gel.
GM: The album was awful. But Mick? Man, you must have been pleasantly surprised. Well, maybe not; I guess you just knew what you were doing.
RW: Mick really wanted to be part of the unit. In Simply Red, he’s the man. Period. He wanted to just be part of a band. We were bossing him around, and he loved it. He kept asking, “What should I do next?” I said, “Sing, goddamnit!”
[Ron and Kenney share a good laugh.]
GM: I think the party atmosphere of The Faces has lent itself perfectly to a book like this. You can just tell how much fun you were having on page after page. If it was another band, maybe it wouldn’t have that joie de vivre, that sense of camaraderie.
RW: And the quality that Genesis brings to the project in presenting it all with our comments and the comments of others like Paul Weller [The Jam], Slash and whoever it may be. It’s a lovely little compilation. It was fun to do. And there’s that element of surprise in here, as Kenney was saying; it brought him to tears. Like this picture here with [legendary promoter] Bill Graham [1931-1991]. I didn’t know we had any pictures with him. That guy traveled on more airplanes than any of us!
GM: How much of the essence of The Faces was onstage …
KJ and RW: [in unison] All of it!
GM: Yeah, but what I’m getting at is it spilled over into the lifestyle …
RW: Right. Well, it was who we are, and what we did. Even now, we got together recently with Rod in London, and it was like no time had gone by at all.
KJ: The great thing is we’ve remained friends [with Rod] ever since we stopped playing together. We’ve supported each other throughout. It’s not a problem for us. It might be a problem for everyone else looking in; I don’t know. But we still enjoy each other’s company the same as when we did in The Faces.
GM: But he didn’t want to do the reunion.
RW: I think with all of his commitments and lack of faith in his voice — “Oh, I can’t reach the note”— it’s understandable. I can’t sing “Ooh La La” in the same key anymore. We’re all older now, and there’s just certain things we can’t do. Especially a sensitive thing like your voice. Any vocalist will tell you they can’t reach the high notes like they used to. That’s OK; we could work around that.
KJ: Most singers come down a key or two. I know Robert Plant certainly does. That’s just what happens.
RW: Rod sang in those ball-breaking keys all those years. I talked to him about it. Even he doesn’t know how he did it. So we had to lower the key. That’s what we would have done.
KJ: And he would’ve done really well, I’m sure. He’s still singing great. I love his voice. Sounds as good as it ever did, no matter what key it’s in.
RW: I just saw him in Vegas, and he was really good. If he had to lower any keys, it wasn’t really that noticeable.
GM: Since the book is a history, let’s run down some of the highlights and lowlights of the band. The Small Faces had one helluva lead singer in Steve Marriott. Then he goes off and forms Humble Pie. That must have been some slap in the face to you, Kenney, no?
RW: It was a shocker to Rod and myself, who were in The Jeff Beck Group at the time, but certainly looking on at our mates in The Small Faces like, “Omigod, what the hell is going on?”
KJ: It stemmed back a long time. We were great players. We enjoyed playing. We just wanted to be recognized, but we couldn’t get away from this teenybopper image, and it drove us nuts, all of us, individually, but it affected Steve the most, especially more toward the end. We had just finished “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” . We were trying to break out of our teenybopper bubble with that album and were already playing stuff live like “Here Come The Nice,” “Tin Soldier” [“The Autumn Stone,” 1969] and lots of other things like that. Led Zeppelin, they’ll tell you, they copied a lot of what we did in The Small Faces. Exact riffs, even! It’s a great honor to have them say that, but, nevertheless, that commercial teen side stayed with us, and we just couldn’t shift it. So Steve just got fed up with it. Had it up to here.
RW: He felt he had to do something deeper, heavier …
KJ: But it’s the way he did it. I mean, sure, we were all a lot younger in those days, but, instead of coming to us and saying, “Look, I’ve got to move on because we’re never going to escape this,” he just walked off stage one night, and that really hurt us. After he left, we would rehearse once a week at this warehouse with a soundproof room in the basement. That’s where Ronnie [Lane] brought Woody one night.
RW: I rang them up and said, “What are you going to do?” I didn’t really know Ronnie that well, but came to jam. We all played that first night with our backs to each other but it worked in a Booker T way, y’know? Or The Meters.
