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Faces original Ian McLagan on his bandmates and Rod Stewart

The Rolling Stones are always labeled as the best rock 'n' roll band in the world. But there was another English band that should have held that title. The Faces were the standard bearers for everything that made rock 'n' roll dangerous and exciting. They had a sound that grabbed by the crotch and made you want to do everything your parents said you couldn't do. You could tell just by looking at them that they were doing those things and flaunting them.

They began as the Small Faces in 1965: guitarist and vocalist Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, guitars and vocals; Ian McLagan on keys and drummer Kenny Jones. The band specialized in garage-soul, influenced by Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, backed by Marriott’s crackling guitar. They had a string of hits in England, but the only thing that sold well in the States was Lane's '67 jangly psychedelic piece, "Itchykoo Park."

When Marriott left in '69 to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, the Small Faces—each of whom stood just a few centimeters above the five-foot mark—became The Faces, thanks to the addition of tall boys Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. From 1969 to 1973, they cranked out raunchy, in-your-face rock 'n' roll that still stands as some of the best stuff ever to come out of an unruly genre. 1971’s A Nod Is a Good As A Wink to a Blind Horse produced "Stay With Me" and "Debris," and 1973's Ooh La La spawned "Cindy Incidentally" and "Glad and Sorry."

But they called it quits in 1975. It's been rumored that Rod Stewart broke the band up, but Ian McLagan has another take on it. From his home in Austin, Texas, he talked to the Independent about the break, his new release, Spiritual Boy: An Appreciation of Ronnie Lane, and all things Faces.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: I always thought you guys were the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. It's a shame you guys couldn't hang together. Was it because of your management, who you accuse in your tell-all book, All The Rage, of stealing money from you and then telling your parents and friends you were drug addicts and had spent it all?

IAN MCLAGAN: When Ronnie Lane left in '73, the heart of the band was gone. Tetsu (ex-Free bassist Tetsu Yamauchi, who replaced Lane in 1973) was a fine bass player, but he didn’t have the personality that Ronnie did and didn't have the songwriting talents. Ronnie was our most prolific writer. So, with him gone, the band appeared to be Rod's backing group. The heart went out of the band, and after that, Woody had to join the Stones and me and Rod had to go solo.

Is it true that Ian Stewart, The Stones road manager at the time, called when he was trying to replace Brian Jones and Ronnie Lane answered the phone and said that Ronnie Wood wasn't interested?

I believe that's true, yeah. I only found that out some years ago. I think it was actually Stu, Ian Stewart, who called Ronnie. And Ronnie and Stu were decent pals but he said, "No, you can't 'ave him!"

You were always a big supporter of Ronnie Lane. What did you most admire about him?

Ronnie Lane? He was my close buddy in the Small Faces. In fact, before I was even in the band, because they had one record out before I joined ’em, my Dad saw them on television. I was getting ready to go out on Friday night, and [they were on] Ready Steady Go, this great TV show we had then. He said, "'Ere, 'ere Look! This bloke looks just like you.'" And it was Ronnie [Lane] he was pointing to, and we did look a bit alike. When I joined some months later, my dream band, we'd look at each other in the mirror and just larf. We didn’t look a lot alike later on, but it seemed like we did then. And he became my closest buddy in the band. I always loved Ronnie. He was a sweet, sweet man. He was a Spiritual Boy. And also he was a rascal, a character. But I loved Steve and Kenny too, there's no getting away from it. Kenny and I are still pals, we're brothers, always will be. But I was very close to Ronnie and The Faces, too. So when he left, he asked me to leave with him and I said, 'But Ronnie, this is my band, too, I want to be in this band with you.' And he said 'No, I want to leave here. You can join my band.' And I said, 'No, I don't want to be in your band.'

The two parted ways. Lane put out Rough Mix, a brilliant album with Pete Townsend in 1976 that also featured Eric Clapton and Stones drummer Charlie Watts. It had been two years since The Who By Numbers, so fans looked forward to new material. But it wasn't what they expected. It sounded nothing like a Who record, showing a softer side of Townsend and Lane. It produced the beautiful ballad "Annie," which McLagan has redone on his new tribute to Lane.

"Annie" is such a sweet song. I didn’t know a lot of these songs until last year ’cause I never heard Rough Mix when it came out. I heard people talk about it, but he and I had fallen out shortly before he cut that. We were actually making that for the Small Faces album and he quit the band. Scrappy Jud Newcomb, who plays guitar with me, and Mark Andes, who plays bass with me, and Don Harvey, my drummer, they all knew Rough Mix and loved it for years. So I was the new boy to it. When I listened to it, I caught on very quickly and loved “Nowhere to Run” and “Annie,” and we just had to do it.

