The new issue of Shindig! has landed so, in case you missed the previous one, here's my cover story and interview with Kenney Jones about the early days of The Faces. Grab yourself a long drink and pull up a stool...
“The Faces were really boozy, yeah, shit. Brandy and cokes, brandy and ginger, brandy and anything. It had to be Rémy Martin though. We were the Rémy band. Simultaneously we all came up with the idea to put a bar on stage. We’d dress up our roadie in a black suit, white shirt, and he’d be our barman. So when we wanted a drink he’d put it on a tray, towel over his arm, and bring it over. If anyone wanted a sit down during a gig they could go over to the bar and sit there. God knows how we got through a show. We went on slightly merry and came off absolutely fucking rat-arsed.”
Today Kenney Jones, owner of the finest drumstool CV in Britain, is sober but looking forward to a quiet pint later. “I like being straight, I like the idea of being straight, but when the Faces came along, forget it. It got to a point where I enjoyed a day off drinking. I was like wow, I’m straight, what a buzz this is.” Immaculately dressed in a blue three-piece suit with velvet collar and Italian shoes, I suggest his old Modness is still in evidence. “It never leaves you,” he says. As Kenney finishes signing posters for a new CD boxset of Small Faces Decca material he is, with his easy going Cockney charm, quietly excited about getting together with his Faces pals Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood for a charity fundraiser at his polo club. With a Faces 5-disc boxset, You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything hitting the shops I'm here to quiz him about the transition from the swinging Small Faces to the swaying Faces.
By mid-1968 the Small Faces had long broken from the strict stuffiness of Decca and were settled into the more liberating environment of Immediate Records and provided the label with their masterpiece, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Released in May, the album spent six weeks at number one, although not, as the band had hoped, as a result of shedding their young audience and finding a more fulfilling acceptance of their musical advancement but due, in part, to the success of their knockabout knees-up novelty ‘Lazy Sunday’.
“We were desperate to lose our teenybopper image, desperate,” remembers Kenney. “We only did ‘Lazy Sunday’ for a laugh; the last thing we wanted was for Andrew Oldham and Immediate to release that as a single. It was really commercial, not at all us. So there it was; another nail in our coffin. It drove Steve Marriott nuts - it drove all of us nuts - but he just couldn’t take it anymore and he was off.”
With tensions increasingly fraught with Marriott on one side and Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones on the other, Marriott, desperate to play with Herd guitarist/singer Peter Frampton in whatever band possible, chucked down his guitar during a New Year’s Eve show at the Alexandra Palace and announced he was leaving. The Small Faces soldiered on, fulfilling contractual obligations to the gigs they had lined up, until they bowed out in inglorious circumstances at the Springfield Theatre in Jersey on March 8, 1969. ‘Tin Solder’ ended the set before Marriott jumped straight back into the fire by signing his Humble Pie, officially unveiled weeks later, straight to the label from which he’d seen little previous money. For the remaining Small Faces, the future was uncertain.
“After Marriott walked out we – me, Mac and Ronnie – were like lost. It was like losing a member of the family. So we just got together once a week in the Rolling Stones rehearsal space in Bermondsey Street, just to have a jam and so we could be together. Not knowing what we were going to do, where we were going to go, but we enjoyed doing it.”
On hearing of the spilt Ronnie Wood, then on bass duty in the Jeff Beck Group, phoned Lane to express his shock about Marriott’s actions. The Small Faces, he said, were his and fellow Beck employee Rod Stewart’s favourite group. Wood was invited to jam and was quickly integrated into the loose Bermondsey set up.
Their paths had only briefly crossed previously but Wood first made an impression on Jones and Lane after the pair had left school and were working in Selmer’s music shop in Holborn testing amplifiers. “One day the Birds, with Ronnie, came up there; we were exactly the same age. I remember looking at him like that [mimes big hair and wide-eyed disbelief]. We didn’t say boo to a goose to each other.”
The Birds, out to the west of London were a popular live attraction with their soulful yet ballsy R&B attack and strong Mod image. Their debut single, written by Wood, ‘You’re On My Mind’ came out in November 1964 and with a television appearance already under their belt were seen by the fledgling Small Faces as kindred spirits. Mention of the Birds has Kenney follow up with memories of another band cut from the same Prince of Wales cloth.
“One of the bands I really loved from that time were the Action. I thought they were fucking excellent. They should have been the biggest thing since sliced bread. I kick myself every day and question why they weren’t. Because they were so good, their music was good enough, they were better than most people and they had a great name.”