GM: But you were doing great in The Jeff Beck Group, no?
RW: That was folding. Two weeks before Woodstock, it folded completely. We had such drummer problems in The Jeff Beck Band. We had Tony Newman on drums, and the vibe was turning bad. After that jam, I said to Rod, “If I go, do you want to come with me?” I mean, I knew, for me, The Small Faces were the next move. The next stepping stone …
KJ: So Ronnie Lane invited them down and …
RW: Rod was hiding upstairs! He kept saying, “Are you sure about all this?” I kept saying, “Come on, come on.”
[Ron and Kenney explode into laughter].
KJ: The really funny thing was that before Rod even sung a note, he comes over with Woody, and, once he got to know us, he’d be one of the lads, one of the mates, and as soon as he’d watch us play, we’d all be at the pub. Brothers in arms. We’d have a drink, come back. Rod still wouldn’t sing; he’d just sit on the amps as we played away. That went on for too long until I finally asked him to join in.
GM: And the rest is history. But I’m still fascinated with the era of Ogdens’. Wasn’t the band divided about doing it live? It was almost a rock opera, or at least a concept album.
KJ: I wanted to do it live. No one else did. We might have stayed together if we did. Plus, we were so afraid of not being able to properly follow it up.
GM: So you shorten the name to Faces and become one of the greatest party bands in history. The Small Faces, for my friends and I in America, were an acquired taste. I mean, I remember going out and buying the “Itchycoo Park” 45, but had a tough time convincing my friends how great you were. But by the time of The Faces, they all loved you.
KJ: We were unique at the time, I suppose. We didn’t realize it. We were just having such a ball.
RW: We used to take our party from backstage to onstage and give out crates of booze to the audience, so they’d be in the same frame of mind as us.
KJ: That’s the way it was.
RW: We used to drag DJs on stage with us, like John Peel, and give him a mandolin. He’d protest, “I don’t play mandolin.” We’d say, “You do now!” He just stood there with it.
GM: The important thing is you both have survived whereas a lot of the people we love didn’t. You lived the lifestyle and lived to tell about it. And you both look great.
RW: The spirit of music keeps you young. And what you owe to the people. I mean, you have to get it together, no matter how out of your brain you are. When you go onstage you gotta give it to ’em properly. That’s why we survived, I think.
GM: Are you the peacemaker of The Rolling Stones?
RW: Yeah, I guess I am a bit of a peacemaker. It never stops! Actually, Mick and Keith have patched it up pretty well. They’re getting on great.
GM: You’re the perfect person to fill that slot. I remember stories of them asking Roy Buchanan [1939-1988] and Rory Gallagher [1948-1995].
RW: Steve Marriott was in the next room when I first went to join the Stones. Jeff Beck was there; Eric Clapton was there. Eric even said to me, “I could’ve had your job.” I said, “Yeah? Then you’d have to live with those two [Mick and Keith], Eric! That ain’t easy!” The Faces used to play all these festivals with bands like The Who all the time. We all knew each other.
GM: How can you remember chord changes and song lyrics if you’re half out of your mind?
RW: [laughs] I was going to say “with great difficulty,” but it was really a stroke of fate …and there’s a lot of luck involved. And homework! That, and an awful lot of hard work goes into it. If we were too stoned, we’d just fall over in a heap. And stay there. Someone would come over and help us get it together. Someone else would be in charge of keeping us going. Like this picture in the book [pointing].
KJ: That’s when the tempos used to go all haywire. But, as the drummer, I always thought that was part of the fun of it all.
GM: You had to dictate the tempo, no?
KJ: Kind of. But you have to go with it.
RW: I’d always shout out at him, “It’s toooo slow!” “Speed up!” Then minutes later, “Slow down!”
KJ: Depends on how much sleep everybody had the night before. That’s what dictated the tempo. You had to slowly wind it up if it was a rough night. And I’d always get the blame. But that was always part of the craziness of The Faces, y’know? Good stuff.
GM: Don’t you sit back and think sometimes that you’re leading the life that we mere mortals can only dream about?
RW: I think that if you can get up in the morning and go to work at what you love to do, then that right there is another thing that keeps you young, no matter what it is.