“Spiritual Babe,” I had that song since ’86. Rod was doing a gig at Wembley in London, and I think ticket sales weren’t doing too well so he suggested a Faces reunion. It was a great idea, except the plan was for Ronnie to sing a song and we rehearsed “Spiritual Babe,” but Rod changed his mind on the day of the show, which was upsetting for Ronnie and me. It’s such a beautiful song. It would have been a nice thing to do, so I kept that cassette that I had out of it, his demo, and promised myself one day I’d record it. And, as time was flying by and I was making my own album here, my next release, I thought, “Well, blimey , here it is February and he would have been 60 on April 1 this year.” I thought I could just do it, I could get the album out for his birthday. And so I did.

Lane, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, moved to Austin in 1984 to take advantage of hyperbaric oxygen treatments available there. He performed with Stones sax man bobby Keys in The Tremors before running a loose knit group he called the Slim Chance Band, which usually featured Alejandro Escovedo on guitar. Despite his failing health, he enlisted Mac for a tour of Japan in 1990. Although he was eager to play with Lane again, McLagan had one condition he wanted met before he would agree to go. He did not want to perform the Faces jangly ode to psychedelia, “Itchykoo Park.”

I never liked the song. When he called me up, I said, “I hate it. I don’t think it is all too beautiful. I can’t sit out here and go, “It’s all too beautiful.”

The decision obviously hurt Lane’s feelings, and Mac says now he wishes he hadn’t done it. He’s had a change of heart since then.

I wasn’t gonna put it on this album because I never liked it. But, one day, I had a migraine and I went back to bed, took my medication, laid down and dozed off for about 40 minutes. I woke up and I was thinking about “Itchykoo Park.” I didn’t really know the lyrics, but I went to the sheet and looked at it and realized it’s a different song than what I’d remembered. It’ s a classic song. He’s talking about Oxford and Cambridge. He’s talking about seats of learning:  “Over bridge of sighs/ To rest my eyes in shades of green/ Under dreamin’ spires/To Itchycoo Park, that’s where I’ve been.”

“Over bridge of sighs.” That’s Cambridge. “Under dreamin’ spires,” which is Oxford, the two seats of learning. “To Itchykoo Park,” which is the east side end of London, “that’s where I’ve been.” In other words, he didn’t know anything about education or the countryside of England, ’cause he’d never been there. All he knew was Itchykoo Park, which is a nettle patch in the east end of London. “What did you do there? I got high. What did you feel there?’ Well, I cried. But why? Because it’s all too beautiful.”

It’s a beautiful song. And I hadn’t realized it, so I put a click track down and put an acoustic guitar and a electric piano and sang the lyrics/ I never changed it, put a keyboard bass on it and eventually got my drummer in, Don Harvey. Scrappy Jud Newcomb, my guitarist, put a guitar on the bridge sections. We had been playing it live on Japan on that tour I did with [Ronnie]. And we did rehearse it, and I went through it and I thought, “Aw God, that’s horrible,” because we were doing it like the four Faces, like we recorded it. Which I think is a nice recording and a big hit for us, all well and good, but it doesn’t sell the song.

Mac’s new version is a loving tribute to Lane, who passed away in June of 1997. There has been talk over the years of a Faces revival, but the band is dwindling. Original Small Face guitarist Steve Marriott, who died in 1991, was the first to go. Kenney Jones, who replaced Keith Moon as The Who’s drummer from 1978 to 1983 is still around. Ron Wood is still alive and well as a full-fledged member of The Stones. And then there’s Rod Stewart. But according to Mac, there’s no hope for a reunion with Stewart in the picture

No! Absolutely not. Tried for years. We had a tour set up—ironically by Michael Cohl, who sets up The Stones’ tours—and Rod backed out at the last minute. We had an American tour—lots of money to be earned, lots of fun to be had, lots of good music. He pulled out because he didn’t think we’d get paid for some reason. It was an excuse, a red herring. Michael Cohl pays the Stones up front. It’s the same way Rod goes out with whomever promotes him. He gets paid up front. He knows exactly what he’s gonna get for tour. He gets it into his bank account, then he goes on the on the road. So it has nothing to do with tickets. That’s the promoter’s job, to then make up the money he’s paid out and make profit. That’s his risk. Michael Cohl did that with us, and Rod turned it down. It upset me at the time, and I‘ve tried. When I put the box set [2004’s Five Guys Walk Into A Bar, a 67-song Faces retrospective on the Rhino label] together, it was partly because we needed to have our CDs on release, to earn some money.