By 1969, the Action were in a similar situation to the Small Faces. Singer Reggie King had left and the remaining members forged on without him. With Reggie then without a band or recording deal it’s interesting to speculate how he might have filled the slot vacated by Marriott. I idly suggest Kenney could’ve asked King to join. “Humph, yeah, that’s right, we could have done,” he replies without conviction, humouring my flight of fancy.
But of course Rod Stewart proved to be the perfect choice. “After a couple of weeks Ronnie Wood bought down his mate, which was Rod Stewart. Rod sat there on the amps watching for a few weeks. He loved it.” Like Wood, Rod had paid his dues around the live circuit, and had the Mod pedigree after stints with Steampacket, Shotgun Express, Jeff Beck Group and even deputising on occasion for an absent King in the Action. Woody knew this when inviting his buddy along but the pair played it cool with Rod watching Lane, McLagan and Wood’s half-hearted attempts at singing.
“One thing that was apparent was Steve’s powerful voice was not there. We were playing good enough music but the vocals were very polite. I kept thinking there’s a fucking great singer sat over there so I took the bull by the horns. We’d have a break in the evening and go over to the pub, drank loads and loads of brandy and cokes, shit like that, quite pissed, so I took Rod to one side and said ‘Do you fancy joining the band?’ He said ‘Yeah, do you think everyone would let me?’ He really did jump at it.”
Rod didn’t put himself forward? “No, Rod’s very careful in the way he approaches things. Rod and Woody’s wages in the Jeff Beck Group was sixty pound each, which was a lot of money in those days, but this was an opportunity to get away from them. That evening Alvin Lee of Ten Years After was having drinks round at his mews house, so I said to everybody there ‘Look, I’ve just asked Rod to join the band’ and all I got was ‘Oh no, we don’t want another prima donna, someone that’s gonna walk out on us’. But they were totally different personalities. Steve was like a little bigmouth, the Artful Dodger who turned us all into little Artful Dodgers, but Rod was Rod The Mod, he had a great personality, he was a right pisstaker and he taught us all how to be even more pisstaking.”
With the new band starting to take shape a couple of extra ingredients found themselves dipping into the mix. Woody’s brother Art, previously of the Artwoods, and Kim Gardner, formerly of Pop-Art hopefuls the Creation begin a short-lived association which saw them join forces to stagger out of the Stones’ basement and on to the stage.
“We were in there for weeks and Art said ‘Look we’ve got to get some gigs’. He got us these gigs but we never had a name because we never for once considered we’d call ourselves the Small Faces, or the Faces, or anything like that. To us it was a completely new entity and that’s what we wanted it to be, so a name would come much later. So Art went out and booked us under the name Quiet Melon. A stupid name, but we were stupid anyway. He got the name out of the air. I think he looked at a melon and said ‘That melon’s quiet’. Typical.”
A couple of tracks from this period were finally released in 1994. Kenney doesn’t recall the songs. “I don’t even remember doing it”. They offer a snapshot to those rehearsals and sound like what they are, the formative Faces – easily identifiable – but with Art Wood taking lead vocals with Rod providing backup. Unfortunately for Art, as it was through him the tracks got recorded, it’s his harsh vocal which distracts from any potential contained in ‘Diamond Joe’ and ‘Engine 4444’. With no takers for the material and after a few low-key gigs Art and Gardner’s involvement ended which left the others looking to get started in earnest.
“When it came to doing something more formal, one day we were down the Speakeasy and I bumped into Billy Gaff, who was working for Robert Stigwood at the time. We all still thought we were signed to Immediate Records. So I told Billy and he said ‘I can get you out of that, no problem’ and sure enough he did. That’s how Billy became our manager; we thought the sun shone out of his arse for that. But what we didn’t know was we were already out of it.”
What Billy Gaff failed to mention was the Small Faces contract with Immediate had already expired in June 1968, but with nothing more than a gentlemen’s handshake he set about securing a record deal. “Ian Ralfini was taking over as head of Warner’s UK. He wanted to sign us so we said great. It was only when it came to signing the contracts we went ‘Hold on a minute, it says Small Faces, we’re not the Small Faces’. They said if we didn’t have a name like Small Faces nobody knew us, so they’re signing the Small Faces. We went ‘Nah, no way’. So we had a big hoo-ha. Eventually they said they’d sign us but we wouldn’t get the money, which was to be a thirty grand advance. So between us we came to a decision that we’d sign the first album as the Small Faces – so we’d get the bloody money – and thereafter we’d be known as the Faces, as there was nothing small about us anymore. It couldn’t have been better in a sense. It saved us the bother of trying to find a name anyway and I was so pleased to get away from being called Quiet Melon”.
