Ian McLagan: Texas Country Boy, Book Author, And Hammond Organist Extraordinaire!
By Kent H. Benjamin
Goldmine caught up with Ian McLagan, ex-Faces/Small Faces keyboardist, at his lovely home in the country outside a small town in Central Texas, December 5, 1997. His country house, which he shares with wife Kim and his 3 dogs, includes a home studio, a "pub" room with a sign painted by McLagan for the fictitious "The Laughing Dogs" Pub, and numerous Guinness signs.Mac, as he's called by friends, has been playing locally with a new edition of Ian McLagan and the Bump Band, which is made up of three Austin all-star players: Sarah Brown (long-time de facto Antone's house bassist, as well a solo artist as leader/singer in her own band), Don Harvey (a drummer and co-owner of the ARC, Austin Rehearsal Complex), and "Scrappy" Jud Newcomb (co-frontman of Loose Diamonds, bandleader of Toni Price's band, and now a solo artist, too). They are, in my opinion, the very best band in Texas. Mac plays his trademark Hammond organ, piano, and handles all the lead vocals. Amazingly, he's taken to performing several songs each night on guitar (his first instrument). He still looks great, his trademark spiky haircut now gone all grey, and his singing is better than ever.
The band's live set is drawn from the best material from McLagan's solo albums (including "Big Love", "Judy Judy Judy", & "Li'l Troublemaker"), several Faces' classics like "Cindy Incidentally", "You're So Rude", and "Pineapple And The Monkey", choice covers from Ron Wood's catalog and Booker T's "Can't Be Still", and great new songs like: "If You See Him" (a brilliant, heartfelt, and funny track written after Ronnie Lane's death), "Suzie", "I'm Hot, You're Cool", "She Stole It", "Trapped", "Hello Old Friend", "Last Chance To Dance", "Hero", and "I Will Follow." They are quite simply a great live band, and are scheduled to go into the studios in March for an upcoming McLagan solo record.
Over the years, Mac's also done a bazillion sessions, including Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Melissa Etheridge, John Hiatt, Paul Westerberg, The Georgia Satellites, Charlie Burton, Pat McLaughlin, Billy Bremner, Lucinda Williams, and Bruce Springsteen. Since moving to Austin, his session work has slowed down considerably, presumably because he's a bit out of site, out of mind, located way down in Texas. Note to Sheryl Crow and Paul Westerberg: call him!
GOLDMINE: You're known as a musician, not a writer, so how did you come to get a book deal?
MAC: I'd been told many times "that's a good story, you should write a book." And then a friend from England spoke to his agent, and I sent her a few thousand words. Without meeting her, I don't know how I would have gotten it.
GOLDMINE: You've changed the title of your book. Originally, it was going to be called Autobiography Of A Short Arse, and now it's called All The Rage.
MAC: I sent Pete Townshend a chunk of the book before I sent it to Jane, because I knew he had connections in the publishing world [note: he was an editor for Faber and Faber]. He sent me a fax back that said Autobiography Of A Short Arse as if that was the title, and I couldn't think of anything better at the time, so I used it. Then one day, I have a list of song titles around that I think I might one day write a song around, and "All The Rage" had been around for a couple of years. I was going through song titles and I said to Kim [his wife]: "...look, nobody in America will know what a short arse is, we've gotta find some better title...," plus the whole title was a bit long-winded. And when I went through the song titles, she said "'All the Rage', that's great, you should use that for the book." And at the moment, it's coming out in October on a subsidiary of McMillan's, Sidgwick and Jackson.
GOLDMINE: Are we gonna get some good road stories?
MAC: Road stories? Life stories! Stories that'll knock your socks off and make you want to buy another book.
GOLDMINE: The Faces poster that came inside A Nod's As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse always seemed to be the classic representation of life on the road in a rock band, with Holiday Inn signs, groupies, and people passed out drunk.
MAC: Yeah, it does. We loved Holiday Inns. The Faces stayed in Holiday Inns almost exclusively until we got banned. Then we became Fleetwood Mac, and got them banned from Holiday Inn as well. So then we just booked back in as The Faces again, they'd forgotten us already.
GOLDMINE: How did you get banned from Holiday Inn?