GM: I understand most of the bands in Great Britain knew each other, sustaining petty jealousies …
RW: No! There was camaraderie, not competition. It was like, “Hey, mate, good luck!” That other stuff was all exaggerated in the press. I mean, sure, you’re on a bill with someone and you’re thinking, “Shit, how are we going to follow that?” But you’d never tell them that. Just treat ’em like an equal.
GM: I recently saw that 1978 “Some Girls Live In Texas” Stones set on DVD and couldn’t get over how tight and amazing the band was.
RW: From Fort Worth! Aah, yes! That was great. They played it on the English TV the other day.
RW: [To Kenney]: Stu [Ian Stewart, 1938-1985] and Mac were on pianos off to the side! It was just the band. There was no background, no stage set, no brass section.
GM: Like a garage band blasting it out …
KJ: I’ve got to see that.
RW: It was really punk, wasn’t it?
GM: Jagger played up his femme side, kissing you and everything …
RW: He did more than that. He was chasing me all over the stage, he was! Feeling my arse and everything. Brilliant.
GM: Legend has it you landed and learned “Some Girls” had hit No. 1 in the States. Maybe that’s why the band was so pumped.
RW: I don’t remember that. It was just another gig to me. We had been doing it every night on that tour.
GM: I so wish I had the chance to see the Faces live way back when …
RW: There was a lot of Faces in that gig with The Stones, if you know what I mean. Besides Mac, of course, the running about and all. That came from The Faces. Mick’s special brand of camp, too …
KJ: You won’t enjoy yourself if you take it too seriously, that’s what I’ve found. We had no real drama in The Faces. I had all the drama I needed in The Who, I can tell you that.
GM: What was your low Who point?
RW: [to Kenney] Watch out, he’s a press person, always after the drama.
KJ: Cincinnati stands out when 11 kids got killed at one of our concerts. I had been in the band for only a year. That emotional experience was terrible for me. Talk about the press! They practically broke our door down after the show asking, “What do you think about all those kids who got killed?” It was like they blamed us! I mean, hell, the families never blamed us at all. Just the press. It was sheer craziness. Then I spent another nine years with The Who. Everyone thinks I only stayed with them for two years. That’s because those first two years we did a lot of touring. Then, what we did is, we went in the studio, did all kinds of stuff. Sure, there was a lot of talk about going back on the road … but we didn’t. By that time, I did Live Aid, and the last thing I did with them was in 1988.
RW: [to Kenney] And when did you join them?
KJ: ’78. Three months after Moonie died [Keith Moon].
GM: And what were the circumstances that caused you to leave the band?
KJ: We basically kind of just drifted apart. When I joined, everyone was going through a divorce.
RW: And Pete just drifts off by himself and disappears, eh?
KJ: Yeah, he had a habit of doing that. By that time, we weren’t doing anything anyway. I just wanted to play live. So that’s when I started a band called The Law with Paul Rodgers. And that was great. We had a good time. I really enjoyed being in that band with him.
GM: For one album only.
KJ: No, two. Chris Kimsey produced the first one, but the one that we did on our own was fantastic! The record company, though, Atlantic, told us they loved it, but it sounded like something we would have done 15 years ago. We argued with them that that was the point, but they never put it out.
GM: So there’s a lost Law album that we still haven’t heard yet!
KJ: Yeah, and it’s fantastic.
[Publicist Michael Jensen comes into the room and breaks up the party.]
Ian McLagan just may be the pre-eminent rock and roll piano player of his generation. He’s certainly learned his Killer and Fats fills! As keyboardist for The Small Faces and, after the band reorganized, added Jeff Beck Group refugees Ron Wood and Rod Stewart to become The Faces, he certainly had a hotel-trashing, liquor-fueled ride around the world. The Faces were the ultimate party band: The road goes on forever, and the party never ends. An Austin, Texas, resident since the 1990s, McLagan now fronts his own Bump Band and still plays with Wood and drummer Kenney Jones in a revamped Faces that includes singer Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) and bassist Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols).
Goldmine: I interviewed Kenney Jones and Ron Wood, and your name came up an awful lot.
Ian McLagan: [laughing] It’s quite likely, eh?