Preceded by the single ‘Flying’ (“A fucking great track,” says Kenney) and recorded in De Lane Lea Studios in Queensway between August ’69 and January ’70, First Step was released in March 1970, its title downplaying expectations. They needn’t have worried as the ten tracks laid the blueprint which only required fine tuning for the rest of their days: rocking and rolling, bluesy boogieing, folksy reflections and soulful instrumental grooves. The LP closed with a number inspired by the Soul Brothers Six minor 1967 hit for Atlantic, ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’, and crystalized the Faces signature sound of a rumbustious rhythm and booze house party.
“There’s some nice songs on there,” thinks Kenney. “It’s a very honest album. What you hear on the album is what we had at the time. ‘Devotion’, that’s lovely; ‘Around The Plnyth” was one we used to play a lot on stage; ‘Stone’ was typical Ronnie Lane – ‘Once I was a stone…’ but it’s a fucking great song. With the release of the album it felt like we had a new lease of life, a breath of fresh air and we realised it wasn’t all over and we had a future. We didn’t really think about any expectations. We knew we had to make an album but we didn’t know what direction we were going in. We were finding ourselves because it was that early. We just were what we were and that’s what people loved about us. Slightly dishevelled but each one of us were fucking great competent musicians.”
First Step, which spent only one week on the UK chart (number 45 with a mullet), included two instrumentals in a Booker T & the MGs vein which ramped up the soul quota, such a strong influence running through all the Faces. “That’s right and there was in the Small Faces but we could never play it on stage because everyone wanted our hits. But when we played together in the studio we were jamming all that stuff. Loved it but then we had to go and do the dinky-dinky-dink. ‘Looking Out The Window’ was really just an instrumental jam but ‘Pineapple and the Monkey’ was more based on a Booker T kind of influence with a bit of ‘Cissy Strut’ by the Meters in there. I loved the Meters.” Kenney proceeds to play some mean funky air-drums and human beat box which this writer sadly cannot adequately do justice with the written word.
It was the rich blend of soul and blues and the Faces approximation of it – with Rod’s sandpaper rasp, the locked-in rhythm section, the warm organ, and Woody’s country picking and bottleneck slide – which marked them out from the straight blues, heavy rock, or more progressive bands of the era. They swung. Or, as Kenney puts it, they had feel.
“The Small Faces had real telepathy. No one told me what to play and I didn’t tell them what to play. We just knew. It was almost a similar thing in the Faces but in a more ragged way. Why it worked with the Faces was because of the feel. Just feel. You played with your emotions. That’s what a musician is, that’s why we’re all sensitive people, you know. You can really upset us easily. You play you, you play what you feel. It’s no good if you feel lousy. People say to me it must be great being a drummer, you can take out all your aggression on your drums. Now, if I’m angry I don’t go anywhere near my drum kit. I play my drum kit and I respect my drum kit, I don’t take it out on my drum kit.”
As for the band name, the album was credited to Small Faces in America and, more accurately, Faces in the UK. Not that the identity crisis - which saw them billed throughout 1970 as variously Small Faces, Faces, Small Faces with Rod Stewart, Faces featuring Rod Stewart and, in a forecast of what was to come, Rod Stewart and Small Faces - caused much confusion with few expecting to hear Rod sing ‘Tin Soldier’ or ‘Rollin’ Over’. “The Small Faces didn’t hit it off in America so the Small Faces to them were this [the Faces]. I can’t remember there being any confusion about it over here. People knew straight away it was a new band.”
The album cover, shot by Martin Cook at designer and Ronnie Lane’s fellow Meher Baba devotee Michael McInnerney’s flat in Richmond, graphically displayed the changing times. The days of high-end Carnaby Street fashions, of dressing to adorn posters for teen mags, were behind them as they embraced the prevalent mood and strove to be judged only on the music and not an image. From today’s vantage point the Faces, in that photograph, look magnificent in an understated way. Sat on the sofa, drunk on homemade punch, their fabulous exaggerated Mod hair and couldn’t-care-less attitude is still used as a template by bands today albeit with a calculated knowingness rather than a genuine off-the-cuff stance. The honesty of the Faces music matched here by their garb.
“I remember the picture being taken because none of us knew what to wear because we didn’t have an image. The Small Faces became very much about the image. In the Faces image didn’t come into it, it was take it or leave it. We just wore what we wanted. We didn’t even care about it that much. So we tried to look respectable and Rod was sort of Rod, because in those days he had holes in his shoes, stuff like that. He had cardboard in his shoes in this picture. And Ronnie Wood being the arty person had the book. We didn’t know what the album was going to be called. It was only after Ronnie picked up this First Step, how-to-play-guitar book, that we called it that.”