MAC: Oh, we used to wreck 'em. It was one of those things, that after awhile...we stayed in Holiday Inns because they were cheap, and they were clean...generally...and they were usually out of town, the ones we'd stay in, like on the freeway, so you could make as much noise as you wanted? It was the two-story classic Holiday Inn. Now, they're kind of like the Hilton, fancy hotels almost. Then, they were just cheap residences on the road. I mean, you'd walk into one room, and it was identical to the one you'd left the previous night in another city, and identical to the one you'd be staying in the next night. It would drive you mad! And after a while, you were just on the road for months, and it just becomes very tedious. The only thing fun about the road is the playing. And if you've got a day of travel, you wake up after staying up all night partying, and you have to get on these flights in the morning with all these businessmen, because we were just flying tourist class constantly on commercial flights. You'd get to the other end, rent a station wagon, and just wait around. Two connections usually in fact, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas...we were always going through those airports on connecting flights. So you'd have your couple of flights, you'd get to your new hotel at the end of the day, and it was like "...hey, here we are again!". So you'd maybe have no gig that night maybe, check the bar, go back to the room, and get drunk, and go: "...fuck this!". And have a party. And after a gig, kids would come back to the hotel after a show. I don't mean little kids - we were just kids ourselves-and we'd have a party until the bar closed, and then we'd maybe move out beside the pool. It was always one of those two-story open hotels with a pool. And then you'd realize "...here's that room again..." so you'd wreck it, hurt it! It needed to be told off.
GOLDMINE: How many TVs have you thrown out of windows?
MAC: Never done it! (and after a perfectly timed comic pause...) Oh, that's not true. Rod and I threw a TV out of the balcony of our manager, Billy Gaff's room. We threw everything out of the room...emptied his room onto the ground below, and then put it together again out there.
GOLDMINE: Were you personally involved in Steve Marriott's 21st birthday party incident in Australia on the Small Faces/Who tour in 1968? [a story told in detail in Goldmine Vol. 22, No. 13, Issue 415, June 21, 1996]
MAC: Yes. When you mentioned throwing televisions out windows, I immediately thought about that, but that was Keith Moon! I didn't throw it. But I was there both nights. Pete and Ronnie took off pretty quickly! And there were two policemen there in the room with us. And funnily enough, a couple of months ago I found a kind of chrome/plastic embossed thing off one of those coppers' helmets - I've got it over there [pointing]: it says "NZP" New Zealand Police. They took their helmets off, and Steve offered them drinks. They were supposed to prevent us from doing any damage, you know. The Who had 4 policemen and we had 4 policemen, so their were 8 total there. So Steve invited them to come in for drinks, they relaxed, and took their helmets off, they were lovely blokes. And then Keith Moon comes in, says "...Happy Birthday Steve!," and immediately threw his stereo out the window. And the police were sort of sitting there with their drinks and off he went. And then the next day he went and did it again! And so, I wound up with one of their helmet badges. I have it to this day!
GOLDMINE: That was great!
MAC: Yeah, it was great! But he could have killed someone, you know, and he did it twice! We were on the 4th or 5th story.
GOLDMINE: It's a wonder nobody ever got seriously hurt...
MAC: Keith did more hurt to himself than anybody, usually...you know, broken arms and legs and that.
GOLDMINE: Were you good friends with Keith?
MAC: Yeah, you know, up to a certain point. I was friends with ONE of the Keiths. And of course, when Kim [Moon] and I became an item, and starting going out, he was as friendly as anything to my face, but less friendly behind my back. But no, we were friends, good friends....
GOLDMINE: About a year ago, you told me you were working on ideas for a Faces boxed set. Has there been any movement towards getting that done?
MAC: I haven't done anything more. You see, they'd only put one out if we were gonna tour. There was talk about a potential tour in '96; we had a potential tour set up. And, Rod blew it out at the last minute. So if a tour ever does happen, they'll do a new Faces release.
GOLDMINE: There seems to be so much interest now in the Faces. Wilco's song "Outtasite Outta Mind", from Being There is just pure Faces...from Paul Westerberg's influence, I think. And you've got bands like Ocean Colour Scene, and the Charlatans UK's new record Tellin' Stories is full of Faces nicks.
MAC: You see, Warners put out all the Faces' albums [on CD], they weren't very well done, they just threw them out, and the sales weren't very great. So Warners has no interest in doing anything further, until perhaps Rod's next album flops, too, and that'll be three in a row. And then maybe he'll want to do a Faces tour. And then at that time I might say "...No! Bollocks!..." (laughing).