GM: Yeah, we were talking about that great 2004 Faces box, “5 Guys Walk Into A Bar,” and they both said that was your baby.
IM: Yeah, none of ’em, at first, seemed to be interested, frankly, in such a project. I had time. I made time. I wanted to do it. When it finally came out, I think they enjoyed it. Hard to tell with those guys, though. It’s not like you go up to them and say something like, “Well? What do you think?” I never actually did that. Also because I live over here [Austin], and they live over in England. When we rehearsed [for a possible 2008 reunion], Rod [Stewart] had a copy of it right there. I wanted to do “Jealous Guy” [the John Lennon song recorded live by The Faces on their “Coast To Coast: Overtures And Beginners”] because they were too drunk the first time! When I told that to Kenney, he said, “I was?” He had no recollection whatsoever. I don’t think they ever even listened to it. If they had, they would have got it. But we all had a good laugh. I mean, I know everything that’s on that box because I worked on it so hard. I suppose I shouldn’t expect them to know anything.
GM: They were loving the fact that you included The Beach Boys song “Gettin’ Hungry” and the Paul McCartney song “Maybe I’m Amazed,” plus you had all that beautiful country-tinged material sung by Ronnie Lane. Was its critical and commercial success surprising?
IM: The only trouble was we couldn’t get it on iTunes because of all the BBC tracks. Apparently, the BBC charges for that, and it wouldn’t have been worth Rhino Records even doing it. I remember yelling, “Well, just take the BBC tracks off of there, and let’s get this shit out!” That’s always been our problem in The Faces. You can’t even find us in the stores. It’s an absolute disgrace. The Faces have nothing out right now.
GM: Universal just put out two double-discs …
IM: … of Small Faces stuff, I know. But Rhino’s disappeared or back to one person; I don’t know. It’s pathetic. They told us recently they’re not going to put out the albums which they’ve been sitting on for years, all remastered with bonus tracks and the like. Hell, the artwork’s done and everything. And it just sits there. Nothing. Don’t get me wrong. What’s happening with Small Faces is fantastic, but what’s happening with The Faces is a bit of a shame.
GM: You have to be thrilled with the recent Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction for The Faces!
IM: I am, yes. Took ’em long enough.
GM: And you deserve it, too. You have to be one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll piano players of your generation! You’ve played with ’em all! Hell, I recently saw that unbelievable “Rolling Stones Some Girls Live In Texas ’78” DVD, and there you were, with Ian Stewart, banging away on the piano off to the side like a wildman! What do you remember of that?
IM: Not much. I was flying by my shirttails. I’m not sure when Fort Worth was in relation to the other gigs on that tour, but I do remember I only had two rehearsals before I hit the stage. I had to make notes to myself of the songs as we were going. Here I am trying to remember all the shit, and several of the songs got switched up. I was flyin’! And you can’t stop them and say, “Just a minute there, gentlemen, hold up the show so I can make a note of that.” I was constantly grabbing a pencil trying to keep track of what was going on, and it’d be another song. Oh, OK, and I’d start again. A couple of times it was the same song I had just written down, they discarded and then did it anyway. That particular show, hmm, I don’t really remember it. I’ve seen half that DVD. It’s very impressive.
GM: Yeah, Woody was really up on it, telling Kenney all about it, who hadn’t seen it.
IM: They all are so impressive. Bill Wyman, man, he’s such a master. He’s so fu**ing at ease no matter what’s going on onstage.
GM: I really hope he contributes to those last few Stones shows next year.
IM: And Mick! There’s no miming. He’s really bouncing about and singing, not like the singers today. He does it all. Just fantastic.
GM: Kenney was explaining how you guys in Small Faces were lumped into a teenybopper bag and rebelled incessantly about it, especially singer Steve Marriott. Even after your 1968 British No. 1 concept album, “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake,” you couldn’t shake that tag. Kenney says had you performed it live, things might have been different. He claims he wanted to, but you guys didn’t. Ultimately, it’s what caused Marriott to quit and go form Humble Pie. And he did it in fairly ugly circumstances, walking out on the band during a gig. Is that your recollection as well?