Whether the state of Rod’s dilapidated footwear was symptomatic of the band still waiting to cash their thirty grand advance or of his notorious stinginess, Kenney doesn’t say. In fact, Rod was doing okay for himself as he’d already signed a solo deal with Mercury Records prior to penning the Faces contract. “We didn’t know Rod had signed to Mercury for a solo album,” claims Kenney, “he didn’t tell us. He only signed it because they gave him an advance and there was enough to buy a Marcos sports car but then he had to do albums.”
Rod’s An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down – complete with grubby tramp in a dirty mac chasing small children across a field as the choice of cover photograph – beat First Step to the shops in the UK and the US (where it was retitled The Rod Stewart Album and had with the dubious artwork replaced) and was followed later in 1970 by Gasoline Alley, both featuring contributions from his band mates, as Rod sought to ride two interlocking careers in tandem. In time this proved unmanageable as his solo success went stratospheric but initially it worked fine.
“Joe Moss at Warner’s and the head of Mercury Records were close friends, that’s how we worked out a deal to maintain it,” explains Kenney. “Rod should’ve been with the Faces but found he had to deliver an album, so he did. So they worked out, Mercury were sly bastards, that they released Rod’s records at the same time so we were promoting his album as much as ours. They were pushing him big time. In the end I thought it was quite a good thing, the way it worked. We both benefitted.”
The band’s schedule now increased as they gigged to promote their record, and Rod’s, especially in America. “It was amazing to tour America because we never went there with the Small Faces. We did all these clubs. The first time one we played was in Detroit with the MC5. Everyone loved us and by the time we got to Boston, or the next place, the word of mouth had gotten out, that’s how it travelled then. In those days, we’d do a gig, right from day dot, and invite the audience back to the hotel to have a party. And they came. That stayed with us all the time. That’s why we became this fun loving party band. The audience got pissed with us and we got pissed with them. And then we played music with each other, like one big family.”
That accessibility endeared them all the more to their fans. They were a proper people’s band, all sharing the same good times. As their success escalated, so the Faces partying increased as boozing, groupies and rearranging hotels became outlets to relieve on tour boredom, proudly earning a ban from every Holiday Inn in America. “We had more fun really in the Faces than we did in the Small Faces. We could be more rebellious.” The more innocent japes would begin on the Atlantic crossing. “You wouldn’t want to fall asleep with the Faces on board. You could smoke on the plane in those days, so anyone who fell asleep would have cigarettes on them, butter, custard, anything. Butter was a great one. You’d put it on their head and it would slowly melt and go down their face and then you’d put ash in their hair.”
Even during performances nobody was safe. “You never knew what was going to happen with the Faces on stage. I think it was at Kilburn, behind the stage door was a pub, right on the corner. So, I started the drum solo off to ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ and I soon realised something was different, I couldn’t see them watching me anymore. All of a sudden there was no one there. I played away a bit longer. Where the fuck are they? After about twenty minutes they came back in. They’d been in the pub. I don’t even like drum solos.”
The Faces spent their days and nights in a near permanent sloshed state in a way which differed from the Small Faces. “I didn’t really drink back then and the Small Faces were more into the drugs, except me, which was why I couldn’t live with them in Westmoreland Terrace in Pimlico. All on speed, and LSD, you fucking name it. I could never do that. The most I’d have would be some uppers maybe, some blues. Moonie got me into those a bit. He’d just pick up handfuls, and I’d go ‘I’ll just take one’. I was like a bag of nerves. I could never do cocaine although I tried it. I’d be playing away like this [mimes huge rush of energy] and then all of a sudden you’d go whoop [deflating noise], it would just leave you, that buzz would just go. And then it’d come back again out of nowhere. Forget it.”
After the package tours, screaming fans and 20 minute sets the Small Faces endured only a few years earlier, playing to audiences who wanted to listen, and being in a band able to extend themselves came as blessed relief to the Faces.
“The Small Faces always wanted to be known for our musicianship as we were getting better and we wanted to lose the teenybopper image, so with the Faces it was very different, I felt like I was finally being appreciated as a drummer. I think everyone felt a little like that in the band. We were playing more meaningful stuff. We could play lovely blues, stuff like that, and not ‘Lazy Sunday’. That’s what we wanted to be and why Marriott and Humble Pie got the head start on us, got to American before us, but we overtook them and it happened really quickly.”
It certainly did. 1971 was an incredible year for the Faces, far outstripping any expectations. The band released two more albums, Long Player and A Nod’s As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse, plus Rod’s Every Picture Tells A Story went to number one simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic with the single ‘Maggie May’ inescapable. They were now major league box office and until they spilt in 1975 enjoyed all the trappings that brought. “For a while we were more successful than the Stones, believe it or not,” says Kenney.
This article first appeared in the 50th Birthday Issue of Shindig!, published 11 September 2015