If it wasn’t for the box set, The Faces are dead. So to have a current release was an excuse to make some money and to tell the world, “Look, this is the band that I was in, and look how great we are. Also, listen to Ronnie Lane’s songs.” It’s all about Ronnie and all about maybe we could have a reunion. Well, Rod’s manager called me up, said he loved the box set, he and Rod were so thrilled, and they wanted to get The Faces back together. And I said, “You’re lying.” And he said, “No, I really mean it.” And you know what? They were lying! They lied through their damn teeth. And now Rod’s talking about it.

See, I have Google alert: When my name comes up in any country anywhere, I get a Google alert. And here’s Rod talking about a Faces reunion, talking about us getting together to do a charity gig, which is very nice of him to spend my money. He’s got an album coming out, and it’s gonna die the death and he wants to promote and all he can do is rip us off again. There is no Faces reunion, it’s just Rod full of wind and using us as an excuse to sell his records. It’s insulting, you know? I’d love to do it, but I’m 61 years of age, I have a great band, and frankly, we could blow The Faces off the stage. Rod couldn’t do it, he can’t hack it. Woody can hack it, Kenny could, but he couldn’t. He would not be the strength he used to be. I‘d kick his ass any day of the week, so it wouldn’t work, you know. He’s had his chance. He’s had his many chances. Woody and Kenny and I have always been keen to do it, always put time aside and, at the last minute, he’d make a lousy album and go and promote it and ignore us. So that’s my beef against him.

It’s been reported that Stewart broke up the group, but Mac says it’s not so.

I always thought it, but in fact, he quit, he told the press the band had broken up because Ronnie joined the Stones. Ronnie joined the Stones out of frustration. He toured with the Stones, but he knew that Rod was talking about going solo and leaving, so he said “Well, I might as well join The Stones, might as well get in there first.” And got the press on it, typically. Rod broke the band or said the band was broken up, but you know what? He couldn’t break the band up. He’s not a member of The Faces, never has been. He’s not. He never signed contracts. It’s just the four of us. So he can’t speak for The Faces. He did that as a dig against Woody.

Well, you‘ve still got the memory and the sound of The Faces. To hell with him.

Yeah, absolutely. And the box set did so well, it introduced a lot of people to us and there ere still little bands starting, I bump into bands all the time who say The Faces were our inspiration, from The Black Crowes to Georgia Satellites.

What’s your favorite song from the Faces?

I love “Glad and Sorry.” I love “Debris” and “Stay with Me,” of course. That was us at our blazing best, you know.

How would you like to be remembered?

Like to be remembered? [laughs] Good press, bad press, it’s all press. I’d like to have been inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, but now that Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd are in, I don’t care anymore. It wouldn’t mean much. But mind you, when The Four Seasons were inducted, I said, ‘What about Gene Vincent, for Christ’s sake? What’s The Four Seasons got to do with rock ’n’ roll?’ And Miles Davis? I mean, give me a break. And you know what’s gonna be next? KISS’ll get in. Black Sabbath’s one thing, but KISS? Kiss my ass.

How much can a man take?

Absolutely, they missed their chance. But Rod’s in as a solo artist. How did he become a solo artist? By touring with The Faces and by performing their songs. Woody’s in with the Stones. How did he get in The Stones? Because he was in The Faces. Ronnie Lane’s not in. Steve Marriott’s not in. Kenny Jones is not in. You’d think because he’s in The Who he might have been. Me, Kenny, Ronnie and Steve have been totally ignored. So, dammit, we don’t wanna join now.

But you’ve still got your integrity, as well as a catalogue of great sounds.

You know, as my wife often said, a lot of people say onward and upward. It’s not as good as upward and onward, because you’re already going there. And that’s why our upcoming tour is called “Upward and Onward.”

I saw you guys when you played the Pour House in Raleigh last year. It was a great show. You guys tore the place up.

That was the last show on the tour so we had nothing to lose. I didn’t have a voice the next day. This is gonna be the first day of the tour, so I might have to take it a little steadier. But we‘ll still rock out every night we play. 

Ian McLagan and The Bump Band play Tir Na Nog in Raleigh on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 10:30 p.m.

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