IM: [laughs] Well, first of all, we probably couldn’t have performed that album on a stage because of the guitar sounds. Back then, you couldn’t properly get good acoustic guitar sound onstage. We didn’t have the right pickups. You’d have to play an acoustic up to a microphone. Technology aside, some of the songs were very complicated, and for just us four to try to bash it out would have been next to impossible. That’s why we never played it live.
GM: And what about Marriott?
IM: Oh, right. I forgot the question. Sorry. Alexis Korner was supposed to come on and jam with us that night. Alexis, bless his heart, only played the blues, and he picked, of all songs, “Lazy Sunday,” which has nothing at all to do with blues. Steve wound up walking off the stage despite the fact that it was his damn song! We did it for about a minute and I heard him say, “F**k this,” and he walked off! In the dressing room, he started telling us about how he was going to form a group with Peter Frampton. We were shocked and stunned. Horrified. The dream ended right there. But, in looking back, it was great he left, because we got together with Ronnie Wood as a direct result. It certainly wasn’t planned like that. It was very upsetting at the time. But you forgive and forget.
GM: You certainly have had a wealth of phenomenal singers, from Steve Marriott to Rod Stewart to Mick Hucknall.
IM: Yeah, Mick did a hell of a job with us, didn’t he?
GM: I’m told when Rod Stewart first showed up with Ron Wood at a Faces rehearsal, he didn’t want to sing; he just wanted to watch.
IM: He didn’t know the songs! We were in the control room of the studio. He didn’t want to get in the way. He just came along with his friend Ronnie to listen. He really wasn’t going to be a part of the band. We figured, after we lost Steve, to do the singing ourselves. He was just hanging out. So we were banging about. We had a few songs, but nothing much. Ronnie Wood was singing. I had a song I sung. Ronnie Lane did most of the singing, though. He was good! We liked having no real lead singer, especially after what we just went through. It was Kenney who got Rod to sing. He asked him to sit in. Not knowing any of the songs, though, Rod was doubtful about the idea. But what we all had in common was one thing: the Muddy Waters “Live At Newport” album. We all loved it. I think it was from 1960. All of us — Rod, Ronnie Lane, Ronnie Wood, Kenney Jones, myself — we all fu**ing loved Muddy Waters. Oh man! “I Got My Mojo Working,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Tiger In Your Tank” — damn, we loved those songs. And Rod could sing the hell out of ’em. We became a band right then. It was amazing. I think we went through our whole blues catalog that night. I remember we did Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil (Is Going On)” [written by Willie Dixon]. Funny thing; Steve would have been into that, too. He knew his Muddy, all right.
GM: So it was Muddy Waters who indirectly got Rod Stewart to join The Faces! But, as fate would have it, six years later, in 1975, Stewart demands to go solo and once again you’re put in the position of having a lead singer fly the coop. How did you feel then?
IM: I felt the same way when Rod left as I did when Steve left. It’s why we didn’t want a fu**ing lead singer in the first place. When Steve left, we decided to do it ourselves. We weren’t going to have a damn lead vocalist. But shit happens, and you move on. You can’t hang around waiting for life; you have to jump on it. I was totally disgusted. I loved The Faces. We’d grown up. We’d had the best times. Yet, it could have been much better.
GM: And you must have been disappointed when Rod didn’t join the reunion.
IM: He said he’d do it! Then said he got sick. So we move on. We’ve learned not to wait for Rod. No one cares any more. Every opportunity we’ve ever offered to have him sing with us again, for one reason or another, he’s turned down. I accept it. We won’t be in too much of a hurry to ask him again. It’s just a waste of our time at this point. It’s like a girlfriend who won’t go to bed with you. For Christ’s sake, c’mon already! You know what I mean?
GM: Woody feels he didn’t rejoin because he can’t hit those notes any more. But y’know what? In Vegas, Woody said, he sounded fine. You just drop the damn key down, and it sounds just as good. Some of those songs were done in incredibly high keys!
IM: Don’t I know it! I tried doing some of ’em in my own shows, but oh man! Forget it! I mean, sure, I take ’em down, no doubt. That’s what you have to do when you get older. No big deal. Steve and Rod both had very high voices when they were young. But, in the words of that great song, “Que sera sera,” whatever will be will be. [Starts singing] “The future’s not ours to see, que sera sera.”