GOLDMINE: Do you still keep in touch with the other Faces, Kenney Jones and Ronnie Wood?
MAC: Yep! I actually haven't spoken to Kenney in a couple of months, but I spoke to Woody just last week.
GOLDMINE: It's such a shame you can't get all the Faces' singles and non-LP b-sides...you can't even get the "hits" compilation, Snakes And Ladders, it's only available in Japan, I think...great songs like "Pool Hall Richard" can't be had on CD now....
MAC: Really? Well, you know, when the Faces were still together we had planned to put out a record without Rod. We were so pissed off with him never showing up in the studio [this would've been around the time of Ooh La La, the final Faces studio album] that we were talking about putting out an album of instrumentals without his vocals on them...because there's so many of those Faces instrumentals: "Skewiff (Mend the Fuse)", "Shag", "Looking Out The Window", "Pineapple And the Monkey"...and there's also all the songs the rest of us sang lead on.
GOLDMINE: What's your favorite Faces album?
MAC: Definitely A Nod's..., although I also like Ooh La La a lot. I've been playing it a lot since Ronnie died. And you know, I told Rod it's about time he gave it a good listen, too, because he slagged it off in the press when it came out. He slagged it off the day it came out. And he wouldn't sing on "Ooh La La". We recorded it three different times with Rod singing it, Ronnie Lane singing it, and finally Woody singing it, which we used. And now, you know Rod's finally recorded it on his own, with him singin' it.
GOLDMINE: Last time I was here, you very excitedly showed me the photo of you riding in the backseat of a car with Howlin' Wolf, and the letter you got from guitarist Hubert Sumlin after your band The Muleskinners backed them up on a UK tour in the winter of 1964-65, almost a year before you joined the Small Faces. How did you manage to get to be part of Howlin' Wolf's backing band?
MAC: I used to get gigs from the Marquee Artists Agency, which was the agency that owned or ran the Marquee Club in London. We got opening slots on Wednesdays. We opened for Jimmy Reed and The Yardbirds. At that time, the Yardbirds were backing Sonny Boy Williamson when he came to England; he stayed in England for quite some time, and sometimes they'd be busy, and he couldn't get them. So they'd use another band on the Marquee rep, The Authentics. And it they couldn't get The Authentics, then my band, The Muleskinners, would get a shot. And by that time a lot of artists were coming to England from America, so we got to do Howlin' Wolf's first British tour. He was great! Such a gentleman. That's great photo with me sitting behind his huge face. He was just a huge guy! He put his arms around all five of us, and said: "...my boys..."! YES! And Hubert was just fantastic, too. We did one show with Little Walter, too.
GOLDMINE: Are any of your old records available on CD?
MAC: Li'l Troublemaker was in Japan. Not here. There's two albums and a 4-song EP. Hopefully if I do a new record and it sells, they'll be available, perhaps all on one disc.
GOLDMINE: Who's your favorite keyboard player?
MAC: It's difficult: Otis Spann, Booker T, Billy Preston, Ray Charles...I can't lay it down to one, you know. Ignacio Meriweather. Roosevelt Sykes. Sunnyland Slim. Memphis Slim. Johnny Johnson. Is that enough?
GOLDMINE: That's enough. Of course, Booker T seems to be a main influence on your playing, particularly on the Small Faces' sound.
MAC: Yeah, in the beginning. And later on, Billy Preston. And Otis Spann was the first piano influence, and later on, Jerry Lee, of course. There's so many!
GOLDMINE: I was gonna ask you about some old Faces songs that appear on many of the live bootlegs and radio shows? You did stuff like "I Wanna Be Loved" by Ike and Tina Turner. What about "You're My Girl"? Was that an unrecorded original?
MAC: No. That was a song we learned off a record by a current American band, Rhinoceros [finds album and reads:] "You're My Girl (I Don't Want To Discuss It)" Rhinoceros.
GOLDMINE: So you're living in a House In The Country now!
MAC: Country Boy!
GOLDMINE: Country Squire! Ray Davies wrote about it, but you're actually doing it.
MAC: Yeah, I love it here -- hope I can STAY here!
This piece was published in GOLDMINE magazine, issue #463, dated April 24, 1998, in the regular feature called 'Talk Talk', titled 'The Small Faces' Ian McLagan'. Reprinted with permission of the author and of Ian McLagan. Visit Goldmine's website at: http://www.krause.com/goldmine.
© Making Time 1995-2008